§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will support the appeal of the Albanian Government to the League of Nations to give relief in meeting the conditions of starvation that are causing terrible mortality in Albania at the present time. Last November there appeared an appeal in the Press by the British Consul in Albania for relief to the distressed people of that country. That appeal was supported by a note of Lord Cecil of Chelwood. A society to which 1Ibelong, the Anglo-Albanian Society, has received urgent messages sent both by Mr. Power, our Consul at Durazzo, and Mr. Eyres, the British representative in Albania, to say that there is the greatest distress in that country, that people are dying of starvation daily, and that, if relief is not sent promptly, the great bulk of the population in the district of Dibrani and the mountainous area where the Mirdite people live will practically disappear.
It may be wondered how it is that in Albania, where the people have always had a troublesome and turbulent character, the people are so stricken by famine. In 1903 the frontiers of Albania were delimited, and at that time—I think very unjustly—the country was deprived of some very fertile tracts lying to the east of the mountainous districts, and thereby lost its main food resources. Then, during the war, Armies, both Allied and enemy, passed through the country, and, when peace was concluded, the people were subject to inroads by Serbs, who pillaged the houses, drove off the 566 cattle, and took away the implements. Thanks to the zeal and energy of the much lamented Colonel Aubrey Herbert, a faithful friend of Albania, and, I have no doubt, of many members of your Lordships' House, the claim of Albania for independence was brought in 1920 before the League of Nations and, after considerable opposition on the part of one or two of the bigger nations of Europe but with the whole-hearted support of all the smaller countries in the League. Albania secured her independence.
I would like to mention one bad effect of the present conditions of starvation. The Serbs—Jugo-Slavs now—are taking advantage of these distressing conditions to buy up the land from the starving Albanians and if better times come for these unfortunate people they will find that they have practically sold heir lands, particularly in the Dibrani district, to the Jugo-Slavs. That is not a condition which is likely to lead to the peaceful administration or security of Albania in the future. It is obvious that Albania is practically the offspring of the League of Nations. Had it not been for the intervention of the League she would probably have been partitioned under a secret Treaty made during the war between Serbia and Greece. I am sure that the personal sympathies of the noble Lord. Lord Parmoor, are with Albania because he has been so closely connected with some of the philanthropic funds from which so much has been done to reduce the distress among people in various parts of Europe, and because he is a warm supporter of the League of Nations. I hope that he will be able to tell me that the Government will make representations to the League to give assistance, and that promptly and on a very generous scale.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I hope that my reply, which is certainly sympathetic from the Government's point of view, will satisfy the noble Lord of our desire to give all the assistance we can to these starving Albanians. The noble Lord has not in any way exaggerated the condition of these northern Albanian tribes. The conditions there easily lead to starvation after a bad harvest. There have been two consecutive bad harvests, and the information which the Government possesses corroborates entirely what the noble Lord has stated concerning the 567 acute conditions of famine which now exist in those districts. An appeal was made, as the noble Lord is aware, to philanthropic funds in order, if possible, to relieve the distress. As a matter of fact several hundred pounds were raised for that purpose, but the amount in itself was quite inadequate, having regard to the distress which is now and has been prevalent.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I have not quite that information. If the noble Lord will permit me to finish my statement he will see what the information is that the Government have, and I hope it will satisfy him. His Majesty's Government were, therefore, quite prepared to support the Albanian Government when they decided to place their appeal for further assistance before the Council of the League of Nations. That was the body to which His Majesty's Government advised the Albanian Government to apply. The case of the Albanians will be brought by their representative before the Council of the League of Nations which meets next week at Geneva. I have the honour of being the representative of the Government and shall be at Geneva next week. His Majesty's Government consider that it is not only a case of humanitarian but of political importance, owing to the facts which the noble Lord has stated, and owing also to the fact that in these conditions there are very likely to be raids from Albanian territory into Serbian territory which will create in those districts, which are not of themselves very settled territories, great difficulties and dangers.
What the Government propose to do is this. They have advised that this matter shall be brought before the Council of the League. In fact, as our representative I shall do that. It will then be for the Council of the League—because it is the Council of the League that is meeting and not the League itself—to decide what measures are most suited to meet the circumstances to which the noble Lord has called attention. Should the general opinion of the Council be that immediate financial assistance is needed, His Majesty's Government, for their part, would be prepared to consider favourably, as an exceptional measure, the granting 568 of a reasonable sum from the Imperial Exchequer proportionally to that which may be accorded by other countries who are members of the Council. It is understood by His Majesty's Government from information supplied to them that the total amount required for the alleviation of the immediate danger would not exceed £15,000.
I must make one further statement. In order to obtain money of this kind, even under these exceptional circumstances, the consent of the other House must be obtained; but, subject to that, the Government recognise the exceptional conditions and are prepared to give the assistance which I have indicated. It is impossible to suggest the exact figure. That will depend on the view put forward by the Council of the League of Nations. The Government will support the view of the Council if it is the general view put forward. I am instructed on behalf of His Majesty's Government to make that statement when I am at the meeting of the Council of the League of Nations next week. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will be satisfied that we are doing all that we can.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much indeed for the satisfactory answer that he has given. I might say that our figures really agree because, from private sources in this country and from the Vatican, £4,000 have already been raised, which practically brings the total sum required up to £20,000.