§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I wish to ask His Majesty's Government whether action has been or will be taken in order to carry out the recommendations contained in the Report recently issued by the Committee appointed to consider the release of the property of ex-enemy aliens in necessitous circumstances. This is a matter which has been frequently before the House, and I have no intention of dealing with it now at any length. My only object in putting the Question is to ascertain from His Majesty's Government whether they are prepared to carry out the recommendation of Lord Blanesburgh's Committee.
This Report is one of an extremely technical and involved nature, and I found considerable difficulty in understanding it. There is, however, one thing that I grasped, and that is that the authors of this Report evidently are extremely ashamed of the action which was taken by our Government and by our Allies in connection with the private property of ex-enemy aliens. That ought not to surprise anybody when you consider that great hardships are inflicted, in most instances, upon persons who were friendly to this country. I have frequently pointed out that our action in regard to these ex-enemy aliens, so far as I know, has been harsher than that of any other Government. I have constantly urged that at all events we should treat these people with not greater harshness than has been shown by other Governments. It will be seen that Lord Blanesburgh's Committee do not recommend general release, but they do recommend, what has often been urged in this House, that every case should be treated on its merits, and they also recommend that there should be an extension of the system of releases, at all events in certain cases.
I said there was a good deal in the Report which I am unable to understand, and I would like to have an explanation 624 with regard to one portion of it. On page 9, in subsection (5) of Clause 20, there is the following:—Recommendations for release can only extend to property, rights and interests still unrealised, or, if realised, still unapplied and not credited through.Does that mean that if the property of an ex-enemy alien has been confiscated he or she is to get nothing back? If that is the case, it seems to me not only extremely hard but extremely illogical, and I fail to see that there is any justice whatever in it. To emphasise what I say let me point out that, later on, the gross injustices and illogicality of these provisions of the Treaty are clearly shown. If you will look at page 13 and read Clause 27 of the Report, you will observe that the property of Turkish subjects is no longer liable.
I take it that the intention of the statesmen who framed these provisions was that the action of ex-enemy Governments was of so criminal a nature that in the interests of punitive justice private citizens should suffer themselves, and in pursuance of that principle these penalties were imposed in all the Treaties: the Treaty of Versailles, the Treaty of St. Germain and the Treaty of Sèvres. The Sèvres Treaty has been superseded by the Treaty of Lausanne, and under the Lausanne Treaty the Turks are no longer liable to the confiscation which has taken place in the case of other ex-enemy aliens. Does that mean that we are obliged to restore to Turkish subjects all the property we have confiscated? That is a point on which I should like some definite information. All I desire to say in conclusion is that, so far as I am able to gather, the recommendations with regard to release will be of some considerable value, but I cannot help reflecting that if these recommendations had been made a year or two earlier, it would have done no harm and would have saved a great many innocent people from severe hardships.
§ LORD DANESFORT
For this reason. This Report raises some exceedingly important questions, not only as to remitting 625 or exempting Germans from hardships, real or imaginary, but most serious questions as to the rights of British creditors, rights which were assured to them under the Treaty of Versailles, and which, if the recommendations of the Committee were adopted, would be most seriously prejudiced. That is a subject on which I wish to speak and get an adequate reply from my noble and learned friend opposite. I am afraid I could not promise to compress my remarks into a short time, because the questions are most serious and material, and, so far as I know, they have not yes been debated. Therefore, I beg leave to move the adjournment of the debate, and I hope we shall have an opportunity of discussing this question in a fuller House.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Danesfort).
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will not press his Motion. Would it not suit his purpose better if I were to deal, as I propose to do, with the particular points to which he has referred ? Then if he wishes he can make some observations on them.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My noble and learned friend asks if he can deal with my points before I have stated them. That would be very inconvenient for him and much more inconvenient for me. It would be far better if he will allow me to state my case, and he can then answer the points I raise.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, as a matter of fact a Royal Commission was fixed for six o'clock. We have already kept the other House waiting a long time, and if an adjournment was made now it might be convenient.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, this Question has already been adjourned. This is the second occasion on which it has appeared on the Paper. In the next place, it is equally important and relevant to remember that the whole of this matter has been discussed in your Lordships' House upon three or four occasions at great length.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Yes, the whole question. All that the noble Lord asks 626 in his Question is what the Government are going to do on this Report. Surely we might get an answer to that at the earliest possible moment. I also want to know what they mean to do with regard to the phrase that relates to realised property. That I think we ought to know, and I cannot see why we should not get an expression of opinion from the Government at once.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I hope the discussion will be allowed to proceed in its normal way. The Lord President of the Council will then be able to make such answer as he thinks fit to the points raised, and if that answer does not commend itself to the noble Lord, Lord Danes-fort, who, of course, is a newcomer to your Lordships' House, it is perfectly easy for him on a subsequent occasion to raise the question again, with the additional advantage of knowing what the Lord President of the Council has to say. I hope the noble Lord will withdraw his Motion for adjournment in view of the evident anxiety on the part of the Government to proceed with the business now.
§ LORD DANESFORT
An appeal has been made to me, and as a newcomer to your Lordships' House I do not want to do anything that is not in consonance with the general desire of the House. But if in a very thin House, such as it is at present, a statement is made, it will be quite impossible for me to say what I want to say or get an answer from my noble and learned friend. Therefore if the debate is allowed to go on now, I shall not raise the points I intended to raise, but take the earliest possible opportunity of doing so. That may be the convenient course to take, but I feel bound, if the debate does go on now, to put down another Motion for a subsequent day when I can have the subject properly discussed.
§ LORD PARMOOR
I think it would be more convenient if the noble Lord allowed me to make an answer to Lord Newton. That would probably give him information on which he can base his inquiries on a subsequent occasion. I hope he will not press his Motion now. I can answer the Question in a comparatively short space of time, and it will be open to the noble Lord to raise the subject again.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, the reason why I am anxious to answer on this occasion—and it has a close connection with what I think is passing in the mind of Lord Danesfort—is that I want to show that the very matters to which Lord Newton refers are matters on which I have made myself as cognisant as I can. One of the two special points was with regard to the position of the Turks. The Sèvres Treaty, which would have made Turkish property in this country subject to confiscation or interference, was never ratified, and in its place was substituted the Treaty of Lausanne. I quite agree with my noble friend, because my views have always been expressed in the same way as his own, that the Treaty of Lausanne was based on the much fairer principle of no confiscation or interference with ex-enemy property, and that is the only reason why the Turks have escaped, although it seems somewhat curious that, when all other ex-enemy aliens have suffered, the Turks alone should be exempt.
The other question which the noble Lord put to me as regards realised property —I think that was the expression—is a matter of very great difficulty, and I will explain in a moment how it stands. There are two classes of property which were dealt with by the Commission presided over by Lord Blanesburgh— and I wish to express on behalf of the Government our great indebtedness to him and to that Commission for the intense trouble they have taken in these matters. These two classes of property appear under the heads of (1) and (2) As regards (1), a sum of about £45,000,000 is involved, and that concerns compensation for property actually taken, or debts actually dealt with. Of that sum £35,000,000 has already been paid away. As regards about £10,000,000, transactions still have to take place. It is impossible to give a very close estimate, but I have been able to consult the Public Trustee and other officials primarily engaged in this matter, and the figure may be taken as approximately right. The recommendations of Lord Blanesburgh's Commission did not touch that point at all.
628 In addition, there is a sum which may roughly be put at about £35,000,000, which is not payment for property taken but compensation for damage done in connection with property taken. That is the second head to which Lord Blanesburgh refers, and it is under this second head that he says that his recommendation may affect the amount by something like 2s. or 2s. 6d. in the £. It is this, I think, that the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, had in his mind and with which he desired to deal. We must recollect that, whereas the property of British nationals in Germany was not only paid for but compensation was provided, so, as regards the German nationals in this country, they were only paid the actual figures, and no incidental compensation was allowed them at all, so that you are really compensating, out of the actual figure for property taken, for incidental damage which was not considered in assessing damage in that particular case. The result, so far as it can be ascertained at the present time, is that, accepting the recommendations of Lord Blanesburgh's Commission, as I will show in a moment that they have been accepted, it is estimated that the various classes to which the Report is confined would gain to the extent of somewhere about £4,000,000, which, of course, is a very substantial sum and they would have that gain distributed under the various classes to which Lord Blanesburgh's Commission specifically refers. That is a very important matter indeed, and I am not quite sure if the noble Lord quite appreciated it. I think it is well from his point of view that he should do so.
Then comes the question to which Lord Newton has very properly referred, that of the £4,000,000, which is only about 50 per cent. of the amount which might have been saved if the proposals of Lord Blanesburgh's Commission had come into operation at the outset. The noble Lord, with his legal knowledge, will understand my meaning very well. But there is an extended property which would have come under these provisions if it had not come within the provisions, to which the noble Lord, Lord Newton, referred, on page 9, subsection (5). where it is stated that:Recommendations for release can only extend to property, rights and interests still unrealised, or, if realised, still un- 629 applied, and not credited through. We are advised that it would he productive of great confusion if this rule were not adopted.I have had an opportunity of going into this matter with Lord Blanesburgh, and also with the Public Trustee, and I am bound to say that they have quite satisfied me that this view is correct. You cannot go back and reopen some of these questions without great difficulty, confusion and interference with payments already made. Certainly this is not in accordance with strict equity, because there is no reason why these people should not have had the same rights, in one sense. As a matter of fact, however, it is impossible to do otherwise, so that the results of this Report will really affect only about 50 per cent. of the property which would have been comprised within its terms if it had been presented at an earlier date.
Apart from complications, I think that is how the matter stands. I hope that Lord Newton, on the one hand, appreciates the position, and that Lord Danes-fort, on the other hand, will be able to raise the question again with the information which I have now supplied, and will see that I have at any rate taken every step I could to ascertain the real effect of these huge sums involved in putting in force the recommendations of Lord Blanesburgh's Commission. The result is, as I have stated, that, as regards what might be called the first sums, payable in respect of property taken—about £45,000,000—there will be no interference whatever. As regards what Lord Blanesburgh calls the second category which is of somewhat less importance—what we may call compensation cases—there will be a small interference with the money which might otherwise be paid to the extent of something like 2s. or 2s. 6d. in the £, and that is the whole extent of any possible interference with the property and rights which the noble Lord seeks to protect—namely, the interests of British nationals in the distribution betwen the nationals of the two countries.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships at any length, but there is one other point which I should like to mention. I have given the main facts, which I have thought more useful than going into a discussion of somewhat complicated phrases and terms. This matter, as the 630 noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp, has said, has been several times before this House, and on every occasion it has been recognised that it: was within the competence of the Government and the administrative office which deals with these matters under the terms of the Order to make such changes as Parliament in its discretion, or through the Departments engaged, may think to be fair and reasonable, in order to bring about a just result. In this particular ease precisely the same principle has been followed as in other cases, and if the noble Lord, Lord Danesfort, has the Report, he will see on page 3 what has already been done. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Newton, will refer to this.
It is stated that the Board of Trade—and they have full executive authority—have decided to accept the recommendations made by the Committee in its Report dated December 24, 1923, which is printed below. Applications by ex-enemy nationals for the release of their property must be received by August 1. 1924.A little more has been done, because, in accordance with the Report, the same Commission which drew up the Report has been given what practically amounts to a judicial function to determine in any particular ease whether a claimant can bring himself within the provisions of the Report or not. You cannot deal with this matter in the aggregate; you have to deal with each individual case. It is important that matters of this kind should be widely known, and I am told that this Report has been circulated to our Consul-Generals abroad and to other agencies of that kind, in order that those ex-enemy nationals who would be entitled, if they brought their claim within a reasonable time, to the advantages which this Report confers, should have sufficient knowledge to take the necessary steps.
§ LORD DANESFORT
Can my noble friend tell me when the Board of Trade came to that decision to accept the recommendations contained in this Report?
§ LORD PARMOOR
Certainly; but I think there was not the remotest difference between the old Government and the new in this respect. If the old Government had remained in power they would undoubtedly have followed—in fact, they were really pledged to follow—the recommendations of the Commission, and if the noble Lord, to whom I am very much obliged for asking this Question, will look at what is called the Warrant of Appointment on the preceding page, he will see it is signed "P. Lloyd-Greame" on June 27, 1922. There had been previous references to this Commission, one in October, 1920, a second in August, 1921, and a third in June, 1922.
§ LORD PARMOOR
Yes, August, 1923. I do not think there was any question on either occasion of not accepting the Report. No doubt it has been accepted. The policy may be challenged, of course, but no doubt it has been accepted. The Board of Trade had power to accept it. The fact that it has been accepted has been spread abroad, so that these cases of ex-enemy nationals, who are mainly British women, should have the advantages which this document intended to confer upon them. I have now, I think, answered all the questions which Lord Newton asked me. I agree with him that it is an enormous advantage in the right direction that this Report has been accepted, and, as I said before, the Government—and I believe the last Government would have said just the same—express their gratitude to Lord Blanesburgh and his Commission for the trouble they have taken. I do not propose to go any further into the matter now, because the substance of it is that as many people as possible should know that this Report has been issued. If they are entitled to take advantage of it they ought to have an opportunity of doing so, and I hope that this very substantial measure of justice will really receive the hearty acceptance of all persons who have been interested in this difficult question.
§ LORD DANESFORT
My Lords, it was only to be anticipated that the noble and learned Lord, not having heard the 632 points which I was going to raise, never answered them, and I never expected that he would. Therefore I propose to put down a fresh Motion on a date convenient to him, which will enable me to raise the points which I desired to raise on the present occasion. I do not propose, to-night, to anticipate the discussion on any of the points which I am going to raise, but let me say this: that neither of the noble Lords who have spoken seem to have the least conception of the far-reaching character of the recommendations made by this Report.
Some of them are quite reasonable, and I thoroughly approve of them, but others are most far-reaching and most unreasonable, and with regard to the action of the Board of Trade in sanctioning or accepting these proposals without getting the sanction, so far as I know, of either House, that is a question which I propose to raise upon the next occasion. If the Board of Trade have, as the noble and learned Lord says, accepted this, without any sanction whatever from the House of Commons, or this House, if they have done an act which undoubtedly will seriously prejudice the interests of British creditors, and it may very well be of British taxpayers, and have done this act by a bureaucratic, hole-and-corner, act of a Department, without any Parliamentary sanction, all I can say is that I hope that I may be allowed in this House, which after all is the custodian of liberty, to challenge that action on another occasion.
My Lords, I should only like to say, as I have on more occasions than anyone had to deal with the Treaty in this particular, that we must all realise that it must have been a great satisfaction to the President of the Council to be able to make the reply which he has made. With regard to the observations of the last speaker, I think that, if he will look through the records of this House for the last three years, he will see that we have had the basis upon which this decision was made thrashed out in a most exhaustive manner, and I do not think that it has ever been denied, by whatever Government was in power—three Governments have had to deal with it—that it was perfectly within the competence of the Government, with- 633 out any question of evading the Treaty, to take action, and that it was entirely within the competence of the Department to review the action taken. We shall, however, look forward with interest to the yet further debate which is promised on this matter.
§ House adjourned during pleasure.
§ House resumed.