HL Deb 03 May 1928 vol 70 cc971-6

LORD NEWTON asked His Majesty's Government if the Inter-Allied Commission in Bulgaria has recommended a postponement of the next Reparation payment due in October, in view of the recent material losses of that country; and whether His Majesty's Government is disposed to consider the proposal favourably. The noble Lord said: My Lords, those persons who take an interest in the Near East are well aware that the Bulgarians have experienced an exceptionally hard time since the War. In the first place, they were deprived of a very large portion of their territory, and then an enormous indemnity was fixed upon them—an indemnity so large and so out of proportion that it was eventually reduced by something like 70 per cent.

They were afflicted, like every other enemy nation, with a series of Commissions of one kind and another, who battened upon them for years (some of them are still in existence); hordes of refugees descended upon them from other countries, and they also became the special object of attack of the Bolshevist Government, and the Bolsheviks succeeded to some extent in provoking a kind of civil war in the country. As if this were not bad enough, the late President Wilson and Mr. Lloyd George, in their colossal ignorance of European conditions, forced upon this unfortunate people what is described as a voluntary Army, which in practice means that they have to pay something like ten times as much as they would otherwise pay, and are quite unable to obtain a force which is capable of maintaining order in the country, or even of protecting their own frontiers.

The climax to these misfortunes is that they have recently suffered from a very severe earthquake in the richest part of the country, and, although I have no doubt that the accounts which have appeared in the Press are to some extent exaggerated, I should imagine that they have suffered material damage to the amount of, say, one or two million pounds, and if a corresponding calamity affected this country, taking into consideration the difference in revenue between the two countries, that would amount to a loss of something like £50,000,000 as far as we are concerned. The Inter-Allied Reparation Commission, who have had the opportunity of inspecting the damage, have, I understand, made a recommendation that the next Reparation payment should be postponed for six months.

So far as I am able to gather, our share of the Reparation payment amounts to the trumpery sum of about £40,000 a year. In the circumstances it seems to me that we at all events can well afford to appear to be generous. What I suggest to the Government is this. Here is an opportunity for showing good will which may produce most excellent results. If you are prepared to show good will you ought to lose no time about it, and what I would urge upon His Majesty's Government is that they should be the first in the field amongst the Powers to accept this proposal. I have no doubt that my noble friend upon the Front Bench will raise some objection. I have no doubt that objections will also be raised by the Treasury; but it seems to me that in dealing with a small sum of this character we can really afford to be comparatively generous. I am convinced that if we acceded at once to this proposal, not only should we create an admirable impression but our example would be followed in all probability by all the other Powers concerned. I trust, therefore, that my noble friend will be able to make a favourable reply to the Question I have placed on the Paper.


My Lords, before the Government replies to this Question, I should like to enforce as strongly as I can, from some knowledge of the Near East, the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Newton. There has been an appaling disaster in Bulgaria, appalling not only in itself but also in regard to the loss caused, seeing that Bulgaria is a poor and a small country. I did not know that the Inter-Allied Commission had recommended in view of the loss that the payment due might be postponed. Whether that is so or not, I entirely agree with what the noble Lord has said—that it would be a gracious act on the part of this country to take the initial step in a matter of this kind. The amount of money involved is small in itself. The noble Lord has said that it is £40,000, and I think that is about the sum, though I have not the exact figure by me. But it is not a question of remitting the amount. What the noble Lord suggests is that the payment should be postponed for a period in order that the loss may be dealt with without this Reparation payment having to be made now. There is nothing more that need be said in support of the Question; but I hope that the representative of His Majesty's Government will be able to assent to the proposal. I am one of those who believe that graciousness in these matters is of great importance and that the friendship won by an act of this kind is of much greater value than any loss which could be incurred by postponing the payment for a short period. I am entirely in agreement with what the noble Lord has said.


My Lords, my noble friend introduced his observations by referring to what he considered to be the special injustice that had been done to Bulgaria in the Peace Treaties. I hope he will not expect me to express any opinion upon that part of his speech. I do not think it is at all necessary; and whether they were well or ill treated in the Peace Treaties has very little bearing, I think, upon the particular question he has brought before your Lordships to-day. My noble friend is under a misapprehension in regard to what he said, because in point of fact no recommendation has been made by, or at all events none has been received by us from, the Inter-Allied Commission respecting the next Reparation payment. If they were to make such a recommendation, and it is possible they may do so, it would not be made to His Majesty's Government, as the question on the Paper would almost seem to suggest, though, of course, I know that my noble friend is not under any such misapprehension. If a recommendation is made at all it will be made, not to His Majesty's Government but to the Reparation Commission in Paris. That Commission has power under the Treaty to make a reduction or a postponement of the next Reparation payment up to the amount recommended by the Inter-Allied Commission. Therefore, it is not really a matter for the decision of His Majesty's Government at all.

In addition to that, I would ask your Lordships to bear in mind the constitution of the Inter-Allied Commission and its relations to His Majesty's Government. The Inter-Allied Commission consists of three members, representing Great Britain, France and Italy. But the Reparation amounts which are payable by Bulgaria are distributed not merely to the three nations who have representatives on the Commission, but to six additional States as well who ali have their quota payable out of those Reparations. Between them the States which are not represented on the Inter-Allied Commission are entitled to 38 per cent, of the total payments. Your Lordships will see, therefore, what the position of His Majesty's Government is. To begin with, the amount payable to His Majesty's Government is payable to the British Empire as a whole. A figure of, I think it is, 11 per cent. of the total payments is paid to the British Empire. Therefore, as regards 11 per cent. His Majesty's Government is trustee for the different parts of the Empire in respect of the amounts to which they are entitled out of the total. In addition to that, His Majesty's Government, as being represented on the Inter-Allied Commission, is, as I have shown, in regard to 38 per cent., one of three trustees for a number of other States. Consequently, it is obviously out of the question for His Majesty's Government quietly to say that they of their own motion will do this or that according to circumstances which may arise from time to time.

It is not a case in which it is possible for His Majesty's Government to remit payments merely because they are moved by sympathy, as I am sure they are moved by sympathy for the misfortune that has overtaken Bulgaria. I am certain that the sympathy in this country aroused by the earthquake and the damage it has done in Bulgaria is very genuine and widespread. But it does not in the least follow from that that it would be right to make a remission of the next payment, and for the reasons I have given it is quite clear that it world be premature at the present moment to say anything about it. The recommendation has to be made, if it is made, by the Inter-Allied Commission to the Reparation Commission, and it will be time enough then to express any opinion as to what the attitude of His Majesty's Government may be towards it. As a matter of fact, my information is that the Inter-Allied Commission is now taking steps to investigate the facts. That is the first thing to be done. No doubt very serious damage has been done and has caused very severe suffering in Bulgaria. No one questions that. On the other hand, our information is that notwithstanding that, there has been, as is not uncommon in such cases, very great exaggeration of the extent of the damage and of the Buffering, not merely in the Press out there, but in the Press of this country. It is obvious, therefore, that the first thing in a matter of this sort is to ascertain what the true facts are, what is the amount of the damage, and what is the position of Bulgaria in regard to it.

I do not know whether the resources of Bulgaria are, or are not, such at the present moment that they can meet their obligations to their own suffering people without having recourse to their external creditors. If a remission is made, or a postponement made of the next payment of Reparation, that will amount to giving a bounty on behalf of the external creditors of that State, but I really cannot say what the attitude of His Majesty's Government would be if the recommendation were made and if the facts showed that the extent of the suffering and damage caused is something larger than the Bulgarian Government have the means to meet out of their own resources. When, however, those facts are at the disposal of His Majesty's Government, I feel confident I may say that they are not likely to take an ungenerous view. They very seldom do take an ungenerous view in matters of that kind. Although I cannot give a pledge, I can say, what we all know is the habitual conduct of this country in matters of this sort, that we are not likely to take any action of which my noble friend could complain.


My Lords, I am glad indeed to hear the last words of my noble friend, because I am sure they will find a great echo in the public opinion of this country. I was extremely grateful to him for his expression, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, of sympathy for the Government of Bulgaria in the very serious calamity that has arisen. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Newton will feel that he has not acted in vain in raising this Question. I only want to make quite clear what the position is. As I understand it there are two Commissions, an Inter-Allied Commission, which I suppose collects the amount due from Bulgaria, or oversees its collection, and the Reparation Commission, which deals with the distribution of the amount when it is transmitted to them. My noble friend is, of course, quite right in saying that on both Commissions the British representative acts not only as representing this country but as a trustee of the other people interested.

It is clear that there is a British representative on both of those bodies, and it may well be that the attitude of the British representative will become very important, when the facts have been ascertained, in settling what the action of those two bodies shall be. Therefore we cannot quite get rid of our responsibility by merely saying that it is in the hands of those Commissions, because we are an essential, and probably a very influential, part of both of those Commissions. We are not only trustees for other people, but we are creditors for our own share, and, whatever other people might do, it would be possible—I would not suggest it would necessarily be right—to say that we were entitled to receive certain amounts, but that, in view of the great misfortunes and difficulties, we were prepared as far as we were concerned to postpone the receipt of them. I venture very respectfully to remind my noble friend of those two aspects of the question, being quite confident, after his closing words, that he and the Government will deal with this matter in that generous spirit which is consonant with the traditions of this country.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before five o'clock.