HL Deb 27 November 1929 vol 75 cc693-722

LORD BUCKMASTER rose to ask—

  1. 1. Whether any of the money obtained by the confiscation of ex-enemy property has at any time been used for any purpose other than payment to the British creditors of ex-enemy nationals of their claims and costs; if so, for what purpose has it been so applied and to what extent?
  2. 2. Does the promise to release unrealised property extend to personal as well as real estate?
  3. 3. Is it proposed to hand over to the German Government the ultimate balance of the confiscated property and, if so, will it be handed over unconditionally or on any and what terms?
and to move for Papers.

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, those of you who were present when the Question covered by the Notice which stands in my name was last debated in the House, or those of you, if any such there be, who read the report of the debate will, I think, agree that there is no need for apology on my part in bringing this matter once again before your notice. It is perfectly true that the powers of this House have been curtailed, but one right at least is surely reserved to its members, and that is the right to have made plain in this House what is the proposed action of His Majesty's Government on the questions which from time to time they ask. So far as I can tell from statements that have been made in another place, the announcements made to your Lordships differ widely from the statements made by those in authority elsewhere.

I do not propose to go once again through the whole deplorable history of this transaction; but it is clear that some people are under a total misapprehension as to what has been done. It has been my complaint throughout that the action in seizing the property of private persons over here was contrary to well-established principles of English law. Some people seem to have met that by saying that we had power to do it. There is no doubt about the power. You could to-morrow, if you so desired, pass an Act of Parliament declaring that the Eighth Commandment should have no application to civil rights within our jurisdiction. From the passing of that Act it would cease to be illegal to steal. But none the less it would not repeal the Commandment, and the fact that people have by authority enabled this transaction to be carried out has nothing whatever to do with the complaint that I have made, which is that it was contrary to the well-established principles of English Common Law, which were founded on other principles far more, immutable than anything that can be established by Act of Parliament.

On the last occasion I asked what it was proposed to do with the surplus moneys that have arisen from this confiscation. As it appears now, the total surplus is exactly what I said, £15,000,000. Some £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 appear to have been applied in what, forsooth, is called compassionate allowances. It seems to me a strong thing when you have taken away every shilling that a person possesses to give him a little back to ease his necessities and to say that it is done by compassion. Some of the matters which still remain untouched appear to me to be so grave that I cannot help thinking that your Lordships ought to realise what it means when you find that the Government now declare, as far as I can understand, not only that they have applied, but that they intend to continue applying the surplus of these moneys to the payment of the expenses incurred by our annually increasing national extravagance. I have here a letter written by an old man who is nearly blind. He served in the British Army as an interpreter in Egypt and received recognition for his services. He is well known to Colonel Clayton, who, I think, is in one of our commands in the North and who has done everything he can to urge this man's case for him. This man had some small savings, some of which I have no doubt were derived from the work he did for us. They have all been taken away and £1,000 only have been returned to him. He is old, indigent and, as his signature will testify, all but blind. As far as I can understand, this man's moneys and the moneys of people like him are going to be absorbed in the vast barathrum of our national expenditure. To me, such a transaction appears so shameful that I find it difficult to speak of it in terms of necessary and studied moderation.

On the last occasion I was led to believe that this Government, who appear to have resented as much as myself the original institution of this arrangement, were prepared to consider cases if I would bring them forward. I, accordingly, brought forward that case which I should have thought might have moved any one. Of course, I got the usual reply, and nothing whatever is going to be done. I shall not worry your Lordships with a recital of the large number of other similar cases. I know quite well, firstly, that such recitals tend to become dull, and, secondly, that there is nothing that is more unpleasant than being brought face to face with the misery that has been caused by our own actions. I have often thought that if every man could only realise in actual form the consequences of his own acts, all through his life, it would be a very unpleasant experience for most of us. It might be a salutary one. I have often thought that if you could compel slum landlords to dwell for six weeks in their own dens you might get the housing problem settled, and it might not be a bad thing if those who have to sentence men to imprisonment could have some small experience of what it means. And I am quite certain that it would be a very good thing indeed if the people who have the responsibility of having caused war should be the first to have to wage it.

It is no use hoping for this at the present moment. Our national habit is to try to avoid seeing what it is that we have done, and therefore I do not propose to go on placing before you case after case—they could easily be multiplied—of all the suffering that has been caused to a number of people over here who are perfectly offenceless and perfectly defenceless, and who have committed no crime or wrong whatever, except only that they were subjects of a conquered race. My first Question is whether the Government can tell us if this money has been from year to year brought into our Budget and used for our annual expenditure and is that what it is proposed to go on doing? That is what I want to know, and I think we are entitled to have a perfectly clear and plain answer. It cannot admit of any doubt or difficulty and at least we should be able to be satisfied as to what has happened. I do not suppose the money can have relieved us of very much of our taxation, but at least we should know how this money, taken originally on the excuse, and the sole excuse, that it was needed for the purpose of paying British creditors, has in the last resort been dealt with and disposed of.

The next Question is one of very grave consequence. I ask whether the promise, which at last is definite, that unrealised property shall be released is to extend to personal as well as to real estate. On the last occasion the confusion over this matter was something that I think every representative of the Government will more readily admit because the person who was chiefly the cause of the confusion is no longer here. But Lord Passfield said in the plainest terms that the money that was going to be released was going to be released to the German Government in order that they might distribute it among the German nationals. That appears to have caused universal protest. It was said the German Government was not going to have anything to do with it, that it was to be released and the people from whom it was taken were to have it once more in their possession—


The noble and learned Lord will recollect that this misunderstanding was put right at the time.


I do not think it was. That is because my understanding is not sufficiently acute. But what was stated is perfectly plain. It is not worth while going through it again. The noble Lord, Lord Passfield, said: The whole of the property which remains exactly as it was is now released and is available for return to the German Government. The Marquess of Salisbury then asked:— The German Government or German nationals? Lord Passfield replied:— Well, we can only deal with the German Government. The property is available for the German Government to hand over to its original owners. Later on the noble Lord added:— What we are doing is to remove a charge….an obligation on the several properties which prevents them being disposed of….I understand that the properties will simply belong again to their owners, the charge or the clog having been removed. That has nothing whatever to do with the alteration of the arrangements with the German Government, and it really does not matter.

It is an amazing scheme, but what I want to know is this: What is the property that is going to be released? Is it real property or does it extend to personal property? If it is real property, perhaps the representatives of a Government that have never been particularly tender in their care of real estate would explain upon what principle you are going to release real property and confiscate personal property. I put it before and I will put it again. The kind of property that will be most difficult to realise will undoubtedly be the large estates that may have been held by rich Germans in the City. Everybody knows that there were such estates and they must have been by far the most difficult to realise. If they are unrealised, the mortgage, or whatever it may be called, having now gone, they will all go back to their owners. But if people have saved money and put it in the Savings Bank, and have accumulated a few hundred pounds by the exercise of amazing thrift, that money being liquid and realised, will all have been swept away. But supposing that some of it has not been dealt with and is still represented by some investment—perhaps it has been invested confidingly in a British Government Loan—is that going to be swept away?

My reason for asking this question is this. There was an Austrian, whose name, I think, if I gave it, would be well-known to many people here, and I will very gladly give it to any noble Lord who desires it. His mother was an Englishwoman and his wife was a cousin of a well-known member of this House. He himself was Ambassador at one of the principal capitals in Europe. This is what happened to him. He says:— Before the War I bought through my Vienna bankers 200 United States Steel Common and a certain number of Utan copper shares. They were bought in London and left there although the dividends were paid to me regularly through my Vienna bankers. He goes on to say:— During the War these securities were seized, but subsequently delivered over to America, where they are now under the care of the Custodian of Alien Property. The latter has unreservedly admitted my ownership, has remitted a small fraction of either class of shares, and has paid some of the dividends due. All this has, however, now come to an end as the Public Trustee has gone back on his previous decision and claims from his American colleague the restitution of these same securities. He has even gone to law on the subject, and the lawsuit is now pending. The American Custodian is willing to restore my property, but can, of course, do nothing until the legal question is settled. It strikes me as an exceptionally hard case and the treatment I am suffering appears to me to be what I would describe as un-English. So should I, if description would help the matter, but what I want to know is whether that money is going to be handed back or not.

It is perfectly plain that it is in every sense of the word unrealised. It remains exactly where it was, in the hands of the American Custodian, who would now give it back in accordance with what I understand to be the declared intention of the Government. But not in the least. The Public Trustee says: "No, we are going to have this, and you shall not give it back." Of two things one. Either this promise to hand back unrealised property does not apply to personal property or, if it does, then it is perfectly plain that the public money is being wasted on futile litigation. I should like to have a perfectly plain answer to that question. If in the end I am told that this Government intend that the handing back of these properties is to apply merely to real estate I must beg of them to give some justification for a discrimination which appears to me to be peculiarly unjust. That is the next Question I want to ask.

Finally, there is a Question which I cannot help thinking has already been answered by the statement that the German Government is not to have this money, but that it is to go back. I gather that from what has been said.


Quite right.


Very well, we get rid of that. We come to the last matter upon which I cannot help thinking I have some reason to complain. On the last occasion I kept on insisting again and again that the promise should be carried out that the moneys should be restored to Englishwomen up to £5,000 and to Germans who had satisfied certain conditions, up to a certain amount, and I was told that had been carried out. I was told also that if not, and if I would bring forward the cases, they would be considered again. A more double-edged weapon than that with which to strike an antagonist you cannot imagine. The necessary result is you opened the flood-gates for grievances all over the Continent, and I have been inundated with letters of every sort and kind complaining that this thing has not been done, and asking me to use my influence in order to secure that these people should get what they gathered was promised. I made this matter, as I thought, quite plain. My only satisfaction—it was a very barren one—was to hear that the Government were going to accept my Resolution. What I want, if I suffer any more from people telling me of the wrongs they have endured at the hands of the British Government, is that I shall be able to tell them in plain language that any Englishwoman who has had up to £5,000 taken from her will get her money back. That is what I want to know.

Nobody suggested for a single moment that was not going to be the result, but, as far as I can gather from a statement that has been made elsewhere Any compassionate allowances which have already been granted and not paid will, of course, be paid, but if we are to raise anew and make further compassionate allowances the answer is ' No.' Which is right? If the answer given in another place is right, I cannot help thinking I have been grievously misled. Not only have I been grievously misled, but I have been greatly injured, because I attach perhaps an exaggerated value to the accuracy of my own word, and in answer to the letters which came to me. I sent back answers saying: "You need not trouble. If you come within the terms of that Resolution you will get your money back." Now I am to be told it is only another statement made by an Englishman and need not be paid any attention at all.

Whether or not these women had their money back may be indeed a difficult thing to answer. I am quite prepared to say that letters that you get from women that you do not know cannot be strictly relied upon. A letter that I quoted to your Lordships from an Austrian nobleman is one for which I vouch the accuracy of every line, but I do not propose to vouch for the accuracy of these letters because I do not know the women. There are, however, statements in them which contain what we lawyers should call intrinsic evidence of their truth, and here is one— I have been in correspondence with both those Government Departments for nine years. After ten days one received a printed form stating one's letter should receive attention. Six weeks later one was informed theirs was the wrong Department. That seems to me intrinsic evidence of this being true. Further: There was no forwarding to or stating the correct one. That also, it appears to me, bears strong internal evidence of its accuracy. Nine years later one was informed one was German and must apply to Germany for compensation! This is an English woman, I may say. She goes on to complain bitterly, as you may well believe.

I have many of these letters. Here is another. This poor woman must have committed a grievous wrong, because she was in possession of the title deeds of a small house worth £700, and when this confiscatory proposal was made she does not seem to have been very ready to hand over the deeds. I ask any one of your Lordships, in similar circumstances would you have been ready to hand over the deeds? Of course the result was something frightful from the point of view of the Department. She says:— Seeing that my control over it was not restricted in any way, it never occurred to me that I should claim the release of my property. I was told at the Clearing Office that my case could not be considered by Lord Blanesburgh's Committee as I had omitted to put in my claim before 1st August, 1924. Since the Government seized my money at Barclay's Bank, about £200, in December, 1928, and demanded the deeds of my house, which I brought away to Germany in 1925, I have been seeking to have my case dealt with by Lord Blanesburgh's Committee. They go on to say there is an end of that, and that she is not to have any more. This woman, who had a house worth £700 and a little saving in the bank, £200, no doubt an obstinate and difficult woman to deal with, has had all her money taken away.

I complained of this. I gathered from what was said before the acceptance of my Resolution that I had heard an unequivocal statement that these women were going to get redress, and the statement that was made to me appeared to me strongly to confirm that, because I was told:— We think more has been done than the Resolution will carry out; but if he [that is myself] desires his Resolution to be passed, we do not object, and if he thinks he can supply any information to the Board of Trade, or Lord Blanesburgh's Committee, that would bring in cases which have not already been considered, by all means let him do so. I tried to do so and this appears to me to be the result. I should very much like to know whether or not that statement made in another place is the final and inflexible conclusion at which the Government have arrived. If so, I will beg of somebody on the Government Bench to explain why it was they permitted me to fall into the error I fell into on the last occasion and encouraged me to get from other people their claims that had not been already met.

I do not propose to keep on asking further about this matter. I know quite well that things strike different people in different ways. The vision of all of us is limited and no man can see beyond that which he is given the power to see. I have tried my uttermost to see this thing from every point of view. I can see it from none chat does not reflect deep and indelible disgrace upon this Country. Bolsheviks were accused of having disregarded all the laws of civilised life because they seized and swept clean all the people that were within their jurisdiction. If you attempt an attack upon an entire nation there is at least this to be said, the nation can defend itself, and here, I have no doubt, the defence would be pretty bitter. But we did not do that. We selected a few scattered people who were utterly unable to defend themselves, and we took from them the whole of their possessions and stripped them as bare as the Bolsheviks stripped all the people who were within their power. As for these subsequent compassionate allowances, that, of course, was an admission that you had done wrong and an attempt in a very limited way to put it right. I do sincerely hope that even at this last moment I am going to hear from the Government something that will enable me even now to redeem the promise I have made on the faith of the Government's statement to people who have come to me, that if they will bring their claims forward within the terms of the Resolution they will be dealt with. I beg to move.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord in bringing forward his Resolution has used some very extreme terms—he has talked about the "deep and indelible disgrace" of this country—terms of gross exaggeration which are not justified, as I hope to show, in any sense by what has in fact taken place as regards the properties to which he has referred. He has gone so far as to say that we are worse than a Bolshevist country. Surely, that is a gross exaggeration. There may be one or two facts still unascertained as regards this matter, but most of them are perfectly well known. There may be some cases of hardship—I will try to deal with those presently—but cases of hardship cannot be dealt with without proper intimation that they are going to be brought forward, and so far as I cannot deal with them to-day, we will certainly endeavour to deal with any case which the noble and learned Lord cares to send forward.

I will now come to my explanation. I will not call it a defence, because I do not think any defence is necessary after what was said in your Lordships' House on the last occasion, and after what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in what was not only an admirably pre pared statement but, as I consider, a perfectly accurate account of how the case really stands. I want to say at the out set that I do regret that on a matter of this kind, which may be calculated to raise friction at a time when we want nothing but conciliation between Germany and the German people and ourselves, such language should be used as that which the noble and learned Lord has used. I think your Lordships will agree that, strong as is the language which the noble and learned Lord uses from time to time, to talk of the "deep and indelible disgrace" of this country and to say that we are worse than the Bolsheviks in connection with this question—I will call it a difficult question if you like—of payment between ex-enemies of the two countries, is really very strong language indeed. The noble and learned Lord says he is careful about his language. It is not for me to find fault with that. What I regret is not the carefulness of his language, but that he should have expressed himself in extreme terms which are capable not only of being misunderstood in other countries, but of being misunderstood in the sense of being used with the purpose and intention of stirring up difficulties between Germany and this country. I come to the Questions which he has asked, which I certainly will try to answer if I can. He asked first whether any of the money obtained by what he calls the "confiscation "—


You called it that five years ago.


Yes, but five years ago conditions were very different from what they are now. I assisted the noble and learned Lord in order to get what he calls hard cases before the Blanesburgh Committee, and I do not think I ever used language such as the noble and learned Lord has used to-day. The Question he asks is— Whether any of the money obtained by the confiscation of ex-enemy property has at any time been used for any purpose other than payment to the British creditors of ex-enemy nationals of their claims and costs. He knows perfectly well it has. He knows perfectly well that out of the funds which have been derived a sum of about £14,000,000—I think that was the amount stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and that it is the figure stated by my noble friend Lord Passfield and myself when the discussion took place in your Lordships' House the other day—has been used. He knows perfectly well, although it is put forward in the Question in connection with the word "confiscation," that a large sum has been used for purposes other than payments to the British creditors of ex-enemy nationals of their claims and costs.


I know it has been paid to them. I ask what has been done with the surplus.


I will deal with the matter by stages. Have any sums been so paid?


Not to creditors.


May I read it again? Whether any of the money obtained by the confiscation of ex-enemy property has at any time been used for any purpose other than payment to the British creditors of ex-enemy nationals of their claims and costs. The answer is, of course, it has.


The noble Lord must excuse me. I said I accepted that money had been used for the payment of creditors and costs. The Question makes it perfectly plain. My Question was based on that hypothesis.


I will not read it again. I thought the purport of the Question was: Has money which has been obtained by what he calls confiscation of ex-enemy property been used for any purpose other than payment to the British creditors—that is to our nationals, of course—of ex-enemy nationals of their claims and costs? I will not dwell longer on that. My view is that that is the Question in plain terms, and the answer is: Yes, of course it has been. It has been done continuously, practically from the start. The justification for that I will deal with presently. The Question goes on: "If so, for what purpose has it been so applied?" It was said the other day that it has been handed over from time to time to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as soon as there was a sufficient surplus.


Will the noble and learned Lord refer me to the statement made?


It was made perfectly clear, I should have thought, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day, and I thought it was made perfectly clear by my noble friend Lord Passfield when speaking in your Lordships' House. I will give details of the figures in a moment if the noble and learned Lord will wait. For the moment, I want to follow out the other parts of his Question. The Question goes on to ask to what purpose it has been applied, and to what extent. It has been actually paid over, as stated, to the extent of, £11,000,000, and there was about £3,000,000 held to meet claims which might be brought forward on the contrary side. Let me summarise what has been said, because these figures really show that the exaggerations of the noble and learned Lord are very extravagant. The figures give £33,500,000 to satisfy British claims, and £6,000,000 used to satisfy British claims for pre-War debts. That is £39,500,000. The surplus was about £14,000,000. Of that, £11,000,000 has been paid to the Treasury and £3,000,000 held until the account is settled. In addition to that, of course, there were the £5,000,000 paid under the decisions of the, Blanesburgh Committee and another £5,000,000 which was explained—I thought clearly explained—by Lord Passfield as money in respect of which what he called the clog had been taken off and which therefore remained the property of the German nationals.

I think that was the only way you could possibly deal with a matter of that kind. That is admirably expressed in the Report of the Committee of Experts on Reparations, called the Young Report, which I have quoted before, when it says: To assure the general confidence indispensable to the successful working of this plan, the Committee— and so on. I would ask the noble Lord to consider that. This settlement was made because it was thought that to ensure the general confidence indispensable to the successful working of this plan a settlement of this kind must be come to on this question of ex-enemy properties. I do not say I have the power of language of the noble Lord, but I want to enforce with all the power at my command that that Committee urged that this was a matter that had to be settled in order that the larger question of Reparations might be dealt with as it was dealt with at The Hague. It is no service either to this country or to Germany, to British nationals or to German nationals, to use the terms which the noble. Lord has used, which cannot fail to create friction and trouble between the two countries and between the nationals of the two countries.

What was the settlement? There is nothing here about the Eighth Commandment. I understand the noble Lord thinks the Common Law more important than the Eighth Commandment. The Report recommends that the Governments, not only this Government but the Governments of the other countries who were concerned in The Hague settlement, should make no further use, from the date of the acceptance of this Report, of their right to seize, retain and liquidate property, rights and interests of German nationals or companies controlled by them in so far as not already liquid or liquidated or finally disposed of…. Surely, it is absolutely clear, that, so far as properties are not liquidated or finally disposed or in the course of liquidation, they are to be left under the control and for the benefit of their present owners—in this case the German nationals who have properties in this country. I should have thought that was a complete and admirable answer to the suggestion that we were doing something which was a "deep and indelible disgrace." That is not the view of this Committee of the great experts who dealt with this matter and brought it to The Hague. They said nothing of that. They said it was our right to do what we had done. They said it was better in the interests of general peace that we should have a settlement, and that it should be one of the terms of the settlement that these matters should come to an end as regards the ex-enemy nationals in the different countries.

Surely that is perfectly clear. That is exactly what Lord Passfield said when the matter was brought to his notice. This statement of theirs also is important— ….and that the outstanding questions concerning such property should be definitely cleared up within one year after the coming into force of this plan by arrangements between the Governments concerned and Germany. That is being done now. A Committee was appointed, not to deal with any question of principle, but because in questions of this kind involving many large sums, some liquidated and some not liquidated, there are many matters to be dealt with before the question can be closed up. There is no suggestion here such as the noble Lord has made by his allusions to the Common Law and the Seventh Commandment. It is very important that the accounts should be settled up because this is part and parcel of the accounts. So far as principle is concerned, we made a concession—I do not say it is generous, but it is a proper concession to make—namely, that the accounts are to be taken as from August 31, the last date of The Hague Conference when all sides were present. We said: "We will not wait for any future date. We will start at once on August 31. We will draw a line and, with regard to properties which up to this date have not come within the definition of being liquidated or seized or retained up to this date, we give up our rights to seize, retain or liquidate any properties from this date and the clog, so far as the property of these nationals is concerned, is taken off." What is there wrong in that? It was a very proper concession.

Up till that date the obligation, which came from the Treaty of Versailles, was that these properties were to be taken into account for the benefit of Germany on the question of Reparations. The larger the amount for Reparations the greater the benefit to Germany, although, unfortunately, the greater the loss to German nationals. I do not put any weight on this because it is obvious. What the Young Committee says is this: "As from this date there shall be no further advantage from matters of this kind to Germany. They stop as they are at present. We take that into consideration and it is part of the settlement we propose …… to assure the general confidence indispensable to the successful working of this plan.' Any one does a very bad day's service who speaks in any way that is likely to interrupt the successful carrying out of that plan, worked out as it was at The Hague. That is the answer to the first Question. I have said how it has been applied and the extent of the figures.

As to the second Question, I cannot go into one part of it because it seems to me a Question where prejudice might be raised one way or the other and I have not the actual facts. The promise to release unliquidated property extends to personal property just as much as to real estate. There is absolutely no distinction between the two. I do not know why a distinction was suggested. There is no distinction as regards the realisation. They are both placed in exactly the same position. It may be true, as the noble Lord said, that the property easier to realise, personal property, was realised first. I do not know, although it seems very probable. As regards what we are now doing, that promise to release unrealised property extends to personal just as much as to real estate. I hope the noble Lord will be satisfied with that answer. There is no distinction whatever between them.

The third Question he asked me was:— Is it proposed to hand over to the German Government the ultimate balance of the confiscated property and, if so, will it be handed over unconditionally or on any and what terms? The answer to that is "No." As has been stated here and as set out in the Young Report, you do not confiscate this property and hand it over. (I do not like the word confiscation which the noble Lord has used). You stop the trouble at the root. You leave the property in the hands of its present owners. There is no question of first of all taking it over and then passing on some to Germany so far as these properties are concerned. What other suggestion can be made? Well, we have carried this realisation to a considerable extent—no doubt it has not been carried to its extreme limits—and we are going to stop as from August 31 of this year. What is the result? These German nationals who own this property will not be further troubled, they will not be reduced any more to those terrible conditions which the noble and learned Lord has suggested. I hope that also is satisfactory to the noble and learned Lord.

There is one matter upon which I presume I cannot satisfy the noble and learned Lord at this stage. He has given certain illustrations. One was a case which is still under judicial consideration, and the other was a case in which it has been ascertained, according to my advisers that the figures were by no means accurate—the figures, I think, given in the case of the old man and the £1,000. They are by no means accurate.


By no means accurate?


Well, we are all sorry for him; one hates criticising anyone, but the fact is he has received a great deal more than that. I do not want to go into details—I have not got them sufficiently accurately—but he has received £1,700 or £1,800 in addition from the German Government; because, if the word "confiscation" is properly used, it is not we who are the confiscators. The arrangement was that where a German national did not get the value of his property returned in the ordinary way the German Government undertook to make it good. I do not want to say anything that reflects in any way on the German Government. I know they have done their best, and I believe that both Germany and England, for their mutual benefit, desire to come again on the most friendly possible basis in financial, commercial and all other directions. But when we are told that this is a "deep and indelible disgrace," why is it a deep and indelible disgrace to tell a man that his property is going to be treated in a certain way—just in the way that our nationals' property not only is being treated in Germany, but was treated in both countries during the War? That was a special condition in this case, and we made the provision that in the case of people who did not get what we should call fair compensation for their property under the terms of payment which we could make, the German Government, who of course are primarily interested in their own nationals, would make up the difference.

Why have we acted in the way the noble and learned Lord suggested? I am not one of those who admire this system, but it was the system of the Treaty. It has been carried out under various inquiries held since—two I think have been held as regards the judicial and securities questions. It has been going on all the time. Then we appointed the Blanesburgh Committee. It is all very well for the noble and learned Lord to talk about the Blanesburgh Committee, but those people whom we left under that Committee had no claim whatever. What we did was this—and I am thankful it was done: I thank the noble and learned Lord for the part he took in it—we acknowledged that in working out these rights, which were rights created by the Treaty, if hardships had arisen we would do our best to meet the difficult cases. Those were cases which went to the Blanesburgh Committee. As regards the other points made, I hesitate to say more than this, that if these cases exist, if these properties are not already realised and liquidated, now is the time when the noble and learned Lord will let us know what they are; but, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out in another place, on that there can be no re-opening of the door at all. Where a matter has been decided once for all—and the whole matter, so far as we are concerned, is set out in the terms contained in the Treaty of Versailles—there can be no reopening of back matters, in reference to which it is impossible almost to ascertain accuracy of fact, and in reference to which the money has already been applied, as we have said, to other purposes.

I think I have answered the Questions which the noble and learned Lord has asked me except in regard to particular cases. No one would propose to answer those particular questions without having had notice. I do not know whether the noble and learned Lord wishes to move for Papers. I am not aware whether they would be valuable to him. But I hope your Lordships will consider that at any rate we, who are sometimes attacked for our standpoint on national questions, have never used such words in a transaction of this kind as that we were worse than the Bolsheviks in imposing a "deep and indelible disgrace" on our country. I repudiate those words. They are not applicable to the conditions I have stated.


The noble and learned Lord has not answered one question. If there are people who come within the terms of the Resolution that this House accepted, whose cases have not been considered and dealt with, will they be considered and will they be dealt with now?


I want to be quite certain. I cannot answer the noble and learned Lord straight off. I would rather not make an answer that might possibly mislead him. I understand he is referring to a case—


I am not referring to a case, but to any possible number of cases.


Well, let me take the case which I understand, first of all. Under the arrangement which is made under the Young plan, if it is carried out, where a case has not been considered, the owner may remain in possession of his property, that property has never been liquidated and has never been seized—


The noble and learned Lord utterly fails to understand my question. I am taking the case of a person whose property has been seized and liquidated and applied in the manner he described, but who none the less is within the exact terms of the Resolution which this House has twice accepted. I want to know, if such persons have not had their money back, will they get it now?


I think there must be a misunderstanding here, because it is my recollection of what was stated here, and quite clearly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place, that those matters could not be reopened.


My Lords, the facts, as I understand them, are very simple. When the War broke out certain Germans living in England had property here, and certain Englishmen living in Germany had property there. Both the British Government and the German Government took possession of the property of enemy subjects in their different countries. When the War was over a Treaty was entered into at Versailles, under which the British Government undertook to keep the German property over here, and to give compensation for the property of the British subjects in Germany, and the German Government undertook to keep the British property in Germany and to compensate their own nationals. However, the German Government did not compensate their own nationals, but said: "Oh, it is very hard lines that having made an agreement to compensate our own nationals we shall be obliged to enforce it, and we would much rather that the English people paid that which we had agreed to pay." Those are the simple facts as I understand them. In those circumstances, even if the Germans had not initiated one of the most terrible wars that was ever initiated in the world, if they had not behaved in an extraordinarily improper manner in the execution of Nurse Cavell, of Captain Fryatt, and in various other ways, they had entered into a bargain, they had made a contract and they ought to abide by it. For the first time in my life I believe that the Socialist Government, I am sure by accident, have done the right thing and, therefore, if there is any question of dividing I shall vote with them.


My Lords, I should like to say a few words upon this subject because to a great extent I sympathise with those whose ease has been brought before your Lordships' House by my noble and learned friend Lord Buckmaster. The danger with him, so far as I am concerned, is always this, that when he speaks as he spoke to-day I always feel as humble subjects of Rome must have felt when they heard Marc Antony making a funeral oration over Julius Caesar. One forgets, at least I do as I expect they did, a great many of the wrongs which that man inflicted upon others, and one is inclined to concentrate only upon the very point upon which either Marc Antony or Lord Buckmaster happens to be addressing the assembly- I cannot help thinking that in what he said, although I sympathise with his object, he has gone too far. I cannot think that this country deserves that there should be used about its policy, whether it was the policy of the late Government or of this, such words as "indelible disgrace." If I wanted to apply those words to anyone—I do not—I should apply them to those who marched without the slightest provocation or justification through the friendly State of Belgium, who burned without the slightest excuse the Library of Louvain, and who have not replaced a single book that is worth having. If I wanted to use words of that kind I would select the object to which to apply them somewhat differently from my noble and learned friend.

Still, I think there is something more which this country might do, and it is because I do not believe this country to be indelibly disgraced and because I do not believe that in any time that we can foresee we shall have a Government who would indelibly disgrace it, that I desire to intervene for a moment in this debate. It seemed to me—I read it carefully—that the account of this whole matter given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place a week ago puts our case legally and as far as mere justice is concerned in an absolutely unassailable position. The facts with regard to this matter were as Lord Banbury has just mentioned them to the House, as far as I can gather; but in case there should be a word of difference I will read this, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer said— I may explain that the German properties sequestrated during the War were transferred to the Creditor Governments as at the date of the entry into force of the Treaty, namely, January 10, 1920. The German Government at the same time retained the proceeds of liquidation of property of Allied nationals in Germany and undertook to compensate its own nationals in respect of their properties liquidated abroad. That is perfectly plain. That is a treaty, as we call it, between States, but to those who have simply studied the law in this country it is a contract entered into between the German Government and this Government. I cannot make out that we have broken that contract in any term whatever, or that we contemplate doing so. Then where is the indelible disgrace upon this country? If the Germans have not kept the contract in their country, those words, if they are to be applied at all, should be applied to them and not to us.

There is only this that I would say about what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on that occasion. He referred to the burdens laid upon the taxpayers of this country and somewhat intimated that what we should do with regard to what I think is properly called a compassionate treatment of these German nationals, must be considered in regard to the burdens to be borne by the taxpayers of this country. My noble and learned friend did say to the Government, and here I sympathise with him entirely, that they would do well to consider as to the application of money which may be in their hands, whether it is necessary to go on increasing our national extravagance. I should not like it to be said, and I think there is a danger of it being said: "We should like to compensate these German nationals. We should like to do the compassionate thing. We should even like to do the handsome thing by them so that the consequences of the War may rankle no longer. But we cannot do it because we have promised such a lot of money to all sorts of people, many of whom do not want it at all." I should be sorry if that were the result, and if I were to be told—I listened to the debate yesterday and I think there may be a danger of it—" But the Government, you see, promised so many people who afterwards voted for them that if they would vote for them they should have £1 a week or 25s. and that they should have a pension as soon as they were born."

If the Government were to be reminded of that, if they were to be twitted with not having kept their word, and if that were to result in their not behaving handsomely even to people like this, I should be sorry. Therefore, I want to point out to them that if they have made a bargain of that kind, it is no discredit not to keep it. I should say that if you promise people what you ought not to have promised them—I should like to be confirmed in this by the right rev. Bench opposite—and if you have made an immoral contract, it is better not to keep it than to keep it. I would even appeal to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether that is not perfectly good law. Ex turpi causa non oritur actio. The Government ought never to be reproached as they were yesterday, and I hope they never will be reproached again, because they do not keep their word as to subjects where they ought never to have pledged it. They had much better get up and say: "Here we are and here we are going to stay, but we will not sin in that fashion again."

I would much rather see the Government, therefore, in this particular case not only just—I believe they will be that, I am absolutely sure they will be that— to these German nationals, but I should like them to say: "We will not only be just, we will also be generous." With regard to the cases which Lord Buckmaster may bring before them, whether he can establish that there is an absolute right to the money should hardly be the question. If he can satisfy them that there is a genuine hardship, I believe they would act in accordance and sympathy with the feelings of the people of England if they would say that they are not going to treat this merely as if it were a question of law upon a contract made with Germany. Call it, if you like, a compassionate allowance. Let them say: "It shall be a compassionate allowance, and we will not take small sums and divide them, and give what will not content the people who receive it."

If I am asked where we are going to get the money, I fall back upon what the Chancellor of the Exchequer hinted at. Do not lay all these burdens on the British taxpayer. I fall back upon the words in which Lord Buckmaster himself alluded to the question, and I say: You can find the money easily enough if you do not perform all the pledges which you gave the electors and which you ought not to have given. If you want an instance, just begin with Hyde Park. Instead of spending all the money which I see that an enthusiastic Minister thinks of spending in Hyde Park, leave Hyde Park as it is. The Germans will not mind. They can go and walk there. But I see that, instead of this, it is proposed to put up all manner of winter gardens and little cabins where, to use the words of one of the most Puritan of our poets, people may— …sport with Amaryllis in the shade, Or with the tangles of Neæra's hair. Give up these luxuries and let us earn the regard of a people who live very plainly at home before we try to gratify ourselves or to fulfil all the pledges which a too enthusiastic Government made a few months ago.


My Lords, before the debate comes to an end there is one question that I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord opposite. We understood in the last debate, and again to-day, that what is really happening is that the liquidation of these estates which are held by the Government is now going to cease, and that such estates as have not been liquidated are going to be returned to their owners. What I want to ask the noble and learned Lord is: Does that mean, in point of fact, that all the little people will have their money taken away and that the large people, whose estates consist of land and other things which take a long time to realise, will gain? I ask whether that is the position. If that is so, I think the Government might very well consider whether they should not continue the liquidation of these properties and also continue their application of it in a compassionate manner on behalf of the people who have lost most.

I would ask your Lordships to remember another thing. I am rather sorry that we have had references to atrocities and other matters in this House that have tended to arouse once more bad feeling between Germany and ourselves. There is a very large class whose estates have been taken away, who may be technically German but who are really as British as your Lordships—women who may have acquired German nationality by marriage. We have had numerous cases quoted of settlements where the beneficiaries are really British. That seems to me to be a case where the liquidation of these large German estates might be continued and the proceeds given to people who are of British nationality.

There is only one other point I should like to make, and that is to remind your Lordships that the Resolution proposed by my noble and learned friend in the last debate was accepted by the Government. If I remember aright, the noble Lord, Lord Parmoor, said: "You shall have your Resolution." I certainly understood, as did the noble and learned Lord who moved the Resolution, that his reading of the matter was correct. We were told that these cases could be brought forward and, if the people had not received their £5,000, they should have it. That was stated in your Lordships' House, or at least that was the impression we were left under. But a few days later a statement is made in another place and apparently the whole thing is blown into thin air. I consider that this is treating your Lordships' House with contempt. I know that the Government do not think much of your Lordships' House and it may be part of a deliberate policy of bringing your Lordships' House into contempt. I should like to know whether that is so. I think it is pretty strong to give us an impression that these cases are going to be considered and then, just because a Minister in another place says "No," your Lordships are to be told that your Resolution is to be put on one side and the whole thing is to come to an end.


My Lords, it is only with permission of the House that I can say a word in answer to the questions that the noble Lord has asked. I can assure him that there is no intention on the part of the Government to throw contempt upon this House. I thought we had shown very clearly how much we desired to bring business forward in this House. Upon the question of liquidation, I do not know about the character of the estates, but this is part of the Young Reparation proposals accepted at The Hague. It is nothing to do with us particularly. Other countries did the same, and of course we cannot interfere with that in any way. It has just been pointed out to me that the effect of the arrangement made under the Young plan is that the realisation of estates—it is really taking the clogs off property—will apply equally, of course, to large and small properties. There does not seem to be any suggestion that they must be particularly large or particularly small.


My Lords, some of the words that I used seem to have caused feeling in this House. I regret this, though it was not unexpected, and I beg the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, to understand that I did not select this country for reproof for the purpose of holding up other countries to approval. If he thought that my words about our country were strong, I should like him to remember that he has never heard my language about the matters to which he refers. If he had he would see—


Should I be alive after it?


I want him to appreciate that my words were not intended for the purpose of exculpating anybody. But, as I said and as I still say, I know that other people see these things differently. I can only say that I know of Englishwomen born and bred, Englishwomen with English property, English feelings, English tastes and even with sons who fought by our side in the War, and they have had their money taken away. Now they have to come and beg that it should be given back. Other people may use other language about it, but to me it is something deeply discreditable, and I only hesitate to say what I feel because I greatly appreciate that, though your Lordships may not share my feelings, you are always most considerate to me when I express them. The noble Lord, Lord Banbury, has, to my mind, presented this matter in what I regard as a mistaken way. I have pointed out before, and I think it is obvious, that if I take money from any person by violence it can be no excuse whatever for my conduct that I have got a third party to promise that he will give it back. The wrong is as between me and the person from whom I have taken it, and I suggest that it would be the less excusable if the person from whom I extracted the promise were on the edge of bankruptcy and saw no chance of ever being discharged.

If the British Government had done what I submit to have been the right thing, they would have laid as a first charge upon the Germans the obligation of paying over all the money of British people that they had taken away. If you say they could not do it, then they equally could not have paid us the money we were going to take over here. That is how the matter ought to have been settled. It is not the way it was settled. As I have once more pointed out, even assume you make it an excuse that you are going to try to take their property as some species of retaliation—a thing I have always loathed—for the purpose of compensating people who had suffered over there, that could not justify you in applying it, as the noble Lord tells us it is to be, for the purposes of our National Debt. That is taking private property, the property of private subjects here, for the purposes of our own public expenditure. I say such a thing has not within my knowledge ever been done in the history of this country, and it is a thing I believe your Lordships will sincerely hope will never be repeated. It certainly causes me to tell the Government about it in the way that I have done. I would beg your Lordships to understand whose money it is that is being taken. They were not enemy nationals by the Common Law of England. The Common Law of England is far more sane than most of the Statutes, for it enabled an English woman to retain her nationality after marriage. It was not, I think, till 1844, by the operation of Statute, that this right was taken away. It is a purely artificial thing, and by that artificial operation these people were stripped of their goods; women were left absolutely penniless, their property expropriated, and now in the ultimate result that property is being used for our public purposes. Other people see it through different eyes. I can only see it through my own.

I am prepared to accept humbly reproof from my noble friend, if he will permit me to call him so, Lord Banbury, but I am bound to say that when I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Parmoor, reproach me for using the word "confiscation" in this debate I was amazed. Does he really think that the memory of this House is so short that it has forgotten the things that he said on the same matter? I happened to look through this afternoon to some extent the Report of the former debate. I found his speech was crammed full of the word "confiscation." From first to last he used it far more often than I did. Then what is it that has happened? Of all the things I hate it is the change of your words and views when you go from one Bench to the other. My views may be unpalatable, but I can at least assure your Lordships they are my true views, and will be expressed wherever I happen to sit.

The noble Lord pointed out to me the damage I was doing to our friendly relations with the Germans, as though the Germans rejoiced in the action that we have taken. It so happens that among the flood that has been liberated on me since the last debate I have had a large number of German papers. "Shylock" is, on the whole, the most favourable term that has been applied to us. But I will not quote the German papers. Let us take from The Times what is said by its own correspondent in Berlin. The discussions in Parliament and outside of the question of the release of German property sequestrated in Great Britain but not yet liquidated, and the return of the liquidation surplus, have revived in Germany a grievance which has found bitter expression…. The German grievance against Great Britain in connection with liquidation in general was nourished by the decision of one ex-enemy country after another to stop liquidation and release the property remaining. No clear explanation of the British reasons for not following these examples has ever been issued by a British Government. He goes on to say:— In the absence of a clear explanation of the British case, the cessation of liquidation and the release of the remaining property by France, Italy and the United States stood out as the height of generosity in contrast to the supposed British obstinacy. What was the explanation of why we have not done it when those other nations have? It is not that we are poorer. Is it that we are less generous? The noble Lord said we went into agreement under the Young Report. Of course, that is the basis of the whole thing. You have arranged that you will take this money, not release it as the other people have done—we alone are to take this money and use it for our national purposes.


I think I must interrupt the noble and learned Lord. I am unwilling to do so, but we have released more and given back far more than any other European country, as was stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House of Commons in his answer.


The noble Lord really must think that I am not fully aware of the facts and figures. We appropriated more. We first of all took £55,000,000, and our surplus was £15,000,000. You say you have given back more, that you have made compassionate allowances, which I now understand are to stop, to the extent of £5,000,000. That is what we have done.


The noble Lord is not quite accurate, if I may say so. In addition to that under the Young plan we give up another £5,000,000—£10,000,000 altogether.


I will deal with the unliquidated property in a moment. The generosity we have shown for the moment is this £5,000,000, which is a comparatively small part of the surplus. But the real point is this. Is there any other country that was one of our Allies during the War which has applied the money forcibly taken from subjects within their territory—private property—towards the discharge of national obligations? That is the question to which I want an answer. The Times says it is perfectly clear that the cessation of liquidation and the release of the remaining property by France, Italy and the United States stood out as the height of generosity in contrast to the supposed British obstinacy. Until some explanation of that is given I say that strong language is required to convey a proper description of what has occurred. Some people think mine is too strong. It is not in my view. Really, after having been lectured by the noble Lord about the use of strong words such as "confiscation," to find him saying: "I know all about it, and now it is all ended ", is something positively amazing.

I stated on the last occasion I wanted to be able to say that the Government had accepted the principle that every English woman who had money up to £5,000 taken from her could get it back, and that they had made a statement which could be acted upon. I was allowed to make that statement with the approval of the Government. I made it as the reason why I wanted my Resolution accepted. And now I am told it is all untrue. Now that I have written and said: "You may rely on it; you now have that right which this Government have promised you in the House of Lords," I am to write a lot more letters and say: "I regret to say the whole thing is a sham." It is not surprising I feel strongly about this matter. I do not like to have my personal credit impugned in this manner. I do not want to be inundated with further letters from people who have suffered in this way. I must say I cannot acquit the Government of responsibility for it. If they did not know at the time they ought to have said they did not know. If they did know, it was inexcusable to allow me to make a statement like that and let it go by without it qualification. I suppose this is the last time we shall discuss this matter. It is the end of it. It has been a bitter and unhappy experience for me. I do not know why it is I am made the recipient of so many cases, each one of which, taken individually by your Lordships, would have, wrung your hearts. Perhaps it may be that the accumulated effect has embittered my feelings. I cannot regard with other than uneasy feelings what has taken place, and I sincerely trust we shall resolve that never again shall such a thing occur.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.