§ LORD BUCKMASTER had given Notice to ask what is the surplus of the private property of ex-enemy subjects now in the hands of the Government, and to move to resolve, That such surplus be applied towards carrying into effect the Resolution 330 of this House of the 6th April, 1922. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, to those of us who were in this House in April of 1922 the words of my Motion will tell their own tale, but there are some who were here then who are, to our regret, here no longer, and some who are here now were not present on that occasion. It is therefore necessary that, in part at least, the tale should be retold and it is not a pleasant one to recount. By the Treaty of Versailles this country, as well as the other belligerent countries, appropriated the whole of the property of what were called ex-enemy nationals within their territories. The provisions were wholesale and admitted on their face of no exception. They applied equally to small sums that had been collected by the thrift of people in this country who happened to be what were called ex-enemy nationals, and to large sums possessed by bankers and people who carried on foreign trade. They swept away the earnings alike of governesses, financiers, big tradesmen and small people in humble positions in life, and the cruelty and wrong that were caused by these provisions were something that it is not easy to measure.
§ No one, I think, ever doubted that the terms of that Treaty in that respect were in direct violation of well-established principles of International Law. For a very long time it has been an accepted principle that private property of enemy subjects on land should be free from confiscation owing to hostilities, and it was because this stood in marked contrast with the provisions at sea that disputes arose about what is called the freedom of the seas. But the rule on land was clear, and though, in the course of previous debates, lawyers have appeared and voted, I have been unable to find the record of a single lawyer who has attempted to defend the terms of this Treaty on legal principles, and I do not think that I have been able to find the name of a single lawyer in the Division Lists against my last Resolution. That the principle of International Law was violated is certainly not going to be disputed by the present Leader of the House, because nobody made a more plain or more explicit statement upon the matter than he did. He referred to the statement of the noble Viscount who was then Lord Chancellor, 331 who said that the principle of the immunity of private property on land was organic and fundamental in the science of International Law; and added: "No lawyer would question that statement." Then he went on to say that the principle has always been that during the continuance of war the properties of those who afterwards became ex-enemy nationals had been safeguarded and protected during its progress, and as soon as the war was over their rights had arisen again and they had had the full benefit of their private interests. This is a great principle in justice and in policy.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
Accordingly I shall certainly not hear from the Government Bench any question of the principle that I have attempted to lay down. In one way there was an attempt to palliate this obvious breach of ancient tradition. It was said, first of all, that this was done only in order that the creditors of German traders and other German debtors should be provided with means by which their debts could be satisfied. It was also said that the German Government had promised that it would recompense the people who had to make the payments here. It did not need the great authority of the late Lord Lansdowne, who spoke on the last occasion, to point out how utterly illusory any such suggestion was. Nobody for a single moment imagined that persons living over here, whose property over here had been taken away, were going to get much chance of redress by going over to Germany, because the mark proceeded to decline with unparalleled rapidity and, if they had gone there, what they would have got would not have been of the least value. There was no justification whatever for this argument. Indeed, if you think it over, you will see that it could not afford any justification. If I knock a man down in the road and rob him, it is no justification to say that, after all, somebody else has promised that he will give back all that I have taken away. The question is whether my action is right, and not whether I have attempted to provide that somebody else shall make it right.
The action of the Government here was described, and I think accurately, on a 332 former occasion as wholesale confiscation of the property of ex-enemy nationals over here. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, who, by one of the strangest accidents in political life was then on the Government Bench as representing the Coalition Government and is facing me now as the representative of a Government of a totally different complexion, was put up to speak for the Government on that occasion, and objected to the use of the word "confiscation." I regret that I cannot change it. The only word that I could substitute would be a shorter and, to my mind, a more accurate word, but it would certainly be less gratifying to people who want to defend what was done. On a former occasion a number of instances were given by Lord Ullswater, the late Lord Lansdowne, Lord Newton and others who, from their own experience, gave an account of the way in which this arrangement was operated. I do not propose to recall those instances now, but I might repeat one example which has always seemed to me one of the most startling of all.
There was a woman over here, an English girl, who had lived with her mother and taught music. She had saved some £4,000 or £6,000. How she did it is one of the mysteries of the world. For any person teaching music to save a sum like that is a miracle, but just think for a moment of the hardship, the penury and the thrift of these people in saving up shillings and small sums of money until they had acquired this amount. The mother being old, the property was put in the younger woman's name. The younger woman, before the War, had engaged herself to marry a Hungarian, also, I have no doubt, a musician. The War came and the War went. The Armistice was declared, and between the date of the Armistice and the date of the Treaty this woman carried out her promise and married the man, and they came down and swept away the whole of this £6,000. Not only that, but it was with the greatest possible difficulty, after repeated application, by an urgency which became a nuisance that at last some of it was got back for her.
That was an illustration of the things that were happening all over the country, and the only difference between that case and many others was that it happened to come into the hands of 333 somebody who knew me and thought that I might be interested in it, and that by my insistence I was able to get what these people themselves had utterly failed to obtain. It was this that always made me more angry than anything else—that, though I might be able to get something done for them, they could get nothing for themselves. What can there be in right or justice that will enable you to hand out to A property that you have refused to B when it is B's right? That is nothing but an illustration of what took place. Then a Committee was set up, and that Committee had very limited powers of concession in certain very special and limited cases. The Government, whether deliberately or not I do not know, never did advertise that Committee. I complained about it—they never suggested that they had—and then some representative of the Government, I forget whether it was Lord Gorell or not, really had the temerity to suggest that a debate in this House was a sufficient advertisement for anything. As if they did not know that things uttered in this House rarely go beyond its walls! Your Lordships know that that is so, and it is of no use pretending that it is not the case. That was the only advertisement it got, and the result was that of all the people whose property had been appropriated—I think Lord Newton gave the figure—only nine hundred got redress.
In those circumstances I moved the Resolution which I ask you again to adopt, whether with or without modification. My Motion was merely this:—That the terms of the Peace Treaties appropriating the private property of enemy-subjects shall not apply to sums of £5,000 or less where the owner is either horn of British parents or had been resident in this country continuously for twenty-five years before 4th August, 1914.Just think for a moment what the terms of that Resolution mean. It is to exempt, your own fellow-subjects, British women, who own property here, from having that property swept away because they happened to have married men who happened to become our enemies. I heard an interesting story of a woman who had considerable property. She married an Austrian, and she was stripped to the bone. The trustees got hold of the property. She was, not unnaturally, a little distressed, 334 and after long communications with her husband, he said: "You know, I do not know that there was not a flaw in our marriage, and that we are not married at all." So they went and had the matter examined, and they found that the Austrian had failed to comply with something which was requisite for a marriage in Austria, and that they were not married. Therefore they got all their money back, and no doubt went and got married again and lived happily. Just imagine a law like that, which will take a woman and strip her of her property because she is married, and as soon as she proves that she is not married gives it back again.
Illustrations were multiplied again and again in our former debate, but now things have altered. On the last occasion, the only real argument put forward against accepting my Resolution was that it had not yet been found that the money that had been obtained was sufficient to satisfy the claims of English creditors. I have never admitted that the claims of English creditors was a sound argument: but what is the position to-day? The Government will tell us the exact sum, but we understand that there is between £12,000,000 and £15,000,000, taken from private persons within this jurisdiction, now held by the Government, and we want to know what is going to be done with it. The thing which makes me most anxious and uneasy is that on September 4 of this year, writing from the Treasury, it is stated there has never been any question of Great Britain disposing of the existing surplus in any other way than retaining it on account of Reparations.
Has there never been any other question than that such a thing as that should be done? This Government know that we stand alone in this matter; that France, Italy and all the other countries have declined to accept that proposition, and that we are standing as the sole country insisting upon such a proposition as that. We are the country which has always boasted that in generosity to our late enemies we showed the way to the world. This question now is stripped of all excuse. There is no longer the excuse of the existing British creditors. This act of injustice, grave and serious as I think it to be, is now stripped of all clothing and stands naked and ugly before 335 the world. I hope sincerely that this statement, to which I have referred, although it comes from a Government Office, is not the careful and considered pronouncement of the Government which we shall hear from Lord Parmoor, who has spoken more earnestly than anyone against a proposition which, if that be right, the Government is now going to be called upon to support.
Moved to resolve, That the surplus of the private property of ex-enemy subjects now in the hands of the Government be applied towards carrying into effect the Resolution of this House of the 6th April, 1922, namely:—That the terms of the Peace Treaties appropriating the private property of enemy-subjects shall not apply to sums of £5,000 or less where the owner is either born of British parents or had been resident in this country continuously for twenty-five years before 4th August, 1914.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DOMINION AFFAIRS AND THE COLONIES (LORD PASSFIELD)
My Lords, I hope the noble and learned Lord will excuse me if I do not, in attempting to reply to his Question, travel as far back as he himself has done. I am certainly not called upon to defend the action that was taken in 1919, or in 1914 and 1915 as a matter of fact; and, if it were to be a question of discussing the validity or the morality of the action then taken, I am not at all sure that I should not be as strong as the noble and learned Lord himself on that subject. But the Question which the noble and learned Lord has asked is: What is the surplus of private properly of ex-enemy subjects now in the hands of the Government? and he has moved that it should be applied to carrying out his own Resolution of seven years ago.
I should like to state, as far as I can, exactly what the position now is. The words are a little ambiguous, and it is not possible to give your Lordships a statement as to the actual number of pounds sterling, but the surplus consists partly of properties which had been seized in the way the noble and learned Lord described, and which have not yet been either disposed of or liquidated. That is a large, and I am told, perhaps the largest part of anything that could be called surplus. With regard to this, the British 336 Government agreed at the Hague Conference to act on the recommendation of the experts' report, and to release all the unliquidated property of German nationals. The experts recommended that that should be done from the acceptance of their report, which will not take place for months and perhaps for a year. The Government took upon itself to go beyond that and to release all that unliquidated property at once from the date of the Hague Conference, subject only to two reservations. If any of that property had been, in fact, the subject of a contract for sale, was, in fact, sold, but the actual legal document had not been completed and the conveyance had not been made—well, the Government cannot stop that transaction, and therefore it must be carried out. Though technically that property has not been alienated, it is virtually alienated, and we cannot go behind that. Also there are certain other interests in litigation, and we must await the result of the litigation before any disposal can be made of that property—litigation not started by the British Government, but started by the other parties. But, subject to these common sense reservations, the whole of the unliquidated part of the property, the whole of the property which remains exactly as it was, is now released and is available for return to the German Government.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
Well, we can only deal with the German Government. The property is available for the German Government to hand over to its original owners. With regard to the already liquidated property, that has been a long matter of account—I am describing, I am not justifying; it was not the present Government which had any responsibility for it—that has been a long matter of account, as the noble and learned Lord knows; a tribunal has been instituted, and the claims on one side and the other have been debited and credited. The whole of that has now been gone through, and there is no such sum as £12,000,000 or £15,000,000 in the bank as surplus available. As a matter of fact, there is only the current balance, and when the whole of the transactions are gone through—because there are still a large 337 number of claims and counter-claims not yet settled—it is estimated that there is about £3,000,000 reserved, and that £3,000,000 is the estimated amount of the claims which the Clearing House will have to meet. It is not possible to give an exact estimate, because the claims are naturally not always valid. They cannot quite be taken at their face value, and we cannot tell how much they will be finally estimated to be; but the sum of £3,000,000 is reserved in order to meet those claims. Whether in the ultimate disposal of those claims and counterclaims there may be something over we do not know; we cannot give any closer estimate than that. There is litigation going on over some of the matters, over large sums, on those claims and counterclaims; and in spite of the assiduity of the tribunal, which has been very considerable—the tribunal has rendered admirable service—it has not been possible to bring the matter in these ten years to a settlement, and, as I say, the balance of about £3,000,000 is reserved as an estimated amount which it may be necessary to provide to meet the claims which have not yet been decided.
It is not for me to express any opinion upon the procedure which has been adopted during those ten or twelve years, or upon the policy which was then pursued. The noble and learned Lord must look a little nearer home to the Governments of that time. All I can say is that his Resolution of 1922, as he will know, led in 1923 to the appointment of a Committee under Lord Blanesburgh, which went very carefully into the matter on the lines of the noble and learned Lord's own Motion, but extended beyond the actual words of the noble and learned Lord on that occasion. That Committee reported early in 1924, and I had the pleasure—it was a pleasure—as President of the Board of Trade, of at once releasing the whole of the sums recommended by that Blanesburgh Committee. Those turned out to amount to £2,900,000 odd, and the whole of that has been paid out. That covers substantially, and more than covers, what we are asked about. In one or two instances the classes of case which they recommended do not correspond verbally with one or two of those which the noble and learned Lord himself suggested in 1922. I say that for perfect accuracy; but substantially 338 the classes of case to which release was given were on the lines that the noble and learned Lord suggested, and, excepting one or two cases, corresponded actually with his, and, taking it as a whole, went considerably beyond what the noble and learned Lord himself suggested.
Again, I cannot take the responsibility for the failure to advertise the proceedings of the setting up of the previous Committee, but certainly the Government of 1924 took the greatest possible trouble to advertise the Report of the Blanesburgh Committee, which was the operative document, and the decision of the Government at once to pay out the money. We not only took care that it should be mentioned in the English newspapers all over Great Britain, but we did all that we possibly could in 1924 to make the British Consuls in all parts of Germany and Austria aware of it, and to urge them to do their very utmost to make it known, not merely in Berlin and Vienna, but in all the principal German towns. As a result £2,900,000 odd have been disbursed, which I am assured more than covers the actual Resolution of the noble and learned Lord in 1922. I do not know about the history, but it seems to me that the noble and learned Lord did a very humane and beneficial thing in bringing forward that Resolution in 1922, and, though it took eighteen months to get it carried out, that perhaps is a comparatively short time in Government proceedings. Carried out it was early in 1924 to the full, and more than carried out. That is not all. The succeeding Government, the one to which I had the honour to belong, went on upon the same lines and under some authority which they had and which I confess I do not quite understand, the Board of Trade proceeded upon very much the same principles of humanity as the noble and learned Lord himself had laid down, and in the course of the next few years from 1925 disbursed £2,400,000, making altogether £5,300,000 which I am assured, is more than twice as much as was contemplated by the Resolution of 1922 which your Lordships are now asked to apply. That is the position.
I should be very loath indeed to stand up for what was done in this matter in 1919, or rather from 1914 to 1918; but it was done. Successive Governments have now remedied and, I think, met all cases 339 such as those to which the noble and learned Lord referred. There were, of course, a number of most agonizing cases, ridiculous cases and illogical and stupid cases of that kind, where money was swept into the possession of the British Government. That money, I think I may say, has now been given back to those people as far as we are able to follow them. But what we have had to do with reference to other moneys has been to regard them as so much against our claim for Reparations. In fact, the experts who prepared the Young plan definitely took these into account in assessing the amount which Germany could pay. In accepting the Young plan for the settlement of Reparations I am afraid we must decline to reopen the matter. The elaborate systems of debit and credit must be considered as having been completely taken into account in the Young plan as modified by the Hague settlement, and it would be impossible to re-open the matter in any way or even to attempt to refund to the original owners beyond what has already been done to the extent, as I say, of more than £5,000,000. Of course, it extends to very much more than that when you take the claims and counter-claims which have been set off one against the other during the past ten years in the Clearing House. It would be impossible now to re-open that and to find that out; in fact, we can only deal with the German Government in the matter. We have dealt with the German Government in the matter by setting this off against Reparations and I am afraid it is not practicable to contemplate any other procedure.
I do not know whether that will satisfy the noble and learned Lord. He has got his way. He has got his Resolution of 1922 carried out four times, certainly three times, and going much further than the particular class to which he referred and satisfying the claims of humanity to a very much larger extent than he indicated in his terms. I am very glad that has been done. Beyond that it seems to me we cannot after this lapse of time undo what I freely feel myself to have been a wrong which was committed fifteen years ago. I do not see how we can undo it with regard to the particular individuals who were wronged. Those individuals were subjected, of course, to very great inconvenience and in many cases to intolerable hardship. We cannot put that 340 right now. Successive Governments have put it right so far as they have been able to do so, but I do not see that there is anything your Lordships can do now in order to put things back. Sometimes when you commit a wrong in this world it is impossible to put things back in the position in which they were before you committed the wrong, and I do not see that anything can be done. If the noble and learned Lord carries his Motion to a Division, it will certainly not be opposed by us. We are not responsible for what was done in those years, and we have done all we can to remedy the injustice as far as it can be remedied in the way suggested.
§ THE MARQUESS OF READING
My Lords, having regard to the statement of the noble Lord about the £5,300,000, of which he said £2,900,000 were paid out originally, does he think that all the claims which would be covered by the Resolution of 1922, which is again proposed by my noble and learned friend, have been met? I understood from his general statement that there might have been some few cases which did not come exactly within that Resolution. What I desire to know is, having regard to those persons who fall within the two classes comprised in the Resolution of 1922, can the noble Lord assert that all those claims have been met? That is the point which I understood was made by my noble and learned friend, and I confess I do not quite understand the answer. I do understand that a larger sum has been paid out than would cover all those claims; but that does not meet the point. It may have been paid to those with larger claims on a different footing. I do not know whether the noble Lord could tell us that.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
My Lords, I will do so as far as I can, and my answer in short is, yes. Let me explain. The noble and learned Lord originally proposed that people who fell into certain categories should be relieved and the money paid. When that was referred to the Blanesburgh Committee, that Committee extended those categories and put in a number of others so as to make the relief much more extensive than had been contemplated originally. Subsequent to that the Board of Trade included still other categories which made it very much wider. Therefore I think 341 I can say with confidence that every one of the claims which would or could have been made were made under the noble and learned Lord's categories. I think they have been met. They have certainly been met and a great deal more. But it is not verbally identical. There were certain cases in which the categories went into twenty or thirty different ones. The Blanesburgh Committee did the work with tremendous precision, as you might expect from the Chairman, and some of these fifteen or twenty categories went far beyond those of the noble and learned Lord. In some of those cases the limit they put was not quite identical with the limit which the noble and learned Lord set to his much simpler categories. Therefore I am sure that every one of the cases which was contemplated then has been met, but I cannot now go into the details of making quite sure whether in some few cases the limit contemplated by the noble and learned Lord may or may not have been the exact limit which the Blanesburgh Committee recommended. I am saying that for perfect accuracy. I think, substantially and broadly, I might answer "yes" without any reserve because, as I say, the Blanesburgh Committee went very much further than the noble Lord suggested, and the Board of Trade under the following Government went still further and reached a great many more categories in a similar way. My answer shortly is "Certainly; Yes," but there is that peculiar little inaccuracy that I have had to guard myself against.
§ LORD PARMOOR
My Lords, before the Resolution of the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster is put, I should like to say a word or two on this question. It is quite true—and I am very proud to think of it myself—that in 1922 I spoke on the occasion to which Lord Buckmaster has referred, and supported him entirely and wholly in the Resolution which was ultimately carried. I see many members in all parts of the House who also took part in the discussion. Speaking from memory, certainly Lord Lansdowne, and I think the noble Marquess, supported Lord Buckmaster on that occasion. Sometimes what we do in this House is not sufficiently appreciated, and it is satisfactory to know that that Resolution had the result which the noble Lord, 342 Lord Buckmaster, desired. I need not go again into the matter with which the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, has already dealt, but I should like to say that I am as strong as he is in stating that in truth and in substance a larger measure of compensation or fair treatment to the classes to which Lord Buckmaster referred in his speech was granted and provided under the Blanesburgh Committee than if the terms of Lord Buckmaster's Resolution in this House had been strictly followed.
I have before me the terms of that Report, but I need not trouble your Lordships by reading it. There are a very large number of categories—ten or twelve—including in substance every case to which the noble Lord referred and a large number of other cases. We have long ago, I think, passed away from the time when it is necessary to discuss the policy. It is contained in Section 297 of the Treaty of Versailles—the policy of confiscation, as it has been called; I think it was not entirely confiscation; the policy of taking ex-enemy property which brought about very great hardship indeed. That depended upon the terms agreed upon between Germany and ourselves at the time of the Treaty of Versailles. It was quite right that we should construe the powers we obtained in a generous and liberal spirit, and, as was pointed out by Lord Lansdowne in the very remarkable speech that he made in this House, there was ample power for us, in our discretion, to make remissions. We did, I think, all that we could do in making the very widespread and remarkable remissions shown in the Report of Lord Blanesburgh's Committee. Everyone knows that the duties of that Committee were carried out in a very generous spirit. I am sure Lord Buck master will agree with that, and I am glad to hear that the noble Marquess (Lord Reading) acquiesces in it at the present time. The result of that has already been stated, and I need not go back into it. I have the exact figure, which is £5,304,731 up to the present time, and it is estimated that there will be another £5,000,000 to be used in the same way under the terms of the Young settlement.
In order to show that this matter is really settled, I should like to read what is said in the Report of the Committee 343 of Experts, which is referred to as "the Report on the Young Settlement.":—To assure the general confidence indispensable for the successful working of this plan—that is the Young plan—the Committee recommends that the Governments 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, and that the outstanding questions concerning such property should he definitely cleared up within one year after the coming into force of this plan by arrangements between the Governments concerned and Germany. This recommendation naturally has no application in cases where special settlements have already been made.There have to be further arrangements, as we all know, before the Young plan is finally settled, but what the Government have done—and I think we ought to enforce this point—is that they have said: "We will take the date August 31 of this year, and after that date there shall be no further liquidation of these German properties or ex-enemy properties." I must say I think that is a very wise course to take.
No one will appreciate more fully than the noble Lord, Lord Buckmaster, that at this stage, at any rate, to go on with this liquidation could not conduce to bring about what the Young Report has pointed out as the conditions indispensable to successful working of this plan. If you want friendliness with Germany, which everyone does, surely it is a right thing to do what this Government has done as from August 31 this year. I do not desire to go into the other matter which has already been dealt with. Certainly we should not oppose Lord Buckmaster's Resolution. We do not think it would have any effect. We think more has been done than the Resolution would carry out; but if he 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 Blanes-burgh's Committee, that would bring in cases which have not already been considered, by all means let him do so.
I have always thought that the general case was very well put in the Report of Lord Blanesburgh's Committee. I am sure it would appeal to every legal member 344 of this House. It is a statement of Lord Finlay's. Lord Finlay was a great lawyer in whom we all had the utmost confidence, and this is what is stated in the Report:—We find Lord Finlay, for instance, stating in the House in 1918: ' It is not the law of this country that the property of enemy subjects is confiscated.'I am glad to say it is not the law of this country, and I may say further (and with this Lord Buckmaster will also agree) that it is not International Law. Therefore, neither by the law of this country nor by International Law would this course of conduct be generally recognised and approved. It is no good going back to 1919. All that has been done has been to carry out the undertaking stated. I think we have done everything possible to alleviate the instances of hardship and injury to which Lord Buckmaster, in very eloquent terms, has more than once called the attention of your Lordships.
§ LORD BLANESBURGH
My Lords, I have not hitherto intervened in any debate in this House, and I am rather reluctant to begin by speaking on the subject that is now before your Lordships, because, for four or five years, I, with two colleagues, have been responsible for the recommendations that we have made for the release of some portions of the property of former enemy nationals charged by the Treaty of Versailles. But I feel that I ought to intervene by reason of one statement, and one statement only, that was made by the noble Lord speaking on behalf of the Government, and that statement was that the unliquidated property, in pursuance of the recommendation of the Young plan, will be released and returned, not to the owners of that property but to the German Government. I hope that that will not be the case.
When we in our Committee recommended a release from the charge, the effect of our recommendation, when accepted by the Board of Trade, was that the property so released was returned to its owners. I apprehend that if the practice which has hitherto prevailed is made to apply to the recommendations of the Young Committee the same principles will be followed. The effect of the return of the unliquidated property merely is that the charge which so far has been imposed upon that 345 property is released so that the property reverts again to the ownership of the person to whom it originally belonged. It is vitally important, I think, in the interests of many of those persons concerned, that that procedure should now be followed, because I am very apprehensive that if in any way that property is conveyed to the German Government the effect will be—from the point of view of the German Government it may be quite the proper effect—that the property will not be returned to its owners but will be dealt with as the German Government think fit. We here in returning this property are performing what some of us may consider a very belated act of justice. But let it be an act of justice, and let the property when released from the charge revert or be returned, not to the German Government or any other Government, but to its owner.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
My Lords, perhaps you will allow me to reply to the noble Lord, as I think I caused the misapprehension. The noble Lord is quite right, of course, in saying that what we are doing is to remove a charge, a clog, an obligation on the several properties which prevent them being disposed of. We are removing that clog and therefore no conveyance is necessary. I understand that the properties will simply belong again to their owners, the charge or the clog having been removed. That is pretty clear. But it is necessary that we should have dealings between the two Clearing Houses, the British Clearing House and the German Clearing House, with regard to this matter. That is what I meant by bringing in the German Government. As far as we are concerned we are merely removing the clog upon these several properties. Consequently, as I understand it, the ownership will not be affected. The owners will re-enter into their unrestricted ownership as before.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, I am glad to hear that the Government will raise no objection if I desire that this Motion be pressed, and I certainly hope that your Lordships will support me. My reason is that in spite of all I have heard I yet remain completely unsatisfied as to whether every English-born woman has had £5,000 paid back to her that had previously been taken away. What I have heard is that there have been some 346 benevolent applications of moneys which would have exceeded the amount that would result were that adopted. But I want to be able to say that the Government have accepted the principle that every English woman who had money up to £5,000 taken from her can now get it back, and that they have made a statement which can be acted upon. Up to the moment I am by no means satisfied that that has been done. Nor am I satisfied that the same thing has been done in the case of Germans who have been over here twenty-five years. I have not been told that these are the things that have occurred, but these are the things that my Motion desires, which the House desires, and which I desire still. Therefore, as the Government have raised no objection to the Motion, I certainly hope that your Lordships will not mind my repeating it.
Then I should like to know whether it is true that the British Government have realised £55,000,000 of this property. Perhaps I ought not to say realised, because that word may be taken to mean liquidated, but have they appropriated £55,000,000 of property and were the amounts of the claims as reported? Those are things that are not dependent upon what the noble Lord, Lord Passfield, referred to. They are perfectly plain, simple facts and if they are proved there is a margin of £15,000,000. That £15,000,000 is going to be dealt with, as far as I can understand, in this way. In the first place unrealised property is now to be realised. The last statement by Lord Passfield makes it clear that the person who owns it will be able to get it back. But I cannot say that that brings great comfort to my mind. Let me suppose—and the hypothesis is not wanting in fact—that some rich German over here owned a large estate when war broke out. That estate was subject to confiscation. Other poor homeless Germans owned small sums of money. They have all been taken away, all realised, and they will never get them back. Am I to understand that the first act of a Socialist Government is to give back to the rich men what they have taken from the poor? That really is going to be the result. I do not think it is fair in the least degree that a man should be able to get his property back owing to the difficulty of realising it, and the 347 larger it was the more difficult it would be to realise. It seems to me to be the last principle on which your Lordships should act. I am astonished to hear the Government spokesman say that they intend to hand over the whole surplus, whatever it may be, to the German Government.
§ LORD PASSFIELD
The word surplus is misleading. All the unliquidated property, as soon as the necessary agreement has been drawn up with the German Government, will be relieved from its clog and will then be at the disposal of the original owners. But we must have an agreement with the German Government before that can be completed, but it will be done as from August 31. That is the question of the realisation of the unliquidated property.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
The noble Lord, no doubt owing to my fault, has not entirely apprehended me. The noble 348 Lord said that the surplus—I admit not unrealised—was going to be handed over to the German Government. That has been stated in the course of the debate, and was made plain in the letter from the Treasury. What I want to know is why this country should be the only country to do this. While every other country does not use private property to satisfy national debts, why are we to do it, whatever the amount may be? and I have reason to believe that it is larger than has been stated. I am not satisfied with what I heard from the Government Bench. My only satisfaction is to hear that the Government are going to accept my Resolution. What I want, if I suffer any more from people telling me 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.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past five o'clock.