HL Deb 09 June 1964 vol 258 cc800-3

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary about the signing of an Agreement with the Federal German Republic for the Compensation of British victims of Nazi persecution.

I am glad to announce that the Federal German Government have agreed to pay to Her Majesty's Government the sum of one million pounds to compensate certain British victims of measures of Nazi persecution, that is to say, United Kingdom nationals, who as a result of such measures suffered loss of liberty or damage to their health, and the dependants of those who died as a result of such measures.

The Agreement comes into force on signature and is not subject to ratification. The text will be available to your Lordships to-morrow afternoon. Following the pattern set in other bilateral Agreements on compensation made by the Federal German Republic, distribution of the sum is left to the discretion of Her Majesty's Government. As soon as possible we shall call for claims, at which stage those who consider themselves eligible in accordance with the terms of the registration notice, to which wide publicity will be given, should make application. I trust that your Lordships will welcome the Agreement.


My Lords, of course we welcome any agreement which will provide some measure of compensation to British victims of persecution. Whether or not the sum of £1 million is adequate we have no means of judging. We cannot know how many victims of persecution will be affected, or the extent of the loss which they have sustained. I do not know whether the noble Earl could give us some idea of this, because the Government must have had something in mind in carrying out these negotiations. If the noble Earl can give us any idea of the numbers involved, or if the White Paper which is about to be published could give us any idea, it would be helpful in judging the adequacy or otherwise of the amount.

My other question is: to what kind of people is this going to apply? I presume not to prisoners of war, although they might very well have been victims of Nazi persecution if, for instance, the conditions under which they were imprisoned went beyond the normal conditions applicable to prisoners of war. I presume that it is primarily intended for citizens, but would it also cover former prisoners of war if they felt that the conditions of their imprisonment had gone beyond what was required under the various Conventions and as a result their families had suffered?


My Lords, if I may take the noble Lord's second question first, I do not know what categories of persons—whether prisoners of war, which, as we know, is an extraordinarily difficult subject in this connection, or foreigners who have subsequently become British nationals—will be included in the notice of registration which my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary hopes to publish as soon as he possibly can. On the noble Lord's other question as to the possible numbers, I do not think I could give an estimate. Perhaps the best comparison we could make would be with other countries. In the case of Norway, a sum of £5½ million has been agreed in respect of 43,000 persons; and in Denmark £l½ million in respect of 9,700 persons. I do not think the highest guess could make of the possible number of British victims would be likely to be nearly so large as the number in any of those occupied countries. I do not think, therefore, that this arrange- ment will compare badly with other arrangements which have been made, but I do not think it would be useful or desirable for me to make any guess now till we have got the claims in.


My Lords, while welcoming very much the statement which has been made to the House, may I ask my noble friend whether this applies only to citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies who have suffered, or whether it is in respect of other Commonwealth citizens who may have suffered similarly? Secondly, can he tell us why it has been nearly 20 years before this agreement was made?


My Lords, I cannot go over the long history of the negotiations. Some of them may have to be left until there is a Peace Treaty—I do not know. In regard to my noble friend's first question, I do not yet know what categories of people will be included in the registration notice. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will do his best to draw it up and publish it, and will give it the widest possible circulation, as soon as he possibly can.


My Lords, may I ask whether we can expect the White Paper this week? If so, it seems to me that the Minister could have helped us with information a little more than he has done to-day. Of course, we all want to welcome the general principle of the Agreement being arrived at, but should like to examine it very carefully.


My Lords, I have the text of the Agreement here. It is to be printed and your Lordships will have it to-morrow. But I have given the substance of it. I do not think the registration notice, which I believe the noble Earl is thinking of, could be published in so short a time as one week; I think it will take longer than that. But my right honourable friend hopes to draw it up and publish it before the House rises.


My Lords, the House is in some difficulty. If the noble Earl cannot even tell us which categories of persons can apply, whether members of the Commonwealth or otherwise, whether prisoners of war or ordinary civilians, and the White Paper does not tell us that, how can people judge whether they are going to be eligible for compensation?


My Lords, it is the registration notice which will enable people to judge whether they are eligible for compensation. The noble Lord has referred to a White Paper, but I take it he means the registration notice. Certainly, that may be in the form of a White Paper. I do not know how long it will take to draw that up; I hope not more than a few weeks, but it may be a little longer. That will be given the widest possible circulation so that claimants, who of course may be scattered all over the world, may be able to decide whether or not they have a claim.


My Lords, while welcoming very much, on behalf of my noble friends and myself, the fact that a recognition has been made by the West German Government of the claims of certain people, I must ask the noble Earl how the British Government were able to arrive at any figure at all if they are not even now certain of what categories of persons are concerned in this matter, as appears from the last answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin. In these circumstances, if it is found at a later date that the £1 million is entirely inadequate, is there any possibility of going back to the West German Government and asking for a further sum?


My Lords, although my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary cannot know for certain how many claimants there will be, I think he did feel that it was a good thing to accept this offer of £1 million; and that it would be almost certain to compare favourably with what has been done in respect of other countries which were occupied by the Germans in the war.