§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, I beg to ask if the Report of Lord Justice Younger's Committee on the question of ex-enemy private property has been considered; and, if so, whether action will be taken upon it. It will be in the recollection of the House that this Question of appropriation of enemy property was raised by the noble and learned Lord opposite, Lord Buckmaster, in the beginning of April, and that on that occasion there was a very full debate. The answer returned by the noble Lord who represents the Board of Trade, Lord Gorell, was of a somewhat uncompromising nature. The result was a very significant Division, and I do not think that any independent supporters were found to vote in favour of the Government. The opinion of this House was expressed in a very decided manner. The noble and learned Lord returned to the charge in May, and upon that occasion my noble friend, Lord Gorell, adopted a much more sympathetic attitude. He gave us to understand that he was awaiting the Report of Lord Justice Younger's Committee, and that, as far as he was personally concerned, he was quite prepared to admit that there were many cases of hardship, and that His Majesty's Government would be likely to adopt a more sympathetic attitude. That Report is now issued.
The whole question is an extremely complicated one, and I regret to say that I find the Report also of so complicated a nature that I have considerable difficulty in understanding it. But there are certain facts which anybody can grasp. The first fact is that the Articles of the Treaty which deal with these questions have completely foiled in their object. In the restrained, diplomatic language of Lord Justice Younger, the Report says.—The Treaties have not, in this respect, functioned according to their terms.Everybody knows what the principle was. The principle aimed at was that enemy 1187 Governments were to be responsible to their nationals for the loss of their private property. But the eminent men who drafted these Articles seem entirely to have forgotten the obvious fact that no steps were taken to force the enemy Governments to fulfil their responsibilities, and they do not appear to have realised that the enemy Governments were so exhausted by the war, and, I may also add, by the peace, that here was no money left with which to satisfy the claims. Everybody knows that the position of the ex-enemy Governments, except one, is that even if they were ready to pay, they are unable to do so.
The position is that these Articles function very imperfectly so far as Germany is concerned, and so far as other countries are concerned they do not function at all. The bare facts amount practically to this. A German, for instance, receives compensation from this Government at the rate, apparently, of 75 marks to the£. I think the mark now stands at something like 1,400 or 1,500 to the£, and the margin between the 75 and the 1,500 is swallowed up in some incomprehensible manner, and the man only gets the absurd proportion of 75 marks to the£. One case is mentioned of a man who had£80,000 worth of property over here, and who has got barely enough to keep body and soul together.
It has been pointed out in the Report that the refusal of the German Government to recognise full responsibility is highly injurious to our financial reputation, because German nationals are ready to believe that their property has been confiscated. But is there illusion about it? It seems to me that there is the strongest possible foundation for this so-called "illusion." What yon do is to take A's property, and tell him B will pay him; and B declines to do anything of the kind. The result is that A's property is practically confiscated, however my noble friend, Lord Gorell, may dislike that term. You cannot get out of the fact that this property is practically confiscated in consequence of the action taken by this Government, amongst others.
Another fact that emerges from the Report is that Lord Justice Younger's Committee, however sympathetic it may be—and knowing Lord Justice Younger well I am absolutely satisfied he does everything in his power—has only considered 1188 something like 900 eases. Largely at the instance of the gallant Hun hunters, and Bottomley, and people of that sort, considerably more than 20,000 male Germans were interned in this country, and there were also all the other male enemy civilians who were interned, which must have brought the numbers up to 25,000 or 30,000. In addition you have to consider the men who were not interned, and also the women who were not interned. Therefore, at a rough guess I should estimate that the number of persons who are affected by this procedure must amount to something like 30,000 or 40,000 at the very least. That rather justifies what was said by my noble and learned friend, Lord Buckmaster, in the course of the debate. He maintained that the existence of the Younger Committee was known to very few people. I am bound to say that the figures which I have quoted seem to bear out that supposition.
What is striking about this Report are the anomalies and the injustice disclosed. For instance, the property of a German woman married to an Englishman on January 8, 1920, is exempt, although she may never have been resident in this country. On the other hand, the property of an Englishwoman married on the same date to a German is the same, although she may never have been out of this country. Another anomaly is that apparently an enemy's debts cannot be paid out of his assets here. The property is retained, but the owner's debts here are not discharged out of it. He has to pay them again to his Government at a pre-war rate of exchange. The burden is crushing. "It certainly seems unnecessarily oppressive"; these are words which I quote from the Report. As was pointed out in the previous debate, other countries do not take this oppressive action.
A third anomaly is that deposits in the Post, Office Savings Banks are looked upon as debts, and the owner is unable to obtain any sum realised. An enemy alien may have a house or real property of some kind here; he can apply to the Younger Committee and get a remittance of some kind or other; but an unfortunate governess or waiter who has invested her or his savings in a savings bank here can get no relief at Perhaps the greatest anomaly and injustice of all is that the more friendly an ex-enemy has shown himself to this country, the more he suffers, because the 1189 German Government, as I understand, exercises discrimination in the matter, and it is their practice, if I am nut mistaken, to oppose as much as they can the claims of any German who had been in this country and had shown himself friendly to this country. The result is that a man or woman who really deserves best of us is the worst treated.
The recommendation of Lord Justice Younger's Committee is that all these people should be graded either according to their personal merits or according to the merits of their Government. The suggestion is that subjects of the most meritorious Government should have preferential treatment. Preference, it is suggested, should be accorded to Hungary, then to Austria., next to Turkey, in the fourth place to Bulgaria, mid in the last case to Germany. I am not disposed to quarrel with that order, except that I cannot conceive any reason why Turkey should be considered more deserving of consideration than Bulgaria. This may be an admirable principle, but it is one which will work with extreme difficulty, and I should prefer the simple procedure proposed by Lord Buckmaster, which anyone can understand and which has been emphatically approved by this House. Under that proposal, certain individuals would be exempt from expropriation of their property. The view expressed by the majority in this House was that they regard with the strongest aversion the virtual confiscation of private property, and look upon it as not only unjust but particularly mean and contrary to our practices and traditions, especially when it is applied to poor persons.
In the previous debate I was able to show that other Governments have adopted the procedure proposed by the noble and learned Lord. I cited the cases of America, Italy, Japan, South Africa, and one or two other countries. They have actually carried out the proposal made by Lord Buckmaster. Even in France the procedure adopted is less harsh than it is in this country, and, as a matter of fact, we, unfortunately, enjoy the unenviable distinction of treating private ex-enemy property more harshly than any other Power. There is nothing more to say on this subject. It is three months since the Question was raised and an emphatic opinion expressed by this House. I submit that there has been sufficient delay, and 1190 I hope to hear from the noble Lord a statement which will be satisfactory to all persons interested in this matter.
THE UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD GORELL)
My Lords, as the noble Lord has said, this is the third time on which this Question has been brought before your Lordships since April. The first time was the debate, which covered a great deal of the ground, on the Motion of Lord Buckmaster, and on May 18 a further Question, was asked by the noble and learned Lord as to what action had been taken on the former debate. On the second occasion I expressed the hope that before long I should be able, on behalf of the Government, to give a more definite reply than I was able to give in May. This afternoon I trust I may be able to state fairly clearly what is the attitude of the Government after the fullest consideration has been given not only to the debates and the opinion expressed in your Lordships' House, but also to the Report of Lord Justice Younger's Committee. I very much welcome the absence of acrimony with which the noble Lord has spoken this afternoon. In previous debates there has been a certain amount of bitterness which does not really help this difficult question at all.
Before actually dealing with the Report of Lord Justice Younger's Committee I should like to remove one or two misconceptions. The noble Lord, on May 18, stated his own belief that the attitude adopted by the Government was due to Departmental obstruction. He spoke of hide-bound Departments and hide-bound officials. During the two and a-half months during which this subject has been before your Lordships, I have had to interview a number of officials and I have not found any trace of an attitude which could justify so harsh a term. Not only the President of the Board of Trade himself, but the permanent officials connected with this part of the Board of Trade's work, have shown throughout a wide sympathy with individual cases of hardship to which attention has been directed. It is only fair to them to say so. The second criticism has been that the work of Lord justice Younger's Committee has been very little known. Lord Buckmaster said that there was a complete ignorance of the work of the Committee, and Lord Newton has used figures to show that it is not at all widely 1191 known. Nevertheless, nearly 1,000 cases have been brought before the Committee.
The Committee's Report refers to nine hundred cases, but I am taking it right up to date. The Committee have dealt with very nearly one thousand cases, and letters from all over the country and from abroad have been received. Though it is true that the Committee and its work is not as widely known as it might be, nevertheless it is going too far to say that those who would come under it do not really know of its existence. There is also a good deal of misunderstanding as to what the Committee is, and is not, able to do.
During the debate on April 6 I was interrupted by Viscount Haldane with the remark that the Committee had no discretionary power at all. I was not able to follow the interruption thoroughly at the time, and I am still less able to do so now. It is perfectly clear that though this Committee has not complete discretion, it nevertheless has a fairly wide discretion. The actual provisions under which it has been working up to the present time are set out on page 3 of the Report of Lord Justice Younger's Committee, and show that the Committee has been authorised to release capital to ex-enemy nationals resident in the United Kingdom up to£1,000, and to ex-enemy nationals not now resident in the United Kingdom up to£200. In addition, it has been able to recommend the release of income up to an amount which is not stated, but which is left entirely within the discretion of the Committee. There is a further authorisation of discretion to be found in the Report. I think it is necessary in dealing with this subject to try to get away, so far as is possible, from the language of exaggeration. To say that the Committee has no discretion, when it has, in fact, wide discretionary powers, is certainly an exaggeration.
In the second place, we have had in the course of these debates, a certain number of cases detailed to your Lordships by various speakers, and I think it is very important that, in every case outlined in that manner, where inaccuracies have been allowed to creep in, they should be corrected when opportunity occurs. It is not surprising that inaccuracies do sometimes creep in, because, 1192 no doubt, noble Lords are only using the information which is given to them, and very often given by the persons in question. I must refer to one illustration, which was taken by the noble and learned Lord the last time this question was raised. He referred to a gentleman who had lived for over thirty years in this country, and stated that he had been in this country all those years as a British subject, except that he had never taken the trouble to get naturalised. That is the first inaccuracy in that particular case, because the individual had, throughout the course of Iris residence—as he was perfectly entitled to do—taken steps to preserve his German nationality.
The noble and learned Lord went on to point out that this gentleman had rendered great services to agriculture by building up a substantial business in the potash industry, and that, as he had to go back to Germany for a cure just before the war, the whole of his property had been taken away, and he was now left with no rights whatever here except to get payment from a Committee up to the extent of£200. This particular gentleman has been in receipt from the Committee of£420 a year, from December 1, 1921. There is a third question of fact, which is, perhaps, the most important of all. The noble and learned Lord represented to your Lordships that it was obvious that, in this particular case, this gentleman, having lived in this country for over thirty years, would be regarded, to quote his words—with undisguised aversion, because for thirty years he had left Germany and carried on business here.Whoever supplied that information to the noble and learned Lord probably omitted to tell him that this particular gentleman had been German Consul in Glasgow for several years before the war, and that there is no evidence whatever to show that he is regarded with aversion by the German Government.
The implication of this last fact is that any German who has lived here for a considerable number of years is less likely to receive payment from the German Government than those who have gone back to Germany. It sounds probable on the face of it, but there is no evidence in favour of that supposition. The Committee definitely say:—It is, however, right to say that official German statements made to Mr. Egerton Grey's Department, if they are reliable, lead to the 1193 conclusion that a system of discrimination between the German national and another is not now at least officially recognised or justified.That is also borne out by all the information which comes to the Board of Trade. There is an association in Germany, funned for the special purpose of looking after the interests of German residents abroad, and known as the Bond der Auslandsdeutschen. The Secretary of that association has supplied information with which I may briefly trouble your Lordships. He says:—Provided that the person to be compensated is a German national, no distinction except as above mentioned—The mention refers to discrimination in favour of Germans abroad, because of the rate of exchange being against them—is made between Germans who live in Germany and those who live abroad, whether in ex-enemy countries or in neutral countries, nor is any distinction made in the case of Germans whose nationality was originally ex-enemy, but who have become Germans by marriage.In fact, in so far as there is discrimination by the German Government, it is discrimination against those who are now living in Germany.
I pass from those questions of detail and accuracy—although they are very material to the whole question—to the main principle of the Government's action. I think both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, and the noble Lord, Lord Newton, have been actuated, not merely by cases of individual hardship, but by what they have held to be an attitude dishonourable to this country, and it is worthy of remark that Lord Justice Younger's Committee began their examination by investigating the principle upon which the two Articles of the Treaty worked.
The noble Lord quoted certain passages in that Report, but he omitted to quote two passages which are very relevant, and which, to those who have supported the Government's attitude in this respect, are, at any rate, consoling, because, in so far as Lord Justice Younger's Committee were prejudiced, they were prejudiced in favour of remedying the hardships which Lave been before them. They say quite distinctly:—The Treaties have not in these clauses, as seems to have been supposed, ignored the hitherto well-established principle of International Law that private property of an enemy subject on land is restored to him after peace.They point out, as I endeavoured to point out in April, that, under the Treaties, the enemy Powers had accepted the obligation 1194 to compensate their nationals, and they go on to say, with reference specially to the principle underlying Article 297 of the Treaty—That principle is not really open to serious criticism even at the hand of a purist in international morality.I am sorry to note that, though the noble Lord must have made himself aware of this expression of opinion on the part of the Committee, he still used the word "confiscation." To that the Committee have definitely given a negative, and I am bound to say that the Government must abide by the principle expressed in those two Articles of the Treaty. They feel themselves bound to maintain their adherence to that principle, and cannot contemplate abandoning the security made in the Treaties available to British subjects who have suffered injury to their property, rights and interests. So much ought to be made quite clear.
At the same time, as I endeavoured to point out on May 18, the Government were anxious to do all that was within their power to avoid and mitigate needless hardship to ex-enemy nationals, and passing, therefore, from the principle on which this whole procedure has been founded, which receives the words of condonation I have read out from the Committee's Report, we come to the application, to the administrative adjustments which may be possible to palliate or mitigate. I should be the last to attempt to deny that there is undoubted hardship under these two Articles, and that there have been revealed in the working of them many anomalies. It is not necessary to refer to these anomalies in detail. I must, however, remind your Lordships once again that there are two sides to this question. To those of your Lordships who have taken up these cases there come many details of hardship on the part of ex-enemy nationals. To Lord Justice Younger's Committee also there have come many tales of hardship; but to the Government there come not only that side of the question but also the hard-ship to our own British nationals.
I am not going to attempt to say that two wrongs make a right, but when we have our sympathies stirred by eloquence on behalf of various hard cases with reference to ex-enemy nationals, in order to get the whole subject into proper perspective, one must repeat to your Lordships that that is only one-half of a big question, and 1195 that there are just as many grievous cases among our own nationals. I am not going to weary your Lordships with many, but I must give you one instance on the part of people detained in Germany, and another case of detention in Austria. I have here letters front British seamen (or their wives or widows) who were illegally detained in German ports after July 31, 1914, and before the declaration of war between this country and Germany, and subjected to every description of indignity and hardship. These seamen were interned by the German Government throughout the war, and they are entitled to compensation out of German property in this country. These classes of claims are very numerous, and many of the claimants are in very great distress. Witness this letter—Gentlemen,It is with great regret I have again to write to you, but as I and my children are just starving I can do nothing but write to you to ask if you can send me a few pounds to meet my rent. If not my landlord will want my house. Trusting you will do something for me as early as possible.The other case is that of an English governess who was in Austria at the outbreak of the war. The noble Lord has referred to German and other foreign governesses in this country at the outbreak of war. This is the opposite case. The whole of this governess's savings were on deposit in an Austrian bank, and the only prospect she has of ever seeing any part of it back is dependent upon the British Government retaining and realising the assets of Austrians in this country. The letter in this case is as follows:—Dear Sir,I am writing on behalf of my sister. I believe she has a claim on the Anglo-Austrian Bank. For the past two months she has been ill, and unable to earn anything for herself—therefore she has been entirely dependent on me (I have a small war pension). I cannot, however, continue this indefinitely, and I would ask you if it is not possible for her to be allowed, in these distressing circumstances, something on account of her claim. Having saved that amount for 'a rainy day'—which has certainly arrived—and having neither health nor means makes the position serious—I would be grateful, on her behalf, if you would let us know if anything at all can be done in the matter.Bearing in mind the hardships and distress evidenced by that letter and many others of a similar character, I have again to explain that there is nothing like enough Austrian assets in this country to pay all claimants at this moment. There is roughly about 2s. 6d. in the£, and it must 1196 be perfectly well understood by your Lordships that every concession which is made, in this behalf, is definitely at the expense of our own hard cases.
Having said so much, one can turn actually to the Committee's Report. I have not attempted to disguise from your Lordships that there are anomalies and hardships revealed in that Report, and it was from the sense that there were these hardships that the Committee were asked to investigate the whole question and make recommendations, to see how far it was possible further to palliate them. The Committee have gone about their work with two objects, which they state as follows—(1), To throw final loss first on nationals with the least claim upon this country, or in whose prosperity this country has least interest.(2), To throw the loss in every case on the class of property right or interest which may with least unfairness to the national concerned be first resorted to.Having those objects in view the Committee have attempted to classify the former enemy nationals inn a certain order—what the noble Lord calls grading them.
He referred to the grading of the ex-enemy nationals at the conclusion of the Committee's classification—their paragraph (4). The first three paragraphs are, however, more important. They attempt to classify those who come before them in this way—
There are certain particulars in which it has not been possible for the Government to follow out the recommendations of Lord Justice Younger's Committee, and I will take them in order. There are five points to which I must call your Lordships' attention.
- "(1) British born ex-enemy nationals—such nationality having been acquired only upon and by reason of marriage.
- "(2) Ex-enemy nationals resident here at the outbreak of war and permitted at its close either to remain in or return to this country.
- "(3) Ex-enemy nationals wherever now resident whose property rights and interest here, to an extent trot exceeding£2,000, represent earnings or savings from earnings made here."
The first recommendation which the Government were not able to adopt is the one in which the Committee, on page 9, calling attention to the actual wording of the Treaties, express the view that it would be well if these obligations on the part of ex-enemy Governments could be expressed in much more definite terms. It is quite 1197 possible to concur in that suggestion, though, at the same time, one must say that there is no present prospect of any revision of the Treaties being undertaken. The Committee themselves say that they fully realise that relief on thee lines may not be possible, and in no circumstances could be immediate.
The second point deals with the question of the realisation of the property. It is possible to postpone realisation in the case of property of persons resident here, but it is not practicable, for administrative reasons, in the case of the other class of ex-enemy nationals referred to, since the inquiries necessary would make the process of realisation very slow, and it is already so slow as to cause anxiety. But the whole point of the Committee was that this property should be preserved as long as possible front the clearing house procedure, and the postponement of crediting the property through will meet that point.
The third point is this. The Government have felt obliged to limit the first head of the classification, British born ex-enemy nationals, to women born of British parents and also to property which comes from British sources. In that, I think, they are carrying out the intention, at any rate, of the Committee.
The fourth point refers to paragraph (1) on page 12 of the Report, where the Committee suggest that debts due to British creditors of an ex-enemy national should be paid from his property subject to the charge. The Government feel that this would involve an immediate depletion of the charged property for the benefit of those German nationals who delayed admitting their debts from the clearing office. In a large number of cases the debts have already been paid, and it should be pointed out that though the Committee referred to the Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act, 1914, in which provision was made for debts to be paid out of property in this country subject to certain conditions, this provision was only applied in rare cases, and not at all after 1916.
The fifth point in which the Government are not able to follow the recommendations of the Committee is their last point of all, where they suggest that pre-war deposits in the Post Office Savings Bank should be removed from the class of enemy debts, and treated as cash assets. With this view the Government feel very considerable sympathy, but there would, in fact, now 1198 be no point in adopting this recommendation, because it treats of a state of things which has already been concluded, and it would not, in fact, affect any property.
Having mentioned those five points of exception, I am able to say that the Government, have decided to adopt substantially all the remaining suggestions which the Committee make. It has been decided to postpone crediting through the proceeds of property belonging to persons within the classes which I have indicated, in the hope that it may prove possible at a later date to release these proceeds. I think I ought to make it clear that this possibility must depend upon the sufficiency of the remainder of the fund subject to the charge to meet the claims falling upon them. But there is reasonable hope, with reference, at any rate, to the Germans, that those funds will be sufficient to allow wide releases.
Your Lordships will have noticed that the Committee do not make any recommendations in respect of extending their discretion, but the Government, after having consulted with Lord Justice Younger, have decided to extend the discretion in one respect, and to allow the capital amount to be released in the case of Germans resident outside this country to be increased from£200 to£500. I hope that your Lordships will see that these recommendations, though perhaps they do not give all the satisfaction that certain of your Lordships have desired, are at any rate fairly substantial crumbs of comfort.
I have not made any reference to the practice in other countries, because I must say I feel very great sympathy with the point of view expressed by the noble and learned Lord in our last debate, that it is not for this country to take into careful consideration what is being done by other countries where the Government are satisfied that there is hardship. I must, however, challenge the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Newton, that this country was pressing its claims with greater hardship than any other.
That is not in accordance with my information. Both in the case of Belgium and of France they have not admitted as many concessions as the British Government. On April 6, by a majority, your Lordships carried the 1199 Motion of the noble and learned Lord, which referred specifically to two classes of persons—to those who were born of British parents, and those who have been resident in this country continuously for 25 years before the outbreak of war. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Newton, who said, speaking from his knowledge of Lord Justice Younger, that he did not mind even if he were committing an indiscretion, but he knew that Lord Justice Younger was entirely in favour of the terms of the Motion. I was not able to speak then either one way or the other upon that point, but the views on that particular point of Lord Justice Younger and the other two members of the Committee are now clear. They refer to the debate in your Lordships' House, and on page 4 of their Report they say that they are not satisfied that they would themselves have made that choice of two particular categories, and they point out that it is "arbitrary and insufficiently comprehensive." It is obvious that it would admit people of the character of Mr. Houston Chamberlayne, for example, and the Government have felt obliged to abide by the recommendations of the Committee, made with all the experience that they have now gained, that any recommendation should not be individual, but should be based upon this classification.
Without committing indiscretions, I think I may say that Lord Justice Younger has been very fully consulted after this Report, and that, though I should not like to say that the attitude of the Government now meets with his entire approval, he is, at least, generally satisfied with the results of the interviews that he has had with the President of the Board of Trade. No one has gained so much experience of these classes and of the cases as this Committee. It is hoped that, following out those recommendations which I have endeavoured to outline to your Lordships, a substantial release of property may ultimately take place and that many of these distressing cases to which we have listened may be greatly relieved.
In the judgment of His Majesty's Government, it is not possible to go further than I have endeavoured to indicate. The alternatives are quite obvious. If we abandon the security given us under the Treaty we have either to face the fact that our nationals (and I have given some indication of the hard cases among them) 1200 will suffer loss by reason of there being no sums with which to compensate them; or, alternatively, this Government., the British Government, even in these days of stringent economy, must make good the sums which it is proposed to release and come upon the Exchequer for those sums. I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships that the Government have now examined this question, taking into consideration all the individual hardships which have been alleged against the working of these clauses; that they have adopted the advice of the Committee to which tribute has been paid by all your Lordships; and that it is not possible to go further in the direction of satisfying these claims.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, it is of course, impossible at this hour of the evening and in this attenuated House to answer in detail the speech that has just been made by the noble Lord, because, in truth, he has revived the whole controversy from the beginning and has dealt in by far the greater part of his speech with a number of matters which I cannot help thinking would have been more conveniently answered at the time when the debates took place. It may well be that he is in possession of fuller information since that date and is anxious to represent, in the interests of the Department for whom he is the spokesman, their more considered attitude in the matter. None the less, I regret it because within the necessary limits of a speech it prevents him from doing what I should have been glad if he had done—explain clearly and plainly to this House what it is the Government is proposing to do, because at the end of all this, I find myself in complete bewilderment as to what are the steps they intend to take.
I will add a word or two further upon that in a moment, but as I do not intend to keep your Lordships for any length of time, let me say at once with reference to the correctness or otherwise of the statement in my speech as to the hardship of a German over in Hamburg, to which the noble Lord referred, unless my memory fails me completely I stated that I had received that information from over there and I did not vouch that statement as being something for which I could give my own personal guarantee. But the cases I mentioned when this matter was first before your Lordships' House—which were, to my mind, of immeasurably graver hardship— 1201 were cases to which I could speak myself and, in spite of all the careful and elaborate investigations that have now taken place, I cannot gather that there was a single word that was incorrect or inaccurate in the statements I then made. Those statements justify that which Lord Newton and myself feel about this matter.
It is no use entering into an elaborate political argument, as this Report does, for the purpose of showing that in certain senses, and having regard to certain considerations, you need not believe that this Treaty infringes the rule laid down with regard to the treatment of foreign property. The answer is that it does, and you cannot escape from it. This Treaty takes away the property of ex-enemy nationals in this country. It takes it away even when that nationality is due to the fact that an Englishwoman has married a German who has lived here. It takes it away without the least regard whatever to the services that may have been rendered by the ex-enemy national, or the length of time he was in this country, or the fact that his sons served in the war and may have been killed for us. It takes it away wholly and absolutely, without the least regard to the position of these people or the way in which the money was won.
What the Treaty does is to provide that you are to have some sort of clearing house; that they are to have their claims reflected in claims against the German Government; that those claims can be compensated at whatever rate is thought fit, and that the whole pool of these perfectly innocent properties, so to say, is to be used as a pool to pay to our people debts owing to them by German nationals. You can call it what you like, and look at it how you like, but looked at from the point of view of the person whose property is taken, it is confiscation and nothing else, and it seems to me to be perfectly impossible to call it by any milder or more pleasant phrase.
I have never been able to understand, and I cannot understand now, what is the difference between the Government taking, by the force of the civil power, the property of people within their jurisdiction and the soldier taking it by force of arms, and I never could see that the taking of it by the soldier by force of arms could be excused because it was provided that compensation should be given to the person whose property he had taken by the Government to 1202 which that person belonged. I certainly have never failed to understand what I think is the proper extent of the discretionary powers of Lord Justice Younger's Committee. I am not going to say why I regard them as wholly and totally inadequate, but that Committee does not seem to me to have sufficient powers to remedy that great injustice which undoubtedly arises from the operation of this Treaty.
When the noble Lord says to me: "Consider the injustices that happened to your own people," I reply: "They have nothing to do with the matter. The mere fact that sonic governess of ours has suffered in Austria is no reason why we should seek out some governess of theirs here and make her suffer." As I say, that has nothing to do with it. And I could not gather what was the real complaint of the sailor who was over there. He did not say that his property had been taken. He suffered, as many of our own poor fellows did, from being interned. As to the Austrian governess, I always understood that the Austrians have recognised the claims of everybody within their jurisdiction, and I do not know whether the reason why that poor girl has not got her money is that the bank has failed, which is extremely likely, or whether it is that the Austrian Government has declined to let her get paid, which should think is extremely improbable. But you have certainly no right to take away from people over here the property they possess in order to compensate one or more of our own people who have had the great misfortune to suffer loss through the failure of commercial concerns in other countries.
I hope the concessions which the noble Lord said the Government was prepared to make will, upon reflection, appear to convey some real, substantial advantage. Up to the present I cannot find that they do, because, unless you are prepared to act now, and to act promptly, the unhappy people who are suffering from what is being done will in many cases be utterly unable to recover from the position in which they are placed, and it will be a poor consolation if, after the lapse of many years, it is said to them: "Now there is a balance"—because that is what I understand is going to happen. "We have taken everything we can possibly find, we have used it to satisfy all the claims, and there is a balance and that we are going to 1203 distribute to you." This is not, according to the best of my judgment, in accordance with the traditions or rules of English law, and I find myself unable to see how it is that this Committee can possibly have advised that it is.
§ LORD NEWTON
My Lords, when I put this Question I remarked that it was a complicated one. I also remarked that the Report of Lord Justice Younger was a complicated document. But I am not sure that the most complicated of all is not the speech, made on behalf of the Government, to which we have listened this afternoon. The only tangible point that I was able to gather from that speech was that in certain circumstances somebody was going to get£500, whereas under previous conditions he would only have received£200. The noble Lord further complicated the position by drawing our attention to the hardships of British subjects. I do not see the analogy. There were many British subjects, as I have the best reason for knowing, who suffered the greatest hardships, and who had cause to complain of hardships suffered as German prisoners, but the cases are not the same. If I am not mistaken, a sum of several million pounds is to be appropriated for these people from Reparations. In the 1204 case of an enemy alien his property is taken away from him once for all.
I think that the British subjects who have suffered have been none too well treated by our Government. They ought to have had advances made to them long ago. But there is no analogy between them and the case which we have quoted. Our case is that a number of perfectly harmless and innocent people have had their property confiscated. I shall continue to use the word "confiscated." Their property has been taken from them, and, call it by whatever name you please, it means "confiscated." This House has pronounced emphatically against the confiscation of private property, and it is obvious, I regret to say, that the Government are not going to pay any attention to it. The noble Lord began by giving us an assurance that something was going to be done. It is obvious to me that the least possible is going to be done, and I hope, in spite of the singularly disappointing answer that we have received this afternoon, that the noble and learned Lord opposite will not allow the Question to drop, but will recur to it when opportunity arises.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past seven o'clock.