§ Debate on Second Reading resumed.
§ On Question, Whether the Bill shall be now read 2a;?
§ Their Lordships divided: —Contents, 66; Not-Contents, 24.1113
|Reading, M.||Marchwood, V.||Llewellin, L.|
|Samuel, V.||Lloyd, L|
|Bathurst, E.||Simon, V.||Luke, L.|
|Birkenhead, E.||Swinton, V.||Mancroft, L.|
|Halifax, E.||Mendip L. (V. Clifden) [Teller.]|
|Iddesleigh, E.||Altrincham, L.||Merthyr, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Baden-Powell, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Perth, E.||Carrington, L. [Teller.]||O'Hagan. L.|
|Portsmouth, E.||Cawley, L.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|St. Aldwyn. E.||Cherwell, L.||Polwarth. L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Clwyd, L.||Remnant. L.|
|Shaftesbury. E.||Clydesmuir, L.||Rochdale, L.|
|Courthope, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Saltoun, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Denman, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Camrose, V.||Derwent, L.||Sempill, L.|
|Cecil of Chelwood, V.||Ellenborough, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Elibank, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Gifford, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Furness, V.||Hampton, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Harcourt, V.||Hawke, L.||Wardington, L.|
|Long, V.||Layton, L.||woolton, L.|
|Jowitt, V.(L. Chancellor.)||Archibald, L.||Lawson, L.|
|Bingham, L. (E. Lucan) [Teller.]||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Addison, V. (L. Privy Seal.)||Burden. L. [Teller.]||Macdonald of Gwaenysgor, L..|
|Calverley, L.||Marley, L.|
|Huntingdon, E.||Crook, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Darwen, L.||Pakenham, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Faringdon, L.||Quibell, L.|
|Hall, V.||Haden-Guest, L.||Shepherd. L.|
|St. Davids, V.||Kershaw, L.||Uvedale of North End, L.|
§ through nationalisation and other similar activities. The amounts received would be only enough to pay a dividend —but I hope a fairly substantial dividend in the case of Yugoslavia, where I estimate it at something like 50 per cent. In the case of Czechoslovakia, I estimate it at something like 33⅓per cent. There are various methods by which this could have been done. Sometimes there is a mixed claims Commission to ascertain the various sums. Sometimes the "lump sum" method is adopted, and that has been done in this case. We have agreed these lump sums. In former days, it would have been the responsibility of the Foreign Office to divide up the sums so received amongst the various claimants, For that purpose, in practice the Foreign Secretary would appoint some kind of 1115 legal committee, though the responsibility was his; yet he would, of course, act on the advice of that committee.
§ Let me explain this for a moment, When a Department or a Minister is dispensing the money amongst the various claimants, in those circumstances he is not a trustee dispensing money or holding money for a cestui que trust. There is the celebrated case that was decided in the House of Lords after the First World War. It is rather like a Sovereign dispensing justice to his subjects: he cannot be called into question or brought before the courts on appeal. This is quite plainly a case in which no one would ever seriously suggest that there should be an appeal, and it shows how unwise it is to have that general rule. We are going to set up a judicial tribunal which will he presided over by one or two very distinguished lawyers.
§ I hope that it will include accountants and business men, and they will have to decide, and decide finally, how this money shall be divided up. There is all the more reason for doing it in this way, rather than leaving it to the Foreign Office, because in the case of Yugoslavia, for instance, there will be claims by Commonwealth citizens and naturally enough they would or might be more content with the decision of a tribunal than with that of a particular departmental Minister here.
§ We are setting up a permanent Commission. I hope—I am not authorised to say more than this—that ultimately we shall get payments from a number of other countries, and if we do we think it will be convenient for the Commission to deal with these claims. Further, it may be that some of the other countries, if we are going to try to fix lump sum agreements, may demand that we shall give them some idea of what the amount is going to he. We may therefore want to have some system of registering claims, to try to ascertain what the amount is before we pay the claim. Previously that was done by some Government Department, either the Foreign Office or, in more recent years, the Administrator of Enemy Property.
§ All I want to say about this agreement is this. It will, of course, be a Commission before which anybody who so desires can appear, and if he wants to argue his 1116 case in person or by Counsel he will be fully entitled so to do. Since we propose to do this by Order-in-Council, we set out two drafts of the Order-in-Council showing the sort of thing which we contemplate. They are not like the Laws of the Medes and Persians; they are not fixed. We shall have some amendments to make and I have no doubt that your Lordships will have some amendments which you would like to put forward. But the drafts give some idea. They arc set out in a Memorandum, Command Paper 7942, which those of your Lordships who are interested in the matter will have read. I should just add that paragraph 6 of that Memorandum is no longer applicable. That was the paragraph which dealt with the various enforcoments—provisions about perjury and the like. We think the existing general law is sufficient.
§ If we bring it into being, I hope that this Commission will be in operation next August. So far, we know of something like 1,800 claims to be considered. Of course the Commission's main function will be judicial, but there will have to be a secretariat which will deal with claims and the like, and the idea is that there should be some legal officer who is going to play the part of the advocatus diaboli who will find out which claims shall not be admitted. The hearing will be before the three Commissioners and I think they will have to sit in two divisions. That, my Lords, is the substance of the Bill. The expenses of the Commission will have to be met by a small reduction in the case of each claim; but it will be very small. In that sense the Commission will be self-supporting. I think this Bill is pretty generally agreed, and in spite of the fact that it offends against the Samuel principle I have no hesitation in commending it to your Lordships and in moving that it be now read a second time.
§ Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a;.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRIDGEMAN
My Lords, we are all very grateful indeed to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for his full explanation of this Bill, and we think that everybody in the House is glad to see it before Parliament. Those who know anything about the story of these Continental claims will realise that this Bill is really a link in 1117 two long chains of negotiations between this country and Czechoslovakia and similar negotiations between this country and Yugoslavia, and after two or three years' negotiating in one form or another we have now reached the point where, as the Lord Chancellor has explained, agreements have been arrived at with each of these two countries for a certain sum to be set aside to deal with compensation. Agreements have also been reached with the two countries that those sums which will he set aside shall be global sums, and that the cake shall be cut here by the tribunal which the Lord Chancellor has described, and not by tribunals overseas.
Here I must declare an interest, because I am a member of one of the British Committees who have been negotiating with Czechoslovakia and, I may say, negotiating very happily with Government Departments in some of these matters. I should like to pay tribute to the way in which the representatives of certain of the Committees with which I have been connected have been received and helped by the various Government Departments. Those who are in any way concerned with these claims view with great relief the idea that the share in regard to each claim compared with the global total is to be decided in England and according to English legal procedure. Everybody will be very content with that. I think that we can agree with the Lord Chancellor to leave the matter in the hands of the tribunal and in this case not to ask for appeal.
Having said that, I think I have said all that I need say about the Bill itself. But as your Lordships know, with the Bill came out a White Paper, and in the White Paper there was issued a draft Order-in-Council. That draft Order-in-Council is a fairly technical document and, as the Lord Chancellor told us just now, the last word has not been said. It is still a draft and it is not thought entirely satisfactory in every respect. Negotiations are going on, however, and I have no doubt that by the time the Order-in-Council comes to be laid most of the remaining matters will have been ironed out. Perhaps I may be excused, even at this late hour, for mentioning three points on which I understand further discussion on the draft Order-in- 1118 Council is necessary. In the first place, so far as the Czechoslovakian position is concerned there is a little doubt whether certain claims for actual cash debts will be eligible. They are definitely eligible in the Yugoslav Agreement. If they are not eligible, we want to take care that those debts do not fall, so to speak, between two stools—that they are not blackballed (if I may use that term) in regard to the monetary agreement of 1945, and equally blackballed by this Bill.
Similarly, there are certain matters connected with trusteeship claims. There are certain firms in this country who are acting as trustees for people, some of them not resident here but possibly in the Dominions. Those claims need to be taken care of. There is a third class of claim—namely, claims made by a company registered in this country whose ownership of a Czechoslovakian assets conies through the ownership of a subsidiary. Let me take the case, I think: not entirely imaginary, of a British company which owns a subsidiary registered in Switzerland, and the Czechoslovakian asset is actually owned. by the Swiss Company. There was an agreement, I think, made a couple of years ago, between Switzerland and Czechoslovakia in which that kind of asset was excluded. Here, again, we must take care that those cases do not fall between two stools. I say that, not because I am in any way alarmed at the possibility—because negotiations are going on and, to my knowledge, they are very happy and constructive negotiations, between the owners of the assets and the Government Departments. I want merely to mention those points as indicating the sort of complications with which we must deal if the machinery of the Claims Commission is to work to the greatest satisfaction of everybody. When the Commission starts to wont there may be further adjustments to the machinery, and I suggest that in that case it would be right to feel our way as we go. As the Lord Chancellor told us, if this procedure works well in the case of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia we hope it will be used in the future should it be possible to make agreements with other countries now behind the Iron Curtain, because nationalisation has taken place in almost every one of those countries. It is a dose of nationalisation which would almost cause noble Lords opposite indigestion, 1119 because nothing like that has happened here yet.
I will leave that matter and just make these two main points. As I say, this Bill is a chain in a course of events. But it has a very clear background—namely, that neither this Bill nor anything like it will achieve its object (which is that British concerns shall be compensated for what has been taken from them), unless two things happen. The first is that the Board of Trade see to it that sufficient trade is promoted between Britain and Yugoslavia and Britain and Czechoslovakia to make it possible for these compensation payments to come through at the rate which has been envisaged in the agreements; because if there is no trade going through, these payments will dry up and nothing will happen. Secondly, and in parallel with that, steady diplomatic pressure will have to be exercised if these agreements are to stand up to events. It has been necessary to give a good deal of diplomatic attention to this matter in the past, and it would be a great tragedy if all the work and good will which is represented by this Bill were to be lost through failure to maintain the objective which His Majesty's Government have so far set themselves. My Lords, we support the Bill and we will do all we can to bring it speedily into law.
§ 7.20 p.m.
My Lords, I gladly join with the noble Viscount who has just sat down in congratulating the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack on the explanation which he has given your Lordships of this matter. I should also like to take this opportunity of congratulating His Majesty's Government on the fact that, despite the fears of many, and despite a mass of obstacles, they have been able to conclude these Compensation Agreements with the Governments of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. I, too, like the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, have an interest to declare. Like him I have been working for some time on a committee to try to assist these people who have lost their all. As your Lordships well know, the Committee, on which my noble friend Lord Bridgeman sits, and of which Mr. Hansard is Chairman, was set up a number of years ago. and is known as 1120 the Beevor Committee. It bears this name as a tribute to the excellent work done by Mr. Jack Beevor, its secretary, who is a partner in the firm of Slaughter and May. Shortly after its establishment, another Committee to deal with other claimants, one might say the smaller claimants, was set up. Of this Committee I am privileged to be the chairman. The Committee is called "The Czechoslovak Claims Committee, 1948." On it we are fortunate to have as our secretary Mr. K. Schwartz, who is of Czechoslovak birth but has for many years been a naturalised British subject.
I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to the following points arising out of the present wording of the Foreign Compensation Bill, 1950, and the draft orders accompanying it. The matter has been referred to by the noble Viscount who has just sat down, and I will confine myself exclusively to the provisions relating to Czechoslovakia. Under the Anglo-Czechoslovak Compensation Agreement of September 28, 1949. His Majesty's Government have given a general discharge to the Czechoslovak Government in respect of nearly all British claims. In defining the claims to which such discharge relates, as a result of protracted negotiations with the Czechoslovak Government—who all the time had at the back of their minds, as your Lordships will be aware, the necessity of having to make similar Agreements with other countries and wanted to avoid prejudicing themselves—rather artificial terms were used.
It was generally expected that all claims which were thus discharged under the terms of Clause 3 of the Anglo-Czechoslovak Compensation Agreement, would qualify for compensation under the Foreign Compensation Bill. However, the Bill suggests a different method of definition, and there is a grave danger lest a number of claims to which the discharge relates may, nevertheless, not be admissible under the Bill. The Compensation Agreement refers to:various Czechoslovak methods of nationalisation, expropriation, dispossession or other restrictive measures.whereas the Bill refers only to such Czechoslovak laws and decrees as are enumerated in a Schedule attached to the Bill. For example, the second Czecho- 1121 Slovak Agricultural Reform Act is not included. In view of the fact that since 1945 the Czechoslovak Government have been issuing a great number of laws, orders, decrees and regulations affecting the rights of these British owners, it is almost impossible to draw up a complete list of all relevant measures, and the Commission may find themselves confronted with cases which could not qualify under the Bill for the reason that the act of dispossession was based on a measure inadvertently omitted from the Schedule.
Moreover, the interpretative minute to the Compensation Agreement contains a clause to the effect that, in cases where British-owned property has been first confiscated and subsequently nationalised, the elate of promulgation of the nationalisation law shall be deemed to be the date of the relevant measure. This clause has not been incorporated in the draft Order-in-Council, and this may result in a number of cases covered by the Compensation Agreement under the said definition clause, and thus comprised in the general discharge, not being entitled to compensation under the Compensation Bill. I feel sure that such is not intended. It would, therefore, seem advisable to acid to the draft Order-in-Council a general clause to the effect that the Commission are to admit any claim in respect of which the British Government have given a discharge to the Czechoslovak Government under the Compensation Agreement, even if such claim is not covered expressly by any of the other provisions of the Order-in-Council. British claimants know only too well, from experience, Mat the Czechoslovak authorities are very reluctant indeed to give information about expropriated property, although according to the Anglo-Czechoslovak Compensation Agreement of September last the Czechoslovak Government promised to assist in securing all documents, proofs, et cetera, which would be required here. It is. therefore, suggested that the Claims Commission should take into consideration the difficulties in collecting documents and accounts or any other kind of proofs.
I should also like to suggest that it would be most desirable, and in accordance with practice, that an advisory committee should be set up. This committee would, of course, be at the call of the Claim; Commission to assist and advise the Commission in all cases in which 1122 claimants were unable, through circurnstances beyond their control, to submit documentary proof. An advisory committee consisting of independent experts with personal knowledge of Czechoslovak affairs could give valuable assistance in many respects, and ensure a fair and just valuation on the evidence available. A number of such experts are available; and I would strongly recommend that the aforementioned proposals are taken into account when the final text of the Order-in-Council is prepared.
I should like to support what the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgman, has said. My committee have had excellent relations with the authorities concerned; they have been exceedingly helpful, and have met us on all possible occasions. If it should be the wish of the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack that a meeting should be convened between our representatives and the officials concerned in order that there may be full explanation of these points, we are entirely at their disposal. I beg leave to support the welcome which has been given to the Bill.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, all I need add is a word of thanks to your Lordships for the support which you have given to this Bill. I will see that the points which have been mentioned by both the noble Lords who have spoken are considered. If I can be of any help in calling a meeting I will certainly do so.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a;, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.