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This is a new Service, and I am sure that the Committee will not desire that the Vote should pass without explanation. There are no fewer than six new items which have not appeared anywhere before in the discussion of the Estimates. The first item, "Advance to Persia," is a sum of £4,500 for the maintenance of a guard. This may or may not be desirable, but in any event it is a small sum; but the remaining items make altogether a total of £4,500,000 new money which is asked for without any explanation being proffered by the Government. The first item deals with the supply of foodstuffs to the civilian population of Northern Russia. The amount is over £2,000,000. From the footnote with regard to details it appears that the foodstuffs are not a gift, and that the amount expended on them is to be recovered by sale. I do not know what that means, whether we have given over £2,000,000 worth of foodstuffs to some authority in Northern Russia and that that authority, if we can have any control over it, is going to pay that amount to the British Exchequer when those foodstuffs are sold. With whom has this transaction been conducted? Who is the particular individual responsible to the British Government for the sale of those particular goods, and how are we going to enforce payment of this £2,190,000? This is marked as a new service—an unclassified service. It is not a revised Estimate, because there was no original Estimate. Does my hon. and gallant Friend (Sir H. Greenwood) imagine that he is ever going to recover that £2,000,000? Then (d) deals with £120,000 for a Military Mission to the Caucasus. I look at the bottom of the page for details, and I see the same words—Caucasus Military Mission, £120,000. Is it not ludicrous or rather stupid to present to the Committee this Estimate and then to give below, under the heading "Details," the very same words. The House is entitled to know what is the British Mission in the Caucasus, who composed it and to whom was the British Mission sent?
I ought to explain to the hon. Member that this Estimate is one which was presented last summer and was not taken then. That may possibly save some of the questions which he may have desired to ask. I do not go into the merits.
I am obliged to you. You are always very useful to members -of the Committee, who really cannot be expected to remember all these things, but if this was presented last July, surely in the interval my hon. and gallant Friend should be able to give us details. Whether the Committee agrees or disagrees with the Vote, we are entitled to know on what the money was spent. Then the next is (e), "Advances to Polish National Committee and General Denikin's Army," and the details are "for funds advanced by His Majesty's representative in Rumania." There, again, I have not the faintest notion of what this means. Here there is a request for £45,000. The next is (f), "advance to provisional Government of Northern Russia," and it is said that part of this expenditure will ultimately be recoverable from Allied Governments. That sum is £1,125,000. To which of the provisional Governments has this money been loaned? From which of the Allied Governments will part be recoverable, and what part will be recoverable? (g) is expenditure in connection with Prisoners of War Department. The Committee is willing to vote anything that is spent for the relief and repatriation of British prisoners of war, and I hope that the amount has been sufficient, that it has been wisely expended and that the prisoners have been repatriated, (h) is "Siberian Railway, salaries of British staff, British share in Allies' advance to railway administration, for purchase of materials, £1,000,000." What has been the amount of money advanced to Allies for this purpose? Which of the Allies have advanced it? How much of the £1,000,000 is advances and how much is salaries of the British staff? These questions I have asked on the spur of the moment because it seems to me absurd that a Vote for £4,500,000 should go through the Committee without our having some explanation of questions of this sort.
No one regrets more than I do the absence of the Under - Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Harmsworth), into whose charge this Vote would naturally have fallen. He is unable to be present to-day, and I am taking the Vote as Additional Under-Secretary, and I shall do my best to answer the questions which will arise from various quarters of the House. I quite appreciate the questions which have been put by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge), and I shall endeavour to answer them. In the first place, let me remind the Committee that this Estimate was printed with the Votes on 17th July of this year, and it would have gone through the Committee and the House in the usual way—under the guillotine, I admit—had it not been that certain hon. Members asked for an opportunity to discuss it, and the Government naturally, with that courtesy and consideration which I am sure the Government always show to the House—which, at any rate, I shall endeavour to show whenever I have the honour to stand at this Box—withdrew the Estimate from the Closure Votes, and it therefore comes up to-day, not as a new Estimate, not as a revised Estimate, but as an Estimate for miscellaneous war services of the Foreign Office, as set out and printed in July of this year All these items are war expenditure. They are all items that arise out of the War, and most of them are for expenditure during the War itself. I will take the items one by one and give an explanation of each. If I have not at the conclusion of my explanation covered the whole ground, I hope hon. Members will clear up the remaining questions by continuing their interrogatories, so that we may pass this-Considerable sum of money with intelligent unanimity.
I understand from the hon. and gallant Gentleman that most of these items were incurred during the War. Will he explain how that is so, inasmuch as the Estimate is for the year ending 31st March, 1920, and the War was over six months before the commencement of the financial year?
The right hon. Baronet is quite right, and I am also quite right. Part of this money was expended during the War, and part of it since the War. The first item is "Advances to Persia, maintenance of guard on Shiraz-Ispahan Road." I do not know whether there are any hon. Members who have travelled that road, but it is a most important road. It leads from Busra to Shiraz and Ispahan, and it is patrolled by certain native policemen under British officers entirely in the interests of British trade. Here, I can speak with more intimate knowledge as Parliamentary Secretary to the Department of Oversee Trade. It would be impossible for peaceful travellers or traders to travel over this road which runs over a high range of mountains if it were not for the protection given by these British officers and the gallant men who serve under them. I sincerely hope that the Committee will not quibble at this amount. It is essential if we are to carry on our trade, I hope our growing trade, with Persia.
Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman explain the rest of the £2,000,000 He has explained the £4,500 in a very satisfactory and interesting way. Can he tell us anything about this £2,000,000 in addition?
On the point of Order. If you will look at the unclassified services for the year ending 31st March, 1920, you will see there the estimated amounts re- quired in the year ending 31st March, 1920, to pay the cost of certain miscellaneous war services. First, there is "Advances to Persia, £2,064,005." That sum has never yet been discussed.
I submit that the Vote before the House is one for £4,500, the additional sum required under this Supplementary Estimate. I would like to have your ruling upon that point.
At the moment I am not quite clear, but I understand that it is a new service. If so, it can be discussed. There is a very strict rule that you can discuss only the supplementary sum, and I hope the Committee will bear that in mind. If this be a supplementary sum, we cannot discuss the whole question, but if it be a new service the Committee has the right to go into the whole matter. I am not quite clear whether it is a new service or not.
May I point out that the whole of it is a new service. In July a new service was asked for. It could not be discussed, and the Government, with a desire to be nice and kind to the House, withdrew the Vote in order that we might have this opportunity to discuss it. There is now an additional sum added to the old Estimate, but the whole of it is a new service.
I am inclined to regret that this was not guillotined last July. I understood that it was this Supplementary Estimate of £4,500 for this particular road with which I had to deal. If the Committee wish me to deal with the whole of the original Estimate, I must ask them to let me deal with it a little later on in the Debate, because I frankly say that I cannot at the moment deal with so enormous a question involving the foreign policy of this country. Therefore, with the permission of the Committee I will now deal with Item (c), "Supplies of foodstuffs, etc., for the civilian population of Northern Russia." The position in September of last year in Northern Russia, as the Committee will remember, was a very critical one. His Majesty's Government, in agreement with the United States Government and with the French Government, arranged to send certain necessary food supplies for the civilian population of Northern Russia, including the two regions of Murmansk and Archangel. As very often happens, the burden of the transport and of most of these foodstuffs that were needed by this population which would otherwise have starved was borne by the Government, and the expense, which was large, amounted in all to £2,190,000. There was other expenditure which was met or will be met by the United States and France, but the responsibility that fell upon us amounted to that very considerable sum. This was an appeal to the humanitarian instincts of the Government and the country, and it was a case of sending these foodstuffs to Northern Russia or standing by and seeing the civilian population starve during the actual War. That was the situation which arose, and the Government gave it all possible consideration, and, I submit., did right in doing their best to save this population from extinction, because it would have been extinction during the winter of 1918–19 if these stores had not been sent to that most difficult and helpless portion of the Russian Empire.
They commenced to be sent in September of last year, and they have been sent since. That population came through last winter, and I believe now it is not only able to defend itself, but, owing to this summer which has just closed yielding a certain amount of crops, is able to support itself. At any rate, we are not now spending any money upon this particular portion of Russia. This sum represents what we, in conjunction with our principal Allies, France and America, thought was the amount that we should spend to save these people. Item (d) is for the Caucasus Military Mission. It was a Mission that was decided upon at the end of 1917. It was sent to the Caucasus under a very gallant British officer, Colonel White, and it consisted of a number of British officers. Its business was during the War to enrol on the side of the Allies all the varying nationalities in the Caucasus. The Treasury agreed at the time to an expenditure of £250,000 for this purpose, but only £120,000 has been spent. I am bound to say that this Mission met with the greatest difficulty, especially after the collapse of the old Russian Empire, Colonel White, who was at the head of it, being himself killed. Several men of the British portion of it were captured by the Bolsheviks. The money was spent in paying Armenians, Russian Cossacks, and Mahomedans, as well as in paying the allowances, travelling and other expenses, of the personnel of the Mission itself. May I say here that this money was raised in the Caucasus by drawing bills on the Foreign Office? I think the Committee should know that the only piece of paper which sells above par, then or now, in those parts of the world is a draft on the British Foreign Office, which I think speaks well for the prestige of that Office, and, of course, for that of the British Government. These unfortunate officers command our respect in being sent out under military orders to the most difficult part of the world, where they ably carried out their mission at a much lower cost than that to which the Treasury has agreed.
It has always been the custom in this Horse to vote for the service of the year in the year, and it is quite out of order to vote in one year a sum of money which was spent in the year previous. This is the first time it has ever occurred and it is absolutely contrary to all the customs and traditions of this House with regard to financial business. There was plenty of opportunity last year, when there was nothing but Votes of Credit and that sort of thing going, for the money to be spent in the proper way.
I have listened to the right hon. Baronet, as I always do, with great interest. This is a Supplementary Estimate which should have been passed last July. If it had been passed last July—
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman has not quite seized the point. I understand that the custom is at the end of each year to terminate the finances with what is called an Appropriation Act, which regularises all the expenditure of the year according to the wishes of time House. It is not a question of whether this Vote was put down in reserve for Debate this year, but whether the expenditure was incurred two years ago without the authority of Parliament, and whether we are now being asked to pass a Vote in order to indemnify them for an act which may have been an excellent thing but which had not the authority of this House.
That is so; but it is not that particular mission with which I am dealing. If the Committee will permit me, I would like to pass on to the question of the advances to the Polish National Committee and General Denikin's army. These advances were made to the extent of £45,000 by His Majesty's Minister at Bucharest, at a time when it was impossible for him to communicate with the Foreign Office. He, and I think rightly, made an advance of £20,000 to a Polish Committee that was recruiting Poles in different parts of Roumania to assist the Allied cause, and he also made an advance or £25,000 to General Denikin. These advances were made by the Minister in the name of the Crown, and the two items I have indicated make up the total of £45,000 under item E.
Yes. I will now take item F—advance to Provisional Government of Northern Russia. This is put down as a loan. It is a loan for which any future Russian Government will be just as much responsible as that Government will be responsible for the enormous advances made to the Russian Empire. I do not put any great store upon it except in so far as I say that I believe the Russians will recover and that these old debts will materialise. This was done during the War. It was also, as nearly all these items are, the result of an agreement between the principal Allies, Great Britain, the United States, and France. This agreement was made by those three Powers with the Murmansk Council, which was a council of Russians. The Council was doing its best to resist the German Coalition, which was at that time pressing harshly on Northern Russia. The Allies made an attempt to set up a purely Russian Government in this region, and in order to do that they had, of course, to find a certain amount of money and to supply equipment, transport, textiles, and various other articles to assist the Government to carry on. Part of the agreement was that the Allies would in no way interfere with the absolute power in internal affairs of this strictly Russian council, and that was carried out. The Allies could not interfere with the payment of wages unless the people were employed by Allied commanders. Part of the expenditure is recoverable from our Allies. Here I must confess that I cannot give in definite terms the parts that will be recoverable, because the matter is still under negotiation. The Allies in this case are the United States and France, and in this case, as in every other with which I have had the honour to deal, the initial burden, and generally most of the burden, falls upon Great Britain.
Not all the loss; the greater part of the prestige, and certainly not all the loss, in the long run. I hope my explanation will satisfy my hon. Friend from East Edinburgh. I will next take G. Four thousand pounds is down here for dealing with the repatriation of prisoners of war. The hon. Member for East Leeds (Mr. O'Grady) is now in Copenhagen endeavouring to get those prisoners out of Russia. If the prisoners have received the money and other things sent to them they have been well looked after. This expenditure, I am certain, the Committee will not begrudge. It is not too much, having regard to the sufferings of these gallant men. Now we come to the last item, the Siberian railway, and here I feel we are on very strong ground, because we have more Allies in this matter than in any other. It is a matter which arose by reason of an agreement among the Allies, namely, the United States. Japan, Great Britain, France, Italy. China, and the Omsk Government. They set up a railway board. which was responsible for maintaining and opening up the railway from Vladivostok to Omsk, and as far beyond as possible. It was most successful, and improved the railway considerably from Vladivostok westward. The British Government, with the other Governments, felt that this was a proper course to pursue, and the British Government's share of the expense is indicated in the Paper—£1,000,000 and no more.
Yes; that is a matter for negotiation which is now going on among the Powers. In these matters it is the honour, although sometimes also the inconvenience, of his Majesty's Government—certainly the inconvenience of some members of the Government—to have to bear the initial burden in these expenses, and then it is a matter for subsequent negotiation to settle the exact amount which will be borne by our respective Allies. The opening of the Vladivostok railway will help to revive and forward British trade. At this particular moment at Vladivostok we have great stores of British goods. They can only be shipped inwards if this railway is made free for these things and for the goods of all other industries. I think the expenditure was justifiable.
I think the Committee may congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend on the extremely able way in which he has carried out his most difficult task. We regret the absence of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Harmsworth). I hope his absence is not owing to serious illness, because I am certain that nothing but illness would have kept him away from the House when we are discussing Estimates of this importance. If it is due to anything but illness, I think he should be here in his place. I myself have no objection whatever to the various items which are in this particular Vote, but I have a very serious objection to the manner in which it has been brought before the Committee. My hon. Friend says that this Supplementary Estimate was brought forward in July, but it does not matter whether it was in July or any month in the financial year 1919–2o, when it ought to have been brought forward in the financial year 1918–19. The ancient rule of the House has, as far as I know, never been broken, namely, that the expenditure of the year must be met by the finances of the year, which is, in my opinion, an absolutely sound rule. To allow a Government to spend money in 1918–19, and then come forward and say in another financial year, "We have already spent the money and we want you to give us authority for something we ought not to have done," is a serious innovation on the financial principles of this House which I hope the Committee will strongly resent. It is possible there is an explanation, and I think the Financial Secretary will agree that the Committee deserve some explanation. If his explanation is that in 1918–19 we were at war, and that it was impossible to settle the various items of expenditure in Russia and that, therefore, under those circumstances the course which has been pursued was unavoidable, then I think that the Committee could not object very much to it. An explanation of that kind ought to be accompanied by an assurance from my hon. Friend that this will not be repeated, and it ought, I think, to be accompanied also almost by an expression of regret on his part that the Treasury were obliged to consent to some of it, which I venture to say is an absolute contradiction to the whole of the traditions of this House and the procedure which has governed finance. At the present moment another place has no power over finance, and it is absolutely essential that nothing which could take away from the power of this House over finance should be permitted. I hope that the Financial Secretary will be able to make that explanation, and if he does so I shall accept it.
As I listened to the hon. Baronet describing what we spent, I began to wonder whether in the title "Miscellaneous War Services." the word "Miscellaneous" belonged to war or to services. The hon. Baronet appealed to us to give him our intelligent unanimity. I am sure he will have the intelligence, but I am not so sure that he will have the unanimity. With regard to the second item he appealed to the House on humanitarian grounds, and I am quite sure from that point of view every Member of the House will agree with him. But I think we should have some further explanation as to whom those foodstuffs were sent and who were made responsible. We are told that receipts from sales will be paid into the Exchequer, but nothing as to the amount. The hon. Gentleman did not explain if the foodstuffs were sent to a particular man or to a. committee or a provisional Government, or whether they were resold or part of them sold and part of them given away. We have really had no enlightenment as to whether we shall recover any of this sum of £2,000,000. The hon. Gentleman dealt with a pride we all shared on the fact that a bill drawn on the Foreign Office would always be discounted about par. How many of those bills are floating about and are likely to come in? Those he mentioned were drawn last year. How many people have the right to draw bills on the Foreign Office and call on them to pay? Is that all stopped now, or are there still people living abroad who have the right to draw bills on the Foreign Office for which this country has to find the money? With regard to advances to the provisional Governent of Northern Russia, the hon. Gentleman said that part of it would be recovered from the Allies, but that the matter had not been settled yet. If we have already put in our claim to our Allies how much is the amount of that claim? As to the advance of £1,000,000 for the Siberian Railway, the hon. Baronet told us that the other Allies had already advanced some money. If they have advanced anything in addition to our £1,000,000, can he say how much? If they have already advanced their own money, they are not likely to give us back some of our £1,000,000, or is it the case that we have advanced the total amount for the railway and have to get something back from the Allies in due course? The most important point is whether people have still the right in various parts of the world to draw bills on the Foreign Office, and that an undisclosed liability always exists on the Foreign Office and consequently on the National Exchequer.
Before the Financial Secretary replies I would ask him to state quite definitely whether there are any moneys in this Estimate which have not actually been already spent? So far as I understood from the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), the whole of this money was spent before the 1st of April, 1919, and therefore belongs to the financial year 1918–19, and none of it is really an Estimate of what is to be spent in the future. I rose to mention a point with regard to this main new service in connection with Persia. I see it is printed under the heading "New Service," and that there is a sum of £2,064,000. Is that part of the Anglo-Persian Convention, or is it entirely for war purposes during the hostilities with Turkey, when we made advances to the Imperial Bank of Persia in connection with our operations in the Caspian? Are they restricted to war services, or are they part of the advances under the Convention recently made, and to which I understand the Government of India are to contribute a very considerable share?
I have a good deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary in the reply which he has to make to the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), who has asked him to state whether it is still the principle and practice of the Government that the expenditure of the year shall be met by the Appropriations of the year. Whether this ought to have been done in this particular case, I think he will feel that those ancient doctrines of Parliament are really out of date nowadays. I think the right hon. Baronet would have put the matter more kindly if he had asked that the debt of the year should be met by the deficit of the year, and that that principle might, at any rate, apply even in these days. I do not think we have been given sufficient reason why this money was not brought to account earlier. As it is, I gather, even though it was spent in the preceding financial year, we now have a sum of £4,000,000 to be added to the £100,000,000 which we know has been spent on one or other of these Russian expeditions. How long it will take to see a clearing-up of the whole of this money which this Empire has wasted in these Russian expeditions we do not know.
I cannot understand wily, after America came into the War, and when it was known that America was less strained financially than we were, we should have continued the practice of providing all, or practically all, the moneys for matters of this kind which our Allies needed. We were told with regard to one of these items of expenditure that two Allies were in question, France and America, and yet we provided all the money and we are still negotiating with our Allies as to what, if any, share should be borne by them. In another case we were told that we had no less than six Allies concerned in the railway to Omsk, yet there again, although the United States of America was one of the Allies, we seem to have advanced the whole of the million pounds and to he still negotiating as to what, if any, part shall be repaid and when, if ever, it should be repaid. With regard to the general policy, I have only this to say. It puzzles me why we should be spending a million pounds in trying to get supplies into Russia at one end, and spending goodness knows how many millions in trying to prevent supplies getting into Russia at another end.
I have very strong sympathy with the protest raised by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and I have no doubt that we shall receive satisfaction on that point from the Financial Secretary. There is one detail on which I should be glad to have a reply from the hon. Baronet representing the Foreign Office, and it is in regard to the Siberian Railway. It was not quite clear from his remarks whether the £1,000,000 which is inserted here is our contribution alone or whether it is the total advance of which we are going to recover a part from our Allies, or what is the extent of our own indebtedness with regard to the whole matter. The hon. Baronet told us that the Inter-Allied support of the Siberian railway administration was successful in producing there an efficient state of affairs, which, amongst other matters, would inure to the benefit of British trade in so far as there was a, large accumulation of British goods at Vladivostok. Now the most recent information which we have from Siberia is to the effect that anything less like an efficient railway administration cannot be conceived than what has been taking place with regard to the Siberian railways during the last twelve months at any rate, that if anyone had wished long before this recent advance of the Bolshevists to go to Omsk from Vladivostok it meant that he went for a little holiday jaunt that lasted for six weeks at least. That is a very different picture from what has been presented to us by the hon. Baronet, and we would really, I think, like to know what the result of the British expenditure is in this respect, and more particularly in regard to the British goods that were sent to Vladivostok. How many hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of British goods were sent? I know there was a very large amount some time ago left at Vladivostok, but I should like to know how much had actually reached Western Siberia, Omsk, and the rest of Siberia to the west of it, for the relief of the population there, who were in the most urgent need of the very necessaries of life that were landed at Vladivostok. That is one of the real justifications for the expenditure, if there was one, and if the hon. Gentleman can give us the figure of the amounts shipped to Vladivostok and of the amounts that got on from Vladivostok to Western Siberia, that, I think, would carry more conviction to the Committee than any other defence of that particular item of expenditure.
I think I might usefully intervene at this stage to answer the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). Of course, I agree entirely with what he said, and there is no more painful process that a Minister in my position has to undergo than the collection of these Estimates and their presentation to the House of Commons. This particular Vote covers what are called Miscellaneous War Services, and, with all respect to the hon. Member who found fault with that expression, I really do not know what other expression we could have found to fit the case. There are various services in more or less remote fields of war where continuous war expenditure was going on and where it was impossible to estimate from time to time what the actual expenditure would be. The distance of these fields and the difficulty of communication were the direct cause of the accounts coming in so late that it was impossible to get them in any shape into the Vote of Credit, where they would naturally have been—that is to say, the accounts for money expended before the time of the closing of the Vote of Credit. And so we have this position, that we are presenting an account for sanction to-day that was presented last July for expenditure that is past and completed, and that has taken place during the course of two financial years instead of one.
I quite agree it is a wholly irregular process. It is one that I dislike as much as the right hon. Baronet and my right hon. Friend opposite, and it is one that I hope and believe will not occur again, and I cannot see any likelihood, with my present knowledge, that it can occur again. I know of no similar circumstances, and I can assure the Committee that so far as I am able to prevent it, it will not occur again. The expenditure has all been made. I think, speaking from memory, it had all been made by the time the account was presented in July, bat it only came to my notice just before a batch of Supplementary Estimates were presented in that month, shortly before the end of the Session, and the moment that I saw this Estimate and what it comprised, and the debate that would naturally open up from its presentation, I said, "This Estimate must be withdrawn and kept back till the autumn, so that the House may have proper time in which to discuss it." There is only one more remark I would make before sitting down. This phrase "New Service" is rather misleading, because it only applies to the items from C to H. The amount under A in the original Estimate was actually in the Estimates that were presented at the beginning of the year, and that were passed before the Adjournment in August. I do not think there is anything else on this Estimate that directly concerns me, and I should like to offer my sympathy and my congratulations to my hon. and gallant Friend here (Sir H. Greenwood) in the difficult task he has had, all the more that my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works is away ill and is relying on me to take his Votes this evening.
This Vote really would give us an opportunity, I believe, of discussing, if we cared to pursue it, our policy in Persia, and I draw attention to that because this is the first and the last opportunity we have had of discussing a very vital matter indeed. There have been publications in the Press, and there have been speeches by Lord Curzon at luncheon parties, and so on, but there has never been any statement, to my knowledge, on the floor of this House with regard to our commitments and future commitments, military, financial, and political, in Persia. It is a matter of really first-class importance, and should be explained here in the House, and an opportunity given for debate. It is important, amongst other things, because of the amount of criticism that has been aroused in very friendly quarters in France as to this same Persian policy. That alone made it desirable that there should have been some explanation in this House, as well as the fact that there is a large minority in Persia who are strongly nationalistic and who sent a deputation to Paris and were refused a hearing there, and that this strong minority of very patriotic persons of all classes, including some of the greatest nobles in Persia, are much opposed to the policy pursued by the Persian power that came to an agreement with this country, which has been published in the Press, but never explained to this House. I think it should be noted, therefore, that this New Service Estimate, brought up under rather unusual circumstances, as several very experienced hon. Members have pointed out, is the only opportunity we have of discussing this matter.
With regard to item F, if I understand the hon. and gallant Gentleman aright, this was an advance to a Government that was formed to combat a German coalition. I presume he means the Murmansk Government, and I suppose he means the coalition of the Finns and the German army in Finland under Von der Goltz. It is a fact, of course, that. -we had to send a British cruiser to Kola in the Murmansk to prevent the White Finns, the present party in Finland in power, with a few German auxiliaries, from advancing to Kola. It raises the rather interesting point whether an attempt should not have been made to recover this money from Germany, and add it to the indemnity. When we included widows' pensions in the German indemnity, surely we could have said, "This money had to be expended by us because of your action, and we think this should be added, there- fore, to the debt to be repaid." I think we should certainly have had more chance of recovering it, as events have turned out, either from Germany or Finland, than we shall have from the Government to which it was advanced, because that Government at Murmansk consisted of one Russian general and his officials. He was in no way elected, and there was no sort of constituent assembly or Parliament, and whether this Government will be recognised by the great regenerated Russia, which apparently still looms large in the hon. Gentleman's imagination, is a matter of grave doubt.
Might I also make this inquiry of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury? We are asked to vote £1,000,000 for the salaries of British staff and British share of an Allied advance to the Siberian railway administration for the purchase of materials, etc. First of all, with regard to the purchase of materials, was this British material? Was this money spent in purchasing rolling stock in this country, or in Japan, or in America? It is an interesting point. Secondly, is it a fact, as it has been frequently stated, not in this House, certainly, but one has heard it from people who have been out there, that all the stores and munitions which were sent out—first of all, the munitions for military purposes, and also the stores for the relief of the suffering people in Omsk and Tomsk and Irkutsk, and so on—is it a fact that all this traffic over the Siberian railway paid heavy freights, and that we paid the freights in cash or vouchers or bills on the Foreign Office on the spot? In other words, is it a fact that this relief for the population and also these munitions for fighting the Bolshevists were charged at full freights by the Provisional Dictatorship of Admiral Koltchak, and, if so, how much did we actually give him in cash for helping him on his railway, and, if so, should not this come off the £1,000,000? It is a point, I think, that is well worth investigation, and I should be very glad if the Financial Secretary could give me some information upon it.
I should like to deal with various questions which have been raised, and may I say at once how much I appreciate the indulgence of the House? May I say, first of all, with reference to why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs is not in his place, that this Vote was put down unexpectedly, and my hon. Friend had to go away from town this morning on public duty, and was unable to return in time. He would be the last to fail to be in his place to undertake a Vote of his Department, and I am very sorry I cannot deal with the subject adequately, as he would have done. But I would remind the Committee that the whole of this will come up on Report, and my hon. Friend will be here then to meet more adequately than I can any interrogatory that may still lurk in the mind of any hon. Member. With reference to the criticism of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) and other hon. Members, that is a matter for the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. Let me deal with the matter raised by the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Holmes). He wanted to know how many Foreign Office Bills were now out, and suggested that there might be a large liability floating against the Foreign Office in various parts of the world. I can assure him these Foreign Office Bills can only be issued by heads of Legations or persons with special powers, or by Consuls, and other public officers abroad within the Appropriation already granted by this House. So that any idea of floating debt in the way of Foreign Office Bills drawn by irresponsible persons can be dismissed from the minds of all of us.
With reference to the points raised in connection with the Siberian Railway, may I say the British Government only joined with the other Allies in dealing with this railway first of all from the military point of view? That was the original purpose of taking over the railway. It is true that the question of trade comes into all questions of railways, and the question of the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut. - Commander Kenwortby) as to whether any arrangements had been made with reference to the money being spent on British goods, that was done, and part of the agreement was that this money should be expended on British goods, in addition to paying the personnel under British orders. Undoubtedly, wherever there are military operations going on, trade goods must wait their turn, and there is a congestion of goods at Vladivostok. It is regrettable that no one foresaw the great numbers of troops that were going to be massed there when these goods were sent. I hope the military operations of Powers and peoples will soon come to an end in this area, which I believe will be a fruitful area for British trade. This million is the first charge on the Siberian Railway itself, which is one of the great railways of the world, and I think the charge is upon a good security, and will be paid back with interest. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull wants to discuss the whole of our Russian policy on this present Vote.
I am sure everyone was interested to hear about the £2,190,000 for the supply of foodstuffs to Russia As America was in this with us, and as our financial embarrassments are more considerable than theirs, as they came late into the War, I should like to know how much of the money was provided by America?