This is one of those Supplementary Estimates which are required to square accounts. For compensation and non-recurring expenditure an additional sum of £2,250,000 is required, and against that there is set additional appropriations-in-aid of £2,249,900, leaving a sum of £100 to be voted by the Committee. The compensation and non-recurring expenditures is, generally speaking, the payments made upon a settlement of claims against the British Government, mostly in respect of services performed and goods supplied during the War, and also there are payments to be made on the settlement of claims such as Petitions of Right in respect of matters arising during the War period and the period shortly after the War. This is all fresh expenditure, for which this Vote provides, and against that there is to be set fresh appropriations-in-aid, which are partly in the nature of recoveries made by the Disposal and Liquidation Commission from other Government Departments.
The Committee are entitled to ask why this Supplementary Estimate is necessary. The reason is that this was the most difficult of all Estimates to estimate with any degree of certainty. It arises almost entirely out of legal proceedings. Legal proceedings, notoriously, are uncertain as to the time when they come to a head and as to their result, and the amount which the State may be called upon to expend, either by way of final payment or in settlement in consequence of legal proceedings, is most difficult to foresee more closely on the very large total result of this sphere of administration in the original Estimate. In the original Estimate it will be within the memory of the Committee that it was thought right to insert a special footnote by way of warning as to the necessary uncertainty of the Estimate which was then made. The Appropriations-in-Aid are very largely payments recovered from other Departments, a substantial amount of which, it was expected when last year's Estimates were presented, would be recovered in the last financial year, but it turned out that those recoveries could not be made, and they now stand available in this year's account. There is here no new charge or no new scheme of expenditure or unforeseen expenditure. It is all a question of recognised and acknowledged charges which now come into account, charges which are quite beyond controversy, which we had to meet some time and which chance to come into account during this financial year.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman quite did this Vote justice in his explanation. He expresses the maximum of thought in the minimum of words, and though his terseness is only equalled by his lucidity there are certain points on which the Committee would like explanation. Recently some booklets were issued, known as the Geddes Report. Volume 2 of this Report, which I am sorry I have not with me, while the Vote Office has run out of copies, damns this Disposal Liquidation Commission with faint praise, and in particular draws attention to the enormous quantities of stocks which have been held up and turned over to various Departments to maintain. All this has cost a great deal of money. Four years' war stocks are held by the Board of Trade and, I understand, by most of the Government Departments. This is very rightly criticised by the Geddes Committee as extravagant.
I do not want to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but it might shorten the discussion if I observe that in this Supplementary Estimate no sum at all is charged in respect of disposals.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman quite understands the drift of my argument. There have been sales of £2,249,900, and the Disposal Liquidation Commission ought to have many more savings to bring into account, and instead of asking for money they ought to be presenting us with a handsome surplus. They have had the whole war stocks to dispose of, and if they had done their business properly they should have had a large amount for us. That argument is pertinent to this Vote. The policy of holding up these vast stocks for a high price when they should have been realised has had a deadly effect on the industrial production and trade of the country. As long as manufacturers and merchants knew that the Government held these enormous stocks of what was vulgarly known as junk, which they might throw on the market at any moment, they hesitated to embark on production. The result was unemployment and distress. The advantage expected from keeping back these stocks has not been realised, and injury to the manufacturing and commercial community has resulted.
It would have been much better to chuck the whole thing on the market and get what could be got for it at the time and thus prevent the injury to trade which resulted from holding up and get rid of a large army of people, clerks, storekeepers and others, who were battened and lived on the policy of looking after these enormous stocks. I am not making an attack on the very distinguished business men who have been disposing of the Government stores. They, no doubt, were hampered by hampering instructions from the Government, and, whatever else may be said, I do believe that there has been very little corruption in carrying out the disposal of our surplus stores. If every country in Europe could say the same they would have as much reason to be proud as we have, but, as we know, unfortunately that is not the case.
With regard to the actual items which we are given in the Estimate, I would ask for details of these new and unforeseen claims which the Canadian and Italian Governments made. What are they? Why were they unforeseen? Were they lost sight of in the general confusion of the after-War period? They must be for considerable sums of money, because, together with the English railway companies' claim, they come to £2,250,000. How much is the claim of the Canadian Government, and how much the claim of the Italian Government, and for what services are they made? For what amount do the English railway companies ask? I understood that the ex-Member for Cambridge made a wonderful bargain with the railway companies, and settled for them on a basis which saved some millions of money for us. Why, then, does this English railway company's demand come out like a cat, of which we thought we had got rid some years ago, suddenly returning to the scene of her former activities? Are these the last of the railway companies' claims, or will the next Government, which I hope will be in power in a very few weeks, be faced with all sorts of unforeseen claims by foreign Governments and British railways? We are entitled to details on these points. Which of the railway companies are claiming, and why did not Sir Eric Geddes settle with them?
I thought he had accepted a Stewardship of the Manor of Northstead. No disrespect was intended. I dare say there is a very good explanation, and we would be very glad to have it. What are the petitions of right mentioned in the Estimate? Who is bringing them forward, and what amounts do they involve? It will not take the Financial Secretary long to give us those few details. With regard to the appropriations-in-aid, we should also have some further details. It is extraordinary how the Government always finds appropriations-in-aid calculated just to cover the larger sums asked for in an Estimate. Next year they will bring forward a Supplementary Estimate, saying that the appropriation-in-aid did not come to quite as much as they expected, and so the little game of financial juggling still goes on, and the House of Commons will be deceived, but not, fortunately, the taxpayer and the voter. The principal receipt here is from the British Australian Wool Realisation Association for storage services. That is very interesting from the point of view of the constituency which I have the honour to represent. We have got some very fine sheds in Hull erected by the Government, or with Government assistance, for storing wool. If these sheds have been such a paying proposition that the Government can show nearly 2¼ millions of profit, I should like to know more about it. We should be informed, further, as to what the people of Hull have done in this respect.
The sheds are in Hull and it is our careful stevedoring and our faithful working of these sheds—[An HON. MEMBER: "Woolgathering!"]—which I presume accounts for this sum. The people of Stoke-on-Trent, much as I admire them, have nothing to do with that. We should know whether we can count on large sums of this kind in the future? We should know if this refers to the wool sheds in Hull, and, if so, will this saving recur in future years? I would recommend the hon. and gallant Gentleman who represents the Government here to answer the strictures of the Geddes Committee, because I dare say there will not be another opportunity on his part of doing so. These Supplementary Estimates for what are apparently small sums should be treated with great care and circumspection. When we see that an original Estimate of £3,600,000 has suddenly been swollen to very nearly £6,000,000, we should look carefully into the whole circumstances. The mere fact that estimated appropriations in aid to a large amount can be brought forward ought not to disarm criticism completely, and I hope we shall receive some enlightenment upon these matters.
I rise to support my hon. and gallant Friend in asking for more details as to the appropriations in aid as well as particulars regarding the claims put forward by the railway companies amongst others. The House of Commons is being treated in a cavalier fashion. We are being asked repeatedly to vote sums of money without being told the purpose of those Votes. They are embraced in general headings, and we are given no information on the details of expenditure, while as regards income, we are seldom given any details either. Here we have appropriations in aid which almost cover the additional expenditure.
That is the usual way with the Government. They will not take any notice until a few more by-elections compel them to do so. I am quite certain if the Financial Secretary were an interested shareholder in any public com- pany he would not allow the chairman of that company to ride off on an item of this kind, submitted in this manner. He would want the particulars of income and expenditure shown in the balance sheet. I have a recollection of what has been done before with regard to appropriations in aid taken by the Disposal and Liquidation Commission. We have been selling factories and stores all over the country, by public auction, for what we could get, and that money which should have been paid in to meet the debts of the country was put into the income of the country, although it was actually the result of selling off what was looked upon as the capital of the country. That would not be passed by a public auditor scrutinising the report of a public company—a procedure by which the capital of the company is sold off and entered into the income of the company. With regard to the amounts mentioned as for compensation, what has been the amount paid to the Canadian Government? What was the claim of the Italian Government and how much was the claim settled for? Those are matters on which the House is entitled to have knowledge; and as regards the railway companies, has not the country been sufficiently bled by them? What is the exact amount for which they are bleeding us now? Is it the £2,200,000, and is the other odd £50,000 the amount that is going to the Canadian and Italian Governments, or is it the other way about? What are the actual sums which the country is being invited to pay to these Governments on the one hand and to the railway companies on the other?
The Financial Secretary may say that we are not being asked to vote money because the Appropriations-in-Aid meet the Estimate, but these Appropriations-in-Aid might be devoted to some better purpose, and we should know exactly why these items have to be met. We have a right to know for what purpose we are paying away money, and if we are not going to have that information, then the Committee is being treated by the Government in a scandalous manner. We are the custodians of the public purse. We are expected to look upon finance as something for which we must be responsible when we go before our constituents. We are asked to take that responsibility, and we would be neglecting our responsi- bility, and would deserve to lose our seats, were we not to take an interest in what the Government brings before us on these matters of finance. The only firm mentioned as having paid in any thing is the British Australian Wool Realisation Association, and that is for storage. Is the whole sum of £2,249,000 storage, and has it all been paid by this association? If not, from what other sources has this sum been drawn? The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that this particular Appropriation-in-Aid was not the result of money realised from the sale of Government factories or their contents. We are quite prepared to accept that, but if he is willing to give us information as to what it does not consist of, will he give us information as to what it does consist of? We are told that recoveries have been made from other Government Departments, but the hon. Member mentioned no other such Government Department. If other Government Departments have had certain things which they had to get rid of, and in respect of which money has been realised, surely we have a right to know which Government Departments, and whether they were right in getting rid of those things, or whether they were diminishing the Departments in such a way as to meet economy by sacrificing efficiency. It may save the Debate going any further if we get the information we want, but as long as the hon. Member withholds that information we are perfectly entitled to continue the Debate until we compel him or some other Member of the Government to tell us what we want to know.
It is amazing to me, under present conditions, when the Government itself professes to be desirous of cutting down expenditure, and appoints a most important Committee to examine the different Departments, and when it knows what intense feeling there is in the country, that any Government Department dare come down here and ask for a Vote of £2,250,000, with not an hon. Member of this Committee in a position to have the slightest knowledge of where a penny piece of it is going. I regard this as a very grave matter indeed, and I can think of no greater affront or insult to hon. Members of this Committee, who, in matters of finance in particular, are supposed to have a special preroga- tive and a special right. How can any men, in this Committee or outside, meet together and consider a demand of this nature when no information of any description is offered to them? It is impossible for us intelligently to discuss this Vote, and I think we are entitled to ask from the Financial Secretary at once for a reasonable statement of what this money is for, and, if that cannot be given us, I shall venture to ask permission to move the Adjournment of the Debate.
I also think the Committee is entitled to a little more information as to the considerable sum of public money which is being voted this evening. May I just pay a tribute to the really successful work which the late President of the Disposals Board, a Member of the other House, performed on that Board, but the Committee this evening is discussing this particular Vote, and the Financial Secretary reminded us that these two items were really to square the account. The first item is £2,250,000. These claims, we understand, were pending when the original Estimate was framed. What are the total claims still pending? What are the total debits which will arise in future? We know undoubtedly that there are large claims still pending against the Disposals Board. It is true, on the other hand, that during the last three years the Disposals Board has sold large quantities of stores, and, as the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. N. Maclean) said, that money has been put for purposes of revenue. I might mention in passing that £520,000,000 worth of stores have been sold by the Disposals Board, and that that money has been spent by the Government in its yearly expenditure, and the Debt has not been reduced
Let me ask this further question of the Financial Secretary. Claims have been received from the Italian Government, but the British Government surely has some claims against the Italian Government. The Italian Government is owing this country large sums of money. Is the British taxpayer to meet these claims and have no account taken of the large sums which the Italian Government is owing to the British public? Every hon. Member in this Committee is anxious to deal fairly and justly with any of our late Allies during the War, but the British taxpayers' interest must also be con- sidered. We do not know the amount—it may be only a small amount—but if it is to be a large amount, I suggest that if, on the one hand, this country is paying sums over to the Italian Government, it is justly entitled to take into account that the Italian Government is owing this country a large sum of money. The question of how much is to be paid to the English railway companies has been raised, and we hope we shall have an answer on that point. The second item, Appropriations-in-Aid, as the Financial Secretary stated, was an asset at the beginning of the last financial year, but the sums were not forthcoming through certain circumstances, and were driven forward to this year. What further assets will fall due or will be recoverable or recovered from other Government Departments? What is the total figure? I am anxious that the Committee, when voting this large sum of money, should be in a position to see the sums due on the one hand and the sums which are liable to be paid on the other.
Reference has been made by more than one hon. Member to the necessity of a quicker disposal of our assets. The Geddes Report undoubtedly brought out that, according to the policy of His Majesty's Government, each Department of the State is permitted to hold four years' stock of stores on a falling market. Instead of endeavouring to sell these stores and thus reduce the stocks and the accommodation and the number of people who are employed in handling these stores, the Government, by the definite policy which this Report brings out, has clearly laid it down that four years' stock of stores is to be kept by the War Office and the Army and the other Departments. My contention is that if that policy had not been adopted by His Majesty's Government, the sums recoverable this year under Sub-head H (Appropriations-in-Aid) would be very much larger, and, instead of £2,250,000 being received through the sale of stores in the different Government Departments, the figure might have been very considerably increased. The longer these stores are held, as every business man knows, the more they depreciate in value. They not only depreciate in value, but, as I have pointed out, large storage accommodation and a large staff are necessitated. Therefore, we press the Government, when they come to the House of Commons to find £2,250,000, no doubt rightly due to the Canadian and Italian Governments and the English railway companies, to have regard in future to the necessity of reducing the stock of stores. At the same time, if the Financial Secretary can inform the Committee as to the total claims pending against the Disposal Board which are not settled, and the total amount of Appropriation-in-Aid which will become due in the coming year, the Committee will be in a better position to vote the sum required.
I want to refer to the Appropriations-in-Aid specified as coming from other Departments. If these Appropriations-in-Aid are realised from the sale of Government properties, those properties are, in the main, the remnants or the residue of the articles which were provided for the exigencies of War-time. These things which were provided for the prosecution of the War were very largely provided with borrowed money. That money is still owing at 5 per cent, and 6 per cent. If any local authority appealed to the Treasury or any other Government Department for a loan, and they disposed of any part of the property purchased out of that loan, the Government auditor would insist upon that money being put to the reduction of debt. If that is good policy for the local authority, and is insisted upon by the Government, then the Government ought to practise what they impose on the local authorities. Further, I would join with those who seek information on the item which refers to payments made to the English railway companies. The British public are in the main acquainted with the general relationships which have prevailed between the Government and the railway companies. The public are acquainted with the fact that up to the autumn of last year the railway companies were guaranteed their 1913 profits for each year, and got those profits. If the railways did not make them, they receive those profits at the hands of the British taxpayer. The public are also acquainted with the fact that £30,000,000 was spent on the railway companies during the current financial year, and that another £30,000,000 is to be paid in the financial year ahead. We are also aware of the fact that this payment is in conflict with the finding of an important Committee presided over by Lord Colwyn. There is a general impression abroad, which we on this side share, that the railway companies have had quite enough out of the pockets of the British taxpayer, and we are entitled to ask for information as to what this item is for, and from what point of view it can be justified.
The details of the Vote refer to large claims put forward by the Canadian and Italian Governments and the English railway companies. If these claims are limited to that it might, to some extent, simplify the discussion, but I should like to have some assurance that that is actually the case. I am anxious to know, for instance, whether the Government are still running large manufacturing concerns? The Financial Secretary shakes his head. May I call attention to one? Are not the Government or the Disposal Board running a large manufacturing company in the district of Chelmsford known as the Hoffmann Ball Bearing Company, Limited?
I am anxions to know whether the Government, out of this sum which we are now asked to Vote, are subsidising this factory. If they are not, then I need not pursue the matter, but I am asking the Financial Secretary if he will make it clear whether those great works are self-supporting, or are being subsidised?
I am endeavouring to ascertain from the Financial Secretary whether there is any money out of this sum for that purpose. If he tells me there is not, then I need not pursue the matter, but, if there is, I submit, with all respect, I am entitled, subject, of course, to your ruling, to raise the matter.
The hon. Member put the question, and could not receive an answer, because he is in possession of the Committee, and he proceeded to discuss the matter on the assumption that the answer would be in the affirmative. He has no right to go on discussing it on the assumption that his conjecture is right. So far as I understand, it has nothing to do with the Vote.
I shall not, of course, continue that, but I shall be glad when the Financial Secretary replies if he will state what this Vote does actually represent. If this particular works to which I have referred is not included, are there any such works which the Financial Secretary or the Disposal Board are subsidising in any way besides the three sections mentioned on the Paper? If there is no money for any other purpose, I do not wish to continue the discussion.
Unfortunately, I did not hear the opening statement of the hon. Gentleman, but I see that under Head D there is an amount of £2,250,000 to which frequent reference has been made. The only thing that occurs to me about this is that the Committee is entitled to know the amount of each individual claim. To me it does not look like a business proceeding to lump the claims together in this manner. Hon. Members are entitled to know what were the amounts in which Canada and Italy were concerned, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be glad to furnish the information to the Committee. There is another point, with reference to the debts due to us from the Italian Government. I should like to know how much the Italian Government's claim is upon us, and why it is necessary that we should require a certain amount of money under this Vote for a Government which owes us money.
I think I may now reply to the various questions which have been addressed to me. The only preliminary observation I would make is that it is a little difficult to know what points to explain until one learns what are the points on which information is desired. On the questions which have been raised as to the general policy of the Disposal and Liquidation Commission, I may say that the rate of liquidation is always under the most anxious and immediate consideration of the Commission. I think the Committee will agree with me that we as a Commission could get no better advice than we are receiving from the gentlemen of great commercial experience and ability who serve on the Commission. Let me explain, first of all, as to the Appropriations-in-Aid, that what is received in the course of this year by the Disposal and Liquidation Commissions is expected to be a good sum.
Generally speaking, some of the criticism is no doubt due to the fact of the way the accounts are presented. We have to present the accounts of such services in this gross form, whereas business concerns present their accounts for information to the shareholders in a net form. Let me say in reply to the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Kiley) that the items of accounts for the services referred to here are claims put forward by the Canadian and Italian Governments and the English railway companies, and one or two other small claims which are specified. There is no money for such concerns as those to which he referred, nor indeed for any other purpose than that put down. The Canadian Government claim dates back to 1916, and it is for railway material supplied from Canada for our use on the Western front. This was for railway materials which we required to use in building lines on the Western front, 458 miles together, with all the necessary turnouts, fastenings, and so on. This claim for goods supplied has been somewhat delayed. I understand it has been delayed owing to the Canadian Government having for some time found itself in a position with which we are not unfamiliar here, or were not—that is, some doubt as to whether or not it was going to buy its own railways. The claim was postponed until it was assured as to what its policy was going to be. The Government have decided not to purchase in respect of this paritcular line, and the account has been formally presented. It was very important that if possible we should meet it at once.
One million. There is the cost of replacing these rails, of lifting and loading them, taking them across the sea, and so on. Of course, these various claims will be carefully scrutinised. The second claim is one from the English railway companies, and I have been asked naturally, how does this claim relate itself to the general railway subsidy. It is not precisely of the same character as that. It is railway track actually lifted and sold to us for use on the Western front during the War. I fear I cannot claim to be an expert in the great railway settlement, but I have been informed by those well acquainted with the matter that this claim as between seller and purchaser for goods sold and actually transported came under none of the headings of the great railway settlement. It is of an entirely different character and one that has to be settled by the Disposal and Liquidation Commission.
This is an estimate of what the claims amount to. As to that, undoubtedly it will be essential that they shall be checked by the accountants and those familiar with this rather complex and expert theme of railway accounts. It will require the most careful scrutiny by those who are acquainted with matters of the sort.
It is some time since the last Estimate. That probably accounts for the account being left unsettled while the general railway settlement has taken place; for these have not been able to get it in the list. Now as to the claim against the Italian Government. A natural misunderstanding has been caused in the criticism owing to a slight ambiguity in the wording of the explanation. This claim has been put forward by the Italian Government on behalf of a private company, and it is not possible to have a set-off against this company. It was a claim for a very large amount for supplies of sulphur made to us during the War in 1916, 1917 and 1918. It was shipped from Italy, and the price had to be paid. The original claim of no less than £1,000,000 was paid in 1918, but subsequently it was discovered that the whole claim had not been put forward against us, and a further claim was put forward and substantiated, and it was for a very large amount.
I am afraid I cannot answer that question. The claim was for a large amount, and I do not think it would be possible to specify exactly what it might come to, but as a result of careful scrutiny an offer was made to settle for £600,000.
I see the point raised by the hon. Member. Such transactions might be a very reasonable method of financial bargaining, but we cannot introduce them in this estimate. It would have been necessary to obtain the authority of the House to make such a payment as this on a Supplementary Estimate, and you cannot have a set-off in an estimate.
I have not the information to enable mc to answer the hon. Member's question, but I will seek to obtain it on the first opportunity. What I have said accounts for £600,000, and my final observation is that the transaction is not yet closed. It is still the subject of negotiations. This offer of £600,000 has been made, and it is likely to be accepted. Perhaps it is inadvisable for me to go into closer details. There is another claim from the Colonial Office for mica supplied. In the year 1916 there was a shortage of mica during the War, and arrangements were made with British East Africa under which mica was shipped here, and distributed amongst the British manufacturers. The claim was financed from the fund of the East African Administration, and it amounted to £100,000, which has been paid by the Colonial Office to those who bore the burden of the finance at that time. We have an asset of £42,000 on this account for the sale of surplus stock, but that cannot come into the Appropriation-in-Aid Account, and it has to go into the Exchequer.
With regard to the storage of wool, I am told that the actual places in respect to which these payments have been made for storage does not include the city of Hull. It is possible there will be some income in the future from this course, but I cannot estimate it now. In the present year the receipts have reached a substantial sum amounting to a quarter of a million. As regards the future, I should find a difficulty in giving particulars, but they will be found in the next year's Estimates for these services, and details cannot be anticipated before the publication of the Estimates. As regards the general prospects of the Disposal and Liquidation Commission, it is estimated that there will still be a turnover of several millions, but there is every prospect that the debit and credit items will balance each other. I think I have summarised and answered the various questions put to me, and given the information for which I have been asked.
There have been several large petitions of right which we have managed to bring to a settlement which we expected to go better than they did, or, at any rate, we did not expect them to come to a head so soon. Circumstances have been less favourable for us, and we have had to settle, and this fact accounts largely for the excess of this Vote. There were two items, one was a large claim from the Hispano Suiza, a Spanish company, which manufactured aeroplane engines and which advanced a very large claim at the close of the War. The total claim was for £270,000, but acting on the advice of the Law Officers, this claim was finally settled for £205,000. The next largest claim which deserves mention was also from Italy. It was on behalf of the F.I.A.T. Company, manufacturers of engines also, which presented a claim for no less than £750,000 in connection with the cancellation of the contract. On legal advice this was finally settled for £150,000. Those are the two claims which have caused the principal difference on the item as to the petition of rights.
The Committee is very much indebted to my hon. Friend for the explanation he has now given, but there is one point on which there is doubt in the minds of some Members of the Committee. I refer to the £300,000 to be paid to the English railway companies in respect of services they have rendered in France or rails which they have provided.
I was about to say that, following the proceedings of the Colwyn Committee, an arrangement was arrived at under which the British railways got £60,000,000 in what we understood was full settlement of all their claims, and the Irish railways got £3,000,000. Now the hon. Member says the supply of goods to France is an external matter, a different item, for which a provision of £300,000 has to be made under the Supplementary Estimate. As one who had occasion to look at the railway agreements closely, I agree at once with the general proposition, but I have a very great doubt on this point, namely, Was there any connection between the supply of those goods for use in France and that part of the settlement of £60,000,000 which had reference to rails, materials, and stores? We know that certain lines in Great Britain were closed during the War, and there were other agreements regarding rails, stores, and other departments of railway enterprise, and there was very grave doubt indeed as to what all the agreements under these several heads meant. I have nothing more to ask to-night if I can be thoroughly satisfied, as a Member of that Committee, that there is in this claim for railway material sent to France no connection between the railway enterprise on this side of the Channel.
I beg to move to reduce the Vote by £50.
The hon. Member who has just sat down is not quite clear, I think, on what took place. At the beginning of the War, certainly in 1915 or 1916, certain rails, rolling stock, and engines, which belonged to the companies, were sold to the Government for use abroad. That had nothing to do with the settlement later for £51,000,000—£60,000,000 less £9,000,000—which was a settlement of any claims the railways might have against the Government after the railways had been handed back to the companies. These are old items and should have been settled many years ago. I think the statement of the Financial Secretary is satisfactory, as far as it goes, but I do not think it is satisfactory with regard to the Italian Government. I am not questioning the claim of these private people. I gather there are two claims, one for sulphur, from an Italian firm which was settled for £600,000, and another claim was from an Italian firm, which asked for £700,000 and settled for £150,000. If hon. Members will look at page 41, they will see that the claims are in the name of the Italian Government. They will see it states:
Large claims which could not have been foreseen when framing the original Estimates have been put forward by the Canadian and Italian Governments.
That being so, the statement of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. A. M. Samuel) is unanswerable. I do not know why the Italian Government put forward this claim, but it is the Italian Government we are dealing with, and as the Italian Government owes money to us, surely the business way would be to say, "We will settle this claim for such and such an amount, but you owe us, say, £5,000,000 (for the sake of argument). We will take £750,000 from the £5,000,000, and your debt to us will be £4,250,000." Surely that is a business proposition. I should have even said it was a business proposition if the claim had been put forward by private Italian firms. It would have been quite in consonance with financial equity to have said to the Italian Government, "We owe your subjects certain sums, but you owe us a great deal more, and therefore you must settle with your subjects, and, we will then settle with you." If I owed the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hilton Young) £20 and he owed me £5, would he pay me £5 and let me still owe him the £20? I do not for a moment believe that he would. We are actually paying the Italian Government when that Government owes us a very much larger sum. I move this reduction in order that the House may show its reprobation of such an extremely unbusinesslike effort.
This is a claim made by the Italian Government. I was pointing out that even if it had been made by the firm there might be something to be said for telling the Italian Government, "Settle with your own people." But this is a claim made by the Italian Government.
I have had experience of the process myself. I had a claim against a German firm, and put it forward through my own Government. I did not expect to improve my credit by putting forward the claim in that way, but obviously I think we may say, without any unfriendliness or unkindliness, that a claim against the British Government is very much better to have than a claim against the Italian Government. Therefore, unless the firm in question will give its consent to the transfer of the debt to the Italian Government from our shoulders, I do not see that we have any locus standi legally to negotiate with the Italian Government and to write off that debt against the debt owing to us by the Italian Agent. The whole question turns on what this firm considers the respective values of British credit and Italian credit. If the idea had occurred to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury when he was speaking, I think he would have given exactly the explanation which I have given.
I started this hare and I should like to say a word or two with regard to the views of the last speaker. Great Britain having bought sulphur, or anything else, from an Italian firm for so many lire, what does it matter to that firm if it gets the lire from the Italian Government or the British Government? Suppose we say to the Italian Government: "We are not going to pay this account and you must settle with your nationals the-amount that we owe to your nationals. If you do not settle it, that is your affair. If you will settle it with your nationals, we will credit you with that amount and deduct it from the amount that you owe us."
Of course, if they brought an action against us we should have no legal right to defend it. But in the case as it now stands, with Italy owing us an enormous amount of money, I do not think that in honour or as a matter of policy they would willingly deny us the right to take that amount of credit from her. If an Italian firm served us with a writ in our own Courts, we should have no answer. But there is another aspect. The Italian Government owes this money, and I do not think that in honour she would deny our request when we asked her to pay the account of her nationals.
It seems to me that the hon. and gallant Member for Mossley is right in his statement of the case, and that this matter could be settled only by consent and by arrangement with the Italian Government. The point that is really material here is to ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury whether an attempt has been made to effect an arrangement of that kind. I listened to the Financial Secretary's answer, and I do not think it was altogether satisfactory, in view of some recent proceedings of the Treasury. He said: "You cannot set off the claim of the one party by a counter-claim against the other." Very recently, however, the Treasury agreed to a transaction of that kind. The Treasury had a claim against France for coal that we had supplied. France had a claim against Italy for coal that France had supplied to Italy. We agreed to allow France to set off against our claim on her, her claim on Italy. Arrangements of that kind are, therefore, possible, and have been made.
Exactly. The force of the case against the Financial Secretary is not a legal force, but if representations were made with sufficient conviction to the Italian Government, it would probably lead the Italian Government to take upon its shoulders what is properly its own burden, and protect the overburdened people of this country against having to find the money asked for under this Vote. As to the claim being made by the English railway companies, so ably represented in this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), and as to the demand for £300,000 for material supplied in the War area during the War, I would mention that, as a Member of the Colwyn Committee, I remember to some extent what took place. I think I am so far in agreement with the Financial Secretary as to admit that this claim was put upon a different footing from the rest of the claims made by the railway companies, and was submitted by them as something quite outside the agreements. My recol- lection is not that that point was fully sustained and admitted, because there is a distinct bearing of the agreements upon this very matter. After all, the agreement to give the railway companies their net receipts in 1913 was based upon the rendering of the same service, and one of the points made on the Colwyn Committee, in the case of the steamboat services, was that where steamboats had been lost it was not a fair thing for the companies to receive the same net receipts and to make no deductions on account of the loss of the steamboat service. The same argument is pertinent to the matter now in hand. The net receipts for 1913 should certainly not be payable without deduction when a very considerable amount of railway mileage has been taken up and sent to France. If this point had been pursued don the Colwyn Committee we should have insisted on some deduction being made from the net receipts in respect of it. But no settlement was arrived at by the Committee, and all the House was presented with ultimately was a lump sum settlement for £60,000,000.
It is a matter of surprise to me to find this amount presented in this account. Questions on this matter should be more properly addressed to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. He is conversant with the matter, and the House ought to be definitely assured that in making up a sum of £60,000,000 this matter was expressly excluded. I do not think it sufficient to tell us that it was not included because there was a lump sum settlement. The idea in the mind of the House certainly was that the £60,000,000 wiped off all the claims of the railway companies. Before the House can be satisfied on the point it must be assured that this particular claim was considered at the time of that settlement, and was expressly excluded as something outside that settlement and something for which the House would be asked for a final amount. Unless that explanation is given I shall not be satisfied with the matter as it stands, and if the Motion for the reduction of the Vote is pursued I shall support it.
I make no apology for returning one moment to the mystery of the Italian sulphur firm. I want to ask a question. Do I understand that all the firms which supplied goods to the Italian Government, the munition firms who supplied wheat and flour to the Italians, are all being paid by us, and that all the Italian firms which supplied hides and sulphur to us are also being paid by us? Do we pay our firms which supplied goods to Italy and also pay Italian firms which supplied goods to this country? If that be the policy there will never be an ending to the settling of these questions. I can see no end to the payments we shall have to make by petitions of right or writs in the Court.
The argument put forward by the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson) does not seem to me to deal with the question at all. He says, "I have made a claim against the German Government through my Government." That must have been a claim for goods supplied before the War, because during the War he would not have dealt with Germany. That was a claim dealt with in the Treaty of Versailles. There all claims against enemy countries were arranged for in a certain way. I quite admit that if the Italian firm in question had brought an action direct against the Government here, always supposing that the Government dealt directly with the Italian firm, we should have been bound to pay the Italian firm. But if hon. Members will look at the Estimate they will see in it nothing about the Italian firm. It is the Italian Government, and why do they say the "Government" if it is merely a firm? I rather agree with the hon. Member opposite who wants to know whether any attempt has been made to point out to the Italian Government that it is their duty to settle with their own subjects. There is nothing particularly novel in that, because only last Friday we were told that our own Government were settling in Ireland on this basis, that the Sinn Fein people were to deal with their own subjects, and we were to deal with our own subjects. Why should not the Italians in the same way deal with their own subjects? If it is good enough for Sinn Fein it should be good enough for the Italians. It does seem extraordinary we should pay to the Italian Government such a sum of money as is now proposed when that Government owe us a very much larger sum.
There is, I think, a slight misunderstanding as to the nature of the case. As a matter of fact there is very little between my critics and myself. When any counterclaim exists between ourselves and the Italian Government account is taken of it in the banking operations, and we set off what we owe to the Italian Government against what they owe to us. But in this case there is an obligation by us to pay to a private firm or person. The person legally entitled to receive the money is the private firm or person. If they agree to accept payment from the Italian Government and if the Italian Government agree to pay then it could be set off against the Italian debt to this country. But my point is this. We cannot come to the House to give us authority to thus deal with a balance of account transaction. Whatever set off we might agree to in a banking sense between the Italian Government and ourselves, we should still have to ask the House for authority to make the gross payment. It might come back as Appropriations-in-Aid—
I cannot say. There are many matters between ourselves and the Italian Government, and although the method advocated by the right hon. Baronet is a business method, I submit that on the other hand it is essential for us to come for the gross Vote in point of view of maintaining Parliamentary authority.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman has, answered the question put to him as to, whether in fact negotiations have taken place and any attempt been made to set off this money against the debt which the Italian Government owes us, and until we get an answer to that I shall feel inclined to support the right hon. Baronet opposite if he presses his Amendment to a Division. There is another question which has not been answered, and that is whether this sum of £300,000 to be paid to the railways was expressly excluded from the £60,000,000 lump sum settlement. We have this year to provide £30,000,000, and next year we shall be called upon to provide another £30,000,000. Was this £300,000 expressly excluded by the Colwyn Committee from the lump sum settlement?
The railway company had certain claims against the Government which they had formulated and which have now been settled. They had certain other claims which had never been formulated and which they refused to formulate until the first claims had been settled. This £300,000 claim was amongst those which had not been formulated when the settlement was arrived at.
Perhaps it will be convenient if I reply to this question as to whether this £300,000 was included in the lump sum settlement. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has already explained that this is a provision which is being made to cover liabilities which are now becoming apparent, and perhaps I may remind the hon. Member who raised the question that the rights of the Government and the railway companies in respect of this matter are dealt with in the letter which is in the appendix to the Report of the Colwyn Committee, under date 16th November, 1917. That letter sets out the terms under which the Government were to take, not possession of the railways, as they had taken possession of them under the Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871, but to take physical possession of and remove certain of the railway material. Speaking generally, the terms were that the material was to be paid for then at a valuation, but that the labour involved in replacement and the excess cost of that replacement were matters which were to be taken into account later. I understand that the Disposal Board and Commission have received notice of claims in respect of these matters. They are not what the right hon. Baronet called belated claims, but probably claims which are only now capable of being put forward. Every one of those claims must be most carefully scrutinised to see whether or not it is within the £51,000,000. Upon that I would remind the Committee of the terms of Section 11 of the Railways Act, which sets out the nature of the claims which are to be covered by the £51,000,000, as follows:
The payment of the said sum shall be a full discharge and in satisfaction of all claims which might otherwise have been made by any railway company in Great Britain to which this Section applies for compensation under the Regulation of the
Forces Act, 1871, the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, or otherwise arising out of or in respect of the possession by the Crown of the undertaking, railroad, or plant of the said railway company or the exercise of the powers conferred by those Acts.
It is conceived that the possession of this material—the actual taking away and applying to the Government's own use under the terms of the letter of 16th November, 1917—may not come within that Section. But I can assure the Committee that every claim which is put forward in this respect will be most carefully scrutinised, and that no claims will be paid which the Government is not advised are outside the terms of this Section.
Could the hon. Gentleman explain upon what basis the compensation is to be paid for the goods which were taken away? Will it be upon their value at the time when they were taken away, or on their present-day value, which, I understand, is something like 300 per cent, different?
I should be very glad to answer my hon. Friend's question, but he will find the answer more conveniently in the letter to which I have referred, and which is an appendix to the Colwyn Report. It is a very long letter. The material part of it is that the railway companies were to be paid promptly for the material removed, but, in addition, it is stated that the extra cost, if any, of providing the material required in replacing such plant, together with the whole cost of labour involved in such replacement, will be paid by the Government as and when such costs are incurred. All these are matters which call for the closest investigation and scrutiny, and I do not think it is in the public interest that I should say that these claims are claims which must necessarily be admitted against the Government, or that I should say that they are claims which must necessarily be rejected. They obviously are claims which must be investigated, and the present Vote is a provision which is thought reasonable to meet the result of such investigation.
The explanation we have just received does get us a little farther and makes the position more clear. It differentiates clearly between the claims made by the English railway companies and the claims made by the Italian Government. When we got to the details of the claims of the Italian Government, we were told by the Financial Secretary that those claims had been submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown, and on their advice—I am speaking of the Petition of Right Claims—payment has been made. I gather from what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport that that is not the position, as yet, with regard to the claims made by the English railway companies; that they still have to be submitted to that opinion, and that on that opinion they will be paid. I gather, from what the hon. Gentleman read of Section 11, that the question really is whether this plant was removed under the powers given by the Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871, whether the removal arose out of the circumstances of the possession by the Crown of the undertaking, railroad or plant; and that only if it be decided that they do not come under either of these classes of powers mentioned in Section 11 (2) will these claims be met. That does leave a gleam of hope, at all events, that we may save this £300,000.
Now we find—it was not mentioned at the time, either by the hon. Gentleman or by his Cabinet chief—that there are other claims. This is a first instalment of £300,000 to meet other claims, which may be judged to be right and proper, and I suppose we shall have other Supplementary Estimates. Certainly, it comes as somewhat of a revelation, to people who thought that this £60,000,000 settlement was final, to find that it is not final at all, but subject to all sorts of additional claims, which will be placed before the Committee from time to time.
|Division No. 20.]||AYES.||[10.5 p.m.|
|Ammon, Charles George||Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Grundy, T. W.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)|
|Barker, G. (Monmouth, Abertillery)||Guest, J, (York, W.R., Hemsworth)||Polson, Sir Thomas A.|
|Bell, James (Lancaster, Ormskirk)||Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)||Raffan, Peter Wilson|
|Benn, Captain Wedgwood (Leith)||Malls, Walter||Robertson, John|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Hancock, John George||Rose, Frank H.|
|Bramsdon, Sir Thomas||Hartshorn, Vernon||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Cairns, John||Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Widnes)||Smith, W. R. (Wellingborough)|
|Cape, Thomas||Hirst, G. H.||Spencer, George A.|
|Carter, W. (Nottingham, Mansfield)||Holmes, J. Stanley||Sutton, John Edward|
|Davies, A. (Lancaster, Clitheroe)||Irving, Dan||Swan, J. E.|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty)||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, West)|
|Edwards, G. (Norfolk, South)||Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)||Walsh, Stephen (Lancaster, Ince)|
|Erskine, James Malcolm Monteith||Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander J. M.||Watts-Morgan, Lieut.-Col. D,|
|Finney, Samuel||Kiley, James Daniel||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Maclean, Nell (Glasgow, Govan)||Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)|
|Gillis, William||Malone, C. L. (Leyton, E.)|
|Glanville, Harold James||Mills, John Edmund||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Myers, Thomas||Mr. Wignall and Major Barnes.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Borwick, Major G. O.||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Universities)|
|Ainsworth, Captain Charles||Breese, Major Charles E.||Cowan, Sir H. (Aberdeen and Kinc.)|
|Amery, Leopold C. M. S.||Briggs, Harold||Davies, Sir William H. (Bristol, S.)|
|Atkey, A. R.||Broad, Thomas Tucker||Dawson, Sir Philip|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Bruton, Sir James||Doyle, N. Grattan|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Edge, Captain Sir William|
|Barnes, Rt. Hon. G. (Glas., Gorbals)||Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)|
|Barnett, Major Richard W.||Carew, Charles Robert S.||Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Carr, W. Theodore||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)|
|Barrie, Sir Charles Coupar (Banff)||Carter, R. A. D. (Man., Withington)||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M|
|Bartley-Denniss, Sir Edmund Robert||Casey, T. W.||Evans, Ernest|
|Bell, Lieut.-Col. W. C. H. (Devizes)||Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Ford, Patrick Johnston|
|Birchall, J. Dearman||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Forrest, Walter|
|Blane, T. A.||Courthope, Lieut.-Col. George L.||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E.||McCurdy, Rt. Hon. Charles A.||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||McMicking, Major Gilbert||Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur|
|Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Macquisten, F. A.||Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)|
|Green, Albert (Derby)||Maddocks, Henry||Seddon, J. A.|
|Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.)||Manville, Edward||Seely, Major-General Rt. Hon. John|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. Sir Hamar||Martin, A. E.||Shaw, William T. (Forfar)|
|Greig, Colonel Sir James William||Matthews, David||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)|
|Gretton, Colonel John||Mitchell, Sir William Lane||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander|
|Guest, Capt. Rt. Hon. Frederick E.||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)|
|Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Hamilton, Major C. G. C.||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.||Stephenson, Lieut.-Colonel H. K.|
|Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Morden, Col. W. Grant||Strauss, Edward Anthony|
|Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Morrison, Hugh||Sugden, W. H.|
|Henderson, Lt.-Col. V. L. (Tradeston)||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Hinds, John||Murray, Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)||Taylor, J.|
|Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard||Neal, Arthur||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)|
|Hood, Sir Joseph||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)||Thorpe, Captain John Henry|
|Hope, Lt.-Col. Sir J. A. (Midlothian)||Nicholson, Brig-Gen. J. (Westminster)||Townley, Maximilian G|
|Hopkins, John W. W.||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)||Townshend, Sir Charles Vere Ferrers,|
|Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley)||Parker, James||Waddington, R.|
|Hurd, Percy A.||Perkins, Walter Frank||Waring, Major Walter|
|James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Perring, William George||Warner, Sir T. Courtenay T.|
|Jodrell, Neville Paul||Pollock, Rt. Hon. Sir Ernest Murray||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Johnstone, Joseph||Pratt, John William||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Jones, Sir Edgar R. (Merthyr Tydvil)||Pretyman, Rt. Hon. Ernest G.||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)||Purchase, H. G.||Windsor, Viscount|
|Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fred. George||Rue, H. Norman||Wise, Frederick|
|Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. N.||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|King, Captain Henry Douglas||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge & Hyde)|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)||Wood, Major Sir S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)||Reid, D. D.||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lewis, T. A. (Glam., Pontypridd)||Remer, J. R.||Yeo, Sir Alfred William|
|Lindsay, William Arthur||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Lloyd, George Butler||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)|
|Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (H'tingd'n)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Loseby, Captain C. E.||Roundell, Colonel R. F.||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Lowe, Sir Francis William||Royds, Lieut.-Colonel Edmund||Dudley Ward.|
Question put, and agreed to.