(by Private. Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been drawn to the published statement that an attempt was made by the. Prime Minister at Spa in July, 1920, to squeeze France into acceptance of a British proposal that the price of coal due from Germany to France under the Versailles Treaty as compensation for the wrecking of French mines during the War should be made equivalent to the British export price or, in other words, that France, instead of paying for the coal at approximately £2 per ton, should pay for it at £6 per ton; that the Prime Minister threatened M. Millerand, then French Prime Minister, that he would declare the entente with France at an end and arraign her in the House of Commons unless M. Millerand would consent to raise the Treaty price of German coal to the level of the British export price, and that, by this arrangement, the British Treasury hoped to retain at the expense of France the Excess Profits Duty on British export coal, then being sold at £6 per ton, and whether these statements are in accordance with the facts?
Mr. CHAMBERLAIN (Leader of the House):
I have seen the statements referred to. They are a complete travesty of the facts of the case, which are as follows: In July, 1920, Germany had failed to comply with the demands of the Reparation Commission for the delivery of coal to France, Belgium and Italy. The Supreme Council summoned German coal experts to Spa, who represented that the insufficient quantity of food available for German miners was one of the chief obstacles to compliance with the demands of the Reparation Commission. The Allied coal experts unanimously agreed that this statement was well founded. The Supreme Council adopted a proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, based on a suggestion by the Belgian Prime Minister, that the Allies should advance to Germany for the purchase of foodstuffs for miners amounts equal to the difference between the prices actually paid for coal to be delivered by Germany after the 1st August, 1920 (with the addition of 5 gold marks per ton in order to secure that the coal should be sorted), and the f.o.b. export price in England or Germany for like coal, whichever were the lower, for a period of six months. The result of this decision was that during the six months in question the demands of the Reparation Commission were almost completely carried out and the critical coal position in France was thereby relieved. So far from this arrangement being of any profit to the British Treasury, this country agreed to make 24 per cent. of the advance to Germany under this arrangement, although none of the coal was received by this country, and it will be recollected that the House voted £5,500,000 for this purpose.
Will my right hon. Friend state whether the Government have or have not any machinery at their command by which pernicious statements like this, which seriously damage the relations between this country and our great neighbour across the water, can be dealt with?
How can my right hon. Friend justify giving the House this information, which is necessary for the discussion on Monday, after having refused the other information which is equally necessary?