David Prosser: Charity begins at home

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The Independent Online

Outlook Here Is an idea for Alistair Darling, or his successor. So anxious is the National Bank of Greece, the country's largest bank, about the parlous state of the public finances that it has launched an appeal to patriots. The bank now operates a "Solidarity Account", into which members of the public can make deposits to help pay off Greece's debts (those members of the public who aren't on their knees thanks to the Greeks' austerity measures).

It's a crisis appeal, in other words. Asked to support a British version of such an appeal, you might argue that taxpayers – not to mention those beleaguered business leaders: 81 at the last count, but still rising – are already digging deep to pay down the deficit, but that would be to display a distinct lack of patriotism.

If this idea doesn't fly at the Treasury, here's an alternative. According to a written answer to the House of Commons provided by Ruth Kelly eight years ago, when she was the economic secretary to the Treasury, Britain is still owed £2.2 trillion by countries to which it lent money during the First World War. Repayment of all such debts around the world were suspended by President Hoover in 1931, but agreement on them has never been formally reached. Time to call them in?