HC Deb 19 May 1949 vol 465 cc617-21
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

I am glad to announce to the House that good progress has been made in the past few weeks between the Egyptian Government and ourselves on the problem of Nile Waters, which is of great importance for the future development and prosperity of this region.

His Majesty's Government and the Royal Egyptian Government, in accordance with the spirit of the Nile Waters Agreement of 1929, have agreed to the construction of a dam at Owen Falls in Uganda for the production of hydroelectric power and for the control of the water of the Nile. As a result of consultations, plans and specifications for this work have been prepared and approved by the Egyptian Ministry of Public Works and the Uganda authorities.

His Majesty's Government and the Royal Egyptian Government have accordingly agreed to entrust to the Uganda Electricity Board the issue of an invitation for tenders and the placing of contracts in conformity with these plans and specifications. The contracts will be submitted to our two Governments, who will examine them promptly and record their joint approval by formal Notes exchanged between each other and notify at once the Government of Uganda.

Our two Governments have also agreed that, although the construction of the dam will be the responsibility of the Uganda Electricity Board, the interests of Egypt will during the period of construction be represented at the site by an Egyptian resident engineer of suitable rank, and his staff, who will be stationed there for the purpose by the Royal Egyptian Government, and to whom all facilities will be given for the accomplishment of their duties.

Moreover, our two Governments have agreed that, although the dam when constructed will be administered and maintained by the Uganda Electricity Board, the latter will regulate the discharges to be passed through the dam on the instructions of the Egyptian Resident Engineer to be stationed with his staff at the dam by the Royal Egyptian Government for this purpose in accordance with arrangements to be agreed between the Egyptian Ministry of Public Works and the Uganda authorities pursuant to the provisions of agreements to be concluded between our two Governments.

Our two Governments also recognise that during and after the construction of the dam the Uganda Electricity Board may take any action at Owen Falls which it may consider desirable, provided that this action does not entail any prejudice to the interests of Egypt in accordance with the Nile Waters Agreement of 1929, and does not adversely affect the discharges of water to be passed through the darn in accordance with the arrangements to be agreed between our two Governments.

The Egyptian Ministry of Public Works and the Uganda Electricity Board will consult together on matters of mutual interest. Any difference of opinion which may arise, however, in connection with the control of the water or with the generation of hydro-electric power will be a matter for discussion and settlement in a spirit of friendly co-operation between them. If these authorities find themselves unable to settle, the matter will be referred to arbitration in accordance with arrangements to be agreed between our two Governments.

Apart from this, I am happy to inform the House that the Egyptian Government have announced that they would welcome the participation of the Sudan in the projects for the control of the Nile which are now under consideration. The participation of the Sudan in these projects will be the subject of technical discussions between Egypt and the Sudan, the results of which will be embodied in agreements to be concluded in connection with these projects.

Great works have been undertaken and executed in the past by Egyptian and British engineers on behalf of their Governments for the control of the waters of the Nile which have proved of great benefit to the inhabitants of that area. But this scheme at Owen Falls will result in the harnessing of the Nile waters on such a scale as to render possible greater developments than have ever before taken place. In due course the peoples of Egypt and the Sudan will derive great material benefits from the scheme, while at the same time hydroelectric power will become available for the development of Uganda and the increase of its prosperity.

I should like, in conclusion, to pay tribute to the statesmanship and co-operation of the Egyptian Government, which have contributed to this solution.

Mr. Eden

So far as one could follow this story, I think it seems to be a welcome scheme and we should all therefore wish it well. Personally, I welcome the participation of the Sudan in these arrangements. I think it very desirable. May I ask whether that involves anything in the nature of a review or extension of the Nile Waters Agreement of 1929?

Mr. Bevin

There will have to be some revision to provide for the participation of the Sudan.

Mr. Driberg

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this great scheme should be as notable an object-lesson to the world in the possibilites of international economic co-operation as the much smaller T.V.A. has been to America in the possibilities of public enterprise, and will he do his best to see to it that, apart from the general benefit to Africa and the world, the welfare of the peoples of these territories will always be a primary consideration?

Mr. Bevin

Yes, Sir. We have been working for years on this scheme. It is not exclusively mine. A start was made before I was in office to try to get it developed, but during the last four years we have been frustrated by a lot of other disputes of much less importance in that area. Our intention is to try and create a situation which will allow for a great improvement in the standard of life and prosperity of the people in that area. In addition to this I ought to make it clear that this is not the end. There are still negotiations to be carried through on the Lake Tana scheme which, if we can get a satisfactory result, will revolutionise the whole area from the point of view of the well-being of the inhabitants.

Mr. Clement Davies

This is an occasion again when we ought to congratulate the Foreign Secretary, but in welcoming this arrangement may I say we are very glad that this has been brought about as it affords evidence that there is a friendlier feeling now in Egypt towards this country? I am quite sure this immense undertaking will bring enormous benefits to the people of Egypt, but what we are all hoping for is that there will be continued friendly co-operation between the people of Egypt and this country.

Mr. Bevin

I do not think that the actual feeling in Egypt, of the people of Egypt towards ourselves has been very much disturbed. There has been a lot of effervescent trouble, but underneath it all there is a great feeling of regard for the work which Britain has done in that area. They are under no illusion at all. But it has been disturbed, all the Middle East has been disturbed, by other matters which have caused difficulty. I think I ought to take this opportunity of saying that the Euphrates flood-control scheme in Iraq has been resumed and the water has begun to flow. I understand that this year there will be a great increase in corn production in Iraq which will make them almost independent. So there is not merely one scheme. This is a scheme which our engineers and scientists have been working on over the last 40 or 50 years, and which is now culminating.

Mr. M. Philips Price

Would the Foreign Secretary tell us whether this valuable and important scheme will in any way affect the quantity of water passing down into Egypt?

Mr. Bevin

Well, it will be controlled. It is of great benefit to them.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on a scheme which has such fine possibilities, may I ask whether it is not the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Sir M. MacDonald) has rendered very useful services in this matter?

Mr. Scollan

May I ask the Foreign Secretary if he can give the House any idea of the immediate financial cost to this country.

Mr. Bevin

The Egyptian Parliament has voted £E4,500,000, part of which will be paid in compensation for disturbance of the peoples affected. It will cost the Uganda Government about £7,500,000, I believe, as a preliminary payment. But when a great project such as this is started it leads to enormous—I will not call it expenditure, I think it is a wrong term—it will lead to enormous investment for future development.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this great and beneficent scheme was first conceived by my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) when he visited the Owen Falls as Under-Secretary for the Colonies in 1907; and is he further aware that there will be satisfaction in all parts of the House that it has fallen to him and to the Colonial Secretary to bring it to completion?

Mr. Bevin

It is the first time that I knew that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) was an authority on conception.