HC Deb 02 April 1953 vol 513 cc1374-80
The Minister of State (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement about my recent visit to Khartoum.

My purpose was to see things at first hand, and to do what I could to remove the various misunderstandings and difficulties which were hindering the carrying out of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement of 12th February. I had talks with the Governor-General, many leading Sudanese, including a delegation from the Southern Sudan, and senior officials of the Sudan Government. I also received a deputation from the Senior Civil Servants' Association. On my return through Cairo I had a full discussion with the Egyptian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

I made it clear to the Sudanese leaders that Her Majesty's Government for their part intend to honour the Agreement of 12th February in the spirit and the letter. We intended to try to make the Agreement work and to bring into being as soon as possible a Sudanese Government. I also stressed the importance of refraining from recrimination and of concentrating upon the coming elections.

To the Northern Sudanese leaders I spoke in particular of the need to pay special attention to the problems of the South. I urged them to make friendly contact with the South. Some of the Southern leaders felt that they had not been sufficiently consulted about the negotiations between the Northern parties and the Egyptian Government. I encouraged them, nevertheless, to take a full part in the elections and in the normal working of Parliament within a united Sudan.

I also met many members of the Sudan Civil Service. Their task is now no easy one. Not only is it beset by all the difficulties that ordinarily attend a transfer of power, but it has, I am sorry to say, been further complicated by a series of mischievous and uninformed attacks upon them. I am confident that these attacks are unfounded. The House is already aware of the fine quality and splendid traditions of these officials. They have understandable anxieties about their future, but, in fact, their first object is to do what is best for the Sudan. I assured them that during this difficult transitional period they would have the full support of Her Majesty's Government.

It is obvious that if the Sudan is to hold its elections in an orderly and peaceful atmosphere there is an urgent need for restraint in all quarters. This Agreement will break down if there is a flood of propaganda throughout the Sudan against the Administration. I emphasised this to General Neguib, and he assured me that the Egyptian Government did not desire to interfere with the elections in the Sudan.

Another object of my visit was to try to remove the difficulties which were holding up the appointment of the Governor-General's Commission, and in consequence, the elections themselves. I have already informed the House of the steps taken in this matter. Arrangements for the appointment of the Sudanese members of the Electoral Commission now appear to be going ahead rapidly.

Her Majesty's Government's position in these matters remains clear. We shall carry out the Sudan Agreement, and we shall see that the Sudanese have the opportunity to make a free choice regarding their future status. Whatever they choose, our feelings of friendship for the the people of the Sudan will continue, and I can assure them that whatever difficulties may arise, Her Majesty's Government will carry out their promise that the Sudan shall have self-government and then the opportunity to determine their own future.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the Southern Sudanese, if they so desire, will still have the advantage of the advice of British officials? I entirely agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the British officials and Civil Service in the Sudan. They are a fine body of people, and we should certainly do the best we can for them. One would hope that their services would be available if the Sudanese desire them.

Finally, is the Foreign Office aware of the difficulties of the situation, and that it is important that we should be as capable of expressing our point of view and making it known and understood, as the Egyptians appear to have done rather more quickly in recent times?

Mr. Lloyd

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's last question, that is a matter which is ever present in my mind. I hope that the situation in that regard will be satisfactory in the future. I am grateful far what he said about the members of the Sudan Service, and I am sure they will be too. With regard to the British officials in the South, in certain categories their position is governed by the Sudanisation Clause in the Agreement, that is to say their future will depend upon the Sudanisation Committee.

That Committee will not be set up until after the elections. Its recommendations have to go to the new Government and then to the Governor-General, and, if there is any disagreement, to the Commission. If there is still disagreement about the implementation of any recommendations, they have to go to some international body which has not yet been precisely specified. The position is not altogether clear, but I am quite certain that a great deal will depend on the wishes of the Sudanese themselves, who have adequate opportunity for expressing those wishes.

Mr. Stokes

May I press this particular point? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether in this interim period which will elapse between the time of independence, and so on, the Southern Sudanese will continue to be able to have the advice of British officials, or will there be a hiatus? I quite understand that it is only a question of whether they want such advice and that it will not be imposed on them, but will they have a continuous opportunity of getting that advice if they so desire?

Mr. Lloyd

I think they will have a continuous opportunity if they so desire.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether there is now any reason why the elections should not be held before the rains? I congratulate him on what appears from all accounts to have been a most successful personal visit, particularly as he succeeded in keeping his shirt on.

Mr. Lloyd

So far as the elections are concerned, there are certain technical matters of which the Electoral Commission will have to dispose. The Indian Chairman of that Commission is already proceeding vigorously with his task, and when I was there he was holding consultations and considering how to tackle the matter, but I do not think I can anticipate the result of the work of that Commission. When I was there the American representative was present, as was the British; the Egyptian was available and the Indian Chairman was already working. I am confident that, so far as that Commission are concerned, they will do everything possible to have the elections before the rains.

Mr. Rhodes

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his decision to go to Khartoum was a very welcome one, especially as no Minister or official from either the Foreign Office or the Embassy in Cairo has visited Khartoum since these protracted negotiations began? I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman two straight questions, and to the point. Did the Minister of State make it quite clear to the Egyptians that no undue interference will be tolerated while the Sudanese are achieving their independence? Secondly, did he make it quite clear to General Neguib in Cairo that such comments as he made a week today about cleansing the filth of British Imperialism from the Nile are bitterly resented by many hon. Members of this House—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—very well, by all hon. Members of this House and the country in general, and that it is impossible for the British officials properly to do their work if they are subject to such abuse as this during the next three years?

Mr. Lloyd

One of the purposes of my talk with General Neguib was to try to diminish the amount of propaganda that was exchanged or initiated, and, therefore, I think that I must be very careful in the answer that I give. But I did make it quite clear that I thought Egyptian interference in the elections and their continuance of propaganda against the Administration would cause the Agreement to break down.

Mr. Driberg

Whilst the main point is to proceed as rapidly as possible to self-determination and a genuinely free choice, could the Minister say a little more about the possible future tempo of Sudanisation? Is he aware that as recently as a year ago responsible Umma Party leaders were quite prepared to accept a tempo of Sudanisation, after self-government, much more reasonable than the tempo which has been recently mentioned? Is that still the case?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that it would be very unwise for me to attempt to forecast the way in which the Sudanisation Committee will approach this matter. There are several different factors to be taken into account with regard to Sudanisation, such as whether one should seek to Sudanise quickly the senior posts or the junior posts. Varying opinions are held. All that I can usefully say is that in my talks with the heads of Departments and British officials the principal matter with which they were concerned was to try to continue efficient administration. I can assure the House that their personal interests in this matter were secondary. Their first interest was how the administration could be continued as efficiently as possible. I think that with regard to the length of time that the process will take and matters of that sort it is better for me not to comment at this stage.

Mr. N. Macpherson

Could my right hon. Friend elaborate a little further on the reasons that are holding up the appointment of the Governor-General's Commission, and the extent to which that is likely to hold up the elections?

Mr. Lloyd

The Governor-General's Commission has been appointed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Buchan-Hepburn.]