HC Deb 12 February 1953 vol 511 cc602-12
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like now to make a statement on our negotiations with the Egyptian Government concerning the Sudan, in continuation of the statement which I made on 20th January last. I am glad to be able to report that Her Majesty's Ambassador at Cairo has now signed an agreement between Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the Egyptian Government concerning the introduction of self-government for the Sudanese, to be followed by self-determination.

I shall not now go into the long history of our discussions with Egypt on this question, except to recall that in October, 1951, the then Government of Egypt announced that it had unilaterally abrogated the Condominium Agreement of 1899. That Government, and successive Egyptian Governments, insisted upon recognition by us of the Egyptian claim to the unity of Egypt and the Sudan and also of the claim that the King of Egypt was also King of the Sudan. They insisted upon this as a pre-condition of any discussions regarding the future of the Sudan. We declined to accept this unilateral abrogation and that goes for the late Government as well as the present Government—and we consistently refused to agree to any change in the status of the Sudan without consultation with the Sudanese.

Last autumn, however, General Neguib's Government took the decisive step of recognising that the Sudanese should have self-determination and that sovereignty should be reserved for the Sudanese until that time. I should like the House to realise the significance of this step. It completely changed the situation. Whereas hitherto we had been unable to find any basis for negotitions, from that moment there was good reason to hope that we could reach agreement.

The present agreement expressly recognises the right of the Sudanese people to self-determination and the effective exercise thereof at the appropriate time and with the necessary safe-guards. It also provides that, in order to enable them to exercise self-determination in a free and neutral atmosphere, there shall be a transitional period not exceeding three years which shall provide full self-government for the Sudanese and which shall begin after the Sudanese Parliament has been elected.

As a consequence of this, early elections will be held for the Sudanese Parliament. It is the intention that preparations for these shall be put in hand at once. All this, of course, is in full accord with the policy which successive Governments in this country have pursued in respect of the Sudan and with the statement which I made to this House on 15th November, 1951.

The agreement further provides that during the transitional period the sovereignty of the Sudan shall be kept in reserve for the Sudanese until self-determination is achieved. These notable developments have been warmly welcomed by the Sudanese themselves.

Our recent discussions with the Egyptian Government have dealt with the practical arrangements to give effect to these intentions. The Egyptian Government have accepted, subject to certain amendments, a draft Statute for the introduction of self-government in the Sudan. This Statute had been produced by the present Sudan Government as a result of the work of a Constitutional Commission consisting of 13 Sudanese under a British Chairman. It had been subsequently accepted by the Sudanese Legislative Assembly. It contained an article giving the Governor-General a special responsibility in respect of the Southern Provinces of the Sudan.

This article has now been amended, by agreement, to confer upon the GovernorGeneral a special responsibility to ensure fair and equitable treatment to all the inhabitants of the difference Provinces of the Sudan. This wording of course includes the Southern Provinces. Moreover, the Constitution to which the Egyptian Government have agreed provides for about a quarter of the seats in each of the Houses of the new Parliament to go to Southern representatives and for not less than two Southern Ministers in the new Cabinet.

The Governor-General will be the supreme constitutional authority in the Sudan. In regard to external affairs, he will be directly responsible to the two Governments. In the exercise of his responsibility to ensure fair and equitable treatment for the public service, be will have sole discretion, and in the exercise of certain other discretionary powers he will act with the prior approval of a Commission to be called the Governor-General's Commission.

It will consist of a Pakistani member who shall act as Chairman, two Sudanese proposed by the British and Egyptian Governments in agreement and subsequently approved by the Sudanese Parliament, which shall be entitled to nominate alternative candidates in case of disapproval, one British and one Egyptian member. The Governor-General's special responsibility to ensure equitable treatment for all the different Provinces of the Sudan will be exercised with the approval of his Commission.

It has also been agreed that an Electoral Commission shall supervise the preparation and conduct of the elections, which. as I have said, it is intended shall be held very soon. This Commission will consist of seven members, namely, three Sudanese appointed by the Governor-General with the approval of his Commission, one British, one Egyptian, one United States, and one Indian who shall be Chairman.

As the House is aware, it has been the policy of successive British Governments that the public services in the Sudan should be gradually Sudanised. It has therefore been agreed to establish a Sudanisation Committee, consisting of one British and one Egyptian nominated by their respective Governments and appointed by the Governor-General, together with three Sudanese members selected by the Governor-General from a list of five submitted to him by the Prime Minister of the Sudan. The duty of this Committee will be to complete the Sudanisation of the Administration, the police, the Sudan Defence Force and any other Government posts which might affect the free choice of the Sudanese at the time of self-determination. It will report to the Sudanese Cabinet.

If the Governor-General does not agree with its decisions or with the views of the Sudanese Cabinet, he may, with the approval of his Commission, withhold his assent, and in the event of disagreement between the Governor-General and the Commission, the matter is to be referred to the British and Egyptian Governments. The Sudanisation Committee is to complete its duties within a period not exceeding three years.

At the same time, the detailed preparations for the process of self-determination, including safeguards for ensuring the impartiality of the elections, and any other arrangements designed to secure a free and neutral atmosphere, are to be subject to international supervision. This supervision will extend to the process of Sudanisation, and we and the Egyptian Government have agreed to accept the recommendations of an international body established for this purpose.

The transitional period of self-government is to be brought to an end when the Sudanese Parliament pass a resolution expressing their desire that arrangements for self-determination shall be put in motion. When the British and Egyptian Governments have been formally notified of this resolution, the Sudanese Government will draw up a draft Law for the election of a Constituent Assembly.

I cannot let this occasion pass without expressing the admiration which I, personally, feel and which, I am sure, the House will share with me, for the Sudan Civil Service. Over the past 50 years, the members of the Sudan Civil Service have built for themselves a reputation for devotion to duty which has few equals in the world.

We think of them particularly at this time. Whether or not the transfer of power in the Sudan proceeds in an orderly and smooth manner depends, to a very large extent, on their courage and patience. I feel sure that we can count upon them to see this transfer completed in conformity with their traditions. Her Majesty's Government will certainly not forget what they have done, and will keep their interests in mind.

I do not think the House will wish me at this stage to go into any further detail regarding the complex arrangements which have necessarily had to be worked out in our discussions with the Egyptian Government. The text of the actual agreement is now available in the Vote Office. I also propose to lay before the House as soon as possible a White Paper covering these discussions and containing the texts of all the relevant documents. Meanwhile, I have thought it right to put before the House the main provisions of the agreement which has been reached.

I must emphasise, however, that this is not an ordinary instance of a dependent territory proceeding towards self-government. There are many complications arising from the peculiar status of the Sudan as a condominium. I hope the House will agree with Her Majesty's Government that both the practical arrangements, and the recognition of the right of the Sudanese to order their own future development, constitute a reasonable settlement of this question which has for long bedevilled our relations with Egypt and contributed so much uncertainty to the future of the Sudan itself. I hope indeed that the outcome of these negotiations may prove to be a happy augury for the future well-being of the Sudanese. I hope too that it may have its beneficial influence on Anglo-Egyptian relations.

For our part, we shall give full consideration to any views which the Sudanese Parliament, when it is elected, may express upon this agreement. I repeat that it has been, and remains, the resolve of Her Majesty's Government that the Sudanese shall freely decide their own future. It is in that spirit that successive Governments have worked for many years, and it is in that spirit that we shall operate this agreement. I am sure that the good wishes of the whole House will go out to the people of the Sudan as they set forth on this further stage in the development of their national life.

Mr. H. Morrison

This statement of the Foreign Secretary is a very important one. It is one of some length and, as he will agree, of some complexity, and therefore nobody will expect me to utter detailed comments at this moment.

I would only say that it does appear to be in spirit and in principle a development of a policy for which the former Labour Government were responsible, and if it leads to a settlement of our relations, not only with the Sudan, which are important, but with Egypt as well, nobody will be happier than we shall on this side of the House.

I join with the Foreign Secretary, if I may, in paying my tribute to the British civil servants who have served in the Sudan, who have not only served their own country well but, what is of no less importance, served the Sudanese people with very great ability and conscientious faith.

We may well wish to have a debate upon the agreement at an early date, which no doubt can be arranged, if we so desire, through the usual channels.

I wonder whether the Foreign Secretary could say if the agreement, as far as he can tell, carries the assent of the representatives and leaders of the Sudanese political parties, and whether the southern Sudanese are sufficiently safeguarded, in his judgment, by the agreement—a matter to which we attach importance—and whether he thinks this may lead, as I hope it will, to a settlement of the defence problem in Egypt, where I did propose, on behalf of the late Government, a four-Power arrangement, in which joint arrangement the Egyptian Government would take a full, dignified and proper part. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks the new agreement will be helpful.

I am sure we join with him in hoping that this may go smoothly with the people of the Sudan. and that it may be acceptable also not only to the Government of Egypt but to the people of Egypt as well.

Mr. Eden

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I shall try to answer his questions. First, about the political parties in the Sudan. He will be aware, of course, of the agreements reached between their representatives and the Egyptian Government's representatives some time ago. I do not want—it would be unwise at this stage, I think—to enter into invidious comparisons in detail, but I would say, I think without hesitation, that this present agreement I imagine; I am pretty confident will appeal more, if anything, to the Sudanese leaders than the one which was proposed before. Therefore, I have no reason to suppose that they will disagree. On the contrary, I feel confident that they will welcome the agreement.

As regards the second question, the constitutional arrangement, as I explained in my statement, I think the important factor is that the Egyptian Government have accepted the draft constitution as it was prepared, as I explained, by the 13 Sudanese representatives last year, and that draft constitution, which gives the Southern Sudanese at least two Cabinet representatives and a quarter of the House, was approved by the Southern Sudanese at the time, and that is accepted in the present agreement. There remains the interim problem until that comes into force, but it is a problem which will be far less serious if we can have an early election. One of the reasons I like this agreement is that we can proceed with an early election, and then the Sudan Parliament can talk for the Sudanese people, which is what we want.

As to the right hon. Gentleman's final point, he knows, I think, that my right hon. Friend and I approved the fourPower proposal. Naturally, if something on that basis can be reached we shall welcome it, but I do not want to be a prophet, for I know how difficult in this matter these negotiations can be.

Mr. C. Davies

I am sure everyone in the House, wherever he may be, will welcome the fact that the Sudanese now will have the opportunity of forming their own Government and guiding their own destinies. Will the right hon. Gentleman realise that our real anxiety at the present moment is whether the interests of the Southern Sudanese are sufficiently protected and safeguarded, at any rate for the near future as well as the present?

Mr. Eden

As I say, when the Parliament comes into being they will be protected by representation. It will come into being in two or three months, I hope. They will be protected by representation, which is one thing they agreed to in the discussions last year.

Mr. Assheton

I am sorry to strike a discordant note, and I am not unmindful of the very great difficulties which the Government were under, and which they inherited from their predecessors and from preceding Governments, but does the Foreign Secretary not appreciate that there will be many people who feel that to talk of self-government for a people of 8 million or 9 million of whom less than 1 per cent, are literate or have any sort of political knowledge or experience is only a mockery, and an abandonment of our trust?

Mr. Eden

With respect to my right hon. Friend, I do not really think that his figure of 1 per cent. is correct for the Sudan. I think that the figure he has in mind applies to certain areas of the Southern Sudan; it does not apply to the country as a whole. As regards the general policy, I am bound to point out that it is one which has been declared by successive Governments of all political complexions—I myself did so in November, 1951—with what I must say I thought to be the full assent of the House, without any discordant note at that time.

Mr. Rhodes

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether he is aware that the most important thing at the moment is,getting on with the elections, because unless they are held before the second week in March fair elections cannot be held at all; and it is very important that this Electoral Commission should be set up at once and the elections set in motion? If the Electoral Commission is wise and takes as its keynote that of the previous Electoral Commission, it will not go far wrong, and fair elections can be held.

Mr. Eden

I know that the hon. Member has considerable personal knowledge of this problem. I can only tell him that the desire to hold early elections is what has been in our minds throughout these negotiations, and if we had not been able to reach agreement now or within the next week or so, I agree with him that elections would not have been possible before the autumn, with all the consequences that would have ensued.

Captain Waterhouse

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his remarks about the Sudan Civil Service will be echoed in every part of the Empire and every part of the world? Did I rightly understand my right hon. Friend to say that the whole of the Civil Service has to be removed within three 'years? My second question is whether it was made quite clear both to the Egyptians and the Sudanese that when their time for a choice came they could choose either complete independence, a link with Egypt or a link in some form with this country?

Mr. Eden

To reply to my right hon. and gallant Friend's first question, the agreement is, as I have already tried to explain to the House, for the Sudanisation of the service within three years. It would, of course, be possible, if the circumstances arose, for the Sudanese Government to approach the International Commission about that matter as it develops, if the point arose. My right hon. and gallant Friend's second question referred to choice. The choice is worded in this way; The Constituent Assembly makes a choice—it is not made now, it is made by the Constituent Assembly when it assumes office— and its choice would be either a link with Egypt in any form or complete independence. But, of course, as my right hon. and gallant Friend will realise, complete independence does not exclude the right of any country to apply, if it so wishes, for association with or membership of the British Commonwealth, or indeed to make any other arrangements it so wishes which are in accord with its complete independence.

Mr. McNeil

May I follow that point? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us how he visualises the constitution of this International Commission which is to supervise the Sudanisation? Will he tell us further whether he would not think it most regrettable if the Governor-General's Commission did not include the two Sudanese members proposed, and will he convey that to the Egyptian Government as well as give an indication of the view of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Eden

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. There are two points involved. It is conceivable—I am not saying that that is what will happen; this has to be worked out in practice as we get on with the elections that the Sudan Commission could be the international authority to whom the appeal is made, but I have not accepted that, nor has anybody agreed to that. We may consider, when the time comes, whether some form of international authority is to be preferred for a final decision on these matters. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that, whatever the form of that international authority, it should certainly and clearly include Sudanese representatives.

Mr. McNeil

I am rather perplexed. Does the House now understand that there might be a Governor-General's Commission not including any Sudanese?

Mr. Eden


Mr. McNeil

If I understood the right hon. Gentleman, he said that if there was a failure by the two Governments to agree, alternatives were to be nominated by the Sudan legislature, one of them to be a British subject, the other Egyptian.

Hon. Members


Mr. Eden

It is extremely complicated, but in one sense I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman. In both the Electoral Commission and the Commission which will supervise Sudanisation there will, in different forms, emphatically be full Sudanese representation.

Mr. McCorquodale

Might I be allowed to endorse what the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Rhodes) said with regard to early elections? Might I first be allowed to ask whether it will be possible to hold them this spring with certainty? That is of prime importance. Secondly, might I ask for a definite assurance whether the proper personal interests of those administrators who are now doing so well in the Sudan will be firmly safeguarded?

Mr. Eden

To reply to my right hon. Friend's first question, nothing can be certain in the uncertain world in which we live, but the whole object which we had in trying to conclude an agreement by this date was to enable elections to be held before the weather makes it impossible. My right hon. Friend can be assured that everything we can do to bring that about will be done, and I believe that it will happen.

The position of the officials in the first instance, as my right hon. Friend well knows, will be an obligation of the Sudanese Government, and I should not like to say anything—it would be wrong of me to do so—to indicate that I am not sure that they are perfectly ready and willing to carry out that obligation to the full.

Mr. T. Reid

Do I understand from the right hon. Gentleman that after three years, under the Sudanisation scheme, British officials are bound to go, or alternatively can they be retained, and their rights properly looked after whether they are retained or whether they are to go?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. Their rights will be looked after. In the interim period the rights of the Sudanese service are the sole responsibility under the jurisdiction of the Governor-General himself.

Mr. Mott-Radclyffe

While endorsing the good wishes of my right hon. Friend for the success of this Agreement, could I ask him whether he considers the agreement which he has just concluded with the Egyptians represents a considerable advance, from the Sudanese point of view, on the agreement which the Sudanese political leaders concluded with the Egyptian representatives in Khartoum?

Mr. Eden

I do not know whether I ought to reply for the Sudanese representatives. If I were empowered to do so, my answer would definitely be, "Yes, Sir."

Mr. Snow

Now that we appear to be in sight of settling this old problem, should we not remember the work of certain great men in the past, such as Sir Lee Stack?

Mr. Dodds-Parker

While welcoming this agreement as making it possible to get on with early elections, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will congratulate those concerned, including General Neguib, on establishing the principle which has always been accepted in this House, that ultimate sovereignty of the Sudan lies in the hands of the Sudanese?