HC Deb 20 January 1953 vol 510 cc33-7

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

103. MR. DRIBERG to ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations about the future of the Sudan.

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 give the reply to this Question.

The House will remember that negotiations with the Egyptian Government about the introduction of self-government into the Sudan have now been going on for over two months. As I informed the House on 8th December, this has meant an unfortunate delay in the time-table which we had hoped it would be possible to follow, but the suggestions made by the Egyptian Government involved extensive changes in the Self-Government Statute which was accepted by the Sudanese Legislative Assembly last spring, and we naturally had to consider them very carefully.

I am glad to say that agreement has been reached with the Egyptian Government on a large number of the points at issue, and that Her Majesty's Ambassador at Cairo was able to submit to the Egyptian Government on 12th January the text of a draft Agreement. The negotiations have been complicated by the fact that various Sudanese political parties have negotiated a number of differing agreements with representatives of the Egyptian Government. Her Majesty's Government are not of course a party to these agreements but they have naturally taken note of their contents as expressing the views of various groups.

The differences between the agreements, and the fact that no representatives of the Southern Sudan have taken part in them, underline the importance of bringing into existence as soon as possible a Sudanese Parliament in which the views of all sections of the Sudanese population can be heard. As the House is probably aware, the chief difficulty has been about the safeguards which were put into the draft Self-Government Statute, and approved by the Sudanese Legislative Assembly, giving the Governor-General special powers to protect the interests of the Southern provinces.

I must make it clear that Her Majesty's Government have not proposed to add to these provisions. But it was to a constitution containing these safeguards that the Southern representatives agreed, and we do not think they should be removed without the voice of the Southern population being heard in the matter. I regret that our attitude on this should have given rise to suspicions that we wish to detach the Southern provinces from the North. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The preservation of the unity of the Sudan depends on willing co-operation and mutual confidence among the various sections of the population; and, in our view, nothing will contribute more to this than to show the Southern population at the outset that their wishes will be taken into consideration in the settlement of matters of vital importance to them.

Mr. Driberg

While thanking the right hon. Gentleman for giving the answer, and while appreciating fully all that he said about the South and the importance of taking the South into consultation, may I ask him whether it is necessarily the best way of protecting the interests of the peoples of the South to insist on powers for the Governor-General which, after all, are bound to be only temporary, since they will disappear with self-determination?

Mr. Eden

We have of course given an immense amount of thought as to how to handle this problem which I am glad the hon. Member and the House realise is an exceedingly complicated one. It seems to me that there is a separate problem—Sudanisation—which is probably what the hon. Member has in mind. I think that that is something which may well be regarded as of equal importance at least to the South and as one which ought to be decided only by the Sudanese Parliament themselves.

Mr. Dodds-Parker

Will my right hon. Friend see that his views are given adequate publicity in Southern Sudan? Further, will he continue to press on all Sudanese and all concerned the importance of elections so that a new Legislative Assembly may be produced?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. I think that our views are well known. Of course, there has been constant contact with the parties in the Sudan. What we would like and have wanted all along are the earliest possible elections. Then the Sudanese Parliament can handle this matter themselves. If we have delayed the elections it has not been, as is suggested in some quarters, for some imperialist manoeuvre but in order to try to get international agreement by which elections could take place under joint auspices.

Mr. A. Henderson

Have the views of Her Majesty's Government been made clear to the Government in Cairo in view of the effect of the visit of Major Salem to Khartoum and the apparent discrepancies between what he has reported and what the views of Her Majesty's Government are?

Mr. Eden

Our views have been made very clear, and our suggested draft document is now before the Egyptian Government, and we await their views upon it.

Mr. Brooman-White

May we take it that despite all these difficulties it is still the intention of the Government to try to secure Egyptian co-operation with us in introducing self-government and self-determination into the Sudan?

Mr. Eden

Yes, most emphatically; my hon. Friend is perfectly right. That is why we have delayed the elections which we would otherwise have wished to take place earlier. We want an agreement and we will do all we can to get it. The sole interest of the House in this matter is to see that the fair interests of all sections of the Sudanese population are taken into account.

Mr. Stokes

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether, whatever may have been the view of past Egyptian Governments, it is now abundantly clear to the present Egyptian Government that the Sudan is still under a Condominium, and what is required is agreement between the co-domini?

Mr. Eden

We have been working on the assumption that there are co-domini. The Egyptian Government is still working on the assumption that the Condominium has been torn up. That is one of the difficulties of the situation, although not the only one.

Mr. T. Reid

Is the House to understand that the right hon. Gentleman is dealing with the Egyptian problems one by one and is trying to settle the Sudan problem without reference to the other Egyptian problems?

Mr. Eden

I feel it is essential that this Sudanese matter should be agreed between us before we can usefully discuss other questions.

Mr. Fenner Brockway

In view of the importance of retaining the goodwill of the people of the Sudan, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the agreement which has been signed with the Sudanese parties and look at a Clause under which I think he may be able to meet the difficulty of the Southern Sudanese to which he has referred?

Mr. Eden

If the hon. Member will be good enough to draw my attention to the Clause I shall be only too glad to study it. I have examined this document very closely, but I do not carry in my mind what clause the hon. Member refers to. I know the hon. Member understands that the parties and their relations to the South are not all that clear and that in the main they represent northern elements of the population.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Would the right hon. Gentleman indicate what persons and bodies will be parties to any ultimate agreement arrived at, and whether it will be necessary for this Parliament to pass legislation before any such agreement is brought into effect?

Mr. Eden

What we hope to do is to reach an agreement with the Egyptian Government as a result of which Sudanese elections can rapidly take place. Whatever that agreement was, I would of course report immediately to the House but it would not, I think, technically require any ratification.

Mr. J. Hudson

Is it not a fact that the Egyptians were able to discover an important section of public opinion in the Sudan regarding the matter in question whereas apparently the British Government, in their inquiries, have not yet discovered any opposition opinion to that found by the Egyptians; and is not this sort of thing the cause of the charge by the Americans that we are acting with complacency in these matters?

Mr. Eden

I do not think that that is quite an accurate account of what has been happening recently. We have certainly had no charge made by the American Government that we are acting with complacency in this matter. I think they understand the extent and sincerity of our endeavour. I do not think that every Egyptian emissary's report on events in the Sudan must necessarily be accepted as completely accurate.