HC Deb 13 November 1962 vol 667 cc206-44

Order for Second Reading read.

3.50 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

This Bill is, in essence, a technical enabling Measure which gives powers in relation to the Foreign Compensation Commission in respect of three matters. First, it enables the Commission to be used for the distribution of money which Parliament will be asked to provide to supplement the Egyptian Compensation Fund. Secondly, it enables the Commission to pay into the Exchequer sums which the Commission was directed, when paying compensation under the Egypt (Interim Distribution) Orders, to deduct in respect of loans. Thirdly, it enables provision to be made for pensions and other benefits for members of the Commission and officers and servants of the Commission in appropriate cases.

The House will remember that the Foreign Compensation Commission was set up under the Foreign Compensation Act, 1950, and since that date it has been employed in distributing compensation received from a number of foreign Governments, and in particular, since 1959, from Egypt. It has had to deal with over 15,000 claims since 1950, under all these various distributions. But the Commission can only distribute moneys received from foreign Governments and can only pay claimants who show that they are eligible under the relevant Orders in Council, and establish to the satisfaction of the Commission that their losses fall within the Orders in Council.

The Commission at present consists of seven Commissioners and a staff of about 88, and the majority of this staff are engaged in dealing with claims arising out of Orders in Council relating to the Agreement between Her Majesty's Government and the United Arab Republic. This Agreement was made on 28th February, 1959. Under it £27½ million was received from the United Arab Republic as compensation for the Egyptianisation of some British property and injury or damage suffered by other British property which was sequestrated following the Suez incident in October and November, 1956.

Although the Agreement of 1959 was the best that could be made in the circumstances, it was realised that the £27½ million would be insufficient. The Prime Minister, on 16th March, 1959, undertook to ensure a reasonable and fair settlement, and he said that he did not exclude a further contribution from public funds over and above the sum of £27½ million provided in the Financial Agreement. In another place, on 26th July, 1962, my noble Friend the Secretary of State said that the Government accept that more money will have to be found".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 26th July, 1962, c. 1187.] I appreciate that the House will wish to know the amount which Parliament will be asked to provide to supplement the Egyptian Compensation Fund, and I greatly regret that I am not in a position to give a figure today. A statement will be made to the House soon—I hope within the next few weeks—outlining the Government's proposals in regard to all Egyptian claims. This will be followed by an Order in Council specifying the scope of claims which will be dealt with by the Commission and new rates of compensation.

This Order will be laid before the House. Parliament will be asked to provide such funds as may be needed for the purpose under the usual Estimates procedure. This Bill, in particular, Clause 1 of the Bill, will have to become law before the Foreign Compensation Commission can distribute additional money to the Fund from Parliament, and, therefore, although I would like to have been able to announce to the House today the Government's proposals, nevertheless, it was felt that the House would wish the passage of the Bill not to be delayed.

Perhaps it will be of assistance to the House if I now deal with the bill briefly Clause by Clause.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that, can he tell us whether the Order in Council will be debatable—whether it will be in the form of an affirmative or negative Resolution, or in any other way?

Mr. Thomas

Subject to correction, I should say that the Order in Council will be subject to the negative Resolution procedure, which can be prayed against, and, therefore, would be debatable.

Clause 1 gives effect to the main purpose of the Bill. It is to enable the Commission to be used to distribute money which may be provided by Parliament to supplement the existing fund. The 1950 Foreign Compensation Act deliberately limited the powers to use the Commission to money received from a foreign Government, because it was not desired or intended to remove that limitation, but only to make a strictly limited exception to it so as to take account of the special circumstances of the present case.

The effect of the Clause is that the money provided by Parliament is treated as though it were money received from the United Arab Republic under the Anglo-United Arab Republic Agreement of 28th February, 1959, thereby bringing it within the provisions of the Act of 1950.

It is intended that part of this money should go to some categories of claims arising out of the Suez incident, but not eligible under the present Orders in Council. If these categories were defined precisely in the Bill it would mean that if a fresh category arose not covered by the definition, but equally deserving of compensation, it would not be possible to admit it without further amending legislation. To guard against this, the Bill leaves the claims in respect of which the money is deemed to have been paid by the Government of the United Arab Republic, to be defined by Order in Council.

The claims eligible at present are, broadly, (a) those arising out of Egyptianisation of property; (b) losses sustained while property was under sequestration. In addition, a number of cases where furniture and personal effects were sold under duress, but not as a result of Egyptian measures, were registered by the Commission, but have not been compensated. Claims of this kind could be compensated under a new Order in Council.

The background to Clause 2 is, I regret to say, perhaps a little complicated. The House will remember that when British property in Egypt was sequestrated, and the owners returned to this country, Parliament voted certain money to be advanced to them as repayable ex gratia loans to help them to make a fresh start. These were loans, not grants, which the recipients were assured they would not be called upon to repay till they had received some return from Egypt. As soon as that happened the Department responsible—which happened to be or came to be the Foreign Office—was obliged to recover the loans.

The most effective way of doing this was, when a recipient established a claim before the Foreign Compensation Commission, to have a suitable amount in respect of his loan deducted from the compensation due to him, and to treat this as being partial or complete liquidation of his loan. The Interim Distribution Order of 1959 therefore authorised the Foreign Secretary, acting on the advice of a Board, to notify to the Commission appropriate deductions in respect of loans.

This was duly done in a large number of cases, but, owing to the fact that the Foreign Compensation Act, 1950, does not give the Commission power to pay foreign compensation money over to the Exchequer, the sums deducted remained in that fund. Up to date, the amount deducted is £1,309,749. The Committee of Public Accounts, in paragraph 8 of its Third Report for 1961–62, has criticised the practice of retaining these deductions in the Fund, and recommended that parliamentary authority should be sought for the payment of these sums into the Exchequer.

The opportunity was, therefore, taken of the present Bill to include a Clause to give effect to that recommendation. Since deduction from compensation payable by the Commission is much the best and simplest method of ensuring equality of treatment among claimants in respect of liquidation of their indebtedness in respect of these ex gratia loans, the power given by Clause 2 to the Secretary of State, to direct the payment of these deductions into the Exchequer, is expressed in general terms to cover future as well as past deductions.

These deductions, in complete or partial liquidation of the claimants' debts to Her Majesty's Government, will now be treated as recoveries of loans. This will not affect the rates at which compensation payable to the claimants are or will be calculated.

I now turn to Clause 3.

Mr. Mitchison

May I ask one question before the hon. Gentleman leaves Clause 2? This money has been in the fund, it has been invested in accordance with the provisions of the 1950 Act, together with other money in the fund, and it has earned interest. What is to happen to the interest?

Mr. Thomas

The hon. and learned Gentleman has asked me a question which I cannot answer. I will try to find the answer to that one. The position will be, of course, that the sums deducted, which at the moment amount, as I said, to over £1¼ million, will have to be paid to the Exchequer, but whether they will have to be paid with interest I could not tell the hon. and learned Gentleman at the moment. I will find out. I do not think—again, I am speaking subject to correction—that the Exchequer will demand more than the exact amount of the money lent.

The only connection which the subject matter of Clause 3 has with the rest of the Bill is that it, too, concerns the limitation of the powers in relation to the Foreign Compensation Commission under the 1950 Act. Unlike Clauses 1 and 2, however, it is not restricted to the Egyptian distribution, but is of general application. Again, it is purely an enabling power.

When the Foreign Compensation Commission was created in 1950 it was for the immediate purpose of distributing compensation payable by Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia respectively under Agreements of 1948 and 1949 in respect of British property which had been nationalised by those two countries. It was realised at the time that there was a possibility of similar agreements being negotiated with other Governments, and, therefore, instead of providing for the Commission to be wound up as soon as it had completed the Yugoslav and Czechoslovak distributions it was accepted that it should continue in being for an indefinite period, and provision was made in Section 3 of the 1950 Act whereby it could exercise its functions in relation to future compensation agree- ments. It was not, however, expected that it would be necessary to retain the services of the members and staff of the Commission long enough to make necessary the payment of pensions or retirement benefits to the members of the Commission or to its officers and servants.

They are not civil servants and, consequently, they are not entitled to retirement benefits provided under the Superannuation Acts. The Commission has been in existence for twelve years, and its present work, of which the Egyptian distribution is only part—there are six others—will necessarily continue for several more years. Most of the agreements provide for instalments to be paid over a number of years, in one case up to nineteen years, and the job of distribution will accordingly be prolonged. In addition, it is possible that further agreements will be made, in which case the Commission must both register and consider claims and distribute the compensation. Of course, it is, impossible to say at present exactly how long the Commission's life will last, but I hope that the House will agree that to deprive its members and staff entirely of all retirement benefits is, in the circumstances, plainly an injustice which should be remedied.

Clause 3 of the Bill does exactly that. Subsection (1) deals with the members of the Commission—that is to say, the Commissioners themselves. They are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and their remuneration is fixed with the approval of my noble Friend the Secretary of State and the Treasury. Accordingly, provision for retirement benefits is made by authorising payments determined by the Secretary of State with the approval of the Treasury. Subsection (2) deals with the officers and servants of the Commission. They are appointed and their remuneration and allowances fixed in accordance with Orders in Council, and, accordingly, the power to make provision for their retirement benefits is to be exercised in a like manner. Provision, I am told, will not be made for part-time members of the Commission or for members of the staff who serve for short periods.

It is intended that these arrangements will be in accordance with those gener- ally made for public service employees and members of public boards and authorities. Before they are finalised they will be discussed with the Commission and its staff. It is expected that the cost of providing such benefits will amount to approximately £7,000 a year. This would be defrayed initially out of moneys provided by Parliament, but Clause 3 (3) will enable an appropriate part of this cost to be recovered out of the various compensation funds administered by the Commission.

I hope that I have said enough to explain the nature and purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Calne)

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves dealing with the actual provisions, will he answer a question? They do not seem to cover one unusual, but, nevertheless, not infrequent case. In some cases, where refugees were deported without notice, they made some effort to protect some of their assets by depositing liquid cash in various consulates, which ultimately reached, in some cases, the hands of the consular authorities in Cairo. The attitude taken is that they cannot be paid, even where we hold them ourselves, to the refugee by reason of the Egyptian laws about the export of currency. Where these moneys are held by British diplomatic authorities, is there anything in the Bill or anywhere else to enable the moneys to be paid to the expelled refugees?

Mr. Thomas

This is rather a different point. This Bill just deals with the £27½ million which was paid over by Egypt—this is Clause 1—to the British Government as a result of the Agreement in 1959. This £27½ million was to compensate those British subjects whose property had been Egyptianised, which had been, in effect, nationalised or sold to Egyptian concerns between certain dates, and also to compensate for damage to and loss of property which had been sequestrated but returned to its owners.

There is the separate problem of the property which is in Egypt, and that is sequestrated property which belongs in law—and under Egyptian law—to British subjects, but they cannot get it out of Egypt. The liquid assets to which the hon. Gentleman referred are in the same category, and they do not come within the Bill. The Bill is concerned with the distribution of compensation or claims for property which had been Egyptianised and/or for loss or damage to sequestrated property.

Mr. S. Silverman

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but would it not be possible to make a slight amendment to the Bill to deal with this very practical point where the British authorities themselves are holding money which is recognised to be the property of other people but find themselves, or hold themselves, to be incompetent to part with it?

Mr. Thomas

I should have to look into that. I do not think that the Bill would be the proper instrument for doing that, but I will certainly look into it, and, if it is possible, I will try to give the hon. Gentleman some information at the end of the debate.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

Did not my hon. Friend say that the appointment of the members of the Commission was at the wish of the Lord Chancellor? Is this the normal procedure, and have all other people been so appointed previously?

Mr. Thomas

The Commissioners are judicial people, being in the position of judges, and I should have thought it very appropriate that the appointment should be in the hands of the Lord Chancellor.

I said I hoped that I had explained sufficiently the purposes and aims of the Bill. It aims solely at providing machinery to give effect to objectives with which I am sure the House will be in full accord. I therefore commend the Bill to the House and hope that it will be given a Second Reading.

4.12 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

I reassure the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends, that we have always adhered to the views that we took in the debate on 16th March, 1959, that the people who suffered in Egypt were an exception to the usual rule that the British Government does not in cases of this kind compensate property damaged or lost by reason of the action of a foreign Government, because they were the victims of the Suez adventure by the Government and the bill which we are being asked to foot in part today is only part of a whole series of losses incurred by the country and its inhabitants in the it-fated mistimed, unfortunate and wicked Suez adventure.

We agree with what was said by Lord Salisbury in another place during the last few days of the last Session of Parliament, that the people who suffered this loss or damage in Egypt were casualties in the war just as much as if they had suffered damage to their bodies on a battlefield, though, of course, the results are a very, very different matter. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman can be assured that we start by welcoming any steps that the Government may take properly to compensate those who suffered in this way.

Having said that, I regard this as a singularly confused and somewhat premature Bill. As I understand it, the object of Clause 1 is to give money of an uncertain amount to people whose identity is uncertain for reasons which are not disclosed to us. We were told that they were no doubt in some ways sufferers from the Suez adventure, that they had suffered some form of property damage in Egypt, but it was not any kind of property damage that was covered by the agreement made with Egypt; it was something new, and yet we were not told what it was.

I regard it as distinctly premature, in those circumstances, to ask the House to provide money to compensate people for something the nature of which cannot yet be disclosed. We shall no doubt discover it in time. Meanwhile, the Parliamentary control over expenditure of that kind is, to say the least of it, somewhat thin.

We were told, moreover, that no figures could be given. If one introduces compensation for some new cause and does not say what the cause is, it may make it a little more difficult to give any figures relating to it. I would rather look for a moment at the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum, which says, at the end of the reference to Clause 1: The amount of moneys which Parliament will be asked to provide in respect of losses in Egypt has not yet been determined. It depends on the categories of claims to be compensated, … We have just been talking about that. It is very much to the point … the assessment of claims many of which have not yet been established … That is fairly obvious if the categories are unknown. … and the future scale of compensation. On all this we can say a little, but we can say it only with reference to what has already been decided by way of compensation.

Let us remember for a moment the history of this business. On 2nd March, 1959, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer enunciated to the House the general principle I have just stated, that in cases of compensation for foreign action normally the British Government does not foot the bill—to put it very shortly—and he more or less repeated this at the beginning of the debate on 16th March, 1959.

That debate was on a Motion moved from this side of the House and pressed to a Division, and the subject of the Motion was the Suez adventure, its cost and its unfortunate consequences. The Motion was moved very forcibly indeed, and at the end of the debate the Prime Minister produced the rather vague assertion that something would be done by the British Government to supplement the £27½ million which was to come from the United Arab Republic.

That sum has been forthcoming; and we were told the other day, in language so vague as perhaps to be characteristic of much of this business, by the Foreign Secretary in another place, last Session: I think we are approaching the point of very nearly exhausting the £27½ million."— [OF FICIAL REPORT, House of Lords. 2nd August, 1962; Vol. 243, c. 416.] That is not what one might call a very definite statement about money, is it?

But we can go a little further than this, because we have in the reports of the Foreign Compensation Commission, which has been administering this business, some figures as at the end of March, 1962. These give us the total of claims submitted, the total of claims assessed and the total payments. The total of claims received at that date under the heading of Egyptianisation was about £65 million, in round figures, and, under the heading of damage, the second heading to which the hon. Gentleman referred, between £7 million and £8 million, and out of the first category, just about two-thirds having been assessed, and out of the second, one-third.

I should have thought that that would give us some indication of the amount outstanding in relation to the type of claim which we supposed we should be asked to consider today. I was somewhat surprised to hear that there were not only those claims, but some others. If I have misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, I hope that he will correct me. I understood him to say that in addition to these claims there were others which were not within these categories, and, therefore, could not yet have been made, let alone assessed.

Mr. P. Thomas

Yes. The Foreign Compensation Commission is allowed to adjudicate on claims of Egyptianisation and loss and damage due to sequestration committed between certain dates as a result of Egyptian action. It has been found that there are certain cases—and I instanced one Where someone was forced to sell property at a loss under duress—which could not be said to be due to Egyptian action, but which happened in the context of the Suez incident between those dates. There are quite a few cases of that sort which have not been allowed to claim in the normal way, but have been permitted to register.

It is this class of claim that we are considering in the Bill. It was felt that it would be wrong to define broadly in the Bill what sort of claim it must be, because that would be restrictive. We felt that it would be better to provide for this by Order in Council. A few claims run into many millions of pounds and that makes a great difference.

Mr. Mitchison

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. It is very kind of him to tell the House of Commons, which is principally concerned with money, what the Foreign Secretary has already told another place, when he quoted figures of large claims. This is a curious procedure. We are still being asked to provide money for claims which are so uncertain in character that we cannot even have an indication of what they are, although we are given an instance or two.

Has the hon. Gentleman no idea of the total amount involved in these claims? What, in effect, he is doing is to leave to the Commission, or to the Foreign Office, or to the Exchequer, or to somebody or other, the power to decide upon what grounds compensation should be paid out of public money.

It would have been better to have considered what claims required to be met and then to have asked for authority to meet them properly. Instead, the Government say, "There are some claims which we think, on equitable grounds, should be met"—I think it highly probable that I should agree with the hon. Gentleman if I knew what the claims were—and then ask for an indefinite sum of money in order to meet claims of a wholly indefinite character. It really removes any parliamentary control over the objects for which public money is being spent and the amount of public money involved.

Mr. P. Thomas

I do not think that it is right for the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that we are asking for an indefinite sum of money. As I said, we hope to make a statement very soon as to what proposal we would like to put before the House to deal with claims, including an assessment of what it will cost. The House will have the opportunity to consider it and, indeed, to vote money in the future.

Mr. Mitchison

I am glad to hear it, but surely a statement should have been made before and not after the Bill was brought forward. Surely the claims are not so sweeping in character that a definition of them could not have been given in the language of the Bill. I have looked at this Clause. It is exceedingly vague. The difficulty about the Bill is that all three Clauses are really money Clauses and no amendment is likely to be possible. They will be put before us to take or to leave, and when we have given Parliamentary authority for the expenditure of the money someone is kindly going to tell us what it is for.

The usual procedure is to tell us what the money is for first and then ask for it. In this case, the Government are asking for the money first and then saying what it is for. This seems to me to be going much too far.

Mr. P. Thomas

I am obliged to the hon. and learned Member for giving way again. I do not like to interrupt too much. He has been very tolerant. Would not he agree that the Bill really asks for powers and not for money? It is very much a technical Bill. Unless this enabling Bill is passed by both Houses of Parliament public money cannot be administered by the Commission for this purpose.

Mr. Mitchison

I should hesitate to tell so courteous a person as the hon. Member that that is rather nonsense. There are three Clauses in the Bill and the effective part of each is in italics in the ordinary way, because it is a money provision. No doubt, power to spend money is power, but it is power to spend money, and it is money that we are talking about.

I do not want to press this aspect any further but it is clear what the matter is. A White Paper could have been laid, a statement made, and a report called for and given by the Commission. There are many ways in which the matter could have been brought before the House so that we could be told for which purpose the money was required before being asked to sanction this expenditure in a Bill.

My second point is one which the hon. Gentleman has helped me about already, and I am grateful to him for that. As I read the report of the Commission and the statements that have been made, mostly in another place, the case is that the minor claims—the claims of the small people, so many of whom were hurt by the Government's action and the action of the Egyptian Government in this matter—have, on the whole, been mainly met.

It was said in another place the other day by the Foreign Secretary—and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will not dispute it—that nine-tenths of the claims of four-fifths of the claimants had already been met and that what was outstanding was, as the hon. Gentleman has indicated, a few large claims. I do not say that there is not something still due on other, smaller claims, but most of the outstanding claims are large. The largest is a claim of over £l7 million, on behalf of the British-American Tobacco Company. That was one of the three companies mentioned by the Foreign Secretary in another place, and it is a very considerable sum considering the other figures we are dealing with in this connection.

Therefore, what we are being asked to do is to provide money to meet additional categories of claims and to see that the British-American Tobacco Company is paid something. I should like to know whether there is any connection between these two things. Are these supplementary claims for matters not covered by the original Order, thus extending the claims of these large claimants? Or are they intended, and are they to be so defined and decided upon, to deal only with the type of small case of which the hon. Gentleman gave an instance? I should view with rather less sympathy an extension of the grounds of claims if it were materially to alter the already large claims of some of these companies which are concerned.

There is another aspect. Leaving out these supplementary claims for the moment, it looks to me, on a rather close examination of the figures, with which I need not trouble the House, that the majority of these claims not only in number but in amount have certainly been met. Figures have been given and perhaps I need not repeat them or go into them, although I must say that I regret that they were not represented in the Financial Memorandum. It looks as though the amount now likely to be involved on the original grounds of claim is between £15 million and £20 million. Is that right? Can we have no indication whatever of what more is to be paid out?

I ask this because a time limit has been set, at any rate to the main categories of claims, the Egyptianisation claims, and the figures given in the last Report of the Foreign Compensation Commission, which I have quoted already and will not repeat, show that even by the end of the last financial year the majority of the cases had at least been assessed.

When we turn to the deductions, to which I shall refer in a minute, the Financial Memorandum gives a figure, a recent figure. The last Report of the Commission shows a much smaller figure as at the end of the financial year, 1961–62. I therefore infer that since the end of the financial year, that is to say, since 1st April, 1962, there has been a considerable paying out of claims.

I do not in the least deplore it, but it seems to show that most of the original claims must have been met already, and it ought to be possible to give some sort of figure for what remains to be paid out on the original grounds. I cannot tell what remains to be paid out on grounds the nature of which has not been disclosed to us, but on the original Egyptianisation and damage heads, the terms of reference to the Commission, the figures up to 31st March, 1962, for assessment and payment and claims made have been given, and it ought to be possible from those figures, brought up to date, to give some idea of what now remains to be paid out. After all, it is not a very complicated matter and I cannot understand why it has not been done. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have another look at this and see whether he cannot give some better estimate.

Mr. P. Thomas

I am not quite clear about what figures the hon. and learned Gentleman wants. We can certainly give figures for the number of claims, the number of claims assessed and those which have not been assessed, and we can give a close approximation of the amount it would probably cost if the claims were met on the present scales. I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman is asking for an estimate of how much it would cost if the claims were paid in full.

Mr. Mitchison

What I want to know is what amount of claims is now outstanding, how many of those claims have been assessed and are, therefore, payable sooner or later, and how much has, in fact, been paid. What we want to know is what this is to cost. If we know the claims, having regard to the time limit, the difference between the claims and what has been paid, less any amount remaining out of the £27½ million, will show us the maximum figure. The assessment less the amount paid, less any remains in the fund, will show us the sum which certainly has to be paid. We can so arrive both at a maximum and at what might be called a minimum, the certain sum which has to be paid.

Neither of those figures has been given. They have been asked for repeatedly in another place, and I think that they have been asked for here. I can see no reason why they should not have been put into the Financial Memorandum and I hope that the omission will be rectified. Whether we can be given any figure about the additional categories is another matter—I do not know enough about it to say—but we ought to be given it if it is possible.

I next come to the scales of compensation, a matter different from the grounds of compensation. The Government have carefully avoided saying that they will pay 100 per cent. of the Egyptianisation and damage categories, that is to say, the two categories which have been before the Commission. The last statement about this was again made in another place by the Foreign Secretary on 2nd August at the end of the last Session. It was one sentence: … the next point will be how far the Government should 'top up'".—[OFFICIAL RFPORT, House of Lords, 2nd August, 1962; Vol. 243, c. 416] The phrase "top up" had been used in the course of the debate to indicate the additional amount which would be put in by the Government in supplement of the £27½ million received from the United Arab Republic, and there is no doubt that it is likely to be a good deal more than the £27½ million if it is to be a 100 per cent. top up. If it is not to be a 100 per cent. top up, how much is it to be? Is there any reason why we should not be told? Why are we told that the future scales of compensation are uncertain, yet, at the same time, we are asked to provide money for them?

Why should we not be told what the intended scales of compensation are? Are they to be 100 per cent., or 100 per cent. in small cases and 50 per cent. in large, or something between the two? What sort of figure are they? There is not a word about them and yet we are asked to provide money not only on grounds unknown, or amount unknown, but on scales which are to be disclosed at some time in the future. This is a remarkable way of treating the House on a money Bill.

I turn from that to the second point, this was one on which the Foreign Office slipped up. It received the sums of money, these deductions which, in effect, were in repayment of loans made. Nobody is disputing the rightness of making the loans. It was surely right to make them. What went wrong was that the Foreign Office directed the money to go into the Foreign Compensation Fund instead of handing it over to the Exchequer. This was what the Public Accounts Committee grumbled about, but the Committee was not the first to grumble.

Towards the end of 1959, the Treasury had already pointed out to the Foreign Office that this money ought to go into the Exchequer and not be kept in the Foreign Compensation Fund with the £27½ million which had been received from the United Arab Republic. It was included to be used as a supplement, unauthorised by Parliament, to add to the £27½ million. It was lack of control of public expenditure and it ought never to have been done and the Public Accounts Committee said so; and the Treasury, I repeat, said so as long ago as late in 1959.

For about three years, by the time the Public Accounts Committee came to it, the Foreign Office had been doing this. It was not that the Treasury said it once and then everybody forgot about it. The Treasury repeated it, but that would not do. I have always understood that in this country questions of that sort, in so far as they are questions of administration, are a matter for the Treasury. I do not know, any more than the Public Accounts Committee did, what the Foreign Office thought it was doing with the money all this time.

I have already indicated that one thing that happened was that, in accordance with the 1950 Act, this and other funds in the possession of the Commission could be and were invested, and the Commission mentioned in its twelfth annual report that interest on invested funds amounted to about £1½ million. Same of that was interest on this money. Now it comes along and, having "borrowed" the money without authority for three years, it is supposed to get the usufruct on it for that time and dish it out again, because that is all that the Commission can do with it.

When we remonstrate with the hon. Gentleman, all he says is, "We shall see what can be done"; but he cannot do anything without altering the Bill, the Money Resolution, and so on. He ought seriously to consider whether something ought not to be done to give effect to that small but logical point.

I turn now to the last Clause of the Bill. I agree—nobody would dispute it—that there should be pensions for people who served as members, officers, or servants of the Foreign Compensation Commission. This Commission was set up in 1950. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, it has now been functioning for many years, principally on matters of Egyptian claims. My complaint is—I am a little surprised that nobody thought of this before. The Act itself provided for the emoluments of these people in the ordinary way, and surely it might have occurred to anybody even then that there were likely to be long outstanding claims?

The twelfth Annual Report is still, I think, concerned with the very matters which were the original occasion for the setting up of the Commission, but there is such a sweeping selection that I am not certain of the position. We see such headings as: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovak Instalments, Polish Instalments, Bulgarian Instalments, Hungarian Instalments, Agreement with Roumania, Roumanian Instalment, then a few more, and, finally, quite a long passage about Egypt. Surely it must have occurred to someone before now that these people would be going on for a long time and would want pensions.

When we come to the question of pensions, the Minister ought to be able to say either that there has been some agreement with the unions or others concerned in cases of this sort, or with the individuals concerned if there are no representative unions, or be able to give some indication of what the scale of pensions will be. I understood him to say that it was the usual scale in cases of this kind. He may be wiser than I am, and be able to say offhand what sort of usual scale there is, but I think that we ought to know, because, in the language of the Bill, and like so much else in it, this is left entirely to the discretion of the executive authorities.

I have grumbled, I hope sufficiently to satisfy the hon. Gentleman and the House, about a Bill which seems to me to arise out of some sloppy procedure and to be itself sloppy as a financial Measure. I feel very much inclined to say to the hon. Gentleman, "I hope that you will not do it again", but I hardly dare go as far as that. Nevertheless, I seriously fail to see why much more could not have been told to the House before we were asked to vote the money, instead of being asked to vote it in this way and told that we shall hear afterwards what it is for. It is not good control of public finances to do that, and I regret it.

We on this side have always been in sympathy with the main object of the Bill, that is, full compensation for the unfortunate victims of the Government's mischievous folly over Suez and of the action which resulted on the part of the Egyptian Government.

4.43 p.m.

Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth (Hendon, South)

Some of the unfortunate people who had to leave Egypt at the time of, or after, the events of 1956 came to my constituency, and I saw quite a number of them. I think that every hon. Member is aware that many of them were in desperate situations. One could not fail to be other than sympathetic towards them. In a number of cases I approached the Minister, and I should like to say straight away that as a result of such approaches I always found the Foreign Office extremely helpful, and I think that it would not be an exaggeration to say generous, though sometimes somewhat slow.

For that reason I welcome the Bill, and I do not complain of the form that it takes because I do not believe that it would be possible to do what the Bill does in any other way On the other hand, the fact that it takes this awkward form invites, I think, those who are interested in this subject to put questions to the Minister in charge.

I have a letter from my hon. Friend, signed as recently as yesterday, in which he says: As you say, the Foreign Compensation Bill is at present before Parliament, and no Order involving the expenditure of public funds (as this one would) can be made until the Bill becomes law. Nevertheless, we have claims like"— my constituent's— very much in mind, and I hope it will be possible to make an announcement soon. That is in somewhat vague and general terms. Would not it be possible to say something about this before the Bill finally leaves this House?

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) referred to the Financial and Explanatory Memorandum and particularly that part of it referring to Clause 1. It says: The amount of moneys which Parliament will be asked to provide in respect of losses in Egypt has not yet been determined. It depends on the categories of claims to be compensated, the assessment of claims many of which have not yet been established and the future scale of compensation. There are three separate items. On two of them I appreciate that it is probably impossible for the Government at once to say anything, but, on the other hand, I cannot see why the Government should not tell us what they propose by way of categories of claims to be compensated. I imagine that these will have to be defined in an Order to be made under the Bill, and I suppose that the Order will have to be made separately from the Order dealing with the other matters, because until the categories of claims have been defined it will be impossible to get the claims in or to assess their amount, and presumably it is only when the total amount has been assessed that the Government will decide on the scale of compensation to be given.

Would not it be possible for us to have fairly soon, if not the Order itself, because I know that there is no power to make that, at least a draft of the Order which it is intended to make in the first place as a result of the passing of the Bill?

I should like to go a little further and ask the Government what their intentions are regarding the making of these Orders. Is it intended that the total sum of money is only to be arrived at as a result of ascertaining the total amount so outstanding, or have the Government in mind the sort of sum which they are prepared to provide, and do they intend to work out their scheme so as to suit that sum? I am not asking for any figures. I am simply asking the Government what is their approach to this problem, because I think that we ought to know that at this stage.

I am not certain which is the more generous approach. It may well be that if the Government choose one they will find that they have chosen the loser from their point of view, but I should like to know which it is they have in mind, or whether they have in mind some other scheme.

If we can have a statement about that before the Bill goes to Committee, so that we can form some idea of the procedure under which the Government intend to act when giving effect to Clause I, it will be very helpful, and it will facilitate the Bill's passage. I very much hope that the Bill will become law as quickly as possible, and that the Government will take as generous a view in this matter as they have hitherto taken in dealing with cases of hardship.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)

Over the years I have taken a considerable interest in this subject. I hate to think of the number of Questions that I have put down to the Lord Privy Seal on this matter.

I, too, welcome the Bill, but it has its limitations. I cannot be quite as comforting as my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth), because in my opinion the Government have been very dilatory in this matter. As the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said, it would have helped if we had been given a little more information. Then we could probably have got through these proceedings very much more quickly. Nobody disputes the fact that the Bill is very welcome, and nobody misunderstands its technical character.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South has said, this is an enabling Bill, and I accept and welcome it as such. But we are spending a lot of time on it solely because we have not been given the information which, on an enabling Bill of this character, we should have been given.

I realise that the figures cannot be put into the Bill. There are a hundred and one reasons for that. But we could at least be given some idea of the Government's intentions. Generally speaking, I am a fairly good friend of the Government, but I am not over-fond of giving them enabling powers about which I know nothing, and which do not even mention what categories are concerned. I could probably tell the House what the categories are, but I could not give it the rest of the information. At least I have a good idea about Egyptianisation. That was substantially settled a long time ago.

There are certain distinct and separate difficulties which arise in the case of sequestration, because in such cases the damage is not known until the property is handed back, but a good deal of that process has taken place already, and I should have thought that some estimate in this connection could have been made. During the course of my contacts and researches I have, through my right hon. Friend, had the pleasure of meeting officials of the Foreign Compensation Commission, and I want to pay them a tribute, because they have been extremely helpful to those back benchers like myself who have met them.

I recognise the impossible position that they have been put in over the years by Her Majesty's Government, largely because the original bargain was a thoroughly bad one—and I realise that my hon. Frend is not responsible for this. There was about £120 million blocked in the sterling account in Cairo, and the best that we could get in the circumstances was £27½ million. From that day everybody Who could do simple sums of arithmetic—even if they were addition sums and nothing else—realised that that sum of money would be quite inadequate to compensate the various categories that were known at the time.

In those circumstances I welcomed the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 16th March, 1959, which I have read out very often to the House, and which my hon. Friend kindly read cut again today. I have been waiting for the glorious day when that statement would achieve some meaning within the understanding of the House. We have not got that today. I do not mean to be difficult about it, but I hope that my hon. Friend will realise that it would help if, before the debate is finished—and we might even be agreeable to my hon. Friend's intervening at a convenient moment to save the debate going on too long into the night—he could tell us what the figures mean.

But far more important than that is the question of the Government's intentions. I have no interest to declare in the matter. The reason why I have been so interested, apart from the interests of a few constituents of mine, is that the Bradford Dyers Association, which is a very large organisation, with many mills in the West Riding, has a substantial dye works in Egypt. This firm is in the million pounds class in respect of its claim under Egyptianisation.

It is sometimes thought that in the case of a large company it does not matter so much, but if this company's shareholding is analysed it will be found that it consists of a great number of very small shareholders. A vast number of people of quite modest means are interested in the payment of its claim. A certain amount has been paid off, but about £1½ million remains, and I should like to know what are the Government's intentions in respect of such a claim. The category is quite clear; it was Egyptianised property. The firm is also interested in the sequestration aspect, but I will leave that for the moment.

What are we enabling the Government to do in this matter? It is difficult to deal with it by way of an Order in Council. Prayers in the House are not the best way of obtaining satisfaction from Her Majesty's Government. One makes a speech, and then somebody else makes a speech, and then the thing goes through, and cannot be prevented. This is the wrong way of doing business. I would rather not cause any trouble to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench, whom I respect so much. I would prefer to have the information today, so that we can judge where we are going, and whether, at long last, after all these years, we are to give these people justice. What happened was no fault of theirs.

In his statement in 1959 the Prime Minister led these people to believe that something would be done. They have waited for a very long time to have the pledge honoured. Honoured it should be, and we should be told today whether it will be.

4.57 p.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

I have followed with interest and anxiety the problem of compensation for those who lost their property during the Suez crisis. In the early days a former Chancellor of the Exchequer—Mr. Heathcoat Amory, as he then was—gave me an undertaking that if the £27½ million was not satisfactory further funds would be found. Thereafter, discussions took place with Lord Killearn and the Marquess of Salisbury, and many hon. Members began to feel some anxiety whether the Government intended to honour their obligation, first admitted by a Chancellor of the Exchequer and then reinforced by the Prime Minister.

Like other hon. Members, I believe that the Foreign Compensation Commission and those who are dealing with the question of returning property in Cairo have done the best possible job. Anybody who examines the cases that have arisen, both in Cairo and London, will agree that they can be of great complexity.

I accept this as an enabling Bill, but I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) that it would have been very much better if there had been attached to it a statement showing exactly what was happening and what was required, together with a final statement of the Government's intentions. Nearly all of us must have realised that £27½ million would hardly meet the total loss sustained; in fact, in another place Lord Killearn said that the outstanding amount must be about £52½ million. I do not dispute his figure, because he should know a great deal about it.

That being the case, I cannot understand why Her Majesty's Government decline to tell the House the full truth, and the whole story. It would be much better if everybody knew exactly what was required to settle the matter, because it continues to cause us a great deal of anxiety. I am waiting for the Minister to tell us exactly what is the total sum outstanding and how it is proposed to deal with it. We should be grateful if my hon. Friend would do that.

5.0 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

We are all agreed that the question of foreign compensation in the case of Egypt is exceptional, because of the relationship between this country and Egypt which existed before the Suez incident. I sympathise with my hon. Friend in being unable to produce the figures today and I agree that the most important thing is that this Bill should be passed. It is an enabling Bill. It is unfortunate that the sum may well be larger than my hon. Friend would like to say today. But many hon. Members are not so much interested in the figures as in bringing justice to a large section of the community which has suffered through no fault of its own.

We want to know what sort of approach will be made by the Government. Will they add up the figures and announce that it will cost £70 million, for example, and that they will pay 40 per cent., or 50 per cent., or whatever the sum may be? Or will a sum of money, such as £100 million, be put aside and be apportioned out? This is an important matter, about which the House has a right to be given information. We are being asked to approve an enabling Bill and I do not think it unreasonable to request that my hon. Friend should say exactly how he thinks that the compensation will be made. Will it be assessed and scaled down, or will the Treasury announce that a sum of money will be made available which can be divided out?

Is my hon. Friend satisfied that all the people who should be compensated will be compensated? Has he considered a category of individuals referred to earlier by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), who mentioned an isolated incident? There may be other incidents where compensation should be made which may be discovered later.

I consider that we have gone about this matter in entirely the wrong way. It may be too late now to do anything about that, although I am not sure that it is too late. At the time of Suez there was in this country no less than £80 million in the Egyptian A account and £60 million in the B account. In my opinion, the Government had no right to unfreeze that money until such time as compensation for losses in Egypt had been settled. There were those two accounts in London in blocked sterling, £80 million of which was not transferable and £60 million was. From the A account so much could be transferred each year. But there was £140 million in London which would have been almost enough to satisfy all the claims.

Hon. Members know the terms which the old Suez Canal Company, now the Suez Finance Company obtained; £28.3 million as compensation, which included £5 million arrears in dues. That is a separate issue. I put it to my hon. Friend and to the Government that When we pass this enabling Measure we must not forget that the Government made a mistake in allowing——

Mr. W. Yates

I think it fair to say that there were hon. Members who went in a deputation to the Foreign Secretary and implored him not to part with that money until we were certain that those who had lost their property were in a secure position. But the Foreign Secretary would not accept that.

Dr. Glyn

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. But I think that we should again voice our feelings on this matter, because a similar thing could happen in the future.

My hon. Friend may say that we should have lost a great deal of "face" in the City had we taken this money. I do not think that that argument will wash. We failed to take the money which was deposited in this country and use it for compensation, and that is why the House is now asked to foot a bill for an unknown amount. If any of these balances is left over, have the Government any intention—I do not wish to say anything to spoil the relationship between ourselves and Egypt—of taking any steps to secure that money which is in the possession of the Bank of England will be made use of?

I ask my hon. Friend to deal with this point, because Parliament is being asked for money under circumstances which need never have arisen as there was money available in the "kitty" at the time which could have been used to settle this matter.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), but there are other points which, I think, ought to be made.

In Clause 2 of the Bill there is a heading: Deductions in respect to loans to claimants. This puts me in mind of an important consideration which is not always borne in mind by the Treasury. If someone depends for his income on a capital sum which is invested, and this is sequestrated, and he is paid out a small loan, in many cases that money must be employed not as a capital sum which may be invested to yield an income but to pay off debts, as it were, on his current account which had already been incurred. Anything left of the loan may have to be spent as income.

This happened to the 168 unfortunate people who lost their jobs in Egypt in 1951, and who, after a lapse of time of approximately seven years, received amounts which were distributed among them and totalled £100,000. That has been treated as a loan. It is not good enough to pay out occasional drips of money in that way and to add all those drips together and to say that the total represents capital reimbursement. It is something very different. In many cases it is an alternative to National Assistance.

I recognise that sometimes it is necessary to make Orders in Council. But I take exception to the making of Orders in Council rather than writing into the Bill the actual rules which determine the compensation to which some people and some bodies are entitled. We are entirely at the mercy of the good faith of the Government. Although, naturally, I am happy about the good faith of my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, if we "judge the horse on form" the record of the Government's attitude towards the ex-British officials who were in Egypt in 1951, and towards the Suez claimants, has been one of parsimony rather than generosity or equity. If we judge on form, we may expect the Orders in Council which are submitted to the House to be totally inadequate and void of equity.

If that be the case, what is the House to do? We can reject the Orders in Council, in which case the whole machine will come to a halt. Or we can accept them with their defects, and that causes me grave anxiety. That is why I should like to see far more detail in the Bill defining the manner in which the money would be distributed. I realise that the total value of individual and complicated claims may not have been ascertained, and I accept that such details could not be embodied in the Bill. But, as time passes, many of these people have had to spend all their capital as income and the damage which they suffer increases with the delay in payment.

I must also refer to what is not in the Bill and ask my hon. Friend, when winding up the debate, to tell the House whether the position of 1951 officials will also be covered by Orders in Council under the Bill. Will Orders in Council cover the case of compensation to the 1951 officials, or will another Bill have to be introduced?

Mr. P. Thomas

I do not think that the 1951 officials are anything whatever to do with the Bill. They will be dealt with separately, and have been dealt with separately.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

They have not been dealt with separately. At the moment they have not been dealt with. After eleven years they have had less than one-third of the total capital sum due in 1951.

Mr. P. Thomas

I appreciate that my hon. Friend feels strongly about this; I know he does. When I said that they have been dealt with in the past, I did not mean that they had been adequately dealt with, but, as he knows, some £200,000 has been given by Egypt towards the 1951 officials and there have also been advances made by Her Majesty's Government. That is what I meant when I said they had been dealt with in the past. They had been dealt with outside the ambit of the Bill and of Orders in Council. As he will appreciate, they will have to be dealt with in future by Her Majesty's Government. As he has been told, this matter is being considered at the moment.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

I was already aware of that. The Egyptian Government have, in fact, paid 180,000 Egyptian pounds altogether in final settlement of claims totalling £660,000. That is the stage reached at the moment.

I mention the analogy of the 1951 officials, because if the manner in which they have been treated is to be taken as a prediction of the manner in which the 1957 people are to be treated under the as yet unspecified powers given by this Bill, that will not satisfy many hon. Members on this side of the House, although I am aware that negotiations are under way at the moment to bring the unhappy case of the 1951 officials to some form of settlement which, I hope, will be a not ungenerous one.

A number of us on this side of the House will watch very carefully indeed the Orders in Council when they are made under the Bill. If I may give an example of the situation as I understand it at the moment, I believe that one can claim as part of damage suffered the charges made by the Egyptian Government for sequestrating property, but one cannot make as a charge the cost of desequestrating property. As it would not be necessary to desequestrate unless the property had been sequestrated, I cannot see why the charge should be allowed in the one case and not in the other.

I give that as an example of the case of a constituent. It suggests that the rules in existence at the moment are extremely complicated. I should like to encourage my hon. Friend to ensure that after the Bill has been passed by both Houses, and has received the Royal Assent, Orders in Council that are made will not take advantage of the fact that the House is unable to amend them.

5.14 p.m.

Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)

My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will be well aware that, like many of my hon. Friends and many hon. Members opposite, I have taken a keen interest in this matter, chiefly for the same reasons as other hon. Members who have constituents or friends who have been affected by their property being confiscated at the time of the Suez crisis.

What worries me particularly is that some of the people concerned were not young when they got out of Egypt and they are getting older. I have in mind a very reputable bank manager and his wife, who were married in Egypt. They set up house there and all their wedding presents went there. They had to get out and they now know nothing about their property. I believe that misunderstanding and lack of information is worrying people even more than the actual question of compensation. That is why I have been pushing the question whether we can find out about the condition of their property. The firm of Topliss and Harding is chiefly concerned, and is inquiring into this. Could information be obtained from that firm? If we could it would ease the minds of many people who are affected in this way.

Then there is anxiety about the outstanding Egyptian tax demands on these people. This problem appears to be equally muddled. What outstanding taxes do they owe? I have spoken to people in my constituency who are prepared to pay these taxes if they can be told what they owe, but they are completely in the dark. In the whole of life it is being in the dark and not knowing where we are that causes so much anxiety. Can we be told how this matter is to be settled finally, whether the property is still there, whether it is useless and has to be bought anew? Can people's minds be sot at rest by their being informed of their future liabilities under Egyptian tax demands?

5.17 p.m.

Sir Peter Roberts (Sheffield, Heeley)

I rise to support the Bill and to ask for further clarification of its provisions. As I understand the Bill, the amount of money paid by the Egyptian Government does not go anywhere near far enough to compensate the claims which have been already received from the various offices in this country. Have we any indication of how much this amount of money will be?

I apologise if the Minister has answered this earlier when I was not present in the Chamber. So far as I see, under Clause 1 there is no limit of money provided as to the extra compensation which is to be paid out of Treasury funds. I ask this question particularly because, although to a certain extent we are looking back to the past, I am sure the House must take cognisance of future trading.

As hon. Members will be aware, there are a number of projects in Egypt at present dealing with irrigation, dams, excavations, and so on. Various consortia and expeditions have gone to Egypt to see whether it would be right and proper to invest further capital sums in Egypt at present. The Bill therefore is important in helping to lay some sort of foundation for the future.

The first question I ask my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary is the amount of money that we are passing by this Bill and whether or not this is a blank cheque. There is some amount above £27 million which we are being asked to pay. I imagine that there would be a certain sense of satisfaction—not entire satisfaction but some satisfaction—for those owning property out there and also a certain sense of satisfaction for the Egyptian Government if we could be told that.

Have we an assurance that, if we ask taxpayers in this country to provide funds to make up the deficiency which apparently the Egyptian Government have not been prepared to make up, that will create a satisfactory atmosphere for future negotiations? This is very important. Russian technicians and Russian plant are being taken into Egypt, and we know the terms of repayment and credit conditions which are being applied, but we are also under pressure in this country to participate to some extent in this redevelopment of Egypt. If we are to be told by the Government that the Bill and the extra money which our taxpayers will pay will still not satisfy the authorities in Cairo, and that they may have some come-back in the future about compensation—they may make some demand for a refund of money which they have already paid—then the atmosphere of ill-feeling and ill-will which is slowly being dissipated in that part of the world may revive.

I look upon the Bill primarily as some sort of assistance for the development of Egypt in the future. I appreciate that anybody going into Egypt in future will have to risk the same sort of expropriation as that which the Government in Egypt have already exercised. Surely before bringing forward a Bill of this kind Her Majesty's Government have had close and careful talks with the Government in Cairo to find out what the future status will be.

I hope that, as a result of the Bill and of asking my constituents to pay money which properly should have been paid by the Egyptian Government, we shall get some compensation in return by way of goodwill, if that is the right term, and by way of future stability. It would be unfortunate if we in this country were to subsidise the Egyptian Government by taking over their right and proper debts and then the Egyptian Government were to use the money which they had retained in order to stir up trouble in other parts of the Mediterranean.

We have seen only recently what has happened across the Red Sea. Some of us have some idea of what happened in Algeria and elsewhere in the past. We have a very careful balance to consider. If we are to bail out the Egyptian Government from their debts, then we should have a clear-cut understanding with them that this is a quid pro quo between the two countries and that they are prepared not to do this sort of thing again by nationalisation or expropriation. Have we had such discussions and such undertakings from them?

If not, I point out that there are considerable Egyptian assets in this country. The second question which I want to ask is, what are the Egyptian assets in this country which have not been sequestrated or had a garnishee put upon them in respct of payment for debt? Are we taking any action to earmark this money or to prevent it from being taken out of the country. How much are we being asked to pay under Clause 1 above the £27½ million? Is this a fixed, ceiling amount?

Finally, when all this has been done and the money has been paid, have we an assurance from the United Arab Republic that it wild look upon this as a final settlement of the past and is prepared Ito honour undertakings and contracts in the future?

Subject to being given some explanation on those points, I feel, on behalf of my constituents, that it is right and proper that the House should pass the Bill to alleviate some problems which we know have been going on for a long time. These things always take a long time. It has been said with some justification by some of my constituents who have written to me about the matter over a number of years that it has been dragged out for rather a long time and that a Bill of this kind could have been introduced a little earlier. Nevertheless, we welcome it. We hope that we shall be laying the foundations for the future so that we may again help to build the prosperity of Egypt on a sound basis of good will for the future.

Mr. W. Yates

On a point of order. May I have the leave of the House to declare an interest which I should have declared during my speech? Is that in order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

I think that that is in order. I will allow it.

Mr. Yates

I apologise to the House. It is customary, when an hon. Member has an interest in a country or is connected with a firm, for him so to inform the House. I am connected with an insurance broking firm which was in Egypt and which has received some compensation under the terms of the agreement. In due course it will probably receive fuller compensation. It therefore would not have been right for me to have spoken to the House without having made this statement to the House, and I apologise for not having done so earlier.

5.27 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

May I have the leave of the House to make a short suggestion to the Government? Can a Minister ever previously have come to the House with such a short Bill, in his eyes seemingly such an innocuous Bill, and have been met with so much criticism, not directed to the object of the Bill but directed to the way in which it was brought forward and the vagueness of some of the statements which had to be made about it?

We all feel that much more could and should have been said about the existing claims—claims which have been made and assessed and paid out, and all that part of the financial picture. It should have been put into the Financial Memorandum. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have felt that it was very unsatisfactory having to provide money for purposes the nature of which could not yet be disclosed. An enabling Bill is all very well, but an enabling Bill to spend money for purposes not yet disclosed is something a little new and startling even in the records of this highly autocratic Tory Government.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that it will all come out all right, that an Order in Council will be laid and that this Order will be subject to annulment—as it will be under the provisions of the 1950 Act—and that therefore we can discuss it all then. But by then authority will have been given to spend the money. Surely it would be much better if the hon. Member not only answered verbally today but issued in some form a statement a little more elaborate than that which we may expect from him at the moment. Best of all, he could put it into the Bill in order to make the picture a little more definite and the objects a little clearer. That is the right way to treat Parliament in a financial matter of this kind.

I therefore suggest to the hon. Member that, because it is right—although frankly I do not for one moment think that he will accept the suggestion, so hard-headed are the Government in matters of this sart—that be should not press the Motion before the House but should withdraw it or adjourn it. Before the House is asked to vote this money, he should put before it a proper statement of the amounts likely to be required, the purposes for which they are required and the claims which are to be met, as well as the terms.

Taking the next part of the picture, he could tell us what he intends to do about the interest on the foreign compensation fund which he has put into his pocket for three years. Turning to the last part of the picture, what does he intend to do about pensions for the officers and servants of the fund? This Bill is too narrow, and a courageous and broadminded Government—which, of course, this Government is not—would immediately withdraw the Bill and put before the House a Bill in a proper form.

I make that suggestion. I know the Government. I judge a horse on its form, as we have been invited to do in another connection, and I therefore do not for one moment expect the Government to accept the suggestion, which appeals only because it is so obviously right and so obviously sensible.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. P. Thomas

By leave of the House, I will reply to one or two of the points which have been raised during this very interesting debate. First, I do not think that the last suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) accords with the feeling of the House, as I judge it from having heard the debate. It appeared that all speakers, including the hon. and learned Gentleman, until he spoke at the end, thought that this was on the whole a useful Bill, but they criticised the presentation of the Bill, and I quite understand that.

As I said in opening, I had hoped that some statement would have been made to the House by now setting out in detail the Government's proposals to the House in respect of Egyptian compensation as a whole. Unfortunately, we were unable to do that. These are very complicated matters, as I know the hon. and learned Gentleman, who obviously has studied them, will appreciate. It is taking some time to finalise the proposals which the Government would like to bring before the House.

However, I have been able to tell the House that we intend and hope to make a statement within the next two or three weeks. The Government having made a statement to the House, setting out not just the restricted claims which are contained in the Bill but the whole of the Egyptian Compensation claims, including the 1951 officials—who could not be further away from the Bill but about whom my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) asked—the House will be able to judge exactly whether it can accept the proposals, whether it can support the Order in Council which will have been laid before the House, and, indeed, whether it is prepared to vote the money. I suggest that it would not have been in accordance with the wishes of the House if we had delayed the Bill, because this is an enabling Bill. If the Bill goes through the House and if the money is forthcoming from Parliament, then it can be administered by the Foreign Compensation Commission.

Mr. Mitchison

What money?

Mr. Thomas

Whichever money Parliament decides to vote to top up, to use the hon. and learned Gentleman's expression, the £27½ million agreed between the United Arab Republic and the British Government by the Agreement of 1959.

I will now briefly answer some of the questions which were put to me. I hope I shall be forgiven if I do not answer them in great detail. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) asked me a question about cash and other deposits left in Egypt by refugees. I am informed that these deposits were mostly made with the Swiss Consular Authorities and were later handed over to Her Majesty's Government's Embassy at Cairo. I am told that the question of their return to their owners is a rather complex one which is being actively examined It is, however, an administrative matter which could not be facilitated by legislation. Moreover, the question of liquid assets, not Egyptianised, in Egypt is not a matter for the Foreign Compensation Commission and is therefore outside the scope of the Bill.

Mr. S. Silverman

If I correctly understand the Joint Under-Secretary, he tells the House that no legislation is required to deal with this matter but that it can be dealt with administratively. It is a great pity that it has not been dealt with administratively already, because the money has been held by our authorities in Cairo for quite a long time. They know whose money it is. They know where the people are. They know that in most cases the people could not return to Egypt to get it. If it can be dealt with administratively, I hope that it will now be dealt with administratively without further delay.

Mr. Thomas

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but within the ambit of this Second Reading debate I am sure that he will appreciate that I cannot deal with this point, as it is outside the scope of the Bill.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering asked whether, when the amounts in respect of loans are paid to the Exchequer, the interest on these loans will also be paid. The Bill as drafted does not provide for the payment of any sum by way of interest into the Exchequer. The loan deduction money alone will be repaid. The loans did not carry interest, nor will interest accruing on repayments from the Fund be paid to the Exchequer.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also asked what would be the possible pension scheme. The pension scheme has to be discussed with the members and staff of the Commission after the enabling legislation has been passed. Therefore, it is not possible to give any precise details of the scheme at this stage, but in general it is hoped to agree something which may be either contributory or non-contributory and which will provide benefits similar to those available to other public service employees.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked me to give some figures as to the amount of claims unsettled, what amount has been assessed, and how much has been paid. As at 31st October, 1962, the Commission had assessed or determined 722 Egyptianisation claims out of a total of 1,010. This leaves 288 claims outstanding, of which the claimed amount is £12,661,178. Up to the same date the Commission had received 2,292 applications in relation to sequestration losses for a total amount of £12,172,189. Of these the Commission had disposed of 1,939 claims, leaving a balance of 353 sequestration claims, amounting to, I think it is, £6,570,039 outstanding. The actual amount paid out by the Commission up to 31st October, 1962, was £13,875,596.

Mr. Mitchison

Therefore, the maximum that can be paid under the existing grants obtained is about £23 million—that is, the £16 million Egyptianisation money and £6 million-odd damages money, if I may put it in that way?

Mr. Thomas

Yes. I have only just received these figures and I have not gone into the matter in detail, but it appears that that would be about right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Sir H. Lucas-Tooth) asked if it were possible for us to say something about what the Government's proposals are in regard to Egyptian claims, before the Bill leaves the House. I am afraid I cannot tell my hon. Friend that with any degree of certainty. All I can say is that we hope that we will be able to make a statement to the House in about ten days tme. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that it is terribly difficult at the moment for me to be more definite than that. I hope that it will be within about ten days. I cannot say whether the Bill will have left the House by then.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst), who I know has paid particular attention to these matters and, indeed, has been a redoubtable advocate on behalf of the many claimants, asked this question—"What are we enabling the Government to do?" That criticism came from several hon. Members during the course of this short debate. The Bill is a simple one and I think that all these questions are directed to Clause 1. If in fact we do not have any legislation such as is contained in Clause 1 and if Parliament votes money to add to the existing £27½ million for Egyptian claims, that money cannot be distributed by the Foreign Compensation Commission.

That is all the Bill really is. It does not ask for any money; it says that if Parliamentary money is available that money can be administered and distributed by the Foreign Compensation Commission. I would therefore suggest that the proper thing to do is to look at the Bill as a Measure that seeks powers, not money.

Admittedly, if Parliament decides that the Government's proposals, when they are announced to the House, are good, and votes the money, that will be the money that will be administered by the Foreign Compensation Commission, but that is all there is in Clause 1, and I ask my hon. Friends to say that it is something that is wholly acceptable to them, something they welcome, and something that indicates that the Government are trying to find a solution to this long drawn out problem.

I can assure my hon. Friends that the Government hope that when they make their proposals known the House will feel that a fair and reasonable settlement is proposed of the many claims relating to the Egyptian incident. I do not think that I need say anything more. I am grateful to those hon. Members on both sides who have contributed to the debate, and all their remarks will certainly be noted.

Mr. Hirst

Before my hon. Friend sits down, I assume that my reading of the Bill is right and that if the suggestion made in due course in the Order in Council is not full or satisfactory this enabling Bill will still stand in regard to asking Parliament for further money at a subsequent date if the first allocation is not sufficient?

Mr. Thomas

That is quite so. While this Measure is on the Statute Book, if a Government decides to vote sums of money to add to the £27½ million Egyptian fund, that money can be administered by the Foreign Compensation Commission.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).