§ 10.7 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Peter Thomas)
I beg to move,That the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Final Distribution) Order, 1963, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd January, be approved.This Order provides for a final distribution of compensation from the Egyptian Compensation Fund in respect of Egyptianisation claims and sequestration losses on the basis of the new scale of compensation which I announced to the House in my statement on 11th December last year. It also contains provisions concerning the payment of compensation on the same scale in respect of certain categories of claims which under the existing Orders can only be registered but are not as yet eligible for payment. The Order is therefore designed to give effect to two of the five proposals relating to Egyptian claims which I put before the House on 11th December.
Hitherto interim payments of compensation have been made out of the Egyptian Compensation Fund under the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Interim Distribution) Order, 1959, as amended by subsequent Orders of 1960 and 1961. The draft Order we are now considering will revoke and replace those Interim Distribution Orders so that in future all payments will be made under the single Order. There will then be two Orders, and two Orders only, governing the Egypt distribution, namely, the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Determination and Registration of Claims) Order, 1962, and the new Final Distribution Order which I now propose.
If I might now turn to the text of the draft Order, I wish first to apologise to the House for a small technical error which was made in the headnote. As originaly printed, it stated that the draft Order was laid before Parliamentfor an address to Her Majesty from each House of Parliament praying that the Order be made.I am informed that it should have read:for approval by resolution of each House of Parliament.366 I am afraid that there was no time to reprint the whole Order. A correction slip has therefore been issued, and I hope the House will accept my apology for the mistake.
Hon. Members will have observed that the draft Order is printed in two types of print. Much of the Order simply reproduces provisions which at present are contained in the Interim Distribution Orders. The new provisions which are introduced by the draft Order are printed in italics. We have adopted this device in the hope that it will help hon. Members and the public to see at a glance what is new.
The House will probably be interested mainly in the new provisions, and it may be of assistance if I say a few words in explanation of the more important of them. The first is to be found on page 2, in Article 2. This provides for payment into the Egyptian Compensation Fund of moneys provided by Parliament and paid to the Foreign Compensation Commission under Section 1 (1) of the Foreign Compensation Act, 1962, which we debated not long ago. This is the provision for what is now popularly called topping up".
Part III deals with payments out of the Fund. Article 3 (1) introduces the new Schedule on which it is proposed that final payments out of the Fund should be calculated. The Schedule is on page 6. This sets out the new increased and final scale of the compensation which I announced to the House in my statement on 11th December. On that occasion I said that the new scale will enable the Foreign Compensation Commission to pay 100 per cent. to over 90 per cent. of the claimants—that is, the claimants before the Foreign Compensation Commission—and substantial increases to all the other categories up to £2 million.
Claims exceeding £2 million in assessed amount will also benefit to the extent of the basic payment of £665,000 on the lower parts of the claims. This is £176,000 more than the payments provided under the present Interim Distribution Order.
Although the scale of compensation is new, the procedure for calculating payments under the Order will be exactly the same as under the Interim Distribution Orders. A sum is calculated in accordance with the Schedule. This sum is then reported by the Commission to my noble 367 Friend the Secretary of State, who considers, on the advice of the Board appointed for the purpose, whether any deduction should be made on account of any ex gratia loan made to the claimant or his predecessor in title. Any such deduction is notified to the Commission and made by it under Article 4, and the amount of compensation payable is then determined.
Article 5 deals with the case where interim payments of compensation have already been made under the Interim Distribution Orders, and lays down how the additional payments due, arising from the increased scale of compensations, are to be calculated and reported. This Article is in italics, but it is based on similar provisions in the Interim Distribution Orders of 1960 and 1961.
Article 6 is not new. It deals with the case where a clamaint to whom compensation has already been paid establishes additional claims. The last Article in Part III is Article 7, which provides for the payment of compensation in respect of those claims which at present can only be registered under Article 8 of the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Determination and Registration of Claims) Order, 1962. Paragraph (a) makes eligible for compensation all claims registered up to 31st December, 1962. There are 983 of these.
All these claims have been carefully examined. Most of them relate to furniture and personal effects which claimants were compelled to sell under duress, and in the urgent need to leave Egypt, but there is a small number of other types of claim. We are satisfied that they are all claims which should be properly compensated from the Egyptian Compensation Fund, and I feel sure the House will agree that they should be.
Under paragraph (b) of Article 7, any claim registered by the Commission after 31st December, 1962, will qualify for payment only if my noble Friend the Secretary of State so notifies the Commission. The reason for this is that the provisions concerning registration in the 1962 Determination and Registration of Claims Order are rather widely drawn and we cannot therefore be sure that all of the claims registered in the future will be of a kind which ought properly to be compensated out of the Egyptian Compensation Fund. It is our intention 368 to notify for payment all claims that are similar to the ones which have been registered up to 31st December, 1962, and any new types which may emerge and which can be compensated consistently with the principles on which the present extension is made.
Part IV of the Order contains only one new provision. This is the proviso to paragraph (1) of Article 10. This paragraph is concerned with the case where the person who has established a claim dies before the compensation due to him under the Order has been paid. Normally payment will be made to the personal representatives of the deceased person in the ordinary way. But the new proviso will enable the Commission at its discretion to pay small amounts of compensation, in cases in which the assets of the deceased's estate do not exceed£100 in value, without requiring a grant of administration of the estate to be obtained in the United Kingdom. As the House may know, there are precedents for provisions of this kind, and I hope that the House will agree that this is a reasonable and proper provision to make.
There is one other matter to which I should draw the attention of the House. The rules of the Commission lay down that determinations made by the Commission are provisional only and are subject to review. In order to minimise the delay in the distribution of compensation to claimants, provision has been made in the Interim Distribution Orders for compensation to be paid out on the basis of provisional determinations and without waiting for the final review. These Orders, therefore, also contain provisions enabling adjustments to be made in the event that the amount of loss as provisionally determined by the Commission in respect of any claim is increased or reduced on review. These provisions are reproduced in Article 8 of the proposed Final Distribution Order.
Obviously, this system of paying compensation on the basis of provisional determinations could result in overpayments in some cases. We consider that the risk of this happening, except perhaps in a very few cases, is slight. That has certainly been our experience in other distributions by the Commission during the last twelve years. Also it is rarely possible for all the parts of the claim to be provisionally determined at 369 one and the same time. The chances of an over-estimate on each part of a single claim are so remote that they may be completely discounted. If there is over-assessment on any part—other, of course, than the last—it can be adjusted on a subsequent part.
Despite this, there remains nevertheless some risk that a few over-payments will be found to have been made and that they will not be recoverable by such adjustment because the claimant has received his final payment from the Compensation Fund. Should this happen, I think that the House would not wish us to press for recovery of these over-payments and we do not intend to do so. The only way of avoiding all risk would be to withhold the final payment to any individual until all his claims had been reviewed. The process of review must inevitably take time if the Commission is to give priority to provisional assessments of claims and I am sure that it is the desire of the House that payments should be made as soon as possible and that it would be unfair to defer payments until the review had been completed. I mention this so that the House can be aware of our intentions in this matter when it considers approval of this Order. Should the review show that an underpayment has been made, there will of course be a further payment to the claimant.
I think that is all I need say on the substance of this Order. It is clear that most of the interest of the House will be centred on the new scales of distribution. I cannot, of course, be unaware of the fact that many of my hon. Friends have put their names to a Motion on the Order Paper—
[COMPENSATION FOR FORMER BRITISH OFFICIALS IN EGYPT: That this House notes with dismay that Her Majesty's Government have accepted from the Egyptian Government the sum of £E180,000 in full settlement of the claims totalling £660,000 due to the British officials dismissed by the Egyptian Government in breach of their service contracts in 1951, and calls upon Her Majesty's Government, without further delay, to make up the difference between these two sums together with a reasonable extra payment in consideration of the depreciation in the value of £660,000 since 1951, and the loss of interest on that sum.]
370 I gather from this Motion that they feel that the scales provided for in the Schedule are inadequate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—in that in their view the scales will not give enough compensation to the larger claimants.
To put this in perspective, I think we must go back to the Anglo-United Arab Republic Financial Agreement of 28th February, 1959. The House will remember that £27½ million was the maximum it proved possible to negotiate with the United Arab Republic. The alternative would have been no agreement at all, and the House accordingly approved that Agreement. We never maintained that this sum would be enough to pay full compensation to all claimants. Nor did Her Majesty's Government ever commit themselves to paying compensation in full.
§ Mr. Thomas
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to finish this paragraph and then I wilt give way. What my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised was that the Government would play their part in reaching a reasonable and fair settlement, and he said:… we do not exclude a further contribution from public funds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1959; Vol. 602, c. 150.]
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Is he also aware that on 11th April, 1959, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to secure from the Egyptian Government restoration of these assets in full, or alternatively complete compensation.
§ Mr. Thomas
I am aware that that was said before the 1959 Agreement. After the 1959 Agreement was debated in this House and in another place, both Houses approved that Agreement. The Agreement was that £27½, million would be given in sterling by the United Arab Republic Government in full and final settlement of the claims which were contained in that Agreement and a waiver of all claims which the United Arab Republic Government would have against the British Government. That Agreement was accepted by this House. Therefore, I submit that what one has to take into account was what was said after that Agreement was accepted by this House. 371 I have quoted what the Prime Minister said, that the Government would play their part in reaching a reasonable and fair settlement, and he said:We do not exclude a further contribution from public funds.Since the Suez events, Her Majesty's Government have pledged themselves to make—and have made—many dispersals to assist British nationals who were affected by events in Egypt. In all those dispersals amount to over £20 million. Some of these are recoverable, but the vast majority of this sum will not be recoverable. The sum total represented by the scales provided for in the present Order is the maximum we consider it right to ask Parliament to vote out of public funds. Of course it is not sufficient to meet all claims in full. Given that fact, we believe the system of graduated compensation is in this case reasonable and the most equitable that can be made. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] As I said earlier, these new scales will give substantial increases to all categories of claim up to £2 million, and claims exceeding £2 million will benefit by the increased percentages in the lower parts of their claim.
May I give the House a few figures? A claim assessed at £1 million will receive under the Order £415,000; that is, £126,000 more than under the existing Interim Distribution Order, A claim assessed at £1½ million will get £540,000; that is, £151,000 more than under the existing Interim Distribution Order. A claim for £2 million will receive £665,000; that is, £176,000 more than under the present Interim Distribution Order. But it is the smaller and needier claimants whom we have felt it right to have principally in mind in calculating the scales provided for in the Order.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many claims there are exceeding, say, £1 million or £2 million, whatever figure he has available?
§ Mr. Thomas
There are five claims exceeding £2 million. I think it is right to say that there are five claims between £1 million and £2 million. There are seventeen claims altogether exceeding £½ million. I say this subject to correction. Some of the claims are very large. One claim is for £17 million.
372 In the past, when referring to Egyptian measures, hon. Members have constantly stressed hardship. In formulating these graduated scales we have borne in mind the need to relieve hardship and give the maximum help to those least able to absorb or withstand the losses which they incurred. I hope that the House will agree that we were justified in following this principle and will accept that the scales proposed will most certainly have that effect. Accordingly, I ask the House to approve the Order.
§ Sir William Taylor (Bradford, North)
On a point of order. Is it the intention that the Minister will reply to the points raised by hon. Members?
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
First, I want to congratulate my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary on the lucid way in which he has introduced the Order, although I do not quite agree with all his arguments. I am sorry that once again he is the Minister in charge when I have to be just a little difficult about something, all the more so because he bears no Ministerial responsibility for the circumstances that led up to this. I am sure I speak for my hon. Friends when I say that we are at least grateful for one announcement the Minister made tonight in relation to the provisional determination of claims. This will be of undeniable benefit in a very marginal way, but it is none the less what is called a concession in the House, although not the one which I seek tonight.
This is called The Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Final Distribution) Order, 1963. The word "Final" sticks in my gullet. My mind goes back to 16th March, 1959, when the House approved the Financial Agreement with the United Arab Republic. My hon. Friend the Minister referred to that debate, and I am glad that he did so. On that occasion many speeches were made. It was made very clear in the speeches of the Prime Minister and, indeed, of the then Leader of the Opposition, the late Mr. Gaitskell, that such a sum as that which the Under-Secretary of State regularly admitted tonight, even as supplemented by anything which accrued since and with a modicum 373 of interest, despite the fact that tax was paid on it, would not be entirely unequal to what basically had been settled. I think that even then it was estimated that the Egyptianised claims would be of the order of £45 million to £50 million according to whether certain land claims would come into being as well, and sequestration would be of the order of £130 million. All this was made perfectly clear in the House.
It is worth quoting what the then Leader of the Opposition said on that occasion, because he said it with considerable clarity—only underlining what the Prime Minister himself said in a shorter version later in the same debate—and confirmed the basic facts which came out time after time in that debate and have so much bearing on what we have to decide tonight. He drew attention to the figures I have already given of these Egyptianised claims and went on to indicate that in addition to all these were the sequestrian claims which were somewhat doubtful at that time. He drew attention to paragraph 5 of Article 4 of the Agreement which absolved Egypt from all liability; that liability was then accepted by Her Majesty's Government, and he went on to say this, which I think is very well worth quoting:This means that the Government have given up, not only on their own behalf but on behalf of all the owners of property, not only against the Egyptian Government but against any Egyptian citizen, all claim to any further compensation, whatever the state of the property may be when the owners get it back again. There may be a business where all the cash has been taken; there may be a house from which all the furniture has been removed; there may be factories which have been run down; there may be machinery which has got rusty or smashed or stolen. There is not one penny of extra compensation to be payable by anybody, so far as Egypt is concerned, either to the Government or to the owners of the property."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1959; Vol. 602, c. 45.]That was the position we were faced with then. That undeniably caused a lot of bitter comment, and I do not think, quite frankly, that at the time the Government could have had a much worse Press. Even the Daily Telegraph, which is said to be relatively kind to them at times, said about that time:This is a sorry day. After a spree like Suez there is a bill to pay. The tragedy is that the bill has gone to the wrong address. Why should a few luckless business men bear entirely the burden of our collective insanity?374 The argument went on in the country.
Is it not germane to ask whether or not one of the many reasons at any rate for that operation at that time—of course, obviously it would be quite improper to discuss the operation itself, but it was said at the time—was to protect the property assets of British nationals? I do not want to advance the argument, for this is not the occasion, but this was not an instance of a country being invaded in ordinary circumstances which we know only too well from experience and from history, in which ordinary war conditions apply. There was no war of the ordinary type. No less a person than Mr. Bevan brought this out to some effect. He said in that same debate:We had plenty of warnings of the Second World War. People could take evasive action. As I pointed out the other day, in a supplementary question, when I was at the Ministry of Health in 1947 we made plenty of preparations for giving temporary hospitality to Americans from the Continent of Europe in the event of the Berlin incident developing on tragic lines. The trouble in this war"—he meant the Suez adventure, if that is what to call it—was that our people abroad had no idea of what was to happen to them. They had no warning. They could not get away. It seems to us that in those circumstances there is a case for additional compensation if the £27 million proves to be inadequate, as we all assume it will. I bone that our position in this matter is quite clear."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1959; Vol. 602, c. 140.]That is important. In fact, it led to a number of hon. Members who were supporters of the then Conservative Government, including myself, feeling somewhat disturbed. I recall discussing the matter with some of my hon. Friends at the time, when we wondered what we should do about it. However, the Prime Minister addressed the House on the subject and made one or two important statements. One has already been referred to. My right hon. Friend stated that while the Government were not pledged they would not rule out the question of additional funds from public money being made available if the £27½ million was not adequate for the task. My right hon. Friend said:The House can rely upon Her Majesty's Government to take any necessary steps which may appear to be suitable and fair after this Agreement has begun to work itself into practical effect."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1959; Vol. 602, c. 152.]375 I am extremely conscious of that debate. I well remember my feelings and the conversations I had with several of my hon. Friends, some of whom are here tonight. I recall saying, "I feel personally that that rather settles it." It seemed that the Prime Minister had made the position clear, but I regret to say that I took it as meaning a good deal more than it has turned out to mean.
I say in all truthfulness—and I see the Patronage Secretary in his place—that I could not have voted for the Government on that occasion, remembering my great constituency interest in this matter, had the Prime Minister not made that sort of statement into which I had read what I frankly believe everyone else read into it—a good deal more than we have had tonight from the Joint Under-Secretary of State. That is what has disturbed the consciences of many hon. Members.
I suppose it can be argued that, by having second sight or having thought the matter out again, the Government's original stand was diluted. But it was not taken that way. My hon. Friend said in his opening remarks that we should not grumble because, after all, we passed the Financial Agreement on that occasion and that we ought to be hoist with our own petard. That is not quite so. I know that my hon. Friend means to be fair, but it is not being fair to hon. Members who, frankly, at that time were fervently of the opinion that the Prime Minister intended to go much nearer to the statements which had been made before and which had given us the impression that much more was to be done. They were taken as having some meaning; to be reassuring the House in a big way. If I remember aright, the House needed it at that time. After all, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) had said in 1957:The blocked accounts are our security for the claims of British subjects against the Egyptian Government. We have no intention of whittling away that position. The House can be sure of that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1957; Vol. 570, c. 584.]I recall a noble Lord saying in another place on 18th December last that words had indeed lost their meaning. Were those words I have just quoted not supposed to reassure the House as to what Her Majesty's Government meant to do?
376 The Foreign Office was itself most categorical and firm in a statement that followed the Prime Minister's statement of, I think, 11th April, when he assured the House that the Government's policy was the restoration of assets in full or, alternatively, to complete the restoration. Those two statements tied together and were meant to tie together—and I have in the last 48 hours read every word of those debates—and were meant to mean something to this House. It is part of my case, and I want to speak with the greatest moderation, that the Government have "ratted" on that assurance to the House.
No wonder that the Government have been taken to task time after time here and in another place. Strong speeches were made in another place on 18th December. They should have made the Government blush, instead of which we get the Earl of Dundee, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government—having, I suppose, together with the rest of them, rather been fooled—trying to say that there was something generous in the Government's position. To give him credit, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State was a little more modest about it, and I take my hat off to him for it, because there can be no talk of being generous, none whatever, in the context in which I have tried to place this discussion.
I turn to the method of distribution. First, there is the statement that 90 per cent. of the claimants will get 100 per cent. That is statistically correct on heads of claims, but the Government cannot be unaware that this statement has led a great many people—I do not say that it has been done wilfully—to imagine and to hope that they would get a very much better degree of compensation than they are getting.
Frankly, to say that 90 per cent. were to get 100 per cent. is to mislead the country. I am the first to say that I do not think that the statement was intended to mislead, but it does, and some responsibility must lie on the shoulders of the Government for it. Many people have thought that they were to get more compensation, because that statement must have meant to them that they were included in the 90 per cent.——
§ Mr. Thomas
This is a rather serious matter. I wonder whether my hon. Friend 377 would enlarge on it? In what way could it possibly mislead the country? At the time when I said that over 90 per cent. of the claimants would receive compensation in full, I also gave the increased scales of payment.
§ Mr. Hirst
My hon. Friend must really credit the country with some difficulty in understanding these Orders. I do not know how many hon. Members can cross their hearts and say that they understand all these scales, statements, garbled figures, and the rest. I may be rather a fool, but I have made a great study of the subject and I find it all rather difficult to understand—and I am honest about it. Many people find it impossible.
I do not want my hon. Friend to get anxious or think that I am having a rather hard bash at it, but I say that this statement led people to think, "If 90 per cent. are to get 100 per cent., somehow I must be included." I do not say that it was intentional, but it was a grave misfortune, and the Government must realise that they made things much more difficult for people like myself, representing constituencies, by making that statement.
I must wax a little hot on the principle involved. I ask the House to imagine what the reaction would be among creditors if an official receiver, presiding over a meeting when there were insufficient funds, were to say, "Ladies and gentlemen, I regret to say that there is only £10,000 to distribute against claims of about £100,000, and I have made the following decision. Those with claims of up to £100 will get 5s. in the £, those with claims of up to £1,000 will receive 2s. 6d. in the £, and those with claims of over £10,000 will get 6d. in the £" What sort of reaction would that create? What a dangerous precedent, in a sense, this is.
It has been put to me by someone who is rather more of a Government well-wisher than I am this evening—though I am, too, on some occasions—that this is rather similar to what is done on the Stock Exchange, but there is in that principle no parallel with the allotment of shares in the City. Claims against cheques sent in are applied for in the hope of getting on to a good thing. There is no parallel whatsoever. I do not know whether my hon. Friend is here, but I hope that he will take that and not water it particularly.
378 I have no personal interest in this matter. I have not a single share in any company likely to have any benefit from this. There may be some, but I do not know of them. I have a constituency interest and, apart from that, I am always prepared to fight in the House for what I call integrity in public life, and I consider that that has been a little tarnished in this case. I am prepared to fight for the fulfilment of clear intention. I think that the House has been given a clear intention in the speeches made. If they were not intentions I must fight against misleading statements, however much that event was not intended to mislead.
I have a constituency interest, as everyone knows, in the wool textile industry. One firm, as many hon. Members know, has given great service to the textile industry. I refer to the Bradford Dyers' Association. Many other hon. Members may refer to other cases as well as this one which has a certain amount of particular interest. To be completely in order I refer to only one aspect of claims in this context. There are several others. There is an Egyptianisation one. There is also sequestration as applied to this Order. But these are outside the figures which I shall give.
Like others, I have made a case for this company in which I have a con stituency interest several times. In another place the noble Lord, Lord Barnby, who has had a long and close association with the textile industry, made a strong case for the principle and for the firm involved. Here is a firm of over 13,000 shareholders, many of whom are present and retired employees and widows of former employees. The chairman of the company and his associates have gone through the list to check who they are. Many of them are very small income people. Some are of the unfortunate age group who did not even fit into pension insurance and who hoped to eke out a living on the modest sums left to them. They are people who are more frightened of life than any others I know. There is a considerable number of them.
It is not right and not fair and not presenting the true picture for my hon. Friend, although he tries to be fair and means to be so, to think that he can get away with it by saying that only 379 so many claims over a certain figure come in, as though this was Mr. Clore's or Mr. Cotton's personal bank account. It is not. In many other fields under this heading there are masses of people involved and many instances, as I know in this company, where they are anxious when they get compensation to return it on a per capita basis to the shareholders and will not put it in the pot for anything they may think fit. Why, in heaven's name, should they have been penalised and almost have been selected for penalisation by the Government because they have the misfortune in the Government's eyes to be in aggregate a large corporate cake?
What, pray, has the Government spokesman in another place to say about such companies? The noble Lord, Lord Dundee, is reported in HANSARD for 18th December last as saying:The claims of those who exceed £1 million or £2 million will be greatly improved in fact by the new scale…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 18th December, 1962; Vol. 245, c. 1060.]In more modest language, the Joint Under-Secretary said the same thing tonight. They are in fact a category of £2 million, and their greatly improved scale is less than 10 per cent. of their debt. What is that to crow about in the light of the record which I have placed before the House today? Companies like this have also deep sequestration claims. I should like to be clear about the position there. I think that I understood my hon. Friend rightly, but one wants to be so sure in these matters after all our troubles.
Is it quite clear that claimants whose claims are not yet finalised will, notwithstanding the level of money which is to be provided to the Foreign Compensation Commission under this Order, get their fair scale, such as it is—I do not accept the scale—even if the amount of money has run out? We need an assurance about that, for, obviously, unfair as this is, it would be—I must for once use a stronger word, which I have tried to avoid—grossly unfair if that were not so.
In my humble opinion, the Government should have a lot on their conscience. They have nothing to preen themselves about. They have nothing to parade before the House or the country, 380 saying that they have done a generous or fine thing. They have done nothing of the sort. They have done the minimum, the very minimum, to pay lip-service only to a pledge which the House accepted at the time would at least be a pledge in the sense that true fairness and true regard for these people would be shown. The votes collected that night were collected on that basis.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Sir John Barlow (Middleton and Prestwich)
I do not propose to go into the matter at length tonight because my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) has dealt with the background so adequately. It is very late, but this is a very important matter, and the principle of it is of the utmost importance.
In accordance with the usage of the House, I declare an interest. I am a director of the Calico Printers Association, which has a large interest, though I do not propose to talk about that side of the question tonight. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has told us that there are about 17 large applicants who are not to receive anything like 100 per cent. payment. It seems to me utterly wrong that the Government should sponsor such an arrangement as this. In any other sphere of life, all of us would regard it as wrong. Supposing that there were balances held in a bank of anything from £10,000 to £1 million and the bank suddenly said that it would pay the smaller creditors in full and the others at a scaled down rate, no one would stand for that. Yet that is really what the Government are trying to put across tonight.
I will mention one of the circumstances of one of the large applicants, the British American Tobacco Company, which is, I think, the largest, with a claim of about £17 million. It has about 110,000 shareholders. It seems to me completely wrong that, because those shareholders are in a corporate body, they should be paid at a rate of about 22 per cent., whereas, if they were represented individually, they would be compensated in full. The Minister has not answered that point in any way. I hope that he will deal with it later tonight.
In the past, we have had complete assurances from the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the 381 basis of which the larger claimants expected to have a fair deal. In my submission, they have by no means had a fair deal. It is quite wrong that the Government should take advantage of the fact that there are comparatively few of them. Although there are few involved, the country and the shareholders concerned will take this to heart personally. It is wrong for the Government to do what they propose, and I feel so keenly about it that, unless the Minister can offer some better assurances than he has so far, I shall be very inclined to divide the House against the Order tonight.
§ 10.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wall (Haltemprice)
As the House will know. since I raised this subject on the Adjournment just over a year ago, I have a personal interest in this matter in that a number of people involved are personal friends and some are relations of mine.
Broadly, four categories of persons are involved. There are those who had their property nationalised, or Egyptianised. Next, there are those who had their property sequestrated and then desequestrated. The third category are Those who had their property renationalised in 1961, and the fourth are certain individuals whose property was seized in October, 1961 and still remains seized—they have not been mentioned so far in this debate.
I will begin with the first category, those who had their property Egyptianised. It was said at the time of the various debates that the value of this property was about £65 million. The property which was sequestrated and then desequestrated was said in those days to be worth about £130 million. I believe that the fund of £27½ million, to which my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State referred, has risen to over £29 million, presumably because of accrued interest. The Government have topped it up by £5½ million, thus producing a total of about £35 million to compensate people who have had their property nationalised or Egyptianised. The figure is actually a little less than that, because out of this sum comes the claims of people who have had their property sequestrated and then desequestrated. They can claim damage to property while it was sequestrated against this fund.
Therefore, it is fair to say that the Government have allocated something 382 like £32 or £33 million to deal with claims valued at about £65 million: in other words, about 50 per cent. of the total, but that includes only the people who have had their property Egyptianised and not the other categories. Thus the claim, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) has referred, that 100 per cent. payment is being made to over 90 per cent. of claimants can be described as technically correct but also as giving the wrong impression. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that it probably was not meant to convey a wrong impression, but when it was reported in the Press many friends and correspondents of mine assumed that it covered all four types of claimant and not merely this one category. This is an additional argument to those advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley to show that this claim does not ring true.
I believe, also, that I am right in saying, although I do not have a copy of HANSARD with me, that when the statement was made it was said that 100 per cent. payment would be made to over 90 per cent. of the people involved. It is, however, a question of 90 per cent. of claims rather than people, which is a very different matter. These are only claims which have been adjudicated upon, for which people have been able to produce the evidence on which they can be certified for payment.
I repeat the request for an assurance concerning those who have not yet been able to obtain evidence to support their claims. There are many who, physically, have not been able to get from Egypt the evidence on which to base a statement for compensation. Those people are now confined merely to asking for repayment of the sequestration charges. If and when they can produce the evidence, will they still be able to obtain payment of claims under the Order?
As an aside, I may say that under the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement the position was that the Egyptian Government, should facilitate in every way the documentation of claims, allow documents to be sent out of the country and give all possible help to claimants in proving their claims. It cannot in fairness be said that this part of the Agreement has been fully honoured as many 383 people are still unable to obtain the necessary documents.
There is also the question of the speed at which claims are assessed by the Foreign Compensation Commission. I have no criticism to make of that Com-missionit—it has a large number of claims to deal with—but I should like to know from my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, when he replies, whether it might be possible to increase the staff of the Commission. One knows that the staff are working flat out, but there are a number of claims, of which I have personal knowledge, by people who submitted their papers for assessment at least twelve months ago but which have not yet been adjudicated upon. Is there any way we can speed this procedure up?
I said earlier that, broadly speaking, the Government, by this Order, were paying about 50 per cent. of the assessed value of the claims of Egyptianised property. But I also referred to the fact that there are large numbers of people whose property has been desequestrated and who, technically, can have it back but, in practice, cannot because it is frozen or blocked. The Government have assisted these pepole to get £5,000 per head out of the country which was allowed under the terms of the Agreement. That did not actually take place, however, until very recently, and then only because the Government made a loan to Egypt in August last year of some £750,000. This has helped, but if one adds up all that the Government have done, including the £2½ million for hardship and £500,000 for agents' fees, one finds that it all amounts only to about £5 million as against the assessed total of blocked accounts of some £25 million, and that therefore the help offered to this category is about 20 per cent. of the claim against 50 per cent. for Egyptianised property.
The argument that these people still have the title of their property in their possession is not valid. They are now scattered all over the world. They cannot go back to Egypt. If they are chartered accountants or lawyers they cannot return there to practice. Their property will remain sequestrated in effect until we can get the accounts unblocked. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear the plight of these people in mind and undertake to press the Egyptian Government 384 to live up to the full terms of the Agreement, which laid down £5,000 per head "now "—that was some years ago and has not yet been fully implemented—and more as soon as considerations such as exchange conditions permitted.
The Egyptians have not lived up to the terms of the Agreement. They have not even thought of going beyond the strict interpretation of the terms, as the Agreement implied that they would. I hope that my hon. Friend will bear that in mind and bring what pressure he can to bear on behalf of this very large class of people who have not been greatly helped by the Government so far. These people look like receiving about 20 per cent. of the funds that are now blocked. whereas those who had their property nationalised and will not get it back are to get over 50 per cent. in sterling paid in this country, where it is really of value.
Some property, factories and land released under the Agreement were, a few months later, nationalised. Therefore, strictly speaking, they do not fall under the terms of the Agreement. They are now valued at something like half the value given to them when sequestrated after Suez. It is claimed that compensation on this reduced sum will be paid by the Egyptian Government in Egyptian bonds, but no bonds have been paid yet.
In addition, there are 40 or 50 British subjects whose personal property—houses, belongings and clothing—were seized in October, 1961. No reason or excuse for this seizure has been given. For 18 months I have been asking questions about what the Government have done in this matter. In justice, it is the Government's duty to protect British nationals submitted to this kind of piracy—there is no other word for it.
I hope that my hon. Friend will get together with other Governments—including the French, Italian and the Greek—whose nationals have been similarly treated to see if action can be taken in the International Court or elsewhere to try to remedy this grave injustice. I suggested to my hon. Friend 18 months ago and he said he would look into the matter.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am not sure where this debate is getting to. 385 I take it that this matter to which he is now referring will in no way be affected by the House approving or not approving this Order.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I intervene for one principal reason. I disagree on principle with the idea of paying varying percentages of compensation to individuals and institutions. The assumption seems to be that if an institution loses millions of £s this loss does not affect individual persons. I object to this assumption. All my life I have resented the idea that an institution is some body without a soul and that one can do what one likes with it because people are not involved. Surely an institution is merely the framework inside which there are people who are shareholders of that institution? All sorts of people are involved in the running of an institution.
§ Mr. P. Thomas
Perhaps I can assist the hon. Gentleman. There is no distinction in this Order between a person and a company. If a company has a claim for £10,000 it will receive this claim, if assessed as such, in full.
§ Mr. Bence
I thank the hon. Gentleman for helping me. If the claim is for £10,000, it is quite likely that one, two, or three people are involved, but if the claim is for £2 million, it is more than likely that a public limited liability company is involved. However, a limited liability company may be involved if the claim is for only £10,000. It may be a private company run by a family—father, son, uncles, and so on. The point to remember is that people are involved. Institutions are persons, and are as important in this context as the person with a claim for £10,000.
I remember the famous novels by Benjamin Disraeli, "Ahoy" and "Ixion," in which he exposed this frightful institutionalism whereby individuals are forgotten and everybody assumes that an institution with a balance sheet and assets is a well of inexhaustible resources, and that if it is milked individuals do not suffer. I have never believed that, and never will. When we are dealing with institutions, we should remember that whatever we do with them, and however much we tax them, we impose burdens on persons in them.
386 It is probably true that in the nineteenth century many of these large institutions were owned by a small group of very wealthy men, but I do not believe that that is the case in the twentieth century. I do not believe that we are placing a burden on some very powerful shoulders. We may be placing a heavy burden on technicians, managers, and directors, with small holdings in the company, at a time when they are trying to keep the company going in a highly competitive world, not because of something they have done, not because of their mismanagement of the company, but because of what the Government have done.
Suppose the British Motor Corporation had an assembly plant in Egypt—whether it has or not I do not know—which cost between £63 million and £4 million to build and it was destroyed in the fighting. I should say that I would be sorry if Sir Leonard Lord had to write off the loss he suffered by the Government deciding what they were prepared to pay him by way of compensation. I have no interest to declare in this because I am not a shareholder of the B.M.C., but in the circumstances which I have mentioned the shareholders would obviously be affected by the loss.
Apart from that dissertation on something about which I feel strongly, I understand that 90 per cent. of the claims have been paid in full. Have they been paid 100 per cent. of what they claimed they lost, or 100 per cent. of what the Claims Board thought was fair compensation for what the claimants had lost?
If I had some property in Egypt and told my accountant, "I estimate, according to my trading figures, that this business is worth £15,000 to me", and my accountant put in a claim for £15,000, but had it reduced to £10,000 by the board, if, in the hon. Member's words, my claim was met 100 per cent., would I receive £15,000 or £10,000? I am not sure what the hon. Member means when he refers to claims being met 100 per cent.
Secondly, what is the total amount disbursed to the victims of the unfortunate affair—this slight difficulty at home—and how much is expected to be disbursed to the remaining 983 claimants? Thirdly, I presume that in the case of these institutional claims foreign nationals 387 may be involved—individuals holding property in Egypt other than citizens of this country. In this connection I heard of an extraordinary case arising out of the Suez affair. It was unbelievable that such a thing could happen. It was rather an interesting case.
The Home Secretary at the time was the right hon. Gentleman who is now the First Secretary of State. The position was that a Lebanese man living in Manchester had married a Scots lady; they had had three children, born in Manchester, and had then moved to Alexandria in 1938, where a fourth child was born. When the Suez crisis developed they had to leave Egypt. The man had never been naturalised in this country, so the British authorities said that he was still a Lebanese; the wife and the children born in Manchester were British, and the fourth child—a daughter—was also held to be Lebanese, taking the nationality of her father.
The Egyptian authorities said that none of the family could stay in Egypt, because they were not Egyptians, so the wife and three children came to Glasgow, leaving everything behind but what they wore, and the father and daughter went to Beirut. The Americans were in Beirut at the time, and within about four days the father died. The situation can be imagined. Apparently he collapsed. Fortunately, on the initiative of the First Secretary of State the child was got out of Lebanon and was flown home by charter aircraft to Glasgow. If ever there was a potential tragedy arising from the events at Suez, that was it. I do not know whether that claim has been met, but I hope that the Government, in considering these claims, will remember that when they are dealing with institutions they are dealing with human beings.
§ 11.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
I shall be brief. I shall not go over the ground which has been so well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst). My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Sir W. Taylor) and I have a constituency interest in the matter. The point made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) about ordinary people being involved even in the case of institutions applies particularly to the Bradford 388 Dyers' Association, with its 13,000 stockholders. Over two generations this company has encouraged its workers to buy its shares on preferential terms. By making this institutional demarcation in the list we are prejudicing the very companies who have been advancing the Tory principle of spreading the ownership of property and shares. It is an important point of principle.
§ Mr. Tiley
As my hon. Friend says, there should be fair shares for all.
It is not possible for business companies to insure against these losses. One may insure against a bad debt by insolvency or in the operation in the actual sale of a commodity by a foreign government, but one cannot insure through the Export Credits Guarantee Department or the private market on assets in another country. This should be looked into by the Front Bench because, if we are not to venture into Europe, we are being implored to venture into other parts of the world. Combines and big companies are being asked to take these risks. Then, when losses over which they have no control occur, we do not deal with the matter on a fair basis.
I am very glad that it is not my business to answer this debate in which the points have been so well put by my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East. There is no case to be made against this issue of principle. The claims have been admitted and the loss has occurred. Bradford Dyers' Association and all the other people are losing 60 per cent. of the claims which have been agreed. All that has been agreed and they have been lost—in a manner over which they have no control—by Government action. We are prejudicing the interests of trade in future in all the backward parts of the world and the spread of share ownership if we do not deal with this matter as an issue of principle and fair shares for all. What has been adjudged lost should be reimbursed.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Sir William Taylor (Bradford, North)
I am prepared to allow my case to rest on the very able speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst). The unfortunate intervention of the Joint Under-Secretary in the speech of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, 389 East (Mr. Bence) clearly indicated the lack of principle which has dictated Government action in this matter.
This Order is a monumental piece of injustice. I am ashamed to be associated with a party and a Government which have brought it forward. How on earth can we face the British people when a clear discrimination is made between a corporate body—which in the case of the Bradford Dyers' Association mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) comprises 13,000 shareholders, many of whom are small shareholders, widows, retired employees and the like—and other classes of claimant? There is no moral justification for this.
The Joint Under-Secretary made a valiant effort to justify the Order and the principles, if such they can be called, upon which the Order was drawn up and upon which the financial calculations were made. He gave no explanation in principle to justify what his Government have done. I suspect that the Government have looked at the total sum available, £27½ million, and decided which method would have the least unfortunate effect on the British public. This leads to statements about 90 per cent. of the claimants receiving 100 per cent. of their claims. There is something very sinister about this whole affair.
I register my protest against this Order. I cannot accept the Joint Under-Secretary's opening statement that full consideration has been given. I believe in fair shares for all. I believe that where a large corporation comprising many small shareholdings has a legitimate claim, the claim should be met on the same basis as the medium and lesser claims of individuals so that justice is not only done but is seen to be done, which is a basic principle of British public life.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will be prepared to say before he leaves that he will reconsider the matter and tell his right hon. Friends how strong the feeling is not only on this side of the House but amongst hon. Members opposite—all three of them. We are the guardians of justice.
§ Sir W. Taylor
I would never attempt to commit in advance the hon. and 390 learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I have listened to him for far too long—and I mean "long"—ever to do that. I shall listen to what he has to say tonight with great interest, because I believe that as a great constitutional lawyer he will support what I am saying about the principles of British justice. I repeat that justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done. It is not seen to be done in the Order. I register my protest against the Order and I hope that the Under-Secretary when he replies will tell us that he will reconsider the terms upon which these settlements are to be made.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Sir Harry Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I am not sure that what I want to say at the beginning ought not to be raised as a point of order. However, because I intend no discourtesy to the Chair, I will put it to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary. Neither the Long Title nor the Preamble to the Act upon which the Order depends mentions the word "final". The Order is introduced as a Final Distribution Order, but the word "final" does not appear in the Act. The only adjective used in the Long Title and the Preamble to describe compensation is "additional". If this matter were closely examined with that in mind it might be found that the Order is not strictly within the rules of the House.
Whether that be so or not, even if the rules of the House can be skated over as thinly as that, it is very unfortunate indeed that when it is deliberately intended that an Act should enable the payment of sums as a final settlement the word "final" occurs nowhere in the Act. I am not trying to blame my hon. Friend in the least for this. It was clear from speeches he made and from the statement he made before the Bill received a Third Reading that it was intended that payments under the Order would be final. I am not complaining of what he said in his speeches, but when an Act is introduced to achieve a certain purpose it is very wrong to qualify that purpose and disguise what the real purpose is in the wording of the Act.
I have very deep sympathy indeed for the Joint Under-Secretary. I know that he has fought a great battle. However, the Bill reeks of another Department.
391 It reeks of the Treasury. Whenever I think of the Treasury I always remember a very well respected hon. Member, who was a great friend of many of us on this side, but who is now, alas, no longer with us. once telling me that a retired senior officer of the Inland Revenue once boasted to him that every single year he had been in his position he could with pride say that the Inland Revenue had got more out of the taxpayers than it was really entitled to get. That is the attitude of the Treasury, to try to get more from the taxpayers and pay out less than it should.
Never was there a more dangerous exercise than the one it has just indulged in. Honour is at stake here—not only the honour of men, not only the honour of the nation, not only the honour of Parliament. The honour of the country in the eyes of foreigners is at stake here.
I intervene in the debate principally because I was in on the first event which had anything to do with the rise of Nasser when I marched into the Abdin Palace by the side of the British Ambassador at the beginning of 1942. If one reads the philosophy of the revolution written by Nasser himself one can see that that is what sparked off his rise to power. I very well remember that when Sir Anthony Eden, as he then was, undertook the Suez engagement he said that the purpose of it was to protect, amongst other things, British property. He did not distinguish between property owned by shareholders of companies and private property. He said "British property "—of all descriptions.
My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State has been absolutely frank with the House. I congratulate him on his frankness. He said this Order was based on hardship grounds. I know than it was, and much as I am anxious to help those in the gravest need of all, I would say, let no one suppose that what we are doing is just. We are doing a grave injustice to all those to whom we are not paying 100 per cent. In other words, this Order does not pretend to be founded on justice.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
I think my hon. Friend slightly misunderstood me. I said everyone who, under the Order, does not get 100 per cent. is suffering injustice, whether a company or an individual.
I hope that the Government will not finally slam the door on this one proposition which I have put forward. There are only two ways in which the Government can redeem the honour of the country.
§ Sir H. Legge-Bourke
The honour of the Government and of Members of this House. They must either take out the word "final" wherever it occurs in this Order and reintroduce the Order, or alternatively they must undertake from now on to fight tooth and nail to get the Egyptians to stop up the deficiency. Those are the only two ways left open to the Government to redeem themselves.
Because I do not want to delay payment of 100 per cent. to 90 per cent. of the claimants, I would hate to stop this Order, but it does seem to me that we ought at least to ensure that further consideration is given to either of those two ways. Either the Government, through the unfortunate taxpayers of this country, pay off the remaining deficiency, or we hold the Egyptians to what we said we would hold them, namely, to pay full compensation.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)
Onerous as it is to follow on so eloquent and forcible a speech, I think it is about time that something was said——
§ Mr. Mitchison
—from this side of the House, I having paid very great attention to what has been said from the other. Let me remind hon. Members of one or two things they have said. According to the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst), the Government have ratted on their undertaking. We notice they do that from time to time. According to another hon. Member, the Prime Minister has misled the House and the country. We notice he does that from time to time. According to another hon. Member the honour of the country, the Government, and ourselves is at stake. That 393 was the last speaker, the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). According to a previous speaker, it is a shame to belong to the Tory Party any longer. The remedy is quite simple.
§ Sir W. Taylor
On a point of order. The hon. and learned Member should not put words into my mouth. All I said was that I was ashamed that my party had put its name to the Order before the House.
§ Mr. Mitchison
If the hon. Member feels that strongly about it his remedy is quite easy; he can refuse the party Whip. But that is up to him and I will not give way again, because there is no more to be said on that score.
What amuses me about all this—and I can legitimately be amused—is that hon. Members opposite are the very people who voted for and supported the whole Suez adventure. This is just the tail end of the bill. It is they who caused the bill to come into being. There would not be a bill had they not supported the Government in the Suez adventure, or "insane adventure" as I understand the Daily Telegraph called it. We hear quite a lot about Tory policy. My version of it in this case is that they are trying to get some other people out of the consequences of their own idiocy in a previous Parliament. Why do not hon. Members opposite vote against the Order? Suez was an idiotic adventure. We can see how idiotic it was when we consider the real point; that this Government do not compensate their own nationals for the misdeeds, mistakes or failures of the policies of some other Government.
If one goes to America and thinks one is being unfairly or unduly taxed one does not expect compensation from the Treasury here. If one's property is dealt with in some way one may disapprove, but one does not expect compensation from the Treasury here. It is surely well known to all hon. Members that that general principle has been well and firmly established for very many years. The only reason why the Government are taking on themselves the burden of 394 supplementing the amount being contributed by the United Arab Republic—as I must now call them—is that they recognise that it is all their fault. It was, of course, the fault of the Government supporters whom I see opposite mourning the misfortunes of the small and widowed shareholders of some company or other. They caused it all—hon. Members opposite.
If all this trouble has led to misfortune and misery for the poor shareholders of the Bradford Dyers' Association, hon. Members opposite are responsible for it all. They caused the whole trouble and it is only on that account that any compensation whatever is being paid in circumstances in which, had the Government not made the mistake, no compensation at all would have been paid. It is ridiculous to hear the very people who voted firmly for the Suez adventure, who stood by it through thick and thin—who, I think, appointed or helped to appoint or who supported the present Prime Minister—getting up now and howling like mad at the consequences of what they themselves did at the time.
Really! What is hyprocrisy? I do not accuse hon. Members opposite of anything but the most political form of hypocrisy. What they are saying now they most fervently believe. I give them that, but they have a wonderful capacity for forgetting their past mistakes and attributing to others those things for which they themselves are responsible. I have never before seen a better instance of that; one speaker after another using violent language as though someone other than he himself and his colleagues were the originators of all this.
Let us turn from that, and look at what has apparently caused the trouble—the Schedule. We must remember that the whole of this matter arises from the "insane adventure"—and I am sure that I can quote the Daily Telegraph; there can be nothing wrong in that—of Suez. We must begin with that. We must appreciate that people who go to trade on a large scale in any foreign country inevitably take some risk in it. We must appreciate, too, that it is the British taxpayer who is to be called upon to find the money for these claims.
I listened very carefully to what was said by hon. Members opposite by way of quotation——
§ Mr. Mitchison
I am afraid that I really do not see the connection. Let me explain to the hon. Gentleman, since he——
§ Mr. Tiley rose——
§ Mr. Mitchison
No, I will not give way yet. This is the result of the Government's own policy, the insane adventure at Suez, and none of these claims would have occurred, nor would any of these losses and these hardships, if the present Tory Government, or their predecessors with a different personnel, had not embarked on that adventure. I can see——
§ Mr. Tiley rose——
§ Mr. Mitchison
Oh, no—keep quiet for a minute. The hon. Member must allow other people to make their own speeches. He has made his speech. I did not interrupt the remarkable eloquence I have heard from the other side of the House this evening, so perhaps I may be allowed to make my case—and it is a perfectly simple one. It is not a case of British trade adventuring abroad, and gallant trade risks being taken, but a piece of Government policy that led to this adventure, these misfortunes, these claims and these hardships. The question we now have to consider is what, in the light of that, is the right thing to do about it.
I call the attention of hon. Members opposite to two things. The first is that any person going to trade abroad takes a certain risk of Government action abroad for which, as a general rule, he gets no compensation at all. He gets it in this case only because it was the Government themselves who provoked the trouble. Secondly, I want to make it clear that I do not regard in quite the same way people who go to live in a country. They have less control, as a rule, over what is happening about them. The risks they take are risks that they are much more bound to take, and I think that there is something to be said for a distribution on the lines in the Schedule.
I am very surprised to find that the Schedule shocks hon. Members opposite 396 so much. I thought that we all paid taxes on a graduated scale, roughly according to our ability to pay or, at any rate, based on that ability to pay. When it is a question of receiving compensation from the Government, is there not something to be said, if one cannot find the whole amount—and I shall come to that aspect in a moment—for finding enough, first, for the poorer people, those who probably suffered most, before dealing with the large companies concerned? I notice that no hon. Member opposite gave any estimate whatever of the proportion that any loss bears to the actual capital of the very large companies concerned. I do not carry that information in my head, but I think I can safely say that it is nothing like as large as all that. However, that is not the point.
I am not prepared to invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to stay here and listen to what I have listened to in order to have a Division afterwards, and oblige the British taxpayer to pay full compensation in this case. Nor do I think that the two remarks that were quoted by, I think, the hon. Member for Shipley from speeches of deceased friends of mine, had any bearing on that particular point.
I turn from that to another matter. I agree that there is a lot to be said for the statement that these negotiations might have been better conducted. The Lord Privy Seal was probably busy at the time dealing with President de Gaulle, but he has conducted his negotiations with a good deal more firmness there than was shown in this case. I am disposed to agree with that comment. But how much it matters now is another question.
Here we have an agreement signed and sealed on behalf of the British Government—and I imagine that no one wishes to repudiate it now—limiting the amount which is to be contributed by the United Arab Republic. I do not know what more one can get than that amount in these circumstances. Those who talk about the honour of this country, and the rest, should be the last to suggest that having accepted this in final settlement we should ask for more. There are other things possible to do, though I am not sure whether it is in order to mention them—questions of exchange control and expediting claims, and so on.
397 This is the last of Suez, and it strikes me as utterly ridiculous that hon. Members opposite who supported the Suez adventure at the time should be now the first to complain at having to foot some part of the bill and yet to say that the bill is not large enough and that we ought to pay some more. I am not prepared to divide the House on any proposal to increase the burden on the British taxpayer in this matter. Perhaps in some ways it is rough justice. I notice that although when the original amount was first mentioned in the House I said that I thought it was a rather stingy settlement, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, Leader of the Opposition in another place, took the opposite view. It is very much a matter of first impression. I certainly do not propose to say more about that side of it.
The Act under which the Order is made was brought before the House as a Bill with a very vague indication of the types of claims that would be made. We knew the principal ones. We were told that there was another group but we were never told what was the character of these other claims. It now appears from these papers taken together that these are cases of people who suffered loss, damage or injury at the material time, that is, in the course of the Suez adventure, but who are unable to substantiate the fact that they were due to Egyptian action. It is right in all the circumstances, when a rather rough settlement has to be made, that these claims should be included but should be subject to certain review as to the amount at the hands of the Commission. I am not prepared to go into the Lobby against the Order.
§ 11.43 p.m.
§ Mr. R. J. Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)
I trust that I shall not be out of order if I discuss for a few minutes the draft Statutory Instrument which is before the House rather than the history of the Suez engagement. I notice that both the back and front of the Instrument have bits of paper pasted over them. I confess that my preference would be for the paper to have been pasted over the words "Final Distribution,"
Far too often—and I mean this generally and do not apply it specifically to the Joint Under-Secretary—a Minister offers us a Statutory Instrument of some 398 kind which he knows to be wholly or partly unacceptable to a large number of hon. Members and endeavours to sell it on the basis that, "If you do not pass this you will be left with nothing." I find this a most reprehensible practice. It is one of the troubles of doing these things by means of Statutory Instrument that we are faced with the intolerable problem of either adopting something which one believes to have substantial defects—which is then the end of the matter—or taking it to a Division and, at least temporarily, losing some of the benefits which it contains.
Sooner or later, the House will have to decide how long it will put up with this kind of practice before it says, "Take the Instrument away. Bring it back in acceptable form." We cannot go on indefinitely like this, because the procedure is not very fair to hon. Members who have made their views absolutely clear over a very long period.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) put a very fair question. He asked whether 90 per cent. of the claimants were to receive 100 per cent. of their claims or 100 per cent. of what somebody else thought their claims should have been five years ago. I allude to that because there is a most unhappy recent precedent in a similar type of claim dating from 1951, where final settlement was made on the basis of a percentage of what the same compensation body believed the claims should have been worth 12 years ago. It was a valid question put by the hon. Member and one to which the House has not yet had a satisfactory answer.
I take the point which many hon. Members have made, that the magnitude of a claim in no way defines the magnitude of the individual loss suffered by the claimants as a result of the waving of the axe in this way. I feel that what is proposed is so unacceptable that, unless there is some very good reason for it, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State would be justified in asking the leave of the House to with. draw the Order tonight and bring it back in a form very much more readily acceptable by both sides of the House.
§ 11.47 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
I am sorry for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in having to close this rather 399 sordid chapter, and I do not propose to go back on the history.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) spoke as though we were dealing with a foreign Government in the ordinary sense of that term. I think that the House realises that we have not in the past dealt with Egypt in that kind of way, as though its Government were a foreign Government. It was an entirely different relationship, and, therefore, his arguments on that score cannot be related to the claim which we now have against the Egyptian Government. His second argument related to the extent to which the large concerns are involved and what proportion of their total capital is represented by what they lost at Suez. That is not the point. The point is whether we are to meet claims 100 per cent. or not.
On 13th November, we asked my hon. Friend for details of how the money was to be paid. This Order is the result of that inquiry. We asked how he would distribute the money, and he told us that the Order would come. We have the draft Order before us now, and I submit that it has been drafted by the Department in such a way that those who would "beef" less are to get less than is to be received by those getting full compensation. The point has been very well made that, although the large claims may be for very large sums, when the money comes to be divided among the shareholders and the individuals concerned. there can be no justification whatever for applying the scale laid down in the Schedule. I do not think that my hon. Friend has any justification for it, except that—let us have this quite straight—the Government are prepared to give only a limited sum, and it is purely a question of how the money is to be divided among the relative claimants.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirrall (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd), then Foreign Secretary, told us in 1957 thatThe blocked accounts are our security for the claims of British subjects against the Egyptian Government. We have no intention of whittling away that position. The House can be sure of that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1957; Vol. 570, c. 584.]Today, we are in an entirely different position. We are arguing who will get what, whereas had that statement been 400 adhered to as policy by the Government, there would have been no question. All claims could have been met in full by Her Majesty's Government. What has happened is that they have whittled away the accounts. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will reply that the good name of the City was at stake, that we could not give away the sterling balances and we were standing guarantor for another Government. The whole thing is complete and utter nonsense. We gave away the sterling balances, in exchange for which we got a miserable £27 million, and now we have to argue in this House to whom and for what the compensation will be paid.
I want to know from my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary whether, if the money to which we agree in the Order runs out, there will be any more for those who, we find later, can register a reasonable claim. Secondly, I wish to know whether this money will be taxed. If my hon. Friend's memory is sufficiently long, he will remember that the compensation given to the Suez Company by direct agreement with the Egyptian Government was taxed by Her Majesty's Government, thus adding insult to injury. What category of people still remain outside the claim which we are now deciding? How many of them are there, and what sum is involved?
People who are in this country find it difficult to establish their claims with documentary or other evidence. Will my hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that these people are given the maximum help in establishing their claims? As was mentioned in the debate on 13th November, certain cash balances were put into the hands of neutral Governments. Because of exchange arrangements, there have been difficulties in getting this money converted into sterling. Will my hon. Friend, please, ensure that arrangements are made with the Egyptian Government whereby those cash funds which were deposited with neutral embassies are free to be converted to sterling in this country?
Finally, will my hon. Friend ensure that if we approve the Order tonight, it will not in any sense represent a final distribution and that if there are claimants who are outside the scope of the Order, they will receive proper compensation?
§ 11.53 p.m.
§ Mr. P. Thomas
I should like to reply briefly to some of the points which have been raised in this interesting and forceful debate. I should, perhaps, remind the House that the Order relates to the payment of claims in respect of Egyptianised properly and also the payment of claims in regard to loss of sequestrated property. In addition, it relates to the payment of claims which were hitherto registered but for which there was no provision for payment.
Therefore, although I should like to answer many of the points which have been raised during the debate, including matters concerning sequestrated property and the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), I should be out of order if I did not deal solely with the matters contained in the Order. All I can say to my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham is that we are deeply conscious of the need to move as fast as possible in the matters to which he referred concerning frozen assets. We will certainly give every assistance to those people.
Several of my hon. Friends were kind enough to say how sorry they were for me. I must say that I feel a little sorry for myself because most of my hon. Friends have concentrated on one matter and one only—that there must be greater payments to the bigger claimants.
§ Sir W. Taylor
We asked for fair shares for all. We said that what there is should be fairly spread out.
§ Mr. Thomas
I will accept the principle that when there is a debt which requires to be discharged there should be fair shares for all. I accept the principle, as instanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) and my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Sir J. Barlow), who said that if an official receiver were to say to creditors, "The smaller ones will be paid at a higher rate and the bigger ones at a lower rate", that would be inequitable. Of course it would be. But that presupposes that this compensation amounts to a debt which should be discharged by the Government. [HON. MEMBERS: "What else is it?"] I cannot accept that that is so.
As I have said, we see this as something new, and we have based ourselves in rela- 402 tion to it on hardship grounds. If one is to look at it on grounds of hardship, then I submit that a system of graduated payments is the only one which can be used and is, as has been pointed out in this debate, one that has precedents in this country.
I ask my hon. Friends to think about this: every assessed claim up to £10,000 will be paid in full. There are over 4,000 of these claims. I will give the House a few figures. Up to £10,000 there are 4,100 such claimants; between £10,000 and £50,000 there are 225; between £50,000 and £500,000 there are 100; between £500,000 and £1 million there are 7; between £1 million and £2 million there are 5 and over £2 million there are 5.
If the claims were to be paid in full, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke), it would mean an extra £43 million. The Government would have to find this extra money and I submit that we cannot ask the British taxpayer to find that sum of money to meet these claims.
§ Mr. Thomas
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has even looked at the implications of the Order. When he talks about how we must think of the human side, in terms of companies involving people, then I reply that of course we do. I repeat that there is no difference made in this Order between a company and an individual. If a company has an assessed claim of any amount, it will be met in this Order in the same way as an individual's assessed claim would be. Naturally, when we get to the big claims—for instance the claim of £17 million which is the claim of the British American Tobacco Company—clearly they would be claims owned by companies, but there are claims, and substantial ones, which are owned by individuals.
§ Sir J. Barlow
My hon. Friend talks about the same treatment for the individual claimant as for the large claimant. The individual claimant gets full payment up to £10,000. The British American Tobacco Company has more than 12,000 people who are shareholders 403 holding less than £200 each. Is it equity to treat the whole of the B.A.T.C. as an individual?
§ Mr. Mitchison rose——
§ Mr. Thomas
Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman would allow me to answer this point first.
If one considers the B.A.T.C., any adverse effect that it suffered as the result of Suez—if one is to calculate adverse effect in regard to the value of its shares and the size of its dividends—was very temporary. If one looks at the shares and dividends today, I would say that the shares do not show that there is any adverse effect by the losses in Egypt.
§ Mr. Thomas
I did not put it as the point. My hon. Friends have talked about shareholders. If they are putting their case on the ground that individual shareholders are suffering as a result of the losses in Egypt, I submit that except in one or two cases that is not apparent. If we are going to use the principle of hardship, I submit that it is the people who have found it difficult, or would find it difficult, to recover from their losses who should be helped. Therefore, when we had a certain amount of money, as indeed we had—and I must tell the House quite frankly that the prospects of getting any more money were very remote—I think that we were generous with the money that we had.
Having only a certain amount of money, one must ask how it is to be divided. I have not heard any suggestions from my hon. Friends how it should be divided, but they know that if 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. is to be paid, or there are to be equal shares, it will mean that the majority of the claimants, those with very small claims, those with claims up to £10,000, will get less than they have not only under this Order, but under the Interim Distribution Order. I submit, therefore, that those are the points at which one has to look in assessing this Order.
§ Mr. Mitchison
This is what I wanted to point out earlier. The claimants in 404 the case of these large companies are the companies. In many of these, for instance the B.A.T.C., quite a large proportion of these claimants are foreign nationals who, if they were claiming as individuals, would have no claim against the Treasury.
§ Mr. Thomas
I did not want to go into individual companies. I have a list of the companies, and I could tell the House exactly what share of a company's assets was in Egypt. My hon. Friend mentioned Bradford Dyers. The assets of this company in Egypt represented 15 per cent. of its total assets. If we are looking at the matter from the point of view of hardship we must take this into account.
It all comes down to the point that if there wore a duty on the part of the Government Ito pay in full I would accept the principle, but as I cannot accept that principle I say that the system which we have adopted—a system of graduated payments—is reasonable and equitable, bringing the relief where relief is needed, namely, to the vast majority of claimants, and in particular to those with small claims.
§ Mr. Wall
My lion. Friend has told the House that this is the final settlement in respect of Egyptianised property. Can he give an assurance that there will be no finality in the Government's efforts on behalf of those people whose property has been improperly sequestrated? Will the Government go on trying to obtain justice for those people?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am very embarrassed by that question, because I think I would be out of order if I attempted to answer it. This is intended to be the final distribution Order in respect of the payment of compensation for Egyptianised property and loss or damage in connection with sequestrated property, and the loss of property involved in those claims which are registered. Any other matters relating to the statement that I made on 11th December are administrative ones, and I announced in the House that it was intended that this should be the final settlement. But obviously, as my hon. Friend knows, there are ways open to hon. Members to query the amount, or to do whatever they like.
§ Mr. Hirst
I have two points. First, my hon. Friend has failed to answer a 405 material point in respect of which many people would like an answer, namely, what is the position if the sum of money now being added for the dispensation of the foreign compensation provisions is not enough to meet properly assessed claims arising out of damage and sequestration? Will the amount be topped up to meet the claims?
Secondly, cannot my hon. Friend take this Order away, think again, and put something decent in front of us?
§ Mr. Thomas
I am sorry that I did not answer the first point raised by my hon. Friend. I have a note of it, but I am afraid that I have been so overawed by the speeches from my back benches that I can hardly read my notes. It is quite right that claims not yet finalised, assessed and approved will be paid according to the scales laid down in the Order. We have estimated that the extra amount—together with the registered claims—will be £6.3 million, but if it doss not reach the full amount of the claims obviously we will pay according to the assessments, and an extra amount will have to be provided.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
How does my hon. Friend reconcile this proportionate payment with what was said in the House by his hon. Friend on 16th May, 1957, namely,Removal or modification of the restrictions must naturally depend upon satisfactory arrangements covering all the financial claims against Egypt."——[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1957; Vol. 570, c. 584.]
§ Mr. Thomas
I accept that I was not clear about this when I moved the Motion, but I 'thought that I dealt with the matter when I said that we must start from the Anglo-U.A.R. agreement of February, 1959. That agreement was approved by 'the House, and from then onwards it is what is said in relation to that agreement which counts—and it is a final settlement from Egypt's point of view.
My hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely said that we should ask the United Arab Republic for more money. We cannot do so, because we have accepted this agreement. Therefore, this agreement having been accepted by the House, I would remind my hon. Friends and the House of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Prime 406 Minister, namely, that he was not making any pledge, but did not exclude the possibility of a payment out of public funds.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Final Distribution) Order, 1963, a draft of which was laid before this House on 22nd January, be approved.