HL Deb 10 December 1952 vol 179 cc892-5

2.36 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether this House will have full opportunity for comment before the conclusion of any Agreement regarding the Sudan.]


My Lords, the noble Lord will not, I am sure, expect me to give any undertaking on the point he has raised in his Question. As he will know, international instruments of the kind to which he refers are not subject to the prior approval of Parliament, but my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary hopes that it may be possible in due course to inform Parliament of the results of the discussions which Her Majesty's Ambassador in Cairo is at present having with the Egyptian Government about the Sudan.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Marquess for his answer, may I put to him one or two subsidiary points? In doing so I wish to make it clear that the intention of these questions is only to help the negotiations which Her Majesty's Government are at present conducting for the transfer of power, to which we are unequivocably pledged, in an orderly, fair, and friendly way. The first point is this. I would remind the noble Marquess of the undertaking given by Mr. Bevin in the House of Commons on March 23, 1946, that no change in the status of the Sudan would be agreed to by His Majesty's Government without its going through the proper constitutional process. I am sure the noble Marquess knows about that, but I should like to bring it to his attention afresh.

The second point is whether the proposals which have been put up by General Neguib to the various political parties visiting Cairo are a single set of proposals or a series of proposals varying in each case to each of the political parties. I do not think we have heard anything on that—at any rate, I have not seen anything in the Press. I should also like to inquire whether in these negotiations due safeguards will be provided for what is known as the "Primitive South." There are 8,000,000 inhabitants in the Sudan, of whom some 3,500,000 live in the Southern Provinces. I should also like to know whether safeguards will be provided for the Sudan Civil Service in general, and what are known as the expatriate (British) officials, in particular. Are there safeguards for both of those categories?

My last point is whether, in view of the importance of this question, Her Majesty's Government will consider the laying of a White Paper with an Explanatory Memorandum, bringing out, first the proposals put up by the Sudan Government to the two co-domini Governments through the Governor General—and I would emphasise that they were made by the Sudan Government and not by the British Government: they are Sudan proposals drafted by Sudanese, presented through the Governor General. Secondly, what are the Egyptian Government's counter-proposals? It would be very helpful if that information were presented in a White Paper.


My Lords, the noble Lord informed me only Just before I came into the House that he intended to raise these new, detailed and extremely technical points. Therefore, I am sure he will understand if I do not give him any detailed reply now, but I can assure him that the Foreign Secretary will be fully alive to the aspects which he has mentioned and, in any case, I will bring these points to his notice. I think that is all I can say to-day.


My Lords, may I ask whether the noble Marquess suggests that there would be a possibility of information being given to Parliament both in another place and here? Would be consider that that information should be given to both Houses in the form of a Motion upon which discussion could take place, rather than just an Answer to a Question upon which no discussion could take place?


My Lords, of course I will consider that aspect. But the point I made is that, so far as I know, no Government in the past has departed from the view that it cannot give an undertaking to discuss the provisions of an Agreement before signature. No doubt Parliament has to consider before ratification—that is obviously right—and if it is not satisfied then the only thing to do is to vote against the Government. But I should not like the House to think that I am giving any undertaking to-day that this matter can be discussed in the middle of negotiations and before an Agreement has been concluded.


The noble Marquess has made rather a surprising statement. If it is to be an international instrument—all these negotiations on the Sudan arose under the Baring Memorandum of 1899, which was an administrative act of our High Commissioner or Resident in Egypt—I should have thought it could not be conceded that the discussion of the Condominium Agreement was the discussion of an international instrument.


If the noble Viscount thinks I was verbally incorrect I will accept the rebuke; but the main point I was making remains valid.


In referring these matters to the Foreign Secretary, would the noble Marquess bear in mind that many of us would see considerable Objection to shackling the Governor General with a committee of five, including an Indian, who might not necessarily know anything about the Sudan at all?


That is another point which I will bring to the notice of my right honourable friend.


Can the noble Marquess inform us whether the Government will constantly bear in mind the circumstances in which Egypt went out of the Sudan in the early 'eighties and the circumstances in which she came back there when the Condominium was established in 1899?


I will also report that to my right honourable friend. I can assure the noble Lord that in this very complicated subject all these aspects have been under constant examination by the Foreign Office for many months.