HL Deb 08 December 1953 vol 184 cc1006-11

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 they regard developments in the Sudan in regard to the elections and the results thereof as reconcilable with the official statement of policy as set out in the Despatch to His Majesty's High Commissioner for Egypt and the Sudan in 1924 (Egypt No. 1, 1924, Cmd. 2269) that the British Government had contracted heavy moral obligations by the creation of a good system of administration; that they could not allow that to be destroyed; that they regarded their responsibilities as a trust for the Sudan people; and that there could be no question of their abandoning the Sudan until their work was done.]


My Lords, if the House in general, and the noble Lord in particular, will bear with me, I should like to make a short statement on the position in the Sudan which I hope will answer, incidentally, the noble Lord's Question. Almost thirty years have passed since the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald made the statement of policy quoted in the noble Lord's Question. During that time neither the Sudan nor Her Majesty's Government's policy has stood still. The establishment of the Advisory Council for the Northern Sudan in 1944 and the setting up of the Legislative Assembly in 1948 were the first steps in the process of building up representative institutions through which the Sudanese would govern themselves.

On November 15, 1951—soon after the present Government took office—I communicated to your Lordships a statement which had been made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in another place on the subject of the Sudan. My right honourable friend said that Her Majesty's Government would give the fullest support to the steps being taken to bring the Sudanese rapidly to the stage of self-government as a prelude to self-determination, and that he hoped that a new Constitution providing for self-government might be in operation by the end of 1952. The noble Lord who has put down the Question for to-day was kind enough to say in this House some days later that he had been delighted to hear the declaration which I had read. It was, indeed, a reaffirmation of Her Majesty's Government's support for a policy which had already been pursued for some time and which was implicit in the whole history of the Condominium administration in the Sudan.

Our hopes that the new Constitution would be in operation by the end of 1952 were not fulfilled because, in accordance with the wishes of the Sudanese political Parties, Her Majesty's Government negotiated with the Egyptian Government an Agreement which secured the abandonment of Egyptian claims to sovereignty over the Sudan and an undertaking that Egypt would accept the decision of the Sudanese on their future status. This caused a postponement of the elections and hence a delay in the time at which the new constitutional arrangements could take effect.

Elections to the new Sudanese Parliament are incomplete, and the report of the International Electoral Commission has yet to be submitted; but when the new Parliament has met and a Sudanese Government has taken office, the first stage of the policy reaffirmed in 1951 will have been reached. Her Majesty's Government's policy is, therefore, to see that the new constitutional arrangements come into operation in as expeditious and orderly a manner as possible, and to assist the Sudanese Government in their progress towards the next stage—that of self-determination. I think, therefore, that this is an appropriate occasion for us to send our good wishes to the Sudanese people. From now on, it will be their Parliament and Government which will have the chief responsibility for safeguarding the institutions of a free and independent people; at the same time, they will have the task of preparing for self-determination.

These would be heavy responsibilities, even without external pressure. But experience has shown that there will be strong and unremitting pressure from Egypt, where each successive régime has manifested a constant determination to control, directly or indirectly, the destinies of the Sudan. Britain, for her part, has no aim other than to see in the Sudan a sound Parliamentary system and arrangements under which the Sudanese will be able to choose for themselves their relations with other countries. I know that the people of this country will watch developments with friendly interest and attention; and I should like to assure Sudanese patriots, of every Party and creed, that Britain will, in the future as in the past, be ready to play her part in helping them to secure for themselves the benefits of the self-government they now have and the free self-determination which is to follow.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for his Answer: it is very good of him to give the House such full information. I take it that this meaning can be read into the statement, namely, as I said in my Question, that there can be no question of our abandoning the Sudan until our work is done—I think it amounts to that. I should like that stated more fully for the record.

May I put one supplementary question? Would the noble Marquess not agree that the methods of electoral Propaganda and lobbying pursued by the Egyptian Government, and so rightly condemned by Her Majesty's Government in recent statements in Parliament, are liable to jeopardise that fundamental principle of common policy, namely, to maintain the unity of the Sudan as a single territory stipulated in Article V of the Agreement?


My Lords, as regards the first part of the noble Lord's question, that of interpretation of the statement, the position, as I explained, is that control now passes substantially into the hands of the new Sudanese Government, when it is formed; but so far as, at the request of the Sudanese, we can give them help and assistance, it will be very fully at their disposal. With regard to the second question, certain activities on the part of the Egyptian Government, which have been deprecated by Her Majesty's Government on several recent occasions, do not assist in the promotion of the full and free attainment of self-determination which the Agreement contemplates.


My Lords, I should like to identify noble Lords on this side of the House with the statement which has been made, which is, I think, merely a carrying out of the policy which has long been accepted by Her Majesty's Governments, of all complexions. I should like to associate myself, particularly, with the good wishes of the noble Marquess to the Sudanese people. In coming to the end of this chapter, I feel that we should also pay our tribute to the work which the Sudanese Civil Service has done during its long years in the Sudan, which has been beyond praise.


My Lords, I am sure all sections of the House will welcome the important statement that has been made this afternoon by the noble Marquess, the Minister of State. It does not contain any new features, but it is an admirable summary of the past policy and present position of Her Majesty's Government, and it is such as will, I believe, command the general support of the House and the country.


My Lords, as one who was formerly a District Commissioner in the Southern Sudan, I should like to ask the noble Marquess whether any steps are being taken to safeguard the rights of those people. He will know that they are entirely different from the Arabs, in race, religion and language; and for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the Arabs have been their enemies.


My Lords, the noble Lord will remember that one of the provisions of the Agreement is that the Sudan shall remain one entity. It is the duty, therefore, of both signatories to that Agreement, Her Majesty's Government and the Egyptian Government, to see that that, as other provisions of the Agreement, is properly and fully carried out.


My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend to clear up a point which is obscure to some of us. He accepted the statement of my noble friend on the Cross Benches that there had been an attempt improperly to influence the elections in the Sudan. Do Her Majesty's Government take the view that the result of that action is such as to render the results of the election not a true expression of the opinion of the people of the Sudan? It appears to me at the moment that the Government are in somewhat of a quandary over this matter.


My Lords, I said that the elections are not yet complete; but to say, therefore, that the elections which have taken place are not such as can be accepted by Her Majesty's Government as properly held and properly conducted elections is not a proposition which I should for a moment be prepared to accept, unless I were much more fully informed than I am at present of what the noble Earl has in mind.


My Lords, what I had in mind was the statement of Her Majesty's Government, made on more than one occasion, that attempts had been made by the Egyptian Government improperly to influence the effects of the election.


My Lords, attempts do not always succeed.