§ 3.21 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN rose to call attention to the problem of the British subjects evicted from Egypt and the expropriation of British assets in Egypt; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to submit to the House the Motion standing in my name en the Order Paper. Before proceeding further, I feel I should offer an apology for the postponement of the Motion which was originally down for Wednesday last. There was a very full Order Paper that day, and the discussion on the Motion immediately preceding mine did not end until 7.30 p.m., so I am sure the advice to postpone it until to-day was wise. At the same time, I should like to apologise to any noble Lords who have been put to any inconvenience by the postponement.
§ This Motion, as your Lordships will appreciate, is no Party matter—or rather, I might say, it is an all-Party matter. I look upon it as a matter of national honour, of equal importance to every Party and every Member of your Lordships' House. I also wish to make it clear that I have no intention of developing anything in the nature of an attack upon anybody over this matter. It has taken a long time to get a move on, but we all know that the wheels of God and officialdom do grind slowly—after all, we have grown up with that. Least of all do I wish to criticise my noble friend Lord Colyton in any shape or form. He and I were colleagues together for many years, and the whole House warmly welcomed the appointment of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board under his chairmanship, Therefore I hope your Lordships will not think that anything I say is in any sense directed to criticism of my noble friend.
§ If my recollection is right, I first raised the question of these unfortunate co-nationals of ours on December 5. We were then told that a Government statement was "brewing," and asked would we please be patient. I recall that, only because, glancing through that debate, I see that there were questions put by our very great friend and much respected colleague Lord Hore-Belisha, whose premature death I am sure we all infinitely regret. He took part in that debate and 126 raised certain questions about the source of funds for the compensation of these unfortunate co-nationals. If I remember rightly, he received an answer from the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that the suggestion that the frozen Egyptian sterling credits might be used for the purpose was going to be considered—and perhaps it has been considered. I will not to-day emphasise that point particularly, but I thought it worth recalling that Lord Hore-Belisha raised that point at that time and for that reply.
§ I come from North of the Border, and though there is an old saying that you should not look a gift horse in the mouth, I am afraid that up there we do, and I think that in this case we were right to do so—I am referring to my noble friend Lord Colyton's Resettlement Board and the charter which he has. It is in no sense any reflection on my noble friend, but, as some of us suspected at the time, there are considerable gaps in the mandate which his Board has received. It covers a great many desirable things, particularly in the nature of resettlement, as its title says. It also covers, I believe, the payment of Egyptian Government pensions. Here I should like to interpolate that I hope this side of its work will be publicised a little more, because like many others of your Lordships, I am receiving countless letters from pensioners who, so far, have not received any payment at all, many of whom are, as a result, in hard straits. Perhaps when my noble friend Lord Colyton speaks he could mention that provision. I hope he will, because obviously there is some doubt about it in the public mind.
§ To-day, I rise to deal with a specific point. Before I do so, I wish to follow the custom of your Lordships' House and declare an interest. It is not a material interest, but a very strong moral interest, a personal interest, because I was in Egypt for about twelve years; and those years were important years, in peace and in war. During that time I was privileged to be associated very closely with these unfortunate co-nationals of ours, from the lowest to the highest. Memories are short, but I think your Lordships will remember that Egypt was a particularly important point in our war strategy and in the conduct of the war at that time, and you may also remember that Egypt, as a whole, held completely firm. I should like to remind your Lordships that in that, 127 the British community in Egypt played a large part. We were, in fact, a barometer. I do not wish to compare them with the people at home here, who most certainly had their hard times, but we had Rommel within forty miles of us, and we could see the flashes from his guns. It would have been easy for the British community to flinch or to show signs of doubt. Perhaps we did flinch, but, if so, we did not show it.
§ I mention this fact because these are the people who have been left as the victims—there is no other word for it—of recent British policy. I put it to your Lordships that everyone of us has the right to protection from his Government. In this particular case, although I cannot say that they have more right to that protection, I would emphasise that we in this country owe something to the British community in Egypt; and I hold strongly—it is a matter of opinion—that we are directly and morally responsible for the situation in which they find themselves. I hasten to add that I supported the British Government policy, but I did not support the failure of it. I will not go into that matter again, but the words I used in this House were that I thought they did the right thing at the wrong time in the wrong way. I still feel that, whatever the rights or wrongs may be, there is no doubt whatever that the people who are paying the price are the British community in Egypt. There can be no doubt about that; nobody can refute it. That being so, if there are certain gaps, as I say, in the machinery that has already been established under the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, and for which we are very grateful, there is a moral duty on me to get up and call attention to them and try to get Her Majesty's Government to remedy those gaps. I get back to where I started. That is really the reason why I am addressing your Lordships to-day. That is the moral side.
§ On the other side, there was not only the question of standing firm and not flinching—and this is a very important point—but also the great drive for financial support for the war effort here. I feel very strongly on this matter, because I happened to be in a position where I could use a source of influence, and I did strongly urge the British community to subscribe, and subscribe heavily, to British war funds in one form or another. 128 That they did; they subscribed very generously. I will not mention names, but I could tell your Lordships one instance that I know, of one private firm which invested no less than £300,000 in British war funds. It is then something of a surprise, let me add—and this point will be elaborated later—to know that this same firm, when they returned to England and tried to draw on their investments found they could not do so. I will develop that matter later on and the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, will also, I think, elaborate it.
§ Both on the moral and other grounds, therefore, I submit there is justification for enlarging the mandate of the Board under the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, or for setting up some other machinery—I do not mind what—to deal with the case of these particular individuals about whom I am now going to speak. Here I have fortified myself with facts and figures, which are always rather tiresome, but I am afraid that I must give them to your Lordships. I should first like to tell you where they come from. We have in Egypt, as we have in other foreign countries, or most other foreign countries, a British Chamber of Commerce. That explains itself; I need not say what that is. Also in Egypt we have what we call the Council of the British Communities in Egypt. In passing, I may explain that when I first went to Egypt from China I found that there was no particular liaison between the Embassy and the British community. In China, I had set up a body called the Community Council for that particular purpose—a body which worked extremely well. When I got to Egypt in 1934, I established a similar system—they were called the "City Fathers"—in the four towns of Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said, which each elected members of the Community Council. They used to meet with the Embassy at intervals. It was helpful both to themselves and to the Embassy, and I am interested to see that that system still continues. It is from them, in conjunction with the British Chamber of Commerce, that I have obtained these facts and figures which I am about to quote.
§ First of all, the number of British subjects in Egypt prior to November, 1956, totalled 12,000, excluding 5,000 Cypriots. We do not know quite what happened about the Cypriots—your Lordships remember that there was some talk of their 129 being regarded as Greek citizens. Of these 12,000, 5,000 are Anglo-Saxons, and 7,000 Maltese and others. Of the above, some 1,000 persons were employed by Shell, I.C.I., the banks, et cetera, the British Council and British schools. Some 5,000 persons have already reached the United Kingdom, of whom about 4,500 are receiving aid, 3,000 in camps and 1,500 outside. Approximately 3,000 of these are of Maltese origin. This leaves a number still in transit or still in Egypt—we do not know which. Of the above, some 2,000 to 2,500 are residents—I am coming on to my special point—of substantial means, whose needs and losses cannot, in the terms of its charter, be covered by the Resettlement Board. They have been totally dispossessed and are now mostly in the United Kingdom, most of them without funds, homes or employment. Their incomes were derived from British companies, private family businesses, agencies, et cetera and have been expropriated. They have lost houses, properties, employment, incomes, savings, insurance benefits, stocks and shares—in fact, their entire possessions.
§ They had substantial assets, now expropriated, in Egypt, but they have nothing in the United Kingdom with which to start reconstructing their lives. I am now coming to my concrete proposal. An advance payment against approved claims would solve immediate problems and, moreover, would reduce the demands on the Resettlement Board. I go a step further. This might take the form of scaled advances against claims on some such basis as the following: 100 per cent. for claims of £1,000 and under; 75 per cent. for claims of £1,000 to £2,000; 50 per cent. for claims of £2,000 to £5,000 and 25 per cent. for claims of £5,000 and over. I am advised that the total amount of assets involved—all these figures come from the same source that I have explained—excluding large companies such as Shell, I.C.I., the banks, et cetera, is between £35 million and £40 million sterling. That can be split up as follows. Average assets in Egypt: 1,500 persons with £1,000 and over; 1,000 persons with £3,000 and over; and 1,000 persons with £5,000 and over. These include private companies, shipping and insurance agencies, import-export firms, householders and wage-earners 130 whose savings had been invested in commerce or property.
§ Incidentally here, in case anybody should think that these persons may eventually be able to get back and resume their occupations—it seems extremely unlikely to me—it may interest your Lordships to know that a new Egyptian law has been passed which prescribes as follows. The personnel of businesses must be 75 per cent. Moslems, born in Egypt; 15 per cent. Copts—that is, Christian Egyptians; 5 per cent. nationals of surrounding Arab territories and 5 per cent. Europeans other than British and French. That is not encouraging. But as I have already said, I am leaving the financial side to my noble friend, Lord Gifford. It really comes to this: all securities held in London for account of British residents, companies and institutions are still blocked.
§ I think your Lordships always like one to produce actual personal cases. I happen to have under my personal notice and knowledge these three cases, which I cite as examples—of course, there are countless others, but these are good examples. The first one I take is that of the widow of a British solicitor who had practised in Cairo, where they were resident for thirty years and where the husband died eight years ago. She had then completed formalities for leaving Egypt, and whilst waiting for exchange control permission to transfer £34,000 cash in Barclays Bank. Egypt, the Canal was nationalised. Incidentally, in order to achieve liquidity, she had had no income from it since February, 1956. She left Egypt in June. She held £1,000 in 3 per cent. Post Office Bonds, 1960–70 bought in England. They are still held as part of the Egyptian assets in Egyptian account and she is unable to sell. I happen to know that that unfortunate lady is searching round the town for some occupation by which to maintain herself. That is one case.
§ I turn to another, that of a doctor. He bought a practice from another doctor in Cairo sixteen years ago. He was ejected, his clinic was seized and locked, all his assets in Egypt were seized and he returned to England with £E20 only, and with no personal possessions or furniture. He is still trying to find a job. Obviously, that is very difficult, for he has no money with 131 which to buy a practice. Lastly, there is the case of the matron of a British hospital. I happen to have been President of that hospital, so I know something about it. It is a fine hospital. She spent twenty years on the staff of that British hospital in Egypt. All her savings and personal possessions in Egypt, in Barclays Bank, have been seized. She returned to England with £E20 only. As I say, those are just a few personal examples.
I have now reached the end of what I wanted to say by way of background. In the paper the gist of which I gave your Lordships, I put forward a concrete proposal for a system of graduated advances on established claims. That is what I wish to press on Her Majesty's Government. I see the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, looking at me in some surprise, but I may tell him that that is what is being done in France. Are Her Majesty's Government aware of what is being done in France? Perhaps not. I was not myself aware of it until late the night before last, when I received a copy of Le Monde of February 24–25. I will read your Lordships the gist of what it says—I will not read the whole article as it is too long. It says:
French subjects expelled from Egypt. There are approximately 7,000 such persons. Only 20 per cent. of those involved have found re-employment. The Government have so far paid each individual a daily allowance of 800 francs per adult and 500 francs per child, until such time as resettlement is expected. To improve that precarious situation a draft law actually under study foresees an admitted benefit through social legislation"—
and so on: It gives various forms of benefit. Then it continues:
Moreover, in order, understandably, to safeguard the dignity of those expelled, the amount of 250,000 francs for the head of the family, an additional 100,000 for the spouse and 5,000 francs for each child will be granted to each as an ex gratia payment. This would serve to provide the indispensable minimum required for resettlement—that is, purchase of clothing, et cetera.
Finally, advances would he granted on the value of assets abandoned by these persons in Egypt.
Then, at the bottom it says:
It appears that this is to be discussed next Thursday.
I suppose that that refers to the law. At any rate, that shows that we have lagged a little behind the French.
My Lords, I am not going to occupy any more of your Lordships' time,
because there are many other speakers who are going to develop many other points, but before I sit down your Lordships will notice what I have in my hand—a British passport. Have your Lordships ever troubled to read the introductory invocation appearing in every passport? It is worth reminding your Lordships of its terms. They are:
Her Britannic Majesty's Principal Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
My Lords, it would be a sad day—which Heaven forbid!—if the possession of this hitherto highly privileged and valued document became a danger. I once more put to the Government my detailed proposal for graded allowances, and I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, having regard to all that the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has said, I propose to trouble your Lordships for only a short time. Before doing so, I ought to declare a possible, though indirect, interest in the subject matter of our debate, in that my legal firm has been consulted professionally in connection with one or two claims, or alleged claims, for compensation by those who have suffered as a result of their eviction from Egypt. I am sure it will be generally agreed that the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, rendered a service by putting his Motion on the Order Paper some little time ago, and by putting forward the unanswerable case, as I take it to be, which your Lordships have heard to-day. Many of your Lordships, like myself, have been troubled as to what responsibility Her Majesty's Government were assuming in regard to the cases, not only of those British people who have been evicted, but also of those, of whom I understand there are quite a number, who are still in Egypt and who are suffering loss or are under duress of one kind or another.
Public sympathy has been aroused recently because of the plight of the refugees from Hungary. Incidentally, I am not at all sure that conditions in Hungary are quite as bad as we imagined was the case. In any event, very little, comparatively speaking, seems to have been said hitherto about the plight of 133 refugees, if I may call them such, from Egypt. We have not heard from the Government as yet, but I assume that your Lordships would agree that the responsibility of the Government in this matter would appear to be quite clear. An active aggression was committed by our Forces along with those of the French. I am not going into the causes, whether good or ill—
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, the noble Lord must not expect us to accept that view.
§ LORD MILNER OF LEEDS
My Lords, the noble Marquess, quite rightly, expresses the opinion of Her Majesty's Government on that matter, but that is my opinion and the opinion of a great many people, not only in this country but throughout the world. In any event, the result of the action of Her Majesty's Government has been little less than ruinous to hundreds of British subjects who had homes or businesses in Egypt; and the remarkable thing is that one of the main attempts at justifying the action of Her Majesty's Government was the contention that that action was directed towards the protection of British subjects. I remember that the noble Earl, Lord Home, said on November 1 that we had a duty to protect our citizens and their property. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made a prime point, I believe in that same debate, when defending the legal aspect of the action of Her Majesty's Government, of the fact that self-defence (a rather fallacious ground, I though: at the time) included a situation in which the lives of our nationals abroad were threatened. We intervened, he said, to protect our people. I am not aware that prior to our intervention either the lives or the property of our nationals were being threatened in Egypt. But, in fact, the result of the intervention of Her Majesty's Government was to bring about the very state of affairs which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack had said that intervention was designed to prevent.
The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has reminded your Lordships of the thousands of British subjects who have been evicted and whose property has been expropriated. The extent of the breaking 134 up of homes and lives has been immense, and the loss in terms of property, certainly at this stage, is, I imagine, quite impossible to calculate. I understand that the situation of many of these refugees is pathetic. All of them have divergent and very serious problems; and, having regard to the responsibility which rests on Her Majesty's Government, it would appear to be appropriate to ask what course of action they propose to adopt.
It is true that now, having been "gingered up" somewhat through the Motion put on the Order Paper by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, some three weeks ago, Her Majesty's Government have, somewhat belatedly perhaps, set up a Board under the noble Lord, Lord Colyton. I know of no one better qualified to carry out that duty. I believe that that Board is dealing in particular with the resettlement of refugees, but we are not informed as to what authority has been given to that body or what means have been provided to enable it to carry out: its task in respect of the various and very different classes for which provision must, in my view, and in the view of my friends on this side of the House, be made. I hope that a very generous spirit is going to prevail and that appropriate means have been made available to the Board by Her Majesty's Government to enable them to deal generously with those who have suffered.
I am a little troubled that a good deal of that task has been handed over to the National Assistance Board. I know that that Board does exceedingly good work, but if payments to these refugees are to be limited to the amounts which the National Assistance Board can pay I should not feel that those amounts were as generous as one would wish them to be. I, and I imagine all noble Lords, would like to know what is the position of those who were former servants of the then Egyptian Government at the time when we handed over to Egypt in 1926, and for which provision was made at that time. Are they to be paid the full pension they have been drawing and to which they would be entitled? And what provision is going to be made for ordinary citizens who have lost their all? I understand that many have been accommodated in hostels, I do not know under what conditions or with what end in view. 135 What is being done for those who are in hostels?
The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has told us of what is being done in France. I hope that something of the same kind, but on an even more generous scale—the sums mentioned by the noble Lord did not seem to be very substantial—is being done for those who have been evicted and who, for one reason or another, are not able to be accommodated in hostels. Are they to receive compensation or reimbursement for the assets which they have lost? Those assets are presumably frozen or confiscated. What will happen in the future one does not know, but it would appear that some provision ought to be made in that respect, and I think we might all approve the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, for the making of a substantial payment on account by way of a lump sum.
Then, what is the position of the late employees of the Suez Canal Company? Is that a responsibility of the British Government or not? And what is the position of those who have been employed on the Suez Canal Base by various contractors and who have now had to leave and come home? I beleive they are a responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. What steps are being taken to provide means to resettle or set up in business those who have come back to this country and desire to set up in business? The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, mentioned the very large Maltese population of Egypt who, as British subjects, have been evicted. Do Her Majesty's Government accept any responsibility in respect of those subjects, or what is the position with regard to them? I should have thought it was a responsibility which, directly or indirectly, ought to be assumed.
One would also like to know whether payments are being made by way of loans or advances or as out-and-out payments. I imagine that in some cases they may be made as advances and in others—we hope in the majority of cases—by way of out-and-out payments. I am sorry to inflict all these questions on the spokesman for Her Majesty's Government, but, finally, can Her Majesty's Government inform the House of the number of refugees who have already come to this country and what amount has so far been disbursed to them, or 136 on their behalf, and whether any limit has been set to the sum which, at any rate for the time being, the British taxpayer unfortunately has to provide, through the action of Her Majesty's Government, in this very proper and humane cause? I hope the noble Earl may be able to answer some of these questions, for I believe it is right that your Lordships and the British people should have the answers to them.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ LORD COLWYN
My Lords, I am very happy to make my first speech in your Lordships' House on a subject which I do know something about and which is very near to my heart. If I should make any mistake, I would ask your Lordships not to put that down to lack of knowledge of the subject but rather to being a little frightened. In early December last, I asked a Question in this House about what was to happen to these refugees coming out of Egypt. Not very satisfied with the Answer, some friends of mine and myself, with long connections in Egypt, decided to run a small fund, a charity dance or something of the kind, to raise money to look after the immediate needs of those people. Within forty-eight hours of our announcing this effort, the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, stated in this House that Her Majesty's Government had made an immediate grant of £100,000 to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society, to enable that Society to give prompt relief to people arriving from Egypt. May I say here, in parenthesis, that after two and a half months that "immediate grant" has in fact been only a payment of £30,000, although the Society have distributed about £70,000 already of their own money.
At that time, I must confess, I had never heard of the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society; but the appeal for funds by myself and my friends quickly brought me into touch with them. We combined forces, and, for more than two months I have been Chairman of the Society's appeal committee. The Society has now received approximately £100,000 from the sympathetic British public, and I am happy to think that the major part of that sum is due to two broadcasts that I made, one on the B.B.C. Home Service and the other on television. The most sympathetic British public responded 137 splendidly. I have also been to Scotland, where I have seen the Lord Provosts of Edinburgh and Glasgow, and they assured me that they would give their sympathy, but said they could not give their personal support unless they received a directive from London to go ahead.
The Government have now set up a Board of Resettlement for these people, but in spite of this grandiose title, is it doing enough? The administration of the Board, is, I understand, to be run entirely by officials collected from this and the other Government Departments. I am, I must admit, a little apprehensive. I feel that the human material, the human problems, the abnormal circumstances of British subjects coming to this country, many of them strangers in a strange land, should be looked after by the voluntary workers from the Aid Society, many of whom are themselves refugees, rather than have to go through what I might perhaps call the cold hand of Whitehall. I know something of what the Aid Society has done. It has given hope to these people from Egypt, and what I venture to ask is: what is the Resettlement Board proposing to do about these people?
More than half of the employable evacuees have found employment, and I think the rest who can work will find jobs very shortly. But the question is; what is going to happen to the aged, the infirm and the rather difficult cases, of which there are quite a few? I fully realise the necessity of putting these unfortunate people into camps, but most of these camps are 200 miles or more away from London, and some are far from the nearest town or village. I realise that the Government cannot afford to give these people great sums of money, but the 1s. 7½d. a day they receive in the camps, does not go far. I ask your Lordships: is that enough money to enable them to look for jobs and to find homes for themselves and their families?
So many of our countrymen want desperately to help these people. Every day I receive inquiries by letter, by telephone and by telegram, particularly in Scotland, asking what help is needed. What am I to say to all these warm-hearted people: that the Government will fill every need for these distressed and displaced persons; that we can all now sit back and know that they will be given 138 every possible help in finding employment, homes, furniture and, above all, friends? My Lords, I firmly believe that this new Board that has been set up by the Government, with the ambitious name of "Resettlement," will still need the services of the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society. I want to help this organisation, but I can do nothing until I know precisely what this new Board intends to do.
We have been told so little. The Board, we are told, will attend to the needs of these people. What needs? Their need to keep alive, their need to hold up their heads as loyal British subjects—and many of them, believe me, are ex-service men and women? I have talked to them and I understand their pride and their hope. Does the new Board propose to undertake the whole responsibility for their welfare, or may we, the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society, put forward some form of scheme, which might be acceptable, for constructive welfare work? My Lords, for centuries, this country has harboured refugees who have been persecuted in many lands. Are we quite certain that this organisation which the Government have formed is going to look after these refugees in a humane way?
§ 4.6 p.m.
My Lords, my first and very pleasant duty is to felicitate Lord Colwyn upon his admirable maiden speech—not only on the substance of his speech, but on the way in which it was delivered, which must have given great joy to the shorthand writers and to the reporters in the Press Gallery. I am sure they could hear every word quite plainly. I feel certain that your Lordships will join with me in hoping that we shall often hear the noble Lord joining in debates in your Lordships' House in the future.
I should like most strongly to support the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, in his plea for the British subjects who were ejected from Egypt, many with little more than they stood up in. I hope that the Government will be able to state unequivocally that they hold themselves responsible for full reparation for losses suffered. In my view, which is shared by many others, reparation should cover not only actual loss of money and possessions but also consequential losses. I 139 refer particularly to those who were employed in businesses operating solely in Egypt, and who, by reason of their age, will find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain suitable employment elsewhere. Their case seems to be a very hard one. I would draw attention to the fact that a number of those who were evicted have great difficulty in producing accurate proof of their assets in Egypt, because on their arrest they had no opportunity of bringing away with them papers and documents relating to investments, bank deposits and so on. I trust that this circumstance will be taken fully into consideration by Lord Colyton's Board, and, indeed, by those who may deal with its recommendations.
I should like now to quote typical cases concerning insurance policies taken out in the names of British employees of firms in Egypt with insurance companies in this country. They now find that these companies are unable to release to them the surrender values of those policies. I will come first to the case of the ex-manager of the National Bank of Egypt. His claim against the Egyptian Government and the National Bank of Egypt consists mainly of his staff provident fund and gratuity due under agreement with the National Bank of Egypt, Cairo, for thirty years' service. They say that they are holding this money on behalf of, and at the disposal of, the Custodian—which of course means the Egyptian Government. Included in the amount of £E17,000, that is due is a sum of approximately £5,200 sterling, the calculated surrender value of a life policy in the name of the National Bank of Egypt, staff assurance scheme, contracted with the Scottish Widows' Fund, of Cornhill, to which the gentleman in question has contributed for the thirty years of his service. According to the scheme this policy might, by the insured's request to the Bank, be transferred to his name and continued to maturity, and the value deducted from the gratuity due.
The Scottish Widows' Society informed the insured that the Overseas Branch of the Midland Bank, London, as agents for the National Bank of Egypt, asked them to pay the surrender value of the policy, over £5,000, to the National Bank of Egypt's account with the Midland Bank, although the insured had indicated his wish to continue the policy to maturity. 140 Having been for thirty-one years closely concerned with insurance business, I am not surprised to learn that the Scottish Widows' Society did all they could for the insured by delaying action to give time for a solution to be found. But it seems that the British courts have no jurisdiction in such a matter, so the insured can only sit back and watch his money being paid over to the general assets of the National Bank of Egypt, for the benefit of the Egyptian Government; and he has had to apply to the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Fund for school fees and personal expenses. It seems fantastic that assets in England of a British national can be appropriated by Egyptian authorities without legal steps being permitted for an injunction.
This is by no means an isolated case. There are many more, including some twenty-five ex-employees of the Alexandria Water Company, who are in a similar plight. That company is under sequestration, but the Scottish Widows' Society consider that they can legally release policies only on instructions from the company, which is now in Egyptian hands, despite the fact that every individual has in his possession his dismissal instructions from the company. One can quite understand that the British Government are not at present in a position to demand the release of British assets in Egypt, but that the British Government apparently accept Egypt's control in England of assets of British subjects evicted from Egypt naturally gives these unfortunate people the feeling that they are enemy subjects here, as they were in Egypt. I venture to express the hope that the Government will take action at the earliest moment to deal faithfully with this nonsense and to see that justice is done, and done quickly, without, one hopes, offending that miserable twittering organisation of the neuter gender called "U.N.O." I trust that the Government will be able to give a favourable answer.
§ 4.11 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I had not intended to inflict upon your Lordships a speech until I had become more accustomed to the ways of your Lordships' House. I only hope that by so doing I am not the fool who steps in where angels fear to tread. But the plight of British residents in Egypt, torn 141 from their lifelong homes and possessions, to be unceremoniously driven from the country, has frankly horrified me, brought up as I was on the inviolability of a British passport. As noble Lords, particularly my noble friend Lord Killearn, so much better qualified than I to speak, have told the House many of the facts and technicalities of this deplorable case, I will try to confine myself to the moral, or broader, side of the issue.
My Lords, "Kicking around the British" has become an all too popular post-war global sport for friend and foe alike. I am afraid that we have none to blame but ourselves. In our slavish adherence to political theories, irrespective of whether they can benefit in practice the peoples to whom they are applied, unstable conditions have returned to certain areas of the world which we formerly regarded as our sacred responsibility. Human nature never changes. In our intellectual snobbery we tend to disregard this fact. No matter how good our intentions, and they always have been extremely good, the countless illiterate millions whom we have handed over to the men of ambition from among them, regard our action as weakness. With the withdrawal from India and the subsequent partition of that sub-continent, no doubt inevitable, an avalanche has been gathering, the ultimate end of which no man may yet foresee. One result of that avalanche has been the rise of the Egyptian dictator, Colonel Nasser, the expulsion of British subjects and the seizure of British property.
We have come a long way in our international relations since the episode of Jenkins' ear, over which, as your Lordships will remember, George II went to war with Spain. We are not now confronted with one British seaman with a severed ear, but with thousands of British subjects severed from their homes and their livelihoods. What did we do about it? We appointed a Committee. I freely admit that the Government could not have done anything else in the circumstances, but I often feel that if Moses had been a committee, the Israelites would still be in Egypt—which, on the face of things, would have saved us a great deal of trouble. I sincerely hope that this Committee will act with all alacrity. There must be no haggling, no parsimonious doling out. This is not a 142 question of charity; it is our moral responsibility to compensate completely these unfortunate people. Government officials can be very generous when embarking on some grandiose scheme of doubtful economic value, but when paying compensation to private citizens they can be Fagins personified. We must remember, at all costs, that one of the declared objects of the Government's intervention in Egypt was the protection of British life and property. We are in honour bound to do everything possible for these unfortunate people. If we fail in this, our bounden duty, the possession of a British passport may not be so sought after.
The question of where compensation is to come from I will leave to noble Lords more conversant with the subject of Egyptian funds blocked in this country. There are many ways, of course, in which pressure could be brought to bear on Egypt to encourage her to make amends for her vindictive actions against British citizens, but it is for more knowledgeable heads than mine to explore this aspect. What, however, is apparent is that every civilised right of property and contract has been broken in Egypt. If we do not stand by these rights, but allow ourselves to be influenced by the hypocritical babble of organisations intent on clouding the issue, we shall do a great disservice not only to ourselves but to the whole of Western civilisation.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ LORD JEFFREYS
My Lords, in the first place, may I say how much I am sure your Lordships have enjoyed hearing, as I have, the maiden speech of the noble Viscount who has just sat down? I hope that we shall often have the advantage of hearing him again in your Lordships' House. I wish to support most strongly the plea of my noble friend Lord Killearn for immediate and effective aid for the British subjects who have been robbed and expelled from Egypt. Those British subjects not only have had businesses confiscated, but have been robbed of all their possessions. It is curious that our country, which was so prompt and generous with its aid to Hungarians, who are, after all, foreigners, should be so dilatory and apparently niggardly over the relief of our own fellow subjects who have been so scandalously treated in Egypt. There will be many claims 143 against the Government of Egypt, and those claims will have to be enforced. But I would ask how this is to be done under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation. Then there are the pensioners of the Egyptian Government—for instance, former Government officials and policemen, and possibly former employees of the Suez Canal Company—who all deserve recompense. But I ask again, how are they going to be recompensed? There are some assets of the Egyptian Government in this country—and I will advert to some of these later. Any such assets, I suggest, should be detained in this country for possible future use.
It has always been the boast of civilised nations, and particularly of the British nation, that property abroad is safe, even in the event of war; and until recent times I think I am right in saying that we preserved intact enemy property in this country until hostilities ceased. Is it no longer to be said that British interests and British property and the persons of British subjects are safe abroad, wherever they may be, come what may? I hope that we are going to protect British subjects and their property, as we have done in the past. We know that Egypt is not a civilised country—let us have no nonsense about that. Egypt has robbed British subjects resident there, and has not only done that but has expelled them, with the result that they have lost all their personal possessions. En what way are these British subjects to be compensated? Egypt would not have dared to act in such a way except under the absurd and ineffective protection of the United Nations Organisation.
The Government, we know, have made a grant of £100,000, through the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society, to assist British subjects expelled from Egypt; and they have now set up a new body, the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Colyton. But heavy expenditure will be necessary to give these people (and there are a good many thousands of them) a fresh start. Many of them have come here with little more than the clothes they stand up in, and their need is urgent. Large capital sums are necessary to compensate the poorer refugees at once, and considerable lump sums are required for the better-off people, pending full settlement 144 which must eventually follow. Where is this money to come from?
The system advocated by my noble friend Lord Killearn, which has been tried in France, might be effective. It is, at any rate, far better than no system, which appears to be the condition we are in at this moment. Any assistance in the way of money must obviously come from some Government funds, to begin with, and, fortunately, there is some money ready to hand. Some six months ago Britain froze the £120 million remaining from the £400 million so-called war-time debt. That was a debt incurred in paying the Egyptians, who were making large sums out of the British Forces, for not coming into the war—for that is about what it came to. They did not come into the war on either side; in other words, they completely funked any responsibility. I would here say that that debt was due to quite unnecessary consideration on our part. That £120 million is available and, in my opinion, should be made use of for compensating Britons expelled from Egypt.
Then there is the question of our prestige in Egypt, in the East generally and in the Middle East, in particular, which is an important matter. It might not be of such importance if any dispute were happening in Europe, but in an Oriental country it is of immense importance. In the East it does not matter whether you are right or wrong, just or unjust: what does matter is success and being top dog. When they see Nasser treating British subjects like dirt, robbing and expelling them, the word goes round: "This is a big man. See what he can do, and how little he cares for Britain." Our name is now "mud" in the Middle East, and it is essential that strong steps be taken to restore our good name to something like what it was before. Egypt should be made to suffer in every possible way, and it should be made clear to her that, whether from the point of view of trade, finance, revenue or any other consideration, it does not pay to be hostile to this country. I hope that that will be the line of action of Her Majesty's Government: that they will stand no nonsense from Egypt, whether that nonsense is inspired by the United Nations Organisation or not. It ought to be made perfectly clear to everybody that it does not pay to be hostile to this country. I apologise in advance in case I am unable to be present 145 at the conclusion of this debate; but, for what they are worth, I felt that I should advance my opinions.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ LORD BIRDWOOD
My Lords, I rise only for a moment or two to support the noble Lord, Lord Killearn; and, in doing so, I should like to throw some light, as I believe I can, on the Egyptian motive, particularly in regard to the last part of the noble Lord's Motion, which refers to "the expropriation of British assets", in contrast to the losses of individuals. On January 15 Egypt nationalised British and French banks and insurance companies, and at that time it was said that others were to follow within five years. Therefore I suggest that any action that we contemplate will probably be watched by others, with some anxiety and extremely carefully. It is true that the Egyptian Government said they would offer fair compensation; yet in the same breath they referred to these assets as "belonging to the enemy". I find it difficult to believe that assets which, on Egypt's own admission belonged to an enemy, can ever be compensated fairly. I would therefore urge that, if necessary, Her Majesty's Government should use the full powers which I understand they have under the Exchange Control Act to see that those affected do not suffer.
The noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, has referred to the Base—a Base worth £50 million—which was taken over on October 31, when the Treaty of 1954 was repudiated. We will not pretend that, in the circumstances, we expected that Base to go unmolested. But I would refer to the plight of the 400 civilians in the Base, whose property and effects which they could not remove have, so far as one can judge, been stolen. I sometimes wonder whether we at this distance realise what that means—china, glass, carpets, pictures; everything taken away from one. I do not know whether those claims will come within the purview of the Board under the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, but I do suggest that Her Majesty's Government must see that the plight of these people is met.
In conclusion, I would refer to what I believe to be the motive behind this action. I should like to read to your Lordships an extract from Rude Pravo, 146 which is the official organ of the Czech Communist Party. It is an extract of only a fortnight ago, on February 13, and says:British and French banks…were the imperialistic instruments of subversive activities against independent Egypt…They tried to create in Egypt an atmosphere of economic uncertainty, to lower artificially the prices of cotton and to prevent the industrialisation of Egypt. Egypt now faces the task…to liquidate the powers of imperialism and create a healthy, independent national economy. The expropriation"—that is the word used—of the basis of foreign capital in Egypt, especially of British and French, is an important step on this path.There, surely, is a clear indication where the inspiration comes from. If I may be permitted an oblique conclusion, it is that such statements should be regarded as a warning when we are asked to believe in the brotherly relations which can arise from trade exchanges behind the Iron Curtain. So, in suggesting that others are probably watching what action we propose to take in regard to expropriation, or sequestration as it is sometimes culled, I feel that we may be dealing with a matter of far wider significance than the important "fair compensation" to which, of course Her Majesty's subjects are entitled from us.
§ 4.34 p.m.
My Lords, we all owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, for raising this important subject to-day. It has been pointed out by a number of noble Lords that it was publicly stated by the Government that one of our reasons for going into Egypt was to protect British lives and property. That having been given as one of the reasons for cur action, I believe most strongly that it is the moral responsibility of the Government to see that all those who have lost property are properly compensated. They have nearly all suffered the loss of all their property, although, fortunately, no lives were lost. Perhaps some noble Lords who have spoken to-day have been a little hard on the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, and his Resettlement Board, which has only just been appointed. I feel sure that, in the field in which they will operate, they will do good work. But their terms of reference are very limited. The noble Lord, Lord Colyton, is to speak later on, but, so far as I understand it, the terms 147 of reference are more or less confined to giving help to those in serious need, or who are destitute.
I am going to say a few words about an aspect of this Egyptian affair with which the Resettlement Board, as I understand it, are not concerned. I wish to speak about the financial side, which is a Treasury matter. I know that it is easy to attack the Treasury, and it is a sport in which all indulge from time to time. I have never previously indulged in this sport in your Lordships' House, but to-day I am going into the attack, because I feel that these refugees from Egypt are having a raw deal. Many of them own securities held in London, nearly all of which are blocked. These include all classes of War Loan, deposit accounts, current accounts, and even National Savings Certificates. As the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has already said, many of these people subscribed to these Government stocks in response to an appeal to help our war effort, and the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, himself encouraged them to do so. In nearly all cases they now find themselves unable to touch these funds which they badly need for the purpose of re-equipping themselves with the bare necessities of life, buying furniture and getting accommodation. It is not only private people who are suffering in this way—there are many schools, churches and charitable institutions.
The present hard-hearted attitude, as it appears to these people, is difficult for them to understand and is causing perplexity and deep resentment. I might mention one particular fund which, so far as I know, is still blocked, and that is the balance of the Victory Fund, now amounting to some £65,000. Applications have been made, without result, to the Bank of England so that this money can be used to help refugee children and the staff of schools who have been expelled, many of them after service in Egypt all their lives. If some of these securities and funds were unblocked, I am sure that it would save Her Majesty's Government money, because many of these people who are now having to apply for grants from the Resettlement Board would otherwise be able to use their own funds.
I do not wish to detain your Lordships for long, but I think I should 148 elaborate a little the question of these blocked funds, which one can classify roughly into two categories: first, those funds held direct to the order of beneficiaries in the United Kingdom, and, secondly, those that are held to the order of an Egyptian branch of a bank to the account of the beneficiary. In the case of the former, a few releases have been authorised, but only after prolonged negotiations and repeated appeals; and then only for very limited amounts. Even when the authority of the Bank of England has been given, in many cases the bank concerned, perhaps not unnaturally, has refused payment, because they have had no guarantee or instructions of any kind that they would be reimbursed. They have asked that the Treasury should give them some indemnification, which has not been forthcoming. In the case of the second category—that is, the accounts held in branches of British banks in Egypt—there has been a point-blank refusal to make any payment whatsoever. I might mention that the Victory Fund is in this category. Even in the case of National Savings Certificates, payment has been withheld if they are to the order of an Egyptian branch.
There is one other matter on the financial side that I want to bring to your Lordships' notice: it concerns particularly the refugees from Port Said. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, had intended to raise this matter last week but, unfortunately, he cannot be here to-day and I have agreed to deputise for him. I have here a document dated September 1 which is, in effect, an operation order for the evacuation of Port Said. It is like a military operation order—general movement plans, medical arrangements, assembly point and so forth. There is no doubt that it is official, because it gives a form to be filled in and returned to the British Consul at Port Said. I am going to worry your Lordships with only one paragraph in this document, paragraph 10, which deals with money. Until this document was issued, it was, I understand, generally believed that refugees could take out more or less unlimited amounts of currency, in any notes whatsoever, including sterling, and many people had collected considerable sums in sterling to take out with them. This applied particularly to a number of 149 people who were intending to go on to Australia. But then this order was issued, which reads as follows:Intending passengers are reminded that it is forbidden to take more than 10 pounds sterling notes—per person irrespective of age—into the U.K. You may, however, take money of other currencies with you up to any amount. This should be surrendered to the Authorities on landing in Cyprus or the U.K. when exchange facilities will be accorded to you. We are assured that the normal current rates of exchange will apply.At that time, the Egyptian pound was at par and these people, I think, quite fairly took it that they would be able to exchange Egyptian pounds which they took out at par. Now they find that they are going to lose 30 per cent., and they are feeling very bitter about it. I feel that the difference in this rate of exchange ought to be made up to them. Personally, I think the restriction on the amount of sterling notes that they were to take out ought never to have been made. These were exceptional circumstances, and surely it was a case where the Treasury could have waived that restriction. That is a particular point which should not involve enormous sums, and I think it ought to be put right immediately.
My Lords, I think I have said enough to Show the financial plight of these people. We should all pause for a moment to consider in what bad need of money we should be if we, suddenly, at a few hours' notice, had to leave our homes where we had lived all our lives, with furniture, clothing, and so forth, that we had collected over the years. In that connection, as the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has told a personal story, I should like to tell one, which is against myself. I was travelling down to my home on Christmas Eve and the train was very crowded. I had to sit in the guard's van, with the many parcels I was taking with me. There was a lady there, with four rather heavy suitcases. When we got to our local station, there was no porter and she was rather frail and could not lift them out, so I got them out for her. I said rather jokingly, "You have brought a lot of luggage down for Christmas." She said to me, sadly. "These are all my possessions: I have just escaped from Egypt." That brought home to me the plight of these people.
The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard in a very moving and excellent maiden speech, said that there should 150 be no haggling and no parsimony in dealing with this question. I could not put it into better words. To my mind, the Government should give an immediate directive to the Treasury that all the cases should be dealt with in the most generous manner possible, and that red tape should be slashed through in all directions. Instructions should be given to private banks and to the Bank of England that generous advances should be made in all authenticated cases; and proper indemnity should be given by the Treasury. This is a matter of urgency, if these people are to rehabilitate themselves, and I appeal to the Government to take very urgent action.
§ 4.48 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE OF CULROSS
My Lords, I hope I may rely on the kind indulgence of your Lordships' House if, in what I am about to say, I stray some what from the trend of the discussion which has been before your Lordships this afternoon. I am encouraged, too, by the breadth in which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has drawn his Motion. I would, therefore, like to draw the attention of the House to a class of persons, perhaps not a very vocal one, who have not yet been mentioned this afternoon and who, I am afraid, might be in grave danger of being utterly forgotten. This class consists of 170 officials employed by the Egyptian Government who lost their posts in that country in 1951; but, in spite of the gap of five years, I hope to show your Lordships that the events of last summer have a direct connection with their case. In order to do so, I am afraid I must, briefly, go back some thirty-five years.
In 1922, the Egyptian Government started to take over the administration of Egypt and at that time bought out all pensionable officials in that country. All the officials who were later taken on were employed under contract, and were not pensionable. They were employed for a varying number of years, and their employment was renewable for a further period at the will of the Egyptian Government. In about 1938 it became clear that some better security of tenure was needed to recruit the right men to these vital posts in Egypt. Approved officials were, therefore, put on probation for two years, at the end of which time they were called 151 "permanent officials" and their position was guaranteed until 60 years of age. They were dismissable only by a court of discipline, under the terms of their contract.
Under these contractual terms, many officials agreed to remain in Egypt, as the salaries were, for those days, high and they seemed secure. Most of them, therefore, took out one or more pension or endowment policies which would take the place of the pension which was not payable by the Egyptian Government, but under which these officials could, on account of their high salaries, afford to insure for themselves a reasonable income on retirement. But in 1951 the British Government, as a punitive measure, bulldozed the village of Kafr el Abdul in the Canal Zone. I shall say nothing about that operation, except to emphasise the consequences of it which, from the point of view of those 170 officials, were catastrophic. By an Egyptian Order in Council they were summarily dismissed, although no court of discipline was involved, and this dismissal was therefore a flagrant breach of their contracts.
At first, the Egyptian Government denied all responsibility for this breach. But Her Majesty's Government took a most zealous interest in the claims of the officials, and I think it is fair to say that it was because of their pressure that the Egyptian Government for the first time acknowledged an undischarged responsibility to them at the time of the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement on the Suez Canal base in October, 1954. The Egyptian Government set up a committee to assess damages. At the same time the 170, through their legal representatives in London and at Cairo, drew up a full case, both collective and individual, and Her Majesty's Government agreed to pay all legal costs, which are to be recoverable when compensation is paid. A copy of this case is still available in London. This claim was eventually presented, accepted and considered by the Egyptian Government. It amounts in full to some £600,000 to £700,000 which is the absolute minimum according to Egyptian law. Her Majesty's Government continued to exert pressure, and by the early summer of 1956 it looked as if a settlement were at last to be made; indeed the officials were given a fixed date on which they 152 could expect an announcement. This date, my Lords, proved to be three days after the Suez Canal was nationalised by Colonel Nasser. And since, I need hardly tell your Lordships, no more has been heard.
Since, then, it was the events of last summer which have at least postponed the payment of their compensation, I hope to suggest to your Lordships that the case of these 170 officials—or rather 150, for nearly 20 of them have since died—is a matter which well deserves the consideration of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board. The noble Marquess the Leader of the House said, on February 5 [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 201 (No. 28), col. 454]:…the Resettlement Board will be authorised to deal with the needs of any British subjects who have come to the United Kingdom as a result of recent events in Egypt and are in need…. In particular, the Board will be authorised to make advances as may be necessary to former pensioners of the Egyptian Government up to the full amount of the pension due until arrangements are made for the Egyptian Government again to discharge its contractual obligations.It is true that these people have not recently come to the United Kingdom as a result of recent events in Egypt, but it is because of recent events, no doubt, that they are in need.
Neither, strictly speaking, are they former pensioners of the Egyptian Government. But in both cases, I would submit, their case is similar. Their employment was illegally ended. In 1951 it was not easy, to say the least, for British subjects to find other employment in Egypt. They were warned by the massacre of January 26, 1952. Many of them were forced to sell their property at absurdly low prices—for instance, one had to accept £150 for a good car and all his furniture. They decided to leave. That is not very dissimilar from the case of eviction. They returned to this country with only a fraction of their former possessions. These men were in their forties or fifties, mostly the latter, and had been in Egypt, in the main, for 15 to 20 years, having served there in their capacities throughout the war, as the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has already told your Lordships.
For most of that time they had paid high premiums on good pension policies out of their excellent salaries. For instance one of them was the Senior 153 Language Instructor and Head of the Language Department of the Royal Military College in Cairo. For this he received, after tax deduction, £1,100 a year, and in addition he earned an average of £500 a year, also after tax deduction, for various other employments, such as examiner to the Royal Staff College and advisor to the broadcasting station. He had six years of his contract still to run and he could, in addition, expect, as normally happened, his contract to be extended until he was 65.
I will continue with his, a typical case, not in order to harrow your Lordships, because it will not do so, but because it will, as other noble Lords have done, put forward a plain case, the facts of which speak for themselves. This man returned to the United Kingdom in July, 1952, at the age of 55, and after six months he succeeded in getting a post at a secondary modern school in Hampshire. He was fortunate in being a university graduate and a fully-trained teacher. But, like most of the others, he was too old to join any contributory pension scheme which would bring him any adequate income at 65. He is also married. Of course, the ability to claim National Health insurance varies from case to case. He had held two pension policies. One had to be cashed last December; the other is soon to go. This is so with most of them, for the policies taken out of a budget of a fixed income until sixty have mostly had to be surrendered cashed, or modified to exclude the pension option, as it has now proved quite impossible to keep up the premiums as well as deal with the complete financial upheaval necessitated by leaving Egypt in 1951.
My Lords, some cases may be better than that to which I have referred, others are indubitably worse; but that is a typical one. The point is that the loss of these officials' posts has amounted to exactly the same thing as the loss of their pensions. I will leave the House to draw its own conclusion from the similarity of both cause and effect. What I am asking is that their claim, which has been recognised as just both by the Egyptian Government and by Her Majesty's Government, should be allowed to be brought before the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, so that these officials will at least know that when any money 154 is to be distributed they will have their share. They have a claim, and it is only logical that the Board should administer it.
If it is possible, therefore, I should like an assurance that their case comes within the province of the Board, so that, like true pensioners of the Egyptian Government, where there is present hardship, as there is in these few cases, it may be put right, and where it is potential it may be averted until the day when Her Majesty's Government succeed in extracting from the Egyptians full compensation for the breach of these contracts. I might add the suggestion that if money were to be paid in lump sums, as the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, and several other noble Lords have suggested, there is, of course, the security of the Egyptian assets in this country against which that sum might be guaranteed. With those words, I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has said this afternoon in moving his Motion.
§ 5.0 p.m.
My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am to my noble friend Lord Killearn for having given us this opportunity of expressing not only our sympathy but, I hope, our practical sympathy with those who have suffered through being expelled from Egypt, particularly as we remember that in most cases they have been expelled solely because of their British nationality. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing what Her Majesty's Government have decided to do in this case of need.
I feel sure, too, that the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, will not only please your Lordships' House but will give enormous pleasure to the many people outside the House who have suffered loss. I know that they are exceedingly grateful for all the action which the noble Lord has taken. I wish to make only one point, one which I believe helps us to take a generous view. It concerns exchange control. People outside your Lordships' House have said: "Surely these people have had an opportunity of getting some of their funds out of Egypt. Surely, if only they had been wise, after all the warnings they have had they could have taken action to help themselves and gradually have got their savings and property away." I know 155 from a great friend of mine, who has been in charge of a bank in Egypt, that since 1947, when the Egyptian Government left the sterling area, every difficulty has been put in the way of getting any money out. There was only one class of person to whom the exchange control authorities would listen—those people who said they would forthwith leave the country, give up their residential status and promise not to return.
I have in mind two classes of people. There are those who had their homes there and intended to end their days there. I do not think there was ever a time when those people could reasonably have expected that what has happened would happen. There could never have been a moment when they could have dreamed that they would be turned out as they have been. The other people who could not give up their residential status were those working for our companies in Egypt, the hundreds employed in the Canal Zone, and in oil plants, banks and so on. They had to remain to do their work, so that it was not possible for them to give up their residential status. They could not even get money out to go for a holiday. Those people have been completely caught by the exchange control since 1947. I am sure that Her Majesty's Government will bear that point fully in mind when they come to consider the degree of generosity with which we should treat those people. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, on the splendid way in which he made his maiden speech in your Lordships' House, and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Killearn for having brought forward this Motion.
There is just one other point I wish to make. I should like to call attention, in case anybody should be misled by it, to the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Killearn to The Times of February 22. In that letter, the noble Lord said that those who had their savings in British banks in Cairo would lose their money; but it was not only people who had savings in British banks. Those who had savings in every bank, Egyptian or foreign, have all lost their money.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, that is quite correct. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kinnaird, has corrected me.
People have been turned out because of their British nationality, whether they worked in an Egyptian or any other firm; and I am sure that such a strong case has been made by the noble Lord that we shall hear that Her Majesty's Government are going to treat them with all generosity. May I ask the noble Earl who is to reply to consider this point? If Her Majesty's Government take over and pay up the claims of these people mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, or small people who are really in need, they have not reduced the value of their claim against the Egyptian Government, but have simply taken over the claim of the private individual. Is their case at all weakened as a result? Cannot Her Majesty's Government take over these cases and take over their claims against the Egyptian Government?
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD COLYTON
My Lords, I feel sure your Lordships will agree with me, that it would be improper for me, as Chairman of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, to intervene in this debate at any length or in any controversial manner. After all, I and my colleagues on the Board are nominees of Her Majesty's Government and are operating with public funds; and it must therefore be for the noble Earl who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government to deal with all matters of policy and answer questions. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, however, for putting down this Motion, which from my point of view, will certainly serve to draw attention to the needs of those who are covered by the Statute of the Board.
I must explain at once that the question of compensation for assets lost or any of the financial matters referred to by noble Lords in speeches this afternoon fall entirely outside the scope of the Statute of our Board. Our task is to meet the pressing needs of these, our fellow-countrymen, in distress, now and in the immediate future; and I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that, in so far as we have received our instructions from Her Majesty's Government in detail, we have been given considerable latitude, and we shall deal with those matters that are within our scope with the greatest generosity open to us.
157 Our task, as I see it, is to find employment and homes for those who need them; to help our fellow-subjects in such matters as education, and to assist those of them who wish to emigrate to do so. We must remember that, of the 4,500 British subjects who have so far arrived back in the United Kingdom, nearly 3,000 are still in hostels; so that our first task must be to see how comfortable we can make them there. But we do not want to keep them in the hostels. Our aim is to get them out of the hostels into jobs and into homes; and, as I have said, in cases in which they wish to emigrate, to help them to do so.
As there is this large number of people in these hostels, I and some of my colleagues on the Board, including the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the late Ambassador in Cairo, have made it our duty to visit hostels to inquire into conditions for ourselves. No one would pretend that the hostels are perfect; no one would suggest that there is not still a great: deal that can be done to improve them. But I should like to tell your Lordships that my colleagues and I have received remarkably few complaints from the people in the hostels. They are, naturally, concerned about obtaining work, about their children's education and, in many cases, about emigration. But I have been impressed—and I am sure that my colleagues also have been impressed—with the almost pathetic gratitude which is shown for what is being done, and what has been done, for these people by the National Assistance Board and other organisations, including voluntary societies such as the British Red Cross Society, the Order of St. John and many other voluntary societies. I have also been deeply impressed by the loyalty of these people, by the complete absence of any kind of rancour or recrimination against the British Government or the people of this country.
The Board took over its full responsibilities from the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society on February 25—that is to say, two weeks after the Prime Minister announced in another place the creation of the Board. Here, if I may, I should like to pay tribute to the invaluable work which was done by the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society in the early days and up to the end of last week, at times in conditions of the greatest possible difficulty. 158 I do not think that we can speak too highly of the work which Mr. Clare Martin and his staff have done to help these fellow-subjects of ours who found themselves thrust, overnight, penniless upon our hands.
During these first three days this week, we have received at the Board some 200 visitors, in addition to dealing with many cases which have been referred to us by letter. I am glad to say that the premises which the Government have provided for us in Sanctuary Buildings, Great Smith Street, are comfortable, commodious and suitable for the purpose for which we need them. They are certainly far better than the premises in York Terrace, in which the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society had to do its work. In this task of finding employment for these British subjects from Egypt, who have such a vast variety of background, we are taking all possible steps to make contact, not only through the official channels of the Ministry of Labour but also by direct personal appeals from myself, with the leaders of industry, banking, commerce, shipping, the export trade and many other fields in which the special qualifications of these evacuees should stand them in good stead. Many of them speak four or five languages, and although, unfortunately, people with experience in the clerical and managerial fields predominate (and such individuals are less easy to place than technicians), I hope that, with the good will of everyone in this country, we shall be able to find places for them. I have also invoked the assistance of the Trades Union Congress, and I am assured by their headquarters of their good will and their support.
We already have well in hand arrangements for making advances of pension to some 350 former pensioners of the Egyptian Government. In this we have had great help from the Anglo-Egyptian Association who represent the pensioners. Although the fact is that payment of advances on pensions—in other words, the amount of the whole pensions—can be paid under arrangements with the Board, and although great publicity was given to this, apparently it has not yet reached the ears of all the pensioners concerned. I hope that this debate to-day will serve to publicise this matter. We 159 are, through the medium of the Anglo-Egyptian Association, getting in touch with all pensioners.
There is no doubt that a very large number of the British subjects of Maltese origin who are in this country (many of them are now in the hostels) wish to emigrate to Commonwealth countries and elsewhere, but mostly to Australia. In this connection, I should like to express my thanks for the co-operation and help which we are receiving from the Australian High Commissioner and the staff of his emigration service in dealing with this problem. The Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society have already helped some 80 people to emigrate. We wish to continue this practice. We can pay the costs of passages in whole or in part, and we shall do everything we can to help those who wish to emigrate to comply with the emigration formalities. This is well in hand, but it will take time before all of the large number of evacuees who wish to emigrate are able to do so. When visiting the hostels, I have urged the people to be patient, and to rely on us to do all we can to help them, but, meanwhile, to take jobs, if possible; because I believe that it is far more demoralising to sit for six or eight months in hostels, without jobs, than it is to take some work, even though it is only of a temporary nature.
On the Board, there are a number of us who have lived for many years in Egypt, and we are being assisted by many other people with experience of conditions in that country, in addition to the officials of the Civil Service, of which there are a certain number. I feel that I must pay a tribute to the hard work which they are putting into their task. We have also been joined by fourteen members of the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society, of whom seven came from Egypt; and, in all, the Board's staff includes twenty people from Egypt. We hope in this way to be able to deal with real understanding and sympathy with the problems of these unfortunate people. I have noted the points which have been made in the speeches of noble Lords this afternoon which concern the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, and I can assure your Lordships that they will be given most careful attention. I feel sure that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, my colleague on the Board, 160 would agree with me that the interest which has been displayed by noble Lords in all parts of the House this afternoon in the conditions, the future and the prospects of these evacuees will be a real encouragement to them in their temporary homes, or in their hostels in this difficult and anxious time through which they are inevitably going.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he answered my point about pensions? Is that matter being dealt with by the Board? The reason I ask is that we are all being showered with applications, and I do not know how to handle them. Another point is that I thought the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, said that the people in camps were allowed 1s. 7½d. a day. Is that all they get?
§ LORD COLYTON
My Lords, as I said in my opening remarks, I do not think it is for me to answer questions on behalf of the Government, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, was referring to the 12s. a week pocket money which is given in the camps and which, of course, is in addition to the cost of board and lodging.
§ 5.22 p.m.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, the policy of Her Majesty's Government on this problem, which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has brought before the House to-day, has already been set out in the Government's statement which was made on February 5. It rests on two main legs. The first is the setting up of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board to deal with the immediate necessities of those British subjects who have been evacuated from Egypt. Your Lordships have already heard something of this from the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, who is Chairman of the Board. The second is the setting up of machinery under the Foreign Office to register claims by individuals and trading companies against the Egyptian Government for the return of their property which has been sequestered.
It follows that it is not the task of the Board to compensate individuals for their losses in Egypt, but to meet their needs and to give them a chance of starting a new life, whether in this country or elsewhere, if they so wish. The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, in his maiden speech, on 161 which I should like to add my congratulations to those made by other noble Lords, said that the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board was staffed entirely by officials. The Board itself has no officials on it. Besides the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, its members are the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, Sir Humphrey Trevelyan, lately Her Majesty's Ambassador in Cairo, and representatives of the Red Cross, the Order of St. John, the Women's Voluntary Services, the National Council of Social Services and the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society. The Board's staff includes a number of civil servants and ex-civil servants, but about one-third have came out of Egypt and fourteen were working with the Anglo-Egyptian Aid Society.
In order to remove any misconception, I think it is important that I should go a little further into the details of the functions of the Board. I must emphasise that the setting up of this Board is in no way an act of charity; it is a practical step that has been taken by the Government to help these people in the best way we can to take their place in the community. The Government recognise that needs vary as between individuals, and for this reason the Board have been authorised to deal with individual cases on their merits. I think that that is the background of the Board's outlook. It is the Government's intention that the Board should be free to pursue a flexible policy in dealing with this human problem which, as noble Lords have already said, has aroused the sympathy of us all, including myself and Her Majesty's Government. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, that the Board's hands are not tied in this matter, whether dealing with grants, loans or allowances. The noble Lord mentioned the question of the Maltese. They are British subjects and will be treated in exactly the same way as any other British subjects who have come out of Egypt, as has already been stated by the Prime Minister.
A large number of the British subjects who have come to this country have no ties here and have had to be accommodated for the time being in hostels specially provided for the purpose. The ideal solution would be to have a hostel in every town where work can be obtained. Obviously this is a practical impossibility, as your Lordships will well 162 understand, but arrangements have been made for hostels to be taken over wherever it is conveniently possible, so that the breadwinner, if he wishes to do so, will be able to leave the hostel for short periods, for a few days at a time, to go to wherever he thinks he would like to go or where he can obtain work. The Board is authorised to pay allowances to cover expenses which may be thus incurred. These allowances will not be tied to any existing scale. Furthermore the Board has at its disposal the full facilities of the Ministry of Labour to help those seeking employment. Over 1,500 people have registered for employment with the Ministry of Labour. Up to February 8 the Ministry had placed 350 of these, and a further 200 had been able to find jobs through their own efforts or with the help of voluntary societies.
As I have already mentioned, the assistance to be given by the Board will also include grants or loans in appropriate cases. The purpose of such grants will be to help individuals to establish themselves in this country. Financial assistance will also be given towards the cost of passages for those who are able and wish to emigrate, and, in appropriate cases, this will cover the whole cost if necessary. The Board are also authorised to meet immediate educational commitments in order to ensure that the education of dependants now at school or university in this country is not interrupted. Finally, as the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, has already mentioned, the Board are authorised to make advances as may be necessary to former pensioners of the Egyptian Government up to the full amount of the pension due, until arrangements have been settled for the Egyptian Government to discharge its obligations. The Board are in touch with 350 former pensioners, and have already made some payments, and they are making arrangements for all remaining payments to be made.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, referred to 170 officials dismissed by the Egyptian Government in 1951. These officials do not fall within the present terms of reference, and they are not, as the noble Lord conceded, in the same category as the pensioners. Nevertheless, their claims will not be lost sight of when a financial settlement becomes possible with Egypt. I can assure the 163 noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, that Her Majesty's Government have not forgotten the aged and the infirm who are incapable of getting jobs. It will be one of the tasks of the Board to make provision for them, and it may, in fact, be found necessary to establish a home for this purpose. The Board fully realise this and may have to consider plans to this end.
The Government are fully aware that adequate financial provision will have to be made for the Board's activities, and I should like to make it clear to your Lordships that the unexpended balance of the Government's grant-in-aid of £100,000 which is now available to the Board is to be regarded only as a first instalment. A much larger provision will be necessary after the end of the current financial year, and the Government are ready to make this provision. As the Supplementary Estimate recently published shows, the total expenditure from Government funds in this financial year alone will be nearly £500,000. I should like to congratulate also the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, on his maiden speech, which he made with such force and confidence. I can assure him that there will be no question of niggardliness in the dealings of the Board.
I come now to the second leg of the Government's policy, with which the greater part of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, was concerned. The Government have every intention of holding the Egyptian Government responsible for their actions, and intend to do everything in their power to pursue the claims of British nationals against the Egyptian Government. Interested parties, both individuals and firms, have been invited by public announcement to send in particulars of their assets in Egypt. As these come in, we shall have a clearer idea of the size of the investment at stake and shall be in a better position to consider the tactics to be used in pursuing against the Egyptian Government any claims that are shown to arise. It would not be sensible for me to disclose in advance of negotiations with the Egyptians either the amount at stake or the tactics to be employed. We are pressing, in the meantime, for the desequestration of British assets now held and for the owners to have access to these assets.
164 The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and other noble Lords have mentioned Egypt's sterling balances and have asked whether advances could not be made to the refugees out of these. They are, of course, one of Egypt's most important assets. But that does not mean that it would be prudent or right to do what noble Lords have suggested. This would only add to Egypt's claims against us and would not, in the long run, be any more advantageous than the course the Government have adopted. Moreover, we should ourselves be doing just what we have regarded as so reprehensible in the Egyptians: taking over for our own purposes assets for which we are trustees. It is true that the Egyptian Government may well seem to have absolved us by their behaviour from any obligation to treat them with undue tenderness. But we are, I suppose, the oldest and most respected bankers in the world, and bankers depend on the confidence which they inspire. To destroy that confidence would inflict an injury on our credit which it would be impossible to repair for many a long day.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, mentioned the subject of Egyptian pound notes. This is a long and complicated story—your Lordships have heard some of it already from the noble Lord. The facts, as such, are still in dispute, and I regret that I cannot say more on the subject to-day. However, I can assure the noble Lord that I personally have this matter very much in mind. The noble Lords, Lord Killearn and Lord Kinnaird, have suggested the possibility of advancing money from public funds to those people who could show that they have assets in Egypt. The Government have considered this possibility, but have come to the conclusion that the first thing to do is to register the claims, and that until that has been done it is impossible to make a plan based on the realities of the problem. The registering of these claims is already being carried out at the Foreign Office.
I would emphasise that the whole of the present scheme is intended to avoid hardship, and it is on this that we must concentrate. The Board have wide powers, as I have already explained. With regard to the three personal cases mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, I am sure 165 that if these individuals were to consult the Board—and it is not a question of going to the Board for assistance—to see how they could help, they would get satisfaction. They must not consider it as a charity. The whole purpose for which the Board was set up was to assist people to settle down again in this country in reasonable conditions. With regard to the French proposals, I must confess to the noble Lord that I was ignorant of them. Clearly, they will need more detailed study, and I will certainly bring them to the Government's attention. I should, however, like to point out to the noble Lord, in passing, that in fact the French plans are nowhere near as advanced as ours.
The noble Lord, Lord Milner of Leeds, mentioned the Suez contractors. Suez contractors' employees based on the United Kingdom are being paid a lump sum. The War Office have advised contractors and employees to register their claims with the Foreign Office, in the same way as British subjects are doing now. Locally engaged employees who were evacuated mostly had their agreements terminated at the end of December, and were paid up to that date. In addition, they received whatever indemnity was due to them for their services under local labour regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, mentioned an insurance problem. I regret to say that, so far as I can see, there is no way round the difficulty there, but I promise the noble Lord that I will examine it.
The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, mentioned securities held in the United Kingdom in the name of British subjects formerly resident in Egypt. When the holder of an Egyptian account is residing in this country, it is always open to him to ask to be redesignated, and he can then draw freely on his account. There is no difficulty under this head. The noble Lord also mentioned securities held by a bank in this country to the order of a bank in Egypt on behalf of a former resident in Egypt—in other words, blocked accounts. I regret to say that it is impossible, under existing legislation, for a bank in this country to disregard its obligation to hold the securities to the order of a bank in Egypt. The only course at present open to the beneficiary is to test the legality of the bank's 166 decision in a United Kingdom court. I am sorry to say that that is the position.
May I interrupt the noble Earl? That seems to me a most unsatisfactory answer. Is there nothing that the Government can do to make advances against private claims? It seems to me a most astonishing answer.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
My Lords, I regret to say that that is the situation, and all I can do is to promise the noble Lord that we will consider it further.
I have tried to explain the measures which the Government are taking to fulfil their obligations. The Government are satisfied that these are the best means of meeting the situation. However, the various suggestions made by your Lordships this afternoon will be seriously considered, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, for having given me the opportunity of explaining more fully the Government's plan.
§ THE EARL OF LISTOWEL
My Lords, I had not intended to speak this afternoon, but having listened to the speeches that have been made, I should like, as a colleague of the noble Lard, Lord Colyton, on the Resettlement Board, to make one comment. I am quite certain, as he rightly said, that the deep sympathy that has been expressed by all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate for the plight of these unfortunate evacuees from Egypt will give them real comfort and fresh hope, and that it will also be of tremendous encouragement to the members of the Board and the staff in the work that they are doing.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, first of all, I should like to express my thanks to those of your Lordships who have spoken in to-day's debate and have supported my views. In particular, I should like to add my congratulations on the maiden speeches of the two noble Lords who spoke so well and so tellingly, and who will, I am sure, add much to the lustre of the discussions of this Assembly in years to come.
I have listened with great attention and interest to what the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, has said in his reply. The first part of his speech was devoted to an elaboration of the activities of the Colyton Board, which we all appreciate. We are delighted that it is under the noble Lord, 167 Lord Colyton, because we know how able and efficient he is; and we do not doubt that it is going to do all the admirable things, and even better, that have been said about it. But the noble Earl did not touch at all upon my main proposal, which was that of scaled advances against established claims. I listened carefully, but it did not seem to me that he touched on that matter at all.
I know that it is not easy, and I know that you have to wring the withers of the Treasury. I have not had forty-five years of public service for nothing, and, we all know that the Treasury are the watchdogs of the public purse. They have to be; it is their job. But we in your Lordships' House have to see that injustice is not done. I believe that that is one of our principal functions, and I believe that an injustice is being done here. The noble Earl, Lord Gosford, spoke about pursuing the claims, about seeing what can be done, and all the rest of it. He spoke about negotiations with Egypt. What negotiations are we having with Egypt? What negotiations can we have with Egypt? Have we anybody in Egypt with whom we can negotiate, or any Egyptian here with whom we can negotiate? If so, I did not know it. I thought we had severed diplomatic relations.
My Lords, this is a good cause, with a capital C. I hope that I have not been tiresome—I have tried not to be—but I feel that this is a cause, and a national cause, and that we should take a firm line upon it. I should like to check up that I did not mishear what the noble Earl said about the concrete proposal I made. The actual phrase I used was that scaled advances against established claims are suggested on some such basis as the following: 100 per cent. for £1,000 and under; 75 per cent. for claims of £1,000 to £2,000; 50 per cent. for claims of from £2,000 to £5,000, and 25 per cent. for claims of £5,000 and over. I do not know what was the answer to that point.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
The answer I gave was that the Government have considered the possibility of advancing money from public funds. Whether it is to the scale rate which the noble Lord suggested or any other system, so far as they can see at the moment it is not a practical possibility. However, I can but tell the noble Lord that we shall look 168 again, in the light of what he has said, at the proposition that he has put, and see what can be done.
§ LORD KILLEARN
Frankly, I do not regard that as satisfactory. It is: Put off, put off! What happens to these unfortunate people meantime? After all, they have to live. What do they have to do in the interval?
§ LORD KILLEARN
The noble Earl will pardon me, but the Board is not empowered to do that, if I have not got it completely wrong. So far as I understand the position, the Board has no power to deal with the particular people about whom I am speaking. It is limited to a "resettlement"—that is what its title says. The noble Earl himself spoke about powers of emigration, and this and that. But those are not the people I am speaking about to-day. It does not meet me at all.
THE EARL OF GOSFORD
I think I did say at the beginning of my speech that hardship must come first; and we have to deal with the people who, whether or not they were comparatively well off before, are, in fact, now here, with no assets at their disposal. The question of a flat rate to all who can prove that they have assets in Egypt is something which will have to be considered, but we must deal with the hardship cases first.
§ LORD KILLEARN
The noble Earl is dealing with the hardship cases now, I believe. That is the case that the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, made, and that is what the noble Earl himself described to us. We are grateful to him. The hardship cases, the Maltese, are in fact being dealt with. But I am talking about a different aspect altogether, and one that has not been touched on, so far as I know. I personally should have liked to see the mandate of the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, extended to cover these people. That is what I should have liked from the start. If it is split up between the Home Office, the Foreign Office, the Treasury and the Resettlement Board, where are we? Frankly I do not look upon this reply as in any way satisfying the point I was trying to make, and unless I can hear something better—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, will allow me to remind him of what I said on February 5, when the main statement was made. [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 201 (No. 28), col. 454]:Meanwhile, the Resettlement Board will be authorised to deal with the needs of any British subjects who have come to the United Kingdom as a result or recent events in Egypt and are in need. In helping these people, the Board will deal with each individual case on its merits and, in addition to paying allowances, they will be authorised to meet immediate educational commitments and to make grants or loans in appropriate cases.It is not really just a question of complete hardship. I think that anybody who goes to the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, with a problem will receive very careful consideration. With regard to long-term policy, about which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has spoken, the view taken is that we must try to find out the scope of the problem with which we are faced, if it is to be properly dealt with. It is not merely a question of one person or another coming to the Foreign Office and saying, "I have so many assets, and I have asked for immediate repayment out of public funds." What we have to do is to get the thing properly looked at—it can be done quickly, so far as I can understand it—and then see what the real scope and nature of the problem is. That is at present being done by the Foreign Office.
I would remind the noble Lord that, of course, there is no difference between any of us on this problem. I think that, on whatever side of the House we sit, we all feel exactly the same about it. The statement which I made was made on February 5. That was at a time when the Government were just beginning to set up very intricate machinery to deal with a very difficult and unforeseen problem, and, although I do net in any wad criticise it, the noble Lord has given not very much time for the proper formulation or working of this machinery. I do not criticise it. The noble Lord knows the needs of these people as we all do. It is very natural that he should bring as much pressure as he can to get an early declaration of Government policy, but the time has been very short, and if he expects the whole thing to be completely formulated and applied, and everything clone in eighteen days, he is asking a lot.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I am grateful to the noble Marquess for his intervention. I should be delighted if the noble Lord, Lord Colyton, were empowered to discuss this matter in detail, because I have seen him and have threshed it out with him. I have been told by him that, as his mandate stands at present, he is totally unable to deal with these cases. If the noble Marquess were to extend that mandate to enable the noble Lord to thresh this thing out and to listen to the case that I am trying to put, I should be entirely satisfied.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I can only say this to the noble Lord. It is not for me to extend the mandate of the noble Lord, Lord Colyton. I cannot do that individually from the Front Bench of this House. But what I can and will do is to report all that Lord Killearn has said to-day to my colleague. That I will do, of course. May I suggest this? It is not for me to tell the noble Lord what he should do, but if he felt inclined—having had this debate, which I think has been a most valuable debate—to withdraw his Motion to-day, he could, in doing so, reserve the right to raise the matter again at any time he thought proper. Therefore, he would keep every liberty of action and that would enable me to report what has been said to-day.
§ LORD KILLEARN
The thought passed through my mind—perhaps it is the same train of thought—whether I should beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.
My Lords, by leave of the House, may I make one point to my noble Leader? He has been good enough to intervene in this debate and I am sure we greatly appreciate it There is one point we all feel unhappy about, and that is the point about these securities and balances in banks in Egypt. It is a point that we feel somehow, in some 171 way, should be looked at in dealing with this matter. If the noble Marquess would interest himself in that matter, we should be grateful.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I could not with any honesty give any guarantees that this, that or the other will be done. All I can do is to guarantee to put forward what has been said to-day. As I say, the door is open to the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, or anybody else to re-raise this matter at any time they feel inclined so to do. So far as the question of adjourning the debate is concerned, that is entirely a matter for the noble Lord. If he felt inclined to adjourn the debate I would not oppose it but I thought that the more normal practice in this House was for the noble Lord, having made his point, to withdraw his Motion, reserving specifically, as I say, his right to raise it again. It comes to the same thing. I think it is a more convenient way of doing it. But it is entirely in the hands of the House to do whatever they like.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I thank the noble Marquess for his patience and consideration. I am, as your Lordships know, a comparative newcomer to your Lordships' House. I am not very well up in 172 the form, and I naturally bow to what the noble Marquess suggests. I think the point is important. But all that matters when all is said and done, is to get these people's case seen to. I am perfectly prepared to accept the suggestion of the noble Marquess.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Lord would like me to keep in touch with him on his specific point, I should be very glad to do so, but I am giving him no guarantees; I am not in a position to do so.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I am not expecting the impossible, even from the noble Marquess, although we expect a great deal. That being so. I now beg the leave of the House to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Reported, with Amendments.
§ House adjourned at two minutes before six o'clock.