§ 2.47 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN rose to draw attention to the continuing distress of British citizens expelled by order of Colonel Nasser from Egypt and deprived of resources held both in Egypt and in the United Kingdom; to urge upon Her Majesty's Government the need for decision to grant interim relief to admitted claims pending a just and full final settlement; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to put before your Lordships the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Before going further, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Earl the Leader of the House, and to the House, for having agreed to waive the Standing Orders of the House in order to give precedence to this Motion over Government Business. I am grateful for that, and I should imagine that the whole House will welcome this gesture to allow time for a free and full debate on a matter of prime public importance.1144
§ To turn to the Motion itself. I had hoped—indeed we had all hoped—that in the interval before the time came for discussion of this matter, which, as your Lordships will remember, was before the House on June 27 and was then adjourned until to-day, there would have been an agreed arrangement of some kind acceptable to both sides. Certainly so far as I am concerned—and I know I speak also for my colleagues—that is what we have been working for; and, without wishing to take any special credit, I can say that in the interval we have worked very hard to that end. I have heard it suggested that we are "trouble shooters" and all that kind of thing. I can assure the House that that is not so. Unfortunately, we have not an agreed arrangement before us. Let me put that to the House at once.
§ Obviously, I need not recapitulate the reasons why we have continued to press Her Majesty's Government over a period of nearly eight months to do what we believe to be the right and generous thing. I should like to think that the House agrees that persistence in this cause has been right and just. It is a non-Party cause. I may mention en passant (if I may use the French expression) that I have been called all sorts of names in the interval. One high quarter dubbed me an "elbow-jogging Peer". It was not a very nice thing to say, but there we are. I have been accused by another high quarter of blackmail, to which I riposted that I had been accused of many strange things in my life but never before of blackmail and I was not going to take it. I merely fill that in to show that I have had a certain amount of pressure brought to bear on me.
§ To return to the subject at issue, your Lordships will remember that this is the fourth time that this matter has been debated. On February 28, I raised it in the form of a Motion, which I subsequently withdrew. On March 28, I raised it in the form of a Resolution, on which I asked the House to divide and was defeated by the small majority of three in a voting list of 19 in favour and 22 against, despite the lateness of the hour—and I had taken no steps whatever to hold any noble Lords back here, though I happen to know that a Whip had been issued on the other side. But let that pass. I have no means of issuing a Whip.1145
One must be grateful for small mercies The British Government have come forward, at very long last, with a scheme of interim relief, which was what my Motion asked for. We all know the saying that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth—not too closely, anyway. The trouble about this gift horse is not that it has too few teeth but that it has too many. I shall develop that point at greater length as I proceed. The first point I should like to put to your Lordships is this: have Her Majesty's Government fulfilled the hope held out by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham? Here I quote just a phrase from what the noble Viscount said, from the OFFICIAL REPORT of June 27 [Vol. 204, col. 507]:
I have always thought that the expression"—
that is, hardship—
should be given a wide and generous interpretation.
That we all heard at the time with much gratitude. Later on in the same debate of June, the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, dilated on the need for interpreting this "liberally". It was largely on that basis, and especially on what the noble Viscount had said, that we agreed to postpone the debate to give the Government time to study this new formula of hardship. Those were the conditions on which we separated.
§ The question then which is really before us to-day is: has the term "hardship" been given a "wide and generous interpretation"? It will be for your Lordships to decide after this debate. I repeat that we must remember that it was on the assumption, well expressed by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that the expression "hardship" would be liberally interpreted, that on June 27 I withdraw the self-same Motion that stands on the Order Paper to-day. I had hoped, and indeed have worked hard, for an agreed settlement in the interval. That we have not got.
§ I turn to the Government statement of yesterday. It was my misfortune that I was not here. I received notification that the statement was to be made only at ten minutes past one, and then I was in the wilds of East Sussex. I made a dash for the A.B.C. and Bradshaw to see whether I could possibly get up here in time to hear the statement made at 3.30, 1146 but it was physically impossible for me to be here. The statement was made and has been circulated in yesterday's OFFICIAL REPORT. I imagine, therefore, that your Lordships have it in your hands and I am going to assume that most of you have seen the statement, which covered the actual terms of the arrangement. Again, I should like to remind your Lordships that what I am going to say should be read in the light of the dictum of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, that the Government's interpretation would be "wide and generous."
May I now turn to the actual terms of the Government scheme? There are certain detailed points which I will deal with only in a general way, first, because I hope that other noble Lords will deal more specifically with them as the debate develops, and secondly, because I arrived here only at half-past-five last night and the time has not beer long in which to study all the details of this arrangement and have expert advice behind one. It is not at all easy. Paragraph 1 of the statement refers to applications for relief under the scheme and provides that applications for loans shall be made to the Resettlement Board.
The Board will consult the Foreign Office who will, in accordance with the declarations of individual assets registered with it, determine the amount of each applicant's reckon-able assets. The Board will then make payment…
The first point I would make is that apparently it is left to the entire discretion of the Foreign Office—an admirable body; I happen to be an ex-member of it—but it is not perhaps all that good to have no check upon it at all. The thought that passed through my mind was whether, for the administration of this machinery, the Government would agree that in taking on this duty to
…determine the amount of each applicant's reckonable assets…
the Foreign Office could be invited to, or it could be laid down that they should, at least consult with the body known as the Association of British Communities in Egypt.
§ Perhaps I should here explain what that body is, because many noble Lords may not know. When the members of the British community were evacuated from Egypt in November, being efficient and intelligent they got together at once 1147 and formed an association of the communities that existed in Egypt, opened an office here in the Association's name and set to work. They set up what I would say is an extremely efficient organisation, which at once set about collating all the claims and "vetting" them. They established an expert committee in their midst. I happen to know their legal adviser, as he was my legal adviser at the Embassy in Cairo for many years, and there is no-one better. They have chartered accountants, surveyors and men experienced in these questions in Egypt, so altogether they have established a pretty good method of collating and "vetting" these claims, going through them individually. I have seen some of their work, and it is most businesslike. They have obtained bank statements and certificates of assets and done everything possible. I know that in many cases they have even cut the claims down. I only bring that in because it seems to me that in this task of determining the amounts of each applicant's assets which are "reckonable"—that is a strange word—it would be a good thing if the Foreign Office could be associated in some way with some such body. I suggest that particular body because I know about it, and I know it is fully qualified. In fact, I think it would strengthen the hands of the Foreign Office.
§ The next paragraph is the tabulation of the assets. There is no point under debate there, because it is acceptable. Then paragraph 3 is the scale of payments, which is the kernel of the whole thing. There is a lot to be said on that, but I am only going to generalise. On a close analysis it will not prove to be as generous as we had hoped and expected. I could give figures, but they have been so hurriedly put together that they might be misleading. One point that stands out is that it stops short at claims of £20,000 and over. That is a nice "fat" sum, and it sounds impressive; but there are, in fact, a number of claimants who have had property seized of a value of more than £20,000. There is no particular reason to stop arbitrarily at £20,000, and by doing so you leave out of account what I might call the higher bracket. I can see no justification why that should be done. I 1148 have here a letter which arrived only five minutes before I came into the Chamber and which, if I have time, I will read at the end of my speech. In this the claimant says he had £38,000, now seized by Egypt.
I turn now to paragraph 4, which says:
Persons eligible for payments under the scheme are all British nationals who left Egypt as a result of the events of the last year…
A large number of people left before that event, either on business, on holiday, or for some other valid reason, and were not in Egypt when this trouble blew up. But they lost everything, just the same, and I do not think it can be the intention to leave them out; perhaps it is only a question of loose drafting. Then paragraph 4 continues:
…and who have, before July 15, 1957, registered declarations of assets with the Foreign Office.
We know that quite a number of these unfortunates are scattered to the four corners of the earth; in fact, the Resettlement Board themselves have helped a number of them to go to Australia and New Zealand. How can they have "registered declarations of assets with the Foreign Office"? That, again, is probably a matter of drafting. I am sure it is not the intention to do these people an injustice, but it is a point of substance which I hope will be looked into.
The next paragraph is headed:
Relationship to previous loans from Resettlement Board.
That is a most involved affair, and my noble friend Lord Gifford has kindly undertaken to handle it in greater detail. But, as I understand it, the broad point is this: that some of the "lower bracket" people, if they are covered by this paragraph, will be worse off than they are under the Resettlement Board. The information I have is as follows:
Under lower grades, I am advised quite a number may feel it better not to risk future security.
As I say, that point will be elaborated by my noble friend Lord Gifford: it is a good one.
Paragraph 6 is headed, "Duration of scheme", and on that I have no comment. In regard to paragraph 7 I am afraid we strike rather heavy weather. It says:
The Board when making payment will ask each individual to sign an undertaking to repay. But no one will be asked to make any repayment until he can receive a return
from the Egyptian Government in respect of his individual claim.
That brings us at once to what I might call the form of receipt. That is the receipt with which these people are confronted for signature prior to a loan.
§ THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, my noble friend must make it plain that there is no receipt at the moment with which anybody has been confronted. There is no receipt in the published scheme; nor has anyone been confronted with any receipt, because nobody has yet applied for this relief. If my noble friend wants to raise any point about any draft which may be in existence in a confidential form, I should like to know what he is about. I have never refused to discuss possible drafts of possible receipts, but there has been no published scheme of any kind involving a form of receipt. If my noble friend is going to ask me to look at a confidential form, I will do so; but, with respect, I would ask him not to treat in a definitive form something which has been put before him confidentially at some stage of the negotiations.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I am grateful to the noble Viscount for dotting the "i's". If the thing does not exist, it does not; but I have it here.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
What I am saying is this. If my noble friend is dealing with a confidential draft, he should ask me to deal with it in some form other than in public debate. If he is dealing with something that has been published, then I will answer him in debate.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I indicated to the noble Viscount in the Lobby that I should bring this up, and I had a very hot reception, if I may say so.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It may be that I was objecting to the noble Lord's proposing to do what he is now doing—namely, discussing in public a confidential draft. I take it slightly amiss that my noble friend, for the first time in the whole of my Parliamentary experience, is now seeking to repeat on the Floor of the House something said in the Lobby. That is something from which I have never suffered, even from people who belong to the opposite Party.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My back is quite broad enough to take all these snubs. 1150 But I come back to the point, which is that when the scale of payments was put before the claimants it was to have behind it a draft receipt, and I am going to read that draft receipt to the House. This is what was to be given to them and if it is a draft—so much the better. This is what they were going to be asked to sign if they accepted what they were offered under the scheme; and, personally, wild horses would not make me sign it. It is addressed to the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board, from whom apparently these loans will be made, and says:In consideration of your advancing to me the sum of…pounds, the receipt of which I hereby acknowledge, on grounds of hardship caused to me by action taken on behalf of the Government of Egypt resulting in my being deprived of certain properly or being prevented temporarily or otherwise from pursuing certain claims, particulars of which property and claims are set out in the schedule hereto, I undertake to repay to you or to Her Majesty's Government on demand the sum of…pounds or such part thereof as you or Her Majesty's Government may specify from time to time".I do not think that that is the sort of document they should be asked to sign. A receipt they must give, of course; but why should they commit their views on a political question? However, I am going to leave this to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye to deal with, and I only say that I do not think that this is a form of receipt which these unfortunate people should be expected to sign.
I now leave the actual terms of the scheme. I would say that a great deal of time and trouble, and, if you like, bad blood and irritation, could have been avoided if months ago the Government had accepted some such scheme of proportionate advances as we put before the Government in two different forms. It would have been so much better; and in fact the claimants themselves put up a revised scale which would, I think, have satisfied everybody. So far as I know, that suggestion has never been adequately dealt with; it has just been brushed aside, and instead we have what we are faced with to-day. I have told your Lordships about the British Communities Association. Most of these people left Egypt the first week in November, and we are now at the end of July. It seems curious that, so far as I am aware, no member of the Foreign Office has ever visited the office of the Association. There they are, sitting there, with all these claims collated, 1151 revised, and so forth. And the Foreign Office have never taken advantage of the material they have got together—I do not understand why. If they had done so, it seems to me, it would have saved a lot of time, and would have helped a good many people.
I do not know if I have made this point. Under the scale which is before your Lordships, the ceiling is to be £5,000 for all claims over £20,000. I have gone into the figures, and, oddly enough, there are quite a number whose claims exceed £20,000. Under the Government's proposals, all these people would receive £5,000, which, again reverting to the interpretation of "hardship" as being proportionate to what the man had and to his commitments, I am advised is not much. It sounds a lot, but it is not much.
There is one question which I have not touched upon and which, naturally, was not touched upon by the Government—it arose in the debate of June 27. I refer to the vexed and puzzling question of this indemnity to the banks. I admitted then that I did not understand it, and I still do not; and I think many other noble Lords are in the same position. The plain fact remains that many of these unfortunates have large deposits, securities, cash, and "what have you," physically situated in the United Kingdom in British banks, but are not allowed to get delivery of them. If you go to the banks, they say, "Well, on April 11 at the request of the bank, we put in a memorandum to the Bank of England for the information of the Treasury, in which we asked for this indemnity. We have had no answer to that memorandum."
In our last debate, the noble Viscount said that the Government had taken no part in this at all; that they have put no prohibiton on, and so on. Whatever the legal niceties may be, the owners are still not allowed to get from the banks the securities and other assets which they own. The matter was not made any easier by a statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, in which he endorsed the view that there were legal doubts about this thing, and that possibly (I hope I am not misquoting the noble Earl) these things belonged to the sequestrator—otherwise, General Nasser. That seems a strange doctrine. Whatever the rights 1152 or wrongs of it, this situation has gone on and on. The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and I spent a whole morning with the late general manager of the bank in Cairo on this question, and I gather that we are not any more forward at all. However, that is a point which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Gifford will cover.
Then, of course, it was suggested by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in this House on June 27 that if there is any doubt about it, these holders could bring an action against the banks. That sounds all right, provided they could get the right decision. I think one noble Lord deplored the fact that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, would not be available for the purpose. Quite apart from that, this thought has occurred to some of us. Supposing some of these claimants were to issue a writ, and supposing the decision of the court was against them, what would be the effect on their title to these deeds? Would it not confirm Egyptian title? That is a point which I hope some noble Lord will answer in the course of the debate. Perhaps there is no answer. It seems to me "a teaser". Obviously, it affects the decision of whether you are going to bring an action or not. You bring an action because you think you are going to win it. But supposing, through the loss of your case, your title is brought into question; it would obviously affect your readiness to bring an action, would it not? It certainly would mine.
Before I sit down, I commend the Motion to your Lordships' House for debate. I will just add this reminder, because it is not sufficiently known by the public, or perhaps by this House. The Government have agreed to release to the Government of Egypt £20 million sterling of blocked Egyptian balances. I happened to read in the terms of the Agreement between the Egyptian Government and the Sudan that it is about £20 million. I know that that money is for currency purposes in the Sudan, and I know that the Sudanese are grand people and all that. I was High Commissioner for the Sudan for many years. Yet we see this wrangling going on over a few million pounds. On top of that, there was the meeting in Rome—we did not hear much about it, apart from a statement in the Press that another £6 million was to be released for certain types of debt. That is £26 million in all. All that makes it 1153 very difficult for the claimants for whom I am speaking to feel particularly grateful for what is now being offered them.
Before I resume my seat, I should like to say one thing, in spite of all the hard things that have been thrown at me. I am very conscious that we have made substantial—I will not use the word "advance" because that is apt to imply money, but progress since I first had the hardihood of facing the Front Bench to raise this question. For that progress I am sure we are all grateful. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.18 p.m.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, in the limited time at my disposal I have studied the statement made yesterday by the noble Viscount. Lord Hailsham, and I would say at once that it represents considerable progress in what one can only say has been, up to now, the intractable attitude of the Government. I should also like to say that this limited success, if we may call it that, has been achieved through the untiring efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, who has raised this matter in this House on so many occasions. I, for one, am prepared to accept the scale of advances as an interim measure, even though, like the previous speaker, I do not think they are very generous on the higher claims. But I should be glad to have the noble Viscount's assurance—and I understand he would be prepared to give it—that these loans do not rule out further assistance if the settlement of the claims by the Egyptian Government is long delayed.
A great deal has been said about this receipt. I do not propose to labour the point but I should like to say this. As I understood it, it was given as a draft order, as a proposal, not to the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, or to myself but to the representatives of these refugees from Egypt—the British Communities' Association. I thought that, like the first offer which came with it, it was a matter that we were at liberty to discuss, if we thought that it was worded in unfair terms. We do feel that, and therefore I hope that the matter will be further considered and that a new form of receipt will be produced, one which is not so harsh.
I realise also that in yesterday's statement an undertaking was given that no 1154 repayment will be asked for until the return of assets has been received from the Egyptian Government. But I should like to ask this question. Suppose the claim is eventually acknowledged by the Egyptian Government, and (we will say) there is a claim for £5,000; and suppose the Egyptian Government then say, "That is all right; we accept this claim but it is quite exorbitant; we will pay £1,000", what happens then? Is full repayment of the loan demanded, or is the fact that the claim has not been met in full taken into account? I should like also to raise a further point. I think it was staled as likely, though I do not think a definite statement has been made, that these loans will be free of interest. Perhaps the noble Viscount could confirm that. I thought he said that he believed it would be so.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
The noble Lord must take it that, if I give the House information which I say is true to my knowledge and belief, and if I subsequently discover that it is false, I should at once take steps to correct my mistake. I have not taken any such steps. I thought I had made that matter plain beyond any doubt.
Presumably it is the object of the Government to get the refugees out of the hostels and make them self-supporting. As the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has already indicated, the loans at the lower end of the scale are too little encouragement to bring this about. It is stated that, if anybody accepts a loan, of whatever size, he is then, in general (I think the terms are), debarred from any further help from the Resettlement Board. If a man is living in a hostel and receiving £7 or £8 a week from the Resettlement Board, can one expect him then to give up all that in return for a loan of £500? It seems to me that the way to do it is to grade down the assistance given by the Resettlement Board, taking the loan into account, but not to cut it off altogether. That seems to me the fairest way of doing it.
This is an important point, so I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I mention it again. I think it has been the habit of many British residents in Egypt to take their holidays in the summer. Therefore, many of them were, in fact, out of Egypt on August 2, which is given 1155 as the deadline date. Presumably this matter will not be dealt with too rigidly, and if a resident can show that he intended to return and to carry on his business, although he was not actually "thrown out" on August 2, he will be eligible for these loans. Once again I put in a plea for latitude as regards the date by which claims can be rendered, particularly in cases where the people are overseas or abroad. Some of these people have gone as far as Australia, and it is quite impossible for them to get their claims in by the date mentioned in the statement. I should also like to ask the noble Viscount whether these loans apply to institutions, such as hospitals and schools, whose trustees, in many cases, badly need funds in order to help members of their staff to rehabilitate themselves and find other positions. I was going to say something about the work of the British Communities' Association in preparing claims and statements of assets. I hope that the Foreign Office will make use of this expert knowledge in appropriate cases. I think it may save them from the occasional unfair or exorbitant claim.
I want now to say a little about this most difficult question of the refugees' personal cash and securities which are physically in banks in this country but are held to the order of a bank in Egypt. May I say at once that I have discussed this point with the noble Viscount on a number of occasions and I fully realise the Government's difficulty in the matter. But, as I have said on a number of occasions, I believe that something could be done and that some way of helping these people could be found by a round-table discussion between the banks concerned and officials of the Treasury. I think it is only right to say that the position was aggravated by what was said in this House by a spokesman for the Government. The banks were taking a fairly liberal attitude in this matter until the very definite statement made on February 28 last by the noble Earl, Lord Gosford, doubtless in consultation with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think it so important that I should like to read an extract from what he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 202, col. 165]: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 1156 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 decision in a United Kingdom court. I am sorry to say that that is the position.That, I think, can be taken as an encouragement to the people concerned to test the matter in a court; and that suggestion has been repeated on subsequent occasions by the noble Viscount.
I should like to utter what is, I think, a timely word of warning of what might happen if this took place. I am not a legal man. I do not feel that the case of the Egyptian bank is a strong one, but supposing that a case was decided in their favour in a British court, surely it would make the subsequent difficulties of both Governments much greater and would considerably strengthen the case for the Egyptian Government. So it seems to me most undesirable that legal action should be taken on these lines; yet Government speakers have almost encouraged the unfortunate sufferers to do this. This is a difficult and complicated matter. I can only say that the ordinary person in the street with whom I have discussed it cannot possibly understand why somebody with cash and war loans, Government securities, in his name in a bank in the City of London, cannot withdraw them. The ordinary person is completely mystified about that. He could understand it if the securities were in Egypt; but the fact is that they are here, in a bank in the City of London. To the ordinary person it is quite incomprehensible. I believe that some way over this difficulty could be evolved. In fairness to the noble Viscount, I should like to say that he has told me that people in this position will be eligible for the loans equally with those who have assets physically in Egypt.
I do not know what course the noble Lord, Lord Killearn will adopt to-day, but I feel that specific answers should be given to the points which I and other noble Lords have raised and are going to raise. It should be clearly stated that the loans and the aid now promised are only a first instalment, which may later be increased if settlement with Egypt is long delayed. My Lords, may I conclude by saying: let us never forget that we are talking about British citizens who have lost everything—houses, furniture, motor cars, businesses. They have come 1157 away with just a few things in a suitcase This is a position in which I think hardly anybody, fortunately, in this House, has ever found himself; but it is an appalling position, and their plight should be treated with the greatest sympathy.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I feel that my noble friend Lord Killearn owes no apology to your Lordships for returning to this subject to-day, because, after all, we are on the same side in this matter. Our single purpose is to try to obtain for these British citizens fair treatment and restitution of their property. Some of us are perhaps looking out of the same window, some of us out of a different window; those who sit on the Front Bench are looking through the official window and we from another window.
I, too, like the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, regard this scheme as an advance by Her Majesty's Government; I would describe it as an advance in cash against hardship and need. I would point out to your Lordships that the basic principle of the right or otherwise to look to Her Majesty's Government for compensation remains in conflict and is un-decided. I will not debate that because we debated it at some length quite recently; Her Majesty's Government take one view and some of us take another. That still remains an open question.
But, leaving aside that question of principle, and dealing with these proposals on a material and practical basis, there are various points which it is difficult to accept. It is difficult really to accept the scheme as a whole, or to acquiesce in it other than as a temporary measure. My noble friends Lord Killearn and Lord Gifford dealt with some of these points which are difficult to accept and which one would ask Her Majesty's Government to deliberate upon and to consider. The first point—I will summarise them briefly—is the right of the Foreign Office absolutely to determine the claims. The wording of paragraph 1 of the statement is:The Board will consult the Foreign Office who will, in accordance with the declarations of individual assets registered with it, determine the amount of each applicant's reckonable assets.1158 That really puts absolutely in the hands of the Foreign Office the final say as to what is, or is not, an asset.
The second point at issue is the arbitrary date of July 15 for the registration or lodging of claims. I think there is room there for elasticity and consideration by Her Majesty's Government. The next point is, to me, the grave objection which was elaborated by my noble friend Lord Gilford, of putting upon the distressed citizen the obligation to choose whether he will come under this scheme and lose all the benefits which he is now obtaining from the Resettlement Board, or Whether he will opt to stay on the Resettlement Board and not take advantage of this scheme. That seems to me to be a kind of topsy-turvy means test. It means that if he says, "I am getting so much from the Resettlement Board now for myself and my wife, and so much for my children, and that is really of more benefit than getting 70 per cent. of £1,000", he will obviously opt to stay upon the Resettlement Board. I do not think that a man should get the advantage of both schemes, but I suggest that there should not be this absolute declaration that a man should be expected to receive nothing from the Resettlement Board if he opts for this scheme. By all means, let the amount which he gets from this scheme be taken into account when he goes back to the Resettlement Board. By all means, take into account other resources, as it were. But do not deprive him of all benefit such as is proposed in this scheme.
The final and, to me, most serious of all objections is this form of receipt. There was a little brush between my noble friend Lord Killearn and Lord Hailsham as to whether or not this was a confidential document. I have been given a copy of the draft receipt of the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board. I am not going to enter the controversy as to whether it is, or is not, a confidential document. I personally side entirely with Lord Killearn in feeling that he can use and recite to your Lordships the text of a proposal which is put to the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board by Her Majesty's Government as the basis of what their receipt is likely to be.
I would not quarrel with my noble friend Lord Hailsham for anything; but let me put it this way. Would the noble 1159 Viscount, Lord Hailsham, agree that there should be no receipt submitted to applicants if it in fact contained a stipulation that the man must acknowledge that the hardship caused to him resulted from action taken by or on behalf of the Government of Egypt, which has thus resulted in his being deprived of his assets? That is not saying anything about this secret and confidential document. That is asking for an assurance that no such request will be made of anyone when they receive the money. My noble friend Lord Hailsham is perfectly at liberty to answer me on that point, without in any way dealing with the question whether a document is or is not confidential.
My Lords, as I said before, it seems to me that this scheme is an advance, but it seems to be too rigid. I should dearly like to see Her Majesty's Government accept in this scheme what I would term an exceptional clause—that is to say, that where an individual has particular circumstances this scheme shall be elastic as regards both administration and the amount of money given in his particular case. I believe the scheme is an advance, an instalment. I think it has certain anomalies and that it is going to be rather difficult here and there to work.
I would submit this to Her Majesty's Government for consideration. Would they think of setting up an Advisory Committee of the Government Departments concerned, mainly the Foreign Office and the Treasury, and the other interests concerned, mainly the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board and the Association of British Communities in Egypt? Would they consider setting up such an advisory committee, without any executive power (because the executive responsibility and executive power must remain with Her Majesty's Government; one acknowledges that at once)? Such a Committee could be in fairly constant session, at any rate in the beginning, to help to iron out some of these difficulties, to watch the administration of the scheme, to advise, to talk back to the various claimants, explaining the details of the scheme, and at the same time to act as a help to the claimants through their existing organisations up to this Committee. I do not think the contact between the Government Departments and the organisations is quite sufficient. I believe there ought to be a special Committee 1160 of the Government Departments and these organisations watching the administration of the scheme. If the Government would consider such a proposal I should be grateful. Meanwhile I say, without in any way conceding the principle, which still remains undecided, that I think this is a measure of progress for which we can be grateful.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, I have had on the Order Paper for some time a Motion on this subject. For various reasons that I will not go into, because they were confidential, I have not put my Motion down for a date. There are certain questions which have not been touched on to-day and which I want to ask my noble friend who is going to reply. I was unable to be here during the other debate that took place on this subject, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Killearn, and I should like to ask one or two questions with regard to it and to give my views.
There is one thing I feel very strongly: that on no account should anything be paid to Egypt until these refugees have been compensated. Already we have been told, and we know, that £20 million has gone for some purpose or other in Egypt, in regard to the Sudan; and in Rome there was another £6 million. My Lords, these wretched people have got into this situation through no fault of their own. Everybody admits that. It appears that they have been robbed of the whole of their property which is situated in Egypt. And now what about their property here—stocks and shares which are actually here? What do we call that? Like many other of your Lordships, I have been in business a great many years, and incidentally as a banker, which I am now. These people should not be allowed to sustain any loss whatever in regard to their assets. Their position, their property, must not be used in any circumstances whatever as a bargaining item with regard to Nasser.
These are questions that have been asked every day, all over the country, by a great many people. If the release of the refugees' property of whatever kind is held up—and it is held up—and their application to get hold of their property is refused, then I believe it is a debt of honour which the Government should recognise, and they should indemnify the banks and agencies who are holding these 1161 properties for their owners. There is no question about it. They have paid for these assets themselves, with their own money, and for safety's sake have deposited these properties in this country. Now they are unable to touch them, in spite of their destitution.
I was unable to be here yesterday, but I have read the statement, I presume from the Government, which the noble Viscount has issued to-day. There is much in it that requires careful study. Two questions immediately caught my eye. One is this question of ex gratia loans. My Lords, I do not quite like the expression "ex gratia" in regard to this matter. It looks to me as if we are doing this in a sort of charitable way. There is no charity about it at all; it is a question of justice and nothing else. The other thing which immediately struck my eye and which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Gifford was paragraph 7. I will read it to see whether I am right in picking up its meaning. It says:The Board when making payment will ask each individual to sign an undertaking to repay.That has been touched on by my noble friends Lord Killearn and Lord Gifford.But no one will be asked to make any repayment until he can receive a return from the Egyptian Government in respect of his individual claim.My Lords, what a hope! Have we ever had any indication whatever that such a thing was likely to happen? Now, my Lords, if not, why put that in? There is no hope whatever, as we know from past experience over and over again, that we are likely to get justice in the direction that that indicates.
The property has been referred to; it is all here and it belongs to these people, if anything can belong to anybody. They bought it with their own money and deposited it here in safe keeping with banks, agencies and other sources. I want to know on whose authority the banks and agencies have been prevented from delivering these assets to these owners. Who has given this instruction? I should like my noble friend, if he would be so good, to answer that question. Hardship is a mild word in relation to what these people are experiencing with regard to their own property. The noble Viscount said that the Government securities are not mature for repayment. My noble friend knows perfectly well that 1162 most Government securities are not mature for repayment. But you can go to the Stock Exchange and sell them. That is just what these people want to do and they are debarred from so doing. What is the legal position? I am not quite clear as to whether legal aid to go to the court may be granted. Perhaps the noble Viscount will enlighten me.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, if I may, I will clear that up immediately. Anyone in this country can apply for legal aid, and, in suitable cases, if they go through the machinery and satisfy the legal aid committees that there is a prima facie serious case—not a frivolous one—they can get legal aid, subject, of course, to the same considerations as to means as anybody else. It is one of the social services which are provided, and I wish the public were more aware of what the legal profession are doing in this respect, because members of it are doing it at some sacrifice to themselves.
§ LORD TEVIOT
I thank the noble Viscount for that explanation. On June 27 the noble Viscount referred to the expression "blocked account." This is recorded in column 524 of Hansard. He said that the account is not blocked by the British Government. Well, who blocked it?
§ LORD TEVIOT
Who put on this apparent blockage, preventing these people from getting hold of what they have paid for and what they own—if they can own anything? Someone is responsible, and I shall be most grateful if the noble Viscount in his reply will give us some information. Believe me, throughout the whole country—not only down here but in my own country in the North—this subject is occupying the attention of many people. Some of them are personally interested in this matter and many are concerned in the legal profession in the capital of my country. I hope that the noble Viscount will be able to answer some of the conundrums which I have put to him, and I trust that I have not fallen foul of him in asking them.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ LORD JEFFREYS
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion of my noble friend Lord Killearn, and, if I may, to emphasise the distress of the British 1163 nationals who have been expelled and robbed by order of Nasser and who have no resources to fall back on. There was a time when any British Government could be depended upon to uphold the rights and property of its nationals, and to see that justice was done to them. But things, apparently, are different now. In the past, the Government of the day admitted responsibility for the welfare of its nationals abroad; and in the present case that responsibility is all the more important, when it is remembered how much Egypt owes to British administration and British justice in the past. Surely, these British subjects have an overwhelming claim on the British Government when it is remembered how much our economic strength depends upon fair dealing and upon international trade. If British subjects are liable to be treated as these British subjects have been treated, there will be an end, so far as we are concerned, of good faith and fair dealing, and an end of good trade relations in the future, at least with Oriental countries who have standards of justice which are entirely different from our own.
We have now heard of the assistance—not very adequate assistance, I think—which the Government are proposing to offer to these loyal Britons. It appears that if they want reparations, apart from loans—and very limited loans—which are offered to them by the Government, they must apply for them to the Egyptian Government. What chance is there of these unfortunates receiving just treatment from an Egyptian Government? What chance is there of their receiving just treatment from an Egyptian Government whose own economic position is scarcely a flourishing one? One thing cannot be questioned: had the Suez operation not been embarked upon, all these dispossessed Britons would still be in possession of their homes and assets. They are thus suffering on account of the Government's policy, and the Government must be responsible that they are not left to suffer at the hands of the Egyptian Government. Surely the least the Government should do is to make it clear that no business or financial relations will be entered into with Nasser or his Government until all the claims of these loyal and maltreated British 1164 subjects have been dealt with satisfactorily.
Then we come to the question of the frozen sterling balances in Egypt. Many people think that these balances should never have been allowed to accumulate. Egypt stayed out of the war; and she tried very hard to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. By so doing, her people made very large profits out of the British Occupation Forces while receiving our protection. And yet we admit a heavy debt in their favour! Surely we should repudiate that debt, and use these frozen balances, first, for the compensation of these British subjects who have suffered from Nasser's injustice, and, next, to pay for the clearing of the Suez Canal from the obstructions placed there by Nasser's orders. One thing should be made clear to Nasser: that in no circumstances will any financial profits or assistance accrue to him or to his Government until the fullest reparations have been made to these British subjects who have suffered from his injustice and from his maltreatment.
I hope very much that something more will be done than is outlined in the statement which was made with regard to these loans. What is a loan of £5,000 to a man who has suffered a loss of not less than £20,000, and what further loans should come to those who have lost a great deal more than £20,000? I hope very much that these British subjects will be dealt with far more generously than the facts outlined in this statement suggest. I hope that these British subjects will be fully recompensed at the expense of Egypt and by the action of our Government.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, I should like to say how very much I agree with everything that noble Lords who have already spoken this afternoon have said, and how pleased I am that Lord Killearn has moved this Motion to-day. Having regard to the statement which was made yesterday by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, we must be grateful that the Government have now begun to do something. But I also think that there is one thing we must be perfectly clear about these are not gifts which the Government are making to these British subjects: they are loans; and they are loans which I do not think are nearly 1165 large enough. I will go into the details, if I may, a little later.
The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has examined very closely the statement which was made yesterday, and I have little to add to what he had said. But there is just one point about which I should like to put a question to the Government. Paragraph 4 of the statement is headed "Persons eligible," and, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to read it. It says:Persons eligible for payments under the scheme are all British nationals who left Egypt as a result of the events of last year, and who have, before July 15, 1957, registered declarations of assets with the Foreign Office.Of course, July 15 was yesterday, the date on which the statement was made. I should like to hear from the Government what would be the position of British subjects arriving since yesterday, because I am informed by the British Communities' Association that there are still British subjects arriving here from Egypt. I should be very grateful if the noble Viscount would tell us whether they will be eligible for this scheme.
As the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has said, we cannot look a gift horse in the mouth, but I must confess to a certain amount of disappointment in the sums the Government propose to loan—not to give—to these British subjects. I should have thought that the scheme which was discussed, suggesting a payment of percentages running from 80 to 10 per cent., for sums from a few pounds; up to £100,000, would have been much fairer. If one bases some figures on this scheme, one would see that a British subject who left £3,000 in Egypt would be granted a loan of £2,200, whereas under the Government scheme, they would be loaned only £1,600. For a larger sum, such as £16,000, under a scheme of percentages they would be loaned £9,600; under the Government scheme they get just over £4,000.
I also think it is a matter of great disappointment that the loans stop at the sum of £20,000. I think it would have been much better if the Government had taken into account all those who left in Egypt very much larger sums than this. It is not a case of just one or two millionaires: I am informed that there are 250 British subjects who have claims against Egypt for sums of over £20,000. I happen to know personally of one case of a family, some very old friends of 1166 mine, who lost nearly £250,000 They are able to claim a loan of merely £5,000. I believe that no British subjects are claiming on anything over £100,000 but I think that they should be able to claim on a percentage basis and to receive loans of sums running up to, say £25,000. We must remember that many of these British subjects are elderly men who have been running very important businesses in Egypt. It is very difficult for them to re-establish themselves here. Being able businessmen, they want to start their own businesses over here, but I think that that would be very difficult with the small sums which the Government are proposing to loan them. I hope that this scheme is only a preliminary one, and that later on the Government will consider something on a more generous scale. As has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Jeffreys, that will not in any way prejudice their just claims against Egypt.
I do not want to go into the question of Suez and the intervention campaign, the "extinguishment of a forest fire," or however one cares to put it. I think that the pros and cons of that campaign will be debated by historians for many years to come. I am not so unsympathetic to it as perhaps are some noble Lords on this side of the House, but I think that one thing is clear. One of the objects of the exercise was to protect British lives and property. Yet this, of course, is precisely what it has not done. That is why the Government have such a heavy responsibility in this matter. Let us not forget that these are British subjects. Many of them belong to families who have lived in Egypt for several generations, but they have never forgotten the old country.
During the war they helped us enormously, as my noble friend Lord Killearn will bear out, for he then held his distinguished position in Egypt, while I was a very junior officer. Their sons served in the Forces, as many of them did themselves. They helped the members of the British Forces on leave with hospitality and subscribed for them their money. Apart from that, they were for many years the spearhead of our trading in Egypt. Now that has all come to an end. I shall never forget going round the great cotton spinning mill at Misr Mehalla, one of the largest in the world, 1167 and seeing the whole mill filled with machinery supplied by Messrs. Platt Bros. That is one example of the work these British businessmen and agents were doing by their trading over there. Now they have come back to this country, practically destitute, as the result of an action undertaken by the Government. I hope that the Government will realise their very heavy responsibility in this matter.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ LORD FREYBERG
My Lords, I had not intended to take part in this debate except to express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Killearn for so persistently drawing the attention of your Lordships to the continuing distress of British citizens expelled by Colonel Nasser from Egypt. I can claim a certain knowledge of Egypt because, like my noble friend, I was there during most of the war years, based on Cairo, and I had some 80,000 troops to pass through. We liked the Anglo-Egyptians and got on well with them. Most of these displaced British subjects are known to us and some of them are personal friends.
In common with many Members of your Lordships' House, I have received some letters from British citizens who have been displaced. Let me read a typical one, from a young man, Major Collins, who served in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force with great distinction, went back to New Zealand and returned to start a business in Cairo. He writes to me as follows:Dear Sir:I was a major in your 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force, and at war's end I cleaned up the affairs of the New Zealand National Patriotic Fund Board in Egypt, and at the same time I was New Zealand Military Liaison Officer, Middle East.After completing my various jobs in Middle East, I returned to New Zealand late 1946, got myself 'demobbed', and sailed back to Egypt, April, 1947, to start business.Owing to a lot of good luck, and some hard work, I built up a business in Egypt in which I employed more than 500 workers, mostly Egyptians, but unfortunately the other day my business was sequestrated and I was summarily bumped out of Egypt.I hope you will forgive me uninvitedly offering you my life's story, but I think it is necessary as a lead up to the subject I want to discuss with you.The subject is, a man called Schlick. Schlick performed excellent work in the New Zealand Forces Club, Cairo, and after I was demobilised 1168 and returned to Egypt. I immediately gave Schlick a job in my new business where he remained right up until December, 1956. The Egyptian authorities discovered that his wife was the proud holder of a British passport, and because of this great sin, expelled her, Schlick, and their five children. Schlick does not have a passport at all, and to-day is a Stateless person under care of the British Consulate in Genoa, Italy…Schlick wrote to me a most pathetic letter from Genoa last week and begged me to write to you in the hope that you could help him with the necessary authority to go to New Zealand with his family. I wish that I could do something for him in this respect, but I am rather in the same boat"—this is Major Collins writing—as he is right now, having lost everything I owned in Egypt, and I write to you in the hope that you will be able to assist this very deserving case. He would make an excellent citizen of New Zealand…When I spoke about this case I had not read the official statement which was issued yesterday; and I am told that Schlick would not come under this scheme, because he is not a British national. That is a difficult situation. However, I feel that we could advise the Board that Schlick's wife is an Englishwoman, and that his five children could be given passports on, or attached to, the wife's passport. So that there would be six people who would be entitled to compensation. I hope that the noble Viscount who is to reply for Her Majesty's Government realises how strongly we all feel about these people who, through no fault of their own, are now described as "displaced, Stateless and homeless."
§ 4.12 p.m.
My Lords, in what I have to say I feel that I must first reiterate in your Lordships' House the basic principles which guide me in this matter. I believe that this particular issue is a quite exceptional one. I know that in the past it has always been a principle that the victims in the wars of this world should get no compensation from any Government. As I say, however, I believe that this is an exceptional case, one which stands on its own, and I am quite certain that ultimately we have the responsibility for seeing that these people get compensation. I feel that every endeavour should be used, in the first instance, to get that compensation from the man who ought to pay it, Colonel Nasser; and I personally hope that Her Majesty's Government will not think of unfreezing a single penny to Colonel Nasser until these 1169 people have received compensation. But ultimately—and I am afraid I must stand completely firm on this—if they fail in that task, then, in my view, adequate restitution must be made to these people, on behalf of us all, by the British Government. It is against that background that I examine these proposals of Her Majesty's Government.
When I look at the proposals I cannot feel that the principle in which I believe has yet been conceded. I cannot see here any concession to the ultimate liability of this country towards these people. I am bound to say that I feel that the scheme, on the whole, is on the niggardly side; if I may say so, it seems to bear the well-known imprint of the Treasury. The scheme has been criticised by a number of noble Lords on different grounds, and I do not propose to weary your Lordships by again going over points that have already been covered. I should, however, like to say a word or two on a few minor points. First of all, the scale of payments seems to me to be quite illogical. I observe that a man who has a claim of £3,000 gets £2,000: but a man who is unlucky enough to have a claim of £4,999 also gets £2,000, and so on and so forth; because the scheme is not drawn up on a percentage basis, but on some obscure basis which, frankly, I do not understand. Then, again, there is the question of repayment. Paragraph 7 of the statement says:…But no one will be asked to make any repayment until he can receive a return from the Egyptian Government in respect of his individual claim.I should like to ask the noble Viscount who is to reply to the debate what is meant by "a return from the Egyptian Government". Supposing you have a man who manages to get an advance of £2,000 from Her Majesty's Government; supposing, after all the negotiations, he gets paid £100 by Colonel Nasser, and that is the best Her Majesty's Government can do for him, is he then expected to repay £1,900 to Her Majesty's Government? If that is so, it seems to me that he will be heavily out of pocket. I may be somewhat obtuse, but the expression, "receive a return from the Egyptian Government", seems to me to be excessively obscure, vague and capable of almost any interpretation anybody likes to put upon it. I think we should have some further explanation about it.
1170 I feel that I must make some reference to the question of the form of receipt. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has said that this form of receipt is a draft document; that it is highly confidential, and must not be mentioned in your Lordships' House. With the great respect that I have for the noble Viscount, I should not think of mentioning it, except to say this: although this form of receipt has not been published, and is therefore presumably sub judice and not to be discussed, it is an important matter in the whole question of the scheme. If these people are to be asked to sign a form of receipt which is totally unacceptable and unreasonable, it is most unlikely that the scheme will succeed, because they will not sign it. Therefore, it seems to me that although we cannot discuss this form of receipt, it is an important matter (I have seen the form of receipt, and, personally, I think it is most unsatisfactory) and I think that, somehow or other, the noble Viscount will have to do something about it, because I do not think these people can reasonably be expected to sign that particular form of receipt.
Having said that, my conclusion about this whole business to date is simply this. I believe that Her Majesty's Government, by this statement, have made some advance towards our point of view. I do not believe they have yet met our point of view, and it is difficult to know how all this will work out. For example, I dare say that these advances would be less unreasonable if we knew that within, say, two or three months there was to be a settlement with Colonel Nasser, when the whole matter would be decided. But nobody car tell how long this will go on; therefore I do not see how we can express any ultimate satisfaction or certainty about these proposals. Nevertheless, I recognise that Her Majesty's Government have come some way to meet us, and so I shall wait anxiously to hear what the noble Earl the Leader of the House has to say. I should not like to make up my mind finally as to what our reaction should be until I have heard what he has to say. My reaction, so far, is to say this: we do not feel that we have been met entirely, but we do feel that Her Majesty's Government have made some effort to come towards us; that we should continue to watch the situation carefully and reserve our position completely to come back here immediately after the 1171 Recess and ask for a great deal more. That would be my reaction, although, as I have said, I should like to hear what the noble Earl has to say.
§ 4.20 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, has said that these are rather exceptional circumstances which we are discussing. Shortly after I became a Member of your Lordships' House about thirty-three years ago, the late Lord Carson used to bring up the case of the Irish nationalists who, in his view, had not had a square deal from the Government. I would not endeavour to copy his invective, but I remember his standing where the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is now sitting, shaking his first at the Front Bench and accusing them of being traitors. I remember that the second time this debate came up the Government were supported by Labour and Liberal Peers but were defeated by Back-Benchers of the Conservative Party.
The reason for my rising is to draw the attention of the Government to a certain category of individual not included in the list of those who get compensation: I refer to those who were in good employment in Egypt, who have no hope whatsoever of going back to their employment which has either been abolished or nationalised, and who, by reason of their age and lack of other qualifications, are now "on their beam ends" in this country, with little hope of ever being employed again. I suggest that their case should be dealt with as was the case of the directors of railways when the railways were nationalised. They received compensation commensurate with their expectations for the future if the railways had not been nationalised. I hope the noble Viscount will take note of that.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, for raising this matter again, and we are grateful to the Government for having accorded what would normally be a Government Business day for the debate to take place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, and others, in saying that this scheme, which was announced yesterday, is perhaps some advance in the direction of providing some interim relief. It certainly is no more than that. The point 1172 made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, is to me of fundamental importance. We have never yet had a completely frank admission on the question of principle as to whether, in these matters arising now as a result of the events in Egypt, the Government themselves have a direct responsibility.
It seemed to me that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, went rather close to it in his first speech on June 27. He was then dealing with a sort of double point with regard to funds in the event of claims in respect of property in war. I think it is worth refreshing our memories with what he did say. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 204, col. 504]:Of course, there must be between Governments negotiations in cases of this kind; but it would, at least in my opinion, be disastrous, not merely to these claimants about whom we are talking to-day—and they are important enough—but to the whole fabric of civilised behaviour based on international law, if it were to go out from this House that principles evolved during the centuries were of no account and that the claims of individuals to the restoration of their identifiable property-were to be used simply as bargaining counters in negotiations between the States.If I may say so to the noble and learned Viscount, I agree with every word of that, and particularly the conclusion. But so far we have had no indication from Her Majesty's Government that in these matters the last part of the noble Viscount's statement is to be followed through, and that those claims from British citizens injured by the events in Egypt form the basis of compensation which, if necessary, is the direct responsibility of Her Majesty's Government, and will not be held back to be merely bargaining counters in negotiations with Egypt on other matters. I think it is due to your Lordships' House that, if the noble Earl the Leader of the House is going to answer the debate, we may be made quite clear on that point. Those of us who studied the noble Viscount's speech of June 27 have been expecting that something would be said upon it.
It is not for me to comment upon the use of a draft receipt here; I did not even know about it and certainly there have not been any consultations on the matter. But when it comes out in the House, as was quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, that they would have to sign it in connection with words 1173 that would imply the responsibility of the Egyptian Government in respect of the particular matter for which they are to get an advance. I am amazed. It is perfectly true that the immediate eviction of these people from Egypt was done by the Egyptian Government. But in what circumstances? It is true that the Egyptian Government interned citizens of this country, but not until after our forces had entered Egypt. That does not seem to be sufficient ground for saying in a receipt by British citizens under a claim for help or compensation that the Egyptian Government is to be the one Government cited. That is a position I am sure that the country as a whole would not wish to see adopted for these claimants. We are bound to recognise that the course of this operation in Egypt lays a heavy responsibility upon Her Majesty's Government.
I do not propose to go into the details of the statement made yesterday, because it has been quite adequately dealt with by the first three speakers in the debate this afternoon, but I am bound to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, that those who are to get the immediate partial relief of these sums will feel that they are being treated rather niggardly. As a matter of fact, I did not have time on the last occasion to quote the figures, but at that time I had a suggestion as to what sort of loan advances should be mace. I am not going to quote the figures now, but they were considerably higher than the sums which are now set out in the statement. In respect of some of the people who could resettle themselves if they had a sufficient advance in respect of their known assets, I think the position may turn out to be exceedingly niggardly indeed. I hope that the last word of the Treasury has not been said on that particular matter.
I have had correspondence with those who belong to that section of people who were injured in their property and prospects by these events in Egypt, and who were the employees of the contractors to the British Government for the maintenance of our bases and stores from the time that the Government took the decision to withdraw our troops from the occupation of that base in Egypt. The noble Viscount, in his speech of June 27, did not say anything very specific about 1174 these particular people, but he did refer to the fact that there were certain cases outside the ones for whom interim relief was being sought, in connection with business interests and the like, which would be settled in another way. It is true that settlements have been made in some cases with the employees of those contractors. But there are two points I wish to make in regard to it. The first is that some of them have accepted sums offered which, in the view of many, were quite inadequate. It meant that unless they accepted the offer of six months' salary and no further responsibility, then for the time being only they would continue while under notice to receive an ordinary monthly salary subject to the deduction of income tax. I do not think that that was really adequate compensation.
In the second place, I would say that we owe people like that something because of what has arisen from these events in Egypt. After all, what happened to them? I praise the Government for the arrangements made much earlier, because they thought there might be difficulties in getting some of their wives and families out, and for the care which has been taken in that respect. After all, when certain things have been done, one ought to recognise them and say, "Thank you". But I do not feel that the people who were doing a job for the Government through the contractors have been well treated. I should say that, as they were interned, in conditions of great indignity, from November until nearly the end of February, with their families all the time suffering great anxiety, waiting and waiting for settlement—and even now some of them do not know what their next job will be—it would be not at all unreasonable that those men should receive a compensatory grant for that treatment in Egypt. It did not occur until we sent out troops and forces to Egypt, and I think that a capital sum should be paid to each one of them, because we must get the principle accepted that the Government have the responsibility and ought to meet it.
I have heard one or two suggestions as to what should happen at the end of this debate and what should be the view of the House. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, that we should listen 1175 to what the final answer from the Government may be, but I think your Lordships' House, on such matters as those that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and others, would agree that unless we can get this general principle accepted, we ought to let the Government know in no uncertain terms that we do not agree with the principle which they have adopted. I think that all sections of the House might keep that in mind while we are listening to the reply, to which we shall all listen very carefully and which I am sure we shall seek to assess fairly and justly. I hope that we are not going to accept, as it were, a long hiatus between now and the end of October, when we reassemble, and be in complete uncertainty as to whether the principle is accepted or whether there is not something which can be more effectively done to help these people. It is not through any fault of their own as British subjects but because of the actions taken by Her Majesty's Government, as well as by the Egyptian Government, that they ought to be properly compensated.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, although I naturally make no complaint that a good many speeches have ranged somewhat wide, both in the scope and in the context of the matter under discussion—because all these things have to be seen in the context both of the events of last autumn and of the desirability of developing our relations with Egypt on rational lines—I do not think I myself should be serving this House or the community well by going too far from the terms of the Motion. Words spoken in the context of a narrow debate which have a wide connotation are not always of advantage to anybody. Therefore, I shall strive to deal with the points which have been raised in the debate so far as they bear upon the Motion under discussion. I shall try to deal with them all. I should think, according to my enumeration in my now undecipherable notes, that some forty to fifty points have been raised, which would take a long time to discuss in detail; but I hope that, should any noble Lord who has raised points of detail to which he attaches importance feel that I am not dealing with them, he will remind me of them at the appropriate time in my speech. I shall then be only too happy 1176 to deal with them, since my intention is to deal with them all, although I fear that I shall probably overlook one or two through inadvertence.
I will permit myself—I hope I may not be drawn too far afield in doing so—one or two general observations by way of introduction. In the first place, I agree (and I think in this respect I am reflecting the view of the Government), with the general approach to this question adumbrated at the beginning of the speech of my noble and gallant friend Lord Jeffreys and my noble friend Lord Lloyd. Indeed, the Motion in a sense implies as much. We are dealing with people who have been expelled from Egypt "by order of Colonel Nasser"—I quote the Motion—and whose goods have been expropriated in circumstances which I tried to describe and categorise last time as going outside the proper ambit of International Law. I ventured to say then, and I repeat now, that whatever might have been the original justification for such confiscatory action, that justification must have disappeared by now according to the ordinary usages of International Law.
I thought at that time that I was expressing the general view of the House, and I still venture to think that this is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Jeffreys, used much stronger language which I myself might have used had I not been standing at this Despatch Box, but at any rate we think it would be the general view of the House that that was so. The only other observation I would make about this is that I do not altogether share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Teviot, that in no circumstances whatever can the present Egyptian régime be induced to behave in accordance with International Law in this matter. On the contrary, there are some indications that it respects the conscience of mankind in this case, and I hope that nothing which I say this afternoon will indicate anything other than that the British Government hold the Egyptian régime to the legal position and hope that it will perform its obligation in this matter.
If I have seemed on a previous occasion to be at all equivocal, or if any other members of the Government have seemed perhaps to be at all equivocal, about the ultimate solution of 1177 this matter, it is precisely because we hope and believe that it may still be possible to solve this matter in accordance with what I gather all Parties in this House would consider to be justice. What happens if, unhappily, that should not prove to be the case is obviously something which may have to be discussed then; but I know that noble Lords in this House would not desire to press me to say anything which would induce the present Egyptian régime to believe that we were not expecting justice for individual citizens who have been wronged in this way. I am perfectly sure that if I were to say anything of that kind I should not be serving either those citizens or my country. I hope, therefore that I may have a very good measure of understanding and sympathy for the way in which I address myself to dealing with the general aspects of this matter.
The second thing I wanted to say by way of introduction is this. I ask the House to remember the scope of the subject which we are discussing this afternoon and the circumstances in which it arose. We were faced with the situation of persons expelled from Egypt, deprived of access to their goods, whether permanently or temporarily. We dealt first with the question of hardship in a fairly narrow sense. That was the subject of the previous jurisdiction of the Resettlement Board. I think it is fair both to the Government and to the Board to say that neither on June 27 nor to-day, by and large, has it been suggested that within the scope of the original jurisdiction, which deals with everybody on the basis of hardship, the statement had been other than generous, or indeed that the payments had been other than generous, because they have been at something like the rate of £1,500,000 a year, and are continuing now.
On the previous occasion, the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of HILLSBOROUGH, asked me to give some further account of the operation of the Resettlement Board. I am happy to say that I hope it may be possible, in one form or another, to comply with that request, which we regard as wholly reasonable, before the Recess. But I think it is worth while saying, so far as the hardship of the person and to the person is concerned, that so far there has been no 1178 criticism at all, either on June 27 or on the present occasion, by those who have put forward this Motion. The Motion has been designed, and is so expressed, to meet the case of the classes of person who, in addition to personal hardship of the other kind, have been deprived of resources held both in Egypt and in the United Kingdom. If the scope of my announcement yesterday seemed to some, as I think it probably did, unduly restricted, I would ask the House to remember that it was within the ambit of that rather narrow aspect of the problem that the whole statement was conceived; and it arose from the debate on the previous occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, said that in his view, at any rate, the expression "hardship" ought to include the deprivation over an extended period of time of assets. I have said in terms that that seemed to me to be a reasonable point to make, and the debate was, in effect, adjourned, in order to explore the possibilities of that exchange of views.
The genesis of yesterday's statement was not the desire to give a comprehensive review of the whole situation; the statement was intended to be the outcome of considering the view which I had expressed to the House, that to be deprived of one's assets over an extended period of time was indeed a hardship. I went so far as to add—which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, did not do—that, in my view at any rate, the hardship might increase as the period of time extended. I thought that was some indication of what was in our minds on this matter. Well, my Lords, the outcome was, after a considerable period of discussion—perhaps "negotiation" is the wrong word—the announcement of yesterday.
The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, said that he had been working for an agreed solution. I certainly hoped, and hope, that the solution which has been found, when it is placed in its proper context, will be found acceptable. I do not quite know what is meant by "an agreed solution". There are, I think, 6,000-odd persons whose claims may be affected by what the Government propose to do. I know of nobody except the individual 6,000-odd people who can make an agreement. There is no negotiating body—not even the noble Lord. In fact, I should have thought that, whilst I hope 1179 every time to persuade the House that what I suggest is reasonable, short of having 6,000 separate agreements I could not claim that anybody is bound by it, apart from the Government who are putting it forward. I can assure the noble Lord, who claims to have done his best himself to provide an acceptable solution, that there was no other thought either in my mind or in the minds of my colleagues than to do so.
I point out, too, that the Motion which the noble Lord has put down again, in identical terms, relates to the matter ofinterim relief to admitted claims pending a just and full final settlement.With great respect, I do not think that it is a legitimate complaint against the Government that, in making their announcement acceding to the claim for interim relief, they did not define what the item of "a just and final settlement" would be, because that was something far beyond what was asked for in the Motion. What we sought to do was to recognise that hardship was being caused to those who, by virtue of delay, were deprived of access to their assets and to try to meet that hardship by an interim solution. Of course "interim solution" means neither more nor less than it says. It does not mean that it is the Government's last word; obviously, it does not necessarily mean that it is not. We all hope that to-morrow we shall read in our newspapers that Colonel Nasser will repay everything that he has taken. It may be that some of us do not think that that is very likely. But what further steps, if any, can be taken must depend upon the situation and how it develops.
My Lords, I thought perhaps the best course would be to take the statement, paragraph by paragraph, simply as a kind of structure on which I could reply to the different points which, according to my recollection, had been made upon it by various noble Lords who had taken part in the debate. But before I approach the statement may I say this. The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, was not, I think, right in feeling that we had ever resented that he should have presented this matter for consideration by the House. On the contrary, I should have thought it was a question eminently suitable for discussion in either House of Parliament. I do not think that anyone would complain that the noble Lord, 1180 whose connection with the British community in Egypt is well known and, I think, universally respected, or that my noble friend Lord Lloyd, or other noble Lords who have interested themselves in the matter, should have been so persistent or acute as they have been. On the contrary, we have to be grateful to the Parliamentary system which enables this matter to be debated. If I have a small matter of reproach to mention against the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, to which I will come in due course, it is not connected with the fact that he has put this Motion on the Order Paper or repeatedly referred to the matter; on the contrary, I think that in doing so, he is performing his duties as a Member of Parliament.
The first point which was made was in connection with the application. It is, of course, true that the determination will be in the hands of the Foreign Office. But as I understand the matter, the Foreign Office propose to value the claims, for the purpose of making these loans, at their face value; it is for that reason that a certain percentage has been knocked off. Obviously, when you are dealing with things like second-hand boats on the River Nile—see Item 3 of paragraph 2—or livestock in Egypt prior to November, 1956, which have been sequestrated, you cannot hope to make an absolutely accurate assessment of their value. But the value of the Committee to which the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has referred, has been acknowledged by the Foreign Office. As I understand it, where a prima facie claim has been made out, the claim is considered on its face value. I do not think, on the whole, that it is reasonable, when the claim is being accepted on that basis, to ask for a formal consultation in every case. I think that the noble Lord must take "Yes" for an answer in this particular case.
That, I think, was the only question which was raised in regard to paragraph 1, except that I think my noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked for an advisory committee. I have two comments to make upon that. Quite clearly, as I said last time, any suggestion which is made for the improvement of the machinery of discussion or liaison is to be examined carefully and will be welcomed should it prove workable. Hitherto, we have been negotiating partly with 1181 Members of another place and of your Lordships' House who have shown a great deal of interest in the matter, and partly with members of the communities concerned. I am not at all sure that this is not the best way, because the varied nature of this problem is one which lends itself, I am afraid, to discussion mainly of individual cases—as, for instance, the particular special case put before me by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg. I should certainly like him to send on to me the letter which he read out so that I may consider what can be done. I am not quite sure that an advisory committee is the appropriate machinery. The Resettlement Board itself represents a large number of organisations, and it is possible, I think, to have too wide a ranging system of committees when the personal and direct approach might well have better results. I think my right honourable friends would be most interested in my noble friend's suggestion, and I will see that it is brought to their attention sympathetically.
I think no particular problem arises over paragraph 2 of the statement. This recognises that only certain assets should be reckonable, but the whole list appears to have been acceptable to the House. The noble Lord, Lord Middleton, and I think one other noble Lord who took part in the debate, referred to persons who had contracts of service and had lost their employment. It is quite true that this scheme does not directly assist them. It is not intended to, because it is specifically a scheme which arises out of the discussion we had on June 27. It was designed to meet those who were deprived of access to tangible assets. That does not necessarily mean that these people will not rank for assistance from the Resettlement Board. Many will do so—in fact, many have done so. A limited category, however, will rank for assistance under this scheme. If your Lordships will look at the list in paragraph 2, the third item from the bottom is "Indemnities". I was curious enough to inquire what was meant by "indemnities" in this context, because I was not quite sure what class of asset could be referred to in those terms. I understand that the heading "Indemnities" refers to a right arising under the Egyptian law of master and servant, under a recent decree, which allows terminal payment to a person whose employment 1182 has been terminated, for whatever reason. To that limited extent, they are dealt with by that scheme; otherwise they come under the general scheme.
As regards paragraph 3, I must say that, viewed in its context, in Which I have sought to place it, I do not feel that this scale can be regarded otherwise than as reasonably generous. More than half of the claims, I think I am right in saying, are for sums of £2,000 and under; and they represent, as your Lordships will see from paragraph 2, a considerable variety of different types of asset, not all easily realisable and not all easily calculable. No one has suggested—and I am not going to—that there is an element of conscious inflation about any of these claims, but obviously there is a margin of error when we are dealing with second-hand goods things like vehicles, boats on the river Nile, and livestock; quite obviously the claimants will have wished to do justice to their own claims, and there may be in the valuation an element of doubt of a perfectly legitimate kind. It follows that even if the Government were to allow the claims at 100 per cent. of their value, they would, for the purpose of interim relief, be bound to leave a substantial margin in hand. And I emphasise again that this is an interim relief, which is supplementary to that already received from the Resettlement Board, in the sense in which I shall explain. Therefore, I do not think that a basic scale of 70 per cent. is unreasonable. Quite obviously, those who have lost very large fortunes have lost more; but the scope of this scheme, which is a narrow one, is not designed to give permanent compensation for losses of £20,000 and more. It owes its genesis to a promise by myself to consider giving interim relief, viewing hardship on a generous basis and recognising that deprivation of assets for an extended period might be termed hardship.
The noble Lord, Lord Killearn, for purposes of his own, quite legitimately, reminds us that eight months have passed since October, and that that is a long time. Well, yes; but when it is proposed, as an interim measure, to put claimants into possession of up to £5,000 in the case of large fortunes, free of interest—and, of course, free of tax, because it is a loan—to tide them over whilst the delay continues, I cannot see that such a payment can be described as niggardly or mean. 1183 If it were designed to represent an assessment of the value of the claim or as anything but what it claims to be, namely, to quote the Motion,a measure of interim relief pending a just and final settlement",those words might be used. It would depend on the view one took of the ultimate nature of the obligation. But this is what it claims to be, and nothing more, and I cannot think that £5,000 is a very niggardly figure. Having heard some of the figures which were put forward at some stages by others, I am not sure that there is really so much difference as one might suppose from some of the more excited statements which have sometimes been put forward.
I come now to paragraph 4:Persons eligible for payments under the scheme are all British nationals who left Egypt as a result of the events of last year, and who have, before July 15, 1957, registered declarations of assets with the Foreign Office.There are two points there. All these schemes are at the moment limited to British subjects, and therefore, the Mr. Schlick referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Freyberg, is not himself eligible for the scheme; but if the noble Lord will send me the letter to which he referred I will see whether anything can be done within the scheme for Mr. Schlick's wife or, outside it, for himself. I do not think I should say more about that at the present stage.
I think it is desirable to have placed the date at July 15, 1957, that is, the present moment. It does not refer to the arrival of refugees in this country (if I may deal with the point dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi); it refers to the registration of assets. As noble Lords know, we have for a number of months had a system of registration of assets. The only complaint that has been received so far has been that it has been on the table too long, not that it has been on the table too short a time. It was thought reasonable that the scheme should deal with the registration of assets to the date of that interim measure; and that is what has been done. I am not in the least saying that outside the scope of the covenanted scheme there may not be scope for uncovenanted relief. I should have to see the kind of case which was sought to be brought within the ambit of that before I gave any undertaking 1184 about it. The covenanted scheme is for assets registered up to July 15, a period which in the past has been characterised as too long and not as too short. I do not think it can be said to be unreasonable, provided always it is understood that, if noble Lords find the shoe is pinching or that the scheme does not work, the matter will be considered, though I cannot in general give any undertakings about that.
There was some complaint from the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, and one or two other noble Lords, about the relationship of the scheme to previous loans from the Resettlement Board. That is, of course, an aspect which I am sure will be looked at again as things go on. It does seem to me that at first sight they had perhaps not got the relationship between the two schemes clearly in their minds. The Resettlement Board makes grants and loans. Some of the grants are continuous maintenance grants from week to week. Some of them are terminal grants ending all payments. Some of them are "once and for all" grants, to help in the purchase of furniture. Any grant made up to date is disregarded for the purposes of the scheme: that is to say, the claimant is entitled to the amount of the grant, whatever he will be entitled to under the scheme, in addition, without setting one off against the other. Loans are taken into account because, after all, a loan has to be repaid, and it is reasonable that loans should be reckoned together and taken into account.
The question then arises to what extent can a claimant go on claiming public money under resettlement provisions and getting what may be up to £5,000 of public money. The normal rule is that if you have access to your assets you go off the ordinary resettlement claim and do not come back on it. I should have thought that, with one qualification, that was a just provision. Lord Gifford says: "Why not scale it down in accordance with the grant received?" My view is that that might operate far more harshly on the claimant than what is proposed. The present scheme is that a person receiving public money under an existent resettlement loan can go on doing so and is under no obligation. He does not disentitle himself for three months. In other words, he can go on getting public money for three months without repayment, and then apply under the scheme. If he feels 1185 that he is being prejudiced by the lapse of three months he goes to the Resettlement Board and says: "Let me defer my application under the scheme." So he goes on getting public money without disentitling himself if the Resettlement Board agrees, and is still entitled to his loan under the scheme later on.
I do not think that that can be argued to be a niggardly provision. If it causes hardship, my view is that that will emerge in practice. The door is not shut to adjustment in interim measures. Clearly the Government must, and I, as spokesman of the Treasury must, show a due sense of public responsibility in the disbursement of public monies. People are rather inclined to talk scathingly in terms of charity. This is not charity. It is public money which is being disbursed, and one must consider whether one can justify this payment as a payment of public money. I feel that, with this exception, the House might be willing to allow this scheme to go forward, and then if hardship should emerge your Lordships have the opportunity of bringing it either privately or publicly to the notice of members of the Government. The last thing I would suggest is that in a scheme of this character, designed to give interim relief, categories are at all rigidly determined.
The duration of the scheme is dealt with in the next paragraph. I do not think any point was raised about that. Then comes the obligation to repay. Here I have a slight feeling that injustice has been done to the Government in what was done with the draft receipt. The receipt forms no part of the scheme. The scheme is as stated yesterday. But clearly there must be some sort of a receipt, and a tentative draft of what was proposed was put forward to a representative of the community concerned on the strict understanding that it was not to be published. A promise was given and the receipt was put forward for discussion on that basis. Personally, I believe in a bargain being kept, however sympathetic one may be. The next thing I knew was that I was told that the draft was going to be read out in the House, with the result that it would be published. I say that there is nothing to be ashamed of in that draft, but I feel that if negotiations are to be carried on on the footing of documents which it is agreed shall be regarded as confidential, that kind of 1186 bargain should be kept. I know that neither of my noble friends would have lent themselves to a deliberate breach of a bargain of that kind, and I am not suggesting for a moment that they have done so. But in view of what I am advised were the terms on which that document went forth, I think that when they reflect they will understand why I was a little resentful that that document should have been made a subject of public discussion—for it has been made the subject of public discussion.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I should have thought that when you were seeking to find a form of words which was satisfactory to both the two negotiating parties, it was the commonest thing in the world to ask that while discussions were in progress the matter should be treated confidentially. If not, I would sincerely suggest to my noble friend: hat an undertaking to treat it as confidential should not have been given. But if given, the undertaking should not have been broken.
§ LORD KILLEARN
Who gave the undertaking to treat it as confidential? I am quite unaware of anyone having done so.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
According to the information I have received, the document was given to Colonel Moore on the distinct understanding that the document should not be published.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
This is to be a form of receipt—not an individual one to Colone Moore—which will be signed by everyone who takes a loan. Is that not so?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Exactly. For that reason it was desired that it should be shown to the people concerned—or at any rate to a representative selection of them—in order to discuss what form of words would be acceptable. Then I find that this thing, which is intended for purposes of discussion and negotiation, to see what form of words would be acceptable, is to be treated as an excuse for public criticism of the Government which has offered it. Surely it is unreasonable—
§ LORD KILLEARN
No excuse was needed at all. I repudiate the word "excuse". The receipt was put up as 1187 part of a proposal by the Treasury. There is no excuse required whatever. I do not see why these people should be browbeaten by the Treasury into signing something which is quite improper.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am sorry to say that I see no justification for accusing the Treasury or anyone else of browbeating anyone.
§ THE EARL OF SWINTON
I am sorry to pursue this matter, but I think we ought to get it clear, and I hope we can do it without undue heat. As I understood the noble Viscount—and I have tried to follow carefully what he has said—one of the difficulties in this case is that you cannot negotiate with anyone or make an agreement with anyone because, on the one side, the Government, of course, can make the offer and stand by that offer, but, on the other side, there are 8,000, 9,000 or 10,000 people, each of whom has a claim or a case. The difficulty is that you cannot make an agreement which is binding on both, because the Government make an offer that no doubt is binding on them, but thousands of claimants cannot be bound because they cannot be got together. That I entirely accept. If you are asked to make an agreement in confidence with them, and the matter is at large for debate in your Lordships' House, and the form of receipt they are asked to sign is obviously a vital factor, I do not understand why there should be all this hullabaloo about the secrecy of the form of receipt.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I can see one aspect of what my noble friend is trying to say, but it seems to me that what the Treasury did was more reasonable and generous. They wanted to know what form of words would be acceptable, and they did exactly what they had been invited to do by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn. They got in touch with those who, at any rate, claimed to be, we say rightly—
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
Please let me finish the sentence; I am dealing with the question of the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, about representatives of the community concerned. The Treasury put forward a form of words, which certainly I am prepared to justify but which at that stage was purely tentative 1188 and formed no part of the scheme as announced, to ascertain what could be agreed, and they did so precisely because it could be altered. It was not definitive, and these representatives were asked not to take this receipt for granted. That undertaking was not kept. It is a pity that the undertaking was not kept. If an undertaking is unreasonably asked for, then the complaint should be made, "You should not ask for that undertaking and we will not give it." But to give the undertaking and then break it does not seem to me to be the way in which things should be done.
My Lords, I do not want in any way to discuss the private discussions I had with the noble Viscount in the absence of my noble friend Lord Killearn, but my recollection is that I informed him that this draft receipt was totally unacceptable and that we felt that we must raise the matter in the House because it was fundamental to the whole scheme.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, the noble Lord is not quite right about that. He told me that he objected to our receipt because of the demand for repayment at any date on demand. It was for that reason that I made representations to my right honourable friend, which resulted in the sentence at the end of paragraph 7:But no one will be asked to make any repayment until he can receive a return from the Egyptian Government in respect of his individual claim.It was never suggested to me that this form of conventional receipt was unacceptable. At that time, I did not know of the undertaking which had been given, but I should have been asked if there had been any question of it. This tentative form of receipt has been objected to on the ground that the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, gave. I do not mind. I do not think that there is anything wrong with this receipt. If there is, we shall try to put it right. But what I do say is that when one is dealing with negotiations of this kind, it is very important to see that undertakings are kept.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount this question? He has been making a series of accusations that someone outside the House has broken a confidence with the 1189 Treasury. I think it is a little unfair that someone outside, whom the noble Viscount has even mentioned by name and who is unable to answer for himself, should be subjected to strictures by a Minister from the Front Bench unless the Minister is prepared—he may well be—to show some acknowledgement by this particular man or organisation that this was a confidential document. It came into my hands and I have no regrets at all at having declared to the House the provisions in this draft receipt, because, I repeat, I think that they make the prospective signatory concede the undecided point of principle, which we are not debating to-day, which I have studiously avoided debating, and which the Government have tried to impose upon the affected individuals by means of making them sign something because they are going to get their money.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, nobody has tried to impose anything on anybody. That is precisely what we are anxious not to do. We decided to discuss this receipt with the persons, or at any rate with those as near as we could get to the persons, concerned; and if I have made strictures on somebody and named him, I have done so only in response to a direct question.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
I did not ask the question. Would the noble Viscount withdraw that the question was from me?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I am sure that I did it in response to some noble Lord, because I did not at first give the name and I am sure that some noble Lord from that quarter of the House asked me to identify him. But I feel it is a duty, when the Treasury have advised me that this undertaking was given and not kept, to apprise your Lordships of that fact. If there is any misunderstanding, I shall be happy to think so. I certainly do not want the fact that this unfortunate incident has happened between the Treasury and the person concerned to rob us of any mutual confidence we may have in our future negotiations; and I hope that the House will accept that.
1190 I should like to say something about the terms of the receipt, because I am sure the House will be interested, now that the document has been read, for better or for worse, to know what is thought of the terms of the receipt, and not about the circumstances in which it came into being. That seems to me now to be the point of the matter. The object of the receipt is to identify the payment and identify it as a loan. It was not intended, either by the Treasury or by anybody else, to prejudice anybody's position; only to describe it. All these assets which come within the scheme are assets which have been withheld, expropriated or sequestrated by action of the Egyptian Government. That defines the ambit of the scheme.
Some phrase defining assets of this kind and the way in which they got out of the possession of the owners is, I should have thought, obviously necessary. It certainly was not desired to prejudice the claimant in any way. It was not intended to express any judicial view on the basis of the international position, although I have repeatedly reiterated the view, and do so now, that the sequestration was illegal and that it is the duty of Her Majesty's Government to press the claims of the claimants against the Egyptian Government. If the noble Lord or any of my noble friends have the smallest idea that this receipt was designed in some way to prejudice the claimant or do anything other than define by a factual description the ambit of the scheme to those assets which were, in fact, expropriated as the result of the action of the Egyptian Government, then I should like him to disabuse himself of that idea. There was no idea of that at all.
If the noble Lord came to me or any other member of Her Majesty's Government to discuss a form of words which he felt did not have that effect but was none the less sufficiently precise to suit our purpose, I would not mind. I simply want to get this right. The only thing I am anxious to do is to set it right from both points of view—from the point of view of the claimants and from the point of view of Her Majesty's Government. With the greatest respect, I would say, I think with general approbation, that, valuable as a debate in Parliament is, there are better tribunals for the minuter points of the draftsmanship. I hope that 1191 I have now dealt with the receipt, for the time being. I have gone through the statement.
Before the noble Viscount continues, I would remind him—he invited us to remind him if he missed anything—that I asked whether he could explain in a little more detail the meaning of the phrase, "receive a return from the Egyptian Government". That seems to me to be obscure.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
It is bound to be obscure. Suppose all the money comes back from the Egyptian Government: one would not expect the claimant to have both the money and the loan. Equally, I think one would legitimately expect that if the Egyptian Government were to do what we are here agreed is the right thing by any particular asset, the claimant might reasonably be expected to press his individual claim, if it rested with him, under the provisions of any settlement that was made. What is designed by this phrase, without being too precise, is to make sure that the claimant is protected against repayment by himself except in the circumstances named—that is to say, that there are assets available for him, if he seeks to obtain them and takes reasonable steps to obtain them; and secondly to ensure that he will take reasonable steps to obtain them once he has had the loan. It was certainly not in the mind of anyone that anybody would be astute enough to ask for the whole sum back from a claimant who received only 1s. in the £ from the Egyptian Government. If I may say so, with respect, to my noble friend, loans are loans, and I should have thought that this form of receipt, expressed however aptly after discussion, is much less harsh than most other forms of receipt that I have seen, when read in conjunction with the assurance given in the statement yesterday that repayment would not be sought except in the event of there being a return available from the Egyptian Government.
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount again, but the whole point of my intervention was that it seemed to me that a great deal depended on the size of the return: it might be total, it might be partial, or it might be virtually non-existent. However, I do not wish to pursue the matter now, 1192 and perhaps I can discuss it with my noble friend at some time, leaving it there at the moment.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I should have thought that my noble friend was right: that this is a point of detail which can be left to discussion between us. As he said, and as I have said myself, it depends a great deal on the size of the return, on the nature of the asset concerned and its value.
My Lords, before the noble Viscount passes on, I should like to take up two points on paragraph 4 on which I do not think we have a clear answer. First, there is the question of the persons eligible. I mentioned the case of people who had left Egypt before the deadline date, which was August 2, either on holiday or for various other reasons, but who intended to return. Strictly speaking, according to the wording I do not think they are eligible for the loans. The second category is the people who, say, have migrated to Australia and may not have had time to put in their claim by the deadline date of July 15.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I think that those two are questions of detail, but I should have thought, offhand, that the answers were plain from the words of the statement. The test for eligibility does not depend on a fixed date as a terminus a quo, but depends on the fact of their leaving Egypt as a result of events last year; and although, as I understand, administratively, for the purposes of the other scheme, but not for this, a fixed terminus a quo has been used as a test, it has not been rigidly applied, and there is nothing in this scheme to indicate that it would be rigidly applied here.
With regard to registration, I have already dealt with that point. It is thought that the cut-off date is a reasonable one for an interim scheme, in the sense that I have described it. I am sure that if my noble friend finds that it causes injustice in an individual case, and he can produce it, he will have no hesitation in coming to me, or to any other member of the Government, so that we can try to thresh it out together. As I say, these questions of detail are impossible to cover in all their multifariousness. I would respectfully suggest that the right course for the House to take is to accept the scheme and see how it works. After 1193 it has been working for a short time, we shall have experience of its working, and we shall know more clearly if it has any defects and what they are.
I promised to deal with one other subject, a difficult question adverted to in somewhat different terms by several noble Lords; that is to say, the case of claimants who have assets in British banks in this country. The first thing I should like to say is in relation to what was fairly and generously said by my noble friend: that these assets will all rank for Government; loan under this scheme. They come on the last of the list in paragraph 2:Securities on deposit in the United Kingdom.They are reckoned as assets for the benefit of this scheme. But the point raised by several noble Lords is a somewhat different one. These are assets held by British banks in this country. Some are held in the names of British subjects now in this country; some, I understand, are held in the name of Egyptian companies, but, in fact, beneficially owned by British subjects now in this country; some are held on behalf of the branches of the very bank in this country which now holds the assets physically.
As regards that, I have been bound to tell the House on a series of different occasions that I do not understand, and I still do not quite understand (I see the noble and learned Earl, Lord Jowitt, opposite, and in the presence of such a legal authority I speak with some trepidation, but he has been kind to me on more occasions than one and in more capacities than one, so perhaps I will pursue the argument) prima facie, what would necessarily stop a British bank from handing over a British asset physically in this country to a subject of this country who, in fact, owns it as the customer of the bank.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I am glad to hear that the noble and learned Earl agrees with me. Nor am I quite so clear as some noble Lords appear to be why a British bank should want an indemnity from the Government to hand over to the customer his own money. These are obtuse legal questions. It is wrong for a Minister of the Crown to express art opinion about them, but he is entitled to 1194 a certain amount of scepticism about them, and I think that is as far as I can go. I know that there are cases in the courts of a very different kind, which have been decided by this House in its judicial capacity, in which the exchange control of other countries has been recognised for certain purposes. Perhaps it is—I do not know—that the banks are apprehensive of the results of the finding in those cases. If so, it would be wrong for me, as a Minister of the Crown, and particularly one not holding a portfolio connected with the law, to say anything on that point. All I can say is that the legal rights of such parties ought to be determined by the court, and if the result of their determination of their legal rights seems an injustice to an individual British subject, it would be then, and not before, that on that basis the British subject ought to go to the Government and ask for political or executive action. But it is wrong for the Government in general principle to interfere with the rights of parties which may be the subject of litigation, before they are ascertained in the courts. I would ask the House to accept, on the whole, what I say about that matter.
I think I have now covered the whole ambit of the debate. If I have omitted any point raised by any noble Lord and he feels that I ought to have dealt with it, and will write to me. I will try to deal with it by correspondence, because in the course of a rather diffuse discussion of this kind it is not physically possible to keep all these points in my mind. What I hope to have achieved as the result of my speech is to indicate the scope and nature of this complaint, and to persuade noble Lords in all quarters of the House that we are sincerely anxious to show ourselves sympathetic to the claims of these people who, as has been said repeatedly, have done no wrong at all themselves, and to do so consistently with the stand we have taken on international law, with our general obligations to the public, and with our sense of responsibility as public servants. If, in any way, we have fallen short in that respect, I do not think the House can complain that I have been unwilling to listen to argument or criticism. On the contrary, I welcome argument and criticism. I want each Member of the House to realise that if there is any feeling that an individual case has not been properly examined, or that 1195 what is proposed does any kind of injustice, I would be only too ready to listen to it. But, at the same time, I would deprecate any suggestion that Her Majesty's Government are not anxious to fulfil all the obligations which rest upon them.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, we have listened to an unusually interesting debate, and certainly a very illuminating one. If I say that I am not going to divide the House, let me add hastily that it is for one reason, and one reason only. This scheme was announced only at 3.30 yesterday afternoon. It was circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT only this morning. I do not like it, and many other noble Lords do not like it, but I feel that I should not take your Lordships into the Lobby on a scheme you have not had time to digest or when you do not know what are the issues at stake. It is not easy. Probably many people did not get their OFFICIAL REPORTS, or may not even have read them before the debate. When I was reading from the Government paper, I was conscious that I was talking about things many noble Lords may not have read.
One thing has been apparent throughout this long-drawn-out discussion over all these months. I have been very conscious—and I have rejoiced in the consciousness—that I have had the whole House with me. Not for anything in the world would I estrange the confidence of the House by putting your Lordships in an embarrassing position. Accordingly, I say that I am not going to divide the House deliberately, because I feel it would put many noble Lords in an extremely difficult and embarrassing position by having to vote on a subject which they have not had sufficient time to study.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
We have had no real answer yet as to where the Government stand on the general principle. We have had no answer at all as to their attitude which made them put that phrase in the receipt form. Are we to wait for months and months to see if we are going to get 1196 an answer? I do not understand the noble Lord. If he wants our support, how does he expect to get it?
§ LORD KILLEARN
The noble Viscount is an old Parliamentary hand, and I value enormously the support which he and his Party have given me throughout. I feel that I owe a duty to this House as a whole, and the strength of this sort of question is that you should have a united House with a united view. Quite seriously, have many noble Lords read this document even now?
§ LORD KILLEARN
I must say en passant that it seems to me "pretty hot work" to issue the thing at 3.30 one day and debate it next morning, the very morning the essential details are first disclosed to the House.
§ LORD OGMORE
May I ask whether the noble Lord is not being unfair to the Minister of Education, who has given an hour to explaining the scheme?
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
I hope the noble Lord does not suggest that I was taking unduly long in trying to answer the individual points which have been raised in the debate. May I say to my noble friend that I realise that this scheme was put forward very late. I communicated it to as many noble Lords as I could immediately it was in my hands. If it had been put forward earlier it would not be quite so nice as it is now. The noble Lord must really believe that we were working under considerable pressure, and that we put it before the House as soon as it was in a state in which we could feel that it was justifiable to do so.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I fully accept what the noble Viscount has said. In my case I was in the country at ten past one o'clock and I was telephoned and told about it. Then it was circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT this morning for the first time. I repeat, the OFFICIAL REPORT reached noble Lords only this morning. I do not suppose every noble Lord reads his OFFICIAL REPORT with all that care. It is quite on the cards that many noble Lords did not know the detail of what we were talking about. Whether it is right or not, naturally I want to please 1197 everybody, and I honestly do not feel justified in dividing the House. It is for that reason only, I hasten to add, because it might have been very different.
I do not want to raise again the matter about the receipt, but it would be interesting to know—perhaps I may be told outside—if the gentleman to whom this receipt was given was not expected to give it to his sponsors, to whom was he expected to give it?
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS AND LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (THE EARL OF HOME)
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt on this question of the receipt? I did not know about this confidential talk. I am sure there must have been a misunderstanding here. If he thought that this was confidential, Colonel Moore would never have given it to other people. I know him well, and I know that if a document is said to be confidential your Lordships would know that it ought not to be used outside. But it is perfectly plain to me—and I hope I am in a fairly impartial position, listening to this—that there has been a genuine misunderstanding.
§ LORD KILLEARN
I am quite prepared to let it go at that. It was a very important part of the proposed arrangement, and if it has been ventilated it has probably done no harm. It has obviated certain things which I think the whole House agree could not be in that document.
There is one other point I should like to make, and that is on the question of the grades of payment, or whatever the right phrase is. There seems to be a certain tendency in some quarters to look upon this as a question of what I might call "subsistence", but, of course, it is nothing of the kind. These are capital advances. That has been pointed out to me during the debate by one of the claimants, and it is not a bad point. I think we have exhausted every point. I do not like this scheme; I do not pretend to. I think it is ungenerous; I think it is unworthy, and I think it should have been much better. What is more, I believe the day will come when the Government will regret their ungenerous 1198 action. That is my view. The question of Government responsibility I will not pursue any further because my view is well known. It is, of course, understood, as in fact the noble Viscount himself said, that we shall see how the scheme works. That is the essential part of it. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, had a very good phrase: "Not met us entirely. Continue to watch, and reserve complete liberty of action." It is on that understanding that I act as I am now doing. Before I sit down, if Her Majesty's Government and the Lords Commissioners know their Scripture they may recognise the following:But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
§ LORD KILLEARN
May I follow that up with another quotation which may be even more to the point as addressed to their Lordships at the Treasury? Your Lordships will remember what Cromwell said to the General Assembly of Scotland on August 3,1650:I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ,"—(I hope I am in order in using that expression)think it possible you may be mistaken.I address those two quotations to the Lords of the Treasury and their representatives on the Front Bench. Having done so, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
Is it your Lordships' pleasure that the Motion be withdrawn?
§ On Question, Whether there shall be laid before the House Papers in regard to the continued distress of British citizens expelled by order of Colonel Nasser from Egypt and deprived of resources held both in Egypt and in the United Kingdom, and as to the need for decision to grant interim relief to admitted claims pending a just and full final settlement?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 23; Not-Contents, 62.1199
|Attlee, E.||Colwyn, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Douglas of Barloch, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Jowitt, E.||Haden-Guest, L.||Pethick-Lawrence, L.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Henderson, L.||Quibell, L.|
|Latham, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, V.||Lawson, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Stansgate, V.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Mathers, L.||Wilmot of Selmeston, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]|
|Kilmuir, V. (L. Chancellor.)||FitzAlan of Derwent, V.||Grantchester, L.|
|Hailsham, V.||Hampton, L.|
|Home, E. (L. President.)||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Hastings, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Howard of Glossop, L.|
|Reading, M.||Soulbury, V.||Jessel, L.|
|Stonehaven, V.||Leconfield, L.|
|Buckinghamshire, E.||Mancroft, L.|
|Fortescue, E. [Teller.]||Addington, L.||Melchett, L.|
|Gosford, E.||Ailwyn, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Halifax, E.||Amherst of Hackney, L.||Mills, L.|
|Howe, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Monson, L.|
|Morley, E.||Baden-Powell, L.||Rathcavan, L.|
|Munster, E.||Birdwood, L.||St. Just, L.|
|Onslow, E. [Teller.]||Broughshane, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Perth, E.||Chesham, L.||Savile, L.|
|St. Aldwyn, E.||Derwent, L.||Somers, L.|
|Selkirk, E.||Digby, L.||Strang, L.|
|Suffolk and Berkshire, E.||Dynevor, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Swinton, E.||Dovercourt, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Ennisdale, L.||Stratheden and Campbell, L.|
|Crookshank, V.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Devonport, V.||Freyberg, L.||Waleran, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.