HL Deb 08 May 1957 vol 203 cc421-3

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether consultations have yet taken place with representatives of Barclays D.C. & O. and other trading banks with a view to facilitating advances against blocked sterling accounts to British subjects expelled from Egypt; and to institutions whose property has been seized by the Egyptian Government.]


My Lords, Barclays Bank D.C.O. has recently been in communication with the Bank of England, on behalf of itself and a number of other banks about the position of securities held by these banks to the order of Egyptian branches for the account of customers of these branches who have been expelled from Egypt. Her Majesty's Government are examining this problem as part of the wider problem of the steps to be taken to obtain the return of assets sequestrated in Egypt, or satisfactory compensation for them. This wider problem is under urgent examination, but I am sorry to say I am not at present in a position to make any further statement.


My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Viscount for his Answer, but, in view of the great hardship which is being caused to many of those expelled from Egypt by this long delay, will Her Majesty's Government do their utmost to get representatives of Barclays Bank D.C.O., and other private banks, of the Treasury and of the Bank of England around a table for a conference at the earliest possible date, when I believe it would be possible to resolve many, if not all, of the difficulties?


My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, communications are taking place and Her Majesty's Government are considering the matter.


My Lords, I feel sure that the noble and learned Viscount realises that Members in all parts of your Lordships' House have received very strong representations about the hardship caused in this matter and that there is a growing feeling in the country that, as it arises so largely from national policy over the past year, we hold a national responsibility. Might some greater urgency, therefore, be given to the question of seeing that some immediate relief is given to these people who are suffering such great hardship?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Viscount that our hearts and our consciences are as deeply affected by this as are anybody else's. On the whole, I would be more prepared than the noble Viscount to say that the hardship was caused rather by an unjust expulsion by a foreign Power than by Government policy. But that in no way detracts from the seriousness with which we regard the hardship caused.


My Lords, while, as I understand, the hearts of Her Majesty's Government are open, what about their purse?


My Lords, the purse is as much the noble Earl's as ours.


My Lords, arising out of the Answer of the noble and learned Viscount, may I perhaps bring him from the general to the particular and ask him whether his attention has been called to these documents—National Savings Certificates—and to what is printed in very large type on the first page: " Everybody's gilt-edged security": and on the last page: "National Savings Certificates are of no value to any person but the registered holder"? Can the noble and learned Viscount, therefore, explain why large numbers of National Savings Certificates, bought by British subjects in Cairo during the war and now deposited physically in the United Kingdom, are not allowed to be paid out, and why their owners cannot draw against them? The situation defies all understanding by the simple man in the street. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount will explain how that is justified.


If the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has concluded his supplementary question, perhaps he will allow me to say that that is not the Question which is on the Order Paper. If he cares to put a Question down he will receive an Answer.


My Lords, further to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, I would say that if the purse is the State's, the purse strings are Her Majesty's Government's. Is the noble and learned Viscount aware of that?


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have responsibility for all these things, and therefore must try to act with a sense of public responsibility.