HL Deb 19 March 1959 vol 215 cc80-96

3.31 p.m.

THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM) rose to move to resolve, That this House approves the Agreement between the Government of the United Arab Republic and the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland concerning Financial and Commercial Relations and British Property in Egypt (Command Paper No. 639).The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this Motion, as your Lordships know, has had to be advanced to to-day from next week at relatively short notice. I am afraid that this change in our plans may have inconvenienced some noble Lords who wished to hear the debate or to take part in it. I am sorry that this inconvenience has been caused. I think noble Lords who know the reason for the change in our plans appreciate that it was not taken hastily, and it may be some consolation to noble Lords who have themselves had to rearrange their programmes to know that I have shared in some of the inconvenience which has been occasioned. Should I. at a late stage in the debate, have to absent myself from some noble Lords' interventions in the debate, I hope they will understand that it is part of the inconvenience and penalty that I shall suffer from the change of plans.

My Lords, the Motion standing in my name is to approve the Anglo-Egyptian Agreement. It does no more than that, and I myself would sincerely hope that, whether or not the proval is wholehearted or enthusiastic, it may at least be unanimous. In another place it was thought right to employ the occasion of a similar Motion to indulge once more in a rather heated debate about the Suez operation. No doubt this was very exciting, and it appears from the Press to have been the occasion of some very fine Parliamentary oratory in the grand manner, but I hope, if I may venture a suggestion, that we may not follow that precedent here.

As I have said more than once in this House, the Suez operation is a subject about which all of us have, in all good conscience, adopted attitudes from which we are unlikely to recede. In this case all the familiar argumentation would be, I think, strictly speaking. irrelevant to the Motion and might interfere with its proper discussion. The Agreement to which my Motion relates raises important questions of its own to which I believe noble Lords would wish to address themselves, and such questions are better discussed, and certainly more easily answered, in an atmosphere not charged or distracted by general political, or, I should hope, personal recrimination.

My Lords, the fact is that the questions to which this debate gives rise would have fallen to be considered by any Government, whatever its political complexion. It would have fallen to be considered by an Administration presided over by the official Opposition, by the so-called "Suez Group", by the Liberal Party or by the Communists or the League of Empire Loyalists no less than by the present Government. The questions which would have been required to be asked and answered in each case would have been fundamentally the same questions. Iwould respectfully suggest that these are the very questions which really fall to be asked and answered by your Lordships' House in the present debate.

The first question which I would raise is whether, whatever one's views about the events of November, 1956, it was really tolerable that in 1959 relations with the Egyptian authorities should be left indefinitely in the state in which they had been left as a result of those events. That, I would say, is the first question which we should ask ourselves. I have never concealed my own personal opinion about this. It was my view, as the House will recall, from the very start that the sooner we came to a business arrangement the better. The events of 1956 left business and diplomatic relations between ourselves and the Egyptian authorities in a state with which we in this House have become in the interval only too familiar. Diplomatic relations were ruptured. Business and financial relationships were complicated by the consequences of the extrusion of a number of British subjects, who had done no wrong, and by the sequestration of one part, and the Egyptianisation (as it was called), of another part, of British assets. We, on our part, had held, and were holding, as security the sterling balances remaining in our hands. In the meantime, trade between Britain and Egypt was severely hampered; air communications were interrupted. And the absence of diplomatic relationships could serve only to perpetuate misunderstanding.

My view, frequently expressed, has always been that, whatever opinion is held of the Suez operation or of the Egyptian authorities, or of the future of Anglo-Egyptian relations, a business settlement was desirable. It was desirable in the context of the world situation, on which I have no need to descant at the present time; in the interests of the claimants to property in Egypt, or compensation for it;in the interests of our future trade; and, for that matter—and I say this with complete sincerity—in the interests of our own and of the Egyptian people. There could be, as I thought, no advantage from our own point of view in continuing the state of affairs in which claimants to compensation for Egyptianised property were debarred from compensation, and sequestrated assets were allowed to continue in the hands of a sequestrator (where they could hardly be expected to improve) instead of being returned to their true owners who could repossess them if they wished to do so, or cause them to be realised if they did not.

Nor was it a real advantage to hold sterling balances frozen which, if they did not deteriorate, certainly did not cover the sequestrated, let alone the Egyptianised, assets, and which my right honourable friend did not consider himself free in honour to distribute consistently with our obligations as an international banker. If I may widen the field, I do not believe that the existing situation was in the interests of our traders, our merchants or our industrialists wishing to buy from Egypt or to sell to her, or of our communications by air and sea, or of the wider diplomatic consideration which, I would say, cannot be long absent from our minds in any international context. It therefore followed, in my submission, that any Government, however situated, would have been right to break the logjam if it could. The question arose, how to do it. and on what terms.

My Lords, before we were free to discuss such a business arrangementa preliminary barrier required to be overcome. This was the existence of public claims and counterclaims arising out of the Suez operation. The Egyptian authorities wished to put forward a claim for reparations arising out of the military operation. We wished to put forward several claims, including that arising out of the seizure of the stores and installations at the Canal Base. In the event, both parties have agreed to waive these respective claims. I should hope that the House will consider that this was a wise decision for us to come to. If it was desirable, as I have argued, to bring to an end the existing situation, it was necessary to do so by this means, and I do not myself see that there was ever the smallest chance of getting either party to agree either to the justice or the justiciability of the other's claim. Even a mutual set-off would have involved some degree of recognition. Waiver was therefore the only solution; and waiver is the solution which has been adopted.

Attempts have been made to make much of the alleged loss of the stores at the Suez Base. I do no think I need spend much time on this, but I must make one observation—that I believe this to be the wrong approach. The value to us of the Suez Base and the stores therein was primarily a military value, not an economic value. Its loss must therefore be estimated primarily in military rather than economic terms. Of course, this is not the time or place to discuss the military value of the Base or the military consequences of its loss. I myself doubt whether it would ever have been of military value, in the context for which it was originally envisaged, ever since the relationship between the Egyptian authorities and the Soviet bloc became involved by the acceptance of Iron Curtain arms and technical assistance.

But I think that it is a mistake to look at it in this way: it is a mistake, I would say, to view either the Suez operation or the present Agreement against a background of the economic loss of the Base. If either was right—and as a member of the Government I am, of course, concerned to defend both—each is to be defended on broad national grounds which override the economic loss involved. If either was wrong, as noble Lords opposite will perhaps argue, it is vulnerable to criticisms which make considerations of the economic loss either irrelevant or relatively unimportant. My submission to the House, therefore, is that if we were right, as I have argued, to seek a business settlement with the Egyptian authorities, we were also right to clear the ground by waiving our own claim to compensation in return for the waiver of the Egyptian claim. It would, I think, be inappropriate and unhelpful for me to compare the two claims, either in amount or in merits. The point is that both claims are now waived, and that no further progress could have been made unless they had been.

The removal of this difficulty left the ground clear for a discussion of the rights of the owners of property that had been Egyptianised or sequestrated and the rights of the Egyptian authorities to their sterling balances. Not unnaturally, this has occupied most attention from the public and the House. These rights, I must next tell the House, lay fairly and squarely in the field of diplomacy; so did the allied questions of the resumption of commercial relations and the rights of air passage.

I do not wish to say anything to prejudice any individual case, but I think I am right in saying that, broadly speaking, none of the claims against the Egyptian Government was justiciable either in the Egyptian courts or in the English courts. Nor am I aware of any international court of law to which they were amenable. Hence, they had to be dealt with by diplomacy; and, since in the ordinary course at International Law international persons are States and not individuals, and since the claims of individuals at International Law fall to be negotiated by the diplomacy of the States in default of other means, it was in accordance with precedent that we sought to negotiate these rights by diplomacy in the present instance. Nor, I am bound to say, did I hear a whisper of a suggestion, until after the present Agreement had been signed, that any other course was really open to us. The general issues were, of course, discussed with representative individuals and organisations, but it was not possible to consult with them at every stage.

Since the Agreement, however, the noble Lord, Lord Wilmot of Selmeston has suggested that the claimants should have negotiated with the Egyptian authorities themselves. I must say that I regard this suggestion as altogether impracticable. It is true that the Shell Company was able to negotiate separately, both on account of the size of the claim and because a factor in the negotiations was, inevitably, the ability of the Shell Company to offer the advantage of world-wide connections in aid of the conduct of a local business. But I have no reason to believe that the Egyptian authorities would have entertained private negotiations on behalf of sonic 4,000-odd claimants. I cannot conceive that any business result would have emerged if they had; and since the only security on our side was the sterling balances, in the hands of the Government, not of the claimants, it would have been impossible to conduct the negotiations in such a way as not ultimately to involve the Government. Certainly no suggestion was made at the time that this would have been a preferable or even a possible course.

My Lords, I should now like to say a word about the substance of thesettlement—the desiderata to be aimed at and the extent to which these desiderata may be said to have been met. Looking back on what I have said in the past, I am quite sure that I had two main considerations in mind: first, that we should get from the Egyptian authorities concrete and substantial recognition of our legal rights; second, that in our desire to effect a political agreement we should not sacrifice the interests of the claimants to that desire. I shall try to show that although, from our point of view, the Agreement is defective in several important respects, these two considerations at least have been fulfilled. By our legal rights I meant, first, that the shareholders of the Suez Canal Company, British and French, should benefit from compensation for their holdings; second, that the Shell property should be restored; third, that the compensation for the Egyptianised property should be paid on a scale at least as generous as one can reasonably expect to obtain by negotiation from a revolutionary Government of the type with which we are dealing and fourth, that the sequestrated property should be returned.

I make no secret of the fact that I should have liked, in addition, an impartial valuation of the claims and separate damages for injury to the sequestrated property. Except for the last two, all these desiderata have been covered. I do not think that the absence of the last two, although it is to be regretted, is necessarily fatal. I had always regarded it as inevitable that something would be lost in the process of negotiation. I believe that it is perhaps undesirable for a member of the Government to enlarge on this theme. But perhaps I may say this, after a long experience in negotiating claims in my professional walk of life: I have had many times to advise a plaintiff with an unassailable case and no want of courage that a compromise settlement was better than an unsatisfied judgment. Secondly, I was quite certain that it would be wrong to sacrifice the interests of the claimants to the desirability of a political settlement. But that, most certainly, we have not done. We did not sign the Agreement until we were absolutely satisfied that nothing more could be obtained for the claimants by the process of negotiation, and that the alternative to the Agreement signed was the status quo, and that alternative less favourable to those we serve than the Agreement we have been negotiating. Whatever may be said about the adequacy or otherwise of the terms, I am absolutely certain that negotiation could have yielded no more. The claimants would have been worse not better off, had we delayed our signature, and therefore we have not sacrificed them for political considerations at any stage of the negotiations.

From our point of view, the ideal course would have been to establish some form of independent arbitral tribunal, to establish, first, the title to each individual claim to property, and secondly the amount of each individual claim, or at least a fairly accurate total of the combined claims. This was our original purpose, but it proved inthe end impracticable. Perhaps we underestimated the difficulties. In candour, one must at least admit that that process would have been neither short nor inexpensive. In the event, however, the Egyptians were not prepared to accept the principle of impartial arbitration or of individual assessment of the claims, and whether they were right or wrong to adopt this attitude, clearly we had to choose between negotiating a lump sum and not negotiating anything at all.

I cannot myself doubt that on balance we were right to negotiate a lump sum, even if the result were that, as a consequence of the ordinary process of bargaining, the lump sum arrived at was more than the Egyptian authorities had originally offered and less than we had originally asked. In my view this was probably the hardest choice we had to make, but I believe the decision was in the public interest, and although I myself should have preferred the other way cannot doubt that it was in the interests of the claimants. The alternative was to let the negotiations fall to the ground. I cannot say that the method adopted was wholly without precedent, either in municipal or in international law, or so unsatisfactory as to render negotiations on these lines in some way improper. I will in due course discuss the adequacy or otherwise of the sum ultimately arrived at.

I wish at this stage, however, to complete the story of the logical development of the negotiations. I was myself always optimistic that the negotiations would yield a positive result. My confidence was at its peak perhaps when I announced last July that Her Majesty's Government would consider a limited extension of the loans scheme; and that confidence still existed less hopefully—although I confess now, wrongly—at the moment when we debated the wider scheme last November.

The House will not, of course, wish me to rehearse the chequered story of negotiation with the Egyptians. It nearly achieved success more than once; and more than once it appeared to have hung fire indefinitely. In the end, it bore fruit as the result of the good offices of Mr. Eugene Black, given on an informal and personal basis, at the request of both Governments.

One criticism which has been levelled at the agreement came from Colonel Moore, who sometimes appears to speak on behalf of a number of the claimants. He appeared to think that there was something discreditable or humiliating in engaging the good offices of Mr. Eugene Black at all, seemingly on the grounds that he is an American, or at least is not British. As he wrote to the Press: Have we not sunk pretty low that we must invoke the help of Americans to settle our affairs with Colonel Nasser. remembering the' kindly ' policy they have adopted towards us in that part of the world in recent years? It is heartbreaking for those of us who have for many years tried to fly the flag and boost British prestige in foreign parts.

I must say I deplore both the attitude and the tone illustrated by those remarks. To begin with, they are incorrect, As a matter of record, it was both Governments, and not Her Majesty's Government alone, who requested the good offices of Mr. Black—Hand that not as an American but as President of the International Bank. We welcomed those good offices and wish to record our gratitude for his services. I should like to know whether there is any of your Lordships who would now condemn us for so doing. If there were a prescribed method of putting ourselves wrong at the bar of public opinion, I should myself have thought that it would have been the refusal of the good offices of so eminent and international personality. I shall ask the House to say that we were right to accept Mr. Black's good offices and that in the circumstances we could have done no other. Her Majesty's Government have more than once thanked Mr. Black for his services and I would repeat those thanks this afternoon.

When Mr. Black undertook to use his good offices he very soon suggested to us a course of action which, since it has been the subject of criticism in your Lordships' House. I feel I should describe in detail. He suggested that, as an important element in the settlement at which he was aiming, we should release £3,300,000 from the frozen Egyptian sterling balances in order to enable the Egyptian authorities to meet their obligations to the Suez Canal Company. That request was made during the Christmas Recess, and in agreeing to it my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was obviously taking upon himself the responsibility of justifying his action before Parliament. Again I shall ask your Lordships to say that my right honourable friend was right in what he did.

The risk that my right honourable friend took was that if no agreement was arrived at as a result of the release it might have been said that we had diminished the value of the security we were holding in order to safeguard the rights of the claimants. Whether or not that would have been so had no agreement resulted is manifestly not an altogether easy question: but what is certain is that if any agreement did result—as it has now done—it would not have cost the claimants one penny of loss. It is clearly not desirable for me to name the various figures under discussion at different times in the negotiations. It is, however, I think no breach of confidence on my part to say that at no time was there ever, or could there ever have been, any suggestion that the amount payable by the Egyptian authorities would have amounted to the whole of the sterling balances or anything like a sum within £3.3 million of this figure. Negotiations were always on the basis of the return of the sequestrated property and a lump sum in respect of the monetary compensation. It follows that, assuming that an agreement did take place, my right honourable friend was not in any way jeopardising and has not now in any way prejudiced the position of the claimants. I am of the opinion—and I shall ask the House to support me—that the effect of refusing the request of Mr. Eugene Black at this time would have been that no agreement would have been forthcoming and that in addition we Should have put ourselves wrong in the eyes of reasonable men.

I mention these details because this aspect of the matter has been made the subject of criticism in your Lordships' House. When the SuezCanal agreement was first reported in the Press nearly a year ago it became known that a clause in it—Clause 7—related to the possibility of a special release of sterling balances by Her Majesty's Government. This special release was a release of sums of money to cover the outstanding instalments in advance of the period at which instalments became due. Fears were, not unnaturally, expressed that if such special release were made, without agreement on the claimants' claims for the whole or part of the compensation money due under the Canal agreement, the security of the sterling balances would be diminished to the detriment of the claimants.

In these circumstances a Question was legitimately put by the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, to me on May 14 last year in answering which I assured him that any question of a special release would be dependent on the conclusion of negotiations for a final settlement of the outstanding claims. That this Answer was understood as relating to a special release under Clause 7 is shown by the supplementary question and answer recorded in Hansard at the time. I explained this to the noble Lord in this House as recently as February 25th last. I doubt whether either the noble Lord or I considered in our most far-seeing moments that either question or answer had the remotest application to the circumstances of Mr. Black's request, which, at any rate so far as I was concerned, was completely hidden at the time in the mists of the future.

In spite of this the noble Lord thought it right to write a letter to the Press, which appeared on February 27, in which he deliberately accused me—and here I quote him—of sailing pretty near the wind." I cannot myself understand what he meant by this offensive phrase; that is, whether he meant that I had deliberately deceived the House by my earlier answer, which presumes a degree of foreknowledge of Mr. Black's request which I certainly did not possess; or whether he meant that I deliberately misinterpreted the earlier answer by my later answer. which I should have thought was disproved by the documents; or whether he thought I had in some way instigated Mr. Black's request or my right honourable friend's response, which is not true.


My Lords. I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me if I intervene. He mentioned my name. He mentioned this question of £3 million and my having described that in the public Press as "sailing pretty near the wind." i should like to tell him that I maintain that opinion.


My Lords, I still do not know what the noble Lord meant. But what I propose to say to the noble Lord about it is this. It clearly includes a suggestion of dishonesty on my part, which I bitterly resent. I resented this attack on my personal integrity, not the less because it was based on what appears to me to he a somewhat astute use of my words in their strictly grammatical sense but out of context. I wish to declare to your Lordships' House that in all my utterances to your Lordships' House on this complicated and difficult matter there has been no thought in my mind at any moment but to lay before your Lordships the whole truth of the matter so far as it was in my power to give it and I must say to the noble Lord that it will be an evil day for public life in this country if a Minister of the Crown, trying to discharge his duty honourably before Parliament in answering questions to the best of his ability in delicate matters, is to be laid open in the public Press, where he can effectively answer only by means of an action for deformation, to innuendoes against his personal integrity.


My Lords, I am sorry to intervene again. I had not the slightest intention of doing so. But in the light of what the noble Viscount is saying, I propose myself to deal with this matter at some length when I come to speak.


My Lords,I was hoping that the noble Lord would withdraw the charge upon my personal integrity.


My Lords, I never made any charge against the noble Viscount's personal integrity. What I said was that what the noble Viscount said from the Front Bench, which he has just repeated, was misleading; and I maintain it.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that "The Lord President was sailing pretty near the wind"; and he added for good measure, "which is not what one expects from a Lord President".


Hear, hear!I still maintain that view.


My Lords,I am glad to know that the noble Lord does not consider that such language affronts my personal integrity; and, of course, since he has given that assurance I will accept it. I will only tell him this: that my honour is as dear to me as his is to him, and I resent and rebut the insinuation he has made against it, which seems to me to be both unworthy and untrue.


My Lords, I must say this to the noble Viscount. His honour is as dear to him as mine is to me; but there is no reflection on his honour what so ever, and I hope there is none on mine.


My Lords,I did not mean to make any reflection on the noble Lord, but I must tell him frankly that if I accused him publicly of "sailing pretty near the wind" I should consider that I was making such a reflection. I now return to the main issue of the agreement. I am sorry for that slight deviation from my main course, but it seems to me that a Minister of the Crown is entitled to defend his personal honour and these are not merely small details that ought to be passed over in silence. I return to the main issue.

The effect of the agreement is that we have received, or shall receive, fully secured, £27½ million in cash. This is in compensation for the value of the Egyptianised business property (which was claimed at £E45 million) together with land and damage to the sequestrated property. More important. my Lords— at least more important in my assessment of the matter, and I would ask the House to agree—we received the promise of the return of sequestrated property which was claimed at something more than £E130 million, including, of course, the Shell property in that figure of £E130 million. In return we have released £41 million in sterling balances, excluding the £3,300.000 released for the instalment of the Canal money, of which a proportion, of course, will return to us as shareholders. The balance in our favour on the transaction is considerable, although probably a good deal less than our just due.

This, in my opinion, affords a reasonable defence of what we have done. In my view—and I would ask the House to agree—the clue to the situation has always lain with the sequestrated property, which has always, with the Egyptianised, far exceeded the amount of sterling balances available for release, and this is now to be returned.

It is said that the £27½ million will not suffice to meet the claims which it is designed to cover at 20s. in the pound. My Lords, this may well be so. But it remains still to be seen how large the gap is or how much it is increased by damage to the sequestrated property. It is, of course, a matter of speculation how far in a court of law the values of the individual claims could in fact be substantiated. I make myself no criticism whatever of the amounts of the claims, but perhaps the House will allow me to say this. Over twenty years of my life were very largely devoted to cases which turned upon the valuation of claims for compensation. Some, I would say, have been exaggerated and inflated. These are in my experience, I would say, very few; but, nevertheless, leaving all such claims aside, I must still tell your Lordships that it is a very rare thing for a plaintiff's claim, if contested, to get through from writ to judgment without substantial diminution of value. I would not myself therefore necessarily assume that the gap is of the size often assumed.

Clearly, whatever our opinion may be, the next phase in this difficult matter is to work it out, in the case of the Egyptianised property with the Foreign Compensation Commission, and in the case of the sequestrated property, in Cairo; and to recover, and where it is so desired to realise, the value of the sequestrated property; and try to see how the arrangements for crossing the Egyptian exchange control work out in favour of the owner. This will require the co-operation of the claimants, and I would say it is a co-operation to which we are fully entitled.

If, when all is done, a gap emerges, we shall have to look at its size and see then what justice demands. In his speech in another place my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 602 (No. 78), col. 41]: Hon. Members may ask whether the Government are prepared to supplement the sum of £27½million compensation. I said when I made my statement the other day "— I am quoting my right honourable friend— that neither this Government nor rtny other Government in this country have ever accepted a commitment to make good losses suffered by British subjects in foreign countries. We could not possibly accept a general commitment of that kind, but we are anxious to see a fair outcome of the matter. Those words should be read with the assurance of the Prime Minister, and perhaps I should read his words, too, by way of connotation, because I think they have a bearing on the matter. The Prime Minister said [col. 150]: While we will not here and now pledge ourselves to make any fixed addition to the total of £27½million, as has been suggested in the debate, I can say now that the Government will watch how this works out and will play their part in reaching a settlement which will be reasonable and fair, and we do not exclude a further contribution from public funds. But, as I am sure the House will agree, while we trust wait for precise calculations, for the final settlement, we must try to deal with any hardships and gaps that arise between now and a final settlement. But this point is worth remembering. Any general undertaking, such as that asked for in some quarters, given by Her Majesty's Government before agreement was reached, that we would stand behind and pay in full all British claims, would certainly not have resulted in a satisfactory agreement. My Lords, I would ask the House to accept these assurances as reasonable at the present stage.

I think I should also remind the House that, in the case of those claimants who are also refugees, their capital is to some extent—and, to the number of half of them, to 70 per cent. of their reckonable assets—secured by ex-gratia loans, which are not repayable except out of recovered assets. Even in respect of these, my right honourable friend has said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 602 (No. 78), col. 151]: It is also proposed to leave the question of the repayment of the ex-gratia loans, which have so far been made to former Britishresidents in Egypt, in abeyance for the time being". I think, also, that the House will be interested to know the following figures. Of the £E45 million claimed for Egyptianised property, £E38 million represents the claim of only ten concerns. Of the £E130 million claimed as the value of the sequestrated property, a very large proportion represents the single claim of the Shell Company, whose property appears Ito be at least in good running order. A great deal is in a form which will be handed back—£E10 million for building, and £E23 million for bank balances, cash and securities. Nor can it be supposed that the £E7 million for personal properties, including insurance policies, or the £E3 million for plant and machinery, have necessarily all gone. It must also be remembered that the many claims on the fund will be met in England, in convertible sterling, when they were made, at least in many cases, in respect of goods or cash in Egypt, subject at all material times to currency restriction; and that the values of property in Egypt, quite apart from the events of 1956, must have been the subject of violent fluctuation and, in many cases, of decline.

I know that to many claimants it would seem no more than reasonable and just if Her Majesty's Government made a plain commitment to makeup the amount of their claims to 20s. in the pound in advance. I do not think my right honourable friend should be pressed as far as this. In his view—and I believe it to be correct—the right course would be to wait until we see what emerges from the return by the Egyptian authorities of the sequestrated properties, and the work of the Foreign Compensation Commission. The Government are anxious for a settlement of individual claims which will be fair both to the taxpayer and to the individuals concerned, and do not exclude a further contribution from public funds.

My Lords. I must say—and I hope the House will accept it—that throughout this long and difficult business I have always held myself open as willing to answer, either in private correspondence or by discussion of a less formal kind, individual difficulties and hardships (of which there have been, and no doubt will be, many); and I will continue to do my best to offer the same services if noble Lords should desire to make use of them. Those who have experience of my right honourable friend's honesty of purpose and generosity would, I think, be well advised to accept his assurance.

My Lords, I have now reached the end of my argument. May I sum it up as follows? My first proposition is that a business arrangement on these lines is desirable in the interests of all concerned; my second proposition is that, in pursuing it, we have followed a course of negotiation which was, in itself, a legitimate course; my third is that we have pursued that course of negotiation to the utmost limit of what it was capable of yielding; and my fourth is that we have now to choose between accepting or rejecting the results. After carefully weighing the advantages of each course, and the disadvantages—to which I am not blind—I remain utterly convinced that we were right to sign.

I cannot resist the impression that if, when we debated this matter last, in November, noble Lords had known that within a matter of weeks this Agreement would be concluded, some at least—and amongthose the most shrewd of them—would have been agreeably surprised. The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd; the noble Lord, Lord Killearn; the noble Lord. Lord Derwent; the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, and even the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, expressed at various times during that debate different degrees of conviction, some of them most absolute, that no agreement would be forthcoming.

All these arguments were presented in answer to my contention that the system of loans should be allowed to continue a little longer so as not to prejudice the chances of negotiation. I think that it therefore follows that they were unequivocal declarations that, in the view of noble Lords (who number among themselves the shrewdest judges of this matter, and the most experienced and knowledgeable Members of this House), no agreement, favourable or unfavourable, would be forthcoming.

Now that an Agreement has been forthcoming, all I would ask is that noble Lords should look at it dispassionately, and not condemn it out of hand. No doubt there will be plenty of things they will wish to discuss or raise with my right honourable friend or myself; but theonly issue to-day is the general issue—whether we were right to sign the Agreement or whether we were wrong. On that general issue, I myself have no doubt. I ask noble Lords to express no doubt, either. I would, therefore, make this plea: devoted as I know they all are to the public interest of their country, let them support the Government upon this general issue. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That this House approves the Agreement between the Government of the United Arab Republic and the Government of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland concerning Financial and Commercial Relations and British Property in Egypt (Command Paper No. 639).—(Viscount Hailsham.)