§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD HENDERSON
My Lords, like the noble Viscount the Lord President of the Council, I find it a little inconvenient to have this debate thrown upon us at such short notice; but we all know that the reasons were very proper ones, and we naturally accept them. We are all obliged to the noble Viscount for the clear way in which he has submitted the Financial and Commercial Agreement for the approval of your Lordships' House. As he was speaking, I thought that he would not include to-day's task amongst the more congenial occasions which he has relished so much from time to time. He was, for him, very restrained.
The noble Viscount was frank enough to say that he had expected that something would be lost in the process of negotiation, and of course that is precisely what has happened. I do not think that any of us can be very happy about the Agreement. The fact is that it involves substantial losses both for the British nation and for British nationals. Her Majesty's Government were not negotiating from strength. Their representatives must soon have realised, if they were not already aware of it, that British authority and prestige, which are important factors in negotiations, had been seriously weakened. They had to be content with a compromise Agreement. Compromise is not necessarily a bad thing. It is sometimes essential. I agree that there may be times when an unsatisfactory settlement is better than 101 no settlement at all. I believe that the present is a case in point. But it should be frankly recognised as such. We should not attempt to delude ourselves. or others, into believing that the Financial and Commercial Agreement is an achievement which Her Majesty's Government can recommend and your Lordships' House can approve with pride or satisfaction. It may be true—I have no doubt that it is—that the settlement is the best that could be made in the circumstances; but I feel that many people will have found themselves agreeing with the Daily Telegraph, which two days ago described it asthe sorry tidying-up of a sorry story.Like the noble Viscount the Lord President I am not going to spend any time in going over the background of events which necessitated the making of an Agreement. Our views are well known. In the series of debates on the Suez action, at the time and subsequently, the opposition in your Lordships' House stated their position quite clearly. We opposed intervention as a disastrous policy and one based on political and military miscalculations. That was our view then, and it is our view now. I will leave it at that, and proceed to deal with the Agreement which is now before the House.
That Agreement represents a bargain, and a hard bargain. I believe that there will be general agreement that the provision which is causing most concern, and not a little anxiety, is Article IV. This is the Article which provides for compensation to he paid in respect of (a) British property which has been nationalised by Egypt, and (b) injury and damage to sequestrated property which Egypt is to return to its British owners. The claim value of the nationalised property has been stated to be £45 million, and a few millions more for land—a total of around £50 million. Colonel Moore, Chairman and Director of the British Communities' Association of Egypt, has stated that the losses and damage to sequestrated property would probably be £30 million, "on a charitable view". Thus the British Government are to receive £27½ million in full and final discharge of all liability on the part of the United Arab Republic Government and nationals in respect of claims estimated at £80 million. It may be true, as the Chancellor of the 102 Exchequer has pointed out, that owners, when assessing their claims, were often apt to take a somewhat rosy view; and it may prove to be the case that the total which emerges from the Foreign Compensation Commission will be lower, and perhaps substantially lower, than £80 million. But even allowing for that, it seems clear now that the total sum of £27½ million will be utterly inadequate.
I have no doubt we all agree that the claimants should receive fair compensation; but if that is to happen it is obvious that an additional sum will be needed. That additional sum can come from only one source, and that is the State. I was glad, as I am sure all noble Lords were, to hear the noble Viscount the Lord President reaffirm the statement made by the Prime Minister in another place. The noble Viscount quoted that statement, and I think part of it will bear repetition, because it is an important statement. The Prime Minister said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 602 (No. 78), col. 150]While we will not here and now pledge ourselves to make any fixed addition to the total of £27½ million, 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 …while we must 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.There is no pledge. I agree, and the absence of a definite pledge may have caused disappointment to those primarily concerned. But in my opinion, the Prime Minister accepted a firm moral obligation when he said that the Government would play their part in reaching a settlement which will be "reasonable and fair." How else can a reasonable and fair settlement be made than by additional money from the Government. if precise calculations show, as we believe they will, that the£27½ million is inadequate? I hope that the Governmentwill be generous when they know the facts, as ascertained by the Foreign Compensation Commission, and that they will be prompt in their action to help the claimants.
I also hope that, in the meantime, the second part of the Prime Minister's statement,we must try to deal with any hardships and gaps that arise between now and a final settlement",103 will be speedily and properly implemented. I emphasise that point because it seems to me that the procedure to be followed in determining claims will inevitably mean delay in the settlement of claims, and hardships may be experienced. If all this is done, I believe that the British nationals concerned will find themselves better off than they would have done had they been left to do their own negotiating with the Egyptian Government direct. But no doubt this House will have an opportunity later on of judging whether these people do, in fact, receive fair compensation; and I am sure the House will wish to do so.
I think that our special concern is for the British nationals who lived in Egypt, had their homes there, made their lives there, and had jobs or small property or businesses there. Large concerns can bear losses more easily than the individual can. For many of these people, who were compelled to leave Egypt as a result of the crisis, the future may not be very promising. To be uprooted, to lose property, or homes, or jobs; to suffer hardship, and to have to start a new life again, is a bitter human experience. The sense of injustice is greater when it happens through no fault of one's own. A firm may regain lost business, but a man in this position may not be able to regain his lost future; and among the claimants there may be many in this category. It is difficult to equate compensation with this type of loss. I certainly do not believe it can be done by a flat "x shillings in the pound" settlement for all claims.
I realise, of course, that the special machinery which has been set up in London and Cairo by the Foreign office to help and advise claimants may be of real service to them in the preparation of their claims, but I hope also that the Foreign Compensation Commission will be able to take into account what might be called a claimant's intangible loss. This is a point which might be borne in mind in the drafting of the Order in Council which is to be a directive to the Commission.
Under Article V (1) (a) provision is made for the transfer into sterling of £E5.000 (that is, about £3,750 sterling) by owners of British property who do not wish to resume residence in Egypt. This is not a large sum in 104 these days if a person wants to buy a house or start a business. It seems insufficient for a claimant who does not want to go back to Egypt and seeks to start a new life here. It takes no account of basic needs in such a case. I know that a further provision is that the Government of the United Arab Republic is pledged to give "favourable consideration" to applications for additional transfers. The value of this provision will, of course, depend on the manner in which it is implemented, and I hope that it is the intention of the Foreign Office, through its machinery in Cairo, to see that such applications are expeditiously, as well as favourably, dealt with by the appropriate authorities of the United Arab Republic. What I have just said applies also to the permission to British owners to export their jewellery and other personal and household effects released from sequestration.
What is, of course, most welcome is the return to British owners of sequestrated property to the estimated value of £130 million. As I have already said, the loss and damage to this property has been estimated at £30 million. That is Colonel Moore's figure—a British estimate. Some further observations by the British Communities Association of Egypt seem to me to be very pertinent. On What basis will "injury" and "damage" to de-sequestrated property be assessed, and by whom? Many businesses will be returned in a depreciated and valueless condition. They (especially agency businesses) will have been run at a loss because there was no fresh business; staffs have been retained and the sequestrator's salary and expenses deducted. Then will "injury" and "damage" cover consequential losses to professional men—for instance, a doctor's loss of his clientele? These are important practical considerations in the field of compensation for injury and damage.
There is an additional matter, which is set out in paragraph 7 of Annex B. Before returning the property to British owners, the Sequestrator-General is entitled to levy sequestration charges up to a total not exceeding £E2¼ million. I am not clear about this levy. Is it for the Sequestrator-General's salary and expenses, or is it an additional charge? How is this sum arrived at? How, and by whom, is it to be apportioned across 105 the returned property which is owned by about 4,000 private individuals and 300 businesses?
Compensation for "injury" and "damage" is to be made out of the £27½ million which is to be administered by the British Government. But who will determine the extent and value of the damage sustained? It will, I take it, be the Foreign Compensation Commission and not an Egyptian authority. Nor, as I understand it, will a dissatisfied claimant have access to either Egyptian or British courts. I think noble Lords will realise that this is an important matter: to those most directly concerned, and I hope that the point may be cleared up in the course of the debate.
Then there is the waiver of inter-Governmental claims. As the noble Viscount has told us, Britain drops her claim in respect of United Kingdom property at the Suez Canal Base, and also costs borne for the clearance of the Suez Canal. The United Arab Republic drops its claim for damage to property during the Suez affair. Now we no longer have the Base, the installations or the stores. The Government have not been able to put a financial value on them. No doubt British interest was more in the strategic value than in the financial value —which is what I think the noble Viscount indicated—but, as has been increasingly apparent in recent years, in the changed conditions of the Arab world the strategic value has been on the decline.
Bearing that in mind, it was probably only a question of time before we should have had to give up the Base. But then the atmosphere might have been less strained than it has been as a result of the Suez intervention, and a negotiated transfer might have been possible on more satisfactory terms. As it was, we were not in a position to negotiate a sale to Egypt. The result is that we no longer have a base in Egypt, or the right to keep a base there, and the existing installations and stores now belong to Egypt. That is part of the price paid for British action at the time of the Suez crisis. But if we could not put a financial value on British installations and stores at the Base, there can be no doubt of their value to Egypt. If not a willing buyer, Egypt was certainly a willing taker, and there can be no doubt that the Egyptian Government 106 attached considerable value to what Egypt was getting, otherwise they would surely not have waived their claims for war damage. Some evidence of Egyptian satisfaction is to be found in the statement made by the Egyptian Economic Minister that in effect they have already sold for £17 million some of the military and civilan stores existing at the Base.
The Egyptian balances which have been blocked in this country are released to Egypt under the Agreement. Their value was nearly £70 million. Of this amount. as we have been told, £3½ million has been paid to the British Government as part of the total compensation sum, and the remaining £24 million is to be paid by Egypt in February of next year. Until this sum is paid, the British Government are to hold in London Government stocks to the value of £35 million deposited by the Egyptian Government. The Egyptian Government gets back the rest—about £41 million. Egypt is now able to spend this money freely. Negotiations for the Agreement started in the spring of 1957, but it was not until two years later that an Agreement was concluded. Whether in fact we could have got the present Agreement earlier I am not in a position to judge. But if it had been concluded last year. that is, before convertibility, Egypt would have been obliged to spend her released balances in the sterling area.In this important respect failure to get an Agreement sooner has a recognisable disadvantage to Britain.
The only other Article to which I will refer is Article VI, which provides for the resumption of normal commercial relations. In 1955 our trade with Egypt was £28 million. It fell to some £2½milllion in 1957, and improved to about £13 million last year. Imports from Egypt fell from £7.3 million in 1956 to only £690,000 in 1957, and then improved to £2 million last year. This improvement is a hopeful sign. But we have a good way to go if we are to recover our old trade position. In the meantime, West Germany and other countries have been cutting into the Egyptian market, and we may expect keen competition from them as well as, no doubt, new frustrating Egyptian restrictions. But the latter will apply equally to all, and we should be able to surmount them as effectively as our competitors.
There is obviously scope for steady expansion, and certain new factors and 107 developments may be found to operate in our favour and to our advantage. The signing of this Financial and Commercial Agreement will, we hope, close an unhappy and costly chapter in the recent history of our relations with Egypt and the Arab world generally, and enable us to develop new friendship and understanding, to our mutual benefit. We must hope that the recovery and expansion of our trade will not prove so difficult or so slow as may have been thought likely in recent years. The Agreement, despite its defects, should surely establish better relations than have existed between the two countries for some years, and provide a new opportunity for rebuilding our influence in the Middle East on the basis of friendly co-operation. Finally, my Lords, I want to say that we on these Benches do not intend to oppose the Motion.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, in the few words, and they will be very few, that I propose to address to your Lordships this afternoon, I do not intend, any more than previous speakers, to advert to the landings at Suez or the other wider issues which occupied so much of the debate in another place. In that respect I hope to follow the wise lead that has been given by the noble Viscount, the Lord President, and by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I do not believe that any useful purpose now could be served by repeated inquests into this subject. I cannot feel that they are going to do very much good to anyone, to whatever Party they belong. They may be all right, if I may say so, in another place, where, after all, Members are elected, or consider themselves to have been elected, to oppose each other: hut not here. Here I feel certain that it will be the wish of the great majority of noble Lords to confine this debate to the Agreement itself, for which the Government are asking the approval of the House, and it is to that that I propose to limit what I have to say.
I am sure that there are a great many others, like myself, who had been awaiting the debate in another place on Monday and the speeches of Government spokesmen with very keen interest. It may be true, as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said to us this afternoon, that in principle a business 108 settlement between Britain and Egypt was most desirable. But, my Lords, it is idle to deny that the actual details of the present Agreement which has been reached have come as a grievous disappointment to many, even among the most loyal supporters of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer described it the other day as a "compromise", and I think the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, used the same word today. No doubt, nearly all agreements of this kind are in the nature of compromises. It is very seldom that either side gets exactly what it wants, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. commented just now, compromise is not always a bad thing. But, my Lords, this was surely compromise very much on the side of the Egyptians.
I do not intend to go into the question of Governmental claims, the main one, of course, being over the Base and the installations of the Base. On that, differing views may be held, and in that connection I am sure the House will wish to consider very seriously what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. I am concerned this afternoon merely with private claims. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, said in his opening speech that these claims were not justiciable. I am certainly not going to enter into an argument with him about that he is a lawyer; I am not a lawyer, and this, I suppose, is an extremely legal question. But the hard fact remains that the Government had claims on behalf of British firms and private individuals amounting certainly to £45 million in respect of Egyptianised properties and an unspecified sum which may amount to £130 million with regard to sequestrated properties.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am quite ready to accept Egyptian pounds. In settlement the Government have accepted the sum of £27½ million.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
Sterling. But that is not quite the equivalent. To get even that sum they have to release all Egypt's sterling balances in London, which amounted, I believe, to somewhere in the neighbourhood of £60 million.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
£41 million. Nothing that the noble Viscount says alters those hard facts. There are some other rather odd features about the Agreement about which I think it is difficult to feel very much enthusiasm. To mention only one or two—and I have no doubt other noble Lords will mention others—the Government found it necessary, no doubt to satisfy the Egyptian Government, to declare not only on their own behalf but on behalf of all United Kingdom nationals thatthe payment of £27Í million "—I am quoting the words—fully and finally discharges the Government of the United Arab Republic and nationals of the United Arab Republic from all liability to the United Kingdom Government and United Kingdom nationals.That, I take it, precludes any United Kingdom national who feels he has been inadequately compensated for the damage done to his property from bringing an action in court. That is the only meaning one can read into that provision.
The noble Viscount may say again that most or all of these claims are not justiciable. That is surely a matter that might be left to the claimants themselves. So far as I know, neither the United Kingdom nationals individually who had claims against the Egyptian Government nor their representatives were consulted in any way before this solemn pledge was given on their behalf. I may be told that that is common form, but it seems very strange to me, and I think it must seem pretty strange to other noble Lords as well. I should have thought that as between two individuals it would have been almost actionable. Having said that, would add this: that it is perhaps rather churlish to complain about that, for, after all, by absolving the Egyptian Government entirely from any further responsibility Her Majesty's Government have placed that responsibility for looking after the claimants fairly and squarely from now on on their own shoulders, and it is Good that we should know that.
There is another provision which I think must seem to the ordinary man rather queer. It is the treatment, I think already mentioned in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, of claimants 110 who had cash and bank balances in Egypt and who did not return or do not intend to return there. And, mind you my Lords, after what has happened that may apply to quite a large number of claimants. The value of property of this kind, as the House will appreciate, is not in any doubt. It is not like land or businesses; there is no question or deterioration about it. It is just so many pounds in the bank —either Egyptian pounds or sterling pounds, I do not care which; it is pounds in the bank. One would have thought that Her Majesty's Government might have insisted that the whole value of this type of property, at least, should be refunded at once. But not at all. All the Egyptian Government are required to do is to give immediate approval to the transfer of sterling up to £5,000 Egyptian, which I understand is about £3,700 sterling, and above that, whatever greater sum may be involved, whether it is £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000, whatever it may be, the Egyptian Government undertake only togive favourable consideration to applications for further transfer.Her Majesty's Government have accepted that. Why was it necessary to agree to that? The Egyptian Government are going to get back—I use the noble Viscount's own figure—in sterling balances at least £41 million; I think that that was the figure he gave. Surely they could devote some part of that very large sum to paying back to these unfortunate people the money which certainly belongs to them, which is certainly in the bank and which can certainly be transferred at the present moment.
Those are only one or two of the rather strange features of what I can only call a very unhappy Agreement. Other noble Lords who are taking part in the debate will no doubt wish to mention others. It is "doing it proud", I think, to call This Agreement a compromise, and I personally should have felt most inclined, in spite of what the noble Viscount has said, to vote against it, but for one ray of hope—and what one may hope, quite frankly, will be a really bright ray of hope—which shone out amid the encircling gloom: I refer, of course, to the clear intimation in the speeches both of the Prime Minister and of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which has been repeated by' the Lord President this afternoon, that the £27½ million which is 111 being provided by the Egyptian Government in satisfaction of British private claims is not the last word; it is not all the compensation that those claimants may hope to get. The Government may not have extracted very much from the Egyptians, but they are, it seems—and I am grateful to them for saying so—prepared to do something (I hope quite a lot) to bridge the gap between the £27Í million and the far larger amount which has been claimed.
This undertaking, indeed, has been very cautiously worded, as one might expect from a statement which presumably emanates from the Treasury. The Government, it is explained, could not accept a general commitment always to make good losses suffered by British subjects in foreign countries. Well, so far as I know, nobody has ever asked for that. We have always emphasised from the beginning of this controversy that this is sui generis, in that it was our initiative at Suez, whether it was rightly or wrongly undertaken—I think rightly—that led to the present plight of these people. That, to my mind, differentiates it entirely from other precedents like thetwo world wars, one of which was started by the Kaiser and the other by Hitler. But I am glad to say that the Chancellor emphasised that the fact that the Government accepted no general commitment does not mean, unless I have got it wrongly, that in no circumstances would the Government be willing to provide further financial assistance. That is something quite new; it is further than the Chancellor or the Government have ever gone before.
And the Prime Minister went yet further than the Chancellor. He said that the Government would play a part in reaching a settlement which would be fair and generous, and which would not exclude a further contribution from public funds. He explained that the Government were setting up a Commission to examine claims, and he added that in addition they would give consideration to cases where financial hardship would be involved by meeting the expenses of necessary visits to Egypt and the paying of agents expenses. These statements may mean little or they may mean much—time alone will show. But, certainly, they represent a considerable advance on the Government's 112 previous attitude, though we must see how it works out in practice.
My Lords, now I have done. I would only repeat, in conclusion, that, looked at as a whole, the Agreement which has been concluded between Great Britain and Egypt and which we are asked to approve this afternoon must, I am afraid, at least in my view, be regarded as a poor one from the point of view of this country. It may be that the Government felt it expedient for wider reasons to come to an accommodation with President Nasser. But I do not think that that is so; indeed, I think the noble Viscount said specifically that that was not the case, and that the Agreement was not reached for purely wider political reasons.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, what I did say—I should like to get it straight—was that we were not in any way sacrificing the claimants for wider political reasons. I did not say, of course, that it was not desirable for wider political reasons to arrive at an agreement. What I said was that the conditions were not made worse by that consideration.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That is what I understood the noble Viscount to say. Whether the Government were right to take into account these wider reasons is, no doubt, a question which can be very properly debated on another occasion. Anyway, it is outside the scope of this afternoon's discussion. I do not think that anyone could attempt to defend this Agreement as a roaring success for this country. One of the most loyal supporters of the Government, the Daily Telegraph, a day or two ago used in connection with it the words "disagreeable" and "humiliating". Many of us would not dissent from those words and, as I have already said, I personally should have felt inclined to vote against the Agreement, in spite of all that the Lord President has said, had it not been for the assurances of further assistance to British claimants to which I have just referred. I feel that the Government must be given a fair chance to make good those assurances. I hope and think that they mean to make them good.
Now I should like—and this is the last thing I want to say—respectfully to put one thought in the Minister's mind. 113 When these events occurred in 1956 which led to the expulsion of the claimants from Egypt, many of these people were already old. They are much older now and they are more worn and weary as the result of the stresses that they have undergone. I hope that Sir George Rendel's Commission, which is going to have a rather invidious task, will not he given instructions which necessitate haggling over every single little detail. No doubt the Government cannot be expected to pay 100 per cent. in regard to claims on these sequestrated properties without finding out whether the property has been injured, and if so how much. Nobody would expect that. But I hope that as little delay as possible will take place in making these inquiries, otherwise many of these claimants may be either very ill or even dead before they get any benefit from the proposals which are now being announced. Action must he swift and it must be effective if it is to have any value. It is in that spirit that many of us will watch further developments in this hitherto unhappy story. In the meantime, if there had been a Division I should have abstained. I am delighted that there is not to be a Division, and I hope that this afternoon's discussion will foreshadow for the unhappy people who have suffered so much that full justice shall at last he done.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
MyLords. the Government's best friend could not say that this is a happy day, either for any of us here debating this Agreement or, indeed, for those who have been affected by the Anglo-Egyptian dispute. I need detain your Lordships for but a few moments, because some of the points which we have in mind and on which we should like further information have already been dealt with by previous speakers, and no doubt subsequent speakers will deal with others.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham said, in effect, "We had to accept this Agreement 'on the wider ground that our vague and indefinite relations were unsatisfactory, and the sooner we put them on a regularised basis the better"; he used the words, "A business settlement was required." But that very indefitnite: ness and vagueness which he criticises as regards our relations with Egypt has now been transferred to the victims of Egypt, 114 because this Agreement is full of uncertainty for those people who are suffering as the result of the breakdown of negotiations. I think that in accepting this Agreement our task is to examine and to see where the Agreement needs strengthening, where perhaps we might get some further information upon it.
I also take up the words of the right honourable gentlemen. the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in another place that this is not the end for those who are suffering; and therefore I will deal very briefly with only one or two points. Before doing so, I must express my regret (I should be less than frank if I did not do so) that the noble and learned Viscount. Lord Hailsham, in making a perfectly valid point, which he was quite entitled to make—the justification for and the advantages of having had the assistance of Mr. Eugene Black—mentioned by name, took to task, and indeed was pretty harsh upon, Colonel Moore.
Somewhat incensed with my noble friend Lord Killeam, the noble and learned Viscount asked: "Is not a Minister of the Crown entitled to defend his honour?" Of course lie is. But Colonel Moore is not entitled to defend himself in your Lordships' House, and I thought it was rather harsh when Colonel Moore was described by the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, as one who "sometimes speaks for the claimants". He is, in fact, the Chairman of the British Communities Association of Egypt; and he has done noble and selfless work and earned the gratitude of these people who are suffering to-day—for whom, I am sorry to say, the noble and learned Viscount did not find time in his speech to utter one word of sympathy. If I may be allowed to say so, without wishing to give offence, I think it was not worthy of the noble and learned Viscount that he should seek out by name an individual who is unable to answer for himself and castigate him for having put a point of view which he was perfectly entitled to put.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, I certainly did not intend any slight on Colonel Moore's honour. But I must say that, Colonel Moore having written to the public Press to make what seemed to me to be a particularly nasty attack upon the very valuable intervention of 115 Mr. Eugene Black, I was well entitled to express my opinion that that action was, in itself, deplorable; and was made worse, I thought, because Colonel Moore is Chairman of the British Communities Association. Nobody would be less willing than I to make any slight on his personal honour or to belittle the work that he has done in other spheres; but if people are to write to the public Press deploring our action and saying how low we have sunk to invoke the help of an American, when all we had done was jointly to accept the good offices of the President of the International Bank, then I feel I should have been failing in my duty to Her Majesty's Government and to your Lordships' House had I not wholly dissociated myself from that public attack.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, we will not pursue this matter any further, but I feel that for the noble and learned Viscount to single out one individual, to give an inadequate description of his work, to pay no tribute to the work that he has done, and then to say. "I am entitled to do so as he wrote to the Press" is stretching matters a little far. The noble Viscount has been long in public life. We were in another place together, and if someone were to write to the Press every time about something the noble and learned Viscount had said of them in his public speeches and on political platforms, the columns of the Press would be full, day after day, of nothing else—
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
—the Press would be full of the noble and learned Viscount's justification of his actions; but we will leave the matter at that. I hope that, on reflection, the noble and learned Viscount will feel that it was not quite fair to mention by name one who has done great work and put him in a position where he is unable to answer for himself.
I want to ask only two questions. As we see it, there is some £27½million to meet Egyptianised property claims and any damage and injury to sequestrated property—two unknown totals. The sequestrated property is put at some £130 million and Egyptianised property is valued at £45 million. It may well be that the partial satisfaction of either of 116 those would drain the pool dry. We do not know. The first question I should like to ask—perhaps the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack can answer it later—is: Will the remit to the Foreign Compensation Commission be such that that Commission will knowwhether one kind of claim has priority over the other—whetherdamage or injury to sequestrated property has a prior call over Egyptianised property, or vice versa, or whether, as it were, they run parallel; because in my mind there is the fear that the pool may be very dry very quickly.
Then I should like to ask a question concerning advances which have already been made to those who have suffered. In another place the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, in effect, that he was leaving those advances alone for the moment. Supposing the Foreign Compensation Commission find themselves able to make some interim payment from monies which come to hand prior to a final settlement, would the advances still be left in abeyance and such interim payment made, or would the view of Her Majesty's Government be that those advances were, so to speak, a prior charge against any interim payment which it might be considered possible to make?
My last point concerns the Order in Council which will govern the work of the Foreign Compensation Commission. In another place the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister said that that Order would be drawn widely. I would ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack whether he could be a little more precise upon that, and whether he could say that the Commission will be entitled to consider all the claims in their entirety, quite irrespective of claims in relation to the sum of money available. In the former case we shall see a complete picture of the total claims under the headings of Egyptianisation and sequestration; but if there should be a narrower definition, a narrower remit to the Commission, then we might never see the complete picture with any authority.
Like my noble friend Lord Salisbury, I conclude by saying that this is not a happy occasion for any of us; but when a Prime Minister and a Chancellor of the Exchequer speak as they did in another place with (in ordinary parlance) 117 "a nod and a wink", that is nearly as good as a promise; andI believe that it is because of that that we are able to-night to give our support to the very harsh terms of the Agreement which we are asked to approve.
§ 5.18 p.m.
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, in his speech, reminded your Lordships that on the last occasion we debated this subject quite a number of noble Lords were rash enough to say that in their view no Agreement was likely or possible. That is perfectly true. I was one of them. I took that view at that time because I did not believe that the Egyptians would ever agree to any settlement which was remotely fair to British nationals; and in this I feel I was right. If we wish to decide in our own mind whether this is a good or a bad Agreement. the simplest way of doing so is to look at what the Egyptians think of it. They think they have made a "killing". I do not want to weary your Lordships by quoting the speech of the Economic Minister in Cairo after the Agreement was made, but, to summarise, he reada long list of the vast profits that the Egyptians considered they had made out of this Agreement. So obviously, they thought they had made a very good Agreement: and the assumption, there fore, is that we have made a pretty bad one.
The other reason I did not think there would he an agreement was. I must confess, that I did not believe Her Majesty's Government would agree to any settlement that was manifestly unjust to the claimants in any case; and, above all, I did not think they would do such a thing without any form of prior consultation and agreement with the claimants. In this, my Lords. I admit, quite frankly, that I was wrong. Nevertheless, I am quite sure of one thing, and that is that it is no good any of us now crying over spilt milk; nor is it, I think, much good saying. "Why was this part of the Agreement made?", or, "Why was that part of the Agreement made?", because we cannot alter its terms. All we can do this afternoon, as indeed I think most previous speakers have endeavoured to do, is to try to find out how the Agreement does, in point of fact, work, and 118 to urge Her Majesty's Government (as they have already indicated their willingness to do; it is not, perhaps, a very clear indication, but they have given some sign that they will be prepared to do it) to mitigate the evils of what is undoubtedly a shocking Agreement.
There were one or two points of detail of which I gave the noble and learned Viscount as much notice as I could. It was rather difficult owing to the shortage of time, but some of the points have been covered by other speakers.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, may I say that I should like to thank the noble Lord most sincerely for his kindness in giving notice to me, and to assure him that I shall do my best to deal with his points. I have looked as carefully as I can into his points, and I shall do my best to deal with them. I thought that if he knew I intended to try to do that it would save him a little of the trouble of developing his points more fully. Also. I give him full and free permission to interrupt me as much as he wishes if my first answer is not adequate.
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Viscount should think I have interrupted him too frequently in the past, as he clearly does. But I know that the noble Viscount is always very painstaking, and I am sure he will do his best to answer the questions. But it is quite a brief list.
Following what my noble friend said, quite clearly the compensation is totally inadequate to meet either calls of compensation: it is not enough for the Egyptianised property; it is not enough for the sequestrated property. My noble friend asked, in effect, which were the debenture holders and which were the equity holders, and I am sure that the noble Viscount will tell us whether the Government have reached any conclusions about that. There is another point that I should like to ask him, on the assumption that the compensation will be inadequate: is there going to be any consideration as between the size of firms and between private individuals and businesses or will it be done on the basis of "6s. 6d. in the pound all round"? Perhaps these questions are rather difficult to answer, and perhaps the noble Viscount has not got as far as dealing with them yet; but I think it is 119 something which everybody is anxiously wanting to know.
In Article III of the Agreement (this is a small but interesting point) are laid down a number of things which the Egyptian Government are expected to do. There is a list of them. But only the first of those obligations, it appears to me (perhaps I misread it), has any date. It says that on the date of the signature of the Agreement they have to de-sequestrate the property. But it does not say when they have to authorise the release of balances held on Egyptian account in banks in this country. I am informed that up to date people still cannot get their money out of Egyptian accounts in banks in this country. I wonder whether the noble and learned Viscount can give us any information on that point.
The next question that I should like briefly to put is this. Article IV deals with the satisfaction of claims in respect of injury and damage to property. The words "injury" and "damage" are not defined in any way; and I would urge that those who are entrusted with the task of assessing injury "and" damage "will be given a fairly wide mandate and will not be too narrowly restricted. I do not know who is going to deal with this matter. Presumably there will be some assessors in Cairo who will have to report back to the Claims Commission.
Another point is one that other noble Lords have raised, and it is enormously important. It is now over two years since the Suez episode. Anybody who looks at Annex B and who has any experience of Egyptian civil servants will have some idea of the task that is going to confront the unfortunate assessors and those persons who have to try to work out these claims. I think that the records will be imperfect, if not non-existent. In certain important details they may have been altered or suppressed. I think, therefore, that this business is obviously going to take a very long time. I can well imagine that it may take as much as eighteen months. In the meantime, the people concerned have to exist, and their funds must be getting pretty low. They have also to get to Egypt and back: I suppose that someone will have to pay for that. If they cannot do so, will Her Majesty's Government help them? Those are the 120 considerations which I am sure are running in the minds of these people at the present time, and I hope that those considerations will receive the attention of the Government.
My Lords, that is all I need say about the Agreement itself. Like my noble friend. I should have felt that I could not support this Agreement were it not for the assurances that have been given by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. and the noble Viscount the Lord President. Clearly—and I realise this—the Government had to consider national interests as well as the interests of the claimants. The noble Viscount has given us in his speech some idea of what those considerations were. It may well be that it was rightindeed, I think it was—that some settlement should have been made. I do not know whether the noble Viscount claims that claimants were not sacrificed for the national interest. I am quite sure that they were not deliberately sacrificed, but I would say that they are nevertheless a burnt offering. and I think it would be both wrong and dishonourable if they were to be sacrificed entirely to serve the national interests. We are glad to know that that is not, as we understand, going to happen. Therefore, with other noble Lords who have already spoken, I feel that I can support the Agreement, though naturally we shall all watch anxiously in the coming months to see what the Government do to fulfil the pledges they have given.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, since we did not carry out at Suez what we set out to do, I and many others (including, I am glad to say, the Lord President of the Council) have for some time thought that the sooner we came to terms with the Government of Egypt the better for all concerned. As the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has pointed out, in 1955 our trade with Egypt amounted to £28 million, and since then it has diminished considerably. At least this Agreement will give us a chance of re-entering a market in which British goods have always been extremely popular. I have here a letter, written in Cairo, and dated March 12, from a friend of mine who represents a group of British companies. He says:Yes, we are all very pleased that the financial Agreement is now signed, and hope we can settle down to work once more.121 So, my Lords, I say that the part of the Agreement dealing with the restoration of public rights is all to the good—the part that terminates restrictions on British nationals; that allows them to do business once more; to enter into contracts; to go to Egypt and to leave Egypt when they want to; and to reside there if they so wish. My information is that the Egyptians, having seen for the last year or two a good many Germans and Russians, will be more than pleased to see some British people.
Broadly speaking, if Her Majesty's Government say that the compensation part of the Agreement was the best that could be obtained, I am quite prepared to accept that view: and II entirely agree with what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in another place, that if we were going to have an agreement. the sooner we had it the better. Of course, the £27 million is well below what we claimed. But I was interested in a speech made in another place by Sir Toby Low, when he said that this was not the first occasion on which British Governments have made agreements with other Governments accepting compensation well below the total claimed. He gave as examples the case of Yugoslavia in 1948, when a settlement of £4Í million was agreed by the British Government to be paid as compensation by Yugoslavia against claims totalling £25 million: and the case of the Czechoslovak Government which, in 1945, paid us £8 million against claims of £90 million—and I need hardly remind your Lordships which Government was in power on those two occasions.
However, there are at least two points on which I should like further assurances. What is going to happen to the owners of sequestrated property who are unable to return to Egypt? As has previously been said by several noble Lords, under the Agreement all those owners are entitled to remit to this country at the moment is what amounts to £3,700. If a claimant has £50,000 in Egyptian money in Egypt, what is the use of it if he can remit only this amount of £3,700? And, so far as we know at the moment, that is all they will ever be able to remit: there is no promise of anything further. I would suggest that some machinery should be devised for paying to those who remain in England, at some 122 fixed rate of exchange, further sums against the compensation received in Egypt.
My second anxiety is in regard to the procedure affecting those who hold credit balances in banks in Egypt—anti here, my Lords. I must admit an interest in a small way. There are many similarly placed to myself who are unlikely to go to Egypt in the near future, and probably will never go at all. These people would like to have their money sent here—or what is left of it after the Sequestrator General has levied his taxes. I understand that the present position is that if the holders of these bank balances do not personally go to Egypt, they must nominate somebody to receive the money on their behalf; and this person must have a power of attorney witnessed by the Indian High Commissioner in London. My Lords, I have received this information from Cairo in a letter in answer to my inquiries, and I have no doubt that it is correct. I would ask: cannot this procedure be simplied? For the last ten years I myself have held a cheque book which has enabled me to draw on the National Bank of Egypt. Since Suez, my account has been blocked. Why cannot I now be allowed to operate it again, as I was before?
I have mentioned only two anxieties that I have. I am sure that other noble Lords share these, and have many more, also. But I say, as other noble Lords have said, that provided Her Majesty's Government, as I am sure they will, honour the assurances given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister—that they will watch to see how this settlement works out, and will see that it is reasonable and fair—I support the Resolution, although I cannot disguise the fact that I feel that a further contribution from public funds will be inevitable.
§ 5.36 p.m.
VISCOUNT COLVILLE, OF CULROSS
My Lords, I am afraid that I am guilty of the discourtesy of not having warned the noble and learned Viscount in advance of the points that I am going to make, and perhaps he will not be able to give me anything of an answer to-day. But if he would be kind enough to write to me, I should be very grateful. I am sure that your Lordships will allow me to refer to my own subject, for which perhaps I have more justification than usual, in that 123 paragraph (f) of Article III of this Agreement refers explicitly to the group of people who were expelled from Egypt in 1951, and who ever since then have been attempting to get some redress for the loss of their positions in that country.
This Agreement provides them with an interim payment of £100,000. My Lords, that is exactly the sum that was lent or advanced to this group of people by Her Majesty's Government last year. The first question that I should like the noble and learned Viscount to answer, therefore, is: will that £100,000, when it is eventually paid by the Egyptian Government, be set off immediately against the loan which has just been advanced to these people? Because that loan was almost entirely taken up (I think that only eleven out of the 164 members of this group did not benefit by it), and they would not be in a position to pay it back.
Then, my Lords, the Agreement provides for the setting up of a new Commission. A Commission was set up in 1954, under the terms of the Treaty of that year with Egypt, to inquire into the situation regarding the claims to compensation of these officials, and I think it was common knowledge that it was about to report at the very time the Suez crisis occurred. As a result of events, of course, nothing happened. Now a new commission is to be set up, and I should like to know, first of all, to whom it will report. Obviously, perhaps, to the Egyptian Government. But when the offer is made by the Egyptian Government as a result of the report of the commission, who will accept it? Will it be Her Majesty's Government, who have all along, looked at and backed the claims of these officials, or will it be left to the officials themselves to say "Yes" or "No" to the final award? I cannot imagine that it will avail them very much, one way or the other, if they are left to do it on their own; but perhaps it will be a different matter if Her Majesty's Government are to be at the receiving end of the offer, when it is made. If that is so, and if Her Majesty's Government are to be at the receiving end, will they, before accepting, consult with the 1951 officials? I do not know whether the same technique will be applied in that case as has been applied to those who lost their property as a result of Suez, but certainly I hope that it will not.
124 Finally my Lords, will Her Majesty's Government, by whatever means they are able, hurry up this new Commission? The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and the noble Lord. Lord Lloyd, have pointed out that this is now the third year since the 1956 crisis. It is the eighth year since these officials lost their jobs in Egypt and it was not until last year that they received one penny in compensation. If anybody has cause to complain, it is they and I hope that your Lordships will sympathise with them and commend their patience in having waited so long. So I must reserve judgment on paragraph (f) of Article III. But I hope that Her Majesty's Government will keep an eye on the situation of this small group of people who have been treated so badly. Supposing that the final offer made by the Egyptian Government is very little, if anything, more than the £100,000 they have now given, will Her Majesty's Government sympathetically bear in mind the ideas that have been expressed in relation to the 1956 victims by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place? If the noble and learned Viscount can give me in due course some sort of answer to these questions, both this group of people and I will be most grateful to him.
§ 5.41 p.m.
My Lords, your Lordships will agree that during the long series of debates on this question that we have had during the past two years I have done my utmost to help these ex-British residents who have lost all their possessions in Egypt—some of them coming out of the country with only what was contained in a suit case. I am not going to harp back on those circumstances. which we all know only too well, but it is not unnatural that some of these people should feel bitter about the terms of an Agreement which they regard as unfair to many of them.
On the other hand, I do not feel that anything would have been gained by putting off this settlement any longer. I feel in accord with the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, when he says this. I do not believe that any better terms could have been obtained now, in view of the circumstances. And if lubrication was applied by the President of the World Bank. I think that the Government were quite 125 right to make use of his services. However, I should be very unhappy about the Agreement were it not for the categorical assurances given us by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that further assistance, including financial assistance, was not ruled out in certain cases. Several noble Lords have spoken in support of further financial assistance from the British Government and I hope that sympathetic consideration will be given to this subject.
I would say that there is another way in which the British Government can help—that is, by speeding up the carrying out of the Agreement. There has been long delay and I hope that now that we have got the word "Go", everything possible will be done to make a speedy settlement. I hope that the Government will supply all those concerned in dealing with this matter with large pairs of scissors so that they can ruthlessly cut the red tape. One example of the red tape has already been given by the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd. Like him, when Iread the Agreement I thought that at least Article III (g) was straightforward, where it says that the Agreement authorises the release to the beneficial owners who are United Kingdom nationals or institutions of the securities and funds held by the United Kingdom and other banks outside Egypt to the order of banks in Egypt. I thought that this problem, one to which I have paid particular attention in our debates. would be settled at once; but I was told the other day, and I have since verified it, that this is not the case. I understand that many things have to happen before this money comes into the hands of the rightful owners. First of all, an owner has to apply to the sequestrator and the sequestrator, after presumably considering it for some time. has to tell the branch of the bank of Egypt that the money can be released, and then the branch in Egypt has to tell the hank in London. I give that as an example of how what seems to be the simplest thing of all has a great many hurdles.
The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, told us an astonishing fact about the power of attorney. It sounded to me like one of those quizzes in which we find the younger generation partaking, which consist of dashingaround in a car in order to get the signature of the lock-keeper at Teddington. These are two obstacles to a 126 speedy settlement which have been unearthed this afternoon and doubtless there are many others. I appeal to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor to do all he can to help to knock down these hurdles.
As I said before, the people we are trying to help have a feeling of bitterness. I think that we are all sorry for that and hope that that feeling can be changed. I believe that the best way of changing it is to deal as sympathetically as possible with their problems and help now, both financially and administratively, to get on with the job of seeing that the claims are settled within the terms of the Agreement now reached.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, oneof the drawbacks of speaking ninth in the list of speakers is that all the points, good or bad, have been made ahead of one, and there remains little to say that is fresh. That is inevitable. I would start off by saying right away, before I get down to the actual Agreement—and I shall be as brief as I can—that when the nobleViscount the Lord President of the Council was making his speech, hemade two points at the outset with which I could not agree more.
The first was on inter-Governmental claims, the waiver of claims for damage inflicted by our people during the incident against the Egyptian seizure of our base and, coupled with that, the question of the Suez stores. That is the best part of the Agreement. It would be perfectly futile to go on discussing it. I have always been afraid about this problem. I remember saying to the late Lord Jowitt at the time of the Suez invasion, "You, particularly, know what happens if we are sued before the International Court." This aspect has been a nightmare to me ever since, and this part of the Agreement has been a great relief. I congratulate the Government on having liquidated that particular matter. I say that with all the greater pleasure because later on I shall have some comments to make that are not quite so favourable.
Before I go further, I would associate myself wholeheartedly with what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said about Colonel Moore. I do not want to be offensive, but I thought the noble 127 Viscount the Lord President was hitting below the belt. He was belabouring someone who could not answer back, and someone who was perfectly entitled to say what he had to say in the Press. Altogether, it was one of those things that just "are not done." Having said that, I will not proceed further on that line. But I would pay a warm tribute to the work which has been done by Colonel Moore and his organisation from the start of this wretched business up to date. He has a very efficient organisation, and it has worked hard all the time collating claims and so on. Indeed, many of us have felt for a long time that it might have been much better if there had been closer liaison between Colonel Moore'sorganisation and the Foreign Office. But I have hopes that with the appointment of Sir George Rendel the liaison will be much better. I felt bound to say that on behalf of Colonel Moore. I did not raise the question, but those are my views; and I strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, said. There was another little brush later between the noble Viscount and myself about the release of the £3.3 million, and perhaps I may come back to that later.
I turn now to the question of the Resolution. I could not possibly vote for this Resolution, but it would be a difficult thing to vote against it. Therefore, I am relieved that there is not to be a Division. In the light of what was said in another place, and has been repeated here—I refer to the assurances of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer—there is now a completely new aspect to this matter, and I do not want to divide the House. We are now face to face with something that is new and with assurances that I do not doubt will be made good. But they will need careful watching.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, made a number of specific points, which the Lord Chancellor will go into, so I need not cover them again. But I will comment broadly on the Agreement for a moment or two. I have a certain amount of experience of diplomatic documents—forty seven years, to be accurate—and this seems to me to be an extraordinary paper. We know why we signed it, because the Lord President has explained that at length. But it is not a paper that I should have liked to sign on behalf of any British Government. In fact. I have 128 put down in my notes: "A most remarkable paper, not in what it gets, but in what it gives."
We accept £27½ million in full and final discharge of two things: Egyptianised property, the value of which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has assessed at £45 million, and damage to de-sequestrated property, which is assessed at about £l30 million. Obviously that £27½ million will not be enough to cover either of those liabilities in full. The Government are quite right in saying that it is impossible at this stage to know how far short that sum will be. But one thing that is clear is that no more will come from Egypt; so far as Egypt is concerned, it is all washed out. That gets us back to what has been from the beginning our theme song, that any shortfall in the sums recovered from Egypt should be made good by Her Majesty's Government, in whole or in part.
The good points of the Agreement are first of all, that it expunges inter-Government claims: that is an immense achievement and a great relief. Secondly, it settles the claims of the 1951 claimants—the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has had something to say on that matter, and perhaps I was slightly anticipating; anyhow, I thought it settled them. Thirdly, it releases bank balances held in the United Kingdom, though there again it appears that there are still technical reasons why the owners of balances in the bank here paid through the branch of the British bank in Cairo cannot touch their money; so I was wrong in that. Then it disposes of any future plea of sheltering behind Nasser. I think that is a great advance. Hitherto, those of us who have been fighting this battle have been told we were fighting Nasser. Now that pretext, reason, justification, or whatever you call it, has gone. Lastly (this point has already been touched on by the noble Marquess. Lord Salisbury) the fact that the Agreement gives full and final discharge of the Egyptian liability without the authority of those concerned—which I admit it might have been difficult to get—seems to me, inferentially, greatly to strengthen the moral claim of these unfortunate sufferers.
The Agreement bristles with bad points. The question of Cairo balances has been touched on at some length, and I need 129 not go into it again. I hope that this matter will be put right. Take the case of the poor widow I mentioned previously, with £40,000 in Cairo—I agree that we have had it all before but it is quite true. She left just before the incident and before she had had time to get her money out. So she had nothing. She has had the benefit of two "dibs" and "dabs" of £5,000 on which she has had to live. When I read this Agreement I thought that she would get this £40,000 released. Not a bit of it! She gets £E5,000,equivalent to £3,700. And what is the good to her of having £35,000, desequestrated, sitting in Cairo, where she cannot go, which she cannot transfer or use? That is plain silly; and it is not right. However. that is a point which I hope and believe the Government will take up and try to put right.
I am strengthened in that belief because, just before I came in hereto-day, I was handed a list of British subjects who, before the incident, of course, but in the more or less recent past, on leaving Cairo for good, as no longer being resident, had been able to get out their entire property without this restrictive limit of £E5,000. It has been done in the past, and one can only hope that it will be done again in the future.
There is another point that I was not going to mention, but since the noble Viscount thought it right to do so, I feel I must do so. I refer to the question of the release of this £3,300,000. We all know how it was released. The noble Viscount told us at whose instance it was released. It was released at the request of Mr. Eugene Black, before the initialling of the Agreement—and, I maintain, contrary to an undertaking in both Houses of Parliament. The Lord President will not agree, because he has denied that the security for these claims, which was the sterling balances, would be affected. The £3,300,000 was handed over right away, before the Agreement was initialled; and I maintain that that is against what we were promised. I was attacked for that. Fortunately, it is on record in the House what the Lord President said, and what I said. I feel rather like the man on the stage who said, "if I have said anything I am sorry for I am glad of it." It was rather a brisk exchange of views, and I still think that I was right, because the totality of these sterling balances amounted to £68 million 130 or £70 million. The Foreign Secretary—I have his words here, and they have been quoted time and again—gave an explicit assurance that this was the security for the payment of these claims, and the House was assured that it would not be whittled away. I can quote the phrase if necessary. That being so, it seemed to me that the release of this £3 million-odd ran counter to that assurance.
I am going to say something now which may offend the noble Viscount—it is a point that a friend of mine in the City put to me. I must remind the House that these sterling balances have been earmarked in both Houses as the security for the liquidation of these claims. There is no doubt about that. This friend said to me, "What would you say of a trustee who dipped into the portfolio and used the assets for his own benefit?" The reason I say that is that that £3,300.000 was intended to be used for the payment of claims by shareholders in the Suez Canal Company settlement. Who are these shareholders? I am told that the British Government hold 44 per cent. I think that the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, was wrong when he said the holding was one-third of the total. I believe that it is published as 44 per cent., so your Lordships can draw your own conclusions. There was a pledge that these monies would not be released in advance. On pressure from Mr. Black—I do not blame him—they were doled out before we initialled the Agreement. Anyhow that is what happened.
Another curious feature, in that same line of thought, is that under this Agreement, and despite the curious inadequacy of the funds supplied, we have released what was left of these sterling balances—£41 million sterling, not Egyptian pounds—despite the fact of the shortfall in the payment of British claims. Is that not all very peculiar? Perhaps your Lordships will understand why I say here and now that I do not approve of the Agreement. I shall not vote against it, because there is no reason to. We have received assurances which I hope will see us through the difficulties ahead—and there are many of them. But I certainly would not approve the Agreement because I think it is a bad Agreement. It "smells to high Heaven" as a bad Agreement. That is the long and short of it.
131 I have kept your Lordships quite long enough. All of us who have stood for these claims during the past two and a half years were infinitely relieved and grateful to the Prime Minister, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to the Lord President, for repeating the assurances we have had to-day, and relying upon them I do not propose to go any further. I could not approve the Agreement, but I am relieved that the House is not going to divide upon it.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD PETHICK-LAWRENCE
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Henderson who spoke on behalf of the Opposition following the noble Viscount said that we had no intention on this side of the House of dividing against this Motion, and I certainly do not rise in any way to deduct from that statement of my noble friend. But I believe I am speaking not merely on behalf of my colleagues on these Benches but on behalf of every speaker who has spoken to-day, I think without exception. when I say that we do not approve of the settlement. The most that can be said is that we are prepared to acquiesce in it. I do not think a single Member, not even the Lord President of the Council, approves the settlement. At the most he acquiesced in it as the best of a bad business. The settlement is far from satisfactory, and practically every speaker has said that. The only thing that is to be said for it is that it might have been worse and that it is better than no settlement at all. I do not think that in saying that I have in the least put one side of the House against the other, because to the best of my recollection—and I have listened to all the speeches except possibly one—every speaker has taken that point of view.
What is it about the settlement that is so unsatisfactory? I think there are three points. In the first place this country has had to give up a large national asset. It is quite true that after we left the Suez Canal area that asset may not have been of a great deal of use to us, but it was of some value. It had cost us a large amount of money to install, and there is no doubt that the Egyptians would have been prepared to pay a considerable sum for it. The settlement has had to acknowledge the fact that we write that oft entirely as a counterpart, of course, to the 132 writing off of the claims for the war damage, as the Egyptians have done. Therefore, the first ground on which this settlement is unsatisfactory is that our Government have had to write off a considerable asset that we had a few years ago.
The second reason why the settlement is an unsatisfactory one is that it does not compensate in full financially the persons who have been damaged by the recent events in the Egyptian area. Practically everyone has admitted, even the noble Viscount who moved the Motion on behalf of the Government, that it does not do it. How far it fails to do it I do not know, and nobody knows until the claims have been justified by the facts and tried by some tribunal which is going to discuss them. The point I wish to make is that this position has not been met adequately in this debate at all. Even if the full financial damage done to the persons concerned had been met to the last sixpence, I should still say that they had suffered immense damage that was unrequited, because a great many of them were living happily and peacefully in Egypt; their whole way of life has been broken up; all that they were doing has been destroyed and their whole life has been broken. Some of them may be able to go back and resume, to some extent, the position they had before. A great many of them will not be able to go back, and many of those who do go back will never have the same standing in Egypt that they had three or four years ago. Therefore I say that even if the full compensation in money is paid to them they will have been gravely damaged by the action that was taken. I think those points are really uncontroversial.
Now I come to the third point, which is of a more controversial character, and that is this: that there has been and there is no repair, and cannot be repair, in this Agreement of the irreparable loss of good will and prestige which this country had in Egypt before the Suez incident. I admit that it is a controversial point and I am not going to argue it or press it but I am only going to say this: I believe that more and more, as time goes on, that view will be recognized not only from the Benches on which I sit but in all parts of this House, as I know many noble Lords with whom I have had conversation recognise it in discussion with me. Therefore I say that in 133 all these respects this is an unsatisfactory Agreement. But, unsatisfactory Agreement as it is, it is much better than nothing; that I think no one can deny. We needed to make an Agreement; we have made an Agreement, and it is probably the best Agreement we could get in all the circumstances.
I want to conclude on a positive and constructive note. However much we think the Agreement unsatisfactory, Her Majesty's Government can, and your Lordships can and the people of this country can, make it a better Agreement as years go by than it is on paper at the present moment. They can make it a better Agreement in three ways. In the first place, the Government can give, as they have undertaken to do, additional compensation to the people who have been wronged, our own nationals who lived in Egypt in the days gone by; and we on these Benches share the views of many of those who have spoken on the other side and we hope that that assistance will be generous. I do not say it should be unlimited; naturally that cannot be; but it should be generous, and we have reason to hope from what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have said that they do contemplate a generous contribution to relieve the misfortunes of the people who have lost their jobs in Egypt.
In the second place—and this is, I consider, of the greatest importance, and it applies not only to the Government but to the Press and to the people of this country—I hope that from now on we shall cease the bickering against the Egyptian Government that has been going on all these past years. A great deal of that bickering quite clearly was due to false grounds. We said in the first place that the Egyptians were quite incapable of operating the Canal, or whatever you do with the Canal; in fact it is going quite as well a sit ever was in the old days. We said that the Egyptian Government were Communist, but recent events, I think, have convinced a great many people who otherwise thought that, that that is wholly untrue. I am not here to defend the Egyptian Government or make out that Nasser is a fine man; that is not the point at all. There are a great many countries where we may not agree with the Government but we do not go on continually denigrating them in the Press and elsewhere, and 134 it is quite time we ceased to deal with Egypt in that way.
Finally, without re-opening old controversies and without asking noble Lords who do not take our view as to the past to share it, let us hope that the Government and the noble Lords opposite and the people of the country as a whole will learn from these tragic events of the last few years never to do the same again.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I do not think that anyone rising at this stage and having heard, as I have, the whole of this debate could have any ground of complaint on the general tone and substance of the speeches that have been made. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, commenced the debate, after my noble and learned friend the Lord President, with a very restrained and reasonable speech which at the same time showed his sympathy and understanding with the human problems involved. He asked me about the Order in Council in respect of the Commission. As your Lordships advanced this debate to this afternoon I had to be here instead of being engaged in actually considering the Order in Council. But I shall, I hope, be doing that to-morrow, and I will certainly bear in mind what the noble Lord said. I think it would be as well if I said some thing on the question of the sequestration charges which he also asked me about, because I know my noble friend Lord Lloyd was also worried about that point. The sequestration charges are collected before the property is handed back, and the Egyptian regulations prescribe how these are to be apportioned. In practice —and this may be of some practical comfort to my noble friend Lord Lloyd—we believe that they have already collected charges to the limit of £E2¼ million, which is the limit under the agreement. That, at any rate, will relieve my noble friend as to the possibility of future difficulty.
I want to make it clear that Her Majesty's Government have accepted the position that certain charges are payable under Egyptian law, though they do not admit that it was justifiable to levy those charges on the scales imposed or that the cost of administering sequestrated property should have reached so high a figure. This is one of the matters that 135 were discussed in the negotiations. But I think my noble friend will agree, and so will the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that it is an advantage to the claimants that the total amount is limited by the Agreement and machinery will be devised to ensure that this limit is not exceeded. It will be open, therefore, to claimants to submit information to the Commission concerning any charges levied on their property before it was returned.
Of course, I do not want to hold out any hope—and I think the noble Lord will appreciate why I do not—that such charges will be reimbursed by the Commission, since it is clear that in distributing the sums available priority will have to be given to cases where property has been expropriated altogether or returned in a damaged condition. I will come in a moment to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, but these are the claims which I am sure the noble Lord will agree are the primary ones—namely, the Egyptianised property and the damage to the sequestrated property, and I do not think it would be right to put against the £27½ million the sequestration charges.
Now I return to the points that have been raised in the debate, and I come to the speech of my noble friend Lord Salisbury, who was rather doubtful about the procedure followed in the Agreement in the discharge of the claims that the claimants themselves would make. In deference to the most restrained way in which my noble friend put forward his argument, I hope that the House will bear with me if I put a little more elaborately the difficulties that were in our way. So long as Proclamation No. 5 was in force in Egypt, the United Kingdom nationals had no access to the Egyptian courts; so that forum was ruled out to them. Individuals have no right to take cases to the International Courts of Justice themselves; as noble Lords are aware, any proceedings there have to be between States. But on the next point, the United Arab Republic has not accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court. and therefore it would not have been possible for Her Majesty's Government to have taken the United Arab Republic to the Court. Finally, in the United Kingdom courts, the United Arab Republic could, in my view, successfully 136 have pleaded sovereign immunity. That is the difficulty, as I see it, in both municipal and international law.
In those circumstances, the United Kingdom nationals could not negotiate, as I said, while the Proclamation was in force. They could, of course, make agreements, and a few did; but I do not think that that affects the general point. But, with that difficulty being there, we certainly had the impression—I think my noble friend the Lord President said this earlier—that the majority of the claimants would much prefer us to have taken the course of negotiating on their behalf than to have had to argue each individual case with the Egyptian Government. The noble Marquess himself conceded, as I heard him, that once you get on to the basis of Governmental negotiation, it is of course the usual form, which has been pursued in so many Agreements, that they contain a clause barring individual claims.
The next point that my noble friend Lord Salisbury made—indeed, it is one of the points of which my noble friend Lord Lloyd was good enough to give me notice—is what I might call the £E5,000 point: that is, the limit of withdrawing sums from Egypt to £E5,000 or a figure of about £3,700. I do not think anyone said in the debate—and I think it is important that it should be on record and that your Lordships should have it in mind—that that final limit of £E5,000 derives from the Egyptian Exchange Control Regulations as they existed for years before 1956. It is not a limit which was put on as a consequence of the happenings which have been the background to our debate to-day, but something which is of considerable standing in time in Egypt. Indeed, in the world in which we live, in practice few countries allow the unrestricted export of capital on the part of those who cease to be residents.
My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount said that I might interrupt him. I wonder whether he would allow me to make this point on that particular argument. Of course, it is true that there were exchange control restrictions before the Suez episode, but I think that if he will be good enough to look into the situation he will find that although the amount which could be freely transferred from Egypt was limited to the same figure of £E5,000, it 137 was possible in those days to get further amounts transferred by arrangement and agreement with the Bank of England, which debited such further transfers to the Egyptian No. 2 Account over here. After the release of the sterling balances, there is no No. 2 Account; so that cannot be done any more. In the old days, therefore, you could get round this difficulty; now, these people cannot get round it. I do not want to ask the noble Viscount for an answer to that point tonight—it is a point of which I did not give him notice—but I wonder whether he would bear that in mind in considering this question, because I think it is a very important point.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, I wonder whether I might intervene to say that this £E5,000 amount was dependent on persons giving up their residence in Egypt—retiring from Egypt and taking their things out. I have in my pocket details of at least twenty cases where, on moving out of Egypt, people were allowed to take the whole amount, regardless of the £E5,000 limit. When the noble Viscount is looking into the point he might perhaps find that somewhere. But it was possible to get round that difficulty.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords. I should like to look into it. It would be idle for me to pretend that I carry the whole of the municipal law of Egypt in my head. I assure both my noble friends that I will look into the point. My noble friend Lord Lloyd asked me about the next stage—namely, the "favourable consideration." It is quite true, as he said in his communication to me, that that does not give us a legal sanction. It is an expression of intention which is familiar in diplomatic Agreements. I do not want to go into detailed matters of construction. but the expression of intention is that the Egyptian Government will approach the problem with the desire to approve. I think the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, would agree that it would be unhelpful to everyone, including those with whom he is most concerned, if I were to try to speculate on the hypothesis when they would be entitled to refuse; and with his permission. I will leave the matter there.
The next point raised by my noble friend Lord Salisbury was the question of 138 speed, and especially how that would react on the older people concerned, whom he had very much in mind. That point was also raised by my noble friend Lord Lloyd and by my noble friend Lord Gifford. It is clearly true, of course, that some time will be required to assess and pay compensation on the many claims which will be received; but my right honourable friend the Prime Minister dealt specifically with this point, and he indicated that Her Majesty's Government were pressing on with the introduction of an Order in Council to enable the Foreign Compensation Commission to start work. The only reason I have not been engaged in drafting that Order to-day is your Lordships' debate; and I am very glad that I have had an opportunity of hearing the many points that have been made, so that I shall be in a better position, when I begin the drafting of the Order, which it is my plan to start doing to-morrow morning. The Commission will then be able to start their examination.
My noble friend Lord Killearn has been very critical throughout this matter, but I am sure that there was one of his points to-night in which the whole House will agree with him—I certainly do. That was on how fortunate we were to obtain Sir George Rendel to look after the Foreign Office and London side. There will be that piece of machinery, which I am glad receives the full approval of the noble Lord, Lord Killearn. Then at the other end, as he knows, we took immense pains to pave the way for suitable machinery in Cairo. In a moment I shall come to what was said by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about assistance on other points in the intermediate stage, but there we have these two parts of the machinery, and I am quite sure that they will do their utmost to see that speed is of the essence of this operation.
There is one other point that I should like to mention. The Commission have £½ million in hand, but my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said that if any further sums beyond this were required, Her Majesty's Government would certainly consider introducing legislation to authorise any further necessary credit to the Commission, so that there will be no hold-up in the payment of the further sum. My right 139 honourable friend the Prime Minister also said in the debate—and I am referring your Lordships to him because I feel it is very important to do so on a point which has worried a number of your Lordships: whether we are really going to get on with this matter [OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 602 (No. 78), col. 151]:Her Majesty's Government are prepared to give sympathetic consideration to cases of hardship among owners of property in Egypt who have difficulty in meeting the costs of return passages or of their agents' fees during the process of recovering their property under the Agreement.I believe that the last point made by my noble friend Lord Lloyd in this field was the question of ex gratia loans. There are two points on which I feel I ought to ease his mind. I repeat to-day what I have said before, and what my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham has often said: that there can be no repayment except out of recovered assets. But in addition to that, I would remind my noble friend of what was said by the right honourable gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer: that we would leave the matter in abeyance at the moment, which will enable us to look at the general situation and see what equity and justice demand. I do want noble Lords who are here—and I hope my noble friend Lord Salisbury may read these words—to know that certainly it is our intention to create in these organisations such spirit as we hope will remove as much worry as possible and give as much help as possible to those who are in difficulties.
My noble friend Lord Balfour of Inchrye asked me three questions with regard to the claims for Egyptianised and sequestrated property. He asked about the priorities between them. Will he allow me to-night, before my meeting.to-morrow, to put it in this way. I sympathise very much with the principle of keeping them pari passu, and I do not see any reason for priority being given to either Egyptianised property or to damaged or sequestrated property. I have tried to listen to everything that has been said to-day, but I do not think anyone has expressed any view to the contrary on that matter. It seems to me to be the sensible course, and I should like to approach the matter in that way and to see whether any problems are raised.
140 The second question which the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, asked was: would the Commission consider all claims? Again, let me say at once that the noble Lord's suggestion appeals to me very much. That seems to me a suitable way of doing this, provided, of course, that it does not bar an interim payment; for it would be a terrible thing if, in trying to do strict equity by getting in the whole picture, we should debar any advance to those who might badly need one; and therefore I should prefer that there should be some provision. I hope the House will take it that I will look into that point and also the third point made by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, on the position between an interim payment (if there is one) and advances.
I come now to the speech of my noble friend Lord Lloyd. Though I have dealt with some of his points I promised to deal with the specific matters he has raised. I hope that he will feel that I have dealt with his first point—the question of passages and ex gratia loans, and if there are any further details on that, if my noble friend will write to me I shall be very pleased to look into them. His next point concerned paragraphs (b), (d), (e), (f) and (g) of Article III. The noble Lord asked me why there was no date for the Egyptians to act under these paragraphs. So far as the return of sequestrated property is concerned, the time limits are as set out in Annex B. There is, first, an announcement of the steps to be taken by an owner to recover his property. That has been made, and application forms are being made available. Then, when the form is put in,within three months after the date of the receipt of each applicationfrom the owner, the property must be released and handed over by the Sequestrator-General. That is provided in Annex B, paragraph (4) (i).
Now with regard to paragraph (d), which deals with the industrial property, the obligations of the United Arab Republic under Annex C come into force immediately. That also is a paragraph taken from another Agreement of this kind. With regard to paragraph (e) and the payment of pensions, again, this obligation comes into force immediately. Three hundred and sixty pensions out of 141 the 486 which the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board acknowledge are now being paid; 14 pensioners have had arrears as well; and 53, I am sorry to say, have died. But, in any event, no hardship arises from the non-payment, because the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board are still making up the pensions, and we shall naturally press for implementation in full of the United Arab Republic's obligation under this Article.
While I am on that point, perhaps I may go on to the compensation for the dismissed officials, about whom my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross asked me. On this point I would say that under this section the United Arab Republic have accepted a definite obligation to assess and pay compensation; and that is, in fact, an improvement of the position as it existed in 1956. My noble friend knows —I do not know whether all your Lordships have it in mind—that the dismissed officials have already had the £100,000 which was advanced to them by the Exchequer. Therefore, the sum from the United Arab Republic will go to the Exchequer extra receipts at the Home Office.
On the next point which my noble friend raised, I should like to tell him that we will do everything possible to expedite the Commission. The further points, upon which he was kind enough to allow me indulgence, I will look into; and I will write to him, as he suggests. My noble friend Lord Lloyd also asked me about the return of beneficial securities. That obligation, again, enters into force immediately, and we shall press for its early implementation. My noble friend was rather worried, too, about the question of the tax claims, and I wanted to inform him that, again, so far as my knowledge of Egyptian law goes, an appeal to the Cour D'Etat involves an appeal to the highest reviewing body in Egypt; but under Egyptian law only the Minister can finally decide the matter. That is an aspect of government which my noble friend and I had sometimes to consider in quite another connection; but at the moment the relevant point is that that is the Egyptian law, and therefore he will appreciate the difficulty of getting any further provision.
My noble friend asked me about Article IV and the meaning of "injury142 and damage". My Lords, the term has its natural and ordinary meaning, but it will be for the claimants to put to the Foreign Compensation Commission anything that they think is injury or damage to the property. I take, for example, the obvious case where it is a piece of property that is concerned. They will be able, I am sure, to give some evidence as to its state, and of course there will be no question of not having hearsay evidence. They can get a surveyor's report; the agent out there can get a surveyor's report of the present value of the property and the damage. That can be sent to the Commission and the matter will be considered.
My Lords, will the noble and learned Viscount forgive my interrupting? The only point I had in mind was that presumably the Foreign Compensation Commission will be given terms of reference in this matter, and I was hoping those terms of reference would be reasonably wide, enabling the Commission to be reasonably generous in assessing damage under this head.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I will certainly bear that point in mind. The last thing we want is to make any of this machinery pettifogging, if I may use a defamatory word. I do not think I can add anything to what my noble friend Lord Hailsham said about the question of the negotiations. There were a number of meetings in which the viewpoint was put there, but it was not possible for consultation at every point. It was a matter we discussed quite often.
The next point which I think I have not dealt with is the doubts of my noble friend Lord Lloyd about paragraph 2 (b) of Article V—namely, the question of the rate of the pound before July 27, 1956, in the case of applications which were approved before that date. I think I can rejoice my noble friend's heart on this point, because the benefit of the International Monetary Fund parity between the Egyptian pound and the pound sterling was the object of this Article. That has been given, and that is the rate, 97½ piastres to the pound sterling, which was in fact established before the First World War; and in this case no question of depreciation arises.
My noble friend also asked me about the question of depreciation of property 143 between the time of the Agreement and that of handing back. That is a matter for which the United Arab Republic are responsible; there is nothing, as I see it, in the Agreement to bar the claimants from making them responsible for any damage between these two dates. The Agreement excuses only up to the date of the Agreement. But I think the noble Lord will agree that it would obviously not have been in the interests of the claimants to make that subsequent damage available against the lump sum.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
There were two other minor points. My noble friend was anxious about the records and what could be done to help, and we have required the Sequestrator-General to furnish copies of all records to the owners. I am afraid that it is difficult to go further as to the adequacy of such records, but it will be one of the functions of our representative in Cairo to help as much as he can on that point. I think that, on consideration, my noble friend will agree with me that there is an advantage in having the report of the Sequestrator General put in writing. We all know in our own lives the difficulties of a normal interview. We thought it would be valuable that he should put the report in writing and then we should be able to do what we can.
I apologise to the rest of your Lordships for what has been the answer to a private cross-examination of myself by my noble friend Lord Lloyd, for his part largely conducted on paper. But I think my noble friend will agree that I have at any rate tried to deal with all the points, and perhaps he will be able even to agree that I have dealt with some of the points.
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble and learned Viscount, I am sorry indeed that I should have put him to so much trouble. I think, however, from the point of view of those concerned, that it has been very valuable that there should have been an explanation in your Lordships' House of all these matters, which are matters of concern.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I assure my noble friend that he need not think for one moment of any trouble 144 that it has been to me. I have been only too glad to have been able to help.
I intend to say very little about the general position, but I should like your Lordships to consider one aspect which I do not think has been mentioned in this debate: that is the fact that, apart from the financial considerations, to which I shall come in a moment, there were quite important changes in the position of our trading community in Egypt. As a result of this agreement—and, again, I will take it quite shortly—there is a resumption of normal commercial relations. We get the most favoured nation treatment in relation to Customs duty and other matters; the treatment of sterling is put in terms no less favourable than those for other currencies; favourable consideration will be given to the creation of British commercial agencies; and most favoured nation treatment will be given to British commercial establishments. Then there is the side of life which is made up of things like copyrights, patents, and trademarks agreements. All these come into force again, and that will be most helpful. Then, as my noble friend reminded your Lordships, we shall go hack to the status quo in regard to civil aviation.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
We hope that that will come. That is another stage. That is not involved in this agreement, but quite clearly we shall have someone there—I think this is what the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, probably has in mind—who will be dealing with the particular problems of the Agreement. That will mean that, at any rate, there will be a new conduit pipe in Cairo, and, with the changes that I have set out, it will put relations on this new basis.
With regard to the Agreement itself, I merely want to remind your Lordships, in no argumentative sense, of the aspects which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer considered the most important. The first is the restoration of by far the greater amount of the property; and, with that, the restoration of legal rights, the rights of capital transfers, and the taxation position. My Lords, on that, it is easy to be pessimistic, but I want your Lordships to consider what is the position, looking at it as objectively as one can. The 145 sequestrated property has been taken at £130 million; the Egyptianised at £45 million; and the land at varying sums. We cannot get a clear amount, but I think Mr. Gaitskell's figure—I will quote his figure—took it at £5 million. That makes, in all, £180 million. Against that, making the initial balance sheet, there is £157½ million, plus these intangibles that I have mentioned, and plus the improvement which one can reasonably anticipate in the position of our trade.
Now, what we do not know—and I hope your Lordships think that I am stating it objectively—is the value of the Egyptianised property; we do not know the value of the land; and we do not know the amount of the damage that has been clone to the sequestrated property. The figure for sequestrated property, your Lordships will remember, was £130 million—that is the amount that is claimed. That includes the Shell property. Again, I think it would not be right for a Minister to value the assets of a private firm, but everyone has concluded that it is a very considerable amount. In addition, the bank balances and securities are to a claim value of £23 million; buildings are about £10 million; personal property, including insurance policies and other financial claims —personal property in the strict sense—are £7 million; the stocks of goods are £4½ million; and plant and machinery are £3 million. That adds up to £47½ million: and, as I said, there is a very substantial figure for Shell. Of course, I do not want to put it too much the other way, but when there is pessimistic talk of the damage to sequestrated property, I should have thought that in all the matters that I have mentioned you are dealing with fairly hard figures, and that the ones where you would expect that the damage might make a difference—for example, stocks of goods and, to a lesser extent, plant and machinery—are a relatively small percentage of that hard figure which I have mentioned.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, I wonder whether I may interrupt the noble and learned Viscount for one minute? Could he make it clear—it is certainly not clear to me why, in view of all these very large figures, we let loose £41 million to the Egyptian Government? It seems rather curious. It was what was left of our security. I seek information: but 146 it seems a curious thing to have done without a quid pro quo.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I thought that my noble friend Lord Hail-sham dealt with that point in the introduction. The fact that the claim figure amounts to £180 million—and that is made up of £130 million of sequestrated property, which in turn can be broken down into the figures that I have stated—shows that, as far as we were concerned, there really was no necessity for the maintenance as security. Put the other way—and this is the point I will ask my noble friend to consider—when you are getting back £130 million of claim of sequestrated property and you are getting £27½million, you have to put that against the retention of the money in the sterling balances, apart from the moral point as to whether we can, as bankers of the sterling area, deal with it, and apart from the very formidable economic point as to the effect on British financial prestige if we were to take the deposited balances in that way. But I think the noble Lord has not put enough weight on the fact that we are getting the sequestrated property back.
§ LORD KILLEARN
My Lords, perhaps I was wrong, but I had assumed that we did not admit the legality of the sequestration.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
With his knowledge of Egypt, the noble Lord must have known that if we had not made this Agreement, the risk that the owners of sequestrated property were running was great. It could have been Egyptianised, and then what would they have done? All the speeches of the noble Lord and his friends in the last debate showed that the danger was in their minds and, in the friendliest manner in the world, I crave it in our aid to-day. That is the position.
The figures are unknown; and what is the right thing to do in this circumstance? The right thing is to have some method of ascertaining the figures. I hope that we have that. Then, when that has been done, at the end of the day we come to the position which all noble Lords have recommended—namely, the undertakings that have been given by my right honourable friends, first the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then the Prime Minister, and repeated by my noble friend Lord Hailsham to-day. If I may 147 put them in my own words, because they have been read often, they amount to this: first, that Her Majesty's Government will watch how the settlement works out and will play their part in seeing that it is fair and reasonable; secondly, that Her Majesty's Government do not exclude (I think I am using the exact words of my right honourable friends) a further contribution from public funds; and thirdly, that we will try to deal with hardships and gaps arising between now and the final settlement.
That is our approach, and it is in that spirit that I have endeavoured to put the matter before your Lordships. Again, I ask your Lordships' indulgence for my speech, for of necessity I had to deal with an infinite variety of small points, but I have tried to do so and I now ask your Lordships to pass the Motion, as your Lordships have intimated we should be allowed to do.
My Lords, before the noble and learned Viscount sits down, could he answer my point about Article III (g), concerning sterling balances in this country?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am sorry that I did not deal with it. Of course, applications for de-sequestration have to take place. As the noble Lord will appreciate, the bank in this country holds on account of the Egyptian bank with whom the security 148 has been deposited. That means that the person who wants it back has to apply for desequestration. He gets the form from the Foreign Office. I am glad that the noble Lord interrupted me, because I will certainly look into the point that the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, raised about simplification. Then the person concerned has to apply for desequestration and the security has to be desequestrated within the three months provided for in the Agreement. If there is any further point, perhaps the noble Lord will either come and see me or drop me a line, and I shall be very pleased to deal with it.
§ On Question, Resolution agreed to.