HL Deb 06 December 1960 vol 227 cc1-5

2.35 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy in regard to recovering from claimants with assets in Egypt all or any portion of the loans advanced to them by Her Majesty's Government on the grounds of hardship; and if, in fact, such repayment is being insisted upon, upon what moral ground this is done, seeing that these so-called loans amount in fact to enforced capital expenditure by these unfortunate British subjects.]


My Lords, the policy of Her Majesty's Government remains the same as slated by the Lord President of the Council on July 29, 1959, in answer to a question by the noble Lord. The Lord President made it clear that such loans were prima facie repayable, but Her Majesty's Government were aware that there might be cases where strict insistence on this general right of recovery would create serious hardship, and would be prepared in certain cases to remit the whole or part of the obligations to repay.

The recipients of these loans have recognised that fact that they are repayable, by their individual undertakings to repay them. It seems to me, therefore, to be fully in accordance with the terms on which the loans were made that part of them should now be repaid by deductions from compensation payments due to claimants. I can nevertheless assure the noble Lord that any cases of real hardship will be considered on their merits and that the greatest possible regard will be paid to the circumstances of those concerned.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his Answer, which leaves the situation as it was before. I would ask him whether he is aware that there are quite a number of cases where the total amount of the interim award has been retained in payment of the loans. I must not make a speech, but, if I may quote, I have three cases here. In the first case, the loan was £10,000; there was an interim award of £6,300 and the amount deducted was £5,600, leaving, therefore, £700 only in the hands of the claimant, who, meantime, in Egypt has a claim of £100,000 which, of course, he cannot touch. That is the first case. Then there is the case of Mr. B.—


Order, order!


May I not quote these? They are very important to these people.


My Lords, I think that what the noble Lord must do is ask a supplementary question.


I am working up to it.


I hope the noble Lord will work himself up quickly.


Give me another five minutes and I will work up to it. I want to get these on record. Mr. B. received an ex gratia payment of £7,500; his interim payment from the Foreign Compensation Commission was £1,207, but this was withheld in full in part repayment of loan. He has assets in Egypt assessed at £30,000, which he cannot touch. Mr. B., in writing to the Secretary of State, used these words: The first of my Egyptian assets liberated, you grab the lot". In the third case, which is my last case, the amount of ex gratia loan was £7,500; the interim payment awarded was £840 but this was withheld in full in part repayment of loan; the assets in Egypt are valued at approximately £16,000. Those are three cases where they really have received practically nothing. To come to my supplementary question—I apologise for the introduction—we have received countless assurances in the other place and here of generous treatment to these unfortunate people.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord really must sooner or later ask a question. He cannot entirely ride roughshod over the procedure of the House in this way.


Could an assurance be given that deductions will not be made without careful consideration of the circumstances until claimants have recovered sufficient of their assets lost in Egypt for their livelihood in the United Kingdom? These people have to live. The noble Earl is sitting on that Bench. It is all very well, but for these unfortunate people it is a question of life and death. I will not be put upon. I am sorry.


My Lords, I have rather forgotten the beginning of the noble Lord's supplementary question. I think the three cases that he quoted are, in fact, the only three out of the lot, but I will check up on that. I have assured him—and I mean this—that where there is any case of hardship the case will be considered on its merits with the greatest possible regard to the circumstances of those concerned, and I deliberately chose those words because I mean those words. The loan system was based on people having actual resources, and in some cases they have got back their assets in full. But each individual case must be looked at on its merits. I will look at the three cases which the noble Lord has brought to my attention, just to make sure that every regard has been paid to the circumstances of those concerned.


My Lords, arising out of the reply of the noble Earl, could I ask this question? As at present the claimant is left to face the Treasury. Would the Minister consider asking that there should be, as it were, a standard of compassion in remitting these advances, to the extent that a man has had to use his capital for current living during the period until he is called upon to repay his advance from monies received. That is to say, supposing he got £10,000 and had had to spend £6,000 in living for four years, not more than £4,000 would be claimed back as repayment—some such standard as that, in order that the claimants should know where they are, rather than be left to the blank mercy of the Treasury.


My Lords, I should not like to have a standard of compassion, I think, because in some oases the individual case is what matters and you cannot apply a standard. But I will consider what my noble friend has said. I personally have not looked into these cases. I will have another look at the three that the noble Lord has mentioned. But I hope that we shall be allowed to administer this in a compassionate way, as it is being administered now.


My Lords, in recognising the helpful replies of the noble Earl and also the difficulty of the administration that he has referred to, and sensing, I think, the compassionate feeling of the House in these difficult cases, would he not think it possible, in seeking some standard of consideration for these unfortunate individuals, that in addition to speeding up administrative machinery consideration should be given to the position of the other sector of the problem which the noble Lord referred to—namely, assets Egyptianised in Egypt?


Yes, my Lords; I will consider all the points that have been put to me. But I do want to treat these cases individually because no two cases are alike, and very generous treatment may be given to one case whereas another claimant may be able to pay back more of the money which has been advanced. I will certainly consider what noble Lords have said because I have a deep feeling in this matter myself.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Earl very much for the friendly way in which he has received these representations? I am most grateful.

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