HL Deb 28 November 1960 vol 226 cc920-2

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to press for a settlement in accordance with Article III (f) of the Anglo-Egyptian Financial Agreement of 1959; and whether, pending such settlement, they would be prepared to make advances out of public funds in cases of hardship.]


My Lords, under the first part of Article III (f) of the Financial Agreement of 1959, the Government of the United Arab Republic undertook to pay to the United Kingdom the sum of £100,000 as an interim payment in respect of compensation due to British officials dismissed in 1951.

The Article provides that the Government of the United Arab Republic shall cause the Commission, which had been created in 1955 to enquire into these cases but which had been in abeyance since the events of 1956, to resume its work and to make a final assessment of the compensation due. The Commission was re-established and held its first meeting on July 9, 1960. On August 15 the British Mission in Cairo were informed that the Commission had formulated the various different sets of criteria according to which compensation should be calculated". and had referred them to the Government of the United Arab Republic for a Ministerial decision. Her Majesty's Mission in Cairo have been pressing for this decision to permit a final assessment to be made of the compensation due to ensure the payment of the balance thereof in sterling", in accordance with the last part of the relevant Article. In view of the fact that discussions are actively proceeding in Cairo at the present moment, it is premature to consider advance payments.


My Lords, I thank the noble Marquess for his reply and for the assurance that Her Majesty's Government's representative is pressing this Commission. Would he not agree, first of all, that the time lag has become almost intolerable; and secondly, would he not also agree that it is exactly because of that time lag that I am now asking for interim payments in cases of hardship? Further, will he tell me whether or not the promise of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor that consideration of further contributions would not be excluded is intended to apply to these officials?


My Lords, as regards the time lag, it is, of course, perfectly true that too long did elapse before the Commission was reconstituted; I perfectly accept that. But I would point out to the noble Viscount that the Commission was reconstituted in July and by August, as I told him in my original Answer, the sets of criteria had already been formulated. Now what we are waiting for is a decision by the Cabinet. As I said in my first reply, I do not think that this is the time to consider advance payments. The matter is actively under discussion now and so I must ask the noble Viscount to take my first Answer as all I am able to say at the moment.


My Lords, would Her Majesty's Government agree that where the action of Her Majesty's Government in the past has had the not unnatural consequence of prejudicing the fulfilment of agreements of this kind, Her Majesty's Government have a moral responsibility, if not a legal one? And would Her Majesty's Government consider interest-free loans against the eventual payment to ease cases of hardship, an interest-free loan not being an advance and riot, therefore, prejudicing the rapidity of any settlement?


With great respect, I must repeat that I have nothing further to add to my original reply.


My Lords, I think the noble Marquess said that the criteria had been agreed in August. Three months have past since then. Do I gather we are waiting for agreement by the British Cabinet—he used the word "Cabinet"—or by the Egyptian Government? If we are awaiting agreement by the Egyptians, may I ask whether the British Government are making strong representations to the Cabinet in Cairo to get a decision?


My Lords, the answer is Yes.