HL Deb 25 July 1963 vol 252 cc827-31

3.10 p.m.


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:—

  1. (1) Whether they can give this House a progress report on the working of the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Final Distribution) Order 1963, of March 4, 1963, and the total of payments made to date in respect of
    1. (a) Egyptianised property
    2. (b) Sequestrated property;
  2. (2) What steps have been taken to obtain the release of the property of British nationals which, whilst subject to the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Financial Agreement of February, 1959, was re-sequestrated under Egyptian Proclamation 138 of October, 1961.]


My Lords, information obtained from the Foreign Compensation Commission shows that up to June 30, 1963, the amounts paid out were as follows:—

(a) Egyptianised property: £17,693,978.

Less: deductions in respect of ex-gratia loans: £772,720.

Value of cheques sent to claimants: £16,921,257.

(b) Sequestrated property: £4,109,309.

Less: deductions made in respect of ex-gratia loans: £911,517.

Value of cheques sent to claimants: £3,197,791.

One hundred and twenty-four claims registered under Article 8 of the Foreign Compensation (Egypt) (Determination and Registration of Claims) Order, 1962, were also paid up to June 30, 1963, the gross amount being £110,382.

less: deductions in respect of ex-gratia loans: £21,085.

Value of cheques sent to claimants: £89,296.

I do not think it would be right to disturb the work of the Foreign Compensation Commission by calling for a detailed progress report, as the work involved would seriously delay progress in determining and paying outstanding claims.

In answer to the second part of my noble friend's Question, about the re-sequestrated property, Her Majesty's Embassy in Cairo formally asked the United Arab Republic authorities in November, 1961, whether property sequestrated under Proclamation No. 138 was to be released; if so, when; and, if not, what form compensation would take. The Embassy have since been in frequent touch with the United Arab Republic authorities and understand that they accept the principle of compensation for property not eventually released. We have also been told that a decision on the future of the property under sequestration may now be expected comparatively soon. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to the United Arab Republic Ambassador about this question on June 19.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl for his full and informative reply. I naturally cannot claim to have mastered all the figures, not having heard them before, but they will be very interesting and useful to a great many people who are vitally affected by this question. I was going to ask a supplementary question, which I really ought not to do: I was going to ask (I do not know whether the noble Earl has the figure there) what was the total amount in the kitty (if I may put it in the vernacular) for distribution by the Foreign Claims Commission. I shall not be surprised if he cannot give me the answer, but it would be useful to have it.


My Lords, I think, yes. A sum of approximately £6.8 million, received from the United Arab Republic Government, is still in the Fund; and on top of that, of course, there is the "topping up", which my noble friend will remember was explained by the Foreign Secretary in his statement of December last year.


My Lords, I remember, of course, only too well. I thank the noble Earl for his answer. I did not expect he would have it at his fingertips. May I now turn to the second part of his reply, on re-sequestration? If I understood him aright the noble Earl said that we had first made representations to the Egyptian Government in October, 1961. It is now July, 1963. I understand that the representations of October, 1961, were followed up by a full memorandum from the Embassy. Is it correct—I must put this in the form of a question, I know—that no formal reply has ever been received from the Egyptian Government to either of those representations? That is my first point.

My second point is this. The noble Earl referred to discussions that were going on as regards compensation and such like. Would he not agree that it is the fact, by and large, that the basis of settlement of compensation hinted at, or at any rate so far disclosed, is totally inadequate? It is a compulsory 5 per cent. on the rental value spread over fourteen years in what I should imagine were totally worthless Egyptian Government bonds. That being so (if my facts are correct), would he not agree that the claimants might feel aggrieved, and indeed surprised, that Her Majesty's Government should agree to any such inequitable settlement?


My Lords, on the first part of my noble friend's supplementary question, the United Arab Republic authorities do accept that British subjects whose property was re-sequestrated under Proclamation No. 138—that was in 1961— shall continue to enjoy their transfer rights under Article V of the 1959 Agreement, and a number of transfers of cash have already been effected. In reply to the second part of my noble friend's supplementary question, this subject has been debated very often. I do not think we can debate it at Question Time; but if my noble friend will look at the Foreign Secretary's statement of December 11, he will, I think, find full information about it.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl once more for his reply. Perhaps I might just ask one further point, then I shall have finished. Since this sign of interest, shall we say, on the part of the British Government was formally displayed to the Egyptian Government against the treatment of this property, is it not a fact that certain items of that re-sequestrated property have in fact been sold by the Egyptian Sequestrator General? I am informed that five large parcels of land have been sold.


My Lords, our Embassy in Cairo have reported that some property owned or partly owned by British subjects has recently been sold by the Sequestrator General to Egyptian insurance companies, and twenty British subjects are known to be affected. Payment for the property is being made to the Sequestrator General by the purchaser, but no details are yet available of the form of compensation to be paid to the owners. The rights of Her Majesty's Government and of all British property owners affected have been formally reserved by Her Majesty's Embassy.


My Lords, I thank the noble Earl. I cannot press him any further.


My Lords, referring to the first part of the noble Earl's reply, I should like to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Killearn, has said. There will be great appreciation among the many people concerned about these large amounts of claims. It is difficult to make a calculation, as has been said. Would the noble Earl feel able to give an indication of what is the total amount distributed to date against the total amount available—that is, the £27½ million plus the "topping up" amount, which would give the total amount available—and what they know of what remains, to use the term, "in the kitty" yet to be distributed? If the noble Earl could make something of a progress report it would be helpful to indicate this total amount.


Perhaps, my Lords. But if my noble friend would add up the figures of the "topping-up" which were described by the Foreign Secretary on December 11; add to those the £27 million, plus the interest on the £27 million to date; then subtract from them the figures just given in this Answer, then I think he will arrive at the comet result.


My Lords, the danger is that my rapid calculations would perhaps not be accurate. But could the noble Earl perhaps give those figures in answer to a Written Question? I am sure that this would be helpful to all concerned.


Yes, my Lords.