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Egypt (Compensation Claims)

Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 3 May 1961

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asked the Lord Privy Seal how many British claimants await compensation from the Egyptian Government; how much is due; and when it will be paid.

The United Arab Republic paid to Her Majesty's Government £27½ million as compensation under the Financial Agreement of 28th February, 1959. The Foreign Compensation Commission which administers this Compensation Fund, has received 1,806 applications formulated with details of losses. 953 have been assessed, leaving 853 formulated claims to be determined by the Commission. 2,974 applications have not yet been formulated by the claimants.

As claims are still being received, I cannot say how much will eventually be due in respect of all claims.

Compensation is also due to about 160 British officials dismissed by the Egyptian Government in 1951. Part of this has been paid but the balance still remains to be assessed by the Egyptian Government.

While I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for all that information, may I ask him whether it is not a fact that the British Government hold about £27½ million, of which less than £7 million has so far been disbursed? Even allowing for the fact that a certain number of claims in respect of sequestration have still to be finalised, could not the Government be a little more generous? Surely the Government would not be taking an undue risk if they released rather more of the £27½ million than they have so far done? With regard to the other problem of the officials dismissed by the Egyptian Government, has not the time come for the British Government to apply much more pressure to get this very deserving class of victims speedily recompensed?

In reply to the last part of the supplementary question, we have repeatedly urged on the Egyptian Government that they should make a final settlement in this respect, and a commission was set up to deal with this. We understand that the commission has virtually completed its work and that the matter is now being put to the Egyptian Ministers for decision. I hope that we may soon forge ahead with a settlement of this matter.

On the general matter, the number of claims which have still to be formulated—to the very large extent which I have mentioned—together with the considerable amount of property which is in process of being desequestrated, makes a firm calculation difficult. In the second Order in Council which we published before Christmas we went as far as we thought we could in making an additional distribution. It was so weighted that the smaller claims have received very much the larger proportion.

The dismissed civil servants are surely in a quite separate category from the others, because they were in contractual relationships with the Egyptian Government. Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is disheartening and, indeed, exasperating that these answers should be given year after year by the Government, and that the apparent impression of complete impotence on the part of the British Government and the Foreign Office is really tragic when one thinks of the situation of the men concerned, whose numbers are dwindling through the natural course of things?

These are, of course, two separate problems. We have urged with our utmost strength that the question of the officials who were dismissed should be settled. I hope from the information which I have given to the House that it will be possible to do this fairly soon.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is being alleged on behalf of the ex-Suez Canal pilots, and maybe others, that the Egyptian authorities are themselves putting a lot of counter-claims in the way of the restitution of the money to the former owners under the sequestration laws? Is our Embassy in Cairo sufficiently well staffed to deal with the situation, and is sufficient pressure being applied by the British Government to find out exactly on what grounds the Egyptian Government are doing this?

I have heard of individual cases of this nature, but I have not heard of it as being a general procedure. The Embassy in Cairo is staffed to deal with this matter, and Sir George Rendel and his assistants in the Foreign Office have just returned from Cairo after spending some five weeks there going through a large number of cases of this kind.