Orders of the Day — Captain V. C. D. Levy

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 1964.

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Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. MacArthur.]

10.28 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Hollingworth Mr John Hollingworth , Birmingham All Saints

I am glad to have this opportunity to raise in the House the problems of my constituent, Captain Levy.

Before I say another word on this case, I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) on his well-deserved promotion to the Front Bench. On behalf of his many friends on both sides of the House, I wish him every possible personal success in his new office.

In a way I am rather sorry that his baptism of fire tonight should be in connection with so complex a matter as the problems of this constituent. When I first arrived in the House four and a half years ago, I received correspondence from Captain Levy with regard to his outstanding difficulties, which are associated with the fact that he was forced to leave Egypt at the time of the Suez emergency. For the last 4½ years I have been in contact with both my constituent and the Foreign Office, and I fear that even at this late stage, some 7½ years after the crisis, Captain Levy's affairs are still not satisfactorily settled.

My constituent, a man of 65, with a record of military service in the Armed Forces of the Crown, represented in Egypt prior to the emergency a substantial number of British and European manufacturers and had until the time of the crisis a very substantial and lucrative business connection. Like so many others at that time, he was obliged to leave Egypt at a moment's notice. I repeat that after 7½ years his affairs are still, to my way of thinking, not satisfactorily concluded.

The Foreign Office, as my hon. Friend will know from his brief tenure of office, has a very substantial file on this case. I, too, have a very substantial file, and I know that this is a very complex and detailed matter. Because the Foreign Office has so much detail, I do not propose to bore the House at this stage with the details of the case. I fear, though, in all fairness, that the success of my constituent's efforts to obtain some recompense for his lost assets have not been helped by the attitude of certain authorities in Egypt. I shall refer in a moment to the ex-gratia loan that was made to my constituent on his arrival in this country 7½ years ago, but I think that my hon. Friend would agree that the major problem lies in terms of the various assets in the form of stocks and shares that were left behind by my constituent and have not yet been effectively realised.

This is a story, as I said, of great complication. In the first instance, one gathers from the mass of correspondence which has accumulated that a tax clearance certificate appears to be the key to desequestration. After many months of negotiation, however, employing no fewer than six solicitors in this country and Cairo, I believe that at last the certificate has become available. I am not quite sure, and I should be glad of my hon. Friend's advice on this point.

This matter appears from the correspondence and from the conversations that I have had with my constituent to be blocked by virtue of a legal action by former partners of his in Cairo. Until not very many months ago this was still being used by certain authorities in Egypt to delay, or to appear to delay, final settlement, although in practice judgment on this matter was made in my constituent's favour in 1957. This illustrates the complication and detail of the case.

There has also been considerable difficulty in obtaining up-to-date detailed statements of my constituent's accounts in the two Egyptian banks that he used prior to his leaving that country, the authorities I gather, not being prepared to divulge information about credits and debits during the period of sequestration. Several years ago it was suggested that only by a personal visit would my constituent really have an opportunity of putting his affairs in order, and I know, again from personal experience, that although he has, in the classic words, tried and tried again, he has still not been able to get a visa to return to his adopted home.

The result of all these difficulties, which I suggest again are mainly connected with the attitude of the Egyptian authorities, is that my constituent today finds himself living in most difficult circumstances. He was granted an ex-gratia loan on his arrival in this country to the tune of some £7,500. His assets in Egypt, including the good will of his connections as a manufacturers' agent, were valued by Her Majesty's Government at approximately £15,000.

Right from the beginning of these negotiations my constituent claimed £32,000, by virtue of the loss of potential profit caused by sequestration by the Egyptian authorities. I have here tonight documents which seem to prove his case that he had a substantial business connection. I have with me—my hon. Friend may care to see them some time—letters of credit, in effect, from many companies in this country. When one is dealing with figures in relation to nationalisation of assets in Egypt, I must admit that they are a matter for negotiation; and I would not ask my hon. Friend to reply tonight in great detail on the matter of these figures, because, as I said, it is a very complicated one.

Soon after his return to the United Kingdom my constituent gave as a gift £2,000 of the ex-gratia loan which he was granted on arrival in this country to his daughters, who were at that time living in severe financial difficulties. Although it was accepted at the time of the ex-gratia loan that when hardship could be proved repayment could be made over a long period of time, the authorities in London have deducted the loan figure from the total figure of compensation, which leaves my constituent with £6,200 compensation as opposed to the approximate valuation—in the Government's eyes—of £15,000.

This matter is a sorer spot than perhaps it might have been simply because my constituent, as the years have passed by, has read in the newspapers in this country of other people in a similar position receiving substantially more than he himself has been granted. Naturally enough, unable as he is at the present time to obtain suitable employment because of his age, he feels very strongly about the whole matter.

I return to the crux of the matter, which, in my opinion, is represented by the assets which are still frozen in Egypt. I should like to make it perfectly plain that as long as these matters and assets remain unsettled the lower may be the value of the final settlement. This is because, as financiers and business men in the House will say, the value of many Egyptian stocks, both Government and private industry, has dropped substantially during the intervening period. This makes the whole thing more complicated than it need have been had it been cleared up five or six years ago.

I ask that even after seven and a half years my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Foreign Office should offer to give comprehensive reconsideration to the whole case, using the full facilities of the Foreign Office in this country and of the British Embassy in Cairo, in an attempt finally to bring to a close the problems of my constituent, who, through no fault of his own—I repeat—finds himself living in most difficult conditions, with no opportunity at his age of obtaining suitable employment in this country, and certainly, by virtue of the failure of the Egyptian Government to grant a visa, no opportunity whatsoever ever to return to his adopted home.

I am quite sure that but for all the difficulties which have arisen in the past between our two countries—and I would not dream for one moment tonight of going into detail of what is still a highly controversial political subject—people of good will in both countries must surely agree that outstanding matters of this type should be settled as soon as possible, rather than remain as open sores to endanger the happier relationships which we hope will exist between the nations concerned.

I have had 4½ years correspondence with my constituent. I am fully aware of the complications, and of the diversification of interests involved. I said earlier that I am confident that a very large measure of blame must rest upon the shoulders of those authorities in Egypt who have, in effect, gone out of their way in a very delicate and diplomatic manner to prevent the final settlement of this matter. But I am sure, too, that, given a little more good will on both sides and given an enthusiastic approach by the Foreign Office through the British Embassy in Cairo, there is no reason why my constituent should not, before long, find himself adequately recompensed for what, after all, is a situation which was due to no fault of his.

10.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Hollingworth) speak about the cases of those who have not yet been able to get their accounts settled under the agreement between Great Britain and the U.A.R. Nevertheless, I hope my hon. Friend will agree with me on the diligence of Mr. Fletcher in our Embassy in Cairo and on the efforts of the committee which has been responsible in Cairo and has done its best to investigate a large number of these cases.

I can only say in support of my hon. Friend's case that I think it is a great mistake that the U.A.R. has not allowed his constituent an opportunity to go back and investigate the case for himself. But he can rest assured of one thing. The British Embassy in Cairo, as far as I have knowledge of other cases, has assisted my constituents and all those who have written to me. I hope that this case, like others, can be settled, because no good can come to Britain's future relations in the Middle East unless these matters concerning our constituents are settled properly, suitably and quickly.

10.43 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Mathew Mr Robert Mathew , Honiton

May I first of all thank my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, All Saints (Mr. Hollingworth) for the kind words which he said about myself and for the good wishes which he expressed at the beginning of his speech. I appreciate them very much indeed. I am grateful, too, to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity of commenting on this case and explaining what steps my right hon. Friend has taken to help Captain Levy. Captain Levy has, over the past few years, furnished my Department, among others, and, as we now know, the hon. Member himself, with a wealth of documentation on every aspect of his affairs, so that his problems have been constantly before us.

As I understand it, his main difficulty is the delay in the granting of authority to transfer his liquid assets in Egypt into sterling in this country, which he has a right to do under Article V(i)(a) of the Financial Agreement of 1959. I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that we received only yesterday a telegram from Her Majesty's Embassy at Cairo reporting that the tax dispute which has caused this protracted delay is now being submitted to the Tax Revision Committee, and Captain Levy's present agent has said that he is confident of obtaining a tax clearance certificate soon.

Although, of course, these tax disputes are strictly an internal matter to be dealt with under Egyptian municipal law, Her Majesty's Embassy is doing everything possible to further Captain Levy's interests, and I am grateful for the words that were said about the Embassy by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates). The Embassy is trying to secure the effective release of his holding of 3½ per cent. War Loan held by the Ottoman Bank in London to the order of the Gumhuriya Bank in accordance with Article III(g) of the Financial Agreement.

According to the exchange of Notes of 7th August, 1962, authority had been given for he release of these securities, but the Egyptian Bank appears still to be holding them pending settlement of the tax dispute which I have already mentioned. We are, of course, aware of the lawsuit to which my hon. Friend referred, although in two letters dated 30th August and 6th September, 1963, Captain Levy assured my Department that no such action was in progress. Her Majesty's Embassy reported this morning that the other parties to the suit were at present not to be found; but in any event this is also a domestic Egyptian issue in which Her Majesty's Government cannot properly intervene.

As to the difficulty of obtaining bank statements, to which my hon. Friend alluded, I would remind him that on 7th August, 1962, the Egyptian Minister responsible authorised banks and other authorities to supply such statements either direct to applicants, through their agents or the Embassy. Some administrative confusion seems to have arisen through Captain Levy's maintaining accounts with three separate banks. I understand that these were eventually amalgamated into one account with the Bank of Alexandria; and Captain Levy's solicitors in Birmingham sent to my Department on 30th January, 1963, a copy of a statement of account from the Bank of Alexandria which they had obtained for him, showing a balance of £E4,685 placed in a non-resident account.

Captain Levy has been awarded compensation amounting to £7,016 through the Foreign Compensation Commission, £6,049 of which represents an award in respect of loss of income in Egypt. He has protested that this award is inadequate and has been invited to submit further evidence to enable his claim to be re-examined on review. This review is unlikely to take place for some time; and since the Commission is in its judicial functions an independent body it would be improper for my right hon. Friend to attempt to bring any influence to bear on it. Of these awards, £5,803 was withheld in partial liquidation of the ex-gratia, interest-free loans amounting to £7,500 made to Captain Levy. These loans were made through the Anglo-Egyptian Resettlement Board in 1957 and 1958 out of public funds against his undertaking to repay.

As the then Foreign Secretary stated in the House on 15th July, 1957, these loans were repayable out of "returns from Egypt"—and awards by the Foreign Compensation Commission, since they came out of the money paid in compensation by the U.A.R. Government under Article IV of the Financial Agreement, are held to constitute such "returns". Captain Levy therefore still owes Her Majesty's Government £1,697; but the Egyptian Loans Advisory Board, which advises the Foreign Secretary on the amounts of these deductions, always takes account of any hardship that may arise. Captain Levy appealed for a lower sum to be deducted, but the Board, after a personal interview by one of its officers and after full consideration, found no satisfactory evidence of hardship and felt obliged to maintain its previous recommendation.

From what I have said, I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that the figures he quoted were not all quite in context. The sum of £32,000 which he mentioned repre- sents the amount of the original claim which Captain Levy lodged with the Foreign Compensation Commission for loss of income. He based it, I understand, on an average of £E3,000 a year income over 10 years. The Commission did not accept that basis of calculation and assessed and awarded his claim, as I have said, at £6,049.

Similarly, the £15,000 which my hon. Friend quoted as the value of Captain Levy's assets in Egypt was not the valuation made by Her Majesty's Government; it was Captain Levy's own valuation—actually £E15,679 after the subtraction of certain irrelevant items—when, in common with some 8,000 other refugees in Egypt, he registered his assets for the information of the Foreign Office in 1957. I should, add, for the sake of completeness, that these "registrations" in no way constituted any kind of application or claim for compensation.

Captain Levy also applied to the Egyptian Grants Committee for a grant on grounds of comparative hardship out of the fund whose establishment was announced in this House on 7th February, 1963. The Committee is actively studying his application—which, again, is amply documented—and will, I am sure, reach a decision as soon as possible.

My hon. Friend has alluded to the repeated refusals of a visa to Captain Levy to revisit Egypt, and this matter was also referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin. It is, of course, the internationally recognised right of all sovereign States, and one which we ourselves exercise, to refuse entry to their territory. There is thus no way in which we can enforce the observance of Article VII (1) of the Financial Agreement.

In conclusion, let me assure my hon. Friend once more that my Department, as well as Her Majesty's Embassy in Cairo, has always been fully informed of Captain Levy's difficulties. It is only fair to say that Her Majesty's Government are satisfied that, in failing to give prompt effect to some of the provisions of the Agreement, the United Arab Republic authorities are not acting in any spirit of ill will. On the contrary, we have received many indications that they are as anxious as we are ourselves to bring this unhappy and long-drawn-out situation to a conclusion satisfactory to all concerned. In particular, they have recently set up a special department to deal more expeditiously with applications for tax clearances and, although it is still early to be able to assess results, we hope that this measure will prove effective.

We have never ceased, either in this country or in Egypt, to do our utmost to help all these unfortunate British subjects who had to leave property behind them in 1956, and we shall continue to take every action properly open to us to assist Captain Levy, as well as all those who are in similar difficulties.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at seven minutes to Eleven o'clock.