HC Deb 05 July 1951 vol 489 cc2492-7
Mr. Eden

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make on the situation in Persia.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

Sir, since my last statement to the House about the situation in Persia, on 27th June, the International Court at The Hague has heard our application for an interim injunction requiring the Persian Government to do nothing which would prejudice the case which we have brought before the Court. That hearing took place on 30th June, and the Court's decision is expected this afternoon. I should perhaps make it clear that this decision will treat only with our application for an injunction, and will not touch on our main case.

On 30th June, His Majesty's Ambassador at Teheran delivered a Note to the Persian Minister of Foreign Affairs. The text of this Note has been published in the Press, and I would therefore say only that its main point was to emphasise that responsibility for the withdrawal of tankers and the progressive closing down of the Company's installations which would thereby be necessitated resulted solely from the present intransigent attitude of the Persian Government.

The next development was the suspension by the Persian Government of the so-called Sabotage Bill which, as I mentioned in my statement on 26th June, had recently been introduced in the Persian Lower House.

This indication that the Persian Government was becoming aware of the need for restraint was welcomed; but it has unfortunately been offset by other action against the Company. The Information Offices of the Company have been closed down by the Persian Government, and the documents that have been taken away have been distorted to suggest that they were incriminating. The house of the Company's representative in Teheran has also been occupied, apparently on the personal instructions of the Persian Prime Minister, and the Company's papers that were on the premises have been taken away.

Mr. Mason, who became the Company's chief representative at Abadan when Mr. Drake was compelled to leave, has been evicted from his offices, and the so-called Temporary Board of Directors which the Persian Government has sent down to the oilfields refuse to recognise the Company's representative; instead, the Board has nominated one of its members as General Manager. One of the Company's representatives elsewhere has similarly been evicted.

There have also been other unwarranted interferences in the Company's affairs, such as the requisitioning of the Abadan Manager's motorcars and house for the personal use of Mr. Makki, the leading member of the Temporary Board. I do not understand what the Persians hope to gain by these tactics. They keep professing that they want to retain British technicians, and that they treat foreigners in Persia with traditional courtesy.

At all events, it is clear that conditions are becoming intolerable. Our attitude remains the same. The Company has no desire to withdraw from an industry which it has built and brought into a high state of efficiency. Yet this, with all the disastrous consequences to Persia that would ensue, is what the Persian Government appear bent on forcing the Company to do.

As regards the physical safety of our people in South Persia, we have again reminded the Persian Government of its responsibilities. At the same time, we can leave nothing to chance. H.M.S. "Mauritius," as the House is aware, is lying close to Abadan, and all practicable measures to protect British lives, should the Persians fail to discharge their responsibilities, have been put in hand.

Mr. Eden

Can the Foreign Secretary tell us when he expects the findings of The Hague Court to be available to us? As regards the general situation, I do not want to impinge on the business that is to be announced, but in view of the seriousness of this, and in some respects the increasing gravity of the situation, the House will understand that it might be necessary next week to make some change of business to allow some discussion upon this situation.

Mr. Morrison

On the first point, we are rather anticipating that the decision of the Court will be made known this afternoon; it may be at any time. Of course, I cannot be certain: it is a matter within the control of the Court. On the second point, that is, of course, for the Leader of the House, and I am sure that the Opposition as much as we will take into account the circumstances and whether it would be wise in the public interest at the time. However, that is a matter upon which I would not wish to be dogmatic one way or the other at this stage.

Mr. Churchill

Should the Foreign Secretary have anything else to tell us on Monday, no doubt he will do so?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir, certainly; and as the right hon. Gentleman knows, if there is a desire on the part of the Opposition, or on our part, that we should have private conversations, they will take place as they have been doing.

Mr. Grimond

Have the Government considered referring this dispute to the Security Council, or otherwise raising it in the United Nations organisation?

Mr. Morrison

I do not think that in the circumstances of this case, at any rate at the present time, that would be a wise course.

Mr. Harold Davies

Is it a practical possibility that my right hon. Friend could initiate through the United Nations organisation a Middle East oil conference at which the Middle Eastern countries and the Western Powers could be represented even while The Hague Court discussion is going on? Secondly, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is taking any initiative to approach the Brazilian Government on the possibility of allowing British companies to prospect and bore in the 700,000 square miles still unexplored in Brazil in the sedimentary areas?

Mr. Morrison

I will take note of the last suggestion of my hon. Friend. With regard to the other point, I think that at the right time there is something to be said for the possibility of a discussion on the general question of the Middle East, but I do not think it would be wise to allow ourselves to be diverted from this matter in order to go in for such a discussion at this moment.

Mr. Gammans

Could the Minister say something about the effect of the stopping of oil exports? Can he assure the House that the inconvenience will not fall entirely on this country, but also especially on those countries which have failed to support us in this trouble?

Mr. Morrison

It is perfectly clear that the disadvantage will not fall on this country alone, and that quite a number of other countries will be involved.

Mr. A. Edward Davies

My right hon. Friend says he does not think there would be any advantage in reporting the matter to the Security Council, but in view of the explosive possibilities and the intransigent attitude of the Persian Government, and the fact that we have already referred the matter on a juridical basis to The Hague Court, would not the proper thing now be to refer it to the United Nations in case of further trouble?

Mr. Morrison

I think the course we have taken is quite in accordance with the principles and commitments into which we have entered in connection with the United Nations—that is to say, we have referred it to the International Court at The Hague—and I am sure that the right thing is to await the decision of The Hague Court.

Major Guy Lloyd

The right hon. Gentleman described the situation as well-nigh intolerable. In the next sentence he said that the attitude of the Government remained the same. Is the House to understand that, however intolerable the position becomes, the attitude of the Government will remain the same?

Mr. Blackburn

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he is aware that the firm stand which he has taken in this matter has the support of the unorthodox Members of the House?

Mr. Eden

If it is in order, I should like to say that at a time like this, in view of all the conditions, this House feels and is grateful for the mood and steadfastness of our people in the oilfields in Iran.

Mr. Morrison

I am very much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I quite agree with him and I am glad that expression has been made, I am sure on behalf of the whole House, that we much admire the steadfastness of the British and, indeed, of the other personnel under the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. I will seek to take an opportunity of seeing that that is conveyed to the folk concerned.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I ask the Foreign Secretary whether, in view of the possibility of a debate next week, he will communicate with the directors of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company asking them to publish the accounts which have been withheld? Is he aware that there is an unfortunate impression that there are larger profits being paid, that 30 per cent. was paid last year, and that if there are bigger profits this year the company should pay some contribution to the cost of the cruiser?

Mr. Morrison

That is not my business.

Mr. Eden

Is it not a fact that the higher the dividend the more the Persians get?

Mr. Harold Davies

That has not been completely true, unfortunately.

Mr. Drayson

Have the Persian Government expressed any views as to the competence of The Hague Court to grant the injunction that was being sought?

Mr. Morrison

I gather that they dispute the competence of the Court to function in this matter, but they nevertheless have put in a document of argument. I do not think, however, that they have entered into oral argument or have given evidence.

Mr. Churchill

Would it not be much better for us to await the imminent decision of The Hague Court upon the injunction?

Mr. Morrison

I think that the right hon. Gentleman is quite right, and I am sure that the House as a whole will agree.