§ The following Written Question stood upon the Order Paper:
§ 4. Mr. VANE,—To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a further statement with regard to the purchase of Anglo-Iranian oil from Persia.
§ Mr. Eden
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like now to give the reply to Question No. 4 put down for Written answer today by my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Vane).
My hon. Friend will have seen a statement issued by the United States Government on this subject. It stresses the desirability of a general settlement of the Persian oil dispute and emphasises that small sales of oil from Persia cannot help towards such a settlement. It draws attention to the risks involved in such transactions.
With regard to these risks, as the Prime Minister stated in the House on 23rd July, and as has again been made clear by Her Majesty's Government in their Note to the Persian Government of 14th October, Her Majesty's Government continue to regard products of the oil industry in South Persia as the property of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. That Note and the communication sent to the Persian Prime Minister on 5th October were intended to make it clear that 36 acceptance by Her Majesty's Government of the fact of nationalisation was bound up with the acceptance by the Persian Government of the proposals put to them.
As was pointed out both in the Note from Her Majesty's Government to the Persian Government of 14th October, and also in my statement to this House on the following day, Her Majesty's Government, on their own behalf and on behalf of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, reserve their full legal rights pending agreement on the terms on which compensation is to be adjudicated.
May I ask my right hon. Friend for his assurance that owing to this slight modification of the American view there is no greater danger of us coming into conflict with the United States through their supporting a small company, which, having effected purchases, may come into conflict with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, and then finding ourselves standing square behind the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company?
§ Mr. Eden
As I understand the spokesman of the State Department, the statement they issued implied no change of policy. With reference to the risks to which my hon. Friend refers, the American statement does draw attention— referring to small companies—to the risks involved in such transactions. Therefore, I would hope that the dangers which my hon. Friend has in mind would not arise, but, in any event, I must make it plain that whatever point of view any other Government may take in the full exercise of their sovereignty, Her Majesty's Government have their own obligations to the British company, and by those we stand, and those we shall seek by all means legally to fulfil.
§ Mr. H. Morrison
Does not this indicate a weakening in the attitude of the United States Government, because was it not the case that earlier on they advised their nationals not to go into this business? Is it not a fact that they have now advised their nationals that they are perfectly free to buy oil from Persia, which is likely, possibly, to have an effect upon the decision of foreign courts if and when the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company brings actions of restraint against these exportations; and is not this development somewhat contrary to 37 what the electorate in this country was led to expect at the last Election in relation to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company's position in Persia?
§ Mr. Eden
I am not quite clear what the right hon. Gentleman means by the last part of his question. [An HON. MEMBER: "The right hon. Gentleman should know."] [...] I am sorry, but I do not. I would explain, regarding the comment which the State Department have made in connection with their statement, that what I think has happened is that there has been considerable pressure by a number of the small oil companies in the United States for a definition in legal terms of the position of the United States Government.
As I have explained, though it is for the United States Government to make any statement which they feel they have to make as to their own strictly legal position in this matter, we also have an obligation to the Company. That is why I have been glad of this opportunity to make quite plain that we intend to use our legal rights to fulfil that obligation.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But if the United States have yielded to pressure from some of the smaller companies—
§ Mr. Shinwell
Well, the companies have brought pressure to bear in some directions, and, as a result, there is a change in the attitude of the United States Government. They no longer seek to restrain any of those companies from purchasing oil from the Persian Government. They indicate the risks, but that is all the length to which they go. Is not this likely to prove detrimental to the United Kingdom Government in the long run, and does not it seem as if steps have now been taken, even in this very indirect fashion, to enable the United States Government to gain control of Middle East oil; and is not that a very serious matter for us? Does this indicate the co-operation that some of us are led to believe exists?
§ Mr. Eden
I really think that the right hon. Gentleman is putting every kind of 38 gloss on the statement, ending up by saying that the United States Government are seeking to obtain control of this oil. There is nothing whatever in the statement made by the United States Government to indicate that, as the right hon. Gentleman will see if he reads the statement. I think we must be very careful not to try to read that kind of statement into a document of this nature.
I am trying to put the thing as fairly as I can, and the utmost that can he said is that some of the smaller oil companies have been asking the United States Government to define that Government's legal position in this matter, which is an immensely complicated one. I think that if the right hon. Gentleman had read the statement he would see that its tenor is to warn of the risk of these small companies coming in. The right hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) shrugs his shoulders. To warn of the risk is not the same thing as the United States Government trying to seize the properties for themselves.
§ Mr. Shinwell
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the warning only extends to the possibilities of action being taken by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, or the United Kingdom Government, and as legal redress does not seem to be of very much value, especially as action must be taken in courts outside the United Kingdom, is that of very real value to us?
§ Mr. Stokes
As neither the right hon. Gentleman's statement nor the statement of the American Government contradicts the inference in the Press that what the small companies intend, if they can, is to get hold of the Persian oil and undersell the market, will the right hon. Gentleman say what Her Majesty's Government will do if they attempt to do that?
§ Mr. Eden
As I have said, we stand by our legal rights and shall exercise them in the matter should the small companies try to do that. But I think I can fairly say that among the many problems of this situation action by these small companies is not the one which would cause us the greatest concern, as probably the right hon. Gentleman knows very well.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any truth in the statement published in the American newspapers to the effect that the American Department of Defence have indicated that they would be willing to take oil from Abadan sources?
§ Mr. Eden
Not so far as I am aware. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will understand, and so will those Members of the House who have had dealings with this matter and should, therefore, treat it with all possible concern and caution, that the American law in these matters is immensely complicated, especially in regard to trust-breaking and matters of that kind. That is why I have handled the matter in the way which I think is most in our national interest, and that is why I feel that I am entitled to the understanding of the House in the matter.