HC Deb 02 April 1953 vol 513 cc1369-72

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

71. Mrs. CASTLE

TO ask the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the progress of negotiations with the Government of Saudi Arabia on the boundaries of the Persian Gulf sheikdoms.

The Minister of State (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your leave, Mr. Speaker, I will now give the answer to Question No. 71.

The House will be aware from the written reply which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary gave on 18th March that Her Majesty's Government have proposed to the Saudi Arabian Government that this matter should be settled by impartial arbitration. It is four months since this offer was first made and nearly three months after being rejected it was renewed.

In the meantime, the representative of the Saudi Arabian Government who improperly established himself in the Buraimi Oasis has continued, contrary to the Standstill Agreement, to exploit his position in Buraimi, to tamper with the traditional allegiance of the tribes and further the extension of Saudi influence over a wide area. Indeed, an attack was instigated under the Saudi flag against a levy post in an area never previously claimed as Saudi territory. On the arrival of our local forces, the attackers dispersed.

The Saudi Arabian Government themselves, both in official communications and in propaganda, gave the clearest indications that they intended to press still further their claims to the territory of the Trucial Sheikhdoms and the Sultanate of Muscat and Oman. More recently a second Saudi Arabian official, with an armed force, moved through Abu Dhabi territory into Buraimi and thence to various places in Central Oman, and although, according to my information, he later returned to Saudi Arabia, his activities were clearly contrary to the spirit and the letter of the Standstill Agreement, and they were also at variance with the purpose of an earlier Agreement concluded in 1951, which limited certain movements in areas claimed by Saudi Arabia.

In these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government conclude that the Saudi Arabian Government have rendered both Agreements inoperative. On behalf of the Rulers under their protection, and with the authority of the Sultan of Muscat, Her Majesty's Government have decided to reserve complete freedom of action in regard to all matters covered thereby. They have informed the Saudi Arabian Government accordingly. At the same time, they have once more renewed their offer to submit the whole question of the frontiers to impartial arbitration.

Her Majesty's Government have no wish to allow this state of affairs to affect their traditional friendship with Saudi Arabia. Her Majesty's Government greatly value that friendship. Equally, I am sure the House will agree that Her Majesty's Government cannot abandon those other less powerful friends to whom they have obligations or who have asked for their support.

The text of the communication which Her Majesty's Ambassador at Jedda has today made to the Saudi Arabian Government has been placed in the Library.

Mrs. Castle

Could the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether it is true that the Saudi Arabian Government intends to raise this matter in the Security Council, and, if that is not true, whether Her Majesty's Government would not themselves consider doing that, in view of the aggressive behaviour of the Saudi Arabian Government? Could he also tell the House whether we are getting diplomatic support in this matter from the United States of America, in view of the obvious justice of our case?

Mr. Lloyd

So far as the question of raising the matter in the United Nations is concerned, I do not think we have yet had any formal intimation that the Saudi Arabian Government are going to do it themselves. So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, that is a matter which certainly cannot be ruled out of consideration, but we still hold the view that impartial arbitration is the better way of dealing with the matter, and we hope that, even now, the Saudi Arabian Government will accept that proposition. The Government of the United States have been kept in close touch with the actions which Her Majesty's Government have taken.

Mr. N. Macpherson

Is it the fact that the Saudi Arabian Government disowned the sovereignty over this territory in the inter-war period, and declined to accept responsibility for it?

Mr. Lloyd

I think the fact really is that the frontiers of this area have always been very ill-defined.

Mr. Younger

In view of the fact that there are a good many boundaries in this area which are not very well established, and that, consequently, genuine disputes do arise, which disputes may become very serious and important by reason of the belief, mistaken or otherwise, that there is still hidden oil in some of these territories, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he will always have the full support of this House in establishing in the minds of everyone in this area that such disputes must be settled in a civilised manner, through arbitration or through some international body, and not by force? Can he also give an assurance that, while this dispute is going on, he will take the necessary steps to see that no new situation is created by force majeure?

Mr. Lloyd

In my answer I used the phrase that we reserved complete free- dom of action, and we certainly intend to see that the situation does not deteriorate during this period.

Mr. A. Henderson

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether, in view of the very close friendship which has existed between the two countries up to date, he has given up all hope of a settlement by direct negotiations between the two Governments, apart from the question of arbitration?

Mr. Lloyd

Certainly, we have not given up hope—and that would be a foolish thing to do—but there has been a great deal of direct negotiation about this matter. However, we are still hopeful that we may persuade the Saudi Arabian Government to adopt the course of impartial arbitration.

Major Legge-Bourke

While welcoming what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to the other States concerned, may I ask him, first, whether there is any indication of the motive of the Saudi Arabian Government in this matter; and, second, whether there is any financial obligation arising?

Mr. Lloyd

I think perhaps the guess of my hon. and gallant Friend as to the motive is as good as mine. I am not certain that I understand the purport of his second question.