HC Deb 25 July 1957 vol 574 cc605-10
Mr. Bevan (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any further statement to make on the situation in Oman.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

I informed the House on 23rd July that discretion had been given to our local military authorities to take certain limited action. Since then, after warning, air action has been taken against military targets.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

More violence.

Mr. Lloyd

As I promised on 23rd July. I will keep the House informed about developments. I would remind the House that these are limited operations, but the necessary forces are being placed at the disposal of the local military commanders as they are required.

I should also like to warn the House against giving any credence to the false and misleading information which is being disseminated from Cairo.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that his information is now exceedingly meagre? All we are told about this affair is that there has been some insurrection inside this State and that we have been asked to intervene on behalf of the Sultan and that because he is an old friend of 150 years' standing—not this particular one—we have considered it an obligation on our part to intervene.

We have not been told, however, about the merits. We have not been told why the Imam of Oman is in insurrection. We have a vague statement from the right hon. and learned Gentleman that arms are being sent to the Imam from outside, and that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is determined to stop them, although he does not know where they are coming from. We have been informed, after reference to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that the temperature there at this time of the year is 120 degrees.

We have been told that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has decided to put his foot down with a firm hand, although the ground is so hot he cannot use ground forces. Now we are letting bombs loose in order to displace innocent rock and sand from one place to another and to destroy mud walls.

So far, we have had no further information than that the Sultan is an ancient friend, that he is in trouble, that we are going to his rescue. Is this an attempt to preserve ancient monuments or is it a really serious effort?

Mr. Benn

Is the Foreign Secretary yet in a position to explain to the House what is the position of British forces in action in Oman, whether, if any pilots are shot down, or any British troops likely to be sent in are captured, they will be regarded as prisoners of war under international law? Secondly, I should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman when he proposes to make available information that I sought in a Question three weeks ago, asking which treaties were applicable in this area. In response to that. I got a note from the Foreign Office saying that there are so many pages of small print in the treaties that the Foreign Office could not give me an answer.

Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether the Treaty of Sib is, in his view, still in operation, under which the Imam of Oman, in agreement with the Sultan, was given complete autonomy in his own area?

Mr. Lloyd

I repeat what I have said before, that British troops will be acting in the armed service of the Crown. At the moment, no casualties have been reported. The troops will be carrying out their duties.

I made it perfectly clear on a previous occasion that we were not taking this action in response to a specific treaty obligation. There is no specific treaty obligation that we should intervene in the internal affairs of Oman. On the other hand, I cited more than one precedent to show how we had, in the past, acted at the invitation of a friendly ruler to help him in preserving law and order in his own domains. That is what we are doing now.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned propaganda being disseminated from Cairo. Can he say whether radio propaganda is being broadcast from Dhahran, in Saudi Arabia, against our allies and this country, and, if so, who is responsible for it?

Mr. Lloyd

If my hon. Friend will give me particulars about that, I will certainly look into the matter.

Mr. Bevan

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there has been some confusion in the public statements about this, about officers of the British Army operating as officers of the Sultan's army, as though they were operating under the orders of the British Government? It should be made clear.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman further aware that, despite the fact that we have not tried to blow this thing up too much, we shall want to have a serious statement about it at the beginning of next week, because it is no use having innuendoes about outside Powers interfering unless we have some precise information about who they are, so that we can try to bring about peace by influencing those outside Powers not to misbehave themselves? Therefore, we should like a full statement at the beginning of next week about the position.

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful that the Opposition do not wish to blow this matter up, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's observation that he wishes to have a serious statement on the matter. As I have said before, we shall give the House full information about development. I said the other day that we wished to restrict the area of uncertainty and tension. I believe that is also the wish of our American allies. We shall certainly do everything we can. Meanwhile, I will give the House all the information I can about developments.

Mr. J. Hynd

The Foreign Secretary has said that there have been no casualties on the R.A.F. side. Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether he knows how many casualties there have been on the other side—the objects of the bombing—or does he not care?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a wholly unfair insinuation. To begin with, no bombing has taken place. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rockets."] The hon. Member talked about bombing. No bombing has taken place and, as far as we know there have been no casualties, either.

Hon. Members


Mr. C. Pannell

Is the Foreign Secretary trying to assure the House that all that has taken place up to now does not go further than peaceful picketing?

Mr. S. Silverman

Whilst I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for his promise to keep the House informed fully of developments at an early date, may I ask whether he will bear in mind that the House and the country would like to know something about the merits of the dispute as well as about the developments? If we are intervening, and feel ourselves entitled to intervene and to use the armed forces of Her Majesty to do so, surely we are entitled to be told what the row is about and what the merits are.

Mr. Lloyd

The question is the maintenance of the authority of someone who is the legitimate sovereign of these areas—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh:]—someone whose sovereignty was universally acknowledged as recently as 1955, and before that. As I have said, Her Majesty's Government intend to do their duty by someone who has been a firm friend of this country and whose sovereignty is acknowledged.

Mr. Bevan

That is really not treating the House fairly- It is quite true that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said that we are intervening because we want to support an old friend against someone who was giving him trouble. We are not entitled to use the lives of British Service men merely for such a purpose.

Captain Pilkington

Do all these remarks mean that the Opposition would not help their friends?

Mr. Bevan

Unless hon. Members opposite are careful, we shall give them a few black eyes over this before we are finished.

Captain Pilkington

On a point of order. Is it in order for the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)to threaten hon. Members on this side of the House with black eyes? Should he not withdraw his remark or apologise, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

I did not rebuke the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)because I understood that the black eyes to which he was referring were metaphorical.

Mr. Bevan

It is quite obvious that the sense of humour of some hon. Members opposite has gone out with their sense.

Is it the general principle of Her Majesty's Government that armed forces of the Crown are used whenever old friends ask us to intervene? There must be some other reasons for intervention, and we should like to know what they are. I have asked the Foreign Secretary whether he would be good enough to prepare for us a statement next week showing all the circumstances of our intervention and what are the relations between the Imam of Oman and the Sultan, so that we may judge of the merits of the case, because we cannot sit silent whilst British lives are put in jeopardy over what, up to now, amounts merely to a statement of sentimentality.

Mr. Lloyd

As to the reasons for the action, or the reasoning behind it, I do not think that it is probably very different from the reasoning behind the action of the Labour Government in 1930, when there was a very comparable situation.

As for the wider aspect, the right hon. Gentleman should realise that we have certain relationships in the Gulf which are of paramount importance to this country. We have certain obligations to certain people, certain treaties of friendship, and also certain relationships. I should have thought that hon. and right hon. Members on all sides of the House would realise how much our influence and our interests would suffer if it were thought that we do not stand by our friends.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be frank with hon. Members and answer this question? Has our action anything to do at all with the matter of our oil interests in the Middle East? Can he say whether our oil interests are in jeopardy? If that is the position, obviously we have to give that matter very careful consideration in the interests of our economy. is that the reason? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say?

Mr. Lloyd

I will certainly not say that our oil interests are directly in jeopardy, but I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman, from the responsible offices that he has held, would have known the importance to the country of our position in the Gulf.