HC Deb 19 June 1961 vol 642 cc954-8
The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Edward Heath)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on an exchange of Notes with Kuwait.

An exchange of Notes was signed this morning in Kuwait by His Highness the Ruler of Kuwait and by the Political Resident in the Persian Gulf on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. The text will be available as a White Paper in the Vote Office when I sit down.

For some time past the State of Kuwait has possessed entire responsibility for the conduct of its own international relations, and, with the full support of Her Majesty's Government, Kuwait has already joined a number of international organisations as an independent sovereign State.

This development has rendered obsolete and inappropriate the terms of the Anglo-Kuwaiti Agreement of 23rd January, 1899, under which Kuwait undertook not to receive representatives of other Powers or to dispose of her territory, without the prior agreement of Her Majesty's Government.

Her Majesty's Government and the Ruler of Kuwait have agreed that the necessary formal step should be taken to cancel this agreement.

The exchange of Notes which has achieved this also states that relations between the two countries shall continue to be governed by a spirit of close friendship and that when appropriate the two Governments shall consult together on matters of common interest. The Notes conclude by reaffirming the readiness of Her Majesty's Government to assist Kuwait if the Government of Kuwait so request.

On behalf of Her Majesty's Government, I would like to extend once more to the independent and sovereign State of Kuwait our warmest good wishes for its continued development and prosperity.

Mr. Healey

While welcoming the repeal of the 1899 Agreement, and hoping that this may set a precedent for bringing our relations with other Persian Gulf States more into line with the facts of the second half of the twentieth entury, may I ask two questions? Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether, under the situation as it will exist after repeal of the agreement, Britain will still retain any responsibility for the securing of the State of Kuwait against possible foreign aggression? Secondly, has the right hon. Gentleman any information of the Kuwaiti Government's intentions to exchange diplomatic missions with foreign countries, particularly the United Arab Republic?

Mr. Heath

Our responsibilities for the security of Kuwait against foreign aggression are defined in the Note, and I have described them as affirming the readiness of Her Majesty's Government to assist Kuwait if the Government of Kuwait so request.

As regards the extension of diplomatic relations, the Government of Kuwait are already preparing to set up a foreign service as soon as the necessary organisation can be created and staff trained.

The question of developing relations with other States is now a matter for the Ruler of Kuwait to decide.

Mr. Brockway

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in these discussions, the rulers of Kuwait have given any indication that they propose to extend democracy to their territory?

Mr. Heath

That is an entirely separate question, but those who have been to Kuwait know full well how it has made remarkable progress over the last ten years in the way it is organising its resources and using them for the benefit of its people.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

May we assume that no change is likely, or contemplated, in the financial basis at present existing between the Kuwait Government and our own?

Mr. Heath

That is not a matter which is covered by Notes or by agreements of this kind. It is a matter of the financial policy of the Government of Kuwait As far as I know, there is no intention to change that policy.

Mr. Healey

Further to the right hon. Gentleman's reply to my earlier supplementary question about our military responsibilities in case Kuwait requires our assistance, can he say whether it is intended that in peace time we shall maintain any military forces in Kuwait, and if so, what will be their status?

Mr. Heath

No, Sir. We do not at the moment maintain military forces in Kuwait, and there is no intention aft the moment of so doing.

Mr. Wall

Will the Government continue to maintain a Political Agent in Kuwait, and, if so, will this agreement have very much effect on his functions and duties?

Mr. Heath

The Political Agent will remain in Kuwait. His functions and duties have been gradually changing over the last three years, with the transference of jurisdiction, which has meant a slight change in the nature of some of his staff. Otherwise, his functions will remain the same.

Mr. G. Brown

Is he to remain a Political Agent? Did I understand from what the right hon. Gentleman said that Kuwait was now becoming an independent State open, for example, to join the United Nations and operate its own independent foreign policy? If so, how can we have somebody there who remains the Political Resident?

Mr. Heath

The State of Kuwait has become an independent State, open to join the United Nations, and if the Ruler and the Government so decide we would warmly support their application to join the United Nations.

The British Representative in Kuwait for the time being will retain the title of Political Agent. There has been no request by the Ruler that this title should be changed, but he will carry out the functions which are required of him.

Mr. Brown

Would it not be wise for us to consider changing the title? Is not the Minister indicating that it is of advantage to us that this situation should have been changed and the Agreement of 1899 cancelled? Would it not be an advantage if it were seen by the whole of Arabia that we were not exercising any kind of surveillance in their territories? Would it not be sensible to change the gentleman's title?

Mr. Heath

This is not a matter which has escaped our notice, but I think that it is one to be arranged with the Ruler of Kuwait, and it is also to a certain extent tied up with what I have said, that is, the progress of the foreign service for Kuwait.

Mr. Gaitskell

Are we to understand that further discussions are taking place with the Ruler of Kuwait about this question of the exact status and title of our representative there, and the nature of the functions to be performed by him?

Mr. Heath

There is no question of discussing the functions, because at the moment they are accepted. I would rather not be pressed on the question of the title.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Are our military responsibilities roughly the same as they would be for another member of N.A.T.O., namely, protection against external aggression, or do we have the responsibility to help the Ruler of Kuwait in the event of internal difficulties arising?

Mr. Heath

That is dealt with under sub-paragraphs (c) and (d) of the exchange of Notes, which cover the fact of close consultation between the two Governments.

Mr. Jenkins

What do subparagraphs (c) and (d) say?

Mr. Heath

They cover the question of the two Governments consulting together on matters of common interest and our undertaking that nothing shall affect the readiness of Her Majesty's Government to assist the Government of Kuwait if they request such assistance. That obviously covers the question of external aggression. If the Government of Kuwait request us to consider internal subversion, that is covered also.