HC Deb 26 February 1968 vol 759 cc934-7
22. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what consultations took place with Governments in the Persian Gulf about their offer to contribute towards the cost of stationing British troops there; and why the offer has been declined.

55. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will accept the official offer received from the Rulers of State in the Persian Gulf to defray the cost of leaving British forces in the area after 1971.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

I would refer the hon. Gentlemen to the replies which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence gave to the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) on 14th February and which I gave to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) on the same day.—[Vol. 758, c. 1346–7 and c. 368–9.]

Mr. Blaker

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the point with which his right hon. Friend did not deal on those occasions? The Secretary of State for Defence referred on 22nd January to the need to establish an alternative basis for stability in the Persian Gulf, as, indeed, in South-East Asia. What are the Government's ideas about how that alternative basis for stability should be established?

Mr. Roberts

I think that the Question was directed towards whether consultations had taken place between us and the Rulers and why their offers had been declined. I think that what the hon. Gentleman now raises is another matter. However, on the question of consulting the Rulers, after carefully considering the offers we told the Rulers that they were not acceptable to us, and the reasons for this were fully explained to them. As a result of that discussion the decision was unchanged, and it still stands.

Mr. Fisher

Would not the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that our forces are a stabilising influence in the Gulf, that our only reason for withdrawing them is financial, and that if the beneficiaries pay, that reason falls to the ground? Why are we refusing from the Trucial States the very thing we are actively seeking from the West Germans?

Mr. Roberts

It is not the position that only our military presence has up to the present formed a guarantee of stability in the Gulf. There is a good deal to be said for enabling these States to achieve a successor system of security from our own resources, possibly with guidance and help from their friends. As to the question of the cost, this is a large and complicated question, and I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the Answer to certain hon. Members who raised the subject on 14th February given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence who said that he would consider making available further information on this subject when the statement on the Defence Estimates comes to be debated.

Mr. Maudling

But as no effective consultations took place with the Rulers before their offer was rejected, cannot the hon. Gentleman now give some indication of the economic calculation upon which this very important decision was based?

Mr. Roberts

As I have said, it is a very large and complicated question. The right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members raised it on 14th February, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, quite rightly, said that he would consider making further information on this very complicated matter available to the House when the statement on the Defence Estimates came to be debated.

Mr. Leadbitter

Does my hon. Friend agree that the offer by the Rulers to pay for British troops carries with it a very dangerous condition indeed, namely, the power to deploy British troops to the satisfaction of the Rulers, and that this is a condition which this country could never afford to accept?

Mr. Roberts

I hope that nothing will be said to make less possible the successful outcome of the very encouraging developments in the Gulf these days where the Rulers are coming together and talking constructively of plans for co-operation and even for unification. As to the question of control, this would, of course, arise if an offer of this sort were accepted, and it was one of the factors which decided Her Majesty's Government not to accept the offer.