HC Deb 08 July 1968 vol 768 cc23-4
20. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the proposed Federation in the Persian Gulf.

38. Mr. Colin Jackson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on progress towards a Federation in the Persian Gulf.

Mr. Goronwy Roberts

Discussions are continuing between the Rulers of the States concerned on putting into effect the Agreement, signed at Dubai on 27th February, to set up the Union of Arab Emirates. Her Majesty's Government welcome all moves towards greater cooperation and unity between the States of the area.

Mr. Wall

I wish the discussions well. Could the Minister say whether it is intended to have a Federal defence force to take over the British Treaty responsibilities? If so, would it not be wiser to leave British troops in the area until the defence force is available and in action?

Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to agree with the last part of his supplementary question. On the first part, one would expect and hope for, and, if asked, we will advise on, the formation of a unified force for the internal security and external defence of this area.

Mr. Jackson

Bearing in mind the traditional differences in the area, does the Minister agree that good progress towards federation has been made to date?

Mr. Roberts

I think it is fair to say that. My information is that while there have been inevitable disagreements among the nine Rulers about the future form of federation or union, nevertheless, a constant factor of agreement is that there shall be a closer association amounting to a federation.

Viscount Lambton

Did not the Minister give an assurance to these very leaders last year that it was not our intention to withdraw from the Persian Gulf? Why is the Minister now not agreeing with what he said last year?

Mr. Roberts

What I said to the Rulers of the Gulf in November last year was that we could not set a time limit to our military presence in the Gulf. In January I was able to give this time limit. It is a time scale which allows more than three years in which the Rulers will, if they wish it, have our advice and guidance to set up a successor system.

Mr. J. T. Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, whatever the motives might be, most of the sheikhs in the Persian Gulf, including the Ruler of Muscat and Oman, are inclined in an extremely friendly direction towards this country? As we have not as many friends in the world as we would like, will the Minister do nothing to impair the friendship that already exists?

Mr. Roberts

That is quite true. I think that is a fair and important comment on the previous supplementary question. The people and Rulers of this area hold us in high regard and are anxious, when our present treaties and agreements come to an end, to substitute for them treaties of friendship.