HC Deb 11 March 1971 vol 813 cc567-8
21. Mr. Marten

asked the Minister of State for Defence if he will make a statement on British forces in the Gulf.

Lord Balniel

I would refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary on 1st March.—[Vol. 812, c. 1227–32.]

Mr. Martin

Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that we have the forces available to remain in the Gulf until either the Union of Arab Emirates is formed or some alternative arrangement is made, perhaps with CENTO or something like that?

Lord Balniel

We have the forces. My hon. Friend will know that the proposal is that the present land, sea and air forces stationed at Bahrein and Sharjah shall be withdrawn at the end of 1971. We are offering elements of forces to the Union on a continuing basis in a training and liaison rôle, and we are also offering to second British personnel to command the Trucial Oman Scouts, which we are offering to the Union.

Mr. Conlan

Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that the recent mission carried out by Sir William Luce indicated that the States in the Gulf would prefer to make their own defence arrangements from the end of this year?

Lord Balniel

No, I cannot confirm that. Representations made to the Government by officials are, of course, confidential. Policy decisions are taken by the Government.

Mr. George Thomson

In the light of that very welcome and clear statement by the Minister of the terminal date for the withdrawal of operational troops from the Gulf, may I ask whether he will give the House some details of the timetable for the withdrawal of the forces? Will the Minister also tell the House what arrangements are being made for the disposal of the fixed assets in Sharjah and Bahrein?

Lord Balniel

The timetable was announced by my right hon. Friend. The present land, sea and air forces are due to be withdrawn by the end of 1971.

Concerning the assets in that area, their future use will depend on the take-up of our offer to send out training and liaison troops.