HL Deb 21 March 1951 vol 170 cc1248-50

2.56 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

[To ask His Majesty's Government whether they will, if need be, refer the dispute on the Anglo-Iranian oilfields to the United Nations, and whether, pending such reference, the necessary measures will be taken to prevent the illegal application of force.]


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that His Majesty's Government have under constant consideration the demand in Persia for the "nationalisation" of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. The position is that the Lower House of the Persian Legislature has endorsed the resolution of its Oil Commission accepting the principle of "nationalisation," and the Commission has been granted two months (beginning, I understand, from April 14) in which to examine the application of that principle. The resolution was approved by the Upper House yester-day. I understand that it may now need the approval of the Shah. No communication in this matter has been received from the Persian Government. It would not be appropriate, as things stand, for His Majesty's Government to bring the subject before the United Nations. We must await developments before deciding our course of action, and a decision whether or not to take the matter to any organ of the United Nations would depend on circumstances. As for preventing the illegal application of force, His Majesty's Government are confident that the Persian Government do not contemplate using force.


My Lords, may I point out that a good many of us are getting not only uneasy but angry at the disrespect with which we and our interests are now so often treated, and that therefore I cannot wholly disregard the threats of the Communist Tudeh Party to use force on the oilfields. I hope that His Majesty's Government will bring these threats to the attention of the Persian Government, and will point out that any such action would have serious consequences. For the convenience of the noble Lord, so that he can reply to two supplementaries at once, may I ask this further question: Has his attention been drawn to an almost exact parallel which occurred in the year 1932, when I had the honour to be serving under the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, at the Foreign Office, when the Persian Government threatened to cancel the oil concession? Possibly the noble and learned Viscount may have something to say which will be exceedingly useful.


My Lords, may I put a supplementary question, suggested by the remarks of Lord Vansittart? I should like to ask whether the Foreign Secretary and the Under-Secretary have had under consideration what happened in a similar matter at the end of November, 1932? The then Persian Government announced that they proposed to cancel unilaterally the concession of what was then called the Anglo-Persian Company, which is the same as the Anglo-Iranian Company. That proposal was challenged, and the course which was taken by His Majesty's Government was to say that they could not accept such a claim. The matter was at once brought before the Council of the League of Nations, under Article 15, by the British Government. I believe that it was one of the very few cases where a great Power used that summary procedure. I remember it very well. The members of the Council of the League sat around; the British case was put by the Foreign Secretary, and I recall that a very distinguished French advocate put the case for the Persian Government. Dr. Benes acted as rapporteur. I think it must be admitted that the action was very prompt, and the result was that a satisfactory conclusion was reached in the course of a few months. I ask only whether that parallel will be studied, in view of the circumstances which have now arisen.


If I may answer the last supplementary question first, I can assure the noble and learned Viscount that the parallel to which he has drawn attention is being studied. As regards the supplementary question put by the noble Lord, Lord Vansittart, I think that the apprehensions to which he has given expression are in the minds of all of us. The possible dangers to which he has called attention may, perhaps, be left to the responsibility of the Persian Government who, as the noble Lord knows, have declared martial law. Their military and police forces are sufficient to prevent any sort of violent action of the kind to which he referred. I think the noble Lord might care to leave it at that, because as I have already said, this matter in all its aspects is under constant consideration by the Government.


May I say that I hope the Government will bear in mind that not only are vast British interests concerned, but possibly also British lives?


The noble Lord may be assured that that consideration is not out of the minds of the Government.


In the interests of consistency and purity of language, since in his statement the noble Lord made use of both the word "Persian" and the word "Iranian," may I ask whether we may be informed of the correct mode of reference to that country? Is it Persia and not Iran?


I should like notice of that question. I am not quite sure which is the correct word. Sometimes one uses "Persian" and sometimes "Iranian."