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Persian Oilfields (Disturbances)

Volume 486: debated on Friday 13 April 1951

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(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he has any statement to make about the riots in Abadan and its vicinity.

We have so far had only preliminary reports regarding the disturbances in the Persian oilfields.

It seems that a Persian military force attempted to disperse a meeting of apprentices and workers on strike at Abadan, and were attacked by a crowd numbering perhaps 4,000 people. The military did not open fire until the crowd had broken through the cordon. A party of Europeans who were in a neighbouring cinema were later extricated with difficulty by the military.

I regret to say that, according to our present information, two British seamen have been killed and six British adults and two children injured, but not seriously. One Italian seaman has been killed. Nine Persians have been killed and 11 injured. Armoured cars are reported to be on their way to Abadan and reinforcements of troops have already arrived.

We are most concerned at this development, more particularly since we had hoped that the problem that has arisen about Persian oil could be discussed in a quiet and friendly atmosphere. We are watching the situation closely, and reserve the right to act as we see fit to protect British lives and property. We must hold the Persian Government responsible for all injuries and loss that may be sustained by British nationals and interests.

The House will appreciate that the factual information I have given is subject to confirmation.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for giving us this full statement. May I ask him two questions? First, whether he will do everything in his power to impress upon the Persian Government that it is their responsibility to protect both Persians and Britishers working for this company, which is there by international agreement; and, secondly, whether he has any information if ships of the Royal Navy are available and whether any other ships are proceeding to the neighbourhood?

On the first point, I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. On the second point, if the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me, I think I would rather not say anything about that at the moment, but that the matter is under consideration.

Will the right hon. Gentleman give us the assurance that any steps that may be considered necessary will, without hesitation, be taken?

Yes, Sir. One has to consider expediency in this matter, of course, but the right hon. Gentleman can be assured that we should not hesitate to take appropriate action.

The foreign Secretary has said that two British seamen were killed. Does that mean that we have landed men?

Has the Foreign Secretary any information about the way in which the dispute and demonstration originated? What were the conditions which caused this demonstration?

I cannot go into that, because I am not prepared for it, but it is no good evading the issue that, if British lives are in peril, we have got to do something about it.