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Gulf States

Volume 888: debated on Wednesday 12 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will report on the Minister of State's recent visit to the Gulf.

I visited Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait from 4th to 18th February. My aim was to see for myself the great developments which are taking place in that region. I had wide-ranging talks with the Heads of State and with senior Ministers in each country.

In view of the strong and historical ties between Great Britain and the Gulf States, may I welcome the fact that the Minister of State undertook to visit that area? Will he say a little more about his achievements during his visit? Did he, for example, encourage the Arab States to invest some of their surplus funds in productive rather than unproductive sectors in Great Britain?

The answer to the last part of that supplementary question is "Yes ". I did that. I discussed a wide range of issues, of which questions of investment. including investment in productive industry in Great Britain, were an important part. We also discussed other economic questions and commercial relations. There is a tremendous opportunity for an even greater expansion of British commerce and sale of technology in the area. These matters played an important part in our discussions, in addition to political questions.

In view of the recent deaths of British soldiers in this area, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the British Government will cease to give military support to what one can only describe as a dirty little réegime and a dirty little war in that area?

I cannot give an assurance in anything like the way in which my hon. Friend refers to it. I greatly regret— I am sure the House will share this expression of sympathy— the loss of lives in a recent helicopter accident in Oman. In Oman I was very impressed with the tremendous changes which have taken place in the last three or four years and the rapid economic and social advance. I cannot call it a dirty little State at all.

During his visit to the United Arab Emirates did the Minister of State become aware of the very real economic problems that that country is facing as a result of the massive cutbacks in oil production by the two predominantly British oil consortia? Was he able to reassure the UAE Government that these cut-backs are in no way a political conspiracy, as has been suggested, but are due entirely to commercial factors?

I had discussions on precisely this question and I assured the Petroleum Minister of the UAE that one principal reason for the substantial cutback was precisely the price levels for oil in the UAE, and I said it would be helpful if there were a reduction. Happily, subsequently to that the UAE announced a reduction in the sulphur premium.