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Arabian Peninsula (Military Operations)

Volume 610: debated on Thursday 30 July 1959

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12.3 p.m.

In July. 1958. I asked the Prime Minister for a White Paper which would give the House a comprehensive picture of the military operations which had been going on in the Arabian Peninsula since 1955. A few weeks later, in August, 1958, the Prime Minister wrote me a letter in which he said that he was grateful for my suggestion and would bear it in mind for the future. But he said:

"We have given it very careful consideration. Our view is that a report would only be of value after the operations had been completed so that they could be viewed in perspective and conclusions and lessons drawn from them. We have not yet reached that stage in the Arabian Peninsula."
Therefore, no White Paper.

Four months later, on 6th November, I asked again and received a different answer. The Prime Minister said:
"I indicated in some correspondence I had with the right hon. Gentleman this summer that since the campaign in the Oman was finished there was no purpose in publishing the report."
In August the operations had not been completed, so a White Paper would have been premature. In November, they were all over, so a White Paper would do no good. In fact, the operations had not been completed.

On 7th July, three weeks ago, I renewed the suggestion for which the Prime Minister had been grateful a year ago. I received a very curt reply—no White Paper; there would be disadvantages, which the Prime Minister did not name; there would be no advantages. When I asked about the connection of the operations in Oman with drilling by a British company for oil. the Prime Minister thought fit to say:
"I entirely repudiate the insinuations which the right hon. Gentleman has made and which I believe to be quite unworthy of him."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1959; Vol. 608. c. 1112.]
Remembering the Prime Minister's record of candour over Suez, I prefer my own evaluation to his of what is worthy of me.

Therefore, I tabled further Questions, which the Prime Minister transferred to other Ministers. In due course, in Written Answers, the Paymaster-General refused any information about the oil drilling in Oman—a most extraordinary decision; the Minister of Defence gave me some startling facts about the work of the R.A.F.; the Minister of Defence further told me that the operations in the Peninsula had not been completed, and he used phrases which implied that the present situation may continue indefinitely.

There have been two separate areas of fighting—Oman, and the Yemen-Aden frontier. They form part of one picture, but I will take them separately, and deal with Oman first. Why are the Government reluctant to admit that the Oman operations were connected with oil? Everything in Western Arabia is connected with oil. In 1953, King Saud tried to seize Buraimi. Two British officers were killed. We started an arbitration before an eminent tribunal in Geneva. We broke up the tribunal before it had finished, because, as the Foreign Office said in an official statement on 4th October, 1955, King Saud's agents had offered a local sheikh in Buraimi a bribe of £30 million to keep the British company, the Iraq Petroleum Company, out of the territory and to leave the field free for the American company, Aramco. We broke up the arbitral tribunal, making plain that we thought there might be an immense quantity of oil at stake.

Of course, it was for oil that the military operations in Oman were undertaken. In April of this year a well-known authority, Brigadier Longrigg, set out the basic facts in a full-scale study about the search for oil. In 1937, he said, the Sultan of Oman and Muscat gave two blanket concessions in his sultanate to a subsidiary of the Iraq Petroleum Company. There was prospecting before the war, and after 1948, in the Western Provinces It led to nothing. Then the brigadier says:
"In 1954 the company conducted further surveys, and in 1955 decided to drill the Jabal Fahud structure, west of the mountains … Immense difficulties of access were overcome, and drilling began in December, 1956."
Ultimately, the Fahud well was abandoned as a dry hole at 12,250 feet.
"whereafter further geophysical survey revealed a second site at Ghaba, eighty-five miles South-East of Fahud, still in Oman. Drilling there started in mid-1958, and by late December had reached nearly 12,275 feet, with negative results."
There were preparations to drill at Fahud in 1954 and 1955. There was actual drilling in 1956. There were preparations at Ghaba in 1957. There was actual drilling from mid-1958 till late December. But there had been interruptions in the work.

In 1955 the Imam of Oman put in vigorous claim to possession of the oil. With his brother Talib he raised the tribesmen and occupied Fahud. Thereupon the Sultan took in a military expedition, drove out the Imam, and thus made it possible for the preparations to proceed.

Mr. James Morris, who is known to hon. Members and who went with the Sultan, wrote a book about the expedition. He said:
"The Sultan was our leader; but ultimately responsible for the elimination of the Imam had been the gentlemen of the Foreign Office."
He explains that the Sultan's Minister of External Affairs, Mr. Neil Innes, was British; his Commander-in-Chief was British and his troops were led by British officers. It is inconceivable that the Sultan could have conducted his 1955 expedition without our encouragement and help. Mr. Morris described their arrival at Fahud to visit the oil rig. It was, he said,
"a place of understandable interest to the Sultan, who stood to become a multimillionaire because of it … The day for drilling to begin was now very near."
There was no doubt about what the Sultan's expedition was for.

In due course the drilling for oil began, but the Imam and Talib were not finished. In the summer of 1957 they raised a much larger body of supporters, they reoccupied the disputed territory of Oman, and the Sultan's troops were defeated and withdrawn. The Sultan asked for the help of British Forces. The Trucial Oman Scouts, with their British officers were sent in; four companies of Cameron Highlanders, with heavy machine guns and 3 in. mortars; some of the 15/16th Hussars, with Ferret armoured cars; and, of course, the R.A.F. These forces played a much larger part in the actual fighting than had been intended.

On 6th August The Times reported:
"British troops advanced today from Fahud … the official communiqué said tonight. This is the first time that it has been acknowledged that any British Forces have been at Fahud, but with its ready-made airstrip and other facilities resulting from its use as a base of British oil explorations in the past two years, it was suspected that troops might be moved there."
Of course, the Imam's tribesmen could not hold this area against British arms. By 20th August, after three weeks, the Manchester Guardian correspondent in Muscat was able to report that the
"convoys of Petroleum Development (Oman) Limited "—
the I.P.C. subsidiary—
"which were interrupted by the rising, are once again crossing the desert from Muscat to the drilling site at Fahud."
The drilling went on, but the Imam and Talib took refuge in the Jebel Akdar. It was not until March of this year that they were driven from this fastness, and by that time two troops of Lifeguards had taken part in what The Times described as "fierce fighting," together with a handful of Marines as instructors for our levies. The Marines lost two men killed and four wounded. Thus British troops took an active part for eighteen months in driving the Imam of Oman from the territory of which, up to the oil drilling of 1955, he had been the accepted head.

On what did the Imam base his claim to the oil at Fahud and Ghaba? He based it on a document which has gained notoriety as "The Treaty of Sib". It is well known that the tribes of the hinterland rose against the Sultan of Muscat and Oman in 1913. They elected their own leader, The Imam of Oman. The fighting was protracted, the rebels came near to seizing Muscat itself, and the Sultan was saved from ignominy by the intervention of Great Britain. Peace was restored in 1920 by this Treaty of Sib, negotiated by the British representative in Muscat and initialled by him.

The Foreign Office and the Sultan have consistently refused to publish this Treaty, but when the Arab States sought to raise the Oman question in the United Nations, the editor of the Sunday Times printed the text, saying that it would be of importance in the New York debates. This is the text given in the Sunday Times:
"In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful, This is the peace agreed upon between the Government of the Sultan and Sheik Iso Ibn Salih ibn Ali on behalf of the people of Oman, through the mediation of Mr. Wingate, I.C.S., political agent for Great Britain in Muscat."
Article 4 reads:
"The Government of the Sultan shall not grant asylum to any criminal fleeing from the justice of Oman … it shall not interfere in their internal affairs."
I find it difficult to believe that the editor of the Sunday Times would have published this text and would have given it such an introduction unless he had the strongest reasons to believe that it was authentic. The Foreign Office, of course, have a copy, since their agent drew it up, and I invite the Under-Secretary of State to say whether it is authentic or not. In any case, I believe that I am right in saying that the treaty, which established internal autonomy for Oman, worked perfectly for thirty-five years. Until 1955 the Sultan's Government did not interfere in Oman's internal affairs, and there was peace. But then came the hope of oil. The Imam held that oil drilling in Oman Territory was a matter of "internal affairs" belonging to him. The Sultan, hoping to become a multimillionaire, held a contrary view, and we backed the Sultan with British arms.

In view of all that has happened, I think it singularly unfortunate that the Government have suppressed this vital document which has so great a bearing on the legal and the moral aspects of what we have done. I think that it is still more unfortunate that we opposed the discussion of our Oman expedition in the United Nations. In August, 1957, all the Arab nations joined in asking that the Security Council should debate the matter. Their leading spokesman was the delegate of Iraq, that is, of Nuri Pasha, our great ally. But we got Australia, Batista's Cuba and France, our Suez partner, to vote with us; the United States abstained; and the necessary seven votes for the inscription of the item were not obtained. If we had a good case for what we did in Oman, why did we seek to stifle that debate?

Let me turn to the Western side of the Peninsula. Since 1955 there have been constant troubles there—with the tribesmen in our own Protectorates; with the tribal chiefs; with Yemeni tribesmen; and, no doubt, with Yemen Government troops. Let me take some of the incidents of a few weeks early in 1957 which happened to be reported in the Press. On 16th January the Durham Light Infantry—this is 1957—were in action with mortar fire and supported by rocket attacks from Venom fighters. On 28th January an official Aden communiqué said that 30 "dissident Protectorate tribesmen" were killed by the Cameron Highlanders when they attacked an airfield near Dhala in the Western Aden Protectorate. Artillery was used.

On 3rd February it was reported that the Protectorate village of Hedhiya, which had been occupied by dissidents, had been destroyed; no building remained intact and some of the villagers had been killed. Another village, Sawdanya, had been attacked, substantial damage had been done, and it was still on fire. On 4th or 5th February a British patrol was ambushed near Dhala and two Cameron Highlanders were killed and six wounded. In punishment for this, the village of Danaba, also in the Western Protectorate, was destroyed on 11th February; ninety-six 500 lb. bombs were dropped by Shackletons, and Venom fighters fired seventy-two rockets. It was reported that the bombardment was "unlikely to have left anything inhabitable. "In an action on 15th February near Mishal, also inside the Protectorate, a British officer and a British soldier were killed. This was in January and February of 1957.

The same kind of thing was going on when my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) visited the Territory and went into Yemen in January this year. While he was there, there was an ambush in which British soldiers lost their lives. There was a bombing action in which a British aircraft was shot down and the pilot killed. His own movements were restricted for several days because military operations were going on.

I do not believe that one person in a thousand in this country understands the scale of the fighting in which we are involved. In a Written Answer the Minister of Defence told me a week ago that in six months of 1958 the R.A.F. had carried out 1,300 ground attack sorties—1,300—and had dropped 780 tons of bombs. These figures speak for themselves, and I hope that the House and the public will ponder on them deeply and long.

I know that finding oil is a vital interest, not least for the simple tribesmen in whose land it lies. I do not blame the British company in any way; I do not defend Aramco; least of all do I justify what the Government of the Yemen may have done to stir up trouble. But I say that it is intolerable that year after year this situation should go on.

Long ago I drew attention in the House to the fact that the Yemen is a member of the United Nations and that if we have a dispute with them we are under a Charter obligation to take it to the Assembly or the Council. I urged that we should ask the United Nations to send out a commission of inquiry to establish the facts about the fighting, to demarcate the frontier in accordance with the Treaty of 1950 and perhaps to send a police force to keep the peace. That proposal was supported in many influential quarters, including editorial articles in the Manchester Guardian and The Times. In February, 1957, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government were "keeping the possibilities" which I had suggested "in mind." Two and a half years later the troubles are just as bad, and the Government apparently have no idea how they can be brought to an end.

Last December, writing of the Oman operations, The Times, in a leading article, said:
"In Britain the average citizen is not of course misinformed: he is not informed at all. The main reason for this is the reluctance of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman to allow any news to come out of his country. The British Government's equally reluctant contribution has been two written Parliamentary answers, which have merely confirmed that the rebel Talib and his followers are still at large. … The operations now going on in Oman to ferret out Talib … may well seem small beer, but the public have a right to know what is going on. In the first place, it is not small beer to the British troops involved In the second place, official silence leaves the field clear for the propagandists of Cairo."
This applies no less to the operations on the Aden side of the Peninsula. We ought to have the White Papers for which I have so often asked. But we also need new policies, both in East and West. In July, 1957, The Times special correspondent in Bahrain spoke of the disastrous interplay of power diplomacy, Arab nationalism, oil interests and modern communications. He said that we must find some better way of keeping law and order than by unilateral military action. In repeated messages from Oman and from Aden responsible correspondents have said that bombing as a routine police weapon is obsolete, that
"the use of modern aircraft against primitive tribesmen is disquieting,"
and that events in the Peninsula are doing our prestige and our influence the greatest harm.

I ask the Government to think again about these things. I ask them to give us full information about the present and the past. I ask them to find new policies for the future that do not rest on the exclusive, the naked and the protracted use of force.

12.25 p.m.

I am very glad that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) has raised this extremely important subject. I have been a member of this House for four years, during which I have devoted my attention to Anglo-Arab relations and to the Middle East in general. I have always disliked the proposition that one must be either pro-Arab or pro-Israeli. That shows a fundamental misunderstanding of international politics. Like many hon. Members on this side of the House, I am pro-peace, pro-common sense and pro-progress in that part of the world. By that we mean the distribution of some of the wealth into the homes of the great majority of the peoples in the area.

The problem of the Trucial sheikdoms has been raised. I do not believe that people in this country are even today aware that three-quarters of the world's proven reserves of oil are in the Arabian Peninsula. Should any crisis happen at Kuwait or Bahrein during the coming years, we should be faced within 48 hours with a balance of payments crisis too enormous to contemplate. Therefore, we are dealing with a subject for which I hope Her Majesty's Government will consider fixing a new policy.

It is all very well to make these comments, but I should also make some suggestions. I have three points to put to the Minister and I hope that he will convey them to the Prime Minister. First, it is essential that Her Majesty's Government re-open both diplomatic and commercial relations with Saudi Arabia. Secondly, it is likewise essential that they reconsider their political, diplomatic and commercial relations with the United Arab Republic. Thirdly, I suggest that it may now be time to consider the appointment of a Royal Commission to go into the question of the Trucial sheikhdoms and to re-examine again the treaty arrangements which we have with the sheikhs in that area.

It seems to me that all the time we are hanging on to old worn-out ideas. We ought to be offering new ones. In that area we see new wine being offered in old bottles which are bursting in our faces. I hope that the Government will now take a very serious view of the situation in Oman and Muscat and find a more proper policy for Great Britain.

The last thing I wish to say is to you, Mr. Speaker. We may not reassemble here again with you, Sir, in the Chair, when I would have the opportunity of occupying the Floor, so I wish to take this opportunity to say, on behalf of the 48,000 constituents whom I have the honour to represent, that to my mind this has been a great and momentous Parliament of which you, Sir, have been a very great and memorable Speaker. When you are called to leave this House I am sure that the Mother of Parliaments will be very sorry, and on behalf of my constituents I offer to you their very best wishes in your retirement.

12.30 p.m.

I am sure that we should all wish to join in a humble way in the gracious tribute paid to you, Mr. Speaker, by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates).

I only hope that my hon. Friend will continue to be a Member of this House after the next General Election, as I am sure he will, and be able to continue to distil the wine of oratory which he has so generously distributed in our debates.

We have had an interesting debate and I have been asked a variety of questions. But, as the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) will understand, I must stick to my brief, which is to answer the debate on military operations in the Arabian Peninsula.

I think it important to get some of the rather acid comments which the right hon. Gentleman has delivered into proper perspective. To do that I think it right to go back and see what our obligations are. These, of course, vary enormously. But right from the head of the Persian Gulf round to Aden—a distance of nearly 2,500 miles by sea—we have a series of special relationships, of friendships and of treaties, some of which are more than 150 years old. Our agreements with the States in the Aden Protectorate, for instance, range in date from 1802 to 11th February of this year.

I find it strange, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman should, today and in the past, have tried to attribute recent British military support given to some of the rulers in the Aden Protectorate or to the Sultan of Muscat or to the ruler of Abbu Dubhai, solely to our oil interests in that area. Of course, such interests are important, but I think of far greater importance are the ancient connections of this country with these States; connections stretching back as they do through the years when this area was—as, indeed, it still is—a bridge between Asia and Africa and a bastion on the Indian Ocean. Hon. Members who have been to Mombasa even today can see one of the finest sights in the world, the dhow fleet sailing down from the Persian Gulf into that great harbour.

It has always been the duty of British Governments to stand by their pledges to the rulers of this area. I would remind the House that right hon. and hon. Members opposite have not been backward in performing this proper rôle. As late as 1930 the party opposite, which was then in office, quite properly, at the request of the Sultan of Muscat, sent two of His Majesty's ships, in company with a gunboat of His Highness the Sultan, to bombard the Musandam Peninsula to compel the surrender of a Sheik of Khasab who had defied the Sultan's authority. This, then, has been and will be the policy of Her Majesty's Governments—to give support to our friends when they call for it in the Arabian Peninsula.

The right hon. Member for Derby, South raised one specific point about the Agreement of Sib. He questioned the legality of our aiding the Sultan of Muscat against the rebellious forces of Talib and others. As the Foreign Secretary has pointed out, the Agreement signed at Sib in 1920 was one under which the tribes were given some autonomy, but that this did not in any way detract from the sovereignty of the Sultan over the area. The right hon. Gentleman has gone further and asked that we should publish this agreement. I see no cause whatever to do so, nor, as the agreement solely concerned the internal affairs of an independent sovereign State, can I see that it is for Her Majesty's Government to publish or even to comment on it.

This Agreement in no way detracts from the Sultan's sovereignty over Muscat and Oman. I therefore think that what we have done and the policy we are pursuing is right, and should have the support of this House as it has of our friends along the Trucial coast in Muscat and Aden and in the Protectorate. It is the simplest and best policy of all to give support and succour to our friends.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin raised several points which are outside my province. First, the question of arrangements and negotiations with Saudi Arabia and negotiations with the Egyptian Government. As he knows, we are endeavouring to restore a proper relationship with the Government of Egypt. My hon. Friend suggested that there should be a review by a Royal Commission of the various treaty arrangements spreading round the whole of the Arabian Peninsula. Again, that is a question for my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Foreign Office to answer. My own reaction is that a Royal Commission would be the wrong sort of body to investigate this matter. There is an endless process of negotiation with the various rulers. In this very year, for instance, we have made an agreement with the new Federation of the Emirates of the South and he will know that during the last two or three years other commercial treaties have been initiated.

This cannot be regarded, as the hon. Gentleman endeavoured to regard it, as a united area. It is, essentially and naturally, Balkanised into a large number of states and for that reason it is as impossible to put forward an over-all policy as it is for the British Commonwealth. There is an immense variety of differences in this huge land mass and in these States which cover great distances.

The right hon. Member for Derby, South and others have tried to give the impression that all these activities in support of our friends have been cloaked in an atmosphere of secrecy. But I think that on no occasion, except when military operations were pending, has the House been denied information. On Aden, the Aden Protectorates and Aden Colony there have been a large number of Answers to Questions and a statement by my right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary as well as by Ministers responsible for Service Departments

Regarding other areas of operations, I would refer the House to the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary on Muscat and Oman in July, 1957. I would, further, refer the House to the information given in the Memoranda accompanying the Service Estimates in February of this year. I can see, therefore, no case for the publication of a White Paper on military operations in the area as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman on 17th July, 1958. I can only echo the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in the letter which he sent to the right hon. Gentleman at that time, in his Answer on 6th November, 1958, and his reply given in this House on 7th July this year As the Prime Minister said then, he saw little advantage in cataloguing a large number of operations over a very wide territory with no particular relation one to another.

To expand this point further, I think that it would be very difficult to find a firm thread running through the various operations over the last four or five years in areas as disparate as the Jebel Akahdar in Muscat, the Buraimi Oasis, or Sarir Fort on the Jebel Jahif, in the West Aden Protectorate. These incidents are separated by vast geographical distances, by years in time and by circumstances none of which are common or applicable one to another.

Perhaps, however, it would be of benefit to the House if I ran through the variety of military operations which have taken place in the Arabian Peninsula over the last four years. Hon. Members opposite may, of course, have been impressed—although I do not think so—by the propaganda from Radio Cairo. I will make one quotation from the "Voice of the Arabs" on 17th June of this year, where it was stated, with regard to operations in the Peninsula, though these ceased some months before, that
"… the British are using about 1,000 military aircraft … together with a force of 150,000 men … There is an aircraft-carrier off the coast between Muscat and Bahrein … These are the facts of the situation in Oman which, in short, we hand as a gift to the British Daily Worker."
I am sure that neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any of his hon. Friends would wish to add fuel to those foolish flames.

At the height of the operation in January, 1959, against the rebels on the Jebel Akhdar, the maximum number of British troops engaged was under 300. This action was ably described in The Times in the early summer of this year, and I gave some description of it in the debate on the Army Estimates. Of course, there have been in the Aden Protectorate and in the Federation of Emirates of the South occasional and sporadic sorties against Yemeni forces attacking those State rulers, our friends, who do not recognise the Yemeni claim to sovereignty over them. In the early months of 1957 and 1958, these sorties reached a considerable pitch but, at the moment, I am glad to say that, due in no small part to our military actions, Yemeni pressure has relaxed.

But apart from these, I think that it is worth noting certain specific operations. In September, 1957, an operation was mounted to clear out the Yemenis who had been occupying the Jebel Dhahat-Shaquier features. This operation was supported by the Royal Air Force. In April, 1958, in Lahej, a force including British infantry was alerted to guard against possible disturbances in connection with the arrest of the Jifri brothers. In April, 1958, at Jebel Jahif, the Sarir Fort was besieged by about 500 dissident tribesmen, and an attack was, therefore, mounted to clear the area.

Turning further eastward, to Muscat and Oman, since 1955—I do not look back beyond 1955—we have from time to time assisted the Sultan in the training and organisation of his forces and by the loan of personnel and equipment. I should like, here, to pay tribute to those British Service men who have volunteered to help make the Sultan's Army an effective military force in conditions of grave discomfort, with temperatures which are scarcely believable, in areas as barren as barren areas can be.

In 1957 and 1958, we mounted operations to quell rebellious tribesmen of the ex-Imam of Oman and his brother Talib, to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. After due warning, the Royal Air Force gave support by attacking forts in the dissident area. Leaflets were dropped on behalf of the Sultan. This operation resulted in the rebels being driven up the Jebel Akhdar, an inaccessible mountain region rising to about 8,000 to 9,000 ft. From December, 1958, to February, 1959, British forces, including elements of the Life Guards and the Special Air Service Regiment, assisted the Sultan's armed forces in clearing the rebels from the Jebel Akhdar. The Royal Air Force assisted, and I think that proper tribute has been paid in the newspapers of this country to this brilliant operation successfully carried out with very few British casualties.

All these things have been referred to in the House and on all of them, the Government have, quite properly, been prepared to answer, and have answered, questions unless points of military security came in.

Let me now turn to the area further north, in Buraimi. Between October and November, 1955, an operation was mounted by the forces of the Sultan of Muscat and the Ruler of Abbu Dubhai in conjunction with the Trucial Oman Scouts—an excellent force largely officered by British officers, created in 1951 with prescience and wisdom by the late Labour Government—to remove the Saudi forces in the Oasis. As the House will remember, this operation was entirely successful and met the general acclaim of the House and of our friends around the Persian Gulf.

Now a word about air and sea forces. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has explained to the right hon. Gentleman that, of course, in this area air forces have a very special part to play. In an area of great size, with incidents widely scattered, bombing, after due warning, is obviously a most effective means of dealing with trouble. The wisdom of this policy has been proved by its effectiveness. Over these vast distances, the Royal Air Force has a most important logistic rôle in ferrying, in carrying stores, and in occasional military operations. About 5,000 tons of freight were carried in the period of which the right hon. Gentleman spoke. The Navy, too, has played an important rôle, not least in providing patrol assistance to the Sultan of Muscat against the smuggling of arms.

These operations, which have all been successful, covered, as I said, a huge area. Between one and the other, except, of course, the two operations in Muscat, there cannot be seen any close geographical, political or economic link. They have all been operations on a small scale. They have all been operations about which the House has been given proper information when it asked for it. As I have said, only one thing has held us back at moments and that has been the question of military security.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for having raised this subject. Only in putting undue emphasis on oil interests and not paying sufficient attention to the historic connection, in global and strategic matters and in friendship, between this country and those States, was his speech not as helpful as it could have been. I wish to conclude by paying a tribute, in which I am sure we can all join, to the skill and devotion to duty of our forces throughout the area, whose presence safeguards the peace and makes a major contribution to security in this part of the Eastern world.

If further detail is needed, my right hon Friend the Minister of Defence will consider affording further information on any particular operation. Seeing things as a whole, however, this is a huge area, divided by mountains, desert and the vast empty quarter. It is politically disparate and regionally enmeshed in a most complicated and changing pattern of tribal loyalties. All operations have been on a small scale; British forces involved never amounted to more than a few hundred; nothing that could be called an organised campaign, except in Muscat and Oman, on which the House has been fully informed, and which itself was a very small affair. Otherwise, there has been nothing but sporadic incidents arising from an unsettled situation on a long frontier, the definition of which has never been accepted by the Yemenis.

Nothing, therefore, has happened which it would be appropriate to describe in a special dispatch or White Paper. The House will continue to be informed from time to time of any matters of general interest affecting the situation in those parts of the Arabian Peninsula where Her Majesty's Government have defence responsibilities. The maintenance of peace and order in this vastness is .1 continuing, necessary and honourable process, and, as I think I have shown, a process in which every Government elected in this country must engage.