HC Deb 21 January 1965 vol 705 cc398-400
Q6. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of his offer of confidential discussions with the leaders of Her Majesty's Opposition on matters of defence.

The Prime Minister

There has been no outcome so far.

Mr. Hamilton

Does my right hon. Friend recollect that on 17th December the official Leader of the Opposition said that he was always ready to talk to the Prime Minister, presumably on these matters, and that one of the unofficial Leaders of the Opposition got up and interjected in my right hon. Friend's speech and accused him of giving the House false information on that issue? Would it not be desirable for my right hon. Friend to bring pressure to bear on the Opposition and call them in and ask them, or let them tell him, in which instance he was giving false information to the House?

The Prime Minister

The particular proposal in the speech of 16th December related to consultations on a continuing basis between the Government and the Opposition on all defence matters, which I think would be very valuable and in the national interest. We recognise, however, that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have been very busy in the past few weeks, but we hope that they will respond to this invitation.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I hope that the Prime Minister will recognise that there are traditional difficulties, which he found himself when he put the same proposal earlier when he was in Opposition. Will the right hon. Gentleman recall that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said that he would like to hear what precise proposals the Prime Minister had in mind? If the Prime Minister is ready with precise proposals, we shall be very willing to listen.

The Prime Minister

It is not quite clear where the Opposition stand on this question, because it was not mentioned in speeches from the Front Bench opposite until nearly the end of the day when one speaker said that he had forgotten to mention it and the position was as had been stated. [Interruption.] Yes, indeed, it is on record. It is in HANSARD. We do not need to argue it. The right hon. Gentleman said that he had forgotten to mention it in his speech. We do not object to that. We all of us forget sometimes to mention things in our speeches. There is no need for us to spell it out further because we set out quite clearly on 16th December what we have in mind and I only hope that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have just forgotten to come and talk about it.

Mr. Thorneycroft

I hope that the Prime Minister treats this as a serious matter. It is a great issue. It is a subject which has exercised the minds of Governments and Oppositions over many years and a great deal of thought has been put into it. If the right hon. Gentleman has some new or interesting proposals on this issue it would be right that he should spell them out in detail and we will be only too willing to listen to what they were.

The Prime Minister

At any rate we on this side of the House, in Opposition and in Government, have been completely consistent in thinking that talks of this kind would be valuable between the Government and the Opposition of the day, whoever happens to be in either position. I agree that this is an extremely important matter. We would be very happy to discuss it with the Leader of the Opposition and the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is considered appropriate here, and see on what basis progress should be made.

An Hon. Member

Tomorrow afternoon.

Sir C. Osborne

This afternoon.

Sir W. Bromley-Davenport


The Prime Minister

This is spreading the net wide in the Leadership problem. [Laughter.] The right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Thorneycroft) said that this is an important point. We shall be very happy to enter into discussions. We do not have to get on to the basis of having to send letters to one another. We are quite used to meeting on a number of occasions and I suggest that we meet as soon as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition is recovered and is back in the House.

Forward to