HC Deb 27 May 1965 vol 713 cc835-7
Q2. Mr. Bence

asked the Prime Minister what further consideration he has given to the problem of Great Britain's rôle east of Suez; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friend to the Answer I gave on 25th May to a Question by the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale).

Mr. Bence

For the last seven years our balance of trade has been running against us. Last October we had a £800 million deficit. We are now carrying a heavy burden throughout the world when our major competitors are carrying nothing like this burden. Will my right hon. Friend see what he can do to reduce our heavy international commitments all over the world?

The Prime Minister

I can tell my hon. Friend that in the first quarter of the year the balance of trade, taking into account invisible trade, was favourable. With regard to his question about the heavy cost of military expenditure overseas, I have made it clear on a number of occasions that this must be brought down. We are looking into part of it in connection with the wider defence review, but I think that the whole House will agree that a start must be made in relation to our very heavy costs in Germany.

Mr. Maudling

Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the British forces will have the weapons which they need to carry out this rôle? If he is satisfied in the light of recent cancellations, will he tell the House the decision he has taken, because he must be satisfied about the replacement of the cancellations?

The Prime Minister

I am sorry to say that I am not satisfied. It has been made clear by my right hon. Friend that a number of our troops in overseas theatres have been singularly ill-provided for in weapons, not least in the large number of helicopters which broke down in the last few months. But that situation is improving very well. I am glad to be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman that it is going better now.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

May I ask the Prime Minister whether the Government will reconsider using the United Nations to try to end the Indonesian aggression against Malaysia? Does he recognise that, apart from the great economic burden which we are carrying with 50,000 troops there, the prolonging of this war month after month must have a most demoralising effect on the binding force of the Charter in Asia and elsewhere?

The Prime Minister

The 50,000 troops who are there are not there, in the main, in relation to the confrontation of Indonesia. As I have said many times, we should certainly welcome any steps which can be taken, whether by the United Nations or by the direct mediation of an Asian Power, to end this quite senseless confrontation. One of the difficulties, as my right hon. Friend knows, is that the Indonesians are so obsessive about the question of Malaysia that they withdrew from the United Nations because Malaysia was there.

Mr. Hugh Fraser

Is not the Prime Minister aware that to draw a distinction between policy east of Suez and the rôle east of Suez is becoming very thin? The whole House is most worried by the situation in South-East Asia, and again and again the right hon. Gentleman has avoided making any statement on it. Surely, the time to make a statement has come when this very day the American Fleet is bombarding the coast and when this very day the New Zealanders have said that they will support America. Will not the Prime Minister make a statement, and soon, on this whole question?

The Prime Minister

The Question on the Order Paper refers to Great Britain's rôle east of Suez. It does not say anything about the American Fleet or about New Zealand. [Interruption.] I certainly have not been backward in answering questions on Vietnam. If the right hon. Gentleman has any Questions to put on Vietnam, let him put them on the Order Paper and they will be answered.

Mr. Fraser

I am putting them now.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

There is a great deal of concern and interest in this matter in the House. May I ask the Prime Minister—I realise that I could make this request following the announcement of business, but I prefer to put it now—whether we can have a foreign affairs debate fairly soon after Whitsun on this whole situation?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has been a Member of the House long enough to know that that is a question that is normally put to the Leader of the House, although we will consider it.