HC Deb 02 August 1966 vol 733 cc249-55
Q5. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to President Johnson.

Q7. Mr. G. Campbell

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the conflict in Vietnam as a result of his visit to Washington.

Q8. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to President Johnson.

Q9. Mr. Wall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to Washington.

Q13. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent talks with the United States Government in Washington.

Q15. Mr. Dickens

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with President Johnson.

Q16. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent discussions with members of the United States Administration.

Q22. Mr. A. Royle

asked the Prime Minister what results he achieved during his discussions with the President of the United States of America.

Q23. Mr. Rankin

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the outcome of his meeting with President Johnson.

Q26. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister, if he will make a statement on his visit to President Johnson.

The Prime Minister

My talks with the President of the United States last Friday ranged widely and deeply over the entire field of international affairs, economic as well as political. We of course discussed every aspect of the Vietnam problem, and I took the opportunity to give the President a full account of my impressions of my recent conversations in Moscow with Premier Kosygin. The President assured me of the continuing desire of the United States Government for an unconditional negotiation. There was also a full discussion of the world economic situation, with particular reference to the problem of world liquidity, and of the economic problems that the United Kingdom is facing.

Mr. Allaun

Did the Prime Minister tell the President that our deficit was accounted for almost exactly by our military spending overseas, or does the fact that even now our £2,000 million a year programme is not to be cut mean that he yielded to American insistence upon our retaining bases and troops in the Far East?

The Prime Minister

There was no American insistence. We take our own decisions on this having regard to our conception of what is the British interest and the Commonwealth interest and our obligations so far as world peace is concerned. The President of the United States is as well aware of the statistical position of our balance of payments as any hon. Member of this House.

Mr. Campbell

Did the Prime Minister congratulate the President upon the accuracy of American bombing of fuel installations in North Vietnam, which resulted in very few civilian casualties?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The discussions did not get to the point of congratulation on these questions. We discussed all aspects of the situation in Vietnam. I noted, although I was not surprised, that many of the warnings I had had from hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite about our dissociation from the operations in Hanoi and Haiphong turned out to be completely unfounded.

Mr. Marten

Can the Prime Minister say whether he got the impression that the Americans regard sterling as a first line of defence for the dollar, and secondly, could he confirm or deny a report in The Times that there was talk about linking sterling to the dollar?

The Prime Minister

I am never responsible for any Press reports, least of all those from The Times Washington correspondent. I thought that normally in Question Time one was not asked or required to answer for particular Press reports. There is a fairly deep understanding in the United States that the fate of the two reserve currencies is to some extent linked and that there have been recent attacks—some would say for financial reasons; others for political reasons—on both reserve currencies. To some extent, we have been in the front line so far as any attack on the dollar was concerned. There is a widespread feeling in the Administration, from the President downwards, that our interests and those of the United States, so far as reserve currencies are concerned, are closely linked.

Mr. Wall

Did the Prime Minister assure the President that Britain would maintain her responsibility in the Indian Ocean area?

The Prime Minister

We informed the President again, not that he was not fully aware of it, that the policy of Her Majesty's Government, as set out in the Defence Review, and approved by this House—I think that the hon. Gentleman voted against it—still holds.

Mr. Dickens

Did the Prime Minister make it clear that many of us on this side of the Chamber and millions of people in the country are gravely concerned about the increasing and detrimental influence which Mr. W. W. Rostow is having on American policy in Vietnam? Did he also make it clear that dissociating Her Majesty's Government from the American bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong was but the start of a new British independence in Asia?

The Prime Minister

I have always maintained that British officials ought not to be attacked by any Member in this House when they are unable to defend themselves. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentlemen opposite are nodding agreement with this now—[Interruption.]—remembering their attack on Professor Zuckerman some fifteen months ago. If we take this view about British officials, I would take it even more strenuously with regard to overseas officials.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Hardy Spicer.

The Prime Minister

I am glad to say that Mr. Hardy Spicer, if there is such an individual, is not a British or American official.

On the second part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I explained our position on Hanoi and Haiphong on 29th June, and in subsequent debate the position of Her Majesty's Government on Vietnam. Certainly we are prepared to go on taking initiatives, with the good will of the United States, to get unconditional negotiations.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Would not the Prime Minister agree that these agitated scurryings across the globe serve no useful national purpose? Would not he be much better advised to conserve his health and to stay at home and mind the store?

The Prime Minister

I should have thought that when one was dealing with the United States Government—it is a presidential system of Government where decisions are taken at the top—it is very important to get into conversations with the President of the United States. I think that that is equally true about talks with the Head of the Soviet Government. One cannot do this job by the old-fashioned method of using diplomatic channels.

Mr. Blaker

The Prime Minister will be aware of reports that President Johnson discussed with him the projected purchase by the United States of British engines for installation in the American Corsair military aircraft. Will he confirm that the Government will not object to such a sale even though the aircraft are very suitable for use in Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

I have explained the position with regard to the conditions of sale in a number of statements in the House. If it seemed to leave some confusion n the minds of hon. Members opposite, it left no confusion in the mind of the American Government. I am happy to inform the hon. Gentleman that the issue which hon. Members have pressed so hard in recent weeks was not even mentioned by President Johnson. He at least understands the position, although I can well understand why right hon. Members opposite have pulled out their Motion for tomorrow in the light of the fact that there is no difficulty between our two countries on this matter—[Interruption.]—despite their best efforts there are no difficulties between our two countries on this matter. Secondly, despite their gloomy forecasts, we have this very substantial order coming for the Spey engines.

Mr. Hughes

Did the Prime Minister discuss with the President the possibility of the war in Vietnam extending to China? Would he assure us that he told the President that this country would not be drawn in?

The Prime Minister

One of the main purposes of my recent visits to Moscow and Washington has been—[Interruption.] This is a serious matter which even hon. Members opposite might understand—to take every possible measure against further escalation in Vietnam leading to the dangers which hon. Members on both sides of the House realise to be a very real possibility. So far as the danger of escalation is concerned, I had the fullest support from President Johnson and, I am glad to say, from Premier Kosygin

Mr. Royle

Did the Prime Minister give an assurance to the President that he would continue to provide arms to the United States for use in South Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

As I have told the House, this matter was explained several weeks ago—[HON. MEMBERS: "It was not."] It may not have been understood by hon. Members who did not want to understand it. It just happens that the President of the United States and the American Administration do understand it and are not playing the game of hon Members opposite.

Mr. Michael Foot

On the question of Vietnam, would the Prime Minister tell us whether he discussed with the President U Thant's proposals for an approach towards a settlement of the Vietnam problem and what views he expressed on behalf of the British Government on U Thant's proposals about a cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam by the Americans as a partial contribution to the settlement?

The Prime Minister

I think that I may say that I discussed everything which could be discussed about Vietnam during those four hours, and I had further discussions with Mr. Dean Rusk on these questions. U Thant's initiative—which, of course, we always welcome—fell on stony ground when he went to Moscow; and I had had the same experience so far as this kind of proposal is concerned. But it is the position of Her Majesty's Government, and has been ever since the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference last year, that we are prepared to join in any initiative, or take any initiative, on the basis of stopping the bombing by America in return for or associated with a stopping of infiltration along the Ho ChiMinh trail. This is our position, and I have no reason to think that it would not get enthusiastic support from the United States. After all, they proceeded on that basis for nearly 40 days last January.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Did the Prime Minister discuss with the President the possibility of seeking to amend the rules of the I.M.F. regarding the bracket in which fluctuations of exchange rates might take place?

The Prime Minister

No, there was no talk about fluctuations in exchange rates because the President is as fully realistic about our position as we are. On the I.M.F., the hon. Member will be aware that last week at The Hague there was a meeting of the Group of Ten in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the American Secretary of the Treasury played a leading part. We go forward to the I.M.F. conference this year in the hope that we shall get a multilateral solution of the very serious problem—it is a problem not only for Britain or America but for the world—of world liquidity. The views of the United States and British Governments are very close indeed.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

When the President referred to "unconditional" peace, was it my right hon. Friend's impression that he really meant unconditional, or did he perhaps mean conditional upon partition in Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

No; he meant unconditional. The phrase was used, and it has been used very many times by him, by us and by others, in terms of unconditional negotiations. What comes out of the negotiations must be a matter for the negotiators. But the President has once again reiterated, as he has many times before, his willingness to enter into unconditional negotiations to secure an honourable peace in Vietnam. There has been no attempt to lay down conditions as to what the ultimate form of those negotiations should be.