HC Deb 12 July 1966 vol 731 cc1218-21
Q7. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his talks with the Australian Prime Minister.

Q12. Mr. Marten

asked the Prime Minister what talks he has recently had with the Australian Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement.

Q20. Mr. Wall

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his conversations with the Prime Minister of Australia.

The Prime Minister

I was very pleased to welcome Mr. Holt on his first visit to this country since becoming Prime Minister of Australia, and we have had most useful discussions on matters of common concern.

As hon. Members know, it is not the practice to issue any detailed statement on confidential talks with other Commonwealth Prime Ministers.

Mr. Griffiths

Did the Prime Minister assure Mr. Holt that many people in this country and in this House feel admiration and gratitude for the bravery of the Australian troops fighting a common enemy in Vietnam? Can he now confirm that, in the matter of the British Government's dissociation from American bombing of Haiphong, Her Majesty's Government in Canberra have now dissociated themselves from Her Majesty's Government in London?

The Prime Minister

It is well known that on the question both of having troops in Vietnam and the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong the Government of Australia and we ourselves take different positions. We are both sovereign and independent countries, and we are entitled to do so for what would appear to be good reasons in both cases.

Mr. Marten

Would the Prime Minister agree that Australia does not wish to become totally dependent upon America for defence purposes? Therefore, to restore Australian confidence in Britain, will he give an assurance that a substantial part of the forces at present in the Far East will be moved to British bases in Australia when we get them?

The Prime Minister

I do not think that there is any question of a lack of confidence in Britain which needs to be restored on the part of Australia. The Australian Government fully understand our position. They fully understand the position which we have set out in the Defence Review. The problem of stationing British troops in Australia is much more complex than the hon. Member seems to think.

Mr. Wall

As the tenure of our forces in Singapore must depend upon the Singapore Government, did the Prime Minister discuss the possible preparation of a British base in Australia? Might not this give much assurance to those who believe that Britain should continue to fulfil her responsibilities?

The Prime Minister

We have always made clear that our position about bases is conditioned by the extent to which we are welcomed there by the Government and people. It is our position, as stated in the Defence Review, that we are staying in Singapore. There could be, as the hon. Member says, a situation in which it might become untenable. In that case, of course, it might be necessary to withdraw to Australia. Discussions on that point have already been initiated, as my right hon. Friend yesterday told the House.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a recent opinion poll in Australia suggests that the policy of the Australian Government is supported by only four out of every ten people in Australia and that the policy of the Australian Labour Party of total opposition to war in Vietnam is supported by the majority of the Australian people?

The Prime Minister

I have not had a lot of time to read public opinion polls in Australia. In the case of one prominent Conservative newspaper in this country, I do not get an opportunity to read the excellent results which it is getting because it will not publish them.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Will the Prime Minister recall the pledges he made before the last election to promote more effective and frequent consultations with Commonwealth countries? Will he reveal to the House the explanation which he gave to Mr. Holt of why he did not consult him before dissociating himself from American action?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. We have carried on very adequately and, perhaps, improved upon the system of consultations with Commonwealth Governments for which the right hon. Gentleman was once responsible. In this case, the facts were as I suspected: that at the time we were told, the Australian Government had not been told of the particular bombing. We were told in the strictest confidence. There is certainly no feeling on the part of the Australian Government that we ought to have consulted them. It is a feeling which is exclusively located on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Roy Hughes

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he made clear to the Australian Prime Minister the strong feeling in this country against continued support for American policy in Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

I think that the Prime Minister of Australia is fully aware of all the feelings in this country, in the United States and in his own country, and he is also fully aware of the position of Her Majesty's Government on Vietnam which was endorsed by this House last Thursday.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Did the Prime Minister also make clear to Mr. Holt that there would be no restriction on the provision of arms to the Australians for the use of their forces in Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

There has never been any question of restriction or conditions on our arms supplies to Australia.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker