HC Deb 08 November 1966 vol 735 cc1150-3

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:

Q15. Mr. PEEL: To ask the Prime Minister what proposals he has for altering or modifying the Agreement between the United Kingdom and the Sultan of Brunei.

Q16. Mr. BLAKER: To ask the Prime Minister what plans he has for reviewing the Brunei Agreement, 1959.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

When I answered a Question by the hon. Member for Richmond (Mr. A. Royle) last week I referred, in dealing with a supplementary, to Questions down for this week. These were in fact, put down, quite rightly, to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs. In all the circumstances it was thought right that I should take them today and therefore, with permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. Q15 and Q16.

As was explained by my right hon. Friend the then Commonwealth Secretary in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Richmond on 3rd August, it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government that Brunei should progressively assume full responsibility in all fields of government and this will in itself require a revision of the Brunei Agreement at the appropriate time.

Mr. Peel

Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that nothing will be done to alter or change the Treaty with Brunei without the full agreement of the Brunei Government?

The Prime Minister

We have no immediate plans for any change in the Treaty, although, of course, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the Treaty does involve certain two-way commitments—commitments of the Government of Brunei as well as those of Her Majesty's Government. It will be necessary progressively to have discussions with the Government of Brunei on the implementation of all parts of the Treaty.

Mr. Blaker

Would not the Prime Minister agree that for Britain to give the impression that she was abrogating or modifying the Treaty unilaterally would shake the confidence of the whole area in Britain and, therefore, would be bad for stability?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman will recognise that this very difficult matter, particularly after the end of confrontation, on the question of a permanent and unending commitment in that area, and, indeed, with a Government who have not been noted for democratic advance of the area, raises very great difficulties for us; but as I have said, we have no intention at this immediate time of modifying the Agreement and we hope to proceed in full agreement with the Ruler of Brunei.

Mr. Hooson

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what it costs this country to fulfil its obligations under this Treaty, and what percentage of the cost is borne by the Government of Brunei, in view of the fact that it is a very wealthy State?

The Prime Minister

I would prefer that Question to be put on the Order Paper. My impression is that it costs about £1 million a year. However, I would like to have that checked. Brunei is making a contribution, but it does not cover the whole cost.

Mr. A. Royle

In view of the remark made by King Faisal about the unilateral decision of Her Majesty's Government to leave Aden, will the Prime Minister answer my hon. Friend's question and give a firm assurance to the House that there will be no unilateral decision taken to leave Brunei without agreement being reached with the Sultan?

The Prime Minister

I would certainly hope there will be agreement reached with the Sultan; but the Sultan has certain obligations to carry out to us. I think that we would like to see how these are to be discharged before I give a final answer.

Mr. Maudling

The Prime Minister's answers have been rather hedging in character. Would he make it quite clear that it is not the Government's intention unilaterally to abrogate our responsibility in this area?

The Prime Minister

I have said that we shall proceed in agreement with the Ruler of Brunei. I am getting a little tired of right hon. Gentlemen, who landed this Government, before we took office, with a whole series of apparently unending agreements to maintain troops here, there and all over the world, making no regard for changes in either the world situation or in the internal situation in the countries concerned, and who then, every time we debate finance, say that we are spending too much money.

Mr. Maudling

If the Prime Minister is getting tired of being pressed to stand up for this country's obligations and to honour them, it is entirely his own fault.

The Prime Minister

I am not sure if that was a question, but I have said a number of times that our defence commitments have to be limited to what we can afford. Right hon. Members opposite, not only in this case but in a whole series of other cases, irresponsibly entered into very long-term agreements requiring us to keep troops in particular areas, where it will be very difficult in some cases to protect them, and at a very high cost. I am sure that the House would agree that in these circumstances we are right to review, as far as possible in agreement with the Ruler concerned, an agreement of this kind. These things should have been considered when the Agreement was signed by right hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Michael Foot

Is the Prime Minister aware that the most serious of all these open-ended agreements which the Opposition entered into was that which stated that we should keep four divisions in Germany until the end of the century, and that Sir Winston Churchill——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This supplementary question has no bearing upon Brunei.