HC Deb 20 July 1967 vol 750 cc2472-4
Q4. Mr. Dickens

asked the Prime Minister if he will now make a statement on Great Britain's future defence policy east of Suez.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friend to the White Paper published on 18th July.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome given on these benches and beyond to the Government's decision in principle to leave Singapore and Malaysia by the mid-1970s, but will he take it that some of us wish to see this military withdrawal from South-East Asia made at an earlier date and the replacement of military spending by a much enlarged civil aid programme?

The Prime Minister

I am glad to hear my hon. Friend's opening remarks. In view of the excitement which he and some of my hon. Friends got into last March, which led me to say a few well-chosen words on defence to them at the time, I am sorry that they did not listen then to what I said about this statement being on the way. If they had been a little more patient, they could have been as pleased then as they are now.

Mr. Mayhew

We listened also to my right hon. Friend's speech on 15th June last year outlining a major world role for Britain behind the United Nations. Why is there no reference to the United Nations in this Defence White Paper? Finally, is my right hon. Friend aware that, in defending this policy against the Opposition, he will have very warm and wide support on these benches?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Supplementary questions ought to be brief, even to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister

I am glad to hear that as well. This hon. Friend also might have taken the same point in March if he had been listening. As regards the speech I made on 15th June last year, he will find that the White Paper is fully in accordance with it, because what I stressed then was our ability to get to places where we were needed rather than reliance on vast, costly and sometimes indefensible bases in those areas. That is the spirit of this White Paper.

Mr. Goodhew

In the light of the Government's dreadful experience in Aden, is it not thoroughly irresponsible of the Prime Minister to back up a policy which now announces, virtually, the date on which we are to leave Singapore?

The Prime Minister

We were right to announce the date on which we are leaving Aden, and the one lesson which more than half of the House at least has learned—the one which we enunciated in Opposition—is that one cannot stay in a base where one is not wanted or tolerated by the local population. It is a recipe for violence. It is a recipe for great waste of national resources.

Mr. Heath

Is the Prime Minister telling the House that the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia have asked the British Government to get out? There can be no greater misrepresentation than that.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is getting very excited about this. His hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) referred to the difficulties in Aden, and I replied in terms of Aden. The position of the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Singapore is well known. Of course, they would like us to stay with a large base there. What we are promising them is the help which they need, which they cannot supply for themselves but which we can give them. It is really not a sensible policy for our resources—the right hon. Gentleman will realise this—for us to provide ground troops in areas where the Malaysians, for example, can provide their own and then have to go to all the enormous cost of providing air cover to protect the base and the rest. That is a nonsensical defence policy.

Mr. Heath

The Prime Minister confirms that the withdrawal from Singapore and Malaysia which he has announced for the middle 1970s is not at the wish of the Governments. The position is not untenable for us. It is entirely the present British Government's decision, and, as a result, are not the Government now losing all their influence for the future in the Far East?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. It is the decision of the British Government, and it is the right decision, too. It is the British Government's duty to weigh the pressures and advice of our friends, whether in the Commonwealth or our allies. It does not mean that, at great cost to this country, which we cannot afford and which does not make up a viable defence policy, we should stay there even if our friends want us.

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