HC Deb 08 June 1967 vol 747 cc1286-8
Q4. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister whether he will invite the Prime Ministers of all the countries affected by British troop withdrawals east of Suez, to a conference, so that such withdrawals may take place smoothly.

The Prime Minister

No. Adequate arrangements already exist for any consultation that may be needed with the Governments concerned.

Mr. Wyatt

Does the Prime Minister realise that recent events have proved once and for all the utter futility of these bases and that they were unable to keep the Gulf of Aqaba open, to stop the fighting, or to prevent the Arab countries cutting off our oil supplies? Does he further realise that his vainglorious insistence on maintaining them is the principal reason for our economic difficulties in repairing the balance of payments crisis—

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Member for Bosworth would put his question briefly—

Mr. Wyatt

Would the Prime Minister now come to his senses and get rid of these bases so that we can attend to our own affairs, which are not in a very good state, instead of trying to run everyone else's?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend asked me if I am aware of a number of suggestions. I have, of course, read his article in the Daily Mirror this morning, which was expressed in the same colourful but irrelevant language as his supplementary questions. The House has many times discussed this on defence debates. I am sorry that we have not convinced my hon. Friend about the Tightness of the Government's policy, but he will no doubt express himself on this from time to time.

Sir D. Renton

Will there be a reappraisal of our defence policy east of Suez when the present war in the Middle East is over and in the light of events which have taken place in the course of it?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. friends and I have made clear that there has been continuing consideration of this problem and, on the point which comes up very much in the original Question of my hon. Friend, this will be discussed with the Prime Minister of Australia next week. The Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand is here now, the Prime Ministers of Singapore and Malaysia are coming. Shortly we shall have had discussions with all of them, as we have recently had in Washington, and then the position will made clear to the House.

Mr. Mayhew

When the Prime Minister referred to the Tightness of Government policy, did he mean that the speech he made last year laying down that we should have an east of Suez rôle into the 1980s, and should do this without aircraft carriers, is still Government policy?

The Prime Minister

The statement I made last year, if my hon. Friend is referring particularly to the rather lengthy speech that he heard upstairs and which was published, remains Her Majesty's Government's policy. As we have made clear on a number of occasions, we are continually reviewing this to see how far our objectives can be achieved with less expense and less demand on our resources. This has been continuous; it was even happening when the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Government.

Rear Admiral Morgan-Giles

Following on what the Prime Minister said at Question Time on Tuesday, will he confirm that he really will approach this matter with a completely open mind and decide whether the withdrawal of British peace-keeping forces east of Suez is in the best interests of peace in the world?

The Prime Minister

We have been studying this matter on a continuous basis for a very long time and we are looking at this very intensively now. As I said to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I discussed this in Washington last week, and we shall ensure that we can fulfil our residual commitments in these areas. We believe that it is not necessary in order to do this to lock up the very considerable resources and the very heavy burden on our balance of payments which is represented by the present position, still less to meet the pressure of hon. Gentlemen opposite that we should have heavier commitments and heavier establishments in these areas.

Mr. Dickens

Can the House then take it from the Prime Minister that he did not discuss with President Johnson recently the need for a British withdrawal from Singapore and Malaysia in the 1970s, as has been widely assumed and reported?

The Prime Minister

I am not sure what my hon. Friend assumes. I discussed with President Johnson and with members of his Cabinet, as I did also with the Prime Minister of Canada, and as I shall be doing with the Commonwealth Prime Ministers who are coming, the whole question of Britain's position in the area. When we are ready to make a statement we shall do so. I do not think it would be proper to anticipate the statement until consultations are a good deal further advanced.

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