HC Deb 13 February 1968 vol 758 cc1146-56

The following Questions stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his visits to the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Canada.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent consultations in the United States of America.

Q13. Mr. WALL

To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to the United States of America.


To ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his talks with President Johnson in Washington.

Q18. Mr. MOYLE

To ask the Prime Minister whether, following the visit to the United Kingdom of Mr. Katzenbach, an Under-Secretary in the State Department, he will make a statement on his discussions with President Johnson on the ways in which the American Government intends to implement its policy of trade liberalisation.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent talks with President Johnson.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the United States of America and Canada.


To ask the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement following his recent visit to the United States.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the result of his visit to the United States of America.


To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent visit to Washington.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

With permission, I will now answer Questions Nos. Q3, Q5, Q13, Q17, Q18, Q19, Q20, Q21, Q22 and Q23, being 10 of the Questions down to me today.

As the House will know, I had discussions with President Johnson on Thursday and Friday of last week. These covered a very wide range of international problems including, particularly, the situation in Vietnam, the Korean situation, East-West relations in the European and world context, and world economic and monetary problems. In addition, I had the opportunity of discussion with other senior members of the United States Administration.

The House will understand that a great part of the time was spent in discussing Vietnam, on which the position of Her Majesty's Government was further developed in a speech I made in the White House, a copy of which I have placed in the Library. As I told the House after my visit to Moscow, I am convinced that following the President's San Antonio speech, and further elucidations of that speech right up to last night's statement in Washington, the gap which has to be bridged between the United States position and that publicly set out in recent North Vietnamese statements is narrow, whatever the difficulties presented by the last fortnight's fighting.

On Saturday last I spent several hours in discussion with the Prime Minister of Canada. The subjects we covered included, of course, important Commonwealth matters, as well as all aspects of the world situation.

Mr. Heath

That was a very brief statement about the Prime Minister's talks with the President and the Prime Minister of Canada. [Laughter.] It might have been of greater help to the House if the Prime Minister had been snappier in his answers earlier and longer later.

From what we have read in the Press of accounts of the conversations in Washington, may I congratulate the Prime Minister on having assured the President of the support of Britain for his determination to continue to resist aggression in Vietnam?

May I tell the Prime Minister that we agree with him that the President, in saying that he will have a conference at any time or place, and that an agenda can be put forward by the other side, has gone the whole length in trying to seek a negotiation to get an honourable settlement to this ghastly war?

Thirdly, may I tell the Prime Minister that we welcome the additional contribution which Her Majesty's Government are making to help those who are homeless and injured in Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, although what he did not say in his questions he was apparently reported as saying in Knaresborough. On his strictures made in Knaresborough on my conduct in Washington, the President of the United States is a better judge of the American attitude than is the right hon. Gentleman.

I think that the President rightly made clear, as I did in Moscow, in Washington and in this House, that the San Antonio speech, together with the statement made by Mr. Trinh on 29th December in Vietnam, provide a basis for a settlement and that the difference to be bridged is not very wide. It is not very wide; this was made clear in my statement in the White House, of which a copy has been placed in the Library.

Sir Knox Cunningham

During the talks, did the right hon. Gentleman tell the President that he would dissociate Britain from American policy if he thought it would shorten the war by one day? Is that the sort of statement he would expect President Roosevelt to have made to Churchill in 1940?

The Prime Minister

Again, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is necessarily the best person to interpret American reaction to what I said in the White House in that statement. As he will read, I gave my reasons for not dissociating myself on this question, and, on the President's proposals for peace, I said that I would, if I thought that it would shorten the war by a day or would make the peace more just. So, I hope, would every hon. Member of the House.

Mr. Blaker

Did the Prime Minister point out to President Johnson the bad effect which would be caused to Britain's economy by the travel taxes which he has proposed? Or did the right hon. Gentleman feel inhibited from doing this because of the example which Her Majesty's Government have set by introducing the£50 travel limit?

The Prime Minister

I said, concerning the President's proposals of 1st January, that we understood the need for them, that in general we supported the package which he had then announced, although I expressed—as I indicated to the Leader of the Opposition a week ago I would express—our deep anxiety about proposals concerned with border taxes and the export subsidy that was involved.

On the question of the travel taxes, this is a matter of deep controversy within the Senate and Congress. When I was asked by Senators and on television and by others about this, I said that I was not entering into that controversy. I think that our biggest anxiety should be not on his travel proposals, but on the border taxes and the proposed export subsidy.

Mr. Wall

Did the right hon. Gentleman sound American opinion on N.A.F.T.A., in the event of our failing to get into the Common Market? Will he also say whether he reached agreement with the Canadian Prime Minister about the advisability of a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference this year?

The Prime Minister

To answer the hon. Gentleman's first question, there was no discussion of N.A.F.T.A. I think that this is not regarded by those concerned in the United States as a realistic present alternative, although there are, of course, distinguished Senators—friends of hon. Members here—who are pressing this. However, I do not think that this is, from an Administration point of view, a realistic possibility.

To answer his second question, about a Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conference. I certainly discussed this with the Prime Minister of Canada, as part of the continuing discussions which have been going on for some time between Prime Ministers. Obviously, there will be a Prime Ministers' conference before very long; and we discussed our own two approaches, which happen to coincide, on the question of timing and other arrangements. However, we must discuss this whole matter with the others of the 25 Prime Ministers concerned.

Mr. Thorpe

Would the right hon. Gentleman answer two questions about Vietnam? First, was he able, as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference, to offer any new initiative in the settlement of the Vietnam dispute?

Secondly, in view of Press reports about arguments currently going on in the Pentagon, and remembering the distinguished and courageous precedent set by Lord Attlee at the time of Dien Bien Phu and the French, did he indicate to the Americans the horror which would be felt throughout the world in the event of resorting to the use of tactical nuclear weapons?

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Gentleman has clearly not been reading the reports of what I said in the White House and in the television broadcast which was recorded on Friday and put out on Sunday about tactical nuclear weapons. The United States Administration have themselves firmly repudiated rumours about the use of tactical nuclear weapons.

In regard to the next moves towards a settlement, I have said that the gap is now very narrow. That it is very narrow was elucidated in my visit to Moscow, in the light of the San Antonio and State of the Union messages and in the statements of North Vietnam. It was further elucidated in Moscow and in the last two hours I have been discussing this matter further with U Thant, who has been in touch with the North Vietnamese. There is a narrow gap to be bridged. I will not say any more on that issue now. Unfortunately, the fighting of the last two weeks has obviously made it more difficult for all concerned to cross that bridge.

Mr. Shinwell

Arising out of the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition, did my right hon. Friend read the speech of the Leader of the Opposition at Harrogate, in which he advocated most emphatically coming to the aid of our American ally? How does my right hon. Friend interpret that remark and, when occasionally he very naturally has conversations of a courteous character with the Leader of the Opposition about international affairs, has he ever heard the right hon. Gentleman say that we should send British forces to Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I have not, in fact, discussed these issues with the right hon. Gentleman. The proposal to send forces to Vietnam was made from the Opposition Front Bench, but I did not take it any more seriously than did anyone else in the House. I have, of course, read the speech which the Leader of the Opposition made at Knaresborough. I do not believe that it added very much, either.

When I was asked about the right hon. Gentleman's Motion which appeared on the Order Paper and the counter-Amendment tabled by some of my hon. Friends, I refused when in America to be drawn into domestic controversy and said that I would rather wait until I got back here. Frankly, my answer to both is that this is no time to be playing politics with Vietnam.

Mr. Moyle

Did the President indicate to my right hon. Friend any points he had in mind over securing a liberalisation of American trade which apparently remains the policy of the President, despite the restrictions on American capital movement?

The Prime Minister

I think that it is the policy of the United States Administration, who are anxious to make a reality not only of the letter of the Kennedy Agreement but of the spirit of it. I had to express publicly as well as privately my anxiety about further twists of the protectionist spiral, and I have no doubt that what I said is also the view of the American Government. However, we must not underrate the very great difficulties which exist not only at a time when that country has a difficult balance of payments situation, but at a time when people in some parts of the world, including Europe, are making the most of those balance of payments difficulties.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Is it true that the Prime Minister said that to use nuclear weapons would be sheer lunacy? If so, why are we continuing to manufacture them?

The Prime Minister

I was answering a question about the possible use—the pressure for their use—of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. I first said that I thought that would be lunacy. When pressed, and because I was not sure that what I had said had been heard, I said that it would be sheer lunacy, which is what I believe.

Mr. Sandys

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that it was rather out of place for him to lecture the Americans about how they should conduct their fight for the freedom of Asia just at the moment when he is wriggling out of his responsibilities in Singapore?

The Prime Minister

The first part of that sentence is taken direct from the Leader of the Opposition's speech in Knaresborough. I am glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman repeat his master's voice so clearly. What I said about Vietnam in the White House I will stand by; and I will leave it to the American Administration, and not to the right hon. Gentleman, to interpret the views of the American Administration about that.

In regard to the east of Suez situation, with which the right hon. Gentleman is so concerned, he will be happy to know that the only reference made to it while I was in Washington was in the second verse of the contribution made by the Metropolitan Opera House tenor, who sang "The Road to Mandalay ", from which we withdrew 20 years ago. [Laughter.]

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, unlike the hawks opposite, more than 110 Labour M.P.s feel that we are not giving too little support to the American war in Vietnam, but too much?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I was well aware of the Amendment on the Order Paper before I went. I know that it was designed to be helpful—[Laughter.]—and I so interpreted it. But surely all of us, on both sides of the House, are now concerned as to how we can get an end to the fighting, not least after all the evidence of the barbarism and ferocity of the war, on both sides, in the past few days? The President of the United States has put forward the San Antonio formula. He will stop the bombing provided that he is given, in an appropriate form, an assurance that there will be prompt peace talks thereafter. Is not that reasonable?

Second, the President says that the talks must be meaningful, directed towards peace, and not long filibusters. If there were any military action or buildup which would frustrate the purposes of the talks, all bets would obviously be off. I cannot think of a more reasonable proposition for the ending of this war. My interpretation of what Mr. Trinh has said suggests that he is not very far from that proposal. Therefore, we would all do better to stop playing politics with Vietnam, and try to bring the two sides together.

Sir G. Nabarro

May I press the Prime Minister on what he has now dubbed border taxes "? As the Americans have coincidentally granted an export rebate at the very moment we have withdrawn ours, thereby placing British manufacturers at a double competitive disadvantage, would he consult with the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to reintroducing our export rebate?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Gentleman is obviously not up to date with the facts. The position is that the United States are discussing the possibility of legislation, and there is strong Congressional pressure for it. We have said that in view of the United States' concern with the value-added tax in the E.E.C., which has provoked this, it should have direct talks with the E.E.C. But there is as yet no legislation in the United States to introduce an export rebate. We have a Bill before the House at present, and it has been frequently explained to the House—I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has missed this—that gives us power to reinstitute the export rebate, if that were necessary as a result of the action of other countries, whether the United States or any other. Our position is entirely safeguarded, but the situation in the United States is not so definitive as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. Roebuck

Did my right hon. Friend take the opportunity to discuss with the Prime Minister of Canada the question of Southern Rhodesia? In particular, did they discuss more effective ways of stopping the flow of oil from France to Southern Rhodesia?

The Prime Minister

We discussed particular aspects of the Rhodesian problem, both in the context of the last Commonwealth conference and the next Commonwealth conference and the decisions of the United Nations Security Council.

Mr. Peyton

Did the Prime Minister seek to explain to the President of the United States why this once-proud country was running out of its obligations east of Suez? He must have been very relieved that the repertoire of songs offered to him did not include, "Run, Rabbit, Run".

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman wishes to appear in the House as a hawkish American Senator on these matters, he is entitled to do so. I am prepared to accept as the voice of America on this question the voice of the President of the United States with whom the hon. Gentleman did not seem to be in tune in his question. It was at my request that the particular extract from Kipling to which I have referred was reinstated in the programme.

Mrs. Renée Short

Despite the Americans' natural concern with the problem of Vietnam, did my right hon. Friend find time to discuss with the President a problem nearer home, namely, the continued refusal of the West German Govvernment to meet support costs, and their objections to signing the non-proliferation treaty?

The Prime Minister

Of course, we discussed the problem of support costs and general questions of N.A.T.O. As my hon. Friend will be aware, talks have already started with the German Government at Ministerial level, under my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, about support costs for the year which follows. I discussed this with the President of the United States, who, as was made clear from his statement on 1st January, has a similar problem to deal with.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Arising from the Prime Minister's statement in Washington that Britain would do all it could within our resources to help the civilian refugees in Vietnam, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that every possible facility, including R.A.F. airlifts, is made available to take to that country anti-cholera vaccines, and medical teams to administer them, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition also recommended in Harrogate?

The Prime Minister

Perhaps it would be helpful if I distinguished between two statements. On Thursday I said that when there is peace in Vietnam we shall do all within our resources to forward the progress of reconstruction first envisaged in the Baltimore speech of the President of the United States. That is when peace comes. On Friday—this is a separate thing—I announced what we are doing about medical aid for refugees in South Vietnam at present. I said that we are seeing what we can do to step up what we are already doing, and indicated the amount of money already allocated for this purpose which need not necessarily be a final limit. We have already started to take action on the supply of blankets, medicaments, and so on. This was envisaged, and I so told the President when I met him on Friday. I was very glad to have the support of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Heffer

As my right hon. Friend rightly said that it would be sheer lunacy to use tactical nuclear weapons Vietnam, and as it is possible that immense pressure will be applied to the President of the United States for the use of such weapons, will my right hon. Friend give us a categorical assurance today that in that event our Government would immediately dissociate themselves from American policy?

The Prime Minister

That is a hypothetical question, but one which I was asked in a television programme, and I propose immediately this afternoon to put the text of that programme in the Library. I made it clear that we support the United States in their peace initiative in Vietnam, and the measures necessary to support it, because we think that they are right in that initiative. I made it clear that we are not committed in all future circumstances. When I said in public on television that I thought that this would be sheer lunacy, that was a pale reflection of a phrase which I used —not in public—which had an adjective between "sheer" and "lunacy".

Mr. Heath

May I put a question to the Prime Minister on another subject affecting both countries which is giving some of us considerable concern, namely, future relations between British Honduras and Guatemala? Did the right hon. Gentleman take the opportunity of discussing this with the President and, if so, did he make it quite clear that there could be no change in the position of British Honduras without the full agreement of its people?

The Prime Minister

This was not discussed with the President. Although we had many hours together, the time taken by other subjects did not permit us to raise this question. We are in touch with the United States Government on this matter, particularly with regard to the negotiations which have been going on up to this time, to some extent under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. If the right hon. Gentleman would like to pursue this further—and it is a very important matter —he will no doubt arrange for a Question to be put down to my right hon. Friend.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must move on.