HC Deb 14 February 1968 vol 758 cc1341-4
36. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what plans he has for the creation of a capability based in this country for use east of Suez after the withdrawal from British bases there; what heavy equipment will be provided; what arrangements he is making to move that equipment to places where is may be required; whether air support will be available; and what will be, for planning purposes, the time to be allowed for deployment.

Mr. Healey

I would refer the right hon. Gentleman to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or. 16th January.—[Vol. 756 c. 1.580–4.]

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does not the right hon. Gentleman recall that during the debate on public expenditure the Foreign Secretary laid great weight on the creation of this so-called "capability" as an argument against the suggestion that we were running out on our pledges to our friends across the world? Does not the fact that, a month later, the Secretary of State cannot give even the basic particulars asked for in the Question indicate that the whole thing is a sham?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was present during the debate a week after the debate on the defence cuts and will therefore be aware that I gave some indication of the capability we might have. What I am not prepared to do, and what I cannot do until a good deal more work has been done, is to answer the detailed points the right hon. Gentleman has put down.

Sir T. Beamish

Are talks going on with the Australian and New Zealand Governments about the possibility of our joining the Anzus Pact? Is consideration being given to any changes that may be necessary in S.E.A.T.O.?

Mr. Healey

We have made it clear on many occasions that as our forces run down in the Far East changes in our S.E.A.T.O. commitments will be required, and consideration of the nature of the changes is under way. I am not aware of any request from members of the Anzus Pact that we should join it.

Mr. Paget

Is not the reply to each of the sections of this Question: "None, Sir "?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir.

Mr. Boyle

Will the Secretary of State tell the House by what route he intends to reinforce the garrison in Hong Kong after 1971, and what delay in getting troops to Hong Kong in the event of a serious internal security situation would be involved as a result of the recent Government decision?

Mr. Healey

A variety of routes will be open to us after 1971. Should it be necessary to reinforce the garrison by the west-about route that would take little longer than by the east-about route at present.

Mr. Mayhew

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of those who welcomed the Government's decision to withdraw from Singapore and the Persian Gulf always recognised that some small residual responsibility would remain, including responsibility for law and order in dependent territories and contributing, if necessary, to the defence of Australia and New Zealand? Is he aware that the provision he is making does not seem adequate? Therefore, will he consider again the possibility of a small residual presence capable of reinforcement in Australia?


As to the first part of my hon. Friend's supplementary question, I am well aware—and the Government stated it in their recent statement on expenditure cuts—that we must retain the capability of maintaining law and order in our remaining dependent territories, and also giving assistance to Australia and New Zealand if under direct attack, but if any of my hon. Friend's political allies on this matter agree with him on the question of a presence in Australia, I would be interested to hear their names.

Mr. Powell

Is it not becoming clear that the Government's talk of a general capability is as much spoof as their previous professions have turned out to be?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. But I am delighted that the right hon. Gentleman is back in form, and using that word again.

Mr. Shinwell

Can my right hon. Friend say whether any part of the capability will be provided out of the forces assigned to N.A.T.O.? Further, in preparing the White Paper on Defence, which comes to the House shortly, will he give information about the forces provided by other countries associated with N.A.T.O.?

Mr. Healey

As I think I made clear in the foreign affairs debate a few weeks ago, the forces which we maintain in the European theatre will be largely declared to N.A.T.O., but we shall reserve the right, as we have reserved it and exercised it on many occasions in recent years—to withdraw forces in case of need for operations elsewhere. The bulk of the naval forces that have operated east of Suez over the last 20 years are declared in various categories to N.A.T.O., and operate outside Europe with the agreement of N.A.T.O.

As to the second part of my right hon. Friend's supplementary question, I am afraid that the preparation of the White Paper is now so far under way that I am not able to include an annex giving the information he has requested.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter at the earliest possible opportunity.

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