HC Deb 15 February 1968 vol 758 cc1575-7
Q4. Mr. Onslow

asked the Prime Minister whether the public statement by the Secretary of State for Defence on television on 22nd January represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave on 13th February to Questions by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) and the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell).—[Vol. 758, c. 319.]

Mr. Onslow

What apologies have been conveyed to the Rulers in the Gulf for the typically foolish remarks of the Secretary of State for Defence about white slavery?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend authorised a statement to be issued to those concerned in the Persian Gulf expressing regret for any offence he may unintentionally have given by those remarks.

Mr. Tapsell

Does the Prime Minister recall the letter I sent him on 11th January, five days before his statement of Government cuts, conveying an offer from certain Gulf States to meet the full cost of our continuing defence presence in the Gulf? Why was this so summarily dismissed at the time, and subsequently so discourteously referred to by the Secretary of State for Defence on television?

The Prime Minister

Of course, I remember the letter, which arose from the hon. Gentleman's very well-meaning efforts as a mediator between the chargé d'affaires of one of the States concerned, whom he met at a cocktail party or something—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheap."] Some hon. Members had expressed disbelief that I remembered the letter. I hope that I have now proved that I have remembered it. What the hon. Gentleman had to say, though not conveyed to us officially by any of the Governments concerned at that time, was considered seriously. The matter was raised again later, and our answer was given to the States concerned.

Mr. Maudling

As the Secretary of State's remarks which caused very grave offence to our friends in the Gulf were made in public, why were his very proper regrets made only in private?

The Prime Minister

I thought that the House usually accepted a Minister's statement when he made it clear that regret had been expressed, and I have made it clear publicly now. I should have thought that since the States concerned were willing to accept that statement by my right hon. Friend the House would also be willing to do so.

Mr. Roebuck

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there should be a bipartisan policy on this? Does he recall the speech on 7th December of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) to the Monday Club —theirs, not ours—published in The Times of 8th December, in which the right hon. Gentleman advocated pulling back all our forces from east of Suez? Will my right hon. Friend consult the Leader of the Opposition to see if this is the Opposition's official policy?

The Prime Minister

That lies outside my duties. In a recent debate I quoted other statements by the right hon. Gentleman concerned, but I have long tried to reconcile any of his statements with what appears, if one can be sure about this, to be the Opposition's defence policy.