HC Deb 17 July 1968 vol 768 cc1426-7
42. Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what progress has been made in the negotiations with Australia for base facilities that he announced on 22nd February, 1966.

Mr. Healey

I have nothing to add to the answer given by my hon. Friend the Minister of Defence for Administration to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell) and the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on 12th June.—[Vol. 766, c. 230–1.]

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman would not be wise not to continue making statements of this sort to the House when he has to disagree with or contradict them a few months or a few years later. We were given to understand that he was considering a base in Australia. Apparently, that has now been abandoned, like every other plan which he has ever produced for our defence forces.

Mr. Healey

That is quite untrue. I have been considering this and I have been in consultation with the Australian Government about it. We know what the possibilities are and we know what possibilities do not exist. The Government took a historic decision in January to withdraw from bases in Singapore, Malaysia and the Persian Gulf at the end of 1971. I do not believe that it is consistent with that decision, or necessary to Britain's security and foreign policy, to build an alternative base in Australia.

Mr. Maudling

The Government have repeatedly said that they intend to maintan a defence capacity, or capability, east of Suez. How can that be done in naval terms, for example, without some base facilities?

Mr. Healey

The right hon. Gentleman should know that overseas the Navy is largely dependent on afloat support facilities. There are facilities in Australia which the Royal Navy could use if it wished to do so. I understood that the Question was concerned with the provision of permanent base facilities.