HC Deb 02 February 1970 vol 795 cc24-5
31. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what were the results of the consultations held between Her Majesty's Government and Governments in the Persian Gulf and South-East Asia about the maintenance of a military presence in South-East Asia after 1971; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. M. Stewart

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in the House on 16th January 1968, following the review of the commitments the Services are required to undertake, we intend to withdraw British forces from their stations in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Persian Gulf by the end of 1971. We are in close consultation with our friends in the Persian Gulf and South-East Asia about matters arising from our military withdrawal.

Mr. Molloy

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply as one of those who agree with the intelligence of that approach to our commitments in that part of the world, would not my right hon. Friend agree, nevertheless, that it is specially repugnant to see some hon. Members opposite making charges that this sort of policy could endanger British lives? Not only does it make no contribution, but it is pretty thick coming from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, of all parties in the country.

Mr. Stewart

In general, I agree with my hon. Friend. As far as I or anyone else can understand the policy of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, it could mean putting the lives of British Servicemen in very serious danger through a half-hearted policy which we could not back up.

Mr. Tapsell

Will the right hon. Gentleman at least assure us that there will be no major rundown of forces before May, 1971, so that the British people can pronounce on this issue at the next General Election?

Mr. Stewart

We have announced clearly that the withdrawal is to be complete by the end of 1971. The details in each case are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and have to be carried out with regard to efficiency and safety.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether the defences of the embryo Federation have made any progress? If they have not, is it not very dangerous to leave a vacuum in an area by taking away British troops before there is anyone to replace them?

Mr. Stewart

It is clear that the defence of the area must depend on regional co-operation among the parties concerned. Nothing could be more disastrous than for this country to pretend that it could give support which hon. Members in all parts of the House know in the last resort it could not.

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