HC Deb 29 January 1970 vol 794 cc1713-9
Q3. Mr. Winnick

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

Q9. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent discussions in Washington.

Q10. Mr. Blaker

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement about his recent consultations with members of the United States Administration.

Q11. Mr. Dickens

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his discussions with President Nixon during his recent visit to the United States of America.

The Prime Minister

I understand through the usual channels and following yesterday's exchanges in the House that it would be for the greater convenience of the House to answer these Questions now, and not cut unduly into the time available for today's debate by asking leave to answer them at the end of Questions.

I visted Washington accompanied by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, in response to the invitation extended by President Nixon during his visit to London last February. It provided a welcome opportunity of continuing the close relationship established at that time and renewed at Mildenhall last August, and of discussing a broad range of subjects of mutual concern, including the Middle East, Vietnam, N.A.T.O., East-West relations, economic and political prospects in Europe, the international monetary situation, the British and United States responses to the Nigerian Government's requests for relief supplies, and a number of social problems common to our two countries. As the House will know, my right hon. Friend and I joined in a meeting of the National Security Council held under the President's chairmanship yesterday morning.

Before visiting Washington I also had useful discussions with the Prime Minister of Canada in Ottawa, and with the United Nations Secretary General in New York.

Mr. Winnick

The House will be grateful for that statement. Did my right hon. Friend tell the American President about the deep concern which exists in Britain over the massacre which is alleged to have taken place at Pinkville, which was not only tragic for the victims but harmful to American democracy, which I for one admire?

On Rhodesia, can my right hon. Friend say whether there is any truth in the Press reports that the American Administration will recognise the illegal regime? What about the consulate which the Americans have in Salisbury?

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend would expect, we had a very full discussion on Vietnam. With regard to Pinkville, the President is aware of the strong feeling in this country and in his own country. It is one which he shares. On all these matters, I spoke in the terms of what I said in the debate in this House last December.

We discussed Rhodesia, but I have no statement to make. Obviously, I cannot make a statement on behalf of the United States Government. However, my hon. Friend will be well advised not to believe the rumours which have been spreading this week, about which he was obviously concerned in his Question.

Mr. Allaun

Did my right hon. Friend tell the President that if America reduced her troops in Europe we would not increase our forces there but, on the contrary, would reduce ours, too? As leading members of the United States Administration have suggested such troop reductions, can my right hon. Friend give us such an undertaking?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware of the statements made by leading members of the Administration about their intentions in the matter of keeping troops in Europe. The second part of his question, therefore, does not arise.

We were more concerned, as I am sure my hon. Friend is, with the policy of N.A.T.O. countries, which we would like to see reciprocated, in favour of a general reduction on both sides; in other words, mutually balanced force reductions. This offer has been made by the West, and we would like to see some response to it.

Mr. Blaker

Can the Prime Minister assure us that his celebrated memory is not failing? Is it right that, once again, he forgot to renegotiate the Nassau agreement?

The Prime Minister

There was no question of any loss of memory in this matter. Everything that needed to be done was done in my first talk with President Johnson in December, 1964.

Mr. Dickens

Following my right hon. Friend's conversations with President Nixon, what estimate has he made of the likelihood of a significant recession in the American economy and the steps which Her Majesty's Government should take to protect our economy against such an eventuality?

The Prime Minister

I had full discussions with leading Ministers, bank officials and others concerned with these matters. As every commentator finds, it is very difficult to form a clear impression of what is likely to happen, and even more difficult to sum it up in a few words. On the whole, I was encouraged by what I heard. As for the movement of interest rates, which would have a big effect on us, and the movement of raw material prices, which have inflated our import bill, it is difficult to make an estimate, particularly with the time-scale related to them. I heard nothing to suggest that we would be likely to expect a major effect on our exports in the near future.

Mr. Heath

Can the Prime Minister be more specific, especially on the size of United States forces in Europe, quite apart from international East-West negotiations? Did he secure any assurance about the size of the forces to be con- tinued in Europe? Are they to be reduced, and, if so, over what time?

The right hon. Gentleman said that he was encouraged by the state of the American economy; but that might be interpreted in two ways by those who study his analysis. Can he be more specific? Are the Americans on top of their inflation?

Thirdly, what was the reply of the American Administration on the question of closing the American consulate in Salisbury?

The Prime Minister

With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's first question, there was no attempt in the discussions to go beyond the public statements of Administration leaders in Washington about maintaining their troops through the middle of 1971. That was as far ahead as it was possible to look at the present moment.

With regard to the economy, it is hard for us and for them to be categoric about what is happening. However, there are a number of favourable factors which seem to be developing—favourable for us, for them and for the world—partly arising out of the progress which has been made in world monetary relationships and also in certain suggestions about the movement of world interest rates. It is not possible to be more specific than that.

As for Rhodesia and the consulate, that was covered by my answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick). I am not in a position to make a statement on behalf of the American Government at this time.

Mr. George Brown

Will my right hon. Friend please make it clear that we have held the ring twice in the lifetime of most of us while the Americans decided that Europe was part of their concern? Will he, therefore, please make it absolutely clear, with reference to the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), that this is part of the free world, and that if the Americans were to go out the consequences for them would be as bad as the consequences for us?

The Prime Minister

This point could be made if I thought that it was necessary to make it. I am satisfied that it is not. Within two or three weeks of taking office, President Nixon showed his concern for Europe by immediately visiting a number of West European countries. The whole action of his Government since and the whole tenor of our talks, including our talks at the National Security Council, would have been immensely reassuring to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that we wish him a speedy recovery from his accident?

May I put two questions to him? First, in view of the dangerous trends towards increased arms supplies in the Middle East, not least from France, can we expect any joint or single initiative in relation to arms control?

Secondly, with regard to the international monetary situation, can we expect any initiative for a stabilisation and possibly the creation of a new reserve currency?

The Prime Minister

Dealing with the right hon. Gentleman's first question, he will know that the former Foreign Secretary at the time of the six-day war proposed a general international arms embargo to that area. It was not taken up by any of the other countries concerned. None of them responded to it. Since then, it has been more widely felt—and this was my impression in New York rather than Washington—that agreement on the substantive issues will have to come before we can expect anything in the nature of a general system of arms control. Both the United States Government and we have made clear our position in relation to arms shipments which disturb quantitatively or qualitatively the arms balance in the Middle East.

On the monetary question, there has been substantial progress, first, with regard to a world currency through the special drawing rights—we have to build on that and see how it works—and. second, in the settlement of a number of difficult issues, and there is much greater stabilisation now both as regards most international parities and also as regards what has happened to gold since the Washington conference of nearly two years ago.

Mr. Atkinson

During the discussions on economic affairs, did my right hon. Friend discuss multi-national corporations operating in Britain, particularly those dominated by American capital? If we are to take a broad assumption from his remarks about the economy being encouraging, does it mean that he received some assurance that multi-national corporations in Britain would continue to expand at the rate they have in the last two years?

The Prime Minister

I have often answered Questions about the attitude of the Government to new American investment in Britain and the criteria we have followed, and always try to follow, concerning encouraging it here. Where there have been difficulties, these in the main rest within an area of subjects which are completely under the control of Her Majesty's Government. That has not entirely been the case, for example, with the recognition of trade unions by a very small minority of American firms. That is a matter on which we shall be discussing legislation in the near future.

Mr. Longden

Is there not another point of view from that advanced by the right hon. Member for Belper (Mr. George Brown)? Was the Prime Minister able to give any good and sufficient reasons to the President why the countries of Western Europe, consisting of about 250 million affluent people, cannot be responsible for their own self-defence without the aid of American troops?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I think that there would be general support for the view that those 250 million or 300 million people have a great deal to gain and to give to the world by greater political unity in this area. I do not, however, believe that the development of a separate defence capability outside N.A.T.O. would advance the cause of peace or the hope of easing tension.

Mrs. Renée Short

Did my right hon. Friend make any progress in discussions with the President about the possibility of a security conference? Is he aware that there is great concern here about the lack of progress on this matter? What can my right hon. Friend tell the House about these talks with the President?

The Prime Minister

We had some very full discussions on this question, and I think that we are in agreement about it. We would like to see a security conference, provided that it was genuine and properly prepared and wide-ranging in the subjects for the agenda; not the short list which has so far been put forward. We, for our part, have ideas of a constructive character on this, and we are putting them to N.A.T.O. to see whether, if a conference is held, it has a good chance of success.

Mr. Sandys

Following on the earlier Question about N.A.T.O. forces, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the President gave any indication that in the long run—that is, after 1971—the American Government were, at any rate, looking to the European members of the alliance to bear a somewhat larger share of the burden of Western defence?

The Prime Minister

We did not discuss the situation as far ahead as that, for fairly obvious reasons. There are serious difficulties about forecasting the level of American forces at that time. But both of us were in agreement, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would be, that the main hope of safely securing reductions is on the basis of mutually-balanced reductions.

Mr. Prentice

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether any discussions took place about helping the developing world? If so, was it mutually recognised that the aid plans of both the United States and Britain fall short of the recommendations of the Pearson Commission and also fall short of the current performance of many Western European countries?

The Prime Minister

I had a discussion with the President on this subject, but I had a much fuller discussion when I met the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Deputy Secretary-General in New York. We have debated this matter recently in the House, and the House has come to a decision upon it. While my right hon. Friend will not be satisfied with the kind of increase that we have made, he will be gratified to know that a substantial increase has been made in the last two or three months.

Mr. Farr

Did the Prime Minister ascertain the views of the President on the Government's intention to abandon our military presence in the Far East by 1971? If so, what were they?

The Prime Minister

The subject was not even discussed, Sir.