HC Deb 21 July 1970 vol 804 cc232-4
Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to visit Zambia and other African members of the Commonwealth.

Q3. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to make an official visit to Australia.

Q4. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to pay an official visit to the Persian Gulf.

Q7. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will pay an official visit to Zambia and Tanzania at his early convenience.

The Prime Minister

Apart from attending the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Meeting in Singapore in January, I have no firm plans for overseas visits at present.

Mr. Hamilton

Does not the Prime Minister recognise that if the Government continue to pursue their plan for supplying arms to South Africa the Commonwealth is in danger of disintegration? Some of these Prime Ministers might not even attend the conference in Singapore. Will he therefore seek, before the Commonwealth conference, to invite those African leaders to this country, to discuss this whole problem with them?

The Prime Minister

I have been in consultation with the Commonwealth leaders. I have had no complaint about the method of consultation, but if they wish to adopt other methods I am quite prepared to consider them.

Mr. Dalyell

Can the Prime Minister comment on the attitude of the Australian Government to the question of arms for South Africa?

The Prime Minister

That is a matter for the Australian Government itself to make public. The discussions which we had are obviously confidential.

Mr. Sheldon

Referring to the suggested visit of the Prime Minister to the Persian Gulf, is he aware that few things make Conservative Governments appear more ridiculous than their constant hankering after a rôle in this area—an area in which we have little part to play, which has proved ruinously expensive in the past and in which we are not wanted at the present time?

The Prime Minister

I cannot agree with that view, and it was not the view held by the hon. Gentleman's Administration, until they quit to do a deal over Health Service charges.

Mr. Johnson

In view of the Foreign Secretary's ignominious and inept display at the Dispatch Box yesterday, and following the speech of Dr. Milton Obote in Kampala, is it not imperative that the Prime Minister should visit East Africa to see the distinguished Heads of State of Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia in order to clear up some of these misunderstandings?

The Prime Minister

As I have said, I have had consultations with them by different means during this period. They all understand that consultations are continuing.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Since the Prime Minister refused my suggestion a few days ago that he should publish the letter which was sent to the Commonwealth, and since that letter is now appearing in newspapers in different parts of the world, including New York, will he agree to print it as a White Paper before tomorrow's debate, so that we can see exactly how what he said to the Commonwealth reconciles with or fails to reconcile with the statement made yesterday that no decision has been taken?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir, because it is impossible to carry on any consultations with Heads of Government in Commonwealth countries if, at a later date, one is to publish the correspondence. I do not accept that newspapers have published the exchange which I have had with Commonwealth Governments, but if parts of an exchange do reach the Press through some means or other, there is no justification in my view for the British Prime Minister then publishing what has always been stated and accepted to be confidential consultation.

Mr. Wilson

Yes, Sir, but since this is available to be read by people in New York, should it not be available to be read by hon. Members of this House before the debate? Will the right hon. Gentleman deny the statement which has been published, which purports to be his letter, which says that, against that background, we have decided that we should essentially, in relation to the demand for our own defence interests, return in part to our former policy for the supply of arms? If the right hon. Gentleman said that, how does he reconcile that with the statement repeatedly made in the House yesterday that no decision has been taken?

The Prime Minister

I reiterate that every Administration, including the right hon. Gentleman's own, has always adhered to the decision that, if consultations are to be confidential between Heads of Government, they should not be published. I propose to adhere to that.