HC Deb 04 February 1971 vol 810 cc1909-11
Q5. Mr. Ted Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the discussions he had with Mrs. Bandaranaike, Prime Minister of Ceylon, at Singapore on the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean, and the proposed United Kingdom/United States base at Diego Garcia.

Q7. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his discussions with Mrs. Gandhi in Delhi in January on the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean and the proposed United States/United Kingdom base at Diego Garcia.

The Prime Minister

The Prime Minister of Ceylon presented a paper on the security of the Indian Ocean to the Commonwealth Conference. I also discussed this subject with the Prime Minister of India when I was in New Delhi. The details of these discussions are confidential.

Mr. Fletcher

Is the Prime Minister aware of the widespread opposition in Ceylon—I speak as one who has recently visited that country—to the proposal to sell arms to South Africa and to establish a naval presence in the Indian Ocean? Will he assure the House that he will not make a policy statement on these matters until he has had an opportunity of reading the report of the Working Party set up at the Commonwealth Conference to discuss this matter?

The Prime Minister

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have already told the House that I cannot give any such assurance. The desire of the Prime Minister of Ceylon was that there should be no military forces of any kind in the Indian Ocean. Whereas some hon. Gentlemen may be sympathetic to that view, the Comonwealth Conference found it difficult to see a practical way of ensuring it.

Mr. Dalyell

Why so shy about the truth? Mrs. Gandhi did object, did she not?

The Prime Minister

I do not know to what the hon. Gentleman is referring. I do not breach confidences, but the view of the Indian Government is perfectly well known publicly.

Mr. Hastings

Rather than the demilitarisation of the Indian Ocean which is referred to in the Question, is it not more a question of militarisation of the Indian Ocean as carried out by the Soviet Union and demonstrated forcibly during the Conference?

The Prime Minister

I agree with my hon. Friend. That is absolutely right. There is no question of our setting up a new base in the Indian Ocean for maritime purposes and, as I have told the House, Diego Garcia is to be a communications centre.

Mr. Thorpe

Since the Prime Minister quite rightly cannot make public the private discussions which he has had with the Indian and Sinhalese Prime Ministers, will he at least make public, from his knowledge of the history of this country, whether there has ever before been a precedent for Her Majesty's First Minister considering supplying arms to a country whose armed forces are on rebel territory actively supporting with those armed forces a rebellion against the Crown?

The Prime Minister

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, Her Majesty's Government, like their predecessors, have made representations about this matter. If the right hon. Gentleman wants an historical analysis, he had better put down a Question.