HC Deb 14 January 1971 vol 809 cc259-61
Q8. Mr. Frank Allaun

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

Q9. Mr. Barnes

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

Mr. Maudling

I have been asked to reply.

The visits which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister paid to Canada and the United States last month provided an opportunity for a full exchange of views with Mr. Trudeau and President Nixon on many questions of mutual interest.

Mr. Allaun

Was the Prime Minister able to convince President Nixon of the desirability or need to sell British arms to South Africa?

Mr. Maudling

Obviously this question was discussed. When the Government have reached a decision on what we intend to do, an announcement will be made to this House.

Mr. Barnes

Would the Home Secretary say what headway Mr. Trudeau was able to make with the Prime Minister on this question of arms for South Africa? Is it not possible, even at this late stage, for the Prime Minister to have an open mind on this issue and be genuinely prepared to listen to his Commonwealth colleagues in Singapore so that we do not go ahead with a policy which will mean the end of the Commonwealth?

Mr. Maudling

There can never have been an occasion on which the Head of Her Majesty's Government has listened with greater care and diligence to the views of other members of the Commonwealth. When the Government have reached a decision, it will be announced to the House of Commons, which is the proper place to announce it.

Mr. Hastings

Did the President show any interest in the defence of the Indian Ocean, and did he say whether the United States would be prepared to take over this responsibility entirely?

Mr. Maudling

The question of the defence of the Indian Ocean, like other matters of defence, was, of course, discussed, but naturally I cannot disclose the details.

Mr. Harold Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman said that a statement on this subject would be made to the House before it is made anywhere else, and that is right. Is he aware that the Prime Minister said at a Press conference during his visit to Canada—this was on the radio in this country—that we were required under the Simonstown Agreement to supply these arms? I stress the word "required". Since he pretends that he has so far not taken a decision, what is the point of having these consultations if we are already under a treaty requirement? Would the right hon. Gentleman please tell us which clause, section or schedule of the Simonstown Agreement in any way requires us to supply any arms beyond those in the schedule for shipment by 1963?

Mr. Maudling

The question of any obligation that we may have under the Simonstown Agreement will clearly be one of the major points in the statement when it is made.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Was the Prime Minister able to explain to President Nixon the point of view that the Simonstown Agreement was, above all else, a gentleman's agreement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—a point which was incapable of being understood by the previous Prime Minister?

Mr. Maudling

The strategic importance of the Simonstown Agreement is now quite well known.

Mr. Harold Wilson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if it were a gentleman's agreement, I am glad not to be counted a member of that gentlemen's club.

Mr. Thorpe

Since there is some doubt what was agreed with the gentlemen in South Africa, may I ask the Home Secretary whether he agrees that to avoid doubt, it would be valuable if this matter were referred for opinion to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, for which there is adequate precedent? To get the record straight, is it not a fact that the Government's First Minister learned from the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Canada that they did not favour supplying arms to a country which is actively, through its armed forces, supporting a rebellion in Rhodesia against the Crown?

Mr. Maudling

The right hon. Gentleman will be able to raise all that when the Government statement of policy is made.

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