HC Deb 06 February 1973 vol 850 cc220-3
Q2. Mr. Barnes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his talks with President Nixon.

The Prime Minister

I had extensive talks with President Nixon for two days in Washington, covering a wide range of both international issues and bilateral questions. My right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary also had valuable discussions with the Secretary of State, Mr. William Rogers. Perhaps the most important subject covered in these talks was the future relationship between Western Europe and the United States, in trade, defence and monetary questions. I also discussed with the President the next steps in Vietnam, and the international arrangements to bring peace and stability to that country, and the East-West negotiations now in progress in Helsinki and Vienna. The House will of course understand that the details are confidential.

Mr. Barnes

Will the Prime Minister say what assurances he sought from President Nixon on nuclear defence and why he went out of his way to drag up the spectre of the cold war in the way that he seems to have done in some of his comments? Would it not be safer for the enlarged Community to rely on some of its conventional weapons and to let the British and French deterrents wither away?

The Prime Minister

On the last part of the question, I made clear that we have the nuclear deterrent and we intend to maintain it. Far from dragging in any spectre of the cold war, I said in Washington, in my public speech and in the interview I gave there, that we propose to play our full part in the European Security Conference and in the other conferences taking place. All that we ask is that any changes which are made should be compatible with the security of Western Europe.

Mr. Marten

Accepting that the Common Market will have to take a common view towards the forthcoming GATT negotiations, will the Prime Minister now tell the House what presumably he told the President? What will be the purely British attitude towards the American proposals for major trade liberalisation?

The Prime Minister

I do not think there is any difference between ourselves and our partners in the Community, because this was settled at the summit and there we agreed that our negotiating position would be formulated by 1st July. This is not a question of an attitude towards the American proposals. I am convinced that the President himself wants to see a successful world trade negotiation and will do his utmost to get the authority of Congress to carry it through.

Mrs. Renée Short

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is very great concern about the fate of 200,000 or 300,000 political prisoners in South Vietnam? This is Amnesty International's figure. Is he aware that President Thieu has refused to issue lists of political prisoners, that there is evidence which has been reported in the New York Times and elsewhere of people being tortured to death and that the tiger cages are being reinstated in South Vietnamese prisons? Did the Prime Minister take up these matters with President Nixon? If he did not do so this time, will he take urgent steps to make representations to him about the fate of these prisoners?

The Prime Minister

This is one of the problems which exist in the present Vietnam situation. I have no doubt that it is one of the problems which will be discussed at the conference which is due to be called at the end of this month. I agree that it is a problem of great importance which must be dealt with.

Miss Joan Hall

Did the Prime Minister have discussions with President Nixon about Concorde while he was over there?

The Prime Minister

The President recognises the importance of Concorde. Indeed, the House may recall that he tried to get the necessary subventions to have a supersonic civil aircraft for the United States. The placing of orders is a matter for the commercial judgment of the airlines. They decided that they wanted to go for a form of mass air travel in wide-bodied aircraft rather than for the supersonic air travel for a smaller number of passengers who would be prepared to pay more for it. This was the judgment of the American airlines. I said that I regretted that they did not feel able to take part in the pioneer work that we are doing with Concorde.

Mr. Jay

Did the Prime Minister assure the President that this country will support the United States in urging drastic liberalisation of the common agricultural policy of the EEC?

The Prime Minister

The common agricultural policy is a system which the Community has and which the United States recognises. What matters in each of the systems—I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will recognise that point—is that the United States protects its own agriculture just as much as the European Economic Community does. We need to get as great a supply of foodstuffs as possible on both sides of the Atlantic. The United States is having its own problems with shortage of foodstuffs and resultant increases in prices.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my right hon. Friend tell us about his discussion with Senator Kennedy? Will he tell us whether he made the Senator aware of the bitter resentment in this country about his attacks on British policy in Ulster?

The Prime Minister

Senator Kennedy asked whether he could come to see me to discuss Northern Ireland. I thought it right to explain to him the position there, and at the end he said that he wished to adopt a positive attitude in public towards the problems there. I hope that this will be the case.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Did the Prime Minister ask the President to replace our Polaris missiles with Poseidon? As this would obstruct further progress in the vital SALT negotiations, would it not be wiser instead to phase out our nuclear bases and missiles which are also making this country highly vulnerable in the event of war?

The Prime Minister

I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman's last point. The process of maintaining the effectiveness of a British nuclear deterrent is carried on the whole time. In any developments both the United States and the British Government take account of SALT.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

In his efforts to educate Senator Kennedy, did my right hon. Friend perhaps invite him to compare the fate of the indigenous inhabitants at the time of the plantation of Ulster with the fate of the indigenous inhabitants at the time of the plantation of Massachusetts?

The Prime Minister

I did not draw that parallel, because it did not seem to me that it would have been conducive to our good relations or to an improvement of the situation in Northern Ireland. However, I did suggest to Senator Kennedy that he could greatly help if he followed the example of Mr. Lynch during his visit to the United States and asked that those Americans who wished to help in the situation should contribute to the Red Cross where it could be used effectively for those who are suffering rather than to other sources from which it might be diversified to the IRA.