East of Suez Commitments

Oral Answers to Questions — Coal – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th May 1965.

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Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich 12:00 am, 25th May 1965

asked the Prime Minister what plans he has for changes in the near future in the long term commitments east of Suez.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

At present, none, Sir.

Photo of Mr Julian Ridsdale Mr Julian Ridsdale , Harwich

How can we operate air power east of Suez without the strongest reconnaissance aircraft with a range of 1,500 miles? If this is not to be another example of the Prime Minister's double standards, surely we have no alternative but to buy the F.111 with our scarce money resources?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The double standards arise in the pretence that we have got the TSR2 or that it would be available in the time required. As my right hon. Friend and I have made clear many times, we are going through a very intensive review of our rôles in different possible theatres in relation to the cost, something which apparently our predecessors never did. [Interruption] This is clear in view of the escalation of defence costs in the last year or two. As soon as this is clear, I hope that we shall be able to report to the House about our conclusions. The answer I gave to the first question represents the position of the Government as at present until the review is completed.

Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland

As in the long-term our commitments for defence against aggression east of Suez can be discharged only with the co-operation of our allies on an international basis, will the Prime Minister say whether he is having any conversations with our allies, particularly with our European allies, on the question whether they are willing to bear any part of the cost of undertaking this matter?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

As to our European allies, this is highly relevant in connection with the excessive share of the cost of N.A.T.O. which we bear, particularly in payments across the exchanges. That is a matter for discussion with our European allies. As to the situation east of Suez, I agree that this is a question for discussion, but in this case I would have thought with certain of our Commonwealth partners, particularly Australia and New Zealand, and with the United States.

Photo of Sir Alec Douglas-Home Sir Alec Douglas-Home , Kinross and West Perthshire

Our commitments east of Suez, as the Prime Minister will know, are linked to definite obligations. He himself has made that clear many times. Is it not right, therefore, that we should fulfil these, both in the case of Malayasia and in the case of the Gulf, which are the particular obligations? The Prime Minister has now been telling us for about four months that a review is in progress. Can he tell us when we shall have a statement about the defence situation?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

We are fulfilling the obligations to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, as I think the House will understand, but if one totals up all the obligations we have and all the other rôles which we have assumed, I think that the right hon. Gentleman may possibly agree that no one ever related these total rôles to the total economic possibilities or to the defence costs required to meet them. That is why we are having a review. I do not apologise that it has taken more than four months. The surprising think to me is that it has never been done before.

Photo of Mr Joel Barnett Mr Joel Barnett , Heywood and Royton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us feel that our rôle east of Suez does not necessarily mean that we need this type of plane or any other?

Photo of Mr William Yates Mr William Yates , The Wrekin

In view of the most valuable services rendered my Mr. Gordon Walker in his outstanding diplomatic visits to Vietnam, China and elsewhere, may I ask whether it would not be possible, at a reduced price, to send Mr. Gordon Walker again to examine the whole problem of the Labour Party's rôle east of Suez?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Mr. Gordon Walker's visit was extremely productive in the plans in relation to Cambodia. I am bound to say, and I am sure that I have the full support of the Front Bench opposite, that Mr. Gordon Walker's journeys abroad have been far more satisfactory to this country than those of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. William Yates).

Photo of Mr Simon Digby Mr Simon Digby , West Dorset

Would the Prime Minister make it clear that this review of which he has spoken includes the question of both naval and air bases?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

Yes, Sir. It will certainly cover that, and of course hon. and right hon. Gentlemen know the enormous intricacy of this question. One cannot divide it into theatres. The Middle East is obviously important not only as a base for that area but as a staging post for dealing with our obligations further east. Certainly that and the whole question of our striking power and the rest is at the very centre of this, but I have already said that we have also to look at it in relation to costs and economic development.