Oral Answers to Questions — Commonwealth Territories (Sea and Air Rates)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 1968.

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Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire 12:00 am, 5th December 1968

asked the Prime Minister if he will have consultations with Commonwealth Prime Ministers on arrangements to safeguard sea and air routes between Commonwealth Territories after 1971, including those needed for reinforcing and supplying British Forces in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

We have continuing discussions with our Commonwealth partners on these matters.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

In view of the Soviet Union's naval expansion into seas which they clearly hope to dominate, is it not vital that steps be taken to reduce the possibilities of serious threats to communications at some future time of crisis or of prolonged tension?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The hon. Gentleman will be aware how fully we have debated these issues in successive defence debates. The Soviet submarine threat in the Mediterranean, for example, has been the subject of much concern, but the hon. Gentleman will know that our concentrating our forces in N.A.T.O. will help N.A.T.O. to deal with the problem. But he must know that, except by totally inordinate cost far beyond the capacity of this country, it would be impossible for Britain to take on the problem which he has mentioned.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

Will the Prime Minister explain in the light of the decision to withdraw all our forces from east of Suez what contribution this country can make to the safety of sea routes east of Suez on which so much of our oil, grain and metal depend?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

The right hon. Gentleman has already been answered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in terms of the role of the Navy and of the Air Force in the new situation which will appertain after 1971. When the right hon. Gentleman refers to complete withdrawal, implying, no doubt, that he would have partially withdrawn, he must recognise the facts given by my right hon. Friend—that to keep even a small contingent there would mean a continuous escalation of costs, because of the need to defend the supplies and the stockpiles for them and then to have further facilities for defending those who are defending the stockpiles.

Photo of Mr Reginald Maudling Mr Reginald Maudling , Barnet

I asked the Prime Minister what contribution this country could make after 1971, on his plans, to the defence of these routes. Will he answer that question?

Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton

I have told the right hon. Gentleman that it has been answered many times by my right hon. Friend. As the right hon. Gentleman well knows, for a long time we have been fully stretched by trying to take on commitments which our resources will not fulfil. That was the position when the right hon. Gentleman was Chancellor of the Exchequer and was trying to cut this expenditure still further, which we have done for him.