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Pacific Defence Arrangements

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 25 April 1951

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs when His Majesty's Government were first informed of the proposed arrangements between the Governments of the United States of America, Australia and New Zealand, which have resulted in a Pacific pact; whether any definite representations were made at the time that Great Britain should be included; and whether any such representations are still being made by the British Government.

The question of defence arrangements in the Pacific area was first raised by the United States Government in January, and consultations took place between the United States Government, the Governments of Australia and New Zealand, and His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The idea of a tripartite agreement was suggested to the United States Government by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom agreed to this as the best practical method in present circumstances, for securing the defence of Australia and New Zealand against aggression from any quarter. We regard this agreement as a most useful contribution to agreed Commonwealth strategy.

During the consultations, His Majesty's Government made it clear that when wider security arrangements are made for this area they would wish to be formally associated with them. His Majesty's Governments in the United Kingdom. Australia and New Zealand have publicly stated that this agreement in no way weakens but, on the contrary, enhances the mutual obligations existing between our three countries.

Is the Minister aware that as far back as last July, when it became perfectly obvious that a Pacific pact would be both necessary and advisable, I urged the Foreign Secretary that His Majesty's Government should take the initiative in the formation of any such pact, and that he refused to do that? Would it not have been very much better that Britain should have come in on the ground floor, so to speak, rather than be dragged in afterwards by the pressure of events, as we are likely to be?

There is really no question of being dragged in afterwards by the pressure of events. The hon. and gallant Gentleman will, I am sure, appreciate that when we use the term "Pacific pact" we are normally taken to mean something quite different from this, something very much wider, including a larger area and a very much larger number of questions.

Whatever may be the ultimate results of this Pacific pact, will my right hon. Friend see that British manufacturers in the silk, rayon and textile industries have at least to meet with fair competition so far as the economic set-up in Japan is concerned?

Would the right hon. Gentleman at least assure us that it remains the objective of His Majesty's Government that any Pacific arrangement for mutual defence shall include Britain and Malaya as well as Australia, New Zealand and the United States of America?

We very much hope that in the end it will be possible to get a comprehensive arrangement, or perhaps a series of arrangements covering the whole area. At the moment we have not found that to be practicable. We think that it may take some time, but if and when that is possible we certainly wish, as I said, to be formally associated with it.

The right hon. Gentleman said that this was the most practical arrangement. How does he consider it practical to set up a system of Pacific defence which excludes the Power holding the great naval base of Singapore?

The right hon. Gentleman should not overlook the fact that Australia and New Zealand considered this a very practical contribution to their defence. To suggest that it does not perhaps make a contribution to the defence of the whole of the Far East is not really a criticism of it. It is not aimed at doing that. It is aimed to make a practical contribution to the defence of Australia and New Zealand, and the Governments of both those countries were extremely keen on this and thought that it did make such a contribution.

Is it not part of our unwritten agreement with the Commonwealth that we are bound together for mutual defence in case of aggression?

Yes, that is perfectly correct. As I hope I made clear in my first reply, we could not have added to what we conceive to be our existing obligations by anything which might have been written into a pact of this kind. We consider that we already have all those obligations.

Is this likely to affect in any way the command of our naval Forces in that part of the world?

Is it not a fact that this pact affects only the territories of the three countries concerned, and, therefore, cannot possibly include arrangements for Malaya and so on?

As it stands at present I should have thought that it was perfectly clear that it does not include territories outside its scope.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the Government's understanding and not the hon. Gentleman's, that there can be no effective Pacific defence that does not include Britain and. Malaya as well as other countries?

We would agree with that, but it may take a little time to get complete agreement, and this particular step, so far from standing in the way of such agreement, is, we think, a step towards it.

Is not this just another example of the decline in British influence and prestige under the present dying Socialist Government?

No, Sir, it most certainly is not. I should have thought the right hon. Gentleman would have thought rather more carefully before he made an attack of that kind on an arrangement which has been suggested originally, and throughout strongly supported, by the Governments of Australia and New Zealand.

If that is the case, can the right hon. Gentleman say what were the objections to our inclusion in the pact?

It is not a question of objecting. As I have already explained, we could not, by being added to this particular pact, which affects Australia and New Zealand, have added anything to the obligations which we already recognise. It could easily have been argued that by joining a pact of this kind we were not, by implication, offering the same protection to other British areas in that part of the world. I think it was quite a reasonable arrangement that we should fall in with the wishes of Australia and New Zealand for this particular guarantee of their security, which we re- gard as a good first step towards a wider arrangement?

Bearing in mind particularly Malaya, which is now in active war, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman if we could not have added anything to this pact, why the Foreign Secretary said that he wished we had first been included?

I do not think that he did say that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] He did not say that he wished we had first been included. I tried to make it clear in my original answer, that one cannot just talk about a Pacific pact. It is true that we would welcome being included, and indeed think it important to be included, in a wider Pacific pact, but this is a tripartite pact affecting only these territories.

As it has now been established to everybody's satisfaction that neither this country's prestige nor its security is in any way lessened by our being left out of the Pacific pact, could we not apply to be left out of the Atlantic pact as well?