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President Ford (Talks)

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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asked the Prime Minister if, when he visited the United States of America he discussed with the President the question of military action being taken in connection with oil supplies from the Arab States.

My talks were confidential. I have nothing to add to the recent public statements by President Ford and Dr. Kissinger but it is clear that they were answering questions about hypothetical circumstances.

Whatever was said in those confidential discussions, will my right hon. Friend assure the country and Parliament that he is opposed to the use of military force against any nation because it refuses to sell its products, particularly as that could easily escalate into a third world war?

I take what my hon. Friend says very seriously. Although the discussions were confidential I can tell him what I said on the record in Canada before I went to the United States, and I will make it available if that is desired. [Interruption.] I must point out to the Leader of the Liberal Party that this is a serious matter which concerns peace and war. What I said on the record was that I had not discussed it with the President. I did not see any need to do so. I think Dr. Kissinger was perhaps making a warning to some wilder elements, and not the more responsible countries, that if they felt that they could use the oil weapon as itself a weapon of war, some kind of response would have to be shown. Dr. Kissinger has made it clear that he thinks it a distant and remote hypothetical contingency, and I agree with him.


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

Yes, Sir. I welcome this opportunity to give the House an account of the visits which the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I made to Canada and the United States last week. In Ottawa we had useful discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister and his colleagues, mainly on economic questions, and I look forward to welcoming Mr. Trudeau to this country in March.

In Washington our talks with President Ford and Dr. Kissinger also centred mainly on world economic problems and on the Middle East, although a wide range of other international issues was covered. I particularly welcomed the American recognition of the growing economic interdependence of the world, and the lead which the Americans have given in efforts to promote solutions to world energy problems. I also confirmed British support for American efforts to bring about a just and lasting settlement in the Middle East. Relations between the United States and the United Kingdom are extremely close and the meeting was an opportunity to develop even closer agreement about our main objectives and the means of attaining them.

My right hon. Friend and I also welcomed the opportunity to call on the Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York.

The House will, of course, understand that apart from the information given publicly about the subjects covered, the details of all these discussions must remain confidential.

I thank the Prime Minister for making that statement. Was he able to reassure the Americans about the Government's taxation policy towards American companies operating in the North Sea on oil drilling? If so, how did he do it?

That matter did not come up between the President and myself although, as the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster accompanied me on the visit. On this matter he had a brief discussion of half an hour with the State Department experts. No anxiety on this subject was expressed to us during the visit but my right hon. Friend is having discussions with the interests concerned. He stayed on after I left.

Did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity of discussing with the President of the United States the continued presence of 25,000 American advisers in South Vietnam? Does he think that that enhances the prospect of peace in that area?

We had no discussion whatsoever on Vietnam. I was asked a question publicly on this subject on American television in the recorded interview which was published on Sunday. No doubt my hon. Friend will have seen in Press reports yesterday the answer I gave in that interview. Should he not have seen it, I shall be glad to let him have a copy of what I said.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of widespread concern in Scotland about the report which appeared in the Financial Times on 30th this matter and what pledges or assur-January suggesting that the American President was advising the Prime Minister against any control of our Scottish oil resources going to the Scottish Assembly? Will he advise the House on what repredent or by his advisers in connection with sentations were made to him by the Presiances were given about control?

No such discussion took place. I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the President of the United States with the President of Uganda.

Is there not one question on which there is a clear division of interest between this country and the United States—namely, the price of oil not over the next two or three years but over the long term? Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether he discussed that matter with the President of the United States? Has he noticed recent proposals by Dr. Kissinger which have the object of keeping down the rise in the price of oil over the long term? Will he tell us what consideration the Government have given to discussing these matters with our allies over the coming years?

My hon. Friend referred to a division. I should inform him that the President did not ask where he was when the Division took place last Wednesday night. On the long-term price of oil, we had full discussions with the President and the Secretary of State about arrangements for meeting all oil consumers and then all oil-consuming and oil-producing countries. One of the matters that we very much stressed was the importance of ensuring for the oil-supplying countries, despite our anxieties about present prices, some security for them in future as regards both their investments and their continuing market. In that context we suggested strongly—there was no disagreement—that we would like to see the oil-supplying countries investing much more of their money in technology both for their own countries and possibly in other forms of energy for those who fear the drying up of oil supplies. We had considerable discussions on how this long-term security could be achieved. With regard to the statement made yesterday by Dr. Kissinger which has been reported in our Press today, we did not discuss the text or the terms of that statement.

Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the President of the United States the fact that our trade deficit with the United States has increased many times faster than our trade deficit with the EEC? Will he explain how it is that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is apparently opposed to cutting tariffs with the EEC, presumably on the ground that to do so might increase our trade deficit, whereas he is in favour of cutting tariffs with the United States?

This convoluted argument did not form any part of my discussions with the President of the United States.

Did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity to impress upon the President of the United States the urgency of convening the Geneva Conference if a new war is to be avoided in the Middle East?

We had a full discussion on the Middle East. In fact, it took pretty well the whole of our Friday morning session. I was asked about the matter afterwards and we publicly supported in the United States the step-by-step approach of the American Secretary of State. I believe that that is the right approach. We shall give it our full backing. We believe that it will need a great deal of understanding and give and take by the Middle East countries concerned.

If my hon. Friend is suggesting—I do not think he is—that the right thing now would be a return to the Geneva Conference, I think I would disagree with him. Indeed, I said so publicly in the United States. All that is going on is under the ambit or the umbrella of the Geneva Conference. At the right moment anything that is settled will have to go back there for agreement and ratification. But to say that because disappointing progress has been made so far we should now go back to Geneva would be a counsel of despair. It would be to suggest that no progress has been made. I do not think we should recommend a return to Geneva at this stage. We should try to make some progress and then take something back to Geneva to ratify.

I revert to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). Is it the case that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is now assuring the Americans that the Government do not intend to take any additional revenue from North Sea oil from participation but will rely entirely on corporation tax and petroleum revenue tax? If that is the case, will the Prime Minister arrange for his right hon. Friend to come to the House to explain how we will achieve this miracle?

The right hon. Gentleman should not assume too much about these matters. He has been wrong so often in the past. My right hon. Friend has spoken in America exactly as the Government have spoken in this House—indeed, in the way my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy spoke when these matters were the subject of Questions on, I think, 23rd January. The right hon. Gentleman was present and he will know the date. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy returns, if he has any statement to make about his talks in the United States I am sure he will be willing to consider making it.

On the Middle East, did my right hon. Friend stress to the President that Britain believes in the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure boundaries? Did he deplore the recent ostracising of Israel in UNESCO? What did he say about the rôle of this country in achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East?

On my hon. Friend's first point, he is stating the position, which, as is well known, I have always taken and which is the position of the British Government, about the right of Israel to exist within secure frontiers. We did not discuss UNESCO, but our position was made absolutely clear in our vote at UNESCO. As for the part that Britain should play in achieving a lasting peace, our rôle is to co-operate in the step-by-step approach. My right hon. Friend and I will be visiting Moscow next week and we naturally anticipate that this matter will come up. We shall express there the same view as the Government have expressed in Washington and as my right hon. Friend and I expressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We shall pursue the matter further with the Soviet Government in any such discussions.

Did the Prime Minister receive any assurances or information from the President concerning the admittedly very difficult problem of stopping money going from sources in the United States to the IRA?

No, that matter was not discussed with him. The House will have seen the report, which is accurate, that my right hon. Friend and I met a very weighty and representative group of senators and congressmen and I was asked about the Irish situation. I described it to them in terms which I think will have the general support of the House, and I referred to my right hon. Friend's part in all these matters. My right hon. Friend made a very strong appeal to the senators and congressmen to use their influence in their constituencies to stop the flow of funds and arms to the IRA. While I did not discuss this matter with President Ford, I did have discussions with senior members of the administration subsequently.

President Amin apart, will my right hon. Friend satisfy our curiosity about what on earth President Ford said about the Scottish nationalists? Is it repeatable?

Although we discussed most other aspects of world import, the President of the United States did not at any point refer to the Scottish nationalists.

The Prime Minister is obviously aware of the deep anxieties both within and outside the House about the possibility of future conflict in the Middle East, particularly as spring approaches. Many of us will agree that the time has not come to reconvene the Geneva Conference, and we would not believe that there was any future in trying to take military action over oil supplies. However, as a result of the talks can the Prime Minister give any more of an indication as to how he thinks further progress can be made in the next two or three months in order to prevent an outbreak of strife in the Middle East?

From what the right hon. Gentleman said, and from what I know to be his position, I know that there is no difference between the two Front Benches on this matter about war, oil or the use of force to settle the Middle East question, whether there or from outside. We must look to the forthcoming visit of the Secretary of State, Dr. Kissinger, to the Middle East. He is going to try to advance the step-by-step position there, and we will naturally give him our full backing, as I know the Leader of the Opposition will. In our discussions with the Secretary-General of the United Nations we made it clear that this would be our position. I do not think that there is any alternative proposal at the moment, certainly no cataclysmic solution that anyone can propose.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman expressed the view on Geneva exactly as I would: that while the parties operate under the general ambit of Geneva, simply to go back to Geneva would be meaningless unless there was a policy to put forward there. We believe that the most promising prospect for agreement lies in patient negotiation.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in what he was implying, if not exactly saying, that time is on no one's side here. This cannot be left as a stalemate for a long period. There are problems of the extension of the United Nations troop mandates in different parts of the Middle East, and therefore we want to see progress made, but it would be wrong to try to force it by any contrived solution.