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East Of Suez

Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current British policy east of Suez and indicate any direct commitments which remain.

The Government's broad policy east of Suez is, of course, to promote British and general Western interests there, within the limits of our resources. Our direct commitments are to our British dependent territories and those arising from bilateral and multilateral links which we have with independent countries.

What commitments does Britain still have through CENTO and SEATO? Is it not time that both these alliances were wound up, and should not Britain in any case sever any arrangements that she has with them, if for no other reason than the very practical reason that it is no longer physically possible for Britain to deploy military forces east of Suez?

I am sure my hon. Friend will recognise that we continue to be a party to the Manila Pact. The South-East Asia Treaty Organisation will be wound up by June this year, but the treaty itself will remain in being. Concerning CENTO, as we announced following the defence review, we retain our membership.

Will the Minister confirm that the British forces in Brunei are there at the cost of His Highness the Sultan and that no burden falls on the British taxpayer for them?

Brunei is a sovereign State in treaty relationship with the United Kingdom. We are responsible for external relations and we have a commitment to consult in the event of any external threat. A British Gurkha battalion is stationed in Brunei. We are now discussing with the Government in Brunei proposals for withdrawing this battalion and modernising our relationship.