HC Deb 01 July 1952 vol 503 cc388-96

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[ Mr. Drewe.]

10.34 p.m.

Mr. Norman Dodds (Dartford)

It is a coincidence that this Adjournment Motion should be on a somewhat similar subject to that of the main debate today. I feel rather sorry for the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who has to remain behind, but I feel he will be fair and appreciate that notice was given of this Adjournment before the bombing raids, which resulted in the debate today, took place. I hope that I shall be a.)-)le to introduce another facet of the problem, which, I believe, has been almost completely ignored in the debate which has just ended, and which, I feel, is of vital importance so that Her Majesty's Government should understand it, as well as the Government of the United States and the United States people.

It was on 18th June that I asked the Prime Minister the following Question: … if he will call for an immediate conference of all United Nations taking part in the war in Korea to discuss the present position."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1952; Vol. 502, c. 1191.] Some of my hon. Friends have been asking if I have some psychic powers, because I have forecast the dates of the two previous General Elections months ahead, and know the date of the next one.

Major Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

What is the date?

Mr. Dodds

At the end of June, 1953, after the Coronation; and it is not with the help of the gypsies I have got it.

I asked that Question on that day because there was evidence, both of my own and from friends in America, that whatever had been done about the machinery of consultation there was rapidly developing a need for some other form of consultation before things had gone too far. In a supplementary I asked: Will the Prime Minister state how much longer we are to stand meekly on the side line while American chiefs could decide our fate? Is it not the case that the mismanagement of the truce talks could result in this country being drawn into the third world war? Is it not obvious by now that this country and other countries should be represented at those talks?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th June, 1952; Vol. 502, c. 1191.] I believe that it is much more necessary that this should be given consideration now, because the Minister of State in winding up the debate made, as usual, the plea that if the Labour Government had done something there was no need for them to do it at all. As months went by there was hope of better results for the truce talks with the four American Service men representing United Nations. But as the talks progressed there seemed a need to look at them anew, for the nations sending contingents were becoming disturbed. Thus it was felt that there was need for a conference, and I should have raised the matter whether a Labour Government or a Conservative Government had been in power at this time.

I felt I could raise a new facet of this matter because the discussions today were based on what the politicians or some newspaper writers were thinking and there seemed to be little consideration of what the ordinary people were thinking of the events of the last few days and weeks. I have here some resolutions passed by organisations in my constituency. I have an advantage over many hon. Members. I live there and can get home every night although it may be late, and in the mornings people get into touch with me on matters of great importance. In various works throughout the Dartford constituency signatures have been obtained to resolutions about the bombing on the Yalu River.

In a matter of days, 1,576 signatures were appended to this resolution. It was signed by workers in Vickers-Armstrong, Dartford; Vickers-Armstrong, Crayford; Sovex Ltd., Erith; Frasers & Chalmers, Erith; G.E.C. Witton Works, Erith; British Insulated Callenders Construction, Erith; J. & E. Hall, Ltd., Dartford; the A.E.U. District Committee, and the A E U. Shop Stewards Quarterly Meeting.

It may be thought by some that this is not a matter of importance, but I suggest that it is typical of most of the industrial constituencies throughout the country. I can assure the House that this resolution has no connection with the Communist Party. I know that, generally, such resolutions are Communist-inspired and signed by Communists and fellow travellers. But having been in that constituency for many years, I know most of the people and certainly most of the Communists. A remarkable feature in this case is that many of the signatories are known to be supporters of the Conservative and Liberal Parties.

The resolution reads: This group of engineering workers, representing all shades of political thought in the works of … deplore the bombing of the Yalu River power plants in North Korea supplying power to Manchuria, particularly at a time when there were hopes of a satisfactory settlement to the truce talks, and we support the attitude of the Labour Party M.Ps. in this, and also in their demand that British representatives should take part in all talks concerning the future policy in Korea. With such conditions as now operate"— and I think this needs to be underlined— we would oppose any suggestion that this country should be drawn into war with China. I sincerely believe that the view expressed in this resolution is typical of the view of the mass of ordinary men and women in the country, and it is vital that the Government of the day, whether it be Labour or Conservative, should fully appreciate this point, because the Minister of Defence, when he was on his way either to or from Korea, is reported to have said that this struggle in Korea could be a rehearsal for a third world war.

It may be all right for the politicians and the Minister of Defence to feel that way about it, but it is bad to enter another war with the mass of the ordinary men and women of the country feeling, rightly or wrongly, that they have been dragged into it without there being any moral justification for it. I am not trying to make a party point on this. I am trying to bring home, by virtue of my contacts with these people—and I have spent a lot of time among them in the last week or so—their point of view.

The Minister of Defence has been wrong on a number of occasions recently. As I say, I do not want to make party points, but a statement was made when he was in New Delhi to the effect that Britain was unperturbed about what had happened on Koje Island. I do not know from where he got his information, but it was certainly not my experience, and I represent more electors than any other hon. Member in this House.

When one lives among one's electors and hears what they are saying, one takes notice. I am afraid that many hon. Members will find out that what I am now saying is a fact when they visit their constituencies in due course. As I have said, there are 1,576 signatures to this resolution, and when there is an election in the district for either the local council or the county council, the number of votes cast for the Communists are very few. I am trying to show that the Communists in the district are not very conspicuous in number, though they might lead some to think so from the statements they make.

It has been brought home to me that men and women who have no allegiance to either the Communists or Labour Parties are deeply disturbed by what has happened in the last week or two.

Major Beamish

Will the hon. Member tell the House who drafted the petition he has just read out?

Mr. Dodds

It is from some shop stewards of the A.E.U., who came to see me at my house with a petition much more strongly worded than this, and I helped them in re-drafting the wording to comply with what I thought they had in mind and which is what I think they wanted me to bring before the House. I have no desire to help the Communists, but I have the right, and the desire, when concerned with a cross-section of my electors, on a matter such as this, to bring it to the proper place for ventilation so that it may be brought to the notice of the authorities.

The question of consultation seemed to me to be of vital importance; and in this connection I would mention that I have had communications from America, where there are friends of mine who are fully alive to most aspects of American life and American thinking. They say that whenever the war seems to be cooling off, something does something to start it again and put the truce talks into jeopardy.

Ordinary people in this country are of the opinion that a week or so ago—probably ten days—there was an opportunity, a hope, that this one outstanding matter could be dealt with. The Foreign Secretary has mentioned it; and yet, it was just at this time that the bombing took place which has given the feeling here that there is somebody in America who is not desirous of getting a truce. That may very well not be so, but it will need much more than the winding-up speech to which we listened an hour ago to get that idea out of their minds.

American Service chiefs have not given the impression that there is a desire to get this truce, and the man in the street is fed up with the attitude of the American Service chiefs to Britain and other countries who are in this war to ensure that aggression does not pay. They do not like what General MacArthur did on the Yalu River at a time when there was a hope that we could get some understanding; and then there were the Koje camp incidents. Now, there is this third and final affair of the bombing of the power plant which is the straw on the camel's back.

An argument which I think has been overstated in this House is that which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have used; the preponderance of United States' Forces in Korea, and the heavy cost entailed for the United States in fighting this war. It was likely that that would have been said, but although we have a relatively small contingent out there, and the cost is relatively small, the danger is great to this country and to all those other countries making a small donation to this fight against aggression if American Service chiefs mismanage these talks and drag us into a third world war.

It is because of that aspect the people feel there is a need to stress the fact that we have a big stake and it is most essential that every attempt is made to obtain a satsfactory conclusion to the truce talks. If necessary, there should be some revision which will ensure at least that, in the places where policy is made, Britain's voice can be heard.

Reports from papers in other countries show that this country is not the only one to be dissatisfied about this business. In my appeal on 18th June I hoped that there could be a conference in which the United Nations themselves could get down to the question of more adequate representation. In making this appeal tonight I do not wish to say how the representations should take place. The United Nations who are fighting in Korea should, as soon as possible, review the situation in Korea and take action to set up machinery which would give the men and women in the street of this and other countries the belief that they are getting fair and adequate representation in a matter of the utmost importance.

Without going over some of the arguments that have been raised, I hope that we shall at last get down to the important matter that the deep feeling of ordinary people—which is something that does not seem to have had attention in the debate—is that if we are to enter into a third world war it is of the utmost importance that these people should feel that everything possible was done to prevent another war, and that if it were necessary to go in they should go in with the highest morale. At the moment, that is at a very low ebb.

10.53 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Nutting)

The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) who has waited so patiently throughout the whole of today—whether he was trying to catch your eye or not in the previous debate, Sir, I do not know—gave the title of his Adjournment Motion as "British representation in the truce talks in Korea." In his most interesting speech he has dealt with some rather broader issues than this question of the truce talks pure and simple. I make no complaint about this, but I think he will understand, and it will be generally understood, that I can add little to what has been said in the exhaustive debate that has just been concluded.

The hon. Gentleman invited the House to direct its attention not so much, as he put it, to what Ministers and politicians think about these problems, but what the public thinks about them. He quoted some examples of petitions and other expressions of opinion which he had received on this question from his constituents. I hope that today's debate will dispel many of the fears and doubts which did exist in many people's minds about the conduct of the truce negotiations and about the conduct of the United Nations tactics in Korea as a whole. If I may, I will deal with the question of consultation as far as the truce talks are concerned—because we have had a long debate on general consultation with the United Nations Command.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State said in his statement this afternoon that he and the Minister of Defence had reached the conclusion that the truce negotiations were already being well handled, and that wider representation would not make for any improvement. They felt that any change at this stage in the negotiating team would be hailed by the Communists as evidence of a division among the United Nations, and would, therefore, cause further delay at the moment when there was only one outstanding issue preventing the conclusion of an armistice. I really have nothing to add to that statement which I consider to be a conclusive summing-up of the position in Korea by two right hon. Gentlemen who have been on the spot, and who have taken considerable trouble and pains to investigate the situation in Korea.

But may I repeat for the information of the hon. Gentleman precisely what are the methods of consultation between Her Majesty's Government and the United States Government and the United Nations Command as far as the truce talks are concerned? First of all, there is the channel between the Foreign Office and the British Embassy in Washington to the State Department. There is also the channel through the Chiefs-of-Staff in this country through their representatives in Washington to the Defence Department at the Pentagon. Then, through Tokyo, there is the direct liaison which we have through Air Vice-Marshal Bouchier with the United Nations Command itself.

They are the three channels of communication, which I can personally testify to from having read the innumerable telegrams which have been received through them in my short time in office. These have been coming in full blast in the last eight or nine months, and I have no doubt they came in full blast in the lifetime of the previous Government. These channels have conveyed to and from Washington suggestions and consultations of the most intimate, friendly and frank nature on the question of the truce negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman referred to a Question which he asked of the Prime Minister. I do not have the copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT containing it, but I recollect that he asked whether the Prime Minister would summon an international conference to deal with a settlement in the Far East. The view of the Government upon this question is that we must put first things first, and get a truce in Korea before we proceed to a political conference.

Mr. Dodds

But does not the hon. Gentleman appreciate my point? Truce talks have gone on a long while and people are not satisfied that the negotiations are proceeding on the right lines, and because the United Nations are fighting in Korea there is dissatisfaction in other countries as well.

Mr. Nutting

I shall deal with that later. First, may I get out of the way the question of a political conference. We must get a truce first, and then proceed to a political conference. That has been stated and re-affirmed today by the Minister of State.

Another point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman was that the bombing of the Yalu River power station the other day came at a time when there was only one point left at issue in the truce negotiations. I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman of anything when I say that both he and several of his hon. Friends have repeatedly asked in the course of debates and at Question time since the raids took place why they had taken place at a time when only one outstanding point was before the armistice negotiators.

I do not want to overstate the case, but, equally, there seems an inclination on the part of certain hon. Gentlemen to understate the nature of the one point outstanding. This is the one point which, as the whole House knows, is the question of whether we should agree to the forced repatriation of prisoners of war who are determined not to go back to North Korea, which has held up the truce talks for several months. It is generally agreed in this House that that is a question of high principle upon which the United Nations Command cannot agree with the other side. That view was held by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker) in speaking for the Opposition today.

The point I wish to emphasise is that this is not just one small issue which might have been cleared out of the way had these bombing raids not taken place, and, therefore, that it was a foolish thing to bomb these power stations just at the moment when this one small point was still before the armistice commission. This is a point of high principle, and it is not fair and not right that it should be understated in any way.

The final point raised by the hon. Gentleman was the fear that in some way the United States were not conducting these truce talks on the right lines. He voiced the fear that by conducting them in the wrong way they might contrive to drag us into a third world war. Whatever one may say about the way in which the negotiations have been handled, I think it most unfair to the armistice negotiators to imply in any criticism of them that they are likely to drag us into a war, or that the manner in which they have conducted the negotiations is likely to do so.

These negotiators have been on this job for 11 months. I maintain, and I believe that the White Paper published last night bears me out, that these negotiators have shown the utmost patience and, as the Prime Minister said today, in a way unparalleled in history, a determination to seek and to obtain peace. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will help us to dispel any such fear that may exist, either in his constituency or anywhere else where he may bring the benefit of his oratory to bear upon audiences in the United Kingdom.

It would not help at this stage for the United Kingdom to be represented on these truce talks for the reasons given today by the Minister of State. I do not believe that it is fair or right that anyone should fear that the manner in which the negotiations have been conducted can possibly bring us any nearer to war. On the contrary, I believe that they have been conducted with model patience over the 11 months. If we can hold firm, and, above all, hold to the principle for which, after all, we went to war in Korea, to fight and to resist aggression, we may bring about a truce in Korea and then a lasting settlement in that troubled part of the world, the Far East.

Adjourned accordingly at Four Minutes past Eleven o'clock.