HC Deb 01 July 1952 vol 503 cc241-54
The Minister of State (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I desire to make a statement on the recent visit to the Far East of my noble Friend the Minister of Defence and myself.

The House will recollect that when the Minister of Defence made a statement in another place on 28th May on the progress of the Korean campaign, he mentioned that he had received an invitation from the United Nations Commander, General Mark Clark, to visit him in Tokyo and be given every facility to make a tour of the battlefront. It was decided that I should accompany the Minister of Defence. We left London on 6th June by B.O.A.C.

During our journey we had the opportunity of a discussion with the Prime Minister of India. We were entertained by members of the Burmese Government. We spent one night in Hong Kong staying with the Governor. On the day following our arrival in Tokyo we met the Japanese Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and we also had the privilege of an audience with His Majesty the Emperor.

On our return journey we met the Prime Minister of Canada and most of his colleagues, attending a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Canadian Cabinet. In Washington we had an opportunity of talking with the Prime Minister of Australia. We were received by President Truman and had several discussions in Washington with the Secretary of Defence, the Assistant Secretary of State, General Bradley, and representatives of the State Department and the Department of Defence. In New. York we visited the United Nations building and had a discussion with the Acting Secretary-General and other officials of the United Nations. Everywhere we went we were received with the greatest courtesy and no efforts were spared to make our brief visits as useful and informative as possible.

We spent 12th June at the Army, Navy and Air Force Headquarters of the United Nations Command in Tokyo. We were able, on that day, to discuss with General Mark Clark, and the American Ambassador, such problems as British representation in the United Nations Headquarters, the administration of Commonwealth Forces in Japan and the position arising out of the signing of the Peace Treaty.

On 13th June we flew to Korea with General Mark Clark and were met at Seoul by General Van Fleet, Commander of the Eighth Army. After more detailed briefing by the Army and Air Headquarters staff, we visited Kimpo air base near Seoul. There we were shown all the air installations including a very up-to-date photographic unit. The Minister of Defence also inspected the squadron of the Royal Australian Air Force based there and operating with the United States Air Force. That squadron was highly spoken of by the American Commander.

The following day 14th June, was spent with the Commonwealth Division, after we had first met their Corps Commander, General O'Daniel, and had been briefed at his Headquarters. The battle line here is some 40 miles north of Seoul and the Divisional front is some eight miles, which is not unduly extended. The terrain is hilly and broken and covered with oak scrub. The hills at their highest rise to some 2,000 feet and at their lowest to a few hundred feet. Little valleys run between the hills most of which had been cultivated as paddy fields. Our front line extends along a ridge of lower hills which gives an excellent field of view over a broad valley through which runs a wide and shallow river. Across this deserted no-man's-land the Chinese trenches are clearly visible about a mile or more away—on some parts of the front they are much nearer.

The Minister of Defence and I made an extensive tour of the Divisional front by jeep and on foot and met all the unit commanders and, of course, many other officers and other ranks. The first unit visited was the Royal 22nd Regiment of the Canadian Brigade. This Battalion served with the Minister of Defence in Italy and later in Canada when he was Governor-General, and consequently he met many old friends in its ranks.

We spent quite a time with them studying in some detail the lay-out of their defences. Positions had been well chosen tactically and a considerable amount of work had been done in constructing bunkers and trenches. Wiring and mine fields also added to the natural strength of the position. The Minister of Defence was favourably impressed by the considerable extension of new roads linking up positions of tactical importance and giving added mobility to the defence.

We saw some part of every unit forming the British Commonwealth Division, which includes United Kingdom. Canadian and Australian units, a New Zealand Artillery Régiment and an Indian field ambulance unit. The Minister of Defence was struck by the cheerful and efficient co-operation and integration shown by these Common- wealth units under the Command of Major-General Cassels. They are well administered. Discipline is good and they are well commanded, all factors leading to high morale.

The United Nations Commander and his staff have a very high opinion of this Division, and that is an opinion which the Minister of Defence shares.

I accompanied the Minister of Defence throughout this day, and was also much impressed by the good spirits of the troops and the way in which the units from various countries of the Commonwealth have been welded into a single formation to which they are proud to belong. I am sure that parents and wives in this country will be glad to hear that their men in Korea are in great heart and doing a fine job. I think that this Division is an outstanding example of what can be achieved within the Commonwealth in a common cause.

We spent the night at Divisional Headquarters where the Minister of Defence met the remaining members of the staff and those unit commanders whom he had not seen during his visit to the front during the day.

On the following morning, 15th June, the Minister of Defence visited the 1st Republic of Korea Division and the American 45th Division—an old National Guard Division from Oklahoma which had served in Italy under his command. Time did not allow him to visit this front by jeep and on foot, so he visited it by helicopter and had an excellent view of the forward lay-out, which, of course, was much the same in design and construction as that of the Commonwealth Division.

He paid a visit to an American medium battery which was engaging targets behind the Chinese front line, and then went to the 45th Division Headquarters where he met all the Corps and Divisional Commanders and the Commanders of all the United Nations' units in the 8th Army. After being introduced they each gave him a two to three minute talk about their commands and their men's morale and from them he got the clear impression that without exception they were proud of belonging to a United Nations team.

Before I leave the subject of the battlefront, I should give to the House the Minister of Defence's impressions of current operations.

Although the front is static it is by no means inactive. By day, activity is confined to air reconnaissance and photographic work and strikes against known targets. There is considerable artillery and mortar fire by both sides which is intensified at night. Under cover of darkness patrolling is carried out by the United Nations and Chinese which often results in clashes. From time to time small-scale operations up to battalion strength are undertaken to secure identifications or to secure important tactical features to improve the strength of the defence.

After his visit to the battle area and discussions with those on the spot, he came to certain conclusions, which are these. There is no doubt that the Chinese have taken advantage of the long-drawn-out armistice talks to build up their fighting strength, which was at a low ebb after their defeat last year. They have dug a formidable line of fortifications across the peninsula which is in considerable depth. Their artillery and mortar fire has increased both in accuracy and in volume during the last few months. The strength of the Chinese units has considerably increased and they are now in a position to launch a major offensive. Evidence of offensive capability is not lacking but there is no clear evidence of intention at the present. It is not easy to get early warning because the Chinese method is to mass their men not nearer the front than 10 miles within the last 48 hours before zero hour and then to approach the front under cover of darkness.

The feeling of those on the battlefront is one of confidence. They think that if a major offensive is launched, it may penetrate the front to a depth of several miles but that it should be brought to a halt. The Minister of Defence would be prepared to agree with this opinion provided the Chinese can be prevented from moving forward and bringing into action on the front their powerful air force. Up to date our air interdiction programme has been able to keep out of action all airfields south of the Yalu River.

Defensively, our positions are now strong. They are well sited in depth with carefully prepared localities stretching well to the rear. Great use is made of wire and minefields and these are being added to and improved every day. There are, however, two factors which require consideration. First, owing to the absence of enemy air over our lines, there is a temptation to neglect the art of camouflage. Second, as time drags on and fresh untried soldiers take their place in the forward units, the 8th Army will not have the numbers of battle-experienced soldiers it had in the past.

To sum up, my noble Friend believes that a full-scale offensive by the enemy under present conditions can be held and that the enemy will suffer terrific casualties. He may out-match us in numbers of men, but we are superior in fire power and mobility. The 8th Army is a very fine one, well commanded and administered by General Van Fleet and it is a happy and united team, whose men are confident and of high morale. Its most striking characteristic is the team spirit which has welded the forces of 21 nations into one army.

In the afternoon of 15th June, the Minister of Defence flew to Inchon, the port a few miles west of Seoul, and there visited Her Majesty's Ships " Belfast," "Ocean" and "Ceylon." He spoke to ships' companies and discussed the naval situation with Rear-Admiral Scott-Moncrieff, who commands the West Coast Blockading and Escort Group of United Nations naval forces. That group is an integrated command and contains units of American and other navies, and he was pleased to hear of the harmony and efficiency with which the ships of the various nations worked together. He found the Royal Navy as smart and efficient as usual.

His programme did not permit of his visiting the Commonwealth main base at Kure in Japan. He was, however, anxious to receive a first-hand account of the base and to learn of any problems which should be brought to his notice. He therefore arranged for his staff officer, Colonel Gardiner, to visit Kure on 16th June. He learned with satisfaction of the efficiency and capabilities of the base, to which the Australians in particular make a major contribution. The Commander is General Bridgeford of Australia, a most capable officer who accompanied the Minister of Defence throughout the visit to Korea.

There are important installations there, including facilities for docking and repair of naval units, trans-shipment and storage of stores and equipment and major repairing and refitting of vehicles, guns and equipment. There is a fine hospital there to which casualties are quickly evacuated by air from the battle areas, and the usual administrative and reinforcement units.

The conditions under which we retain our installations in Kure now that the Japanese Peace Treaty has been signed are under close examination in consultation with the Japanese Government, and it is hoped that satisfactory arrangements can be made for us to retain most, if not all, of our installations. These are vital to our effort, since alternative accommodation is not available elsewhere offering the same advantages of docking facilities, space and skilled Japanese labour.

Before leaving Korea, we paid a visit to the United Nations cemetery on the outskirts of Pusan, where the Minister of Defence laid a wreath at the foot of the flag-pole carrying the United Nations standard. The site of the cemetery is on rising ground and commands a magnificent view towards the sea. The design and lay-out are simple and dignified. Over each plot of ground where our soldiers rest the flag of their nation flies. The graves are all carefully marked and registered and kept in beautiful order.

While the Minister of Defence was visiting South Korean and American formations and ships of Her Majesty's Navy, I proceeded ahead of him to Pusan. Accompanied by Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires, I there had discussions with the South Korean Prime Minister and members of the Administration, including several Ministers, with members of the United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (the Australian chairman of which body, Mr. Plimsoll, has been acquitting himself very well in a difficult situation), with the United States Ambassador and the French Chargé d'Affaires, with Brigadier-General Crist, the United Nations Civil Assistance Commander, and with Sir Arthur Rucker, Deputy Agent-General of the United Nations Korean Reconstruction Agency and members of his staff. I also saw a number of Oppo- sition leaders and President Syngman Rhee himself on two occasions.

The political position was then disturbed. Martial law had been proclaimed; a number of Opposition Assembly-men had been arrested; trials before military courts were said to be about to begin; rumours were current of coups d'état, demonstrations and mass arrests.

The House had shown its concern at events in Pusan before we left for Korea. In my interview with President Rhee on 15th June, I informed him of the grave concern felt by Her Majesty's Government and the people of this country at the situation. I emphasised that the United Nations were fighting to sustain the rule of law in international affairs and that departures from constitutional processes and democratic methods in South Korea were causing great anxiety.

President Rhee assured me that it was his desire to find a solution of the problem within the framework of the existing constitution and that he was working for a compromise between himself and his opponents. I pointed out to him that for public opinion in Britain, there could be no better earnest of his intention so to do than to lift martial law and to hold the trials in public in civil courts.

On the following day I accompanied the Minister of Defence at his interview with President Rhee. The same points were put forcibly to the President by the Minister of Defence. It is to be hoped that President Rhee is indeed attempting to work for a solution along constitutional lines, but I am bound to say that I came away from South Korea apprehensive as to the future course of events there.

I feel that the United Nations have a right and an obligation to see that, while their forces are fighting in Korea to resist aggression and to defend the rule of law, those whose territory is being defended should not act without regard either for their own constitution or for ordinary democratic principles, particularly when such action is bound to cause grave disquiet in Korea itself and so weaken the front against the common enemy.

On 13th June we met Major-General Harrison, leader of the United Nations Delegation at the armistice talks. The lengthy course of these negotiations has been set out in detail in Part I of the White Paper issued yesterday. Our visit confirmed us in the view that General Harrison and his colleagues form a very competent team of negotiators who have applied themselves to their difficult task with patience, imagination and a high sense of responsibility. The entire armistice document, now covering 28 pages and 63 articles, has been agreed by both sides with the exception of two articles and some minor details.

We considered carefully whether to recommend that British participation should be sought in the United Nations Delegation. We reached the conclusion that these negotiations were already being well handled and that wider representation would not make for any improvement. Secondly, we felt that any change at this stage in the negotiating team would be hailed by the Communists as evidence of division amongst the United Nations. This, we considered, would be likely to cause further delay at the moment when only one outstanding issue prevents the conclusion of an armistice.

From Pusan we went to Koje-do to visit the prisoner-of-war camps. Their history is contained in Part II of the White Paper. There can be no doubt that a deplorable state of affairs had grown up in some of the camps containing Korean prisoners. The Koreans are a vigorous people and in our view only firmness and strict discipline will preserve order among the prisoners.

Those in charge sought up to February, 1952, to enforce their authority, but they had to act with inadequate forces in most unsuitable conditions. Control within certain camps was lost as soon as it was decided no longer to send in United Nations guards. I believe that this decision was taken in good faith in order to avoid incidents which might hinder the armistice talks. Nevertheless it only led in fact to further trouble which might have had serious military consequences. A mass break out had been planned for 25th June and one shudders to think of the reign of terror which could have ensued on the island.

We met Brigadier General Boatner and were satisfied that he had acted with firmness and decision to restore the situation. Control was being regained over all the prisoners although in the case of Compound 76 force had first to be used. We saw the complicated trench system built by the prisoners to defend this camp and the improvised weapons with which they had been armed. We discussed with General Boatner the murders of prisoners of war committed in the camps by Communist prisoners. Inquiries are now being made to establish the identity of those responsible for these cold-blooded crimes.

I made a number of inquiries to ascertain the manner in which the screening operation between 5th April and 19th April was conducted. I found no evidence that any pressure had been exercised by the interrogators to induce prisoners not to be repatriated. In fact, as is clear from the form of the announcements made and the questions asked which are set out in the White Paper, such pressure as was used was directed to induce the prisoners to return.

I spoke myself to a number of Korean prisoners who had said that they would forcibly resist repatriation, picking out for myself the ones to whom to speak and questioning them individually with only an interpreter present. They convinced me that their reasons for not wishing to return was genuine. They had lived under the North Korean Communist régime and they were determined not to do so again, confirmed from independent persons with access to the camps that they had received no complaints from prisoners about the method of interrogation.

Throughout our visit we considered how to improve liaison and consultation between the United Nations Command, the United States Government and the countries contributing forces to Korea. The United Nations Command for Korea have expressed the view that it would be appropriate for a Deputy Chief of Staff to be appointed to General Mark Clark's Headquarters, this officer to be drawn from the Commonwealth countries providing combatant forces.

We welcome this arrangement, which has been agreed to by the United States Government; it is also acceptable to the Commonwealth Governments primarily concerned. It has been agreed that a senior British officer should be made available for this post. An announcement of the name of the officer selected will be made by Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in the near future.

As hon. Members will have seen from the communiqué issued after the recent talks between Mr. Acheson, M. Schuman and the Foreign Secretary, the United States and French Governments have re-affirmed their agreement with us on the necessity for close co-operation and consultation. Her Majesty's Government are now pursuing these matters with the United States Government and other interested Governments.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman two questions? In putting them, may I express our regret that the Foreign Secretary is unable to be present and our hope that he will soon be well? May I also express our satisfaction at the report of the good state of our own and the Commonwealth forces in Korea?

The first of the questions I should like to put to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is this. He and his noble Friend, I understand, were fully briefed, both at Kimpo airfield and elsewhere, before going up to look at the line and our troops. Was there at any time any mention, or was there no mention, of the strategic importance of the electricity stations which we have been discussing, and was there no consideration in the general review of how important these were from the point of view of building up an offensive? Was there no mention made whatever, in discussing the air forces and their duties, as to what the targets were? The other question is whether there was any discussion on these matters in the talks in the United States?

Mr. Lloyd

I can only reply as to matters within my own knowledge. So far as I am aware, at no time were specific targets of this nature referred to in the discussions between the Minister of Defence and the American Command and the American authorities in Washington. There was no reference to these specific targets in dealing with the importance of the interdiction programme.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask whether, in the appreciation of the situation which the Minister of Defence obtained and in which he summed up the possibility of attack, there was no information on the importance of attacking these stations in order to prevent an attack?

Mr. Lloyd

There was no reference to these particular targets. There was considerable reference to the general necessity of damaging the build-up in North Korea.

Mr. Arthur Henderson

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether the British officer who is to be appointed to the staff of General Mark Clark will have the right of direct communication with the British Government? If not, what is the change in the methods of consultation between the Americans, the United Nations Forces and ourselves?

Mr. Lloyd

I understand there is to be a debate on consultation later in the day and that is a matter which might be ventilated then.

Mr. H. Morrison

Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether, during the discussions, the Minister of Defence or himself raised any question of pending military, including air, activities for their information and discussion?

Mr. Lloyd

Dealing with matters within my own knowledge, we did not discuss future military operations with regard to operations in China or on the Yalu River, but there was a discussion of the general air interdiction programme.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We have a debate in front of us and for the information of the House I might say that I have been given the names of hon. Members on both sides of the House who would like to speak. The list is far in excess of those who possibly can be accommodated in the debate, but I would ask the House to bring this matter to an early close and to proceed to the debate.

Mr. Driberg

With all respect, there have been no supplementary questions at all from back benchers and there have been three from right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench. In the debate, after all, Front Benchers can catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, but back benchers have great difficulty in catching your eye.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will agree with me that there are grave disadvantages about an irregular debate developing at this stage.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether, in the course of his visit to Korea, he made any inquiry at all—

Hon. Members

A point of order.

Mr. Speaker

There is no point of order. I have made an appeal to the House and I hope it will be taken account of.

Mr. Hughes

I should like to ask the Minister of State whether, during the time of his visit to Seoul or Pusan, he made any inquiries about the terrible sufferings of the civilian population. When there has been a war in which there have been between two and three million civilian casualties, why has there been no statement at all about the sufferings of the people of Korea?

Mr. Lloyd

I did make such inquiries in Pusan where there are something like 600,000 refugees who are victims of the war. On the whole, the information which I received is that they are being well fed and as well looked after as housing accommodation will permit. Undoubtedly there is great hardship. I saw what I could of the city of Pusan on what was a visit of a little more than 24 hours.

Mr. Bing

Can the right hon. and learned Member tell us whether the Emperor by whom he was so pleased to be received is the same Emperor who presided over a Government that was responsible for so many cold-blooded crimes against British nationals?

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