HC Deb 27 November 1952 vol 508 cc631-8
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to give some account of the discussions which are proceeding at the Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, from which I have just returned.

These discussions have been dominated by the problem of Korea. As the House will be aware, the one unresolved question which still holds up armistice negotiations at Panmunjom is that of the prisoners of war. In a speech to the General Assembly on 11th November, I sought to define this issue and to suggest a basis on which it could be settled.

I set out four principles which I thought should govern our conduct. These were: first, that every prisoner of war has the right, on the conclusion of an armistice, to be released. Second, that every prisoner of war has the right to be speedily repatriated. Third, that there is a duty on the detaining side to provide facilities for such repatriation. Fourth, that the detaining side has no right to use force in connection with the disposal of prisoners of war; in other words, after an armistice a prisoner of war may not be either forcibly detained or forcibly repatriated. These four principles found general acceptance in the Assembly.

In the course of the Session, several resolutions have been submitted. One of these was sponsored by 21 Powers, including the United Kingdom, the United States and certain Commonwealth countries. A subsequent resolution submitted by the Indian Delegation, while taking full account, as Mr. Krishna Menon made plain, of the four principles I had mentioned, also set out a new proposal for a Repatriation Commission to deal with the problem of the prisoners of war after an armistice. This Commission was to consist of four countries which are not taking part in the fighting in Korea, together with an umpire, who was to have the decisive voice when the members were unable to agree.

As I indicated at the opening of the discussion the next day, the Indian initia- tive was in our view a timely and constructive attempt to resolve the deadlock. The test which I applied was whether this resolution brought us nearer to an armistice. As I made clear to the Political Committee, in my view it did, and although bitter experience has taught us the uncertainties which attend on any negotiations with the Communists, I felt that here was a chance which should not be missed. The Indian draft fully embodied our principles. It was an initiative worked out with much care and thought by an Asian country, the sincerity of whose purpose could not be doubted.

It was encouraging during our discussions to note the wide support which the Indian resolution commanded from other Asian countries. As the House will know, discussions on this question are still proceeding in the Assembly, or rather in its First Committee. I am, however, confident that the overwhelming majority of the United Nations will be able to agree on the Indian text, perhaps with some minor clarifications which do not affect its principles.

The House will perhaps have seen reports in the Press of divergencies on this subject between the United Kingdom and the United States delegations. I should like to put these reports in their correct perspective. There was never any difference between us, or indeed among the free nations as a whole, on the underlying principles which I set out in my speech, and which I have just quoted to the House. But a number of informal discussions were held between the United Kingdom, the United States and other delegations on how these principles should be defined, especially in relation to the final disposal of Communist prisoners of war who do not go back. On this we felt that the clarification which the representative of India himself put forward on 23rd November went very far indeed to meet any anxieties that might be felt.

In this connection the House will, of course, be fully mindful of the special responsibilities which the United States carry in Korea, and which the United Nations Command has faithfully discharged on behalf of all the Governments concerned. I have every confidence that any difficulties of definition will soon be overcome. In the discussions which are still continuing, Her Majesty's Government are represented by the Minister of State who, by his patient and thorough diplomacy, has won for himself a position of exceptional authority amongst his colleagues.

It is right that I should add a tribute to the Indian delegation and to Mr. Krishna Menon in particular for their wise statesmanship. I should also record that in all these difficult days of negotiation—and they were sometimes difficult—the countries of the Commonwealth worked in close consultation and agreement. I have particular reason to be grateful to the Secretary of State for External Affairs of Canada, Mr. Pearson, who is also President of the General Assembly.

There is, I am sure, a widespread conviction in the Assembly and in this House that it would be wrong to risk losing this chance of bringing the fighting in Korea to an end. Unhappily the recent intervention of the Soviet representative in the debate, whatever its motive, shows that the chance has become a slender one. Nevertheless, we must persevere with this endeavour. We are now told that the Chinese Government have raised objections to the Indian proposals. We can only hope that these objections may not be as final as Mr. Vyshinsky was so eager to represent them as being. As I see it, our best course is still to support the Indian resolution and to invite the United Nations to transmit it to the Chinese and the North Koreans.

Mr. H. Morrison

The House generally will welcome the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman. It fell to me to take the course with a view to the encouragement of armistice talks to take place, and I must say I am bitterly disappointed that they should have taken so long.

I think there will be general agreement that the four principles to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred are reasonable, tolerant and rational, and that they ought to be acceptable. I am very glad, as I am sure we all are, that there has been cordial co-operation between us and other Commonwealth countries, and in particular with the great Asian country of India, which should be exceedingly valuable in view of the nature of this dispute. I should like to say how pleased we are that this has taken place.

There is one point on which I should like to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman. There was a subsequent reso- lution put in by the Indian delegation with regard to the Repatriation Commission. I was clear that the right hon. Gentleman endorsed the general lines of the first Indian resolution. May we take it that he is sympathetic to the second resolution, as to the possibility of setting up a Repatriation Commission subsequent to the armistice announcement?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir, I think that what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind is that in my own speech I made two suggestions for clarification, one of which concerned the umpire of the Repatriation Commission. That is what I think the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. The other was for a certain clarification in respect of prisoners of war who do not want to go back. That was, I think, an amendment, or rather, not an amendment but a clarification, by the Indian delegation of their own resolution. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman is referring to, we were most certainly in agreement with it.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he speaks of modified representations that may be made to the Chinese People's Government and to the North Korean Government, whether it is intended that those representations, if any—I am speaking of possible modified representations—should be made through the Indian Government or direct by the United Nations?

Mr. Eden

I hoped that the United Nations would approve the Indian resolution, possibly with some clarification, and then would transmit it to the Chinese Government and the North Korean authorities—

Mr. Shinwell

The United Nations?

Mr. Eden

Yes, the United Nations. I think they would have to do so, because it clearly becomes their resolution. The actual channels they use would be for them to decide. I have no fixed opinion about that.

Mr. Shinwell

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one could attach considerable importance to the method of representation? If the United Nations make representations of the kind indicated to the Chinese People's Government, that appears to be a new situation, and perhaps a very welcome one. Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman regards it in that light?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir. What I hope will hang on this is that the United Nations will agree on the resolution and will also agree to transmit it to the Chinese Government.

Mr. Donnelly

Does not the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, and the nature of Mr. Vyshinsky's flat rejection of the proposals, show the extreme difficulty of negotiation with the Chinese Government until they are represented in the United Nations? Does it not also show that until that happens we have to deal second-hand with them through Moscow to some extent; and would the right hon. Gentleman consider pressing yet again the vital necessity of seeing that China is represented in the United Nations?

Mr. Eden

The hon. Gentleman knows as well as, or better than, I do how many questions this raises. I would only say that I do not think it would be very helpful to raise this at present. There are methods of getting into contact with the Chinese Government in other ways than through Moscow, and sometimes I wonder whether Moscow's eagerness to continue this war is because the Chinese are doing the fighting for them.

Mr. Ernest Davies

Without necessarily raising the question of a permanent delegation of the Chinese to the United Nations, but to save time and possibly to make it easier to reach agreement, would it not be better to ask representatives of the Chinese People's Government, and perhaps the North Koreans, to come to discuss this resolution, rather than to submit it to them through other channels?

Mr. Eden

Even if we can get agreement on this resolution and transmit it to them, it is only a possible basis for a truce on this one item, the prisoners of war, which will then have to be finally agreed at Panmunjom. We are only dealing here with one stage in these negotiations, though I admit it would be a considerable advance if we could resolve it.

Mr. Noel-Baker

While I am sure anybody who has been at the Assembly when the Minister of State has been there will recognise that he is in a very good position among his colleagues, may I, in view of the tremendous issues that hang on this, urge the Foreign Secretary to continue to give this matter his close personal attention; and if it would serve a useful purpose, to go back to the Assembly himself?

Mr. Eden

I think I can certainly give that undertaking.

Mr. S. Silverman

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he is personally satisfied and can assure the House that the proposed modifications in the Indian resolution are really only clarifications of details, and do not in any way impinge on the principles of the resolution as originally tabled?

Mr. Eden

Yes, Sir; I think so. If the hon. Gentleman will look—or perhaps he has already looked—at the original speech of the spokesman of the Indian delegation, and the text as now clarified, I think he will find they are closely allied; and I am encouraged in that thought by the fact that the Soviet delegate, who seemed to think of as many objections as he could to this Indian resolution, did not think of that one.

Mr. Usborne

While we are obviously very pleased to hear that there is at long last a chance of obtaining an armistice, let us suppose there are difficulties over the question of the prisoners and that we break down on that; would the Foreign Secretary consider seriously whether it might be possible at least to obtain some terms for a cease-fire, as many of us feel that if we cannot agree on the prisoner problem, it is silly to go on getting more prisoners.

Mr. Eden

The hon. Gentleman and the House will be aware of the argument against that course and the difficulties in which we might well find ourselves were we to agree to a cease-fire without any arrangement for the return of our prisoners and the consequences that that might entail. I have discussed that before, and I would not willingly modify what I have said to the House on that subject.

Sir W. Smithers

I, for one, cannot be silent and let this discussion pass without paying a sincere tribute to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for all the splendid work he has done.

Mr. I. O. Thomas

Would not the Foreign Secretary agree that it would probably save time and lives if, instead of this communicating through other than direct channels, the Security Council of the United Nations were to invite a delegation of the Chinese People's Republic to their meeting to discuss the terms of a possible armistice and the repatriation of prisoners, instead of arranging it through the technique of Notes?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, because if these arrangements can be agreed on at all, the final discussion must take place between the Chinese and United Nations representatives at Panmunjom. It is there, and only there, that the final settlement can be signed and arrived at. So I do not think the disadvantages

which the hon. Gentleman sees in the present procedure are as great as he thinks. Nor do I think they could be overcome without the greatest possible difficulty in the United Nations, which might land us in more trouble than we are in already.