HC Deb 29 October 1952 vol 505 cc1901-5
10. Sir I. Fraser

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about the progress of the armistice negotiations in Korea.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Anthony Eden)

Since my statement of 15th October, the Chinese and North Korean leaders sent a letter on 16th October to the United Nations Command restating their explicit insistence on the principle that all prisoners of war must be repatriated. General Mark Clark replied on 20th October, pointing out that their letter contained nothing new or constructive, and therefore did not constitute a valid basis for the resumption of negotiations.

Sir I. Fraser

As negotiations on the field of battle have so far failed, and as from the point of view of world strategy the Korean Peninsula may not be the most important battleground, could my right hon. Friend consider transferring the negotiations to Moscow or to China, or to some other more important centre?

Mr. Eden

That is a question of which I would rather like to have notice. Actually, the negotiations at Panmunjom are in recess, but the staff officers are still in contact. It is also a fact that the whole Korean situation is in process of being, or will be shortly, debated at the United Nations, and I do not think that I ought to go beyond that at present.

Mr. Noel-Baker

When the Foreign Secretary takes part in the Assembly debates, of which he has spoken, will he make it plain to the world that we desire peace, not only in Korea, but with the whole of Asia, if we could get reasonable terms, and that on the outstanding issue of the prisoners of war we are ready to accept any reasonable proposal which does not involve sending back prisoners by force if they have good reason to believe that their lives would be in danger?

Mr. Eden

I should have hoped, with such weight as my voice could carry, that that had been said a great many times as being the position of Her Majesty's Government. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman's definition. I would only add that there are detailed Questions on the Paper about the Mexican and the Quakers' proposals, and I should like to reserve any comment about them until I reach them.

Mr. S. Silverman

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the last offer which was made on the United Nations side about the prisoners question, which seemed to be a reasonable proposal, was made on 29th September, and whether it is true that the unfortunate incidents about the shooting of prisoners in an American prisoner-of-war camp happened on 1st October? May not a refusal of the offer be in some way influenced by that second tragic circumstance, and has the Foreign Secretary yet received a report as to what happened on that date?

Mr. Eden

That is quite a different question from the one on the Paper. As far as my recollection goes, I have not received the report, but I do not think I could say that there was the close relationship that the hon. Member suggests, because, as he will know, the attitude that the Communists are now adopting in respect of this matter is the same as they have adopted all along. I agree that, not one proposal, but three alternative proposals, which the United Nations put forward, and in which we took a considerable part in the negotiations, were, I thought, the most reasonable that human minds could possibly devise.

Mr. Ernest Davies

In view of the fact that there is only this one item of the prisoners outstanding, has consideration been given to the possibility of suggesting that there should be a truce on the basis of the agreement so far reached and the matter of the prisoners of war being left over for the peace conference which would follow?

Mr. Eden

We have thought of pretty well every formula that could be thought of, but we must be extremely careful that anything to which we agree does not by any chance jeopardise the return of our own prisoners.

26. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the present state of the Korean truce talks; and what consideration he has given to the official proposals made by the Mexican Government, and the proposals of the Society of Friends, of which he has been informed, for dealing with the question of the exchange of prisoners of war.

Mr. Eden

As regards the first part of his Question, I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply already given to the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser).

Her Majesty's Government have welcomed the Mexican Government's proposal as a sincere attempt to contribute towards a solution of the prisoner-of-war problem. It relates to the disposal of prisoners who are not repatriated after an armistice, and thus does not offer a solution of the immediate problem of principle which stands in the way of agreement.

The proposals of the Society of Friends have been carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government and were discussed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State with a deputation from the Society on 24th September. Those of their proposals which relate to methods of screening under neutral supervision would be generally acceptable to Her Majesty's Government.

The Communists have, however, always totally rejected the principle of screening. The Society of Friends also suggested the immediate conclusion of an armistice on the basis of the agreement already reached, while remitting forward for later decision the unresolved issue of the release of prisoners of war.

It goes without saying that such an arrangement would have to provide for the safe return of our own prisoners from North Korea.

Mr. Driberg

While fully agreeing with what the right hon. Gentleman says, both now and in reply to Question No. 10, that "anything that we do," I think he said, "must not jeopardise the position of our own prisoners," could he explain why, or in what way, it would jeopardise their position to have a ceasefire on the basis of such agreement as already exists, while reserving the question of the exchange of prisoners for the consequent talks?

Mr. Eden

Unless there is an arrangement that all prisoners that want to return can return; and if we start to negotiate that after we have reached an armistice we may find difficulties arising out of it. We feel that we should clearly understand what the position about prisoners should be, whether we agree about any special arrangements or anything at all. Whatever the special arrangement, we think it ought to be concluded before the armistice is signed, as, otherwise, we may get into serious entanglements which may have serious consequences for our own men.

Mr. S. Silverman

In the meantime, would the right hon. Gentleman do everything he has the power to do to make certain that incidents in the prison camps under the control of the United Nations are not repeated because they can only have the effect of persuading the Chinese that talk about humanity in relation to prisoners in our hands is pure humbug? One sees only today that there have been further incidents at this camp. Since we share the responsibility for it, is it not time that we should have a full and accurate account of what led up to these tragic incidents?

Mr. Eden

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will make inquiries about this. I have not seen a report about the incident, but I think we should have it. Our troops are not involved in these matters, and I would say for the information of the House that our troops are not engaged in guarding these prisoners.

Mr. Langford-Holt

Would it be accurate to say that Her Majesty's Government regard this refusal to return as tantamount to application for political asylum which we in this country have always granted?

Mr. Shinwell

I apologise that I was not present earlier to put my Question.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that there does not appear to be any solution of the problem of the repatriation of prisoners at the present time? Whilst we are not in any way condoning any act of aggression and we realise that some action had to be taken, is it not obvious that alternative diplomatic schemes should now be devised in order to try to bring this to an end? Does not Mr. Acheson's speech the other day offer some opportunity for the United Kingdom Government to take some reciprocal action?

Mr. Eden

I was going to reply to the right hon. Gentleman that this matter is about to be discussed in the United Nations and I hope to be able to go there myself next week. If I think that there is an opportunity for reaching any kind of arrangement which is satisfactory and just for our own people, for Europe and the world, of course I shall seize it. But I would rather not say anything more about it in the House now because I do not think it will help anything I can do later.

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