HC Deb 27 July 1953 vol 518 cc893-8

At the end of Questions

Mr. Selwyn Lloyd

With your permission Mr. Speaker, and with that of the House, I will now make a statement, in reply to Questions Nos. 19, 22, 23, 26 and 28, on the conclusion of the Armistice in Korea, which is also being made in another place by my noble Friend the acting Foreign Secretary.

I am glad to be able to confirm to the House that the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in the presence of representatives of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth and other United Nations countries whose forces are fighting in Korea, at 2 a.m. British Summer Time this morning, at Panmunjom, with provision for a cease-fire 12 hours later.

After over three years of war including two years of negotiation, the fighting has, according to our latest information, now ceased along the front and the two armies will withdraw from their forward lines to permit the formation of a demilitarised zone in accordance with the terms of the Agreement.

I know that this news will be received with heartfelt thanks in all quarters of the House. It is not out of place to recall the extent of the United Nations achievement. For the first time since the formation of the United Nations, member States have taken up arms in collective resistance to aggression, and the joint action has been successful. Anyone who doubts that assertion should remember the military situation in August, 1950, when the total evacuation of Korea by the United Nations forces seemed to be inevitable. Since that time the forces of aggression have been driven back beyond the line from which they started.

These results would not have been possible but for the courageous decision of President Truman and the late United States Administration in June, 1950; and it is also right to remember that immediate support was pledged by the late Government of this country sustained by all parties, by members of the Commonwealth and by other member Governments of the United Nations.

The fighting has, unfortunately, been accompanied by heavy casualties. The United States have borne with great fortitude the main burden among the members of the United Nations. We pay our heartfelt tribute to their fighting men and to their military leaders. The contribution of this country and of the Commonwealth, although less extensive, has also been one in which we can take pride. All three fighting Services have distinguished themselves. There have been renowned exploits like the heroic fight of the Gloucestershire Regiment, at the Imjin River, to which the world has paid warm tribute. There also has been a notable example, in the Commonwealth Division, of co-operation between the countries of the Commonwealth.

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of the formation of that Division. Today, we think of those who have given their lives and renew our sympathy with their relatives. We remember the sick and the wounded and also our prisoners of war, most of whom have been so long in captivity, and we rejoice with them and their families that they can now look forward to early release.

The people of Korea have suffered the most of all. Their land has been devastated: but the soldiers of the Republic of Korea have fought bravely side by side with our own, and the civil population has not flinched in adversity.

There is one other body of people to which I should like to pay tribute on the signing of the Armistice. I refer to General Harrison and his team of negotiators. Often criticised, with his difficulties frequently not understood, General Harrison has patiently and resolutely persevered in his task of reaching an agreement. As I have told the House on a previous occasion, I had the opportunity of long discussions with him last year, when in Korea with the Minister of Defence, and I was greatly impressed by his earnestness and his broad common sense. I think that General Mark Clark and he deserve our thanks and our congratulations upon this result.

And now for the future. We know that there have been misgivings in South Korea about the future. We believe that this Armistice was essential for the well-being of the whole Korean people. The fighting, whilst it continued, was an absolute bar to any improvement in the general situation in the Far East. We are not yet, of course, through our difficulties, but now that the fighting has ceased we can once more look forward with hope, and we shall enter on the next stages of the meeting of the General Assembly and of the forthcoming political conference with determination that a solution shall be found to the Korean problem which will lead to the peaceful unification of Korea.

We cannot tell how long we shall have to keep our forces in Korea. Today our main feeling, I think, in all quarters of the House, is one of determination that this Armistice should form a turning point for the better in the Far East. In any case, we shall do our duty by the world causes of which we are the servants.

Mr. Attlee

I should like to express, on behalf of the Opposition, our satisfaction at the conclusion of the Armistice, and join in the tribute which the right hon. and learned Gentleman has paid to the fighting troops, to the civilians in Korea, and to those who have been engaged in these long drawn-out negotiations; and also join with him in the hope that this may prove a turning point in the affairs of the Far East and may lead on to a general settlement.

Mr. C. Davies

I think that all will agree that, throughout the world, there will be great relief and rejoicing at the news of the signing of this Armistice, but may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman can say how soon the United Nations will be brought together to consider the matter, either in Council or Assembly?

Mr. Lloyd

My information is that a meeting of the General Assembly has been summoned for 17th August.

Sir W. Smithers

Will my right hon. and learned Friend approach the leaders of all the churches to try to arrange a Thanksgiving Service for next Sunday in all churches and chapels?

Mr. Lloyd

I will certainly consider that suggestion.

Mr. A. Henderson

Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention been drawn to the statement made today by General Mark Clark that he expects American returned prisoners of war to reach the United States within the next two or three weeks? Can he give any indication of the arrangements to be made to ensure that our own prisoners of war reach this country as soon as possible?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot yet give any precise information to the House, but I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman that we shall do everything we can to see that they get here as speedily as possible.

Mr. Irvine

I should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman a question about the future. In view of the fact that the arrival of Indian troops in Korea is likely to be a critical matter, having regard to the attitude of the South Korean Government, will the Government be prepared to give an assurance now—as this is to happen during the Recess—that they will keep in close contact with the Government of India in order that the necessary arrangements and safeguards may be dealt with in harmony between the two Governments?

Mr. Lloyd

I can certainly give the assurance that we shall continue to be in close contact with the Government of India. In fact, I think arrangements have been made which will obviate the difficulty which was at one time forecast.

Captain Duncan

Will my right hon. and learned Friend issue a White Paper or otherwise publish the terms of the truce Agreement?

Mr. Lloyd

I will certainly consider that. It is a very lengthy document, but I think it might be well to have it on record.

Mr. Bing

Will the Minister consider, with a view to improving relations, as he said, the removal as soon as possible of the present restrictions on the export to China of medical supplies, particularly antibiotics like penicillin and streptomycin?

Mr. Lloyd

I think the question of the relaxation of these controls must be a matter to be dealt with in the future as the political conference develops. It is certainly our hope that, as the conference proceeds successfully, it should be possible to relax these controls.

Sir H. Williams

In whose custody are the British prisoners of war?

Mr. Lloyd

According to my information, at present they are all in the custody of the North Korean authorities.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Could the Minister tell us what problems of the people of Korea have been solved? Is Korea any safer from Communism? Would the Government consider publishing a White Paper showing the tremendous devastation in Korea, the loss of life and the destruction of property? Could such a White Paper be published to show what a modern war achieves?

Mr. Lloyd

I think the answer is that there comes a time when aggression, the attempt to expand by military means, has to be checked. It was checked in Korea, and I believe that that decision and that result will be of profound effect in the future of the world.

Mr. Alport

Could my right hon. and learned Friend say what special contribution Her Majesty's Government have in mind to make towards the reconstruction of South Korea after the devastation which has taken place?

Mr. Lloyd

Various programmes are now under consideration. A programme is being carried out to which we have contributed nearly £3 million, and other programmes will be coming along for consideration. We shall endeavour to do our duty in this matter.

Mr. Anthony Greenwood

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has expressed a hope which we all echo—that this will be the turning point in the Far East. Will he give the House an assurance that Her Majesty's Government will lose no opportunity at all of pressing upon the United Nations the desirability of recognising the Republican Government of China and of admitting her to the United Nations at the earliest opportunity?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a matter upon which the views of Her Majesty's Government are well known. It certainly is a matter which must be considered and dealt with by the United Nations and we shall certainly see that it is discussed even before open negotiation takes place.

Mr. Noel-Baker

In considering our contribution towards the reconstruction of Korea, will the Government remember that we shall be saving a lot on military operations which have now ceased and that the better the reconstruction the better will be the chance that the fighting will not start again?

Mr. Lloyd

I certainly agree that it is necessary that all the nations of the United Nations should play their part in the reconstruction of South Korea, and I also agree that it is tremendously important that we should make a success of that task of reconstruction.

Mr. C. Williams

In speaking of those nations who have taken part in the operations in Korea, would my right hon. and learned Friend like to add Turkey, who has played a very prominent and gallant part?

Mr. Lloyd

It is true that Turkey has played a very great part, and in the cemetery of the United Nations' troops at Pusan there are very many Turkish graves.

Mr. Donnelly

While I do not wish to press the Minister of State today, is there any chance of a general statement being made by Her Majesty's Government on their attitude towards the various problems which are likely to arise at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly?

Mr. Lloyd

That is hardly a matter for me. There is to be a debate on foreign affairs in another place.