HC Deb 09 June 1953 vol 516 cc31-6
45. Mrs. Castle

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a further statement on the Korean truce talks.

46. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the Korean armistice negotiations.

48. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the progress of the Korean truce talks.

49. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a comprehensive statement indicating what differences are still outstanding in the truce talks in Korea; and what progress has been made during the last month towards agreement.

51. Mr. Swingler

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the progress of the Korean truce talks since 22nd May.

The Prime Minister

I will, with permission, answer these Questions together, but I think it might be more for the convenience of the House, if, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I did that in a short statement at the close of Questions.


The Prime Minister

With permission, Sir, I will now answer these five Questions.

As the House is aware, on 8th June the Armistice Delegations at Panmunjom signed the agreement on the question of prisoners of war. This agreement followed quickly the revised proposals which were put forward by the United Nations Command on 25th May with the support of Her Majesty's Government. We are satisfied that the arrangements now agreed will ensure that no prisoner of war is repatriated by force.

Two points of substance which were outstanding when I made my last statement on 21st May have been settled to our satisfaction. India will be invited to provide the forces to take custody of prisoners under the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission. Prisoners who refuse to be repatriated will not be detained beyond 120 days, after they have been transferred to the custody of the Commission. The other provisions of an armistice agreement have already in the main been agreed for many months past. Thus nothing ought now to stand in the way of the conclusion of an armistice except the necessary administrative arrangements, which I trust may be soon completed.

I will venture to repeat again for the third time to the House what I said a month ago upon our relations with the United States about Korea: … the United States, as mandatory for the United Nations, has borne nineteen-twentieths of the burden in blood and treasure. The matter is not one which we have either the right or the responsibility to decide, but it is our duty, without separating ourselves from our great ally, to express our opinion frankly and plainly to them as occasion offers." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th May, 1953; Vol. 515, c. 888.] This was well received in Washington and generally throughout the United States. We made a number of suggestions to the United States Government. These were most attentively considered. They were discussed on several occasions not only with our Ambassador but with representatives of the members of the British Commonwealth who have combatant forces in Korea who were invited by the State Department to attend the meetings. In the result, we found ourselves in complete accord on the new proposals to be made at Panmunjom. We thought it right, in view of this, to make public our intention to support the United States along these lines in any way that might be desirable or necessary.

When this statement was issued, events moved rapidly to the agreement to which I have just referred. Under the decisive guidance of President Eisenhower a result has been achieved which, unless new disappointments occur, will be of high value in itself on all sides, and also important in relation to the world position.

Perhaps I may make one further observation which rather concerns ourselves here. I do not feel that full justice has been done by us here—I include myself— during the last few months to the difficulties to which General Clark and General Harrison were subjected, not only by Communist obstinacy but also by the attitude—not very apparent to us—of the South Korean Government under Mr. Syngman Rhee. One must remember that it was the policy of the United States to build up a strong, well-armed, efficient South Korean Army which would in couse of time relieve them of the heavy burden they have been carrying. This army has for some time been a factor of growing importance.

In my opinion, these American Generals, whose names I have given, most faithfully sought to bring hostilities to an end in terms compatible with the honour of the Allied Powers acting under the authority of the United Nations, but all the time they had to consider the reactions which might occur in the powerful South Korean forces which they were creating and had to a large extent created. I think it is only fair to say that, because I did not appreciate the full aspect of this myself. We must never be unjust to people who do their very best.

The House will recall that the draft Armistice Agreement provides for the summoning of a political conference where serious issues remain to be discussed; that is, after the prisoner of war business has been settled and after an armistice has been reached, there is then this political conference. It would be unwise to assume that many difficulties do not lie ahead. But I feel we may regard what has already happened as constituting a definite step forward towards the goal we all seek.

Mr. Henderson

In welcoming this statement of the Prime Minister, I am sure that I speak on behalf of all my right hon. and hon. Friends when I offer him our congratulations on the consistent part that Her Majesty's Government have played in bringing about a solution of this very difficult problem, and I am sure the Prime Minister would be the first to acknowledge the valuable contributions that have been made by the various Commonwealth Governments, especially the Government of India. May I ask him, on another point, with regard to the agreement itself, whether the various declarations of President Syngman Rhee indicate that the South Korean Government will be a party to the agreement and the truce that will follow?

The Prime Minister

I do not know at all what the answer could be, but, on the whole, I expect it would work out all right in the end, having regard to the very great power and clear, decisive policy of the United States.

In reply to the other point, certainly I would like to acknowledge the contributions made by other Governments. We have been following out, in the main, the sort of line that I am sure would have been taken by the party to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman belongs —by the Front Bench opposite. The matter only came to a head after all this long period of delay. I think that if we are going to make acknowledgements we should remember my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary who influenced the United Nations very much towards giving great emphasis to the Indian influence as a means of solving these difficulties. I am sure we all wish him God's help in the ordeal which he is going to face.

Mrs. Castle

While warmly welcoming the progress so far made towards an armistice, may I ask the right hon Gentleman whether he would agree that the Chinese Communists have made fundamental concessions in these negotiations on principle, without which an armistice could not have been possible; and, in view of this hopeful evidence of a co-operative attitude, will Her Majesty's Government now take the initiative towards a wider settlement by pressing upon the United States Government the urgency of admitting the Peoples' Government of China to the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

I think all this could have been settled many months ago if the Chinese Government had not, for reasons which I cannot measure, shown no desire to bring these matters to a conclusion.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Prime Minister agree that after this great success the next great step forward should be the recognition by the United Nations of the China Government in Peking, and will he say what steps he will take to bring about that desirable event?

The Prime Minister

The course which we are following has a lot of fences in it, and I really think it is better to jump them one at a time.

Mr. Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that though events have taken a more favourable turn lately, they have left in their train a considerable deterioration in Anglo-American relations and a failure in the United States to understand our point of view? Will he take an early opportunity to direct his unparalleled prestige towards an amelioration of those relations?

The Prime Minister

That raises a lot of issues, but I certainly feel that we have an absolute right to put our views forward, and we have done so, not with disadvantage to anyone. I also feel deeply indebted to the United States, who have borne the burden for so long and who were joined by the members of the late Government at the time of the invasion of Korea. I do not think there is any real difference between us on the main principles involved.

Mr. Donnelly

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the best way to improve Anglo-American relations is for us always to speak frankly, as he has already done? Amongst all the general congratulations which have been offered to the right hon. Gentleman today, will he express his hope that this—to use his own words—is just the end of the beginning and that many great events will follow, in which there will be just as great a readiness by people on the other side of the Iron Curtain to see our point of view as there has been by people on this side of the Iron Curtain to express the views of China when it has been unpopular to do so?

The Prime Minister

We should always look forward with eagerness to opportunities of speaking frankly, but I think the time must be well chosen.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The Prime Minister spoke of the political conference which is to follow the signing of the truce and the many great problems it must face. If I understand the matter rightly, the first step is for the Assembly of the United Nations to be convened again by its President, Mr. Pearson, of Canada. Should we rightly assume that it will be the Assembly which will decide the composition and the terms of reference of the political conference, on behalf of the United Nations?

The Prime Minister

We have just met after a holiday and we have a considerable period of the Session before us. Therefore, I think I may fairly ask for notice of that somewhat complicated series of hypothetical questions.