HC Deb 04 May 1953 vol 515 cc10-6
15. Mr. Beswick

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will propose to the United Nations Command that a member of a State other than, and in addition to, the United States of America, should take part in the renewed truce talks in Korea.

Mr. Nutting

No, Sir. Her Majesty's Government see no reason to depart from the arrangements which have been followed since the talks first began in 1951.

Mr. Beswick

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware of the very real and grave disquiet that there is at the handling of the truce talks on the United Nations side? If the Government want to cut down the sniping at the U.S.A. to which the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Nicholson) referred last week cannot they get the U.S.A. to share their responsibility in this matter?

Mr. Nutting

I think that the hon. Gentleman is being very much less than fair to the United Nations negotiators by the implication of his supplementary. General Harrison has concentrated, in the last few days, on securing a clarification of the Communist Command's proposals —proposals which have been by no means clear to me nor, I should imagine, to the hon. Gentleman. As he will have lately seen, the United Nations have now proposed that Pakistan should be the neutral State. In all the circumstances, I do not think that the attitude of the United Nations Command has been anything but wholly and remarkably reasonable and patient throughout many many months of arduous and tedious negotiations.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Without desiring in any way to reflect on the delegation which the United Nations have had at the truce talks, may I ask whether it is not plain that it would be in the interests of everybody, including the United States of America, that responsibility for these negotiations should be shared more widely in view of the fact that the interests of all members of the United Nations are vitally affected by the result?

Mr. Nutting

I see no reason to suppose that the responsibility for these negotiations is not properly shared between the nations involved just because the spokesman for the United Nations happens to be an American officer, considering that the United States are carrying 19/20ths of the burden of the war. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there are effective and constant channels of communication and consultation between this country and the United States. I will not read them out. but if the right hon. Gentleman will look at the answer given by the Foreign Secretary on 5th December, 1951, he will realise that ample opportunities for consultation are available and, what is more, are used.

Mr. Beswick

Are we to take it that the Government are quite satisfied with the behaviour of General Harrison in these talks?

Mr. Nutting

Yes, Sir.

18. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what consultations took place with Her Majesty's Government before the official announcement was made by Lieut.-General Harrison, chief United Nations delegate to the Korean truce negotiations, that no Asiatic nation would be accepted by the Allies as a neutral Power to supervise the repatriation of prisoners of war.

19. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what consultations took place with Her Majesty's Government before the official announcement by the United Nations representatives of their refusal to accept that an Asian country should temporarily accommodate prisoners of war who refuse to return to North Korea or China in the event of agreement being reached on the repatriation of prisoners.

Mr. Nutting

I would ask the hon. Members to await the reply which the Prime Minister will give to Question Nos. 48 and 49.

Mrs. Castle

On a point of order. As no attempt has been made by the Foreign Office to get my Question transferred to the Prime Minister, nor has any notice been given to me, and as the Prime Minister's Questions are Nos. 48 and 49 which are rather late on the Order Paper, can we have an assurance that the Question will be answered even if not reached within the normal hour?

Mr. Speaker

I think I can give that assurance.

Mr. Sorensen

Does not it seem rather odd that Questions of a similar nature, some addressed to the Prime Minister and some to the Foreign Secretary, should in one case be transferred, so far as the answer is concerned, without the hon. Member who put down the Question being informed?

Mr. Speaker

If Ministers transfer Questions it is usual for them to inform the hon. Members. I hope that that practice will be followed.

Mr. Nutting

I have no desire whatever to be discourteous in any way to the House. I felt, as did my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, that it would be simpler if these Questions, which deal with an identical topic, were answered together.

Mr. Donnelly

I should like to put a helpful suggestion to you, Mr. Speaker, that there should be a clear definition, in view of the temporary absence of the Foreign Secretary, as to what should happen about particular Questions to the Foreign Office.

Mr. Speaker

I have no doubt that that will be considered by the Ministers who are responsible.

21. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the outstanding points of disagreement between the two sides to the Korean truce negotiations.

12. Mr. Awbery

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is aware of the feeling in the minds of the people over the prolongation of the armistice negotiations in Korea; and if he will give the proposals made by the United Nations and those laid down by the Chinese for the purpose of establishing an armistice, particularly those referring to the exchange of prisoners.

Mr. Nutting

I would ask the hon. Members to await the reply which the Prime Minister will give to Questions Nos. 48 and 49.

Mrs. Castle

On a point of order. I have studied the Order Paper with great care, but I see no similar Questions addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it not a strange and new development that, when hon. Members put down Questions to the Foreign Secretary, which are not transferred officially to the Prime Minister without the hon. Member being informed to that effect, hon. Members should suddenly be told that they must wait until a later stage?

Mr. Speaker

I think that Question No. 48 would appear to provide the opportunity for an answer to the hon. Lady's Question, and that perhaps the hon. Lady had better wait until then.

Mrs. Castle

Questions Nos. 48 and 49 are very limited in their scope, Sir, because they refer merely to one of the points of disagreement, namely, the choice of another country as a neutral; and there are other points.

Mr. M. Lindsay

Is it not highly appropriate that this step should have been taken, since the Prime Minister has taken charge of the Foreign Office?

48. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the armistice discussions at Pan-munjom; and what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government in regard to the designation of an Asiatic country as a neutral.

49. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Prime Minister what consultations took place between the United Nations High Command in Korea and Her Majesty's Government before the announcement was made that the United Nations were not prepared to accept an Asiatic country as the neutral to be temporarily in charge of those prisoners of war who declined to be repatriated.

The Prime Minister(Sir Winston Churchill)

With the right hon. and learned Gentleman's permission, I will answer his Question and No. 49 together.

Lieut.-Colonel Lipton

On a point of order.

The Prime Minister

I take it that there is permission, as it would be for the convenience of the House. Both these Questions overlap.

Mr. Attlee

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was present when previous Questions were put to the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and he said that the Prime Minister would answer those Questions also, in addition to Questions Nos. 48 and 49.

The Prime Minister

I would be delighted to answer any question that comes to me in the ordinary course of Parliamentary business.

I do not think it would be a good thing for me to try to make a statement at Question time about the armistice discussions at Panmunjom. We are to have two days' debate on foreign affairs next week in which such matters may well be referred to.

About the question of a neutral State to deal with the matter of prisoners being repatriated against their will, I am informed that General Harrison has been misreported. The United Nations Command did not refuse to accept an Asiatic country as the neutral State. General Harrison stated that until a specific country was named the United Nations Command would have no option but to stand by their original proposal of "a country such as Switzerland." Her Majesty's Government would be glad to see these responsibilities assumed by India or Pakistan and have made their opinion known to the United States authorities.

I see that it has come through on the tape, which is my only authority, that Lieut.-General Harrison today nominated Pakistan as the neutral country to handle prisoners of war refusing repatriation. The Communist delegates neither rejected nor agreed to Pakistan being a neutral custodian of prisoners. At the Communists' request, talks were adjourned until tomorrow. Not so bad.

Mr. Henderson

We are not asking the Prime Minister to embark upon any statement of policy, in view of the disturbance in many people's minds at the course of events; but in view of the fact that a disposal of these 50,000 prisoners of war is now a major political problem, is the Prime Minister satisfied that full consultations are taking place meanwhile between the United States Government, the British Government and the other Governments interested in this matter, and that they are taking place at Ministerial level?

The Prime Minister

I should have notice of questions like that, which raise considerable issues. We are in close touch with the United States on these matters. We have a most sincere desire, which is shared in all parts of the House, to see this obstacle of the prisoners' forcible repatriation removed. That is a matter of honour, but we earnestly hope that it may be overcome. It certainly is very near to being overcome and I think we may hopefully await the further development of events.

Mr. Donnelly

Without embarking upon a full statement, will the Prime Minister at least go this far, now that the principle of no forcible repatriation has been accepted: that all these other matters of what State, how long they will hold the prisoners, where they will be held, and what kind of arrangements will be made, are all matters, in the view of Her Majesty's Government, for negotiation and not necessarily of substantial principle?

The Prime Minister

I think that the matters of principle have been settled. It is now a question of method. I really do not see why there should not be an agreement on this and why we should not move forward pretty quickly to larger topics and aspects in Korea. But it does not rest entirely with our side, as it were, in this war that is taking place in Korea. I am sure of this—that if agreement on method cannot be reached now it is not because of any difficulties arising out of the specific issues, but because of extraneous considerations which may be in the minds of those with whom we are arguing.

Mrs. Castle

Although General Harrison's original statement has to some extent been corrected, is it not clear that he did make some most unfortunate references to Asiatic peoples and how they, including India and Pakistan, were likely to be under Communist influence? Is it not clear that the negotiations are at a crucial stage and are not being handled with sufficient skill by the generals? Is it not time, when such important political matters are involved, that the negotiations were taken out of the hands of the soldier intermediaries and put directly in the hands of politicians at the highest level, in which case our own Government would have direct representation?

The Prime Minister

I am sure that we would have a much better chance of getting a satisfactory solution under the conduct of General Harrison, who has been acting in accordance with instructions he received from higher authority, than we should have even if the hon. Lady volunteered herself to go.

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