HC Deb 20 January 1954 vol 522 cc1005-7
50. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a further statement on the Korean situation

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

According to Press reports, in the early hours of this morning the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission began to transfer to the custody of the United Nations Command the 14,300 Chinese and 7,700 North Korean prisoners of war who still refuse to be repatriated. We have not yet received official confirmation of this report, but I have no reason to doubt its truth. The United Nations Command have made arrangements to receive the prisoners and propose to treat them as fully entitled to release on 23rd January.

The negotiations to make arrangements for the Korean Political Conference are still adjourned. But efforts are being made to re-open these discussions and what are called "Liaison Secretaries" are, I am informed, meeting again today with this end in view. Her Majesty's Government earnestly hope that their meetings will be successful.

Mr. Henderson

While not necessarily dissenting from the views which the Foreign Secretary has just expressed, may I ask whether he would not agree that this will lead to a very serious position in Korea? In those circumstances will he not support the efforts of the Government of India to bring about as soon as possible a meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations? Would he not also agree that nothing should be done meanwhile which in any way will have the effect of preventing the eventual holding of the proposed Political Conference?

Mr. Eden

We have always taken the view and have always expressed it, I think indeed with the full assent of this House, that these prisoners were entitled to their release on this day. I could not possibly say anything which would call in question the justice of that decision. The meeting of the Assembly is another issue on which we have to return a reply, I think, by the 29th of this month. We are considering the reply which we shall return. It will be influenced, of course, by the events of the next few days. I see no reason why, in view of the justice of our action, the disturbed events to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman refers should arise.

Mr. Chetwynd

Can the right hon. Gentleman say where it is proposed that the prisoners should be released? Are they to be sent to Formosa? Where are they to be sent?

Mr. Eden

Does the hon. Member mean to what place they are to be released? The Korean prisoners are to be released to their own country and the overwhelming majority of the Chinese to Formosa. Some have asked to go to a neutral country and we are trying to make arrangements of that kind, but they will not be easy.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Do we understand that the prisoners released will choose the destination to which they will go? Can the Foreign Secretary tell us whether the Government are willing to agree to the Assembly if the events of the next day or two show that to be desirable?

Mr. Eden

We certainly do not exclude from our minds a meeting of the Assembly, but, as I think the right hon. Gentleman will understand, we should like to see what happens in the next day or two before finally expressing a view as to the date on which that Assembly should meet. As regards the prisoners, all those who wanted to go back to their own country have had full opportunities to do so, as the House knows. I think that at the beginning of the last stage there were 135 Chinese who chose repatriation and went back to Communist China. The remainder have expressed a desire not to go to Communist China. As regards what other arrangements can be made for them, I think that my earlier answer has to cover that.

Mr. Henderson

May I express the hope that the Foreign Secretary will make it clear that no Chinese soldier will be compelled to go to Formosa against his will?

Mr. Eden

No, Sir, but some arrangements had to be made. So far, these Chinese have expressed their wishes when taken to the Repatriation Commission by shouting loudly "Formosa, Formosa." If, even at the next stage, they shout something different we shall try to accommodate their wishes, but it may not be an easy task.

Mr. Donnelly

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, provided the wishes of the prisoners for their release is carried out within reason, many people who have taken a so-called Left-Wing point of view on this matter entirely support the action of Her Majesty's Government?

Mr. Eden

I am much obliged to the hon. Member. I ought to say that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition on this matter when it was last debated was very helpful in making it plain to other countries that there was a national view on it.