HC Deb 08 March 1955 vol 538 cc157-66
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Sir Anthony Eden)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I should like to make a statement on my recent journey.

A journey of 16,000 miles in 16 days, including a conference of three days' duration, and important discussions in several capitals can clearly not be surveyed in a brief statement to this House. It may therefore be convenient if I compress the account of my voyaging and deal with it under three main headings: the Middle East, South-East Asia and the Formosa Straits.

I found in the Middle East a general acceptance of the need to organise a safe shield of defence to protect the area from aggression from without. There is also a recognition that the security and prosperity of the area cannot be fully realised so long as the present disruptive relations persist between the Arab States and Israel, now unhappily aggravated by further recent incidents. Thirdly, all the States I visited, Egypt, Pakistan, Iraq and the Lebanon, were anxious to be able to pursue the plans for economic development on which they have embarked. Her Majesty's Government are in sympathy with all these aims and are ready to help in so far as they can to realise them.

While in Bagdad I discussed with the Prime Minister of Iraq the questions which would arise if Her Majesty's Government were to accede to the Turco-Iraqi Pact. I hope before long to give the House further information on this subject. Our aim is to forge a new association with Iraq which will bring our relations into line with those which already exist with Turkey and our other partners in N.A.T.O. New weapons and changed political conditions should be reflected in a fresh approach to our joint arrangements for resisting external aggression in this area. Our common needs can now best be provided for in different and more up-to-date ways than those which were embodied in the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty more than twenty years ago.

The first meeting of the Council of the Manila Treaty of the countries of South-East Asia was held in Bangkok from 23rd to 25th February. I told the House, when we discussed the Treaty on 8th November, that this first meeting would be chiefly concerned with setting in hand the arrangements for military and other planning for the defence of the Treaty area. So it was. But it was none the less important for being concerned mainly with questions of organisation.

Our decisions have been set out in the full communiqué published by the Council, which I have arranged to make available to the House. Permanent representatives are being appointed to maintain consultation when the Council is not in session, and they will be assisted by a small permanent secretariat in Bangkok. Military advisers will be attached to the Council. These have already held their first meeting and have made the necessary arrangements for their further work. Their duty will be to plan how the resources available for the common defence of the area can be used to the best advantage should the need arise. There are also to be early meetings of experts to discuss economic questions and measures for meeting the danger of subversion.

Full use will be made of existing agencies such as the Colombo Plan, the importance of which is increasing steadily. For this reason we decided that it was not necessary to set up any permanent economic organisation within the Manila Treaty.

Another example of the work now going on is the excellent co-operation which has been established between the police authorities in Malaya and in Siam to deal with problems created by Communist terrorists on either side of the common frontier.

To sum up, the Bangkok Conference worked out an acceptable programme for defence policies and economic problems between the countries who are member States; it also did nothing to hinder the subsequent association of other countries in this area. However this may develop I have confidence that we shall see steadily improving relations between all the free countries in this part of the world whether members of S.E.A.T.O. or not. And that is the result we want to see.

But we recognise that this work of regional co-operation represents only one means of strengthening peace and stability in South-East Asia.

Another essential contribution to the same end was the agreement concluded at Geneva last summer which ended the fighting in Indo-China and established the independence of the three Associated States. The Governments represented at the Bangkok Conference reaffirmed their determination to support these States in maintaining their freedom and independence.

When I went on to Singapore after the Bangkok meeting, I discussed the situation in Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia with Her Majesty's Representatives in those States. This formed part of a wider meeting with the Commissioner General in South-East Asia and our civil and military representatives throughout that region. This discussion was most valuable to me.

My visits to South-East Asia have brought home to me how closely the countries of the area cherish their independence. Each country wants to develop in its own way, and their own ways may differ widely. They want to shape their own destinies with the minimum of outside interference and pressure. Democracy in these countries will grow stronger as they gain confidence from its practice and example.

From Singapore I flew to Malaya and spent a memorable day, with the help of helicopters, in seeing the work of our Commonwealth Forces. The spirit in which these men are facing their daily ordeal of foul discomfort and danger is beyond praise. [HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The success they have won is a splendid tribute to their leadership and to them.

While I was at Bangkok, I had separate and helpful discussions with Mr. Dulles about the situation in Formosa and the coastal islands. I also maintained, during my journey, the contacts which had been established with Moscow and Peking and which are still continuing.

In the light of these exchanges, I again considered, on the subject of Formosa, whether any further progress could be made through a conference or other discussions. I had valuable conversations about this on my way home with the Prime Minister of Burma and with Mr. Nehru, who received me with the utmost kindness as the first British Foreign Secretary to visit the Indian capital.

After these talks and on the basis of the information about the attitude of the Chinese Government which reached me from Peking, I came reluctantly to the conclusion that the necessary conditions for progress do not yet exist. We are, however, going on working to try to bring them about and meanwhile to prevent incidents and further fighting.

We cannot, of course, impose our views upon the parties most directly concerned, nor decide for them where their own true interests lie. Nor can the many different aspects of this tangled problem be settled all at once. But the House will wish to know—and I think is entitled to know—what is the position of Her Majesty's Government in this situation and what, in their view, are the lines along which progress is to be sought. Its main elements seem to me to be these:

The United States Government have already given positive proofs of their desire to relax tension and reduce the risks of war. I am convinced—I say this with all the conviction in my power—that they wish to see conditions created which would put an end to active military hostilities in the area and reduce the dangers of a wider conflict. In their Treaty with Chiang Kai-shek they have explicitly limited their own formal commitments to the defence of Formosa and the Pescadores. They have effectively restrained the Chinese Nationalists in recent weeks from initiating attacks against the Chinese mainland. They have persuaded the Nationalists to evacuate the Tachen and Nanchi islands.

The Chinese People's Government for their part have refrained from attacking Quemoy and the Matsus. Her Majesty's Government trust that they will continue to exercise this restraint and that they will make it apparent that while maintaining intact in all respects their position in regard to Formosa and the Pescadores they will not prosecute their claims by forceful means.

It is equally desirable that the Chinese Nationalists for their part should also do two things. We would like to see them withdraw their armed forces from the other coastal islands. We would also hope that they would let it be known that they too, while maintaining their claims, will not prosecute them by forceful means and will abstain from all offensive military action.

I suggest to the House that if these objectives could be realised, consideration could then be given internationally at an appropriate moment to the problem of Chinese representation in the United Nations and to the future status of Formosa.

Any attempt—and I know it only too well—to make progress along these lines clearly raises grave problems of timing, of presentation and of policy. But there is no problem, however intractable, which with time and patience cannot be made less so. And if the attempt is not made in the case of Formosa and the coastal islands, the consequences may be grave indeed. That is my justification for giving to this House this outline of the main elements of the problem as they appear to Her Majesty's Government.

Mr. H. Morrison

The House will be glad to seethe Foreign Secretary back in his native land after very extensive travels, and we thank him for the comprehensive statement which he has been good enough to make. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman as regards the relationship between the Arab States and Israel—and we are all anxious about recent events—whether anything has been done or anything can be done to end the fundamental difficulty, which is the state of war persisting, at the behest of the Arab States, for five or six years between the Arab States and Israel. I should like to ask whether anything can be done to bring that to an end.

We are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the South-East Asia situation. We fully agree that the. economic activities in South-East Asia, particularly in developing the Colombo Plan, in which we had a hand at the beginning, are a matter of very great importance. We would also join with the Foreign Secretary in paying our tribute to the bravery and courage of the men in Malaya who are struggling under very great difficulties for the restoration of law and order.

We are appreciative of what the Foreign Secretary said about Formosa. It appears to be now established that the policy of Her Majesty's Government is that it would be well for the Nationalist Chinese forces to withdraw from the coastal islands. The coastal islands are one question and Formosa is another question. In principle we agree with that, and that there should be an abstention from military action.

I do not want to embarrass the right hon. Gentleman, but I wonder if he could say anything about whether the United States Government in principle accept the view which he has expressed. One would hope that that might be so, but we agree with the general view which the right hon. Gentleman has taken that the sooner the Nationalists are out of the islands by the mainland and the issue is confined to Formosa, the better it will be.

The right hon. Gentleman's statement has only just been made. It may be that there will be further Parliamentary questions and that the statement will need further study but, broadly speaking, we are obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his statement.

Sir A. Eden

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I should like to try to reply to the main question, the one concerning Israel and the Arab States. I think that the House knows that we have been making efforts to try to improve the situation there and that there had been in fact a certain improvement over the last month, which had been acknowledged by both sides, when this most unhappy Gaza incident occurred which, I am afraid, will have aroused passions again and set back the work which we wanted to do. I can see nothing that can be achieved at the moment in that sphere except that it should be handled by the Security Council, and I should hope that in so doing the Council will handle it on the broadest basis, dealing not only with the immediate issues but with the wider issues as well.

As to what I said about Formosa, and as to the position of the United States, what I have done in my statement, of course, is to do what I thought the House would consider it my duty to do, that is, to set out the position of Her Majesty's Government. What I have said commits absolutely nobody except Her Majesty's Government. I would add only this in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. If there really were an indication of a willingness to refrain from the use of force, I think that then the chance of a situation resulting such as the right hon. Member for Lewisham, South (Mr. H. Morrison) has in mind in respect of the offshore islands would be enormously increased. Shall I put it like that? The difficulty for our American friends, I think it is fair to say, is that if any form of withdrawal is regarded as a stepping stone to a further attack, then clearly the position for them is very difficult. I think I should repeat that any indication that, in prosecuting claims, force will not be used would, I believe, reduce the tension at once and perhaps enable us to make headway.

Mr. A. Henderson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he and Mr. Nehru found themselves in their talks in broad agreement on Far Eastern problems?

Sir A. Eden

I think one half of that answer should be given by the Prime Minister of India and not by me, but what I have said here about the talks, I repeat, commits nobody else. My statement is made on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and will not even commit any Commonwealth Government. I found our conversations in India very helpful, as my statement indicates. I ought to say that the welcome to me as a Member of Parliament which I received in Delhi from the Parliament there was very warm and friendly indeed.

Mr. Nicholson

May I say that we on this side of the House are glad to see my right hon. Friend back looking so well? I should like to ask him to clarify the position a little in regard to the Indo-China Succession States. I think he was a little vague about that. Perhaps he may not wish to be more precise, but if he could clarify the position I should be grateful.

Sir A. Eden

I considered that, but my statement was already long and the difficulty in doing it was that no common sentence applied to all three States. The situation is different in each one, but if my hon. Friend will be good enough to put down a Question, I will gladly give him full information on each of them. I think that is perhaps the best way to handle it.

Mr. Grimond

After his conversations with the Arab States, did the right hon. Gentleman form the opinion that, if there were a period of comparative peace on the frontier, there was any chance of resettling the Arab refugees?

Sir A. Eden

I do not know that I could answer that helpfully with things as they are at the present moment. The truth would be that what we were working for was some period without incident on the frontier from which we might move to a more comprehensive settlement. I do not myself see how we could settle the refugee problem without settling some other matters, too.

Major Legge-Bourke

In view of the fact that the United Kingdom, together with France and the United States, has guaranteed the frontiers of Israel, and in view of the fact that the Mixed Armistice Commission has condemned Israel, would my right hon. Friend consult the other guarantors to see whether something cannot be done jointly to restrict Israel from repeating her performance?

Sir A. Eden

The matter is before the Security Council and, as my hon. and gallant Friend knows, our guarantees are not unilateral. They extend both ways. Therefore, I think it would not be wise to add to what I have said.

Mrs. Castle

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, contrary to the report of Mr. James Reston in the "New York Times," the Foreign Secretary did press on Mr. Dulles the need to evacuate Quemoy and the Matsus as the United States' contribution towards a Far Eastern settlement, and can he say whether the report in the "New York Times" that the United States is refusing even to consider this is wrong or not?

Sir A. Eden

I think I must stand on the statement I have made, which is on the responsibility of Her Majesty's Government. I do not think I can be asked to confirm or deny newspaper reports, especially in newspapers not even published in this country.

Mr. Patrick Maitland

Can my right hon. Friend say whether the Egyptian Government joined in the general acceptance of the need to organise a defence shield in the Middle East, and can he say anything of the Egyptian Government's treaty with Syria which appears to be a compact against joining the Iraqi-Turkish alliance?

Sir A. Eden

If my hon. Friend reads my answer, he will find the first part of his supplementary question answered there.

Mr. T. Reid

Would it not strengthen the position, security and safety of every South-East Asian country if India abandoned her policy of neutrality and joined with the other States of South-East Asia? Has the right hon. Gentleman had any success in that direction?

Sir A. Eden

We can all express all sorts of opinions about the policies of other countries, and naturally there is nothing that we want to see more than a wider membership of S.E.A.T.O.As I made plain, I do not think everybody will agree with us any more than any other country will entirely accept the proposals I have just made to the House. No one will accept them in their entirety, but that does not mean to say that they are not right all the same.

Sir T. Moore

Despite the modesty of the statement, will my right hon. Friend accept that we on this side of the House greatly admire him for the tact, skill and patience with which he is dealing with what he himself has called these tangled international problems?

Mr. Younger

While accepting what the Foreign Secretary said about its being a great contribution to a settlement in the Far East if the Chinese Communists would agree not to prosecute their claims to Formosa by force, would the Foreign Secretary not agree that the corollary to that is that they must receive some indication that if they prosecute their claim by negotiation the doors will not be wholly closed? Can he say whether there is any such hope which he can, in fact, offer to them?

Sir A. Eden

The right hon. Gentleman is very experienced in these matters. He asked a question which it is very reasonable to ask, but to answer it beyond the terms of my reply would not be wise or helpful at the present time.

Mr. Doughty

Can my right hon. Friend assure us that our friendship, cooperation and consultation with the United States remains as strong as ever?

Sir A. Eden

Yes, Sir, I could say "normal," as somebody else said on a similar occasion.

Mr. Follick

While congratulating the Foreign Secretary on his statement, may I ask him whether any of the discussion referred to Korea?

Sir A. Eden

Korea was mentioned but not at the Conference. It was outside the scope of the Conference.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker


Mr. Fenner Brockway

On a point of order. May I draw your attention, Mr.Speaker, to the fact that I have on the Order Paper Question No. 109 asking the right hon. Gentleman to make a statement on the Bangkok Conference, and would it, therefore, be in order for me to ask a supplementary Question.

Mr. Speaker

The statement was not made in answer to that Question, so I do not think the hon. Gentleman has any particular right. If he has a question to ask, I am sure the Foreign Secretary would be glad to answer it.

Mr. Brockway

While appreciating what the right hon. Gentleman has said about the coastal islands, can he assure the House that the survey of defence made at the Bangkok Conference would not involve this country inextricably in any developments in that area with which we do not agree?

Sir A. Eden

The Bangkok Conference did not cover the area of Formosa. That island is outside the area of the Conference.