HC Deb 07 June 1957 vol 571 cc1674-80

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)

I am grateful to the Minister who replied to the previous debate for streamlining his remarks, and I wish to refer now to a subject completely different from those which have been discussed previously this afternoon. I wish to deal with the vital aspect of Vietnam and South-East Asia. I too must streamline what I have to say and condense my speech into seven minutes, but I give notice to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and to the Ministries concerned that from time to time they will be concerned with the problem of the whole of South-East Asia and the relationship of Vietnam, because as one of the co-chairman of the Geneva Agreement we have a responsibility concerning Vietnam.

With the signing of the Geneva Agreement in July, 1954, hostilities ceased, and in Indo-China we have to face the position that Cambodia and Laos were left as a geographical entity. It was then that this House gave great praise to Sir Anthony Eden, which he well deserved, because he maintained the name of England despite the attitude and opposition of the United States. I wish to reiterate that praise which I heard emphasised in China last week by Chou En-lai and Ho Chi Minh, the President, in discussions with me, and also by other dignitaries both north and south of the 17th Parallel.

I think it right to pay a tribute to the part played by Sir Anthony Eden because, although he was a political opponent, he was a great leader. I do not agree with what was contained in a well-informed article on the South—there was very little in it about the North—which appeared in The Times yesterday. Reference was made about hopes fading in a divided Vietnam. It says: further, it is doubtful whether even the Governments of the two zones of the Vietnam, however much they pay lip service to unification, really desire it. They themselves are established in power in their zones. It is the people who suffer. With five of my colleagues from this House I have just visited the Far East. I have had the good fortune to visit Indo-China and the Far East on a number of occasions. We were agreed on one thing, which is that the people who are suffering from this division of the 17th Parallel are the people of Vietnam. It is a harder division than that between East and West Germany. I have travelled in East and West Germany. One can walk on each side of the Brandenburg Gate, but we were the first people outside the International Commission or officials to move from Hanoi into Saigon. We did it as a result of getting a lift, which incidentally we paid for, on the International Commission's plane.

As a side light, I would point out that the very plane in which we returned from Saigon to Hanoi was impounded because there were 2¼ kilogram's of opium which was being smuggled from Laos to South Vietnam and it was found in the pilot's cabin.

One thing which Sir Anthony Eden achieved at Geneva—he succeeded to a point—was to get Laos as a neutral. This was a policy which Chou En-lai and the Great Powers at Geneva agreed upon, but there is great competition between the United States and some of the smaller nations, such as Laos and Cambodia, to draw them into the ambit of the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation. I voted openly against the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation. It is neither an organisation nor a treaty. At present it is just something used by the United States in the Pacific Ocean. It is not at this juncture constructively working for peace. I do not mean by that that the United States desires war. Far from it. Some of the leaders, especially Mr. Leyland Barrows, who is responsible for the excellent report, "The United States Operation Mission to Viet-nam" are good Americans struggling to build up a useful system in Asia.

What I am concerned about is the way that America is tackling the problem at the moment. It is leading to a complete breakdown of Western leadership in Asia and giving to Russia and China propaganda points and a leadership out of all proportion to the work which, for instance, Britain has done in this part of the world.

We met many colleagues of the President of the South too, and we were treated to the statement that the 17th Parallel was the frontier of the United States of America. This is an absurd and inflammatory statement which we must denounce. I cannot quote the Geneva Agreement because there is not sufficient time, but the 17th Parallel was never meant to be a permanent division. As The Times says, what are we doing about it? I talked to Pham Van Dong, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, and Chou En-lai and Ho Chi Minh confirmed it.

Are we allowing the position in Vietnam to deteriorate? Is President Diem contravening the Geneva Agreement by introducing conscription? I could quote if I had the time figures to show that the majority of American aid goes to the Vietnamese Army. They are figures from American sources. Incidentally, while we were there, this country, whether members of the House of Commons knew it or not, was taking part in the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation manoeuvres in the Bay of Thailand with a number of aircraft and warships. I consider that that was a contravention of the Geneva Agreement when they came over into Saigon.

The Sixth Report of the International Commission gives an account of the Americans bringing troops and military material into the South without first consulting the Commission. Did Britain consult the Commission on 26th October last year when we took in some of our aircraft and troops for military manoeuvres? I should like to know?

There is only one other point I wish to make. The immediate hopes of unity in North and South may not seem to be there, but I know that leaders in the North and the South want the unity of their country. Ho Chi Minh in the North and others in the South have reiterated their desire for unity. What can we do? If we cannot get a general election throughout Vietnam at the moment we can humanise the 17th Parallel. At the present moment brother cannot visit sister and husband cannot visit wife. I have met men and women who have been fighting in the jungle for years and know nothing about their families.

At the present time, President Diem is not prepared to meet representatives of the North. I made the suggestion to Ho Chi Minh and a similar suggestion in the South. Without a general election the Hanoi Powers could send a representative to a central assembly and Diem's Parliament could send representatives to that central assembly at somewhere like Hue in the centre of Indo-China. Without a general election we could discuss this question of letters, communications and people moving. I hope that something will be done to humanise the 17th Parallel as soon as possible and that the co-chairmen will accept their responsibilities. I hope that Vietnam will be treated exactly like China in respect of trade. Finally, I hope that this House will take seriously its responsibilities as one of the co-signatories to the Geneva Agreement.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. John Baird (Wolverhampton, North-East)

As a result of the war in Indo-China, the people of Vietnam gained their freedom, and this led to the signing of the Geneva Agreement.

I want to emphasise what my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) said about the 17th Parallel. This was intended to be a temporary dividing line until elections were held in July, 1956, and they were to be supervised by the Control Commission. The Geneva Agreement provided that there should be free elections supervised by the Control Commission in 1956, that there should be no victimisation on either side of the dividing line, and no military build-up on either side of that line.

What has happened? There have been no elections. There has been victimisation. There has been a military build-up. There have been no elections because the Government of the South, under President Diem, have refused to agree to them. There has been victimisation which has taken place almost completely in the South, under President Diem and his American military supporters. There has been a military build-up and it has taken place in the South. I am not speaking for myself; these are not my views. These are the views of the Control Commission's Report which was jointly signed by Canada, Holland and India. It made these charges in its last Report.

What are we doing about it? I know that a year ago the British Foreign Office sent a Note to Russia in which it said that there had been a military build-up in the North which had increased its forces from seven to 20 divisions. From where did the Department get that information? Certainly not from the Control Commission, which is on the spot and is a neutral body. It could have supplied one of the co-chairmen, Britain, with any information we wanted. The Control Commission was not asked by the British Government to supply information. From where did we get it?

As a matter of fact, it was completely untrue. There has been a considerable military build-up in the South. More than 2,000 American officers have gone into South Vietnam since Geneva, including five generals, 50 colonels and many other senior officers. The Army and the police force have been re-equipped with American sub-machine guns, rifles and uniforms. The Control Commission also says that there has been very much victimisation and many hundreds of murders in the South, while there has been nothing in the North. Not one specific charge has been levelled against the North which has been proved true. These statements come from the Control Commission and not from the Government of North Vietnam.

Why do we not recognise North Vietnam? Why do we recognise the South? The North is not only the de facto but the de jure Government, and was freely elected in 1946. Why do we recognise this puppet Government in the South, which would not last another month if American troops and assistance were withdrawn? I appeal to the Minister to look at this question again. Let me say, in warning, in the half minute that remains to me, that there is great danger. We met the Control Commission out there and it is getting a bit tired of the situation. There is great danger that some sectors will say, "It is time to get out." The Commission is the only element in Vietnam which has kept the two sides apart.

I hope that the Government will do something to give the people of Vietnam some encouragement to get the unity of their country in the near future. If the Control Commission withdraws there is great danger of war breaking out in that part of the world. I hope that the Foreign Office realises that the danger is real and may blow up at any minute in that area.

4.25 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ian Harvey)

I must at once express my obligation to the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), who has raised this Adjournment debate, for sending me so much notice of all the various points he wished to raise, and my regret that, owing to the time available, he has not been able to deploy them all and that, therefore, I shall not be able to answer them all. I must express my gratitude to him, also, for the references he made to Sir Anthony Eden, which I feel were thoroughly deserved, and I am obliged to him for making them.

The House will understand that Her Majesty's Government recognise the Government of South Vietnam. Furthermore, the hon. Member, of course, brings to this House personal experience of affairs in Vietnam, as he was, I think, with the party which accompanied him, the guest of the Vietminh on his recent visit. I do not wish to say that he has said anything intentionally misleading, but I think that possibly his account of events may have been slightly coloured by the attentions of his hosts.

Mr. Harold Davies

I went to the South, too.

Mr. Harvey

Yes, and I understand the hon. Member had to pay for the lift by which he went. It is a fact that he and his party were the guests of the Vietminh.

Of course, we recognise the problems which exist. On the points made by the hon. Member, I would only observe that, first of all, far from the situation in the South being a build-up as he indicated, the French Union High Command has, in fact, been dissolved. That is a very considerable point which he passed over without any reference at all—which I think was unfortunate.

Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Baird) indicated in his speech, the elections which were anticipated have not been field. That again entirely changes the present situation.

I think it is not without significance that conditions in the Vietminh area are not the rosy conditions which one would infer from the speech of the hon. Member. It is, in fact, a full-going Communist State—

Mr. Harold Davies


Mr. Harvey

Well, the hon. Member is entitled to his views, but, of course, he may have a different interpretation of a full-going Communist State.

Mr. Harold Davies

No more so than China.

Mr. Harvey

It is a totalitarian State and totalitarian conditions exist there—

Mr. Harold Davies

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister is now accusing me of saying deliberate untruths. I can prove to him that there is no freedom of speech and newspapers are limited—

Mr. Speaker

Order. There was no such accusation by the Minister.

Mr. Harvey

I think that a careful study—if I may say so, an objective study—of the situation will show that the Government in South Vietnam is, in fact, a freely-elected Government, whereas the conditions in the North have only recently led to quite considerable unrest. One does not have quite considerable unrest in a community which is happy and satisfied with its lot. The hon. Member made some reference to President Diem. I should like to make some reference to him also, because, as a result of his personality and leadership, the situation in South Vietnam is one of steadily increasing strength and prosperity. I cannot accept that, as a result of this division, the South Vietnam State has in any way interfered with the conditions which exist in the North.

Mr. Harold Davies

I did not say that.

Mr. Harvey

It is a fact that more than 800,000 refugees have fled from the Vietminh area to South Vietnam. This is a situation which must give us cause for the greatest possible concern.

The Question having been proposed at Four o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Four o'clock till Tuesday, 25th June, pursuant to the Resolution of the House yesterday.