HC Deb 12 December 1961 vol 651 cc211-9
Q3. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister whether, in his forthcoming talks with President Kennedy, he will emphasise the urgent need for initiating negotiations on the Berlin problem and European peace.

Q4. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Prime Minister whether he will propose to President Kennedy at their meeting in Bermuda that the free elections under international supervision in both North and South Vietnam called for by the 1954 Geneva agreements should now be held.

Q5. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Prime Minister whether at their meeting in Bermuda, he will propose to President Kennedy that negotiations for a settlement of the Berlin question and related questions should be initiated and not confined to preserving the status quo in West Berlin.

Q7. Mr. H. Wilson

asked the Prime Minister if he will take the opportunity in his forthcoming meetings with the President of the United States of America to discuss the President's proposals for more intimate trading links between the United States of America and Europe.

Q8. Mr. H. Wilson

asked the Prime Minister if he will take the opportunity in his forthcoming meetings with the President of the United States of America of discussing the respective United Kingdom and United States policies with regard to United Nations action in the Congo, so that each Government can better understand the position of the other.

Q10. Mr. Wyatt

asked the Prime Minister if, in his forthcoming discussions with President Kennedy, he will seek to agree a joint Anglo-American policy regarding the actions of the United Nations in the Congo.

The Prime Minister

I would refer to the Answer which I gave on 7th December to Questions about my forthcoming meeting with President Kennedy.

Mr. Shinwell

May we have an assurance that, in his conversations with President Kennedy, the Prime Minister will pursue the importance of the proposed negotiations, and that he will not permit any delay because of the recalcitrant attitude of President de Gaulle or of anybody else?

The Prime Minister

I have made it clear many times that Her Majesty's Government need no convincing of the necessity for negotiations in one form or another on the subject of Berlin and perhaps upon wider topics. But I have also said that obviously it will not be helpful to set out in full our negotiating position before discussions begin.

Mr. Zilliacus

In view of the dangers of the present deadlock, will the Prime Minister suggest to President Kennedy that negotiations be initiated with or without the agreement of France and Germany? Furthermore, since N.A.T.O. comes into operation only in the face of unprovoked aggression, will he make it clear that if France and Germany pursue policies we regard as being provocative we shall not be committed to war for such policies?

On the subject of Vietnam, is it not the case that President Kennedy, in his recent interview, stressed that American policy was that peoples should be free to choose their Governments by free election? Will the Prime Minister invite the President to apply this to Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

The problem concerned in the hon. Member's first supplementary question is that of getting, if possible, an agreed Western position. That is obviously of great importance and is being discussed at this moment in Paris and will be discussed again tomorrow in N.A.T.O.

I am glad to see the hon. Member's conversion to the view that the question of the unity of a country can best be settled by free elections. The difficulty in Vietnam is that infiltration, subversion and other measures have created a situation in which the conditions for elections do not exist.

Mr. H. Wilson

Question No. 8 was put down before the Government's decision last Friday, and before that decision was countermanded in yesterday's statement by the Lord Privy Seat, on the basis, or pretext, of statements alleged to have been made by United Nations representatives. Will the Prime Minister, in preparation for his meeting with the President, when these questions will presumably be discussed, make it clear that the Government intend to decide this issue of the Congo in relation to what needs to be done in the situation—in other words, to govern and not be pushed around by a minority of back benchers?

The Prime Minister

The objective of the Government is to carry out the policy—which we believe the United States shares with us—that this is a matter which should be settled, not by the imposition of power, but by peaceful negotiations.

Mr. Wilson

But is not the Prime Minister aware that, while we have all said that there must be peaceful negotiations, these are impossible until the mercenaries have been cleared out of the country? Will he ensure that the Government's long record of equivocation, which is darkening our name in the world, is ended so that our position becomes clear?

The Prime Minister

We are only too anxious to clear up any misunderstanding. It is perfectly true that in the various resolutions which have been passed, sometimes under threat of veto from one side or the other, there may be difficulties. But it has always been our view—and we have never wavered from it—that this matter should not be settled by an attempt of one part of the country to dominate the other, or by the United Nations being used to impose such a settlement.

The United Nations is there to maintain its position. It is right that it should do so and it should be supported in doing so. That is its right under our present mandate. What has worried us is the uncertainty as to whether the United Nations was really carrying out what we honestly believe to be its purpose in the Congo.

Mr. Wyatt

On this issue will not the Prime Minister have the courage to admit that the United States approach may be more correct than ours, as it was at the time of Suez? Does he not understand that it is absolutely vital to the survival of United Nations that we should implement its decisions and help its officials to carry out these decisions even though we think the decisions may be wrong and the officials may be wrong—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—until such time as we can get those decisions altered, or the officials replaced? Is he not aware that it is not good enough to support the United Nations only when we think it is right and not when we think it is wrong?

The Prime Minister

It is not a question of supporting the United Nations when we think it is wrong. This is a question of interpretation and of whether it was doing what we believe to be its proper intentions and functions.

Mr. Gaitskell

Did I understand the Prime Minister to say that he believed that the United States Government took the same view as the British Government about the Congo situation? If so, can he tell us whether the United States Government were in agreement with Her Majesty's Government when they decided to provide the United Nations with the bombs, and also in agreement with Her Majesty's Government when they decided to withhold authorisation?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. I was talking of the large questions of policy. [Interruption.] I am quite ready to debate that when the time comes. The United States has felt broadly as we have done—that this matter should be settled not by the United Nations forces seizing and conquering a territory and handing it over to anybody else—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—not by treating them as rebels, but by continuing their presence and doing as they did in the first year—trying to create the conditions for negotiation. After 13th September, which we regard as an unhappy carrying-out of what the officials thought to be their instructions, we tried hard again to return to negotiation, and we shall continue our efforts for a cease-fire, for peace and for negotiation.

Mr. Gaitskell

Will the right hon. Gentleman address himself to the question which I just put to him? Will he say whether the United States Government are in agreement with Her Majesty's Government in their latest decision, namely, to withhold the supply of bombs? Is it not the case that the United States Government have supplied the United Nations forces with aircraft? Does not that suggest an approach somewhat different from that of Her Majesty's Government?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The United States Government have not supplied them, rather specifically, with those particular forms of weapons or fighting aircraft.

Sir A. V. Harvey

When the Prime Minister meets President Kennedy, will he point out that the request for 24 1,000 lb. bombs to destroy aircraft on the ground does not make sense, and that the most effective and cheapest way of doing that, as can be confirmed by any member of the Air Council, is to use rockets or cannon shells? Are not the British Government perfectly justified in turning down a request for 1,000 lb. bombs, which can be used for destroying only buildings and children?

The Prime Minister

I am quite prepared to go into all the details of this matter when the debate comes. An appeal was made to us. In the first instance, we were unwilling to meet it, for the reasons well known—dropping 1,000 lb. bombs about the country is a pretty strong measure. We resisted it and asked for the specific reasons. An appeal was made to us saying that troops were in danger, perhaps, of an attack which might be very bad for them and might be fatal for them. After consideration, rightly or wrongly, subject to very specific conditions, we agreed to make delivery in what appeared to us to be an emergency. I am bound to say, and I can say it frankly, that I was slightly surprised that this emergency was such that we were not even asked to deliver for a period of eight days. There was no request to collect them. Secondly, when we saw what I regard as a confused situation about the real tactical and strategic purposes being pursued by the officers of the United Nations, we felt it right to raise the whole question again.

Mr. H. Wilson

While all of us share the reluctance shown by the Government about the use of these very heavy bombs, without the strictest control to ensure that they were used purely for destroying hostile aircraft, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the reasons given yesterday for countermanding the decision of Friday were the statements alleged to have been made by Mr. Linner and General McKeown? Is he now aware that it was made clear even before yesterday that those statements about Mr. Linner and General McKeown were false and that the House was misled so far as they were concerned? In view of that, without waiting for Thursday's debate, will the right hon. Gentleman take an early opportunity of explaining first how this came about and, secondly, what the Cabinet is now to do about last Friday's decision?

The Prime Minister

Reports of Mr. Linner's original interview, which took place in Leopoldville on 7th December, were published in a Swedish newspaper on 8th December. The report of these reached the Foreign Office the following day. They were immediately drawn to the attention of the Secretary-General, who no doubt had them in mind in making his statement on 10th December. This is the statement to which my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal referred in the House yesterday.

A telegram was received from Her Majesty's Ambassador at Leopoldville yesterday afternoon which was not available to my right hon. Friend before he made his statement in the House. This reports that, on being shown the report which had appeared in the Swedish Press, Mr. Linner made a second statement which, as I understand it, was published in the Swedish Press on 10th December. This second statement does not in terms deny the accuracy of the reporting of the first statement, though it makes some comment on it, suggesting that it has been misinterpreted. The second statement expressed another view from that ascribed to Mr. Linner in the first interview, but it still maintains that Mr. Linner has carte blanche to conduct local action in the Congo within the framework of the Security Council resolutions. The crucial question is how these resolutions are interpreted, and it is on that that we are seeking urgent clarification.

Mr. Wilson

But will the right hon. Gentleman get out of this tangled web by now admitting that on Sunday there was clear and categorical repudiation of this report in a leading Swedish newspaper? I have the text, as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman has. As this was published on Sunday, it should have been known to the Lord Privy Seal when he spoke yesterday. Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that his allegation that General McKeown had said that he was not prepared to consider the application from Mr. Tshombe for negotiation for a cease-fire is entirely wrong and that the full text of what General McKeown said—and again I have a copy—does not bear out that statement and that the House has been misled on both statements?

The Prime Minister

The Swedish newspaper, as I understand it, merely reported the second interview which Mr. Linner gave on 10th December, and quoted from it. I have a telegram summarising it. He does not actually accuse the journalist of misreporting him. He merely makes a new statement. We have all had experience of these affairs. I am bound to say that these things are published when interviews are given. When another account is given, that adds to the reasons why the matter should be cleared up.

Sir R. Grimston

Does not my right hon. Friend think that all this shows that the Opposition policy of supporting the United Nations, right or wrong, is disastrous? Having regard to the fact that what is now necessary is to stop the bloodshed and the destruction which is going on in Katanga, ought not Her Majesty's Government forthwith to say that unless it is stopped, we will immediately withdraw all financial support for the operation?

The Prime Minister

That is a point of view. I do not share these extreme views about the United Nations one way or the other. I do not say, "United Nations, right or wrong". Nor do I say that we should necessarily withdraw from it. With all the other nations of the world, we have a task of trying to make this organisation work. It has many difficulties. It does not have a proper chain of command. It does not operate in the ordinary way which countries would follow with forces in the field. There are all kinds of forces working in it and, alas, the great contest in the world is reflected in the Security Council and in the Assembly. It would be a very grave decision for us to abandon the task. Equally, it is our duty to try to steer it in what we think is the right way.

Mr. Gaitskell

In view of the new statements made by Mr. Linner, will the Prime Minister say what precise assurances the Government now require from the United Nations before they will release these bombs? Secondly, in view of the immense importance of Anglo-American understanding in this matter, will he say whether any consultations took place with the United States before the Government's decision about the bombs was taken, and whether any further consultations will take place before a final decision is made later in the week?

The Prime Minister

By good fortune, the Foreign Secretary is in Paris and is discussiong this matter with Secretary of State Rusk. We are making representations—or will be when the day starts in New York—with the Secretary-General through our representative, Sir Patrick Dean who will try to clarify the situation in order that we may see what is the best course that we can pursue.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I do not think that we can discuss this day after day without a Question before the House. I will allow one more to the Leader of the Opposition, but I do not think that we should continue.

Mr. Gaitskell

I merely wish to ask the Prime Minister if he will answer my question, which is not what interventions are being made by our representative at the United Nations, but whether the United States Government were consulted before Her Majesty's Government took their two decisions on the bombs and what precise assurances are now being requested from the United Nations before Her Majesty's Government will release the bombs.

The Prime Minister

I should require notice of the first question, but I do not think that it would be natural that we should consult the United States Government on this request which was made to us. However, if the right hon. Gentleman will put down a Question, I will make sure that I have it right. On his second question, we want to be sure about both the strategy and tactics—the strategy being pursued with all its ambivalence and whether we can support it, and whether the tactics are correct.