HC Deb 24 May 1962 vol 660 cc669-73
Q5. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Prime Minister if he has yet received a request for the dispatch of troops to Thailand.

Q6. Mr. Warbey

asked the Prime Minister whether he has yet received a request for the sending of British Forces to Thailand.

The Prime Minister

Following joint consideration by the British Government and the Thai Government, we have now been invited to dispatch a contingent to Thailand and, as I informed the House on 17th May, we consider that a squadron of the Royal Air Force would be the most suitable contribution. The arrangements for the reception of the squadron are now being discussed with the Thai Government.

Mr. Shinwell

Will the Prime Minister arrange for the Government spokesman in the course of the debate this afternoon to disclose the terms of the request from the Thai Government and also the date on which it was received by the United Kingdom Government? Will the Government spokesman at the same time produce the evidence in support of the contention that it was the intention of the Pathet Lao forces to commit an act of aggression against Thailand?

The Prime Minister

Without going into the details, perhaps I ought to say now that, when a special meeting of the S.E.A.T.O. Council representatives met on 16th May, the Thai representative drew attention to the communiqué issued by the Thai Prime Minister the previous day which stated that the circumstances following the fall of Nam Tha—I quote his words— constitute a threat to the Kingdom of Thailand and the safety of the Thai people". The Thai representative went on to say that Thailand hoped that other friendly Governments would give consideration to her plight.

It was in view of this plea and the provisions of Article 4 of the Manila Treaty that we consulted immediately on the measures we could take. The Thais have now told us of their wish for the presence of the Hunter Squadron.

Mr. Shinwell

Is it not true that the statement that the Thai Government was in danger from an act of aggression was initiated by the American Central Intelligence Agency in the first instance, and will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough, in the interests of propriety and sincerity in matters of this sort, to produce evidence to justify the contention that the Pathet Lao forces intended an act of aggression?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. This will be debated, but I think that I ought to say that great tension was caused by the flagrant breach of the cease-fire by the Pathet Lao and their North Vietnamese allies at Nam Tha. Reference to the map and the long exposed frontier of Thailand and the difficulties of Thailand will show, I think. that it is not unnatural that the Thai Government felt that the arrival of some stabilising forces would be of great assistance to them, and as allies we have thought it right to respond to their request.

Mr. Warbey

Can the Prime Minister say whether there is a shred of evidence that there is any threat to Thailand? Secondly, can he say whether the tortuous negotiations and hesitations of the past week have been due to the fact that the Government have been trying to disguise that the initial request for the sending of British troops to Thailand actually came from the President of the United States?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir; the hon. Member has twisted and misrepresented the situation. We have tried to do two things: to add our part in what we hope will be a stabilising effect upon the Thai people and Government, and—the second half of it—to pursue, as we have done with every possible effort, the formation of a neutral Government and an agreement by which Laos can itself become a neutral country. I feel that some progress—in fact, considerable progress—has been made, and our hopes are that this, after a long delay, will now be accomplished.

Mr. W. Yates

The House and the country will appreciate the fact that the object of sending British troops in addition to the American forces is to try to achieve a stabilising element in Thailand, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the Prime Minister of Thailand has laid claim to Greater Thailand, which includes the southern area of Laos? Will he also bear in mind that the Commander of the Royal Army of Laos is a nephew of his? Will he therefore tell the House his intentions about the situation in Laos?

The Prime Minister

Whose nephew?

Mr. G. Brown

We welcome what the Prime Minister says about the need to get a neutral Government in Laos and recognise that this matter is to be dated later today. However, may I ask him two questions? First, will he make it quite plain, which I believe is the case, that the purpose of our contribution is to help Thailand and that under no circumstances will we get involved in Laos? Secondly, since Thailand feels herself threatened in this way, are the Government taking any steps to bring this to the attention of the Security Council or ensuring that other thought is given to it?

The Prime Minister

In answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I have stated the objective—to help to stabilise opinion, to keep things calm, and to give comfort to our allies in Thailand. With regard to the second part, the Secretary General of the United Nations is being informed of the action which Her Majesty's Government are taking. But it is not proposed at the moment to present the matter to the Security Council because the action taken is in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.

Mr. H. Wilson

The right hon. Gentleman will realise that we shall want to debate his last statement as well as the whole issue in the following debate. In view of the statement by the Head of Government in Malaya last week, will the right hon. Gentleman tell us from where the squadron is coming, particularly since it has been stated that this squadron was recently in Thailand and was withdrawn from Thailand only a week or two ago and is now going back? Is that true?

The Prime Minister

This squadron was on an exercise some time ago, one of the many exercises carried out. It will be flown in from Singapore. Since this is to be debated, perhaps I can leave the more detailed questions for the debate.