HC Deb 21 November 1962 vol 667 cc1215-9
Mr. Gaitskell

(by Private Notice) asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a further statement on the India-China conflict.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

Hon. Members will have seen the statement published by the Chinese Government offering a cease-fire and the withdrawal of their troops from 1st December. Hon. Members will, no doubt, also have seen the statement by Mr. Nehru in the Indian Parliament that he has not received any official information of this offer.

The Indian Government have always made it clear that they were ready for a settlement by negotiation, and we, for our part, would, of course, welcome a peaceful outcome if this' can be attained with justice and honour to India. It is for the Indian Government to determine whether the Chinese proposals constitute an acceptable basis for negotiation.

In all these matters we are maintaining the closest touch with the Indian Government, and for this purpose a mission has left for India by air today. This consists of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff with a suitable military team, together with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Commonwealth Relations. My right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary was intending to leave for a visit both to India and Pakistan this week, but has been forced to postpone this owing to indisposition. He hopes, however, to be able to leave at the end of the week.

I know that the Indian people have been heartened by the support which the Government and people of Britain have shown to a fellow member of the Commonwealth in resisting aggression. Our two Governments have throughout been in the closest touch, but I have thought that at this time of danger it would be right to arrange for this special mission.

Mr. Gaitskell

The House will be obliged to the Prime Minister for that statement and will agree with him that the question of what should be said about this Chinese proposal is essentially one for the Indian Government. I do not think that it would be wise or appropriate for us to comment on this matter at the moment.

I think that the House, also, will be glad to hear the news of the mission which is on its way to India. In that connection, may I ask the Prime Minister whether, supposing that the Secretary of State is unable to go within the next few days because of illness, he will consider whether it would not be wise to send out another senior member of the Government, in view of the importance of the task to be undertaken? Finally, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he has any news of the ceasefire? Has it begun, or is fighting still continuing?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for what the right hon. Gentleman has said in his first remark. I have every hope that the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations will be able to make this visit. If it is not possible, we shall have to consider some other arrangement. With regard to the third, as I understood it, it is still very obscure; the withdrawal was to take place as from 1st December—[An HON. MEMBER: "The cease-fire."] The cease-fire—first, the cease-fire and then the withdrawal. But the latest information that I have seen is of continued fighting. That may be because of the time differences, and so on. I am waiting for further confirmation when we get the next news by telegram from India.

Mr. Wade

May I take up the point made by the hon. Lady the Member for Cannock (Miss Lee) yesterday? Would the Prime Minister agree that, taking the long view, it is most important that aggression should not succeed, and should be seen not to succeed, and that we must keep that always in mind? Secondly, may I inquire whether the mission is concerned solely with military requirements, or will it be empowered to consider any possible means of economic aid?

The Prime Minister

I think that both will be covered. The primary question relates to immediate military requirements, and we have already fulfilled what was asked for. There are some further requirements which the Chief of the Imperial General Staff will be able to discuss with the Chief of Staff in India. The question of economic aid or economic arrangements will, of course, have to come later. The important thing is to get any weapons over that we are able to spare and which are suitable for the Indian Army's needs.

Mr. Fell

While I am sure that everybody is delighted to hear of the very strong mission which is going forthwith to India, may we have an assurance, as I think was implicit in what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has just said, that the movement of arms to India for which she has asked will go on until there is some clarification of the present suggestion for a cease-fire by the Chinese?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I did not feel, when I saw this news late last night, that we should make any alteration in the arrangements which we have made, and they have, therefore, proceeded.

Mr. Bellenger

The Prime Minister has spoken, not only today but yesterday, of negotiations between India and China. Obviously, those are the two principals who have got to talk together, but is the House to understand that as China is not a member of the United Nations it would be impossible for the subject to be brought before the United Nations and dealt with there if it were thought necessary?

The Prime Minister

Oh, no, there would be nothing impossible in that. If I remember, the whole Korean dispute was brought before the United Nations, although China was not a member.

Mr. Wyatt

Is the Prime Minister aware that I found recently in India that the sympathetic and understanding nature of his own statements had been particularly well received there? Would he also bear in mind that the Chinese offer is not as fair as it looks when one considers that included in it would be the retention of a very large part of Ladakh, which is one of the areas in dispute?

The Prime Minister

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman has said. As to the second part of his question, of course all these matters must be most carefully examined by the Indian Government. I do not think it would be wise for me to enter into the matter today, but that I should leave it to develop.

Sir A. V. Harvey

If the delegation going out to India finds that the Indian Government require technical assistance to operate equipment, in addition to the actual arms supplied, will Her Majesty's Government be sympathetic to their proposal?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. Of course, my hon. Friend will see that that may take different forms and there are certain problems connected with it.

Mr. Sorensen

With regard to the reported offer of the Chinese Government, has the right hon. Gentleman sought consultation with other Governments in the Commonwealth or outside the Commonwealth, or is he likely to do so in the near future?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir, all through we have been communicating our views and consulting with the Commonwealth countries, and, of course, with the Government of the United States, who are helping in their way. They have also sent a mission for the same purpose. All this is being concerted, but this rather unexpected development makes it necessary for us to see how things will turn out. I still think that it does not make it unnecessary for us to continue to give what assistance we can to build up the strength of the Indian Army after the aggression which India has suffered.

Mr. S. Silverman

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that a cease-fire without prejudice to an ultimately negotiated just settlement of the matters in dispute is in itself to be welcomed as an improvement in the situation? Can he or can he not confirm, as a matter of fact, that the line behind which the Chinese are offering to withdraw is not very different from the McMahon Line and that their offer is much the same as the one they made on 24th October last, and that has been open for acceptance ever since?

Sir C. Osborne

And rejected by India.

The Prime Minister

There are two points there. The cessation of hostilities is always a good thing and must be welcomed if it takes place. The question of lines is a very complicated matter and I would rather not be drawn into it. The McMahon Line deals with the eastern part of the matter in dispute and not with the equally important part in Ladakh on the western side.

Several Hon. Members rose——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that we must now move to domestic matters.