HC Deb 20 April 1964 vol 693 cc881-3
Mr. Gordon Walker

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what measures he has taken in regard to the coup d'etat in Laos and whether British lives have been lost or are in danger.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. R. A. Butler)

The House will be glad to hear of a report this morning from Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires in Laos that Prince Souvanna Phouma, Prime Minister of the Government of National Union, left about 12 hours ago together with General Phoumi and the revolutionary leaders to see the King of Laos at Luang Prabang. I understand that the purpose of their mission is to reconstitute the Government of the National Union under the leadership of Prince Souvanna Phouma.

This encouraging development holds out some hope that the political crisis in Laos may be resolved by the Laotian leaders themselves. Meanwhile, I had, before the revolt in Vientiane took place, and as soon as I heard of the possibility of Prince Souvanna Phouma's resignation, sent him a personal message of support and encouragement.

Her Majesty's Chargé d'Affaires in Laos, who has throughout displayed great energy and ability in these difficult circumstances, has also made clear to all concerned, on my instructions, that I regarded the reported seizure of power by the revolutionary Committee as contrary to the spirit of the Geneva Agreement.

As far as I know, no British subjects have been injured or seriously endangered.

Mr. Gordon Walker

As it is obviously difficult to get exact news, will the Foreign Secretary keep us in touch if there are any further developments? Is he aware that his account is much more satisfactory than the position appeared to be yesterday? Is he aware that it is important to keep stability in this dangerous part of the world and that we, this country, because it is co-Chairman with Russia of the Geneva Conference, have an important part to play? Will the right hon. Gentleman keep in close touch with both the United States and the Soviet Union on this matter, which is of great importance?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. In response to the latter part of the question, we have been in touch with the Soviet Ambassador in Laos and I have sent a message to Mr. Gromyko as co-Chairman. We shall certainly keep in close contact with the Soviet Government. As to keeping the House informed, if things develop normally I do not think that that will be necessary, but I will keep in touch with the right hon. Gentleman so that we may watch events.

We fully realise our own responsibilities. In my present office, I am co-Chairman with the Soviet Foreign Minister. We shall continue to watch the situation. I should like to add that I have just received a further telegram confirming that all British subjects are safe and accounted for.

Mr. Brockway

Whilst welcoming the news which the right hon. Gentleman has given, may I ask whether he would not agree that the position in Laos is unstable almost from month to month and that one of the difficulties is that the negotiations broke down because the capital should be more neutral concerning the presence of troops? Could not something be done to change the situation in the capital, Vientiane, where the garrison and the security forces are dominated by the Right-wing royalists? If the Government is to be stable, must not there be some change in that situation?

Mr. Butler

We cannot completely control the situation, but in so far as my fellow co-Chairman, the Soviet Foreign Minister, and I, can do so, we shall do our best to influence it in the direction desired by the hon. Member.

Mr. Warbey

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm reports that in accordance with the aims of the revolutionary military leaders, the reconstituted Government is to be a bipartite one, excluding the Left-wing forces, and not a tripartite one as provided by the Geneva Agreement of 1962? In that case, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be also a violation of the spirit of that Agreement and that it might lead to disturbing developments in the whole area?

Mr. Butler

Yes, Sir. We certainly hope that the Government will be reconstituted on the lines suggested in the Geneva Agreement. But I have no further news on this subject to give the House this afternoon.