HC Deb 26 April 1965 vol 711 cc29-32
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about a conference on Cambodia.

The House may wish to know that Her Majesty's Ambassador at Moscow has today informed the Soviet Government of my acceptance of the Soviet proposal for a joint message from the British and Soviet Foreign Ministers, in their capacity as Co-Chairmen of the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China, proposing an international conference on the neutrality and territorial integrity of Cambodia.

The Soviet Government's proposal was originally made to the British Ambassador in Moscow on 3rd April and Her Majesty's Government have since been engaged in urgent consultations with the Governments of various friendly countries concerned. In particular, Mr. Gordon Walker has been discussing the proposal with the Governments he has visited in his tour of South-East Asia. I have also been in close touch with the United States Government, and the House will already have seen their public statement welcoming the idea of a conference and expressing readiness to participate if one is held.

I hope that the Soviet Government will now be able to agree on an early date for the issue of a joint message and that this will receive a favourable response from its recipients: the nine Governments represented at the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indo-China. If this conference can be held and the participants adopt a constructive approach, I hope that it will prove a useful start in tackling the complex and dangerous problems involved.

Mr. Maudling

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that hon. Members on this side of the House will welcome the Government's acceptance of this Soviet proposal and join him in wishing good success to this conference and anything that may spread from it?

Mr. A. Henderson

In extending my own congratulations to the Foreign Secretary, may I ask him whether this conference is intended to be at Foreign Minister level?

Mr. Stewart

That has to be decided. What we have got to at present is agreeing with the Soviet Government to send out the invitation. The form of conference will have to be decided in the light of replies that come from the nine Powers invited.

Mr. A. Royle

I welcome the right hon. Gentleman's success in this matter, but will he tell the House whether Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia will attend the conference if the American Government accept the invitation?

Mr. Stewart

The conference was originally proposed on 15th March by the Cambodian Government in a message to both Co-Chairmen. That was the basis of the Soviet proposal of 3rd April. The Cambodian Government have not notified me of any subsequent change in their views, although public statements by Prince Sihanouk have expressed some apprehensions about the conference. That is how my information stands now. As to exactly who would attend the conference as the representative of Cambodia, the answer that I have given to my right hon. and learned Friend applies.

Mr. J. B. Hynd

May we take it from my right hon. Friend's last answer that he does not expect any objection from the Government of Cambodia to such a conference?

Mr. Stewart

I would earnestly hope not. It was at their wish that this conference was originally proposed. Despite the comments made more recently by Prince Sihanouk, I trust that the Cambodian Government will feel that this will be in their country's interest.

Sir C. Osborne

I wish the Foreign Minister all success in this very important task, but has he any private information about the way in which the Peking Government view this proposal?

Mr. Stewart

I am not sure that if I did have private information I could reveal it in an answer to the hon. Member. But we shall know the Peking Government's view from their answer to the message when it goes out.

Mr. Doughty

Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether any date, or provisional date, has been suggested or arranged for commencing this conference?

Mr. Stewart

No, Sir. I emphasise that the only stage that we have reached so far is that the two Co-Chairmen are agreed to send out the message. But we have, for our part, as a result of what we have been doing, become aware of the favourable way in which certain Governments regard this. As for actually fixing, and who and where and when, that will have to wait on the formal replies to the Co-Chairmen's message. But we are anxious to get this started.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Does not the Minister think that this conference would have a better chance of success if the American Government accepted the advice of Senator Fulbright and many enlightened people in the U.S.A. and called off their bombing?

Mr. Stewart

I should always be very happy if any turn of international affairs made it possible to stop strife of any kind, but while the attacks by North Vietnam on South Vietnam go on I do not see the possibility of advising the other side exactly what military action it should take in reply.