HC Deb 13 December 1965 vol 722 cc880-5
4. Lord Balniel

asked the Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the discussions he has had with the Soviet Government about the possibility of the British and Soviet Governments, as joint Co-Chairmen, recalling the Geneva Conference on Vietnam.

11. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what consultations he had with the Soviet authorities on the 1954 Geneva Agreements; and to what extent he gave assurances that Her Majesty's Government considers itself bound by these agreements.

Mr. George Thomson

I will, with permission, answer this Question and Question No. 11 together.

My right hon. Friend has already made a statement about his discussion of Vietnam with the Soviet Government to whom he reiterated his proposal for joint action by the British and Soviet Governments in discharge of their responsibilities as Co-Chairmen of the 1954 Geneva Conference.

Lord Balniel

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we regret the hardening of the Soviet attitude on Vietnam which seems to have followed so soon after the Foreign Secretary's visit? What did the Foreign Secretary expect to achieve at the conference on the question of Vietnam? In particular, what reason had the right hon. Gentleman for believing that the Soviet Government would be prepared to take any public as opposed to private initiative in trying to reach a solution?

Mr. Thomson

My right hon. Friend simply takes the attitude that the dangers inherent in the possibility of escalation of the Vietnam war are so great that no appropriate opportunity should be missed to try to get away from the battlefield to the conference table. Obviously, there would have been widespread regret on both sides of the House if he had gone to Moscow and not made the efforts he did.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Zilliacus.

Mr. Zilliacus rose

Mr. Speaker

Question No. 11, tabled by the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus), was answered with No. 4. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not know. Mr. Soames.

Mr. Soames

Will the Minister of State appreciate that we on this side are much grieved to hear of the Foreign Secretary's illness? Will the hon. Gentleman be so kind as to express on our behalf good wishes to the Foreign Secretary for a quick recovery?

Can the Minister of State say whether the Foreign Secretary is of the view that sufficient work was done in advance of his visit to Moscow to make more fruitful the possibility of agreement between ourselves and the Soviet Union on any move by the Soviet Government to reach a settlement?

Mr. Thomson

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words and good wishes to my right hon. Friend.

I am wholly satisfied that every possible step was taken in regard to preparatory work, and I do not think that the fact that the Soviet Government are not yet able to accede to our invitation to reactivate the co-chairmanship is due to lack of preparation but to difficulties which face the Soviet Union itself in these problems.

Mr. Zilliacus

Will my hon. Friend answer the second part of my Question? Did her Majesty's Government make it clear that they are still bound by the 1954 Geneva Agreements to consider that Vietnam is one country, and that a final settlement must include the unification of the whole country and the right of the peoples of the two parts to decide on their mutual relations without outside interference? Would not the Government be more effective in this matter if they linked their support for the American war with a satisfactory assurance that the United States is really prepared to conclude peace on that basis?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Supplementaries are getting too long. Mr. Thomson.

Mr. Thomson

I can assist my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester. Gorton (Mr. Zilliacus) and other hon. Members on this question. Full particulars of British obligations under the 1954 Geneva Agreements and the efforts made by successive British Governments to ensure that those Agreements are implemented will be found in a blue book which we are laying before Parliament, tomorrow, entitled "Documents Relating to British Involvement in the Indo-China Conflict 1945–56."

Mr. Warbey

Can my hon. Friend say whether those documents will include the secret pact, which Sir Anthony Eden signed with Mr. John Foster Dulles and M. Mendes-France in 1954, providing for the partition of Vietnam and the retention of the southern part under Western control, and can he say whether that is still the basis of British policy towards Vietnam?

Mr. Thomson

Without accepting the premise on which my hon. Friend's questions are based, I could not answer his detailed point without notice.

20. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will seek to have new discussions with the Government of the United States of America, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Government's policy in seeking peace in Vietnam, in order to prevent further extension of the bombing of North Vietnam.

26. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will seek discussions with the United States Government in order to promote an armistice in Vietnam.

Mr. George Thomson

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will, naturally, be discussing Vietnam during his visit to President Johnson. He will be concerned with promoting peace—which is opposed in Hanoi and not in Washington—rather than with the detailed conduct of the war.

Mr. Allaun

As the choice is now between negotiation and spreading the war through the whole of South-East Asia, will the Government press Washington to accept the 1954 Agreement? Has my hon. Friend seen today's report by James Cameron that the Prime Minister of North Vietnam is insisting on such acceptance?

Mr. Thomson

I have not read today's report to which my hon. Friend refers, but I have read the other reports from the same source. The fact is that the opposition to bringing the parties to the conference table comes, beyond any reasonable doubt, from North Vietnam, and that is the obstacle to avoiding the danger to which my hon. Friend rightly draws attention.

Mrs. Butler

Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to impress on the United States Government the increasing outrage felt by people here at the savage developments in Vietnam and the fact that many of us in the House who would feel obliged publicly to dissociate ourselves from any extension of the war would welcome acceptance by the United States Government of the proposed Christmas truce and its extension into an armistice which would give an opportunity for saner policies to be adopted?

Mr. Thomson

In all quarters of the country and of the world there is abhorrence of the kind of cruelty and terrors which are involved in modern war, but the only way to avoid these dangers is to end the war itself and bring negotiations about. This has been the Government's constant aim. We very much welcome the Christmas truce proposed by the North Vietnam authorities. It is a very short truce. We would hope that it could be extended to a length sufficient to allow the possibility of real negotiations to take place.

Mr. Doughty

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his last answer and agree with it, but will he also express the thanks of the free world to the United States for the very great efforts it is making to stop the Far East going Communist?

Mr. Thomson

The views of Her Majesty's Government have been made plain repeatedly by the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I simply repeat that I think that there is general agreement that the important thing to concentrate on is bringing this war to an honourable end, and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will certainly be talking about this in Washington.

Mr. Orme

While allowing for what he has just said, may I ask my hon. Friend to impress upon the Prime Minister that any extension of this war by the United States, which would include China and the rest of South-East Asia, would be deplored, and it is a matter not just of Hanoi not wanting to negotiate but of the continual extension of the war in Vietnam by the Americans?

Mr. Thomson

I know that there are deeply and sincerely held opinions about this war in various parts of the House and a deep desire to bring peace about. But I remind my hon. Friends who feel deeply about it that the obstacle to peace at the moment is the refusal of the North Vietnamese to come to the conference table.