HC Deb 21 June 1965 vol 714 cc1173-9
8. Mr. Shinwell

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, what action is being taken by the United Nations to bring the conflict in Vietnam to an end.

11. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he will make a statement on the reports he has received up to date from Mr. Gordon Walker on conditions in Asia; and what steps he has taken during the last two weeks towards a peace settlement in Vietnam.

24. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, whether he will make a statement on the progress towards an international conference on the Vietnam conflict.

29. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, if he will make a statement about the current position of the cease-fire negotiations in Vietnam.

47. Mr. Lomas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will use the offices of the United Nations in seeking a solution to the situation in Vietnam.

Mr. M. Stewart

Efforts to seek a basis for a peaceful settlement in Vietnam have moved into a new phase with the Commonwealth initiative which was announced on 17th June. In his statement to the House on 17th June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister explained the background to the decision that a Commonwealth mission should make contact with those most concerned in the Vietnam conflict. I do not think I can do more in answering Questions on the various possibilities for action over Vietnam than to refer hon. Members to what he then said. We shall now concentrate all our efforts on making this initiative as fruitful as those concerned will allow.

Mr. Shinwell

My right hon. Friend, quite unwittingly, has forgotten what my Question is. I asked him what the United Nations has done in order to secure peace in Vietnam, but he has referred me to the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference. Do I understand that the United Nations fully supports the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend? If so, could we have some publicity about this matter?

Mr. Stewart

Aspects of this dispute, as I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Shinwell) knows, have been reported to the United Nations, but the difficulty there has been the refusal of North Vietnam to recognise the jurisdiction of the United Nations in the matter. Since I last answered Questions on this subject in the House, I have pursued further the question of whether anything could be done through the United Nations, but I am afraid that at present that channel does not seem likely to lead to a solution. It was therefore for that reason that I thought it right to stress the initiative we are now taking.

Mr. Shinwell

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he will be good enough to answer my Question? All I want to know is whether the United Nations fully supports the initiative taken by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Stewart

We have, of course, drawn the attention of the Secretary General to it and I believe he welcomes it, but it has not been put as a formal matter before the Security Council or the General Assembly.

Mr. Hector Hughes

Would it not be desirable and practicable in the events which have happened in the Far East, and events which have not happened in the Far East, to bring Mr. Gordon Walker home for a conference face to face so that Ministers here can realise more closely what is happening there?

Mr. Stewart

I have, of course, discussed with Mr. Gordon Walker since his return the work he did in the Far East.

Mr. A. Henderson

In order to clarify the position, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he will emphasise the fact that the proposed Commonwealth peace mission has been sponsored by the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference as a whole, for which all Commonwealth members accept responsibility, and is not put forward merely by the member States which are going on the mission? Secondly, in spite of the ex parte statements made by Mr. Chou en Lai and the North Vietnam Press Agency, rejecting the proposal, may we take it that the Commonwealth mission will press for an official reply from both the Government of China and the Government of North Vietnam?

Mr. Stewart

I would reply "Yes" to both parts of that question. This is a mission of the whole Commonwealth and, setting aside the remarks we have so far seen reported in the Press, we shall press for proper replies from the Governments concerned to the mission's request to visit their capitals.

Mr. Maudling

Can the Foreign Secretary assure the House that the Prime Minister's initiative and the mission will not involve any change in the Government's policy of support for the American position in Vietnam, so clearly set out by himself on many occasions?

Mr. Stewart

The right hon. Gentleman will remember that I have made clear our view that the United States, in the position it was, had to take these military measures. He will remember that I have also said that Her Majesty's Government reserve their right to form and pronounce their judgment on any future events as they occur.

Mr. Wall

While wishing the Prime Ministers well on the peace mission, may I ask the Foreign Secretary whether the mission will go ahead, even if some of the protagonists refuse to meet it?

Mr. Stewart

I do not think it would be suitable to answer hypthetical questions at this stage.

Mr. Orme

In this difficult situation, will my right hon. Friend ask the Americans to cease the bombing of North Vietnam, because this would possibly create a new situation giving rise to an initiative for the peace mission to be successful?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend may have noticed that the mission is already appealing to all parties concerned to show the utmost restraint in military operations as a step towards creating the right atmosphere. I think my hon. Friend would agree that an appeal of that kind must be addressed to all the parties concerned.

Sir F. Bennett

The Foreign Secretary seemed to indicate that the Prime Minister's initiative was the result of a collective decision of the whole Commonwealth Conference. If this is so, will he say why there is not a single prospective or actual Asian member of the mission at present? Would he care to reaffirm now that the mission has the support of the whole Commonwealth including, in particular, Tanzania and Pakistan?

Mr. Stewart

As I have said before, this is an initiative of the whole Commonwealth. The hon. Gentleman may know that it had been hoped to include the Prime Minister of Ceylon, but he is unfortunately unable to come in the mission.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Dodds-Parker.

Mr. Ennals

On a point of order. My right hon. Friend said that in answering Question No. 8 he would deal with certain other Questions, including No. 37. I attempted to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I heard "47" not "37". I see nods confirming that I am correct.

22. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he is aware of the Chinese Government's official statements that China may intervene in the Vietnam war; and what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government on this matter.

Mr. M. Stewart

Her Majesty's Government are very conscious of all the dangers presented by the situation in Vietnam, and it is for this reason that we have worked unceasingly in the search for a peaceful settlement.

Mr. Griffiths

May I preface my supplementary question by congratulating the Foreign Secretary on the lucidity, courage and intellectual power with which he presented Her Majesty's Government's case on Vietnam at the Oxford Union? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear hear."] I think all who heard him were proud to hear him speak for this country.

May I now ask him about China and ask whether he would not agree that while we all recognise the importance of China, its attitude on Vietnam has been singularly unhelpful, whether it be in the denunciation of the Commonwealth mission or in its test explosions of bombs in recent months? Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that there must be a change in the attitude in the Government of China before we can get peace in Vietnam or anywhere else?

Mr. Stewart

I think I made it clear on several occasions that while we, for our part, have searched many ways in which a peaceful settlement can be reached, we have so far found a barrier in the attitude of China and, indeed, of other Governments, and that a change is needed there. We have got to go on making our own intention and desire for a settlement clear until that change comes.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Will my right hon. Friend give a definite assurance that in the event of the United States getting involved in a war with China, we will not be involved in it?

Mr. Stewart

I think if my hon. Friend is really thinking in those gigantic terms he may realise that the world might then be in a state in which none of us would be able to control events. We have got to do what we can now to get a settlement of this dispute so that the contingency that my hon. Friend has in mind never a rises.

Mr. A. Royle

Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the Government's policy regarding Vietnam remains the same as the policy which he expressed so ably at the Oxford Union last week?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, and perhaps I should make clear, in view of some of the comments that I have seen, that I said nothing at all there that I have not already said in the House, as hon. Members who have heard what I said in the House will already be aware.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is my right hon. Friend aware that millions of people passionately want the Commonwealth mission to succeed? But, if it is to succeed, is it not clear that the whole of the mission must be non-aligned and, in order to show that to all the countries and parties concerned, must it not be clear that we no longer support the bombing of North Vietnam by the Americans?

Mr. Stewart

No, I do not think I could accept that. This is a Commonwealth mission, and the Commonwealth contains countries which have different views on the history and possibly even on the best method of settling this problem. What they have in mind is a genuine desire to see if they can find the circumstances in which there could be a conference and discussion, and I think if one said that it had got to be composed entirely of nations which were completely non-aligned on this matter it would not have been representative of the Commonwealth.