HC Deb 25 March 1965 vol 709 cc735-8
Q4. Mr. Eldon Griffiths

asked the Prime Minister, in the light of British co-chairmanship of the Geneva Conference, if he will make a statement on the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards Franco-Soviet mediation in Vietnam.

The Prime Minister

I have seen reports of consultations on Vietnam between the French and Soviet Governments but I have not seen that these have yet led to any specific proposals. Indeed, Mr. Gromyko made it clear, in his response to our own ideas and when he was in London, that the Soviet Government were not yet ready to co-operate in constructive measures to promote a negotiated settlement. Our own policy remains to continue contact and consultation with those most involved in an effort to discover whether there might be a possible basis for a negotiated settlement.

Mr. Griffiths

I thank the Prime Minister for that Answer. May I also congratulate him and the Foreign Secretary, whom I am glad to see back from Washington, on very firm support of American policy in Vietnam? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the great danger in Vietnam is that the situation could get out of control so that events are in charge of policies instead of the other way round?

Would not the Prime Minister agree that it is important at this stage that we should inject a new element into this situation? Would not he agree that the French suggestion, which I understand has been made, that the eventual political basis for negotiation might be the unification of North and South Vietnam—

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Those sound like matters of opinion and argument. Perhaps the Prime Minister would be good enough to answer the supplementary question as far as we have got.

The Prime Minister

I am aware of the three points raised. First, I should like to thank the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) for what he has said about my right hon. Friend's mission to Washington. I think that the whole House will endorse all that my right hon. Friend said there, not only what the hon. Member has drawn attention to but also his frank statement about the necessity to consult us and other allies and the world in general about actions to be taken. I think that my right hon. Friend's words have been very valuable and that we all endorse them.

I, of course, agree, and I have said it many times, that when this thing has got into this very substantial change on both sides there is a continuing danger here. This is why we are taking the initiative to which I referred on Tuesday. I am not clear that further French initiative will help here, because up to now the Russians have said, "No talks except on certain conditions", and the Americans, "No talks except on different conditions". Therefore, I am not sure that the French initiative will help in this matter.

Mr. Maudling

Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Foreign Secretary's statement yesterday that Britain wholly supports American action in Vietnam is the policy of Her Majesty's Government? Will he also confirm that this statement had no reservations at all?

The Prime Minister

I have said a number of times in this House, and my right hon. Friend repeated it yesterday, that we fully support the action of the United States in resisting aggression in Vietnam, but my right hon. Friend said the other day, and I hope that he was speaking for the whole House, that we had certain reservations which he frankly expressed—and he made this very clear —on one particular action. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman equally supports what my right hon. Friend said on Tuesday as well as what he said on Wednesday.

Mr. Warbey

On Britain's mediatory role in Vietnam, can my right hon. Friend say whether, in the light of fresh revelations in the Press today of the increasing use of appalling, inhuman methods of warfare by American forces in South Vietnam and by the military junta in Saigon, he continues to support American military policy in South Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

As I made clear on Tuesday, all war is horrible, and some pretty horrible weapons are being used that no one on either side of the House will welcome or want to see continuing to be used. But I do not take the same myopic view of the atrocities or of the horror weapons and methods used in Vietnam which is taken by my hon. Friend. There are some extremely serious things being done on the other side in Vietnam, and this is why we want to stop all the fighting and all the use of all the weapons.

Mr. Grimond

Will the prime Minister make clear that those who express some reservations about the policy of the Americans in Vietnam are not necessarily anti-American? Very grave reservations are expressed continually in responsible quarters in America itself. Will the Prime Minister agree that the danger we run is that we may drive the Russians back into the worst attitudes of the cold war if we are not very careful and allow he situation to reach a condition in which there is no end, and will he take it that there is a widespread desire that the conflict should end in a politically negotiated settlement and that, however necessary it may he to resist aggression, in the end force will not settle it?

The Prime Minister

I have said a number of times that all of us in the country and in the House want to see a settlement, though we may have different views about it. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman that one of the purposes of an alliance and friendship is having the ability to speak frankly to one another—agreeing on the basic issues, but being free to speak. I expressed the view on Tuesday that anything to he said on this should be said preferably in private rather than in any sort of public argument. I entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman said about that. The only people I am not clear about in that respect are certain Members of the Opposition Front Bench who, apparently, do not seem to have any of the thoughts which have been expressed either by the right hon. Gentleman or by other hon. Members.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

Of course, everybody in all parts of the House wants to see a political settlement of this matter. All I ask the Prime Minister now is this. Although we quite understand that there are certain things which cannot be said in public, will he arrange that, when the Foreign Secretary speaks next week or if he himself takes part in the debate, we shall be told as much as the Government can possibly say about their negotiatiations with Mr. Gromyko and their talks in the United States?

The Prime Minister

We shall certainly do that. I made a short reference to these matters on Tuesday in answer to Questions. I agree with hon. Members who worry about the length of some answers and some questions, and it is not always possible to say very fully at Question Time what one wants to say on this. I hope that, when the debate takes place on Vietnam, both my right hon. Friend and I myself will be able to give as clear a picture to the House as is possible on both the Gromyko talks and the other aspects.