HC Deb 19 December 1966 vol 738 cc981-8
18. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on recent progress to bring about a negotiated settlement to end the war in Vietnam.

83. Mr. Driberg

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what attempts have been made recently to negotiate a just and peaceful settlement in Vietnam.

85. Mr. Orme

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on the progress made to bring about a negotiated settlement to end the war in Vietnam.

87. Mr. Michael Foot

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent progress towards a negotiated settlement in Vietnam, particularly in view of the recent intensification of the bombing of Hanoi.

Mr. George Brown

I would refer the hon. Members to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for The Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) on 12th December.—[Vol. 738, c. 11.]

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Could the Foreign Secretary give the House a more detailed indication of what response his suggestions for a negotiated settlement received in Vietnam, and could he not use his influence to get the Russians to make a public statement—I emphasise the word "public"—on the issue as that might well transform the situation?

Mr. Brown

I am continuing the explorations which I undertook with both the American and the Russian Governments and, of course, elsewhere. In view of the delicacy of these talks, I hope that the House will excuse me from going any further.

Mr. Driberg

Is it the view of Her Majesty's Government that progress towards peace or even towards a temporary truce is assisted by the bombing of Hanoi, and, if it is not the Government's view, will he make that clear to the Americans?

Mr. Brown

I have other Questions on the subject of bombing later today.

Mr. Orme

Does not my right hon. Friend agree with the proposal made by Senator Mansfield for a 47-day moratorium of the bombing and truce in Vietnam? Would he not agree that this would help to obtain the type of settlement that he is after?

Mr. Brown

I believe that I am inhibited by the rules of order from answering on Question No. 18 points which will arise on Question No. 31.

Mr. Foot

Can my right hon. Friend say, strictly on the question of the form of negotiations, whether Her Majesty's Government are now prepared to give unqualified support to the proposals of U Thant for the settlement of the Vietnam dispute?

Mr. Brown

I still think that, since I am engaged very closely and very much, and was indeed even last week in Paris, in talks about this, the House would really help me to achieve what it and my hon. Friend want to achieve if it excused me from public statements here today.

Mr. Goodhew

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that many people in this country find it difficult to understand how it is that Rhodesia, which has made no threat to peace anywhere in the world, has action taken against it in the form of sanctions whereas, in the case of North Vietnam, which has been not merely a threat to peace but guilty of aggression, no such action is taken by the British Government?

Mr. Brown

Mr. Speaker, you have allowed that question and so it must, therefore, be in order. But I find it very difficult to understand how a Question which asks me about what I am doing to get a settlement in Vietnam raises the question of a rebellion in Rhodesia.

26. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, following his talks in Moscow, he will seek to arrange an early conference with the United States, Russian, Chinese and North Vietnamese Foreign Ministers in a new attempt to stop hostilities in Vietnam and make the Christmas truce permanent.

Mr. George Brown

No, Sir. I am engaged in continuous efforts to promote a peaceful settlement in Vietnam but, in present circumstances, I see no prospect of convening a conference of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Roberts

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the size of this problem and the fact that tens of millions of people all over the world are praying and hoping that this Christmas will see an end to a war, something could he gained by this? Would my right hon. Friend not further agree that Britain's rôle as a gunboat Power is now over but that she has a major contribution to make to mankind as an intermediary and peace-maker?

Mr. Brown

I am sure that we have the latter rôle. I understand that the South Vietnamese Government and their allies have already agreed to a truce not only over Christmas but also over the New Year, including the Vietnamese New Year holiday. I regret to say that there has so far been no response to this offer from the other side.

Mr. Onslow

We are encouraged to hear of the part the South Vietnamese Government are playing. Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, if ever there was a conference of the sort called for in this Question, the South Vietnamese Government would be one of the most important parties to be represented?

Mr. Brown

That is the sort of question which would fall to be decided whenever we got a conference.

30. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what discussions he had, in the course of his recent visit to the United States of America, with United States Defence Secretary Macnamara regarding his official statement on the monthly average of bombs dropped in Vietnam in the second half-year of 1966; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. George Brown

I have had no such discussions with Mr. McNamara.

Mr. Jenkins

Does not my right hon. Friend know that while he was in the United States Mr. McNamara claimed that the monthly average of bombs dropped by United States aircraft on Vietnam in the second half of 1966 surpassed the quantity of bombs dropped all over Europe and Africa during the Second World War? Will my right hon. Friend associate Her Majesty's Government with the rising volume of protest at this mass murder of civilians?

Mr. Brown

I regret and resent the continuance of this war. However, my hon. Friend makes a very big mistake in picking out one side or the other for comment in this way. In any case, I have answered his Question by saying that I have not had any such discussions.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the phrase "mass murder"? Is it not a fact that the United States Air Force engaged in this war does its utmost to avoid mass murder?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman is making exactly the same mistake. The reason I want to do what I can to get this war halted, and ultimately solved, as quickly as I can is that at least I know that no war can go on without mass murder.

31. Mr. Hugh Jenkins

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what reports he has received in his capacity as co-Chairman of the Geneva Convention, from the International Control Commission regarding the facts about the bombing by United States forces in Vietnam of schools, hospitals and churches in North Vietnam.

81. Mr. Dickens

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what recent reports he has received from the International Control Commission on the United States bombing of schools, hospitals and the urban population of North Vietnam.

89. Mr. Zilliacus

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in his capacity as co-Chairman of the Control Commission set up under the 1954 Geneva Agreements, what information he has received from the Commission about the bombing by United States and South Vietnamese forces of schools, hospitals, temples, and homes in North Vietnam, including residential quarters in Hanoi.

Mr. George Brown

None, Sir.

Mr. Jenkins

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that North Vietnam's sources say that United States bombing has destroyed 294 schools, 74 hospitals and 80 churches? Does he not agree that Pentagon sources say that in this respect North Vietnamese sources, when checkable, are generally found to be correct? Will he ask the United States Government to stop bombing until the International Control Commission has investigated and reported?

Mr. Brown

Of course I deplore the loss of life and I deplore it all the more if there have been civilian casualties. But the responsibility for this must rest with those who are prolonging the fighting, just as all opportunities for a just and reasonable settlement rest with them. The United States assures us, and, I am certain, properly assures us, that it is attacking only military targets. However, so long as this war goes on, this kind of thing will happen. That is why I wish that Hanoi and those who might be able to influence Hanoi would respond to the kind of initiative which I have recently made myself to both sides.

Mr. Dickens

Will my right hon. Friend this afternoon make a clear public statement dissociating the British Government from the American bombing of the civilian population of Hanoi?

Mr. Brown

I do not believe that the American Government has done any such thing. I dissociate myself from those who will not use such influence as they might have to get the authorities in Hanoi to respond to the approach which I have already made.

Mr. Zilliacus

Do my right hon. Friend's replies mean that the Government have gone back on their undertaking to dissociate themselves from the bombing of Hanoi? Is it the position that the Americans are entitled to the mass murder of civilians by their bombing in order to force them into unconditional surrender or unconditional negotiations, which would be contrary to the Charter?

Mr. Brown

If the North Vietnamese and their allies continue to infiltrate vast numbers of troops and supplies and to breach the demilitarised zone, it would be wrong to attack those trying to arrest that. But I deplore both, and I would welcome the support of my right hon. and hon. Friends in trying to bring it to an end as the most sensible thing to do.

Mr. Goodhart

As we have a small diplomatic mission in Hanoi, can the Foreign Secretary say whether our representative there has been allowed to inspect the site and submit a report? If American planes have done extensive damage in Hanoi, would not one have expected our representative to send a report?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman may assume that I have had reports from not only that, but other quarters. I prefer to stand on what I have said.

Mr. Marten

Returning to the main issue, why does not the Foreign Secretary as co-Chairman receive reports on just this sort of thing, and how can he act as co-Chairman without all this information?

Mr. Brown

Nothing I have said would lend any support to the idea that I do not receive reports on these things.

Mr. Mendelson

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in an earlier statement the Prime Minister assured the House that the position of Her Majesty's Government was that it should not be the policy of the United States Air Force to bomb installations near population centres? While everybody would agree that there is an obligation on the Government of Hanoi, as on any other Government, to make peace, would he not now say that in the period at the beginning of negotiations the American Government should not bomb installations near Hanoi or Haiphong?

Mr. Brown

Not only privately as I have, but in public, the American Government has committed itself much further than anybody else on either side about what it would do to halt military action, provided that it had some idea that a reasonable response would be forthcoming. My answer to my hon. Friend is that we should all use our influence to get some reasonable response from the other side.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Ridsdale. Question No. 33.

Mr. Driberg

On a point of order. When I asked a supplementary question on Question No. 18, which was answered together with my own Question No. 83, my right hon. Friend would not answer it because, he said, it would be out of order to do so as he had Questions on bombing coming. May I ask—

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Driberg.

Mr. Driberg

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. When my right hon. Friend speaks of the war effort of both sides as being roughly equal, is not that a little unrealistic? Is it not only one side which is bombing with napalm and other horrors?

Mr. Brown

Others are doing things which are horrible in their own way.

Mr. Jenkins

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.