§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Heath (Bexley)
Having taken the Consolidated Fund Bill formally, the Opposition are giving the House an opportunity to discuss the affairs of Asia and, in particular, South and South-East Asia. The House will agree that this is not often possible. It has not been possible hitherto in this Session. I say straight away to the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) that we have no desire whatever to limit the debate, or to exclude South Vietnam or North Vietnam. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman desires the opportunity to vote, it is possible for himself and his hon. Friends to vote on the Adjournment, as he well knows, when we will certainly put the right interpretation on it for him.
Perhaps I can explain why we wanted a debate on South Asia and South-East Asia. It is because those countries present very great problems and some of my colleagues and I were able to visit them during the Recess. As a result, there are certain views and proposals which I would like to put to Her Majesty's Government, as well as to ask some questions of them. I will confine myself to the Indian sub-continent, to Malaysia and to Vietnam.
I would like to tell the House the reasons why I personally wanted to go to Asia during the past Recess. First, when we were the Government I sometimes felt slightly guilty, or ashamed, that so often Commonwealth Prime Ministers and other Ministers came to this country, to London, but all too seldom we from this House went to the Commonwealth countries themselves. I personally wanted to try to redress that balance. I realise 225 full well the difficulties of hon. Members in this matter, but I think that we would all like to go to the countries of the Commonwealth much more often. Secondly, I wanted to discuss their problems with them on the spot. Thirdly, there were certain policies about trade, aid, defence, and Europe which I wanted to discuss with them.
In addition to all this, there are certain themes which run through those countries of South and South-East Asia. First, there is the theme of conflict. There was the conflict between Pakistan and India, now happily brought to a conclusion and about which reconciliation has begun. There is the conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia in confrontation, now, fortunately, at a standstill. There is the conflict in Vietnam, a cruel and horrible war which is being waged with great fierceness and which every hon. Member would like to see brought to a conclusion at the earliest possible moment.
The second theme is that of economic development, the need for aid and technical assistance. In some countries this theme is showing obvious progress, but in others one feels absolutely daunted by the enormous problems. I would like to say to the Prime Minister that throughout this part of Asia I found great disappointment that so little was emerging from the Kennedy Round and from the operations of U.N.C.T.A.D. as a result of the conference in Geneva in 1964. We had a brief exchange about this this afternoon at Question Time and I believe that there is not only a need but a genuine scope for British initiatives both in the Kennedy Round and in U.N.C.T.A.D. As far as the Kennedy Round is concerned, the amount of time remaining under the President of the United States' powers is now comparatively limited.
There is, therefore, a degree of urgency about the problem, which we must heed. No longer should we be content with continuing to try to reach an overall 50 per cent. cut across the board as an ideal solution. The time has now come when, in conjunction with those who will support us, possibly in Europe, we should make up our minds to get the best settlement in the time which remains. This will undoubtedly also be of help to the developing countries. I would like to express my personal disappointment that the Government have put so little 226 pressure behind the activities of U.N.C.T.A.D. I would ask them to have a deliberate British initiative so as to try to produce results there.
The third theme in Asia today is the shadow of China, which is hanging over the continent. The question is always what is the ultimate purpose of China as she develops her power in the modern world, and what policy should be pursued towards her, not only by the countries of Asia, but by the Western countries? Is her ultimate intention to have military domination over as much of Asia as is possible, or is she to continue helping with subversive action, either directly or through supporting other movements of that kind? Will China eventually pass through its present intense revolutionary phase and be prepared to come to some terms of co-existence with other countries and her neighbours in South-East Asia?
In Asia, I found no unanimity of opinion about the answers to these questions. This is not surprising perhaps, because the whole of Asia is anxiously watching every move and carefully weighing every consideration to try to find the answer to these all-important questions. One thing is true, and that is that all of these countries believe that rapid economic development is their major safeguard against any subversive activity being successful in their own countries. This is the reason they attach so much importance to it and why I always have done so in the work we do in U.N.C.T.A.D. and elsewhere, and why we on this side of the House attach so much importance to this matter.
There is one other general point that I would like to make. A visit to Asia makes one realise the immense scale of the problems facing the continent, and helps to put into perspective the sort of problems with which we are constantly dealing in this House, either in our domestic affairs or elsewhere. I suppose that it is broadly true to say that in the late 1940s and early 1950s we were mainly concerned with Asia. For the rest of the 1950s and 1960s we have been almost entirely absorbed with Africa.
If one looks at the comparison, one sees that in Africa there is a total population of 300 million, with Commonwealth countries having just over 100 227 million, whereas in Asia there is a population of 750 million, with a Commonwealth population of 570 million to 600 million. When one looks at the comparable scale of economic development one realises the immense problems facing Asia. I hope that this will help us to get the great continents into the right perspective and help us in deciding our policies in allocating reserves to them.
In Pakistan, one finds an excellent example of aid being used in a most worth-while fashion. It is probably one of the best countries for economic development. As a result of this development there has been, until the conflict came, a great deal of liberalisation. Aid has been well justified in Pakistan, which is rightfully proud of creating a new capital of Islamabad. The overseas departments are to be congratulated on the action which they have taken in establishing new British headquarters. Everyone in Rawalpindi and Pakistan will be glad when the "prefabs" disappear and permanent building takes its place. That is just a small point. In Pakistan, as in India, there is the dominating problem of Kashmir.
The other day the Prime Minister said at the end of an exchange that I hoped to settle the problem of Kashmir during my visit. They were rather foolish words. Anyone who has been a member of a Government for 13 years, and seen the problem of Kashmir the whole time, cannot possibly hope to make any but the most modest contribution in any discussion about it, particularly after a conflict such as that between Pakistan and India.
Above all, time is needed before anyone can hope to tackle the real hard core of the problem of Kashmir. I found that President Ayub was sincere and determined in his attempt at least to start progress towards a settlement at Tashkent, and I believe that I was able to convey that to Mr. Shashtri. I can tell the Prime Minister that this was on the lines of the Rann of Kutch settlement, in which he took a part. It was to my regret that I found in Delhi that that settlement had already gone sour. There are many in Pakistan who would be prepared to take the Rann of Kutch settlement as a model or basis for trying to reach a settlement in Kashmir. Now, as a result of the Rann of Kutch being followed by the conflict, I do not believe that there is 228 much hope of that being accepted in India.
I found that the Indians were preoccupied with the aftermath of the conflict. As I said the other day, I found to my regret that the state of Anglo-Indian relations left much to be desired. The Prime Minister knows that the reason for that was his statement of 6th September, during the conflict. I greatly regret that this was reopened again in January as a result of the publication of the correspondence he had with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Swindon (Mr. Francis Noel-Baker). It was commented upon again by the Prime Minister of India only yesterday.
I do not know whether the House realises—although I suppose that one can only realise it when one has been there and seen for oneself as some hon. Members have—the intense feeling, which is not limited to the Government or to those in Delhi, but is found among the ordinary citizens, against Britain, over this incident and the tremendous pressure that there was, and still is in some quarters, for India to leave the Commonwealth.
It is the responsibility of the Government to mend these fences and they must set about it seriously and earnestly and try to repair the damage which has been done. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to assure us that this is his intention. As he knows, there have been other difficulties between our two countries over the past year. There has been the question of the submarines, and on that I would like to ask him what the position is now. There are other problems, such as the commercial arms sales. What is to happen to that as a result of the Tashkent settlement?
There is also the position over the manufacture of British equipment in India under licence, for which some supplies were being withheld? It is understandable that a country which undertakes to manufacture British equipment should ask itself why it should go on doing so when it finds at a time of need that it is no longer able to use this equipment. This is a fundamental question from the point of view of British industry if we are to expand our industry in these countries. There is a major operation to be done to improve Anglo-Indian relations and I hope that we can all help in it.
229 The conciliation between Pakistan and India was started at Tashkent. The contribution which the late Indian Prime Minister made to that has been widely recognised. Alas, it led to his death. I had a long talk with him two days before he went to Tashkent. Little did I think that 10 days later I should be back in Delhi attending his funeral. The President of Pakistan has also made a major contribution to this settlement and that has not been so widely recognised in this country, or in the world. Soviet diplomacy displayed a skill which we have not seen for many years and that must be recognised.
It was a worth-while settlement in that it meant that the cease-fire lines would be cleared, diplomatic relations started and economic affairs resumed, the last of which is important to this country because of the shipping and cargoes which involved a Lloyd's insurance of about £10 million. The agreement also led to the renewal of the non-aggression agreement in the United Nations. The renewal of contact will, we hope, reduce tension, but the main problem of Kashmir still remains.
There are two conclusions which I should like to put before the House. First, I believe that as a result of this conflict, and afterwards, India has achieved a new unity and self-confidence which it previously lacked. This will lead to a great increase in its international influence, particularly among the developing nations, and in this country where we are trying to pursue economic policies which will help developing nations it becomes of great importance that we should be able to work with India in this field as well as with Pakistan.
My second conclusion is that this has led for the first time, whether in imperial or Soviet history, to the extension of Russian influence over the Indian subcontinent. This will undoubtedly be a major factor in international affairs. When one turns to economic development in India and considers the scale of the problem of 450 million people with an income of only £27 a head, one is immediately confronted with this enormous and almost daunting problem of how to achieve growth in an economy of that size and poverty.
I was delighted to find general agreement that the methods used for aid are 230 working well, but I also found agreement that the best help for an economy of this kind is joint ventures between the developed countries and India as a developing country. It is the industries and firms of this country and Western Europe which have the "know-how" and experience in management which can jointly operate with India as a developing country. There is some anxiety that the Corporation Tax, in its present form, will militate against this and I hope that ways can be found to deal with it, because I am sure that joint ventures hold out much greater hope of a speedy rate of growth than other forms of purely capital aid to industry.
I hope that it will be possible for India to move, as Pakistan has done, towards economic liberalisation in order to get a more rapid rate of growth. It may be that the new Finance Minister will be able to encourage that. I hope, too, that American aid can soon be restored to India and Pakistan.
The other dominating factor is the food shortage in 1966. As the House knows, the shortage may well amount to 13 or 14 million tons. The Indians are concentrating on new forms of agricultural development, but when one learns that large farms are being chosen for this but that the definition of a large farm is one of five acres one realises exactly the size of the problem. The United States has undertaken to help with the food shortage this year, and no doubt Canada and Australia will be able to lend their assistance.
But the shipping for this will cost approximately £40 million sterling. The British Government have offered £7½ million, which is to be welcomed, but the Prime Minister will recognise that £6 million of it is being taken from the existing aid allocation for 1965–66. There is, therefore, only an additional £1½ million to help to deal internationally with the grave food problems facing India this year. I ask the Prime Minister to consider again, obviously in consultation with the Indian Government, whether this is the maximum help which can be given.
There are four requirements: first, for shipping, with which we should be able to help domestically without there being a great burden on foreign exchange; secondly, port handling equipment—and 231 I have been informed that we have this equipment in our strategic stores and that the firms recommend that it would be suitable; thirdly, the provision of pesticides and fertilisers; and, fourthly, the provision of vitamins for those areas which suffer. All these are practical methods of help which the British Government could adopt without putting a burden on the overseas balance of payments.
My last point about this part of Asia is this. I believe that any position we want to hold in India in relation to her people and in influencing her must be earned through gaining the confidence of the Indian people. There are some who believe that India can be influenced through external pressures. I do not believe that for one moment. India is a great democracy which has a very large part to play in influencing the developing countries. Britain has a very great interest not only in her history there, but in our industrial investment.
But the old ties are now passing. This is becoming more and more apparent. Delhi is splendid. I must say, looking back, how strange it seems that during the 1920s and 1930s, when we had employment difficulties in this country, we could have gone on creating New Delhi. There is no doubt that modern India appreciates that; but, as I say, the ties are passing and, therefore, we must gain the confidence and interest of members of the younger generation who are being educated in the universities of the world and who are judging us on our merits. I believe that we must learn this lesson quickly and that we must take advantage of it if we are to maintain the confidence of Indians and to work jointly with them.
I move further into South-East Asia and come to Malaysia and the confrontation. I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Defence was unable to go to Sabah and Sarawak on his way back from Australia and to see the situation there and the work which the Armed Forces have done. I believe that they have done a splendid job. I doubt whether many hon. Members recognise that the length of frontier which the forces have been covering in the confrontation is the same distance as from here to Warsaw. The joint command is operating magnificently. 232 Some who had doubts about Malaysia playing a part would have had them removed on visiting the two Malaysian battalions which have been created with British officers and for which Malaysia has taken financial responsibility.
It was interesting to see the vital part which the Gurkhas are playing once again. I remember that some sceptics, two or three years ago, thought that the time had come when the Gurkhas should no longer form part of the British forces. They have been repudiated. The Gurkhas have done a magnificent job in the task of dealing with the confrontation.
Another point which I should like the Secretary of State for Defence to consider is this. We have undoubtedly concentrated, as we did in Malaya and Korea, on the qualities of the men being able to function on their own in this type of jungle warfare. They have done this immensely successfully. This, too, relates to the problem of Vietnam. But the equipment which is suitable for this type of warfare has been provided, to a very large extent, in its most modern and light forms, by the Australians and Americans. For some reason which I do not know, we in Britain have not developed the highly specialised and light equipment required for these operations. It will be worth while the Secretary of State, who did not have the opportunity to go to the area, looking into this matter. The confrontation is at a standstill, but we should be wise to maintain our forces in the area until there are signs that the Indonesians have finally decided to call it off. We should not expect a formal declaration of this. With a change in circumstances in Indonesia it may well be that it will come about quietly without any formal declaration and then we will be able to make the necessary adjustments in our forces.
This country has always wanted good relations with Indonesia—there is no reason why we should not have them—and so do Malaysia and Singapore. There are good signs that relations between Malaysia and the Philippines and between Malaysia and Pakistan are improving. There is little support of the concept of MAPHILINDO between the three countries, but I believe that it might be possible to have a wider grouping than MAPHILINDO when confrontation ceases and that it would be advantageous 233 to these countries to have an economic and cultural grouping of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and even, possibly, Burma, to which the visit of the deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia was not without significance. This would be a helpful development in that part of the world.
I turn to economic development in Malaysia, which is vital because to the north in the jungle and out of the control of Thailand is the threat of further subversion. We should not close our eyes to that fact. But it is obvious that Sabah and Sarawak require economic development, and I hope that the Malaysian Government will be able to provide this form of assistance.
There is one point to which I hope, again, the Government will speedily turn their attention, which is the problem of the administrators in those two countries, because there is a danger of a drain of administrators there unless their terms of service are rapidly improved. I hope that the Government have taken steps there to see that this matter can be concluded speedily.
As far as Singapore is concerned, again there is rapid economic development. Having been there five years ago, I was astonished to see the progress which had been made in housing, roads and particularly in the trading estate. When one considers in this country how the announcement of the new industrial estate of Thornby, in the North-East region, of 400 acres was welcomed as a major step forward, and sees in Singapore how they have created an industrial estate of 17,000 acres already containing a large amount of industry, one realises the scale on which a developing country is operating.
Of course, there is one great disappointment to them, which is that the common market that they would have had with the rest of Malaysia and which gave the basis for an industrial development of 12 million people no longer exists. That is why I believe that the creation of a wider grouping in South-East Asia would be of economic assistance to them.
As far as the base is concerned, the Secretary of State himself made a statement in Singapore, with which I very 234 largely agreed. There is no doubt that the British Government are wanted there and that they would like the base to remain. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a function for that base to perform. We have our defence treaties and our obligations, to which both sides of the House will adhere, so it is required as long as we can stay. The actual scale of the base can be discussed and, I believe, needs again to be re-examined.
Contrary to what we were led to believe, a combined command did not lead to any reduction in the size of the headquarters in Singapore. It led to the expansion which seems almost inevitable as soon as one starts a process of streamlining. Again, the proportion of base personnel as against those who are active needs looking at. Nevertheless, it serves its purpose, and relations are absolutely excellent.
To come to the problem of Vietnam, which some hon. Members are waiting for rather impatiently, I would like to discuss, first, the situation there. I do not wish to go over past history. There seem to be two matters of importance. The first is the situation there today, and the second is the question of negotiation and reconstruction. It is to those two points that I would particularly devote my remarks.
No one here can doubt that the Vietnam war is a terrible war. What is more, it is a war on an enormous scale. With 600,000 South Vietnamese fully under arms, 200,000 Vietcong fully under arms, nearly 200,000 Americans and what is sometimes estimated to be 27 North Vietnamese battalions under arms there, it is an enormous scale of modern warfare. It is a situation in which there are great military problems as well as civil ones. I confess that I had not recognised the extent to which the Vietcong covered the country outside the towns and the way in which the towns are themselves cut off.
There is no doubt that, far from the Vietcong being something of purely a guerrilla organisation, it is a most highly organised military organisation, extremely well-equipped, from the captured arms that I saw of Chinese manufacture, copies of Soviet weapons, and fully equipped with a full-scale modern hospital and every modern form of medicine.
§ Mr. Heath
Yes. I am trying to give the House the benefit of what I saw, to describe one particular aspect of it. No doubt the hon. Gentleman can make his own point if he is fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye.
What is the conclusion about this? First, from the installations which I saw, from the new ports, the new airfields and from the scale of American operations, the United States is determined to see the matter through. I have no doubt about that whatever. It is a conclusion of vital importance as far as the civil population is concerned. There is every evidence, furthermore, that it will be a long war. I do not think that anyone in the House should try to persuade himself that there will be a speedy end to it; and that, also, is of great importance, when considering the policy that we should pursue.
§ Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman to clarify one point? He said that he did not realise that the Vietcong had such control in the countryside. Would he indicate what conclusion he draws from that? Would he not agree that it indicates the very point which has been stressed by hon. Members on this side so often, that the war in Vietnam is basically a civil war and that the Vietcong has the support of the overwhelming mass of the peasant population?
§ Mr. Heath
I would not agree entirely with what the hon. Gentleman has said.
No one has ever denied that it is a civil war and that South Vietnamese are fighting each other. No one can deny, either, that there is very large-scale intervention from North Vietnam. But the areas controlled by the Vietcong are controlled against the will of the people who live there. They have been terrorised by the activities of the Vietcong, and when one sees the number of heads of villages and chieftains who have been cruelly tortured and assassinated, one realises that there is military domination of those areas. It only illustrates, above all, the extraordinarily cruel and brutal nature of the war; and most civil wars are of that kind.
236 My third conclusion on this point is that if there is to be a successful war against the Vietcong by the United States, the United States has to develop still further not only the weapons, equipment and the scale of fire power, but also the techniques of fighting in jungle such as one sees in Vietnam and the techniques that we have had to master in the past in Malaya and in Sabah and Sarawak today.
That is the conclusion that I would put to the House and it leads also to my conclusion that it will be a long struggle.
I now want to turn to the question of reconstruction, because that is of immense importance.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a word about negotiations?
§ Mr. Heath
I shall be coming to that subject.
It is often said that the main purpose at the moment must be to gain the confidence of the people in that country, and the hon. Gentleman was hinting at that himself. That is undoubtedly true, but the problem of gaining the confidence of the people is not as it is so often conceived to be, the material one, of providing roads, schools, or a better standard of living.
The fundamental problem is that of providing security. Until there is security, none of those people can live any sort of reasonable life at all, and it is only with security, when they are not being terrified, that they can embark on reconstruction.
§ Mr. Heath
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, this is a serious debate. I will come to the question of bombing in a moment.
There is training going on at the moment to help reconstruction, and that ought to be recognised. But, at the same time, it is quite obvious that to replace a machinery of government which has been destroyed over a large part of the country is no easy matter. It takes a considerable amount of time. Where security is provided and where the machinery of government is restored, then, in Vietnam, they can move on to the fundamental necessities of life—the farm, the fertiliser, 237 the house, the school and the other things which follow.
Turning to negotiations, I believe—and I think that the Government share this view—from the discussions that I had while in Vietnam and with Mr. Harriman, in New Delhi, that the President of the United States is desperately sincere in his attempts to bring about negotiations. I have no doubt about that whatever. When one examines the 14 points which he has put forward, I believe one sees that they cover the whole ground, and are reasonable. The President himself has said that if they are prepared to enter into negotiations there can be no difficulties about the Vietcong. I believe that the Vietcong must take part in a conference of this kind. When we had the problem of Laos, the Pathet Lao took part in a conference under my right hon. Friend who was then Foreign Secretary. What is more, I have no doubt that there is a problem, but I do not believe that this is a reason for rejecting the President's 14 points, or for rejecting the opportunity to negotiate.
I also do not believe that the points put forward by the North Vietnamese can at this moment be described as reasonable. Indeed—no doubt the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary will be able to tell us—I believe the last point made by Ho Chi Minh to be entirely unreasonable for any form of negotiation when he says, in a message through Her Majesty's Ambassador to the Government:If the United States really wants peace it must recognise the South Vietnam National Front for Liberation as the sole genuine representative of the people of South Vietnam.I do not believe that that can be taken by sensible and reasonable people throughout the world as being a reasonable negotiating position. I do not therefore believe that one can take that attitude towards the North Vietnamese.
My conclusion here is that I do not think we shall see a reaction from the North Vietnamese, or from the Vietcong, to offers for negotiation which will bring them to the conference table until they are convinced that they are not going to win the present military struggle. I believe that this is a fundamental point, and I can understand it, having been there. I can understand that the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese believe that 238 they will win. I can understand, also, the importance of the South Vietnamese and the Americans convincing them both from the military and from the civil angle that they will see this through. I believe that when that conviction is reached we shall have a similar position to the one in Laos, and we may then get a negotiation. I further believe that the 14 points, including the point about the Vietcong, will enable a proper negotiation to take place; and that, after all, is the same position as we had on Laos.
I propose to deal next with the question of bombing. I deplore bombing as much as anybody does in this House, and I believe that any bombing should be devoted to the military targets themselves. I believe, furthermore, that when one is waging jungle war any military commander has to ask himself specifically, "Is there a deliberate return for the use of this type of weapon?", and I believe that the American commanders are asking themselves that question the whole time. The bombing is under the tighest form of military control, and under control from Washington. I have no doubt about that, also.
But the fact has also to be faced that when one has a considerable period of time, with an offer of negotiation which is not accepted, and one knows that there is evidence all the time that the build-up on the other side is continuing and being used to try to out-distance the build-up in South Vietnam, no military commander, and no Government, in that situation, can ignore it unless they are prepared to withdraw from the country, and this, I think, therefore governs the considerations which have to be borne in mind in this House.
On the question of negotiations in the whole of this situation, what I believe is important is that the British Government should keep open the channel with the Soviet Government so that when the moment arises the two co-chairmen can bring about a conference round the table in which all can take part. I believe that to be essential, and I hope, therefore, that when the Prime Minister goes to Moscow he will devote his energies to trying to improve the climate there between our two countries to ensure that this action will be possible when the time comes.
239 As I said at the beginning, one of the overriding questions is: what are the intentions of China? In the countries which I visited there was probably a general feeling that China did not wish to enter on a campaign for the military domination of Asia. This was not accepted everywhere, but I think that it was in many places. They believe that China will support subversion wherever it is to be found, and in some cases encourage it. If one looks quite impartially at the situation in Vietnam, is not China already achieving a considerable amount, without expense to herself, except in the provision of arms, by the struggle which is going on against the United States?
That supports the thesis which many people put to me in South-East Asia, but I must add that if the United States were to withdraw from this conflict, I have no doubt, and neither have any of the countries in Asia, whether they are neutral, or are supporting the West, that subversion would then spread, and spread widely and rapidly into their countries. There is no doubt about this; there is no doubt that it would affect Thailand, Malaya, and Malaysia, including Sarawak, so, from the point of view of this country, and of the West, this is a major consideration in the terrible conflict which is being waged in South Vietnam.
There is, therefore, every argument all the time for taking every possible step to secure a negotiated settlement, and this should be the basis of British policy. I believe that that is the basis of American policy, and I am certain that the time will come, even though it is not now, when the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong will be prepared to negotiate round the conference table.
Finally, standing back and considering the further problem of the development of China as an atomic Power, Asia asks, "How can this Power be contained? What is to be China's relationship with other countries?". This poses a major problem for us. The admission of China to the United Nations is all-important in this context in an attempt to secure her signature to the Test Ban Treaty, and, therefore, what becomes even more fundamental is that there should be a balance to contain China during this 240 period, which the Western countries can provide.
I have tried to put before the House some of the impressions which I have gained of the problems of Asia, the scale and intensity with which they face those countries, and, indeed, face us in the West. I have tried to put forward as best I could what I think are reasonable and modest conclusions about the problems which face us. The reasons I have given, and the survey I have made, show why Asia today poses the greatest series of problems of any continent in the world. I believe that that is the reason why today we in the House should be glad to give them the fullest consideration.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)
The right hon. Member for Bexley (Mr. Heath) has given the House an interesting account not only of his recent travels in South and South-East Asia, but also some of the lessons which he drew from them, and for this the House is indebted to him, because his tour, and, I think, this debate, too, recognises one of the really fundamental facts of our times, which is that this House, and, indeed, the country, will probably have to give increasing attention to the problems of Asia and of the Far East.
I do not think that anything would please this side of the House more than if our friends in Europe were increasingly to join us and our partners in the Commonwealth and in the United States in meeting the great needs of this area. Whether one is thinking in defence terms, or in terms of human aid—and the right hon. Gentleman stressed the need for increasing aid—it is certainly the case that we are bearing very much more than our real share of the burden if one looks at the relationship between the advanced European powers and the advanced Atlantic powers, and the needs of Asia.
If, during the two decades since the war, the main arguments on defence and security, and the main preoccupations of this House, have been on Europe and the Atlantic area, I do not think that it requires very much skill of prophecy to foresee that our debates over the next two decades, as I have said in a number of these debates, will be weighted very much more heavily with the great problems of Asia and the Indo-Pacific area. 241 It is this problem which has run right through and immensely complicated the task which we have had in carrying out the Defence Review, and, of course, it is these factors which set the context for this afternoon's debate. If there is to be any talk or arguments about top tables, this is what top table talk will be about for the next generation—particularly the Chinese nuclear explosion and the problems of the areas with which this debate deals.
I want to deal with the three main issues referred to by the right hon. Gentleman—the Indian sub-continent, Malaysia and confrontation, and the problem of Vietnam. The right hon. Gentleman was right to stress that our relations with India are going through a very difficult phase. This was inevitable once the Kashmir issue passed from the stage in which it had been for the previous 18 years—a state of tension and incipient conflict—to one of military engagement. Neither our friends in Pakistan nor those in India, feeling as strongly as they did on this issue could understand our position of neutrality between them. Each would have expected to see our outright support on their side. Each felt that because we did not do so we supported the other side. This problem has been with us for many years.
To my knowledge, Lord Attlee did his best to solve it in the early post-war years. On more than one occasion at their conferences Commonwealth Prime Ministers have tried to use their good offices—not in the full conferences but in private, with the facilities that these conferences provide—to eradicate this running sore in the political body of the Commonwealth. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite—successive Prime Ministers and successive Secretaries of State—did their best to bring the two parties to that stage of understanding and tolerance in which some solution would have been possible—and none more than the former Secretary of State for the Commonwealth, the right hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), who was very much involved in these problems and who, from time to time, managed to get into exactly the same position as that into which we have got because, through his attempting to be neutral, it was thought that he was always an enemy of the country in which he was.
242 The Leader of the Opposition referred to the potentially dangerous situation which had occurred earlier in the Rann of Kutch, which led to fighting. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State showed tremendous patience in trying to mediate between the two Governments—and I was involved in it myself—during the Commonwealth conference. But this British mediation was not merely welcomed by them; it was actively sought. They thought that this was the best possible and most appropriate mediation in this difficult area.
For example, at Chequers and elsewhere, when I was arguing first with President Ayub and then with Mr. Shastri on the question who should go on particular patrol lines at particular times of day, and so on, over a piece of territory which was almost certainly by that time under water, or which would soon be inundated, one could be left in no doubt about the deep feelings raised by one side or the other that national territory and national security was at stake, and it was only by very considerable restraint and courage on the part of Mr. Shastri and President Ayub—by the utmost patience shown by them, and by us, and, perhaps I should say, by the grace of God—that we were able to prevent this conflict from escalating into a major war between the two countries.
It was very apparent that over a period of time the spirit and the method used to end the danger in the Rann of Kutch might have been applied to a solution of the Kashmir problem, but the Rann of Kutch situation had not been fully dealt with by the time the Kashmir explosion occurred. I do not propose to go over all the difficulties that arose at the time and which were referred to in the statement of my noble Friend Lord Caradon when infiltration began, and our own statement on 6th September. Our concern as a Government was to do everything possible to bring to the earliest possible end this fighting, which by this time had rapidly spread, between two great Commonwealth countries with which we had the closest ties.
There were a number of possible courses open to us. We could have offered mediation, after the fighting had started, but I do not think that this would have been as acceptable in the situation which had developed as in the Rann of Kutch. 243 Or, as some people in this country and elsewhere have suggested, we could have tried to activate a Commonwealth peace mission of heads of Government to bring the two parties together. Again, I do not think that it would have been successful, and it might have led to misunderstanding—the more so because both parties had at successive Commonwealth conferences made it clear that they felt that this was not a matter in which the outside Commonwealth countries could or should try to mediate, or arbitrate.
The third course, which we followed, was to give the fullest support to the proposals made by the United Nations and by the Secretary-General of the United Nations. In this, we had strong support from other members of the Security Council. Indeed, it was the Security Council's demand for a cease-fire on 20th September which led directly to a cessation of hostilities. We felt that it was right to give our fullest support, and that of all our friends, to the United Nations in this desperate situation, because we took the view that once the Security Council was involved—and, as it later proved, successfully involved—it would have been dangerous to propose any competing course of action.
There might have been a serious danger of crossing the wires and frustrating the very delicate operation in which the Secretary-General and the Security Council were involved. So, whatever our natural desires—and many of us on both sides of the House have been involved in India in the past—whatever agonies we went through at the time, and especially in feeling that there was something that we should be doing but were not able to do because of the danger of crossing the wires—and whatever the temptations—were decided that it was right to lend our full support to the United Nations and this was our position from that day right through.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Tashkent meeting. I am aware of the feeling that exists in some quarters that it would have been more appropriate if this important meeting could have taken place under British or Commonwealth auspices, but while the United Nations intervention was at such a critical and delicate stage we felt that it would be wrong for anybody in Britain or in 244 the Commonwealth to cut across what was being done by the Secretary-General for fear that we might, while the fighting was still on, have ended the ceasefire which was being planned The original Soviet invitation was issued before the Security Council met and passed the vitally important resolution of 20th September.
All of us welcome, as the right hon. Gentleman did, the success achieved at the Tashkent meeting, and I want to support what the right hon. Gentleman said today and what he has said on other occasions. I join him particularly in the tribute that he paid to the statesmanship of the three participants in the meeting. It was not an easy agreement for Mr. Shastri and President Ayub to reach. It required a great deal of give and take on both sides before it was concluded. It was fortunate that we had there—that the world had there—two leaders of India and Pakistan gifted with the necessary vision and statemanship to effect an agreement which is so clearly in the interests of both countries. We applaud this and trust that it will be the beginning of happier days for the sub-continent despite the cruelty of fate which, as the right hon. Gentleman said, removed Mr. Shastri from our midst on the very day that the agreement was signed.
The first results of the Tashkent agreement are still coming through; the military commanders have now met and have reached a detailed agreement providing for a withdrawal of their forces to the positions held before 5th August last year. The initial disengagement of their troops has already been effected, and withdrawals are scheduled to be completed all along the line before 25th February. The other provision of the Tashkent agreement, which provided for the return of the High Commissioners to their posts, has also been carried out. So there has been a very important step forward.
But everyone has recognised that there is a long way to go before the bitter scars caused by the fighting are healed and the recent passions which have animated both sides for nearly 19 years can be overcome. But a start has been made, and President Ayub and Mrs. Indira Gandhi have now expressed their determination to promote better relations between their two countries. We shall do all we can to help both Governments in this.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
Does not the Prime Minister agree that among the many factors that made the Tashkent agreement possible were the very careful preparations of the Soviet Union and the other interested parties before the meeting, and also the lack of publicity? Were not these very important reasons for success?
§ The Prime Minister
I believe that they played a valuable part, although I would not say that there was much lack of publicity about this meeting. There was a great deal. There was very careful preparation—and there were dangerous moments—but, above all, what was responsible for this agreement was quite simply the high degree of statesmanship of all three participants. It was this which was responsible, much more than any detailed preparations; for the problems of the Tashkent meeting were not complicated; they were, if anything, simple, but they required an enormous act of trust by the participants at Tashkent.
I can understand the feeling about the Soviet Union being involved. Sometimes even a family quarrel is more easily solved by a friend from outside than by another member of the family. This has happened and one thing that we ought to look at today is the evidence provided by the Tashkent meeting that the Soviet Union sees its national interest bound up with the peace and stability of the whole sub-continent. It is important that Russia has been prepared to mediate impartially between India and Pakistan to help them compose their differences. The Soviet Union, which is becoming not an advanced industrial Power—I am speaking politically, not in economic terms—but a senior and mature Power, has more and more vested interest in seeing peace and stability and less and less an interest in seeing disturbance and insecurity created.
This may be the real heart of what is probably the biggest and most challenging thing going on in the world today, the question of the relations between India and China. Therefore, I think that this could be one of the more hopeful developments in international politics in our time, and a possible further point of common interest between Russia and the West. It is interesting that that point 246 of contact should have been found in Asia.
I do not think that it would be helpful to say much more now about the Kashmir situation, because this is a tremendous problem and we all know the feelings engaged. The right hon. Gentleman, I think, felt it right not to go into the basic issues and the feelings both of Pakistan and India about the issues which are involved. I think that it is right, however, to refer—particularly since there has been reference to feelings in India about relations between our two countries—that I should say something about the fact that, at the most dangerous and crucial moment of this situation, at the time of the Chinese ultimatum, I happened to be taking part in a big programme on American television, without the help, I may say, of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Osborn), who referred to these things earlier.
I was asked flat out by the persistent American journalists over the Early Bird satellite about our reaction and about what we would do if the ultimatum were pressed. I do not think that this broadcast has been fully reported in India, so I will say that I then reminded the world of what this House of Commons and the then Government had done—with the full support of the then Opposition—in rallying to India when it was threatened with an ultimatum and the challenge of Chinese aggression three years ago.
I repeated firmly what our position would be if the ultimatum were pressed and I believe that that statement had some effect. No one in the House can doubt the importance of that statement and what was involved in that reply.
Before I leave the question of the sub-continent, I will refer, as did the right hon. Member, to the other problem which dominates the position in India and threatens her future. This is the problem of economic development. I have said a number of times—this is an obvious cliché—that the real war going on in Asia today is an economic conflict, in effect, between India and countries like India, on the one hand, and China, on the other, and that the future not only of Asia, but of the world, will be determined by which side wins this competitive struggle, whether it is 247 a democratic India and other democratic countries or Communist China.
In this struggle, which is as vital to the future of the world as any war could be in Asia, there can be no neutrals. No one in India is or can be in any doubt about which side the British Government and people are on in this struggle, or about the help which has been given.
The right hon. Gentleman talked today about increasing the aid programme and doing more. As he knows, over the past five years, British Governments have signed aid loans for over £200 million for development in the sub-continent and we intend to go on playing our full part in the great efforts of both countries for the expansion of their economy. The right hon. Gentleman drew attention to the famine following the failure of the monsoon last year and this lends emphasis to what all of us have urged—I am sure he did when he was in the Fast East; the President of the United States has, I know, as have other Commonwealth countries—the paramount need for both countries to be able to devote their resources to fighting what is the greatest war on their hands, the war against poverty and famine, and to devote their resources to this rather than to military preparations for conflict across the Indo-Pakistan borders or anywhere else.
The world is in the process now of mobilising a tremendous operation in sending food to India—the right hon. Member gave the figures—and no one can be in any doubt that the help given in the last few years to both countries by the United States alone almost defies the powers of statisticians. Indeed, this was one of the most important issues which I discussed with President Johnson in Washington, before Christmas. It is not just a question of mobilising the supplies, whether from North America or the Antipodes, and of shipping them to India. There is the no less formidable problem of India's own problems of transport, to say nothing of the problem of distribution and that of port capacity, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred many times when he was there.
We have assured the Government of India that we shall respond as swiftly and 248 as fully as we can in helping to overcome India's food crisis. We have offered an interest-free loan of £7.5 million; indeed ever since last October, all our aid to India in loan form has been interest-free, which is a very important development in the whole concept of international aid. The Government of India have accepted and welcomed our suggestion that the loan should be used to meet the foreign exchange costs of shipping emergency supplies including supplies of foodstuffs from Commonwealth countries, in the provision of grain-handling equipment for their products and the purchase of commodities immediately required to help deal with the emergency.
I will now turn, as the right hon. Gentleman did, to the Malaysia-Indonesia confrontation. The previous Government played a great part in the creation of the sovereign, independent country of Malaysia, and, when it was created, they pledged that country every promise of military assistance, should it be required. Of course, that pledge, when made by the then Government, was underwritten by the then Opposition. Tragically, perhaps much earlier than could have been foreseen, the previous Government were called upon to honour that commitment. We have fully continued in that task.
We have all noted what the right hon. Gentleman said about what he saw there, but he will agree that this is and has been a tragic and unnecessary confrontation arising not out of any dispute between the nations concerned, but out of the determination of Indonesia that Malaysia, as a State, should not be allowed to exist at all. Indeed, so strongly did Indonesia feel that she left the United Nations because of that determination. This was unprecedented in our post-war history.
Out of our limited military resources and at great cost in terms of military effectiveness elsewhere we, Australia and New Zealand have given the fullest backing to our Commonwealth partners in that area. This has been made no easier by the events of last August, which led to the separation of Singapore from Malaysia.
Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who has been in the area on the ground, I 249 have been in almost constant consultation with the two Prime Ministers concerned since the separation. As I explained yesterday, I have had the chance of discussing this with Lee Kuan Yew and Tun Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia. No one will underrate the great difficulties for Britain created by the events of last summer. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was, of course, in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur recently and had discussions with Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman. Nothing that has happened affects our determination, for as long as it is necessary, to support our Commonwealth partners against any threat from their Indonesian neighbours.
This confrontation is an unnecessary thing from start to finish. It is totally opposed to the real interests of Indonesia and Malaysia and we, for our part, would like to see, and will do everything in our power to bring about, not merely an improvement in relations between Indonesia, on the one hand, and Malaysia and Singapore, on the other; but also what, I think, will be supported on both sides of the House, which is a steady improvement in relations with Indonesia itself, given the necessary good will from Indonesia.
It is, of course, difficult for any of us to speculate about precisely what is happening in Indonesia now. I will not try to do that, or try to speculate precisely what has happened since the abortive coup d'etat last summer. The situation has remained confused and there is uncertainty about it. It would be rash and unprofitable to predict what will ultimately happen. However, no one underrates the suffering of the Indonesian people themselves. The last few months have seen that. President Soekarno has spoken of 87,000 Indonesian people having been killed in this struggle, while others place the loss at an even higher figure. This struggle is continuing. One thing is clear: the Indonesian Communists who began it, and who have suffered the most, will be unlikely for many years to regain their former ascendancy.
During the Commonwealth Conference last year the close relations between China and Indonesia were in evidence over a wide area, not least the close identity of views between them at the time of the 250 abortive Algiers Conference. But a great deal has taken place since then, and many forecasts now indicate that we should look forward to relations with Indonesia on a very different basis in the future from that which has obtained in recent years. Until that happens we will continue to assist Malaysia and Singapore against utterly unjustified attacks made on them.
We are also taking every opportunity to assure the Indonesian leaders and people that the road to peace is open and that we ourselves are ready and anxious to take any step to improve relations, compatible with our obligations to Malaysia and Singapore. If that can be done—if the confrontation can be ended and the struggle brought to a conclusion—it might cause a quite revolutionary change in relations not only between Britain and Indonesia, but between the West in general and Indonesia, which is a matter of plain common sense and advantage for Indonesia and ourselves and for our allies and partners.
I turn to the situation in Vietnam. Like the right hon. Gentleman, I do not propose to go over the whole background to the fighting in this war-torn part of the world. In the past, I have stressed that there are three reasons—with which I am sure all hon. Members will agree—why it is urgent that this fighting should cease. The first is because of the tragedy which this war brings on the peoples of Vietnam, people who, after 20 years of almost continuous fighting, want to live in peace, to till their farms and bring up their children. As long as the fighting continues, and there is this tragedy, and while some will blame the deaths, maiming and destruction on one side or the other, these things will continue on both sides.
The second is because, as I have said on many occasions, as long as this fighting lasts there is the danger of escalation to the scale of a major land war in Asia and possibly something even far worse. The third is because as long as the Vietnam fighting casts a cloud over international relationships, the easing of tensions between East and West, progress in disarmament and progress towards a world agreement to stop the spread of nuclear weapons may be endangered by this poisoning of the atmosphere. I do not think that it would be profitable for 251 me this afternoon to go over the whole history of the dispute—this war which is at once a civil war and an international war—which, as we have said at different times, has rendered more complicated and difficult any solution.
In a previous debate the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in supporting the American position was being called in question and I do not propose today to go over all the arguments which my right hon. Friends and I have put here in the House and in other debates outside, including the debate at our party conference at Blackpool last October, when there was a very full debate on Vietnam—a very passionate debate on the subject—and when, because we have this old-fashioned habit, we have a vote at the end of it to see what the conference thought about it.
I wish to recall something I said on this question when we had a debate in the House last July. I want the House to ponder on the consequences of what we would have if there was a unilateral withdrawal of the United States—and I will quote what I said last July:A unilateral withdrawal of the United States would have incalculable results, first in Vietnam. It would have incalculable results, too, over a much wider area than Vietnam, not least because it might carry with it the danger that friend and potential foe, throughout the world would begin to wonder whether the United States might be induced also to abandon other allies when the going got rough.There is that danger. I continued:One has only to look at the map of South-East Asia—rich, fertile, mouth-watering, not in current economic terms, but in terms of temptation to those seeking a wider sphere of exclusive influence.I went on:Again, in terms of great power relationships"—This is what I emphasise:a unilateral withdrawal would be held as a humiliating defeat and would make not only countries such as Russia but—let us be frank—America herself, that much more intransigent and tough and determined to see that the experience was not repeated and that much less inclined to policies of co-existence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1965; Vol. 716, c. 1128.]
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (Central Ayrshire)
Is that not exactly what Winston 252 Churchill said when we withdrew from India?
§ The Prime Minister
I think that on that occasion my hon. Friend and I were on the same side, from the point of view of India. I do not think that there is an analogy or parallel in any way here. I believe that there would be this very great danger of polarisation and of causing great intransigence and that it is not in the interests of world peace that Russia or America should be driven into a position of intransigent isolation.
Another thing I said in that debate which I believed to be true then—and what has happened since underlines what I said; and the right hon. Gentleman drew attention to it—is the fact that last July there was a very strong hope in Hanoi that the effect of the weather—fighting under monsoon conditions—would make it more likely that the Vietcong would win. We said this:Military means can prevent an imposed solution, but there can be no victory now. This war will end when that realisation penetrates those capitals which are at present intoxicated by hopes of an early military settlement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1965; Vol. 716, c. 1128.]One reason why the Commonwealth peace mission was not allowed to visit Hanoi was that the North Vietnamese and their National Liberation Front Allies thought that the monsoon would be favourable to the Vietcong and that while there was a chance of victory there should be no talk of peace. That assessment was proved wrong. The monsoon did not bring victory and we must get this clear; there will now be no victory for anyone. There must, therefore, be a political solution.
In the foreign affairs debate on 21st December I reported to the House on my talks with President Johnson, in Washington. As it happened, on that day the foreign affairs debate which had been planned was turned mainly into a debate on Rhodesia and the House was not able to go as fully as I should have wished—and as many other hon. Members would have desired—into the issues which I had discussed with the President.
I made clear then the desire of the American Government to bring this fighting to an end and I am absolutely convinced about the sincerity of the President in this matter. I could not be more convinced about anything. I am convinced 253 about his willingness to go to the conference table without prior conditions, to give full support for any initiative which we, particularly in our capacity of Geneva co-chairmen, or anyone else might take to get a conference organised. Of course, I could not tell the whole story then. I indicated to the House that I could not say everything that had been discussed about our plans for an all-out effort to bring the parties to the conference table because announcements were then on the way. A suggestion had been made for a brief Christmas truce. We discussed this in Washington and, as the President and I agreed, why only Christmas? I was in touch with him on this matter until very late on Christmas Eve, and again over the Christmas weekend.
The truce that was agreed was fully honoured, during the limited period, by both sides. The American Government honoured it, and they agreed, as we had urged, that the truce should be extended beyond the Christmas period—provided, of course, that it was honoured by both sides. They agreed that America would not fire the first shot; that if there was no fighting from the other side there would be no fighting by the United States. In the event, a very great chance was missed. The ground fighting did begin again. It was the Viet-cong who began it—but the bombing was not resumed.
Her Majesty's Government—and I want to say quite frankly what our position has been on this—were anxious that the cessation of the bombing should last long enough to give every opportunity to Hanoi to reconsider their position so that they could decide to come to the conference table. The hopes that we expressed and urged found a response in the attitude of the American Government. More than that, a great peace offensive was mounted. The President of the United States sent personal emissaries to practically every country in the world. And this time the word did get through to Hanoi. There was no question this time—whatever arguments there may have been last May—that the message got through.
We played our very fullest part in the orchestration of this offensive and in getting these messages through—
§ The Prime Minister
As I have said, we discussed all the aspects and all the things that needed to be done to get them to the conference table. I told the House before what our own position would be in regard to the initiative; some came from one side, some came from another side, but we were in complete agreement about what needed to be done and both sides gave the fullest support. This was, therefore, quite different from the situation last May. There was a brief bombing pause last May, but then there was reason to doubt whether it lasted long enough for the Hanoi authorities to be clear what its purpose was.
On this occasion—the 40 days—there could be no doubt. We ourselves, by every means open to us, got our message through, and I can say beyond dispute that there can be no doubt at all that the authorities in Vietnam were not in any doubt that if they would come to the conference table the bombing would not be resumed. I sent messages to Mr. Kosygin and also direct to Hanoi. We were in contact with the North Vietnam representative in Moscow, and the Polish Government were alerted and were given the fullest briefing on the Western argument. In all, 70 countries were approached with the proposals that we were putting forward. No country was omitted that could even indirectly help to get the message through.
It was our view, and we pressed this, that the cessation of bombing ought to last until the Vietnamese New Year in order to give a period long enough for reconsideration. I urged—and I think that it was a fair point to make, although we are all very much in the dark, really, about many of these things—that the Vietnamese Communists were not of the classical sophisticated type of Communist; people who could take quick decisions and who had a rule book to follow. They needed time to think their position through. We urged that the cessation should last to the Vietnamese New Year, and President Johnson, in spite of considerable public pressure in his own country—let there be no doubt about that—and, above all, in spite of the intensifying of the war in Vietnam by troops who had infiltrated into the area during the 255 bombing pause, continued to hold his hand. The Vietnamese New Year came and went, and still the bombing was not resumed.
I want to say this to the House quite seriously. Her Majesty's Government having pressed, having urged, that this one-sided truce be continued day after day, week after week, long after the military commanders on the ground felt that it could not be justified in terms of men's lives; having urged that, together with others, in the hope of getting some glimmer of willingness from Hanoi that they would come to the conference table, had to recognise that that glimmer was not forthcoming, and since we had pressed for postponement of the resumption of bombing for all that period in order to get that sign, that evidence, we had to recognise that the American Government understandably felt that they had no option but to resume the bombing.
If we ourselves had not pressed for the extension all that time, and had our request not been met, perhaps a different argument could have been put, but, having pressed for it to be extended, we felt that it placed an obligation on us when the bombing was resumed—
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
The Prime Minister has not mentioned one country, and I am sure that he must wish to mention it both to the House and to the country. Did Her Majesty's Government at the same time make quite certain that the Chinese People's Republic and its Government were fully alerted to what we were trying to do?
§ The Prime Minister
Yes, we were fully alive to that aspect, but I shall deal with China in a moment.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
My right hon. Friend has referred to the one-sided truce, but is not this a rather false picture? Is it not the case that there has been no bombing at all by the North of the South? Is it therefore correct to call it a one-sided truce?
§ The Prime Minister
If my hon. Friend will study, for example, the agreed guide lines on the question drawn up by the Commonwealth Prime Minister's Conference, he will find that we always linked the two contributions that needed to be made: on the one hand, the stopping 256 of bombing by America and, on the other, the stopping of the infiltration, particularly, of regular troops from North Vietnam to the South. As far as the Commonwealth test applied in this arrangement, there was certainly a one-sided truce.
As I have said, having pressed the Americans, as we did, in face of great difficulties, there was this obligation when, at the end of the day, there was no glimmer of hope from Hanoi, and when this occurred, and when the whole world asked Britain where she stood, I took the fullest responsibility for the statement issued by Her Majesty's Government last month.
I know the feelings of some of my hon. Friends about the bombing—and, indeed, about that statement—and I want to say this to them. They have always been frank with me and I am always frank with them. I have never doubted their sincerity. I have sometimes wanted to see similar passion shown by hon. Members opposite about this—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I should sometimes like, when we are going through these questions, to have the smirks taken from the faces of some hon. Members opposite, who look on this question not in terms of the tragedy it is, but in terms of a little innocent fun in regard to the Front Bench and back benches on this side—
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South) rose—
§ The Prime Minister
My hon. Friends will, I know, allow me to say that, while I have never doubted their sincerity, I shall not accord to them any monopoly of feeling or passion or desire that this fighting should cease. It is not 30 or so Members, but 300 Members on this side—and, I am sure, a large number of hon. Members on the other side—who do not all show it at Question Time, but who basically feel this to be important. Among the 300 hon. Members on this side is to be numbered the Foreign Secretary, who has laboured day after day over the last year to bring the parties to the conference table—and, if I may add it, also the Prime Minister.
I have reported to the House in previous debates, and week after week at Question Time, what we have done. My right hon. Friend has continually sought 257 to bring pressure on Mr. Gromyko to re-convene the Geneva conference. There has been telegram after telegram, meeting after meeting. And that says nothing of what I have tried to achieve in exchanges with Mr. Kosygin throughout the past year. When I know the facts of what my right hon. Friend has been doing over the past year, I shall not stand aside if I see him attacked in the Press or the country by people who do not know those facts. I know the facts, and I know what my right hon. Friend has sought to achieve. I said at the Blackpool conference, thinking of those outside this House who carry the banner of "Peace in Vietnam", that I will carry that banner with the best of them provided that the message of "Peace in Vietnam" is inscribed not only on the banner, but on the hearts of those who carry it, because if one scratches some of those who partake in these campaigns one finds not "Peace in Vietnam", but "Victory in Vietnam" in their hearts. This means a continuation of the fighting in Vietnam until one side, their side, has won. Do not let us pretend that it is peace in Vietnam that they are after. I share the sincerity of those who want peace in Vietnam, although I do not share their views. Week after week from the summer and up to Christmas I heard in this House and outside that if America were to stop the bombing there could be a peace conference.
§ The Prime Minister
I shall come to the speech of my hon. Friend at the party conference, in which he made two points. We have had this point made very frequently, not only in this House but by the Foreign Minister of Hungary when he came over here, in Moscow and frequently at the party conference. It is in the recollection of the House, and has been written 10,000 times in certain sections of the Press, that we cannot have peace while the bombing is on—"Stop the bombing and we shall have peace." I know that there is another point, but, nevertheless, what we were urged to do was to use our influence to get the bombing stopped.
Frankly, in my heart I hoped that it was true that if America would agree to the cessation of bombing that would 258 create conditions in which Hanoi would come to the conference table. This is why I find difficult to understand why those who urge this so strongly on me—although I did not need any urging; it was one of the cardinal principles stated in the report of the Commonwealth Conference; I did not need any pressing on this—were not so vocal and demonstrative, once the 40-day bombing truce had begun, to see that the same pressure was put on the other side in Hanoi.
We have had speeches, resolutions, demonstrations and telegrams, but I would have been more impressed if the international cables during the 40-day truce had been sizzling with messages to Hanoi and to Ho Chi Minh saying, when one thinks of all the pressures brought on the United States, "Now conditions for talks exist. Now play your part. Your friends in this country who want peace expect you now to respond." I should like to have seen, "Peace in Vietnam" outside the Chinese Embassy, demanding that the Chinese Government—[Interruption.]—there is a Chinese Embassy here. I should have liked to have seen the peace lobby outside the Chinese Embassy demanding that the Chinese Government should use their influence, or at least diminish their malevolent pressures on Hanoi preventing Hanoi following her perhaps natural inclination to make peace.
One of the tragic features in all this situation is our inability and the inability of other nations, including the uncommitted nations, to represent the world's views to China in the place in which I should like to see China represented, in the United Nations. As the House knows, in my speech to the United Nations following what my right hon. Friend said there I three times called for the seating of China in the United Nations. I believe this will come. There is no doubt of where Her Majesty's Government stand on this question.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr (Rochester and Chatham)
Following the point my right hon. Friend has made, I wonder whether he will explain why we did not vote in favour of the procedural device, which would have enabled China to have been included in the United Nations?
§ The Prime Minister
That would be to suggest that we did not consider the 259 seating of China in the United Nations an important question. That was not what was voted on. We think it a very important question and we support the seating of China and have urged it on every conceivable occasion. We shall continue to vote for it, but it can hardly be expected that Her Majesty's Government would vote to say that it is not an important question; it is very important.
Over the past six weeks Her Majesty's Government have done what I believe the House wanted us to do. We supported the bombing truce to enable Hanoi to go to the conference table, but they did not do so. Until they do I have to say again that the enemies of negotiation, so long as they remain the enemies of negotiation, are for that period the enemies of peace.
If there is no peace in Vietnam today the House must judge who it is who has refused to come to the conference table. In the United States there are demonstrations of public opinion no less strong—indeed a great deal stronger, I think—than in this country. During the past year there has been a powerful movement in favour of American willingness to negotiate and also a tremendously powerful pressure for tougher measures for expansion of the war to China. We deprecate those pressures for extending the war. We have made it clear in Washington that we could not support any extension of the bombing against North Vietnam by stages to Hanoi or Haiphong. The House knows this and the United States Government knows it. Our general support of the American decision has never stopped us expressing these views when we thought it right to do so. My right hon. Friend last March expressed our strong feelings about the use of gas in Vietnam. He did so in the White House privately and publicly outside. In the history of the 40 days during the bombing pause infiltration continued from North Vietnam. While some may quote the interpretations of the 1954 Agreement, it must be said that this infiltration is in direct contravention of the 1954 Agreement. What we want is to get back to the principles of the Agreement.
Ground fighting, following the Christmas truce, was resumed. The House can understand the feelings of many Americans that American soldiers are fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. 260 During the week ended 15th January while the bombing pause was still on, American casualties numbered 292 more than the total casualties sustained by the total Commonwealth forces in Malaysia during nearly three years of confrontation. It is right that we should get these figures into perspective. We pressed, and had a right to press, for the pause to last long enough to make sure that there was no misunderstanding. Even in the weekend before bombing was resumed, a message was received from the North Vietnamese Chargé d'Affaires and steps were taken to see that we got it quickly in order to see if there were a glimmer of hope of continuing our efforts pressing for a pause. But there was nothing in it that suggested any hope of an immediate conference. If there had been my right hon. Friend would have taken it up.
When the answer, after the most meticulous examination, was found to be a repetition of North Vietnam's refusal to come to the conference table, we who had pressed for the pause had to admit that it had failed.
§ Mr. Stan Newens (Epping)
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the South Vietnam clique of generals is equally opposed to negotiations and has been bringing pressure to bear on the American Government not to indulge in such negotiations?
§ The Prime Minister
I do not deny that there has been a lot of difficulty from that side. This is one of the big problems which the United States has in attempts to get negotiations going. I make it clear that, so far as we are concerned with the policy we have and the responsibilities we have as co-Chairman under the Geneva Agreement and everything we are doing to get peace, we are going on with our efforts and will not be interfered with by any unwillingness, if unwillingness there be—I do not use all the phrases used by my hon. Friend—on the part of anyone in South Vietnam. We want peace in Vietnam and so far as I can see we shall be able to get South Vietnam to the conference table.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman rose—
§ The Prime Minister
I am sorry, but I should like to finish this part before giving way, if I may. There is the other 261 argument which I know has to be met. We shall be told that there is another impediment to negotiation, the refusal of the American Government to agree to negotiate with the National Liberation Front, the Vietcong.
First, I would say that some of my hon. Friends have expressed themselves strongly on this and insist on the double condition. This is the point my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) was trying to put, that the cessation of bombing and the recognition of the N.L.F. on equal terms were necessary to get peace. The main argument to which we have listened during all these months has been that, if the bombing stopped, there could be negotiations. To press the other condition and to say that we now want, before we would even send a telegram to Ho Chi Minh, the Americans to come out and say bluntly that they will have the Vietcong there is a little one-sided. It is asking that the American Government must give away all the points at issue before they get to the conference table.
There are in this House many hon. Members on both sides with experience of industrial negotiations. There are some with a lifetime of experience. They know that to ask one side to a dispute, be they employers or trade union, to give away the whole case before they get to the conference table, while the other side gives away nothing, may always be worth trying but it is not realistic in terms of getting a settlement. I have not much time for those who say, "Of course we will go round the conference table if the other side will give way on every point before they get there". Britain and America are democracies; and although those who quite fairly disagree with the attitude of the Government, whether in Britain or in America, can and do press their Governments to state their position on every point at issue in advance of negotiations, there is no democracy in Hanoi. Therefore, there is no pressure on them to give away their negotiating points before they come to the conference table.
So week after week I am asked to say that I believe that America should recognise the Vietcong at the conference table on equal terms. But there is no one putting similar points to Ho Chi Minh. There are no banners there. 262 There is no free Press there either. [Interruption.] As far as responsibility for the fighting is concerned, we will look after Saigon. Let me say that to my hon. Friend. We are not going to be pushed around by any unwillingness to go to the conference table. I wish that some of my hon. Friends would look at this through both eyes and not just through one eye.
§ Mr. Mendelson
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to remind him that the position he has just described is not just one put forward by me and others at conference. It happens to be the position of Senator Fulbright, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who pointed out two days ago in a speech in the Senate that, if the President says he wants to negotiate with every Power that he names but refuses to negotiate with the Vietcong and the National Liberation Front, the people he is fighting, all his statements have no point whatsoever. That is the point that my right hon. Friend has to answer.
§ The Prime Minister
I recognise this, but I will put this to my hon. Friend. All last year we were told, "No negotiations while the bombing is on". When the bombing stops, there is still no negotiation. If some of my hon. Friends or Senator Fulbright, who is a very old friend of mine, will get out of Hanoi a statement to the effect, "We will come to the conference table if these two conditions are met", we will do all we can to ensure that those two conditions are met. I have not much doubt about the answer. [Interruption.] Of course it is not. That is the point I am trying to make.
Too often we have been told that there cannot be a peace conference because the other side will not do A, B or C. I am putting the question the other way round, as I put it to my hon. Friend at the party conference. Put it the other way round and let them say, "Yes, we will come to the conference table if these conditions are met". Let us have some statement of pre-conditions from the other side for a change. If they say that they will come if these two conditions of Senator Fulbright are met, we will do anything in our power to get those conditions met. But we will not go on pressing for more and more conditions to be conceded by 263 one side and then still be told that that is not enough; or we will have one condition twisted still further to the point when we are now told not only that the Vietcong must be there but that they must be the sole representative of Vietnam. Therefore, if we can get that straight I am sure that at any rate we can negotiate a peace between us so far as any approach we can make to Hanoi and America is concerned. We are quite prepared to bring the other side of the House into it, if that is what they want.
We are not going to give up hope. We do not regard the difficulties of the past fortnight as final. We shall go on scorning disappointments or rebuffs until we get there. I want to tell right hon. Members opposite that there may be rebuffs. All this cannot be done through orthodox diplomatic channels. Last year we tried some pretty unorthodox ones. What a reaction there was from right hon. Members opposite. For example, the then Leader of the Opposition said that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was being taken for a ride by the Communists, that he was walking into a Communist trap. My right hon. Friend had never been accused of that before, nor has he since. The Opposition asked us to confine ourselves to orthodox diplomatic channels.
We have been working the diplomatic channels to the full. We shall go on doing so. We shall go on pressing Hanoi in the new situation, just as we did during the bombing truce. There are those who believe that Hanoi felt that they had nothing to gain by responding to the American initiative. There are some who felt that the bombing, once having stopped, could never be resumed because of the pressure of world opinion. If that was the feeling, perhaps there might be a realistic and welcome reappraisal now in Hanoi. To those of my hon. Friends who are despondent or who might feel that we have reached the end of the road, I say that this is frankly not my view.
Now, finally, I want to say just one word about where this debate stands in relation to the longer term situation, because behind the fighting and behind the misery there is a much deeper problem here. It is the problem of the sheer primeval, grinding, abysmal poverty in that part of the world. That is why all 264 of us have a duty, and we are making our contribution to the new proposals for the Mekong River development.
I have spoken frankly this afternoon about this situation, because I want the position of Her Majesty's Government to be utterly beyond doubt. I want it to be recognised that some of us on the Front Bench here, as well as some of those on the back benches, feel as deeply and passionately as any hon. Member in the House about the issues involved. We have listened to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon. He has visited Vietnam and seen for himself the suffering and immensity of the problem, the fact that in this issue there is no simple solution. In fact, the right hon. Gentleman did not put forward a single new proposal this afternoon. He merely repeated that we should go on talking to Russia. We have been doing that every week and every day since last February. We shall go on doing it, and I shall do it on my visit to Moscow, and I hope that we shall be able to create the conditions in which we can reach an agreement to call the conference, because I believe that once we can get the Geneva Conference convened that will very much alter the situation.
Sir, I hope that one result of the debate this afternoon has been to underline the deep tragedy of this. There was a feeling last week—perhaps it was a little cynical—that the motive for putting this debate down was not to enable us to have what we have had—that is, a statement from the right hon. Gentleman about the misery and tragedy he saw in Vietnam. I think that some of us were justified in being cynical about this, because although today there has been no disposition to make any party points—there has not—it is a little difficult to reconcile this new attitude, which I welcome, with what went on in recent events in Hull, when the Chairman of the Conservative Party, who many of us will remember from the time when he used to be here amongst us in our debates, went to Hull and built up the Radical Alliance candidate to the skies.
I find it very difficult to reconcile that with the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman this week. Having had from the right hon. Gentleman a frank statement of how he sees the tragedy in Vietnam, 265 even if in fact he recognises that there are no easy solutions, I hope that from now on, while we can have an exchange of views about this, we shall not regard it as an issue for taunting one side of the House or the other, because hon. Members on this side of the House—on the front benches and on the back benches—feel passionately about these things.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
The right hon. Gentleman is repeating the assertion he made earlier in his speech. He said earlier in his speech that most hon. Members on these benches—he emphasised the word "most"—were anxious for peace. How dare he make this assumption? Surely he accepts that every single hon. Member in this House is passionately anxious to end this atrocious war. I might tell the right hon. Gentleman that the reason why some of us on these benches are resentful of the attitude taken by hon. Members below the Gangway opposite is that those hon. Members claim for themselves a monopoly of the desire for peace and they never show an appreciation that in America, many of whose Service men are losing their lives, the same desire for peace exists. How dare the Prime Minister make this point?
§ The Prime Minister
I thank the noble Lord for asking me, how dare I say what I said? I want to make this perfectly plain. I said earlier that I am sure that, there is universal sincerity in wanting to see peace, but there has also been far too much in recent weeks like the guffaws from hon. Members opposite, every time my right hon. Friend the Minister of Technology comes on to the scene—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] All we get from some hon. Members every time we discuss these deep issues of world peace are just attempts to try to point to divisions on this side of the House. I agree with the noble Lord in resenting anyone thinking that he has a monopoly of passion about Vietnamese affairs and feelings. There is no one in the House who feels more passionately than my right hon. Friend and I about these things. This is the point I have tried to make. I deplore that, while in this House we can talk about these issues, outside in the country we have right hon. Gentlemen and party leaders trying to make an issue of this question as a means of swinging votes to a party—[HON. MEMBERS: 266 "No."] this did happen; of course, it did—and we had Conservative canvassers in Hull going round the housing estates telling people that, if they could not vote for the Conservative candidate, they should vote for Mr. Gott, the Labour candidate. That sort of thing makes a mockery of some of the statements we have been having. But they got their answer.
Let this debate continue between right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. None of us will resent any criticism from any part of the House if we are not going the right way to get peace. But let us at least in these debates recognise the tragedy we face in Vietnam and the efforts, which I hope would be supported by the whole House, of Her Majesty's Government in trying to bring Vietnam to the conference table and to peace.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
The Prime Minister's last words rather tended to spoil what was, I thought, an authoritative and, on the whole, helpful speech. I should ge grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could give me his attention for 30 seconds because I wish to ask him a question. Is the right hon. Gentleman trying to tell the House that it is not a political issue with which Parliament should be concerned that members of his own party in the House and outside actively support the enemies of our allies? Is he really saying that that is not a political issue? It is what he tried to tell us at that Box just now.
§ The Prime Minister
I hope that this issue is not a political question between the parties. I certainly resent the suggestion of any supporting of enemies of our allies which the hon. Gentleman has just made. After all, there were some very squeamish complaints from that side of the House when some of my hon. Friends talked about right hon. Gentlemen opposite giving aid and comfort to rebels against this country. I think that the difference—if the right hon. Gentleman will understand this; it is a different concept of leadership—is that, whereas there are disagreements on both sides of the House, he does not stand up to those who disagree with him as I hope I do when I consider it to be necessary.
§ Mr. Maude
I hope that the House feels that that has clarified the issue. I confess that I do not. The Prime Minister cannot deny that there are those on his side of the House who have actively supported in every way—he has been complaining about it himself—the enemies of our allies—[Interruption]—who have said repeatedly that the Americans are wrong in everything they do and should withdraw from Vietnam, and that everything the Vietcong and the Government of the D.R.V. do is right. The right hon. Gentleman cannot tell us that that is not a political issue. Of course, it is a political issue, and of course his party must be judged as much by those below the Gangway as by those above it.
Without any doubt whatever, we support what the Prime Minister has said about the policies which Her Majesty's Government and this country should pursue there, but there is a tendency to regard the affairs of Vietnam in isolation from those of the rest of Asia. It has been noticeable today, for example, that the two speeches we have heard seemed to fall naturally into three parts, the Indian sub-continent, the Malaysia confrontation, and the war in Indo-China. It is my suggestion that the problems of South and South-East Asia are not quite so separate as they seem.
The Prime Minister said that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had produced no new suggestions. This is not an area in which new suggestions can be very frequent or very helpful. But what was interesting was that the Prime Minister himself did not tell us what ultimate future he saw for South Asia. He said that he hoped that the confrontation in Malaysia would, sooner or later, come to an end. He said that he hoped that the Government of North Vietnam would come to the conference table. He said that he hoped that India and Pakistan would come to an agreement about Kashmir. We all hope all these things. But this leaves unanswered the problem of China's intentions. It leaves unanswered the question of what happens to the rest of Indo-China, to Laos and Cambodia. It leaves unanswered the question whether Burma can be brought back into the comity of nations from an isolation which at the moment is leading her very close to economic ruin and increasingly under the influence of China.
268 I thought that the Prime Minister was not particularly helpful when he made a great point of the rivalry in the eyes of the world between democratic India and Communist China. This has been said so often that it has become almost a cliché. I believe it to be a profoundly dangerous one because, if it is suggested that there ever will be a time when one can say clearly that the Chinese experiment has succeeded or that the Indian experiment has succeeded, the one in contradistinction to the failure of the other, it must follow inevitably that the advantages will always be with China in any kind of competition so described.
China, a totalitarian country, can devote whatever proportion of her national income and resources she wishes to particular prestige projects, to defence, to rearmament, or to development in particular areas. What can be seen of life in China by visitors from outside is always carefully selected by the Chinese Government. What goes on in India, on the other hand, is not only open to the world but minutely documented by economists, by social scientists and by agriculturists from all over the world. To suggest that there is a rivalry between the régimes of these two countries which, one day, will be resolved to the advantage of one of them is, I believe, quite unhelpful to the cause of peace in Asia.
It has become another cliché to say that the great problem of the second half of the 20th century is the gap between the standards of living of the rich northern half of the world and the poor southern half of the world. It has been said that Africa, Asia and Latin America represent the poor southern half and that the difference in standards of living is increasing and must be reduced.
I want to suggest that there is one difference which makes Asia profoundly different from Africa or from Latin America. It is not only that the population of Southern Asia is more than twice as large as the populations of Latin America and Africa put together. Above all, it is that neither in Africa nor in Latin America are there any states with Communist Governments.
It is all very well for anyone to say that this is irrelevant when one is talking in terms, as people do, of the battle for the minds of men in which we have 269 to defeat Communism. In fact, Communism has not succeeded in any underdeveloped area for economic reasons or because of a victory over the minds of men; and until the Left grasps this point it will never really realise what are the issues at stake in Asia now.
I should be grateful if the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary would not talk quite so loudly, because I am trying to help them with their hon. Friends below the Gangway.
The fact which must always be borne in mind is that, with the possible exception of Cuba, which most hon. Members would accept as being sui generis, no country in the world has ever gone Communist since 1917 unless it had either a Communist neighbour or a Communist army of occupation in it.
It does not essentially follow from this that, if a country has a Communist neighbour, it will go Communist. It is as well to remember that, in 1948, six simultaneous Communist rebellions broke out in Asia in countries which had not got frontiers with Communist countries—and all failed. Some of them took a long time to bring under control but nevertheless all failed.
§ Mr. Hooson
I am suggesting that it did not have a Communist army of occupation. It had an indigenous Communist army.
§ Mr. Maude
I did not say that it did not. I said that no country had gone Communist unless it had either a Communist neighbour or a Communist army of occupation in it. It is all very well to sneer that what is sometimes called the "domino" theory of Communist expansion is an exploded myth. It is not.
§ Mr. Heffer
To pursue this a little further, let us take the question of China. Is it not a fact—and surely the hon. Gentleman understands this matter—that the Chinese Communist Party led the fight for Communism in China despite the Russian Communist Party and in 270 opposition to its ideas—which is surely a completely opposing point of view?
§ Mr. Maude
It is not wholly true. I am prepared to concede that the Russian Communist Government under Stalin did not give the Communist forces of Mao Tse-tung very much help—we all know that. But it was very difficult for them to do so considering that, for some years past, they had been collaborating with Chiang Kai-shek.
The fact is—and no hon. Member opposite can say that it is not true—that no country has ever gone Communist, with the exception of Cuba, without having a Communist frontier next to it or a Communist occupation—[An HON. MEMBER: "What about Russia herself?"]—I said, since 1917. If the hon. Gentleman cannot keep awake he should either go quite to sleep or leave.
§ Mr. Silverman rose—
§ Mr. Maude
I cannot give way again. I have given way a great deal. I might be able to do so a little later.
We have to accept that any country in Asia which has a mountain or jungle frontier with a Communist State is continuously at risk. Let us see how it is that forces from North Vietnam are now getting into South Vietnam. They are not coming across the 17th Parallel but through so-called neutral Laos, because Laos is now partitioned between the forces of the so-called Pathet Lao and the remaining forces of the neutralist Government under Prince Souvanna Phouma.
I have been behind the Pathet Lao lines myself. Everyone who has been there knows that the so-called Pathet Lao forces are not Laotian at all but are officered and controlled by officers from the Democratic People's Republic of Vietnam, receiving not only orders but supplies from Hanoi. Indeed, when I was there some years ago, their supplies were being air-lifted in aircraft with Russian markings from Hanoi to an airfield near Khang Khay.
271 The neutrality of Cambodia, despite the alarms sounded by Prince Sihanouk, is being daily violated. It is always being violated by the Communists, who use Laos and Cambodia as a retreat when pursued. It is now sometimes, regettably, being violated by the Americans and the South Vietnamese, which has created a number of incidents. Neutral Cambodia is being used as a base for sorties into which it is impossible to pursue the fleeing enemy.
If the war in South Vietnam is lost there is no question but that Laos and Cambodia will go next. Ho Chi Minh says that he intends to unite the whole of former French Indo-China under one rule from Hanoi—and there is nothing to make one doubt his intention. One knows the tragedy of Laos: how, consistently, over the years we, the Western Powers and the Russians—everybody—have failed to secure a neutral Laos. We could have secured it in 1957. Then we had a chance to secure a genuinely neutral coalition Government. At that time none of the Western Powers except the French were prepared to work hard to secure it.
In 1960, at the time of General Kong Lae's coup in Vientiane we would have got a neutralist government, again under Prince Souvanna Phouma. At that time the British and Australians as well as the French had come to the belief that this was desirable. The Americans and the Thais agreed, however, with General Phoumi Nosavan that a neutralist government containing Communists was bound to go Communist. It was not until 1962 that we got the solution that we could have had in 1957—but then it was too late, because, by that time, the Pathet Lao occupied more than half the country.
If we look at the history of this part of the world, we must know that the only solution is a neutral Laos and a neutral Cambodia as a buffer between the sensitive parts west of there and the expansion of North Vietnam and perhaps of China.
I have said that all this part of the world must be taken together, and that is true. There is Chinese pressure—how great it is and how far it will be carried we do not know—on the northern frontier of India. China is one of the three coun- 272 tries between which Kashmir is partitioned. There are Chinese in Ladakh. They are infiltrating their influence. Having swallowed Tibet they are infiltrating into Nepal and into North Burma.
It may well be that the Chinese have not a world revolutionary, expansionist or imperialist nature. We must hope not. But let us not forget that, if we took them at their word, it would be too late if we discovered afterwards that we we were wrong. Too many free nations and peoples would in fact have been swallowed up by then by a totalitarian tyranny from which nothing but a major war could rescue them. If South Vietnam goes and Laos and Cambodia go, what happens to Thailand? Are we to call off the Americans in South Vietnam in order that we may all fight in a war in Thailand later on, on worse ground? That is not a very helpful piece of world strategy.
In the long run, if we are to solve the questions of Malaysia, Indonesia, Indo-China and Kashmir, we have to consider the whole of South Asia not merely as one land mass, but as one defensible area, as one area for economic development. In the long run, there is no way in which this can be achieved except the neutralisation of the whole of South Asia from the North-West Frontier to the tip of Indonesia under joint guarantees by Soviet Russia and the West.
If this can be achieved—and goodness knows that it will not be easy and that it will take a very long time—there is the answer not merely to the containment of China, but to the economic development of the whole of South Asia. The Russians will not make it easy for us, but at least what they did at Tashkent shows that they are capable of statesmanlike diplomatic initiatives and understanding of the sort of intractable problems with which one is faced in dealing with South Asia now.
But it is no good suggesting that while we are waiting for this to happen the Western presence can be withdrawn from South Asia and that everything will go nicely: that the British can withdraw from Singapore and that the Indonesians will just go quietly away and say that Malaysia can carry on uninterrupted. It is no good saying that the Americans can withdraw all their forces from South Vietnam and that we shall get a nice reunited neutral Vietnam not under 273 Communist control. That is too simple. What hon. Members opposite below the Gangway who have pressed these points are asking for is a recipe for international anarchy, in which the strong are always allowed to swallow up the weak. That is not the way in which the future of South Asia can be assured.
I hope that when he winds up the debate the Foreign Secretary will feel able to say something about the longer-term possibilities. But we must all agree with Her Majesty's Government that there is no hope for a long-term peaceful solution unless it is made obvious, alike to the Indonesians as to the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, that they cannot win a victory over unwilling people by force, that they must negotiate. But if they are to be brought to negotiation, for goodness' sake let us stop trying to tell our allies to give all their negotiating cards away first.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I must apologise to the House for my voice and for my manners. I have been briefly afflicted by the current malady. I hope that before I have finished my speech my right hon. Friends will not think that it is an attack of Asian 'flu. I could not speak yesterday and today my doctor tells me that I must leave the Chamber as soon as I sit down.
I will follow the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) on the domino theory a little later. I want to begin by saying that I disagree with the view, which is sometimes heard, that the policy of the present Government towards Vietnam has been the same as that of the Tory Party while it held power. I am glad to think that that is quite untrue. I remember often urging on the Tory Government that further fighting could never bring a solution to the problem of Vietnam and that Britain's rôle should be to seek an end by conference. I always received a flat rebuff. I could not find a hint, when I looked up HANSARD, from the Government or from the Tory benches that peace by negotiation might be a better plan.
The present Government's line has been quite different. As the Prime Minister has said, they have tried with all their power to get a conference and if there is now a great world debate about 274 Vietnam, if there is a great questioning going on in the United States, and if the forces for peace by conference are gaining strength, as I am sure they are, that is due in no small measure to the enlightened work and sustained endeavours of the present Government, and particularly of the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. They have based their policy on the proposition that armed force will not bring a settlement satisfactory to the people of Vietnam or acceptable to Asia. They have urged throughout that every day of war, with the tortures and atrocities committed by both sides, makes it more difficult to get a just and honourable peace.
I will not enlarge on their record, on the foreign Secretary's efforts to get Mr. Gromyko to join him in summoning the Geneva conference a year ago, his visit to Washington and his talks with the President of the United States in March, the Prime Minister's talks with the President a little later, the Commonwealth Peace Mission in June, the very striking and important statement in which the Commonwealth Prime Ministers unanimously agreed, the courageous visit of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions to Hanoi—and how the Opposition scoffed and sneered—
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
—the Foreign Secretary's speech to the United Nations in October, with his detailed, precise and impartial proposals on how settlement could be found, the Prime Minister's speech to the General Assembly and his talks with the President then.
I do not want to exaggerate the results which my right hon. Friends have obtained—other forces have been at work—but it is a fact that the President's speech at Baltimore on 7th April, when he first spoke of "unconditional discussions" followed closely on his talks with the Foreign Secretary at the end of March. The President's invitation to U Thant and the member Governments of the United Nations, the great change in the United States line, his invitation to them to help in getting a conference, came two weeks after the Commonwealth Peace Mission was set up. His recent peace offensive, his bombing pause, his reference of the war to the U.N., 275 followed his talks with the Prime Minister and the Assembly speeches of my right hon. Friends.
Unfortunately, the Government of Hanoi say that they accept the Geneva settlement of 1954, which we have been urging, but that they are not yet convinced that the United States Government sincerely does the same. Perhaps some of them do not want to be convinced. One of their leaders, Le Duan, was commander of the resistance against the French in 1954 in South Vietnam. He had great successes. He firmly held a large area of land. He said then that if Ho Chi Minh had taken a stiffer line in Geneva in 1954 he could have got the whole of Vietnam and not just the northern half.
It is said that this Le Duan is still powerful in Hanoi, that he is the man to blame for the hostile or ambiguous responses which come from there. If so, I think that he is wholly wrong. If I may say so, in answer to the Prime Minister's observations, I have written to Hanoi several times, in common with some eminent people from other countries, and only last week I said on Moscow Radio, hoping that it might reach Hanoi, that anyone who refused a conference now, anyone who allowed the bloody torment of the war to go on, would take a grave responsibility before his fellow men throughout the world.
I must add in candour that if Le Duan and Ho Chi Minh view the President's peace offensive with caution, or with deep suspicion, I am not surprised. I do not share the view of recent Vietnam history which has prevailed in Washington and in some quarters in this country until today—the view that the Geneva conference set up two sovereign States in North and South, and that the 17th Parallel was the frontier between them; that 900,000 refugees fled in terror from the horrors of Communism in the North and were generously settled by the non-Communist Prime Minister the late Diem in the South; that all went well, that the South prospered and was at peace until the Government of Hanoi started their aggressive war, sending troops, supplies and general staff to destroy democratic government in the South and to impose their 276 own tyrannical form of Communism on the unwilling people there.
The history has not been at all like that. Before Geneva, while the French were still the Government, the Vietminh had held a large part of South Vietnam. It had acted as a Government in areas which it held and the people had not found it a cruel tyrant. Hon. Members know the writings of the Alsop Brothers in the American Press. They are not exactly "Reds". Joseph Alsop toured rural South Vietnam when the Vietminh were in occupation, before 1954. He wrote as follows:I would like to be able to report—I had hoped to be able to report—that in the long slow canal trip to Vinh Binh, in the Mekong Delta, I saw all the signs of misery and oppression that have made my visits to East Germany like nightmare journeys to 1984. But it was not so. At first it was difficult for me, as it is for any Westerner, to conceive of a Communist Government genuinely 'serving the people'. I could hardly imagine a Communist Government that was also a popular government and almost a democratic government. But this is just the sort of government the Palm-Hut State actually was while the struggle with the French continued.And he went on:The Vietminh could not possibly have carried on the resistance for one year, let alone nine years, without the people's strong, united support.I am sure that Hanoi believes that this is still true of the Vietcong today. That fact is of immense importance in its thinking now. There are other parts of its thinking, arising from history, for which many of us do not allow.
The Geneva Agreements of 1954 had five main political provisions.
The first was that not later than July, 1956, there should be general elections under international supervision to ensure that democratically-elected Governments should be established in accordance with the people's will in both North and South Vietnam. Secondly, the agreement said that the 17th Parallel should be the provisional boundary between North and South. But it set out in terms that the country was only "temporarily divided", that the Parallel was in no way an internationally recognised frontier. It said this because everyone foresaw that after the elections the two halves of the country might want to reunite.
The third provision was that anyone who desired to do so could move from 277 North to South or South to North, but anyone who stayed, even if in the North he had fought for the French or if in the South he had fought for the Vietminh, should be granted a full amnesty. His life, his property and his rights were guaranteed by Article 14(c) of the Geneva Agreement.
The fourth provision was that, after the French had left the country, in stages, over a stipulated period of time, no new foreign troops might be brought in, no new bases might be maintained; and a limit of 685 was set on the number of military advisers whom its new protectors, the United States, might introduce into South Vietnam.
Fifth, the Agreement laid down that an international Commission of Control should be established, provided by India, Canada and Poland. Its task was to ensure that all of these various political provisions were faithfully carried out.
I ask the House to consider the Geneva Agreements from Hanoi's point of view. Hanoi had stopped fighting after nine years of ferocious conflict, when victory seemed within its grasp. It gave up a lot of territory which it had firmly held in South Vietnam. It accepted the Commission of Control, in which the non-Communists were two to one. It did this believing that the Agreement was an international treaty which the parties would faithfully observe. True, the United States did not sign the declaration endorsing the Treaty, but its delegate, General Bedell Smith, gave a pledge that his Government would seek the unity of the country through free elections under international supervision.
What followed? The United States, replacing France in Saigon, turned out the Emperor Bao Dai and made the late Mr. Diem President of a Republic instead. It chose Diem on the advice of the C.I.A. Almost at once Diem made trouble for the Commission of Control. He said that he would not allow it to investigate charges that his agents had violated Article 14(c) of the Agreement, that is the amnesty for Vietnamese who had favoured or helped the Vietminh against the French. In other words, he tore up the solemn guarantees that had been agreed to and defied the Commission to carry out its tasks. The Commission formally reported to the Geneva Conference that, owing to Mr. Diem's obstruction, it was 278no longer able to supervise the implementation of this Article by the government of South Vietnam.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
There was not a Government of South Vietnam when the Treaty was made. There were the French and the Vietminh. The United States had made a declaration that it took note of the agreements and promised to support the elections. After Diem had torn up the Article 14(c) and the Commission reported that it could do nothing, he unleashed a reign of terror in the countryside. Thousands of Vietminh supporters were taken to "re-education centres", 30,000 of them by 1960. Those accused of being active agents of the Vietminh were gaoled or shot. It was a shameful betrayal of the Treaty pledges and of human rights.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member shakes his head. Why was the Government of South Vietnam there at all except by virtue of the agreement made in Geneva? Quite apart from the Treaty is he defending Diem's violation of the human rights which the Treaty had promised?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Of course, there were grave atrocities by the Vietcong in South Vietnam which, with the Foreign Secretary and all my hon. Friends, I deplore, but I am afraid that Diem set them an example.
After that, still in the summer of 1955, Diem allowed or organised—I will not say which—demonstrations against the Geneva Agreement, demonstrations in which the hotel which housed the International Commission of Control was burnt to the ground.
In its sixth interim report the Commission said:The degree of co-operation given by the two parties has not been the same. While the Commission has experienced difficulties in North Vietnam, the major part of the difficulties has arisen in South Vietnam.279 Still in 1955, Diem announced that he would not allow the elections—which were the very crux of the bargain on which the Vietminh had agreed to peace a year before—to be held either in July, 1956, or ever. Only one explanation has ever been given of this extraordinary decision, supported by the United States, to violate a solemn international pledge. Writing long afterwards, President Eisenhower said in his memoirs that 80 per cent. of the people in South Vietnam would have voted for Ho Chi Minh, who was a national hero. In other words, "Do not let the peoples' will prevail unless it is on your side. Democracy by all means, provided you win. If that is in doubt, scrub the elections, build up your secret police and try all-out repression instead". That is precisely what Diem started in to do.
From 1955 to 1959, during the so-called period of peace and progress, Diem terrorised the members of the anti-French resistance; he suppressed the various sects who had opposed him; he drove the Buddhists, a large of the nation, into very large scale demonstrations against his rule. I pass over the gross corruption of his brothers, who shared his power, which is eloquently described by Mr. Dennis Warner, a veteran Australian reporter and an ardent anti-Communist. I pass over the misuse of American economic aid—1,000 million dollars—which did less than nothing to help the common people or to aid the national economy.
In April, 1960, 18 Vietnamese nobles—all Conservatives, some of them ex-ministers, all well known for anti-Communism and for their past ties with the French—petitioned Diem to liberalise his regime. According to the New York Times:The petition said continued arrests had filled the prisons to overflowing, and asserted that a swollen bureaucracy was corrupt and inefficient. The petitioners warned Diem that his policies would soon give rise to soaring waves of hatred and resentment of a terribly suffering people standing up to break the chains that restrain them.On 21st November of the same year Diem's elite paratroopers rose in revolt against him. Thousands of civilians joined their march on Diem's palace. After bitter fighting, when 400 men lay dead, Diem remained in power, and he stayed in power until, abandoned by the 280 C.I.A., his generals murdered him in 1963.
Was it surprising that by the end of 1960 the Vietminh had become the Viet-cong; that they concluded that Diem had closed every avenue of political action to them except the use of force; that many non-Communists—intellectuals, professional men, officers, liberal-minded landlords—had joined them? In 1961, a Rand Corporation researcher, who worked with the United States Air Force, travelled through Vietcong country. He reported that they were fighting with French, American or home-made, jungle-made weapons—none from Hanoi or other Communist sources of supply. This man, George Tanham, said:It is easy, but wrong, to attribute their success solely to terrorist methods.A French historian, a specialist on Vietnam, Phillippe Devillers, wrote in March, 1962, that the Communists in the south entered the fight against Diem reluctantly, not on orders from Hanoi or Peking, but in response to Diem's campaign of terror against the former Vietminh. He wrote:The insurrection existed before the Communists decided to take part, and they were simply forced to join in. And even among the Communists, the initiative did not originate in Hanoi but from the grass-roots, where the people were literally driven to take up arms in self-defence.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
Is not a very important factor that Diem took from the peasants the land distributed to them by the Vietminh and restored it to the land owners, which set the peasants going?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Under Western pressure, Diem brought in what he was pleased to call a land reform. The Communist land reform had given all the land to the peasants. Diem's land reform, following Western models, gave a large area to former landlords and made the peasants pay a high price for the land they retained. It was exceptionally unpopular with the peasants who had been so well treated, as they thought, by the Communists.
§ Mr. Blaker
Is it not a fact that in the five years before the reign of terror initiated by the Vietcong about 1959 or 1960 the average rate of growth in food 281 production in South Vietnam was 7 per cent. a year whereas in North Vietnam food production was falling?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
That may well be. The hon. Gentleman is always very well informed on matters with which he deals. I have friends who visited both North and South Vietnam who thought that the North was better managed than the South. When a country is in a state of war, or near war, or is recovering from 10 years of ghastly war against the French, as the North was doing, we cannot expect the economic picture to be very rosy.
I think that the facts that I have recited explain the fanatical obstinacy of the Vietcong against vastly superior numbers, as the Leader of the Opposition said, and against the infinitely superior armaments which they had to face. These facts explain the Hanoi hatred and suspicion and doubts when the Americans declare that they are defending democracy and human rights.
It will not be easy to establish trust after the ruthless cancellation of the elections promised in 1954. It is made still harder by the flat denials from Washington that Hanoi had ever agreed to suggestions for negotiation a year ago, in May, or more recently still. I have here the Press conferences of U Thant. I think that the State Department was less than candid with its public and its allies. It is made still harder to establish trust by the State Department's strange White Paper of 8th February, 1965, which contrived to be both naive and disingenuous. It sought to prove that there was no civil war in South Vietnam and that the 17th Parallel was a recognised frontier between sovereign states across which North Vietnam was conducting charter-breaking aggression.
I have said all this not to justify the Vietcong or to exculpate Hanoi. I repeat that they are entirely wrong to reject the peace negotiations which the President has proposed. I only wish that he had, as The Times said, kept his pause going a few more weeks and given them a little longer to make up their minds.
I have said what I have today to show the difficulties that we must overcome to get these people to the conference table and the difficulties that we will face when 282 we have got them there. I believe that those difficulties are still further increased by the resumed bombing in North Vietnam. It began a year ago yesterday, on 7th February. We were told that it would discourage the Vietcong, check the movement of troops and supplies from North to South and help to persuade Hanoi to end the war. In those three purposes it failed completely. Indeed, it strengthened the Vietcong, it increased Hanoi's commitment and it stiffened their resistance, just as Hitler's bombing stiffened our resistance in 1940–41.
I see no reason in logic or experience to believe that the resumed bombing will be more successful now. United States generals have testified that the bombing of the trails in Laos has no military value, and anyone who understands bombing and jungle trails will see how likely it is that that is true. No doubt President Johnson sees no reason why bridges, railways and power stations in North Vietnam should be immune. But I say that if he cares for Asian opinion, if he wants peace and an early conference, as I am sure he does, as a matter of hard political realism he would do much better to call off the bombing.
What else is needed to improve the hope of peace? The Prime Minister spoke about the status of the N.L.F. I believe that we must do more to clarify what that status is to be. On some days Mr. Rusk says that it is a matter of marginal importance and that, of course, agreement could easily be found once there was a willingness to come to a conference. On other days he says that he deals with Governments only and that the N.L.F. is not a government in any way. I sometimes wonder whether, in the realities of political power, the N.L.F. is not quite as much a Government in rural South Vietnam as is the militarist junta of Air Vice Marshal Ky, who boasts that Hitler is the man he most admires.
In any case, the N.L.F. has been, is and will remain, a major party in the war, and it must be an equal and accepted party in the conference and in the peace. Without it, we can be very certain that there will be no conference and no settlement.
I believe that we must clarify the West's commitment to the Geneva Agreement of 1954. Washington repeats that it accepts 283 the essentials of that Agreement; but what does that mean? Does it mean what it meant in 1955? Of course, details can be varied, but the essentials of the Geneva documents, as I have described them, are crystal clear, and this time only honest interpretations will suffice.
Would the West take a terrible risk, if it agreed to carry out free elections which brought Ho Chi Minh to power? Hon. Members have mentioned Tashkent, but what is the supreme fact about Tashkent? It is that the Soviet Government, instead of trying to create trouble between two neighbours, instead of trying to inflame a war from which they might hope that their Communist parties in India and Pakistan would profit, took the initiative in securing a great agreement, to which Mr. Kosygin made a contribution second to none.
I call that the supreme fact about Tashkent, and surely it is the supreme proof that the domino theory is nonsense. Of course, much has happened to drive Ho Chi Minh into Chinese arms; but all who know him and his people say that he would follow an independent line and that he would be an Asian Tito. In any case, so far as Vietnam is concerned, the domino theory, repeated today by President Johnson, is simply nonsense.
I have shown that the war in Vietnam did not start in some deep-laid plan in Moscow or Peking. I answer the hon. Member who raised the point, that its ending, with neutralisation of North and South and mutual armament reductions, would bring no threat to Vietnam's neighbours. It is the war itself which is the danger to Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and China. It is sheer illusion to believe that Communist ideas can be destroyed by guns and bombs. As the Prime Minister said today, war creates the misery and chaos in which Communism breeds.
Let us end the war and then let us work with Russia and perhaps with China to free the Asian peoples from their ancient enemies of serfdom, usury, ignorance, hunger and disease.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Cranley Onslow (Woking)
Hon. Members on both sides will agree that this was a good debate until the Prime Minister brought it down to his level at the end of his speech. I deeply resent, 284 and I know that my hon. and right hon. Friends deeply resent, the shabby device by which the Prime Minister sought to cover up the spilts, dissensions and disloyalties in his own party by an allegation that we on this side are not united in wishing to see the beastly war in Vietnam ended.
If that is the Prime Minister's idea of a different concept of leadership, let me remind him—and perhaps the Foreign Secretary will be able more easily to get my message through to his right hon. Friend than to Hanoi—that it is a concept which has been shared by every dictator from Napoleon to Franco, and Sukarno, too.
Having, I hope, expressed myself on that point in sufficiently forceful terms, may I now turn to the interesting and most worthwhile contribution which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) made to the debate. I would like to follow him in ranging more widely over the area and in not repeating ad infinitum the controversies and intricacies of the Vietnam story.
I want to follow my hon. Friend particularly because I happen to believe that whatever solution may come in Vietnam—and we all want one—when it comes it will still not finish anything. There will still be subversion, dissension and conflict in South-East Asia, certainly for the rest of the century. As soon as it is settled in one place, it will boil up again in another, and the only hope of preventing it is for us to try to plan ahead and stop the next Vietnam before it starts. I think that hon. Members do no service to the cause of peace by picking indefinitely over certain old bones.
One country about which we have not heard much this afternoon is one in which I had the pleasure to serve for four years, Burma. This was before the war, and became again briefly after it, a happy country, but now it is far from that. I must choose my words with great care, because I have many good friends in that country. Some are in gaol, and have been held there without trial for three years and more, and some are still free, under the threat, always imminent, of being picked up and put in gaol and held without trial, and I do not wish to make their plight any the worse.
285 Yet I think that even General Ne Win would agree that Burma is a country whose economy is in a shambles, that it is a country which ought to be prosperous, but which is going steadily down-hill, where the administration is virtually nonexistent, where the Army is running the shops—and the personnel are changed every three months to make sure that there is no corruption—but the black market thrives.
No one can say that Burma's future is bright. At any moment when the Chinese cared to move in, if they thought it worth their while to out-flank Thailand, or to get another frontier with India and Pakistan, or to have a port on the Indian Ocean, they could do so. All this has happened in a country which was once a democracy, in a country which received a great deal of aid from East and West, but which has now become almost moribund.
This is the sort of position which presents itself before us as the focus of another crisis. This is the sort of state of affairs which we should always seek to prevent. Asia is a varied and enormous area. Its homogeneity must not be exaggerated. If we were to put the tip of the Island of Sumatra where the constituency of the right hon. Member the Leader of the Liberal Party lies, we would find that the furthest eastern territories of the Indonesian Republic would lie across the map of Europe somewhere in the region of Turkey. This is the dimension. There is an immense population. The problems are enormous, and so is the scale, but the most enormous problem of all, and the one which concerns us most, is the problem of India.
As I am sure hon. Members know, India is a Socialist country which, since 1951, has been devoted to a philosophy of economic planning. In that period it has received in foreign aid from various sources, principally the United States, but also from ourselves, from Canada, West Germany, and other prosperous nations too, a sum which must exceed £2,000 million. Yet today India is facing a famine of such tremendous dimensions that people will probably die in spite of all our efforts to get food to them, and economic development in the country is scarcely progressing.
This state of affairs ought to force us to ask ourselves why we and others in 286 the West help India. Is it because we have a moral obligation? If we have, I think that it is an obligation which an individual can only discharge personally. No one becomes more moral by paying taxes. If we want to support charity, let us support Oxfam. Do not let us think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer can acquire a vicarious morality for us by diverting some of the money which he takes from us to poor starving Indians.
Do we do it to increase our political influence? If this is the reason, I cannot see that it has had any success to commend it. Do we do it to increase our economic influence? I cannot see any particular advantage now enjoyed by us in our economic relations with India which is undeniably the product of the efforts of the last 15 years.
Do we do it to secure some mutual interest, a self-interest of our own, an interest which we share with the Indians? I think that this is the reason. The objective which we seek is the economic advancement of India, and the translation of this advancement into greater prosperity for each and every one of the subjects of the Indian Republic.
Have we achieved that objective? We are faced with a famine in India. We are faced with a state of affairs which is even worse than famine. We have a nation which is in grave danger of being pauperised, of moving into the position of being the permanent recipient of international hand-outs. This is partly the effect of the transfer of surplus American foodstuffs, which may be welcome enough itself in an emergency, but which, over a long period, has most harmful effects, because it discourages farmers from trying to increase their produce, and encourages the authorities to avoid making increased production the goal of the farmers. If India is being pauperised, it is something which we ought to stop, and stop now.
I am not against aid to India, or to any other country. I believe that technical aid, and the transfer of "know-how", techniques, and skills to the underdeveloped world is of the greatest importance, but I am against any aid which does not work. I am against aid which is made ineffective by those who receive it, by a State such as India, which is so short of administrators that it can 287 scarcely carry out effectively the functions which devolved upon it after independence—and yet is still creating more and more work and more paper for its overtaxed administration, by planning, by centralisation, and by the imposition of controls and licensing and all these other products of Socialism which we find intolerable enough in this country. All these are duplicated, perpetuated, and extended in India today until they are one of the prime reasons for the plight in which so many wretched Indians now find themselves.
I believe that we need a rethinking of, and a new approach to, much of our philsophy and motivation in providing economic aid. Six years ago, in a speech in the United States Senate, Senator Kennedy, as he then was, said that be believed India was on the point of breakthrough to self-sustaining economic growth. Six years and goodness knows how many million dollars later, India is further than ever from that point, and nobody now, even assuming that he accepts that there can be such a thing as a break-through point of self-sustaining growth, would care to forecast when this is likely to come in India.
I believe that we can hope to see genuine progress only if we rethink our aid policies, and particularly if we use our influence on the United States, because they outweigh us ten times in the transfer of funds, loans and grants to India, and indeed throughout the world; and if they persist in doing what all the evidence shows to be mistaken, it will help very little if we mend our own ways.
It is a matter of vital necessity that we should say to Governments like the Government of India, that we are anxious to see genuine economic advancement, and we are not interested—and I hope that even hon. Members opposite are not interested—in using the British taxpayer to underwrite the export of Socialism. [Interruption.] I am glad to hear that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) is so interested. I am delighted to have his support.
The real need is to try to found progress on a system which works, in which "profit" is not a dirty word, in which effort matters, and in which inefficiency, corruption and bribery are eliminated. 288 If we could get this much in India we should have something, because our aid programme—genuinely and sincerely intended and formulated as it was at its inception and in its execution—is no longer immune from criticism on the ground that in many respects, and in its most important respects, it has proved to be largely ineffective.
One of the most urgent needs is for a review here and in Washington of our foreign aid policies, however great are the vested interests which resist such a review—political vested interests, academic vested interests and bureaucratic vested interests. A great industry has been created on the foundation of foreign aid, and many people are more interested in preserving their own places within it than in seeing it achieve the purposes for which it was originally designed.
The second great objective which should inspire us in Asia is to maintain peace and to preserve, and assist others to preserve, law and order. However reluctant hon. Members below the Gangway opposite may be to accept this, it means that this nation has a duty to maintain, and possibly to extend, its capacity for defence and its contribution to defensive alliances east of Suez. I follow what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon in this, and I go further.
If there must be cuts in our defence expenditure overseas—and perhaps there must be—let them come in N.A.T.O. I am not convinced of the permanent and self-perpetuating justification of our contribution to the defence of Europe. It has to be weighed in the light of changing circumstances. I am certain that in the foreseeable future—in the 10 or 15 years ahead—the major need for a contribution from this country to international peace and stability will come in South and South-East Asia.
I would like to see not only other Western and European nations taking a share in this—even if it means that they, in turn, run down their domestic contributions to N.A.T.O.—but also a conscious effort on our part, and on the part of the United States Government, to work with the Government of the Soviet Union towards the point where the three countries, with any others which would like to come in, are prepared to establish a 289 system of guaranteed stability—a system of frontier guarantees, the maintenance of the status quo, and the prevention of international war in this part of the world.
This can be done. It will not be easy, but it is essential, and the only way we shall ever achieve it is by raising our eyes a little from Vietnam, now lying at our feet, and looking ahead to see how we can stop the creation of more Vietnams in the future.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
In introducing the debate the Leader of the Opposition referred to his recent investigations, on the spot, concerning the distribution of military and political forces in South Vietnam. He told us quite frankly that before he went to South Vietnam he had not realised that the Vietcong was much more than a mere military organisation. Many people are in his position. He is not among the least informed in the House or in the country, or among international political leaders. There was a deep significance in his admission. Here we reached immediately to the root of the whole political argument that is now going on with the putting forward of proposals for negotiations and for a settlement.
It is the nature of the conflict—a civil war with an international conflict superimposed—which the right hon. Gentleman saw when he was on the spot, which is the essential basis of our present international difficulties. It is an essential first recognition and realisation that the people who are organised in the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam and those who are organised in the Vietcong have for many years regarded themselves as being engaged in a civil war which was restarted by the persecution meted out by the Diem régime. There has been abundant evidence from all the leading American political and military correspondents who have spent a number of years in South Vietnam, with headquarters in Saigon, that this is not a controversial proposition.
I want to refer hon. Members to what I consider to be the best book on the subject, written by Mr. Halberstam, called, The Making of the Quagmire. I do not need to carry with me those hon. Members opposite who hope to con- 290 tribute to the discussion later and who can produce better experts on the subject, but the book that I regard as the best account of the position, The Making of the Quagmire, has received the Pulitzer Prize in the United States. Those eminent critics and writers who award this prize agree with me in their estimation of this work. From this and many other works on the subject, written by experts on the spot, it emerges quite clearly that an understanding of the nature of the two conflicts—a civil war with an international conflict superimposed—must be the starting point of any analysis of the situation.
In an age of nuclear weapons it is of the greatest importance to understand, equally, the security neurosis of the major powers. Since the invention of nuclear weapons, just because we have entered the field of the unknown, the security concern of all the major Powers, on all sides, has grown apace, and every political problem, no matter where it occurs, is looked upon by the advisers of the political leaders—Presidents, Prime Ministers, or whoever it may be—first as a strategic problem and then as a political problem.
It is because of that that it is so difficult for the parties who are to take part in these negotiations to agree upon the basis for negotiations. We have an example of that diverse approach to the problem in the reports which are coming in from Honolulu today and those which reached London yesterday. The report this morning is of a serious conflict developing between President Johnson and Marshall Ky, the Premier in Saigon. The background to this conflict, of which we have heard nothing so far in this debate, goes back to the period of suspension of bombing which lasted 37 days. One of my chief criticisms of the Foreign Office and of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and, indeed, of the speech today of the Prime Minister, is that we always get a largely one-sided account of that period.
First of all, during that period, after the bombing pause had lasted for some weeks and the idea of negotiation was beginning to be taken more seriously, there was a meeting of the organisation of generals and officers in Saigon. These people, who have the power and control 291 in Saigon, decided at that meeting to tell the Premier of South Vietnam that if he as much as entered into the foreground of negotiations, they would remove him within 24 hours. That threat could not be taken lightly by the Premier, because he knows that, in that capital 12 Premiers and Governments have been removed in the last few years. Moreover, removal under such circumstances, which would be carried out by military officers, with the label of "traitor" attached to him, might not mean his peaceful removal, but something much worse.
So seriously were these discussions and decisions in Saigon taken—although we have heard nothing about them in any account by the Foreign Office of this period so far; no reference was made to it in the statement isued last Monday night in support of the resumption of the bombing operations—by Mr. Dean Rusk and Mr. MacNamara, that Mr. Rusk, who was abroad and wanted to return to his department in Washington, changed his plans and went to Saigon instead.
All these events there, completely in opposition to any approach even to the foreground of negotiations, are of essential relevance to the current position—
§ Mr. Eldon Griffithsrose—
§ Mr. Mendelson
Not just yet.
The Prime Minister, in the many discussions which have taken place on this subject, is fond of using the phrase—he has used it several times—that, in trying to open negotiations, "the key" is in Hanoi. After recent events in Saigon, he should extend his formula to read that, if the key is in Hanoi, the bolt is certainly in Saigon.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman has put himself in the mind of Mr. Dean Rusk and said why he changed his plans. How does the hon. Gentleman know this? What newspapers is he reading from?
§ Mr. Mendelson
As I am replying to a question by a newspaper man, I hope that what I say will not offend him. There are two kinds of facts. There are those which one knows oneself by participating in them and they are limited. We cannot be in different places at the same time, as we do not have the quality of biloca- 292 tion. Then there are facts on good authority. This particular fact has been reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Herald Tribune, Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor—I do not think that I should waste the time of the House by producing every one of my sources for this information. It happens to be one of the few facts on this subject on which there is no disagreement. I shall not be much longer, though I will probably be a good deal longer than the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) would like. I am determined to be.
I turn now to the point which follows from the events in Saigon and which is of equal importance. We hear a great deal about what took place during the 37 days of the diplomatic peace offensive, but we do not hear so much about the movement of troops, the extension of some of the military interventions and the operations in Laos and on the border of Thailand. We hear very little about the introduction of more troops from Korea and very little about negotiations which are going on with Marshal Chiang Kai-shek at present to introduce some of his troops into the conflict. It is absolutely clear that, to the people who have to make policy in Hanoi and to the people who run the National Liberation Front and the Vietcong, the general atmosphere and the activities of the United States during the suspension of the bombing were such as to make them greatly doubtful about the kind of negotiations they were invited into.
I and those of my hon. Friends who agree with my position on this subject believe that, despite all the uncertainties, it was the bounden duty of the Premier in Hanoi to send a response conditionally accepting the start of some kind of negotiations. However, it is easy for me to proclaim this, as it is for other hon. Members, but the people who belong to the National Liberation Front are not necessarily the automatic subordinates of the Government in Hanoi. I was discussing this the other day with a French diplomat in Paris who had been an active member of the Maquis during the German occupation. He said, "I know the area out there and I have been in the Maquis. When you are involved in a civil war and a war which you also consider to have aspects of national liberation, you are not 293 always most reasonably given to an assessment of an international situation covering a wide area."
It is wrong to repeat again and again without real knowledge the propaganda slogan that it all depends on whether someone in Hanoi wants to say yes or no. What is essential is that we should try to create such conditions that the possibility of negotiations should make good sense to all those involved. I come, therefore, to my second point, on which the Prime Minister also touched several times. He said that some people had argued that if only one suspended the bombing, there would be the beginning of a period of negotiations. He exempted me and others from that and said quite fairly that when I had dealt with the subject I had always put forward twin demands at one and the same time.
I have argued that the cessation of the bombing and the recognition by the President of the United States of the National Liberation Front as a separate partner in negotiations are the essential preconditions for the start of a period of negotiation—
§ Mr. Christopher Woodhouse (Oxford) rose—
§ Mr. Mendelson
In a moment.
Why did I feel so keenly that these twin demands must be put forward together? Because, as the negotiations get under way, there would be a problem for South Vietnam which cannot be solved unless there is a clear declaration of intent and purpose by the President of the United States before the negotiations actually start. Senator Fulbright put it in his own way the other day, that, if the President agrees to negotiate with a number of countries concerned in the conflict but refuses to negotiate with the people he is actually fighting as a separately recognised partner, there is no point in his offer of negotiations.
There is, however, another reason. The conflict which is reported from Honolulu this morning deals precisely with this point. Some American diplomats are reported as saying in the discussion that they wanted to advance policies which would put some of the people who do not agree with the National Liberation Front in Saigon and South Vietnam in a better negotiating position; that they 294 wanted to build up the country economically and socially so that there would be some non-N.L.F. partners for negotiation. The Premier of Saigon replied with a complete negative, saying, in effect, "We do not want negotiations with these people. We want the destruction of the Vietcong, every one of them".
§ Mr. Woodhouse
The hon. Gentleman referred, as did the Prime Minister, to the two conditions which the hon. Gentleman cited as indispensable as a starting point for negotiations. Is he able to answer the question asked by the Prime Minister; namely, whether he knows this to be a necessary, sufficient and final condition which would be so accepted by the Hanoi authorities? In other words, is he in a position to say whether that is either a fact of his experience or a fact based on good authority?
§ Mr. Mendelson
In this position nobody in the Government of Hanoi or any other Government will give anybody a guarantee in advance as to what they might do if these conditions were created. However, I am absolutely confident, from the conversations I have had—and many hon. Members have had such conversations—that if there is to be any hope of bringing Soviet diplomacy fully into play as co-Chairman, those two preconditions are essential to opening the door. This is the real key to the situation.
§ Mr. Mendelson
As far as I can discern. There is an interesting movement of American opinion on this point which I had intended to quote later in my speech but which, because of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I will quote now. The point has been made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other members of the Government in the last few days that the latest note from Hanoi was more unhelpful than some previous announcements. However, this is not the only view we need take about this note. Americans who have been following this business closely and who are deeply concerned over it offer a different view. For example, the editor of the New York Times states in an editorial in today's issue of the paper:Hanoi's insistence that the National Liberation Front is the sole genuine representative of the South Vietnamese people has all 295 the outward marks of a bargaining manoeuvre to obtain maximum status for the Vietcong in the negotiations…A Security Council Resolution could well combine a request for suspension of bombing of North Vietnam with a proposal that France, Britain and African members consult the Geneva participants on a way out of the impasse. It could also call upon the International Control Commission in Vietnam to assemble the military commanders of all the combatant forces on the ground in South Vietnam to discuss a cease-fire".This seems to me a more sensible way of looking at these pronouncements. Some time ago my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked, in effect, "Why would you expect the President of the United States not to have a starting position which is not necessarily the position to which he must stick once the negotiations have started?" The New York Times, applying the same principle, gave this sensible explanation to the note from Hanoi. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) nodding in, I hope, agreement.
§ Mr. Woodhouse rose—
§ Mr. Mendelson
I think that I have given way sufficiently. However, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to disagree, I must give way.
§ Mr. Woodhouse
I intervene again merely to point out that I was nodding not to indicate agreement but to show that I was following the hon. Gentleman's argument carefully.
§ Mr. Mendelson
I will have to be content with that, but I would like the agreement of the hon. Gentleman wherever I can get it.
I turn from the point of the difficulties of getting into the foreground of negotiations to the conflict which is reported from Honolulu today as between the view of some American diplomats about those who might become partners of the National Liberation Front and the view of Marshal Ky's Government. His statement, "We do not want any connection with these people. We want to eradicate them" is a direct result of the conference which was held in Saigon before Marshal Ky went to Honolulu; he knew, if he were to agree to some of these American proposals, what effects might await him when he got back.
I come to some positive proposal on this matter, remembering that the reso- 296 lution of the problem in Saigon is of absolutely first importance. I believe, with the New York Times, that the suggestion I quoted from the paper is a sensible one indeed. The beginning of any proposal to start negotiations must be a request to the President of the United States for the cessation of the bombing operations in North Vietnam. It has been argued that these operations are necessary on military grounds. In a report from Honolulu to the New York Herald Tribune published yesterday official American sources are quoted as having said this:They said the United States has ' unlimited capabilities' to hit the North but that' we could quadruple our operation in the North and it would not have the desired effect…'.No serious military argument is being advanced by the American High Command for the resumption of the bombing operations. The most important argument which led to their resumption was the feeling that morale would go down among those who are the Government in Saigon and their limited number of supporters. Anybody who wants to check this need only inquire of Her Majesty's Government. Indeed, I hope that this point will be made clear. I hope that we will be told whether, throughout the eight months while the bombing was going on, it is not true that the American State Department told the British Embassy time and again that among the three reasons why the bombing should go on was this morale factor and that it was a most decisive one. I therefore accept the view of the New York Times that the beginning must be a cessation of the bombing operation.
We should ask the President of the United States to make a public, official declaration that he fully accepts the N.L.F. as a separate negotiating partner in any forthcoming negotiations. We should make use of the new idea put forward by the diplomats of the Vatican about a neutral committee and we should set up such a committee in the United Nations.
I now come to what I consider to have been a serious error of judgment on the part of our Foreign Office in making its declaration about the resumption of the bombing. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister occasionally says—he did so this afternoon—that when we 297 talk about the resumption of bombing we might try to create an aura of moral indignation around some of those who take a different view from that of the Foreign Secretary. I do not know if I would be one of those to be concerned with moral indignation or if that would apply to those of my hon. Friends who hold a similar view to mine on this issue. However, I reassure my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary that this has nothing to do with being superior or feeling that one is the least bit more concerned about the terrible tragedy and loss of life compared with anyone in the Government. Let us remove these debating points from the scene so that we can make progress.
What were the proposals of the New York Times' leader designed to point out? It is important to remember that the very day after this new proposal for a neutral committee was being mentioned in the United Nations and the very day after the President of the United States was going to submit the Vietnam conflict for the first time to the United Nations, the President chose that day for the resumption of the bombing operations. This was bound to create the worst possible atmosphere of insincerity among those on the other side or among the neutrals. Most people in the United Nations say that because he did that it is almost impossible to get the thing off the ground.
But we can go better than that. We have on record the opinion of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. U Thant, with whom the Government work in close co-operation on many important subjects—and, not least, the Foreign Secretary himself—that the resumption of the bombing of the North would be seriously harmful to bringing diplomatic negotiations to a starting point. It was at that very moment that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary says that he sanctioned the publication of this statement that the British Government understand and support the resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam.
There is no question here of searching for motives; no question here of moral indignation. We who criticise the making and publication of that statement say that it was a serious error of judgment, that it will go down as such in history, and 298 will not be disputed as such in a few years' time.
We must move from that position and say, first, that the bombing must cease, and then that there must be recognition of the National Liberation Front. I would then suggest the calling together of an internal conference in South Vietnam. Whilst there have been these dangerous developments in South Vietnam that I have mentioned, and these decisions by the conference of generals, there have also been hopeful developments.
In my opinion, one of the serious problems in South Vietnam has always been the large number of refugees and the division of the population into religious groups. Most of the Buddhists—some of whom are now searching, I am told, to create a political movement—are very close to being in favour of the opening of negotiations. Following the recent initiative by the head of the Roman Catholic Church, it is reported by very reputable newspapers that many of the representatives on the Archbishop of Saigon's committee representing the Roman Catholic community are also in favour of a policy of co-operation with other sectors of the South Vietnamese people.
It is true that most of those who represent the refugees from the North have a different view, but there is now a division of opinion, and it is essential that, if the policy I propose should make sense, we must envisage that before the beginning of the negotiations there should be some preparations for a convention or conference of representatives of the people of South Vietnam themselves. If this were done, and if the neutral committee were to take charge and work in two halves, one half visiting one side and the other half visiting the other side and if, at the same time, contracts were beginning to be made inside Saigon, and if the harmful policy of the generals, who want to kill any possibility of negotiation, were to be put on one side, progress might be made.
I welcome the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon that if there were any hope of going into negotiation, although it would be a serious problem for America he would not be deterred by opposition in Saigon. That being so, he must also persuade the President of the United States not be deterred by it, and that may be much more difficult.
299 The British Government should make these proposals publicly. I submit that there comes a time when one's honourable, decent, active and private intentions have to be matched by public declarations, and in that respect I greatly welcome my right hon. Friend's declaration this afternoon of his total opposition to any extension of the bombing. That is, perhaps, the most important part of the debate. Although it is only a continuation of the policy of the Prime Minister and the Government, and although it was said almost in passing in reply to a question put, I believe, by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot), this forthright and firm declaration is a good starting point for the preparation of future discussions.
I might say in passing that if such proposals were made tonight, or in a few days' time, before my right hon. Friend goes to Moscow, and if the British Government were seen firmly to be developing such new policies and introducing an element of independence into their proposals, it would create the best possible atmosphere for the conference between the Prime Minister and Mr. Kosygin when my right hon. Friend goes to Moscow on 21st February, and where we hope he will be successful in dealing with many important problems.
That is what we mean when we say that within the given co-operation between the American Government and the British Government, within the given system of alliances, policies have to be advanced by one partner which may be ahead of those of the other partner. One of the things that have been wrong for so long has been this too close and too intimate identification by Her Majesty's Government with every single action and every single act of policy of the United States Government. That is not necessary, nor does it lead to the desired result. But if these proposals that I hold to be constructive were to be taken up and were to become part of the policies of Her Majesty's Government, I believe that there would be a much more real chance of getting Soviet diplomacy into play.
There are dangers in this policy, as there are dangers in all other policies but, faced with the dangers of escalation, and with the realisation—and it is this, 300 indeed, that has led to the development of public opinion in the United States Senate and in the House of Representatives—that the only way of going on with the military conflict and the bombing of the North is the destruction of ever more lives, faced with the prospect that even this will not lead to a military solution—which all sides regard as impossible—the chance of bringing the matter into the field of negotiation and the chance of showing that, to some extent, we have some independent ideas and are not afraid to speak out when we feel that these ideas should become part of American policy, would create an atmosphere in which the Premier of the Soviet Union and our own Prime Minister might meet between 21st and 24th February, and, having discussed other vital items of policy, might also agree to coming to some co-operation in this field.
Once we move away from exploiting by propaganda every statement coming out of Hanoi, once we move away from ignoring the difficulties the authorities there must face, just as the United States faces difficulties, once we adopt a stance that is seen to be much more helpful, the chances of succeeding will be all the greater. The alternative is so terrible and desperate that what those of us who have been critical of some of the policies of our own Government urge is representative of the feelings of many of the people of this country, and not least of many people in the Labour movement.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) described the statement on the subject of Vietnam put out last week as a serious error of judgment on the part of the Foreign Office. As a former member of that Department, I must defend my former colleagues because, as I understand, the Foreign Secretary himself has made it perfectly clear that that statement was issued with his full authority. I do not myself regard it as an error of judgment, but I wanted to put the record straight.
I want to add my protest to the protests made about the imputation which the Prime Minister made against some hon. Members on this side when he suggested that they were lacking in enthusiasm for the cause of peace in Vietnam. 301 I do so as one who has served for two years in Indo-China, as a result of which some of the things to which I shall refer will be, to use the terminology of the hon. Member for Penistone, facts within my own knowledge. I was anxious to work for peace in Indo-China when I was there, and my desire to do so has in no way diminished since my return. But I do not find that my desire to work for peace in that part of the world is any greater than that of any of my colleagues on this side.
I thought that the Prime Minister was suggesting at one stage that we should adopt a new convention in this House; and that the only people who should be permitted to discuss differences occurring between themselves and their colleagues on the same side should be they themselves, and that hon. Members opposite should not be allowed to refer to them. That would be a very novel suggestion, particularly coming from the Prime Minister. However, I do not propose to observe it myself.
I want to go back and talk about the three most publicised initiatives the Government have taken on the subject of Vietnam, the tour by Mr. Gordon Walker, the Commonwealth Peace Mission and the visit by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance to Hanoi. These events occurred some time ago, but they have some lessons for us now as to how to take initiatives for peace, and perhaps more particularly how not to take initiatives for peace.
I am not attacking these initiatives because they were unorthodox. I entirely agree that unorthodox methods, if they are the right methods and properly put into effect, are perhaps better than the old-fashioned conventional ones. I think these three initiatives deserve criticism because they were badly prepared and for that reason none of them was likely to succeed. I believe that they have significantly reduced the ability of the British Government, for reasons I shall explain, to take a useful initiative now and in the future.
I consider, first, what I describe as the Gordon Walker stunt. That had three results, two of which were negative. Mr. Gordon Walker during the course of his tour let slip a careless remark which reduced significantly the prospects of 302 setting on foot a conference on Cambodia. Secondly, he failed to be received in Hanoi or Peking. The one positive result was the devaluation of Mr. Gordon Walker. It is hard to imagine Mr. Gordon Walker, with all his experience and ability, being used effectively for some time to come by right hon. Members opposite in the cause of peace.
Secondly, the Commonwealth Peace Mission stunt. This also was clumsily set on foot. Washington was not warned about it before it became public. Most Commonwealth Prime Ministers were completely in the dark about it until the very day on which the Prime Minister's new scheme became public. It also came to the knowledge of some Commonwealth Prime Ministers that others had been told about it before. President Nyerere, who was in a better position than any other of the Commonwealth leaders present to know what the likely reaction of the Chinese would be to the scheme, was flatly opposed to it.
On top of this the Prime Minister insisted on leading this mission himself, although he must have suspected that if he did so this would greatly reduce the chance of the mission ever getting off the ground and certainly of being received in Peking or Hanoi. The result was another complete failure. The Government in Peking described the Prime Minister of Great Britain as a "nitwit", although admittedly only semi-officially. So the result of this stunt has been that the possibility of using the Commonwealth, with all the great potential which it certainly possesses, as an instrument for peace in Vietnam has been reduced for some time to come.
Then we had the Davies peace mission stunt. Here again there was lack of preparation. No effort was made to see by whom the Parliamentary Secretary would be received when he reached Hanoi. He was in fact, received only by a middle rank official, not even a senior official, of the Foreign Ministry in Hanoi. The Foreign Office adviser whom he took with him was left sitting on his suitcase in Ventiane, and not admitted to North Vietnam. He should have insisted that he either took his adviser with him or did not go at all. The result of his going there in these circumstances and being treated in this way is that it is now clear to the North Vietnamese authorities that the present British 303 Government are prepared to be treated as of little value when it comes to searching for a serious solution to the problems of Vietnam.
It was said at the time the Parliamentary Secretary went to Hanoi that this was a very important initiative because it was the only means of getting through to Hanoi. This, of course, was a completely unconvincing explanation at the time and we have seen it disproved in the last few weeks by the exchanges the Government have been conducting with North Vietnam through our Embassy in Moscow and the Consul-General himself. There were many other channels which could have been used, and still can be used. This puts the real motive of the mission by the Parliamentary Secretary into perspective.
We have here a story of three flops. The question arises, whom did the Government think they were fooling? Did they really believe that Peking was not fully informed about all the facts I have mentioned? Did they believe that Peking did not understand the inner significance of the way in which the Commonwealth Peace Mission was bungled? Had the Government no reason to believe, in view of the lack of preparation of all these initiatives that this must have been obvious in the capitals of the world? They are not so ignorant about British domestic politics as that.
In the light of the way in which these matters were handled by the Government had they any reason to believe that these initiatives would be taken seriously? Did they not realise that Hanoi would be perfectly well aware of the internal problems of the Government in relation to many of the members of their party? Did they asume Hanoi did not understand that the Parliamentary Secretary was chosen only because of his impeccably Left-wing views and his past attacks on S.E.A.T.O.? Did they suffer from false ideas about his position in the Labour Party hierarchy? I think that very unlikely indeed. They no doubt suspected that if the British Government had intended and expected serious results from this operation they would have chosen to send someone entirely different.
Were the Government fooling Washington? Certainly not. President Johnson 304 is very fully informed about Britain's party political problems. The Prime Minister has quoted in this House a number of times the kind words which President Johnson has said about the various initiatives I have been describing, but do the Government not realise that President Johnson is, naturally, very happy to give the Prime Minister a pat on the back about initiatives of this kind so long as he, President Johnson, is getting what he wants on the main issue, which is firm and solid support for American policy in Vietnam?
The conclusion is that these stunts have not fooled anybody; with one exception. The only people they have fooled, surprising though it may be, have been hon. Members opposite below the Gangway. They seem to have been the only ones who did not understand what the Prime Minister was up to. These initiatives, with their virtually nil chance of success, were received with rapturous enthusiasm by the hon. Members to whom I have referred, and all the time the Prime Minister seems to have been successful in distracting the attention of the hon. Members concerned from what is really happening in the Far East, which is that the Government are working, quite rightly I believe, to produce closer cooperation between Britain and the United States in defence policy, and from that must inevitably follow closer co-operation in foreign policy, too.
The extraordinary thing about hon. Members opposite below the Gangway is that they are so ignorant. The curious thing is that they are so ignorant about the doctrines of Marx or the Marxist writings. If they look at the authoritative expositions from the Communist side, they will find that what has been happening in Vietnam—the terror; the pretence that the troubles in South Vietnam are due solely to an expression of spontaneous popular will against the Government; the events which led to the foundation of the National Liberation Front in 1959–60—is a copybook example of the Communist tactics and strategy as set out by Lenin, Stalin, and so on.
Hon. Members opposite below the Gangway talk about the need for international understanding. I wonder how many of them have made the effort which many other hon. Members have made to understand the point of view of the other 305 side. I wonder how many of them have been to the State Department and discussed the reasons and the deeper thinking which the American Government follow in taking the course that they do. I wonder how many of them have been to the American Embassy for serious talks designed to increase their own understanding, as opposed to visits to the American Embassy to present petitions.
I believe that the Government are sincerely and genuinely working to do what they can to secure peace in Vietnam. I believe that now they are right in saying that they are working behind the scenes with the Soviet Union to use the machinery of the co-chairmanship. I hope that it will succeed. The burden of my criticism is that the three initiatives to which I have referred which were taken last year achieved nothing useful and have cheapened the value of British diplomacy in the world. I believe that they were gimmicks for which the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister alone, was responsible: I congratulate the Foreign Secretary on what I hope and believe is his success in persuading the Prime Minister, now that the conflict has flared up again, not to indulge in another stunt of the same order.
I hope that the Foreign Secretary will continue to be successful, because I believe that when a solution is found to the problem of Vietnam it will not be found by meretricious and flashy initiatives of the kind I have described but by hard, patient, slogging, work of the kind which the then British Government indulged in when they succeeded in setting on foot the Geneva Conference in 1954, which led to an agreement on Vietnam, and the conference in 1962, which led to a solution of the problem in Laos. In both those crises the then British Government, by patient diplomacy, played a vital part.
§ 7.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
From the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) and the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) two classical points emerge which have a fundamental bearing on the conflict and its outcome. My hon. Friend the Member for Penistone employed pure dialectics in his argument and his insistence upon two simple points as a basis for negotiation, 306 namely, the recognition of the N.L.F. or Vietcong as a separate unit and the cessation of bombing by the United States. Then there was the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South about the classical Marxist, Leninist doctrine, which interlocks with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone.
If there were such a recognition, this might be a bargaining factor for use either by the United States Government or by our own. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said this afternoon that he would not rule it out. With regard to such a recognition, history in Europe alone affords many examples of what eventually happens in any liberation movement when a segment of Communist representation is let in. It is found within a few years that the struggle for which one fought goes by default and in effect a Communist Government has taken over. This is classical Marxist mentality.
This is the situation which confronts us. It is a dilemma confronting us throughout Asia in general. We always insist, from our point of view in the West, on seeing these issues through Western eyes, through eyes used to regarding democracy as we exercise it. This is no answer to the problems of the poverty-stricken Far East, problems inextricably interwoven with the rule of autocracy, of despotism, of problems of religion. We cannot begin to understand what the solution to these problems is unless the West as a whole—not through the United Nations, but on the basis of a consortium—devises financial, political and economic policies which embrace the dividend produce of the West. This should be a concerted effort, not the granting of piecemeal aid which is dissipated and wasted. It should be a concrete policy of taking forward the articles of government and of commerce, the produce of trade and of industry.
Such a movement would be a leap forward to creating a quite different society from that which exists in the Far East at present, under which people are forced to submit to certain régimes. Make no mistake about it. This is the strength of the Chinese Revolution. Almost overnight a feudal peasant society was changed into a society with a positive purpose. This cannot be written off, nor 307 will it be. China is a nation of 500 million people which the rest of the world will have to deal with.
In all the welter of words we have heard this afternoon nobody has touched upon the essential intricacies of the problem, which is a quarrel among and between the Chinese people themselves and the Russian people and the American people. There is the vital question of Taiwan, which is still an issue to be determined between China and the United States. This matter is best approached on the basis of researches into history. If we approach the matter as politicians and statesmen and not as the Press or ill-informed television commentators, we are driven to the conclusion that Taiwan, through its long history, with the exception of 200 years under the rule of Portugal, and of 70 years under Japan, was inherently and completely a part of China. This fact must be recognised.
There is also the question of the Russian drift towards Western society. This is an important facet of the problem at the moment in North Vietnam. It is the Chinese attitude which is forcing Russian arms into North Vietnam, because the Russians cannot afford to lose face. If Russia were not faced with this problem at the moment, there would very soon be an accommodation between Russia and the West on an ever-widening basis. But Russia cannot afford to leave go. Therefore, China is sitting pretty. This is what Tashkent was about. Overtly, the Tashkent meeting arose out of a desire to settle the war between Pakistan and India, but it was really about the fear of an Indo-Pakistan conflict which would grow on Russian's back doorstep, and the opportunities which this would provide for the Chinese. In the past 18 months, there have been no fewer than 150 incidents of a military character on Russia's eastern border with China. Every one of them has been a bone of contention, and every one could, in other circumstances, grow into something more. This is the real state of affairs in the Far East, and in this situation where does Britain stand?
In an effort to find peace, the Americans suspended the bombing. It has now been restarted, with the concurrence at least, if not the blessing, of our Foreign Office and our party. One has to deal with 308 decisions at the relevant moment of time. Although I respect the sincerity of the views expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), I must say that, although part of his speech was historically correct, not all of it was. What we must realise in facing the problems in the Far East is that the West, as a comity of nations, must have the chance to breathe before the conflagration spreads.
Let there be no mistake about what the outcome could be. If the Americans are forced to go on and are seen to be forced to go on, no American commander, being outmatched in jungle warfare, will refuse to use the forces which he has at his disposal. This is what the Americans are now beginning to do. I think that it is a waste of bombs, but I believe that they are doing it in an effort to stop the advance, through what should be neutral country, of supplies for the National Liberation Front. Any American commander would be failing in his duty if he did not use the forces at his disposal. Purely as a matter of strategy, he would do it, and so would we in his position.
We must not forget what could happen if Laos, Cambodia and Thailand in their turn were to become the victims—or, from the other point of view, the beneficiaries—of the same type of Government, either by conquest or by overthrow. Whether this might happen may be a moot point, but what is obvious is that, if the Americans are forced to go home, the rest of Asia will shudder and tremble. This is what the trouble is really about. This is why the Prime Minister has acted as he has, although the hon. Member for Blackpool, South, thought fit to ridicule it. In this situation, with Britain being placed as it is, we cannot have it otherwise. Not being able to assume the authoritative voice of a world Power, we have done what we could in an effort to bring about a means of settlement and a return to the conference table.
Of course, neither Hanoi nor Peking was fooled for a second by what was going on. The leaders of China and of North Vietnam are too realist to be fooled by anything of that kind. They know what the stakes are as well as anybody else. But it is up to us to consider carefully what the House of Commons ought to do and what its message tonight ought 309 to be. Here I adopt some of the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition in his opening speech. The right hon. Gentleman covered a wide range, giving us almost a political travelogue and explaining what he had seen, what he had done and what: he hoped to achieve. But what should the West do if there are negotiations and some sort of settlement emerges from a conference? If there is a Korea type settlement, with, virtually, occupation for X number of years, with attendant investment and everything else, this will have to be undertaken, but it should not be undertaken by the United States alone or seem to be undertaken by it. If it is undertaken by the United States, the peoples of the Far East will once again see the measure of American might both in war and in sustenance, but those who receive charity are never, in the end, very thankful.
I can well understand why President de Gaulle is being cautious. After seeing and reading about the Vietcong at work, I find it fairly easy to understand that the French had no chance at all at Dien Bien Phu. They were really up against it. Not so many actual Frenchmen were in the struggle—they were mostly Foreign Legionaires—but, after seeing some of these things, I think it obvious that they are very determined people over there and I absolutely agree when the Prime Minister says, as he did today, that this war will not be winnable by either side.
But, as I say, out of the negotiations and out of the peace, if a Korea-type settlement emerges, the burden should be not seen to be undertaken by the United States. For heaven's sake, let us have a concerted effort to show what the West can do in this part of the world, quite apart from aid, in promoting an understanding of what we would really like to do for the people there for their great benefit and in order quickly to change the form and basis of their society as they have known it for so long.
We talk a good deal about democracy, and it is said that there are several forms of it. This may be so, but we have no doubt about the one which we regard as the highest form. There is a long way to go before the people of the Far East can have it. I think that it was our former right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale, the late Aneurin Bevan, 310 who said in 1951 that Communism has not made and will not make any inroads into Western industrial society. The truth of this has been proved time and time again. The Russian accommodation, quickening every day, in their slide towards the West, is something we should hang on to. Let this House of Commons make a real effort, on a reasonable basis, as distinct from the putting down of Motions from one reason or another. There is a great task to be undertaken by this House, along with the United States.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). Although I agreed with the whole of the first part of his speech, I disagree very much with some of his observations in the second part. The hon. Gentleman said that we tended to look at the problems of the East through Western eyes and judge them by Western standards. The blunt reality of the situation is that, in many of the emergent countries with a low standard of living, the stark choice is between a Communist régime and a corrupt military junta. This is the fatal weakness of the American position in South Vietnam. They have virtually nothing to support.
In my speech, I shall criticise, and criticise harshly, the policy of an ally of this country. I regard the United States as a very good ally of this country to which the West as a whole is greatly indebted. The United States shares many interests with this country, and a serious rift between her and Britain or between her and Western Europe would be one of the greatest setbacks our world could have. Nevertheless, I feel constrained to express my criticism about what I believe is the wrongness of present American actions and policies in South-East Asia generally, as exemplified by American policy in Vietnam in particular.
There are some who hold the view that one ought not to criticise a good ally when that ally is in a difficult situation. There were many hon. Members, particularly on the Conservative benches, who took exception to the violent American criticism of this country's actions in the Suez episode. There were many Frenchmen who took 311 great exception to the criticisms levelled at them by the Americans over their policy in Indo-China in 1954. I do not share the view that allies ought not to be criticised. I think that the American criticism of this country and of France over Suez and over Indo-China respectively was justified. An ally is an ally, not a camp-follower. However irritated the political leaders of the United States may be by criticism from this country—I have no doubt that they are and will be irritated—that criticism ought to be made if those who make it feel that it is right.
I do not delude myself that the opinions, particularly the critical opinions, expressed in this House are likely to have any immediate effect on American policy. I would not expect them to. On the other hand, I feel that a frank expression of our views may well strengthen and sustain those in the United States—among them some of the wisest, most experienced and enlightened political leaders—who have the gravest doubts about the wisdom and efficacy of present American policy towards Vietnam and China.
Listening to the debate so far, I have been constrained to think that, at the moment, this country, through both the Government and the Conservative Opposition, are more pro-American than the Americans themselves. One would not have thought, from the tone of the debate, that 30 Senators, led by Senator Fulbright, and 80 Congressmen have themselves expressed the gravest doubts about the trend of American policy in Vietnam.
The situation in Vietnam is constantly changing militarily and, to a certain extent, politically. One thing that cannot have changed very much for the people of Vietnam is the state of war. They have been almost continuously at war for about 20 years. Indeed, there must be millions of young Vietnamese who have virtually never known what a state of peace is.
If the aim of American policy is to bring peace to Vietnam by breaking the resistance of the Vietcong, all I can say is that there is not the slightest sign of their present military policies achieving this end. If their aim is to sustain a democratic way of life in South Vietnam, 312 there is no present evidence of democracy alive there. I have no doubt that horrible atrocities are committed on both sides—by the Vietcong as much as by the South Vietnamese. When one has lived in an atmosphere of guerrilla warfare for 20 years, the price of life must necessarily have been completely devalued.
We must ask ourselves what is the aim of present policy and whether the aim shows any sign of being secured by that policy. It is my view and that of my colleagues that the Americans were wrong to renew the bombing of North Vietnam and that Her Majesty's Government were wrong formally and officially to declare their support. The Americans would have been well advised to withdraw to certain areas, as was suggested by Senator Fulbright last year, to clear and defend these areas properly and to take advantage of the breathing space to rethink the whole position with regard to Vietnam and China.
The Leader of the Opposition expressed surprise to discover that so much of the land area of South Vietnam is in the control of the Vietcong. The Americans would impress the people of the East and of the West far more if they were able to show that they could clear and control areas in South Vietnam. Senator Fulbright is surely right in that.
The greatest single danger to the West—and it is a very great danger—from the Vietnam war is that it could have the effect of turning Russia full circle towards the East and destroying its ever-improving relationship with the West. There have been times when the war in Vietnam and the American attitude have seriously threatened to weaken the Russian attitude to co-existence.
In China's present mood there is no doubt that such is China's hope. The Sino-Soviet antagonism, which hardly seemed possible ten years ago, reflects basic historic forces. This forces—as it has done so far—Russia inexorably towards the West, thus diminishing the possibility of an East-West confrontation which certainly threatened and still marginally threatens the civilised world with nuclear destruction.
But evolutionary force is such that, instead of Russia and China being able to co-operate in establishing Communism 313 in developing areas of the world, they are competing with each other as with Western ideologies in those areas. To a certain extent, this very conflict of ideologies between Russia and China provides an excellent reason for the rest not to become too deeply involved in certain areas, particularly in certain remote areas, where the West's vital interests are not affected.
However, the concept of world Communism still exists so that although, on the one hand, there are forces which drive Russia and China apart, let us recognise that there are strong forces which still drive them together. We saw it during the Korean war. It is interesting to note that, except during that war, China has been meticulous in avoiding actual confrontation with the United States—and in the Korean war China chanced confrontation because it had Russian support.
China would not, I am sure, risk confrontation with the United States unless it were assured of Russian support and it is most likely to be assured of it if the United States continues with its present Vietnam policy. This is the greatest danger to the West of the Vietnam war. It still could conceivably push us back to a state of cold war for many years. It could strengthen the force that brings world Communism together and weaken the national evolutionary forces that for historic and other reasons are tending to pull Russia and China apart.
I was more impressed with the speech of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), when he spoke on defence at the Conservative Party conference, than I have been by any other Conservative speech for many years. He expressed a view of the position of our country and the issues we must consider in the formulation of our defence policy which Liberals have believed in and advocated for years.
I would like to quote from the handout of this speech. I have checked with the right hon. Gentleman on its accuracy. He said:However much we may do to safeguard and reassure the new independent countries in Asia and Africa, the eventual limits of Chinese and Russian advance in those directions will be fixed by a balance of forces which will itself be Asiatic and African. The two communist empires are already in a state of mutual antagonism; but every advance or threat of advance by one or the other 314 calls into existence countervailing forces, some nationalist in character, sometimes expansionist, which will ultimately check it. We have to reckon with the harsh fact that the attainment of this eventual equilibrium of forces may at some point be delayed rather than hastened by Western military presence.I do not suppose that many Conservatives agree with that proposition. I agree with it as a general proposition. Furthermore, I would apply the general to the particular in Vietnam. I believe that the American military presence there delays the eventual equilibrium of forces that we can hope to see in that part of the world.
This is a harsh choice for anyone to make and to say, but it is true. It is worthy of note that it has been comparatively rare for a successful Communist régime to have been established and orientated towards China. When it has, its relationship has often had serious limitations. One has seen it in North Korea and North Vietnam. These areas have an ancient history and social structure of their own. There is always there a degree of indigenous nationalism which tends to rise. Over and above all that is the competition, which is natural, between China and Russia for influence.
It is arguable that Moscow still has at least as much influence in Hanoi as has Peking. It is important to remember what the French writer de Juvenal pointed out a long time ago—that the attraction of the Communist creed for developing countries was not so much its ideas of egalitarianism as the belief that the Communist system enabled backward countries to mobilise their resources more quickly and more efficiently for swift industrial and economic development.
I believe that this belief in the efficacy of Communism in its early stages is not well founded, but it exists. Communism is relatively a dead force in Western Europe and North America. Therefore, we can expect that the two great Communist States wishing to play a rôle in world affairs will turn more and more to the developing countries.
Particularly has China this compulsion—partly because it feels itself to be surrounded, partly because it is ostracised—and American policy has a good deal to answer for that—and partly because of a combined Russian-American attempt to cut off China from Europe and the rest of the world. China therefore 315 naturally tries to influence the countries around itself and it is completely unrealistic to expect it to have countries on the fringe of Asia which are friendly to the United States and, at the same time, hostile to China. If they are friendly towards the United States, they are perfectly tolerable to China provided that they are also friendly to China.
It is flying in the face of history to expect a great Power like this to have on its perimeter countries which are friendly to a foreign country thousands of miles away and hostile to the large country. That state of affairs obviously cannot last. It is arrogant of some circles in the United States not to be prepared to permit other political philosophies to circulate in the South-East of Asia.
I say in passing that our country and other Western European countries should seek to develop far more links with China and not allow themselves to be cut off from contact with that country by the policy of the United States. Moreover, it is my belief that Western Europe should take great care at this stage not to take sides in the developing Russo-Chinese confrontation. It is very important for Western Europe to maintain links with China and not to be drawn on one side or the other in this confrontation.
I said that I would try to discuss the position in South-East Asia particularly with regard to the position in Vietnam, but I accept that the old régime now in charge of China as a single group—and this is worth reffecting on—has been in control of that great country for an unusually long time. We all know of the forces which drove those men together—their experiences during the Long March, and so on—but there is no doubt that Marxist social and economic philosophy is their mainstay. We know that they are remote from outside influence and have been little exposed to the rest of the world and, because of their country's woefully weak economic posture, they are under tremendous internal political pressures.
Like all countries facing internal pressures, they like to have diversionary activities under way outside from time to time. As would be the case with any other Government in similar circumstances, they probably like to have a continuing state of tenseness within their 316 own country and the U.S.A. seems obligingly to help them in this by its policy in Vietnam.
I do not expect a dramatic change in the ideology of China, particularly while the old guard remains. However, there is bound to emerge a new generation of leadership and we can reasonably expect, as one found with the Russians, to have men interested in good relations with the West. What the West can do is to create a framework which is likely to be more hospitable to an entente with China in the long run.
I do not think that the United States can isolate China, as it thought it could, and nor do I think that it is necessary to do so. China's attitude is partly, although not wholly, attributable to previous American mistakes in policy. In the past, there have been the gravest mistakes in the American treatment of China and the denial of a seat in the United Nations is among the indignities which have been inflicted upon China.
I accept that while China is in its present mood the West's policy to some degree must necessarily be one of containment until there is a changing attitude, but, while we contain, we should also be creating the framework of better relations. In view of the overwhelming superiority of the West, the great maturity of our political life, our enormous strength and flexibility of economic structure and our preponderance of military power, the West, and the United States, in particular, can afford to be a little more objective about and a little more sensitive to events which are far removed from our true area of interest.
Where Chinese aggrandisement conflicts with the West's obvious self-interest, as in the American Continent, or the Mediterranean basin, or Africa, I understand that that is one matter to deal with it with massive military and economic power, but I cannot feel that the same posture is justified when Chinese influence occurs in remoter areas.
It is the harsh truth that America must learn to live and let live. The Americans must be prepared to permit political philosophies other than their own to circulate and must not believe that any régime, however unsatisfactory, is invariably preferable to a Communist régime. If any of us were faced with a 317 stark choice in any backward Asiatic country between a Communist régime of which we did not approve and a military junta which was corrupt and propped up by a foreign Power, most of us, however much we disliked it in the short term, would accept the Communist régime. That is one of the harsh facts which we have to face.
This, then, is my view of the Vietnam situation—that this is the wrong place and the wrong circumstances for containment, that the United States made a basic miscalculation on wrong assumptions, that it is obsessed with the idea that a military victory in Vietnam is now necessary for its power to appear credible in the eyes of other countries in Asia. The truth is that if America achieves a military stalemate in Vietnam, there is virtually no South Vietnamese democratic régime for it to prop up. Whom would it be supporting then? Who would govern? The situation is vastly different from that which obtains and which has obtained in many other countries in South-East Asia.
It is basically for those reasons that I think that the United States was wrong to start bombing North Vietnam again. The Americans should build up certain perimeter areas in South Vietnam, for that would be much more impressive to the rest of the world and would give America a breathing space and would ease the right atmosphere and reduce pressure for possible political negotiation.
The evil which men do lives after them and in many ways the United States, as we have been so often, has been a prisoner of its past. History cannot be rewritten. On the other hand, the alternative to the course which I have suggested is that the United States should get bogged down in a long land war in Asia, one thing which it should take the greatest care not to get involved in.
It was said of France in 1954 that she was faced with great humiliation in Indo-China. France has not looked back since she amputated her responsibilities in Indo-China and in Algeria. There is a lesson in that for the Americans, too.
§ 8.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Fletcher (Ilkeston)
It is somewhat embarrassing to follow the hon. 318 and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), because I happen to agree with about 90 per cent. of what he said and it is always politically embarrassing for someone who sits in this part of the Chamber, below the Gangway, to be seen to be obviously in agreement with any hon. Member on the Liberal Benches.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Secondly, it may be embarrassing in another respect. I fully appreciate that we who sit in this part of the House have been expected by most hon. Members opposite to behave throughout the debate as though we were a detachment of the Vietcong determined to liquidate my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Of course this has not happened. I can understand why the Conservative Party is rather disturbed by outbreaks of democracy. Democracy has only just broken out in the Conservative Party and it feels uncomfortable with it. It must understand that dissent is not a disease, and that no matter how much we on these benches may disagree with the Front Bench on this or that matter, when we come to assess the character of the Opposition and their capacity to form a Government, we are completely and totally united. Although, metaphorically speaking, we take a different route to places like Hull, North, when we get there we strike unitedly and with a chastening effect upon the Opposition.
I want to make another embarrassing admission from the Vietcong benches. I want to say that I thoroughly agree with much of the approach made by the Leader of the Opposition in opening this debate. He stated very firmly that, before we can pass any judgment on any specific policy or any line of policy in South East Asia, we must understand what the Chinese revolution really was, what China really is, and we must try to find out what Chinese intentions really are.
When I look at Chinese Communism—incidentally I do it with both eyes, not only with the left one—I tend to place as much emphasis on the adjective as on the noun. We are dealing with a Chinese Government which is as strongly nationalistic and in many ways as solidly 319 traditional as it is Communistic. We can only guess here because I have no private sources of information, nor has anyone else, with the possible exception of the Foreign Secretary, but it seems that the nationalist strand in Chinese policy internally and externally is still the strongest strand.
When we look at China we see that there is a marked contrast between Chinese words—most of the offensive words are not directed towards this country or the United States but towards the Soviet Union—and Chinese actions. There is the difference between the Chinese strategic bark and the Chinese tactical bite. It fulminates about imperialism and colonialism and calls the Russians Communist revisionists and scoundrels, etc., etc. But when it comes to a position where it is confronted with an almost classic piece of colonialism, Hong Kong, rather than blast it out of existence it does business with it for the good and proper reason that it is in China's interest as much as ours that we should be in Hong Kong. I do not use the word colonialism in any pejorative sense. When China had troubles with its boundaries with Burma it was able to reach agreement.
There is this constant disparity between the fulminations of the Peking Daily and the actions of Chinese diplomats when engaged in negotiations. This gives us a pointer to the future. I think it is possible in the not-too-distant future, and I tend to think in 10-year rather one-year spans, that the Chinese leaders will simmer down, or step upwards—and both metaphors would be equally offensive to the Chinese—into statesmanship.
We have seen something similar happening to the Soviet Union. It has been said before in the debate, but I see no reason, since the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montgomery has already robbed me of my speech, why I should not repeat it, that the most important thing which has happened to the Soviet Union in recent years has not been this magnificent feat of putting Luna 9 on the moon—it has been the Soviet intervention into Far East affairs through the Tashkent Conference. This invention was not in the character of an international subversive waving a Red Flag in the one hand and the first volume of 320 "Kapital"—to my mind it is the only one which is worth reading—in the other, with the text book of guerrilla tactics in the hip pocket.
The Soviet Union intervened at Tashkent as a Power using all the resources and skills of traditional diplomacy in order to act as a peace-maker. That is tremendously significant. It opens up the exciting possibility that in future in the Far East we will be dealing increasingly with the Soviet Union, not as an antagonistic something which represents an alien ideology somewhere in Europe, but as an ally and partner. I cannot foresee any kind of permanent security arrangements being made in the Far East unless the Soviet Union is an active participant in those arrangements.
This is another factor. It adds to the paradoxical nature of the situation with which we are dealing. We have to think in terms of doing business as a potential ally with one Communist Power to correct the eccentricities, pardonable in a youthful régime, of another. This is the way in which we have to look at China.
This does not solve any of the detailed problems with which the Foreign Secretary has to contend day after day. He knows quite well that the Chinese are awkward and that at times, when they feel in the mood, they can be damned awkward. It does not matter how many messages go out from this House or from the Foreign Secretary or into the world Press to the effect that we understand their problems, and that many of us agree with about nine-tenths of what they have done in China itself. This does not have the slightest effect on people who move into negotiations with people whom they regard as major allies of the United States with their minds rigidly fixed in patterns which may have borne some relationship to the world in 1900 but which are totally at variance with the world in 1966.
Very little needs to be said from this part of the House—I talk again about my position below the Gangway; it is no use saying that this does not have as much political significance as geograpical significance—about the way in which I believe China will evolve and the way in which we will achieve some form of security; and it is security that we want in the Far East. My conception of the Far Eastern future is one in which all these revolutions all this turbulence—it 321 is not confined to Vietnam—will culminate in a kind of patchwork quilt of States, many of them in varying degrees Socialist but none of them taking orders from or, in a sense, allowing themselves to be straitjacketed within anything which comes out of Peking. But we shall not have security unless we understand China, and we must consider the specific problem of Vietnam in that context.
I have never stated in or out of the House—and there are reasons with which hon. Members are familiar why I have not been stating very much in the House lately—that the cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam of itself would produce a willingness to go to the negotiating table on the part of the Government of Hanoi or of the National Liberation Front. I say with some hesitation, because one can be misunderstood, that the question of bombing is of marginal significance.
Far more important, in my view, is the kind of military build-up which is going on, and which has been going on for the last 12 months, in South Vietnam. An inflow of American men and material at the rate which has been going on gives some indication of future intentions to the enemy militarily on the ground and politically in the capital of Hanoi. A build-up of this kind seems to signal to Hanoi and every other interested party that the Americans envisage an almost permanent occupation of South Vietnam. It is because of that, I believe, that the build-up has had a greater degree of importance in the thinking of the North Vietnamese authorities than the actual bombing.
As for the bombing itself, I would not wish to be a member of a party which did not include others who reacted violently and emotionally when bombs were being dropped. Perhaps I cannot entirely share their point of view, but if ever it becomes universal on these benches that a matter like bombing is discussed as coldly and dispassionately as a minor Clause in a non-controversial Bill, then I shall have no further place on these benches and no part in this party. I am not ashamed to be associated, even if only temporarily and geographically, with people who react in that way to that kind of situation.
The Foreign Secretary, no less than other hon. Members on this side and no 322 less than hon. Members on the other side, recoils with horror at the prospect of continued and wider bombing, but there is a case against bombing which is not grounded in morality at all, except marginally. It is a case that is purely technical, because I wonder whether in the last 12 months the bombing has been of as much military value as many people in the Pentagon seem to believe. When we read, for instance, that the North Vietnamese are repairing damaged roads in 48 hours and railways in 72 hours, I begin to wonder whether there has been very much effect on the military capacity of North Vietnam as a result of 12 months of bombing.
The bomb, as we all know, is not a precision instrument. I wonder whether American pilots, who have shown a singular capacity for bombing villages on their own side of the conflict in South Vietnam, can be relied upon automatically to improve their aim as their planes fly northwards. In other words, is the interdiction bombing which has been carried out as precise an instrument of military power as we have been led to believe?
I do not think that the bombing is going to make very much difference. If it is aimed at the will of Hanoi, its cessation or its continuation will not make much difference either way. It is the build-up which is important and, if the present build-up continues at the rate of the last 12 months, one can foresee that even in order to hold South Vietnam the Americans will have to commit upwards of 600,000 troops, and the only people who could be delighted at that prospect would be the more militant strategists in Peking, because they are troops who bear the same relationship to the country that they are allegedly defending as flies bear to the flypaper on which they are stuck.
I do not like to be in a position of conflict with my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. I know that in politics one has to accept package deals. There are some things which one may not approve of, but one supports the package deal because there is so much in the rest of the package with which one agrees.
I am more or less in complete agreement with the Foreign Secretary's general approach to Far Eastern affairs, because 323 only two or three weeks ago he made a speech which was far more eloquent than the one which I have just made and expressed a similar point of view about security problems in the Far East. The importance of the Foreign Secretary and of this Government, in a very real sense, in relation to Vietnam is potential rather than actual. It is as the co-Chairman of a conference which I hope to goodness will soon be convened, the Geneva Conference, that the Foreign Secretary acquires a rôle in these affairs, and is important in them, and it is because, in spite of my disagreement with him on detail, that I want him to be there when that conference is convened, that I want it to be a Labour Foreign Secretary who is at that conference, that I accept the necessity for supporting the Government in the Division Lobbies, and at by-elections, and at a General Election, whenever it comes. These disagreements in detail do not in any way challenge either the sincerity or the capacity of the Foreign Secretary, but on this issue of the bombing and the build-up, I ask him to believe that it is possible that he is wrong.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. John Harvey (Walthamstow, East)
The hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher) has not said anything with which I could very seriously dissent, but in expressing hopes for the future he will agree with me that we have to find ways and means of formulating policy so that the hopes may be realised, and it is on the question of formulating policy in this part of the world that we are engaged in debate this afternoon.
I rather felt that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) seemed to think that this part of the world was all pleasantly far away, and that we could, therefore, pull up the anchor and sail further away still, as he said France might have done from both Saigon and Algiers, and live a happy life in consequent isolation. This is not practical politics.
What has worried me enormously about Rhodesia is that, worrying as the Rhodesian situation itself is, it has tended to obscure a great many other issues, both at home and overseas, to which we 324 should be giving somewhat more attention than we have been doing of late. It has dominated Question Time, almost to the exclusion of many other topics in international affairs, and in exactly the same way, when we come to the problem of Vietnam, it tends to dominate the whole of our consideration of Asia, and the whole of our consideration of China, and I shall, therefore, not spend very long—I cannot anyway—talking about Vietnam. It has been adequately dealt with this afternoon.
The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) accused his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary of having presented a somewhat one-sided story. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman would accept that if that were so he adequately redressed the balance.
On the question of the resumption of bombing, I join all those hon. Members who have regretted its necessity. We are, of course, at one in hoping that it may soon prove possible to bring the parties round a conference table to end the bombing, the war, and the loss of life, if we tend to arrogate to ourselves authority for suggesting that President Johnson chose the wrong day, that he took the worst possible decision at the worst possible time, we must, as one or two hon. Members have reminded us, bear in mind the position of commanders in the field who see a build-up going on which will cost the lives of their men if they allow it to go on indefinitely.
We must remember that right through this period Peking almost goaded the Americans into restarting the bombing. The Peking Press suggested that the discontinuation of the bombing was a sure sign of American weakness and of the fact that America had reached the end of its tether, and that one had only to press a little longer and complete victory would be there for the asking for the Vietcong.
The hon. Member for Ilkeston suggested that if we are to have security in Asia we must understand China. That is tremendously important. It is true that the Chinese seem to say one thing and do another. It is also true that years ago Hitler wrote a book called "Mein Kampf", which most of us ignored, as a result of which my generation was drawn into a world war which might have been 325 avoided if that book had not been ignored.
It is, therefore, important to consider the writings, sayings and actions of the leaders of modern China. One of the most alarming actions occurred in September of last year when, during the Indo-Pakistan conflict, the Chinese discovered some fictitious fortifications in Sikkim and issued an ultimatum to India. That made it abundantly clear that China was seriously thinking of crossing the narrow gap between Sikkim and East Pakistan and poising itself on the Bay of Bengal, in a position from which, at any time, it could have invaded Burma and gone on through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia might then have been a willing ally, anyway.
Then we would have seen emerging the same threat that we saw in the case of the Japanese in the last war—the threat to the great Continent of Australia. It seems logical to assume that Chinese policy must have its eyes on this vast continent.
It is important to examine what the Chinese have been saying. On 2nd September last year Marshal Lin Piao said that it was China's policy to capture Asia, Africa and Latin America by waging wars so that what he called the villages of the world could encircle what he called the cities of the world—North America and Western Europe—and that the cities would be destroyed piece by piece, some by striking at the head and others by striking at the feet. He made it clear in that speech that China wanted revolution as fast as possible in as many places as possible.
Foreign Secretary Ch'eng Yi, at about the same time, warned the Arab countries that for them to try to form a balance between Peking and Moscow was no longer acceptable, and that China would be asking them to decide in the near future on what side they would stand.
In terms of revolutionary activity—and these are not figments of anyone's imagination; they are facts—in February last year Foreign Minister Ch'eng Yi announced that Thailand must be the next target for liberation and that the Thai Association, with its headquarters in Peking, would receive constant support 326 from the Chinese Government. Communist guerrilla movements are supported in the North of Thailand, and in the jungles of South Thailand. Ching Peng, the former Secretary of the Malaysian Communist Party and one-time soldiers in his liberation army are reforming. In January of this year a banquet was given in Peking for the Malaysian National Liberation League and the Malaysian National Liberation Army, who have now moved to Peking from Jakarta consequent upon recent developments there.
Kang Yung Ho, the Vice-President of the Chinese Afro-Asian Solidarity Association, said that China would give all-out support in the struggle for the M.N.L.A. to crush Malaysia. The Philippines are on the list. Guerillas are active in Luzon and Chinese agents have been landed recently in Icol and Visayas. Again, we have evidence recently of orders being placed by China in Switzerland for rifles and machine guns for delivery to various parts of Africa. It is interesting that they are presumably ordering Swiss weapons because the "Made in China" mark will not be there and the weapons will not be so easily identifiable with the people paying the bills.
These are facts which the House of Commons must face in trying to understand the problem of China, that China and its leaders have said that they want to see more countries possessing the atom bomb—
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths rose—
§ Mr. Harvey
I am sorry. Marshal Lin Piao added to Chou-en Lai's dictum the other day and coined this phrase:Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun and rests on the foundation of war and violent revolution.On 24th January of this year Hsia Hua, the chief political director of the Chinese Army wrote:There are still many figures in the Army who have not yet conceded that the party must direct the gun.These are, of course, alarming trends and tendencies. We have to learn to live with them and to outlive them.
I share the hope of the hon. Member for Ilkeston that China will go on saying one thing and doing another. If not, the outlook is bleak for the young people of 327 today as we look ahead in a world in which communications are so different from what they were and a world that is growing so much smaller.
It is important that the leaders of China should come to recognise, as Stalin did, that world revolution does not answer the needs of the poor and under-privileged, that world revolution only adds to the chaos which such people have to face. China must recognise that it is not the power which grows out of the barrel of a gun which can help peoples anywhere, but rather the power which can come from schemes for aid and technical assistance and the stimulation of trade. These are the things which matter.
If I had had more time, I should have regretted one or two aspects on the question of aid introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), because I do not think that we can tie it to the political complexion of any country, particularly so great a country as India. Indeed, we should be thankful that democracy has managed to survive and flourish in India, even though we may not all find ourselves in close agreement with the political form the democracy takes.
These are the things which will matter to the under-privileged peoples of the world—not revolution. In ending a little earlier than I might have done had I been more successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, or if other hon. Members had been briefer, I would say only that I hope that the words of the rulers of China do not represent the policies by which the country's destiny will be shaped. If they do, this will be a terrible thing for all of us.
I would gladly join the hon. Member for Ilkeston in going there and trying to explain to them what we mean when we talk about democracy and what we believe the world can do for the betterment of the lot of mankind and particularly of mankind in the less fortunate and fear-ridden parts of the world, where we must use all our influence to ensure peace and stability and the elimination of the fear which, at the moment, gives us all cause for very serious worry about what the future may otherwise have in store.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. John Harvey) said he thought that it was a wise choice to have a different kind of debate from the many which have been overshadowed by Rhodesia, and there I agree with him.
I, for one—and I hope that other hon. Members felt the same—was very interested in the constructive speech of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition when he opened the debate. We are all glad to hear observations from personal experience, particularly when they are keen observations.
This debate has been extraordinarily interesting, not just because of the vast problems of South and South-East Asia, to which many hon. Members have turned their attention, but it has been particularly fascinating because, once again, it has been shown only too clearly from the contributions of nearly every hon. Gentleman opposite that British foreign policy today is supported by the Labour Government's tiny majority and by the official Opposition.
After all, what is the Motion which stands on the Notice Paper? Signed by 35 hon. Members of the Labour Party, including two members of the National Executive, it is a very serious one because it asks that British support of United States policy in Vietnam should end. Even the Prime Minister's deliberate hints about an early General Election have not managed to keep the party in unison on this point. Yet the Prime Minister had the nerve, if I may say so, to suggest that this was not a political issue. I wish that the right hon. Gentleman was in his place now because I should like to have said this to his face. I found it very repulsive that the Prime Minister of this country should suggest that some of my hon. Friends were more interested in the split in the Labour Party than they were in peace in Vietnam. I suppose that the real answer is that we had to listen to what was a teach-in of the Parliamentary Labour Party because, to use a colloquialism, the Prime Minister was feeling a bit ratty at the time.
In many cases Vietnam, this hard and anxious problem, has been debated as if it were only an American responsibility. Little tribute has been paid to the 329 Australians and New Zealanders who are taking as gallant a stand beside them—and absolutely no tribute is paid in that Motion. There has been little recognition, too, of the fact that their battle is also ours, for by containing aggression north of Malaysia it prevents her from fighting on two fronts and it holds the pass in advance of our S.E.A.T.O. obligations.
The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister were under considerable fire, notably from the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson), as one would expect, for the official statement that the Government understood the United States decision to renew bombing after 37 days and supported it. Of course, it is still not clear why this country was told by the main newspapers that it was understood that the Prime Minister did not approve the wording of this statement. We are glad today to hear that the right hon. Gentleman accepts full responsibilty, but before that we had to learn, again from the newspapers, that he had accepted the responsibility at a private meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I submit to the House that this is not just a party matter for the Labour Party. It is high public policy and it has a great many repercussions.
It is not that we are entirely uncritical of Her Majesty's Government on Vietnam by any means, notably in the manner and method they have used to search for peace. On 30th January, the British Ambassador in Moscow received from the North Vietnamese chargé d'affaires a note addressed to Her Majesty the Queen from President Ho Chi Minh giving five conditions for peace talks. This proves that normal diplomatic contacts are always available when there is something definite to say. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) said, it makes even more irrelevant the mission of the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and the rebuff incurred by Mr. Gordon Walker—not to speak of, of course, and far more serious, the enlistment of the Commonwealth Mission in full publicity without apparently any real grounds for believing what the Prime Minister described in Canada as a whisper of a change. That phrase rather struck me—I suspect that it rather struck the Prime Minister, too. What I really should like to know is what it meant. Were there any solid practical 330 grounds for this claim? None of us has ever heard anything more about it.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) also has a Motion on the Order Paper. He has been courteous enough to say that he was not able to stay to the end of the debate because he has had trouble with his voice—which I seem to have, too. We all seem to have viruses, which is what the doctors call it when they do not really know what it is—
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
If it is a political virus, then, at any rate, it is on the right side and at the right time.
The Motion tabled by the right hon. Member seems to me to ignore the fact that peace moves, if they are ill-timed or ill-prepared, give the impression of a search for peace at any price, and if one is not prepared to pay the price one does not get the peace.
What gives everyone in this House concern is to consider whether the resumption of bombing will make peace more difficult of achievement. As the Prime Minister said this afternoon, during those 37 days every possible chance was given to Hanoi to give even the slightest hint that they wished to negotiate on reasonable terms. It is, surely, an old and sad delusion that evidence of peaceful intentions in oneself automatically begets peaceful intentions in others.
What has been the price of the 37-day pause? I think that the price is that the war will go on for much longer. It has been estimated, for instance, that at least nine North Vietnamese regiments, with their supplies, have been pouring into the south. Bridges and roads have been reconstructed. For the President of the United States to decide to bomb again is a lonely and a sombre decision, and for the United States to care so deeply, and to weigh such grave decisions before all the world, is indeed a mark of real freedom.
Some hon. Members have said that this decision will lead to escalation. As I understand it, and I hope that the Foreign Secretary can confirm this, there is in this particular phase of the bombing very much stricter control by the Americans than there was before the 37-day pause. I believe, and I hope that the 331 right hon. Gentleman can also confirm this, that there is no intention of bombing either Hanoi or Haiphong. After all, General Westmoreland himself has said that bombing is useful but not decisive, which was also the point made by the hon. Member for Ilkeston (Mr. Raymond Fletcher). Here we have a comparison with what happened in Korea. Many hon. Members will remember that, despite many differing and fiercely held views at that time, it was eventually decided not to bomb beyond the Yalu River into Manchuria.
I am sure that neither side can win. I am equally convinced that the Americans will never lose. In the end, therefore, there must be a settlement, but I do not believe that it can come quickly, particularly if, as one suspects, this conflict is causing more trouble to Russia than to China. The President has laid down 14 points for peace negotiation; Hanoi has laid down five. Americans, considering the latest fifth condition by Hanoi that they should recognise the Vietcong guerrillas as the sole representatives of South Vietnam, are bound to reject this. How could the United States repudiate their allies?
In any case one has to remember that in the 1954 and 1962 conferences the actual representation was agreed after the conferences were convened. After all, South Vietnam does not have to fight. They could quite quietly melt away. Nearly 1 million people did not have to go from north to south, just as the East Germans still brave the Berlin wall, unless they felt passionately that an alien Communist creed was not for them. As the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) said,—I hope I have his words correctly—if America goes home, the rest of Asia will tremble. There are, of course, all kinds of different peace moves. There is Pope Paul and his effort. I understand that Sweden and Finland have said that it is inopportune to join his peace mission now.
The United Nations to date has been powerless, because North Vietnam and China maintain that the United Nations has no jurisdiction. Some hon. Members have asked why we could not do more to encourage the recognition of China, but even if China were invited to sit at the United Nations we have no guarantee 332 that she would accept the invitation. She has constantly opposed the United Nations and threatened to establish a rival organisation. The Chinese Foreign Minister, Ch'en Yi, said at a Press conference in Peking in September:The United Nations has today become a place where two big Powers, the United States and Soviet Union, conduct political transactions. China need not take part in such a United Nations.If that is the case, maybe the Soviet Union will be able to take her continuing responsibility as co-Chairman at the Geneva Conference.
As he is to reply, I ask the Foreign Secretary what the Prime Minister thinks he will achieve in Moscow at this time in this direction in which the Foreign Secretary's visit to Moscow was, alas, hardly a striking success. We have to look beyond a settlement. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home), who said that in any settlement policing cannot be undertaken exclusively by neutrals in the future and that in any policing machinery there is and in any controlling commission it is certain that there will not be success unless the United States and China are part of the controlling machinery. I suggest that we cannot entirely compare the Vietnamese conflict with that which took place in Malaya. In the latter we had control of the administration, particularly in the landward areas.
I ask what is being done to build viable civilian administration in Vietnam, remembering that over 8,000 Vietnamese from the North defected to the South last year. They must be assured that that act of courage has due reward, because surely the crux of any peace is effective government. From Hawaii it is reported that President Johnson is considering increasing his already enormous aid programme. I understand that by June this year it is expected to reach the vast total of 500 million dollars. It is said that we give British aid in some form. I ask the Foreign Secretary in what form and what is the total we give in Vietnam? There will be immense continuing problems after any settlement in Vietnam. This, I suggest, is the only certainty in the situation today.
While on the subject of aid, I should say that we felt rather disappointed at 333 what the- Prime Minister said in connection with aid to India, because the £7½ million which he quoted was in fact only £1½ million, because £6 million had been already allocated. In view of the very strained relations between this country and India, to which reference was made, I should like to ask the Foreign Secretary whether it is not possible to give more. There was indeed a plea in this respect by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), who at the same time pointed out in a very practical way that it is very important that India and other countries should at the same time bring modern agricultural methods to their economy.
I suggest that in discussion of South and South-East Asia the House is at a serious disadvantage in not having knowledge of the Defence Review and its far-reaching implications for our foreign policy. We hear that the Prime Minister has discussed this in detail with President Johnson in the context of our joint worldwide obligations, but the House is not given more than an outline of what is afoot. One is bound to ask whether the defence bill is to be arbitrarily pegged at a certain level, with all that it means to our ability to honour commitments overseas already undertaken; or has the Prime Minister decided that we have certain obligations we cannot shirk and that therefore the end must will the means? How is the House to pass judgment on where we are going and why in South and South-East Asia while these facts are withheld? I submit that this is the time and place for the Government to define their policy east of Suez.
We have welcomed their support in Malaysia, their refusal to allow a vacuum of power in the Middle East, their diversion of V-bombers to the Far East, and their moral support to the American, Australian and New Zealand presence in Vietnam. But rumours spread, and it is widely believed that the Government are seriously considering reducing their commitments in South-East Asia. Yet the Secretary of State for Defence said in AustraliaWe have no intention of ratting on any of our existing commitments.Surely this is the moment in this debate for the Government to define clearly, 334 without equivocation, what they have in mind.
I believe also that the House had hoped to hear the Government's thinking on the prospect for an ultimate settlement in Malaysia after the changed circumstances in Indonesia, because quite a serious misunderstanding arose at the end of last year. Apparently the Foreign Secretary was reported to have told a Socialist discussion group in London that Britain was ready to consider with Indonesia ways in which the confrontation could be ended. This was attacked by the Malaysian Prime Minister, who said that it was Britain's duty to honour its defence agreement and that Malaysia would not accept any move to discuss terms of settlement unless they themselves authorised it. I hope, therefore, that the Foreign Secretary will confirm that there is no change here in British policy.
We very much welcomed the assurance of steady support in Malaysia, but the Secretary of State for Defence is reported as saying in Kuala Lumpur that Britain was determined to maintain her military presence east of Suez right up to 1970 and even beyond it. We all want political settlements but only if they will give the same security as is given by our presence. Until then we must honour our obligations, however onerous, and that is our justification for the moral support we give the United States, Australia and New Zealand in Vietnam; for if North Vietnam insists on open war and subversion against its neighbour, or if China seeks to extend her Communist empire, the free world has no choice but to put up a shield behind which the new and free nations of Asia can find their feet. It is as well to remind ourselves that the British presence in South-East Asia carried our share of the burden steadily since the Malayan emergency began in 1949, and, until two years ago, we had twice as many troops in South-East Asia as had the United States.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) when he asks what the Government's whole policy in South and South-East Asia is. At Kuala Lumpur, the Secretary of State for Defence said:There is no question of moving our bases from Singapore and Malaysia at present.But does he forecast a Spartan version of an east of Suez policy? Governments 335 of all hues have believed that Britain must take her share of peace-keeping in Asia, and the containment of China is a very different affair from the containment of Russia in Europe where it was possible to hold a continuous line. With China's art in planning subversion developed rather than military aggression, the Chinese influence would have to be contained as much in Dar-es-Salaam, Guatemala or Laos, and I agree, therefore, with the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) when he argues that we should work for a balance of power among the Asian countries themselves, backed, I would add, by Western military force and, not least, the nuclear deterrent.
The present Government consider, as have all Governments over the last quarter of a century, that the cornerstone of British foreign policy is close relations with the United States. It may be that the Prime Minister does not think so, as he carries on such long conversations so loudly all the time. But it is a fact that America, in a matter of months, has shifted to an enormous degree her immense military power from the Atlantic to the Pacific—
§ The Prime Minister
I am most interested in what the noble Lady is saying. I have been listening carefully to her speech, and I think that everyone feels that not only is it an agreeable speech, but we have had from her, incredible though it might have been thought at this hour, some fresh thoughts on the matter which we shall want to study. I assure the noble Lady that I have been listening to what she has said, and I think that she is making a big impression on the whole House. She must not think that we would not listen to her.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
I think that that is the best compliment I shall ever have from the Prime Minister.
I was saying that America has, in a matter of months, shifted to an enormous degree her immense military power from the Atlantic to the Pacific for the containment of Communism in South-East Asia, and, indeed, has far more powerful forces there than have been kept in Europe for a decade in the support of N.A.T.O. This has been followed by 336 American persuasion of Britain that British soldiers in South-East Asia are of greater importance to international stability even than in Europe and also that we could afford both.
I suggest that the need is for Britain to distinguish between, first, the forces which are needed to protect our special interests, and, second, those concerned with Asia as a whole. It is very important to remember that, whatever satisfactory financial arrangements have been made or may be made for Britain by the United States, our policy in South-East Asia is decided on its merits, for nothing would erode Anglo-American co-operation more in Asia than any design which made Britain appear as an agent of American policy.
Of course, the Indian Ocean—the "pond" as the aircraft pilots call it—still harbours great and special British interests. Of course, it may yet be years before the confrontation with Indonesia ends, and one does not know how long the tension between Malaysia and Singapore will last. Above all, there is the threat from the North not only to the Malaysian Archipelago but to Australia and New Zealand, whose defence has been a primary American responsibility for a decade and a half.
Australia is changing its character in a swift degree from a huge, undeveloped country to an industrial Power. Although she still has huge unsettled areas, it is reasonable to assume that, in future, Australia will take a larger share in the defence of South-East Asia. It is true that her defence budget and national income have risen to about the European N.A.T.O. average, but only 2 per cent. of her people are in uniform, compared with the N.A.T.O. average of 3.5 per cent. and more than 5 per cent. for the United States.
Above all, Australia is an Asian Power and her future will be determined by her relations with other Asian Powers. She lives in a most dangerous part of the world, a fact of which one is only too conscious when one is there. Increasingly, Australia's internal social and economic policies recognise this fact.
Surely, therefore, it is a British interest that, in South-East Asia, we should as a whole take our share in being a stabilising influence. For I submit that British power 337 and influence may be used to ensure that the change which sweeps the world so swiftly today is ordered change. This is the insurance for our security and from its burden we cannot contract out.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)
I think that everyone will agree that we have heard an interesting and important debate. If I may say so, the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition provided us with useful themes on which to conduct it—those of the economic problems of Asia, the various areas of conflict and the great overhanging question of China. I shall want to deal with those themes.
It appears to me, however, that at times the hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) did not rise to the high level of dignity achieved by the right hon. Gentleman, for this debate, treating of these gigantic problems that will affect us all our lives and the next generation, was to her, so she told us, fascinating because it might cause differences between some of my hon. Friends and myself.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
The Foreign Secretary has not been listening with his customary attention. I said that it was an issue of great public policy when there is a Motion on the Order Paper, signed by 35 hon. Members opposite, asking that British support of United States policy in Vietnam should end.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Lady certainly said all that. She also said—and I noted her words at the time—that she had found the debate particularly fascinating because of this difference. What I think is odd is that a debate in which there are so many grave issues is of particular fascination for her as a political advantage. [Interruption.] I shall have something to say about the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) later.
It may well be that the hon. Lady's intentions and real mind are not as unattractive as her words. We must hope of her as the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. John Harvey) hoped of the Chinese—that she will not live up to her worst protestations. But I gladly concede that much of her speech was important and interesting.
338 I want to take up the themes mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. The first was the economic theme—the question of the Kennedy Round, U.N.C.T.A.D. and aid. This is partly—and it is a measure of the unhappiness of the situation—a limited theme. It is certainly far less highly colourful than all the other things we could discuss. I mention it first because we want to get clear in our minds that our object must be to create, or help to create, in Asia conditions in which these economic problems can be effectively dealt with, as, unhappily, several of them cannot be at the present time.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Kennedy Round. In view of the developments which have recently occurred inside the European Economic Community, we can now look forward, as a month or so ago we could not so easily, to progress with the Kennedy Round and we may hope for a successful outcome in 1967. I know that it is attractive, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, to consider whether one could do something in advance specifically for developing countries, but the right hon. Gentleman himself knows some of the difficulties of that and that they are not difficulties of our making. I therefore believe that we should try first to see what agreement can be reached in the Kennedy Round as a whole and then if we can build on that special measures which may help the developing countries.
U.N.C.T.A.D. is a new organisation, of course, and, as new agencies are likely to do today—and this is a reflection of the politically disturbed state of the world—it ran through certain initial organisational difficulties. It is now coming through them. We are making progress with the supplementary financial agreement in which the right hon. Gentleman was particularly interested, and with our commodity agreement. The second annual conference of U.N.C.T.A.D. will be held early next year and we are now considering what would be the most useful form of a British contribution to the ideas and policies of that organisation.
I believe myself that, despite the initial difficulties which this organisation encountered, it can become one of the really important instruments for altering one of the great imbalances in the world, 339 between the poorer and the richer countries. In particular, unless we can do something about commodity prices, we run the risk of spending a great deal on aid and the advantage of it being swept away quite quickly by changes in the terms of trade.
It would take the debate beyond its scope and there would not be time to set out fully what is being done in terms of economic aid in Asian countries and the Prime Minister has already said a good deal about it. It must be understood that it will be extremely difficult for us or any of the countries which can afford to help to get the amount of economic aid to Asian countries up to anything which approaches meeting the need unless certain of the political conflicts can be resolved. Nations which are asked to give aid not unnaturally ask themselves whether the recipients will fight each other. There is great difficulty in getting a proper administration of aid if whole areas live in political uncertainty. We must, therefore, unhappily, but as a recognition of reality, pass from the first of the right hon. Gentleman's themes to the second, the areas of conflict which are now to be found in Southern and Eastern Asia.
Of these, I want to mention, first, the conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia. The hon. Lady was again trying to make a brick with too little straw when she tried to suggest that the Malaysian Government had been greatly alarmed at a report of certain remarks of mine. It will be within the recollection of the House that I have on several occasions made it quite clear that it is our plain duty to continue to help Malaysia and Singapore so long as they live under this threat. If it is necessary to repeat that I do so now.
We can notice, as a plain matter of fact, that the actual degree of fierceness of the confrontation, as it is called, has dropped very considerably in recent weeks. It is a not impossible forecast of the future that out of this situation—the mere fact that the scale of conflict has fallen—Indonesia may come to realise by practical experience that there are very solid advantages to be gained first in allowing this to continue at a low level and finally in bringing it to an end in name as well as in fact.
340 It is quite right to say, and no derogation of our clear duty to our Commonwealth friends, that if as a result of the process I have described any situation should appear in which this country can help to promote a settlement that will both bring peace, and recognise the rights of Malaysia and Singapore, we should not be backward in taking advantage of that opportunity.
This decline in the level of confrontation is at present due to the turmoil into which Indonesia has been thrown. We would very much rather that it were due to a change of will, rather than to a change of power, on its part. In the longer term there is no advantage to us or to anyone in having this populous and potentially very rich country in a state of turmoil and civil strife.
If the Indonesian Government would look for a moment at the contrast between how little it can achieve by continuing this confrontation and how much it could achieve if it wanted to cooperate with its neighbours peacefully, it would see what a profitable comparison there is. The right hon. Gentleman I think used the phrase, "The dead duck of Maphilindo."
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that it was one of his right hon. Friends who called something else a dead duck. The right hon. Gentleman may be making too hasty a judgment there.
There has been a recent pronouncement by the Foreign Minister of the Philippines that would seem to keep this idea alive. There is in existence the Association of South-East Asia. It is not for us to pronounce what form the association of these nations should take, or what nations should be members of it. That is essentially something for them to decide. If, with the free will of all the nations concerned, any sort of association can be formed, of which Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and others are members, it should surely be apparent to Indonesia that it is better to play a distinguished and influential part in such an organisation.
There really is a startlingly clear choice for Indonesia. It is between pursuing a quite barren path of military adventure, 341 which cannot succeed and can bring her no advantage, and pursuing a policy of co-operation with her neighbours from which she has a great deal to gain. This choice, in different forms, keeps on recurring over the Asian continent.
I turn to the most serious of all the areas of conflict—Vietnam. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister emphasised the horror of this war and the dangers which it may contain for mankind. I think that it is now universally accepted that all of us, in all quarters of the House, are fully and acutely aware how horrible this struggle is and how desperate is the need to search for a peaceful solution. Because the situation is so horrible and so potentially dangerous, it seems to me that all of us, at every moment of time, while we may have to take decisions and express judgments, must always keep open in some part of the mind a willingness to listen and to learn from any other points of view that may be put forward.
I have endeavoured to do that throughout the debate. In particular, I listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker). We all know why he is not able to be with us at this moment. I could not accept without qualification the historical account of the proceedings in Vietnam which he gave. I think that it is true to say that every particular fact which he quoted could be authenticated and documented. In the same way, when the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. John Harvey) gave his picture of China, I am sure that every quotation which he made was authentic. But I do not believe that the total picture which he painted at the end was balanced and, therefore, his speech was misleading.
Similarly, I do not think that my right hon. Friend's historical presentation could be accepted without serious qualifications. But he drew some conclusions to which we must pay attention. We must realise that there is profound distrust on the side of North Vietnam. In view of the horror of the war, I do not say that this is justification for their obstinancy—it is one explanation of it—but we must notice that there is a great deal of distrust in South Vietnam of what might come if they were led into negotiations and not given proper support. If we accept the point for one side, we 342 must accept it for the other, because one of the significant facts is not only the bitterness of this war but the fearful tenacity with which it is being fought by all the parties engaged in it—South Vietnamese as well as Vietcong as well as United States troops.
But if we admit that both sides have reason to distrust each other, surely it is at the negotiating table that they should seek the safeguards against what they fear. The more their distrust, the more important it is for them to try to hammer out the kind of settlement on which, this time, they will feel they can place full reliance: for one thing is certain, that if the North Vietnamese are saying, "We will not negotiate because in negotiation we should never get certain points we regard as essential", they should consider, also, that they certainly will not get anything that they regard as essential by continuing the fighting. From that they can get only increased suffering and further postponement of the settlement which, in the end, perhaps, by exhausted men and discredited Governments, will have to be made.
Is there anything that one can do to remove the distrust? My right hon. Friend suggested two things, both of which are very familiar. First, he argued that if the bombing was stopped, presumably if there were another cessation of the bombing, that would help to remove the distrust.
One must base one's judgment on that in the light of the bombing pause that has actually occurred. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister dealt with it very fully, and I do not think that I need attempt to recapitulate the whole argument. It seems to me that the absolutely essential points are these. The cessation of the bombing by the Americans was of serious military significance to them. Although that has been argued, I have been into this very carefully and there is no doubt that they imposed on themselves a serious military handicap when they took that decision.
Next, it was a prolonged pause. It gave a good deal of time for the other side to reflect.
Third, the time during the pause was not wasted either by ourselves or by the United States who, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister pointed out, 343 explored a great many avenues in order to try to get a favourable response, and the reply was unmistakably an unfavourable one.
We had urged on the United States the great importance of negotiating and showing before the world their willingness to make peace and the importance of underlining that by having a truce on the ground and the bombing pause. Then one had to face the plain fact that they had got a reply that was even worse than before the bombing pause began, and I do not think that one could say other than that they were justified in deciding that they could no longer impose that serious handicap upon themselves when the other side had not made use of what had been a very precious opportunity.
The other thing that my right hon. Friend thought might help to remove distrust was a statement about the negotiating position of the National Liberation Front. I would emphasise again what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. Suppose we got clearly and unmistakably from Hanoi the proposition not in the negative form, "We will not negotiate while you bomb and we will not negotiate while you do not promise to recognise the Liberation Front", but in the positive form, "Stop the bombing and agree to recognise the National Liberation Front at the negotiating table, and we will come". Unhappily, there have been a great many reports from time to time that Hanoi would do this and Hanoi would do that, which Hanoi itself has not been prepared to substantiate. But if Hanoi itself said that, in my judgment, it would be right to say, "Very well. Then let us come to the conference table." But I think it is true that the United States could be expected reasonably to ask for some kind of cessation of military activity on the part of its enemies if they were to make that important concession.
At the moment, unhappily, these questions are hypothetical. They only become real when a voice comes from Hanoi saying plainly, "If you do this, we will come to the negotiating table."
I have said and I must say again that a very great and terrible responsibility rests on those in Hanoi who have taken this attitude. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South, passed the same judgment. They have chosen to go 344 on with the conflict in which, as we are all agreed, there cannot be victory.
I do not think that anyone in this debate has suggested that the matter can be settled by a complete abandonment of the whole issue by the United States. In the face of that, we have to ask ourselves, in what framework could it be settled? It could be settled through the framework of the Geneva conference. It could be settled, as His Holiness the Pope recently suggested, by mutual arbitrators or mediators, and we are very ready to welcome that proposal if arbitrators or mediators can be found. I notice that in the resolution which the United States put forward on this matter for discussion at the United Nations the same proposal is made, and our delegate is instructed to give it our support.
It might be solved in other ways, and here I must take issue with some hon. Gentlemen opposite for the readiness with which they have criticised every move which has been made by Her Majesty's Government to make peace. I am referring particularly to the hon. Member for Blackpool, South.
§ Mr. Blaker
I think that the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood what I said. I congratulated him personally on his current patient behind-the-scenes efforts to make peace, and I congratulated him also on dissuading the Prime Minister from indulging at present in the sort of superficial and unsuccessful gimmicks which he went in for last year.
§ Mr. Stewart
I heard the words "superficial", "meretricious", and so on, and I got the impression that the hon. Gentleman was criticising the Government. He has now added a suggestion that there is some difference in these matters between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself. The hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is a pure invention, and perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman of one other ineptitude of his in this matter. At the time of the visit of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance to Hanoi, the hon. Gentleman and one of his colleagues wrote to The Times suggesting, among other things, that this would not be welcome to the United States Government. I daresay that that was the best guess that he 345 could make at the time, but he was quite wrong. He was quite misinformed, and the President of the United States made that very clear shortly afterwards. I really think that with that kind of record the hon. Gentleman should not pose as somebody who is entitled to lecture us on the right and wrong ways of conducting business.
The matter is, of course, more serious than that. It is not only the question of the framework and the method. It is the substance of a settlement. I believe that the substance must have as its basis the Geneva agreements, and the purpose of the proposals which I made earlier for conference, cease-fire, guaranteed neutrality, and rehabilitation, so that free elections could take place and the will of the people could really be expressed, was to lay the basic conditions on which the Geneva Agreements could in fact be fulfilled, because at the moment it is not much good talking about free elections in either North or South. We have to get the conflict stopped, and the country repaired.
I was asked about the part that we are playing. I cannot give the hon. Lady a figure, but our work takes a good many forms—teachers, technical assistants, engineers, police advisors, and so on—and I regard this—and so do the United States and the South Vietnamese Government—as an important and proper part for us to play. The nearer we get to a settlement, I hope the more we shall be able to do in this field, and if the United Nations rehabilitation which President Johnson proposed can ever be got going, we shall make a substantial contribution to that.
I turn now to the other area of conflict to which I want to refer for only a moment, that between Indian and Pakistan, where the conference at Tashkent played so important a part. We have had two examples in India, the Rann of Kutch and the Kashmir dispute, where it has been possible to get the hostilities stopped, and the important moral to be drawn from these events is, first, that it is possible to halt conflict even when the two sides still retain some distrust of each other and great differences of views as to how the matter of substance between them should be solved.
346 Secondly, it emphasises that it is possible for a United Nations initiative to be effective, for the conference at Tashkent was in fulfilment of a United Nations decision. Thirdly, the moral to be drawn from it is that there can be important fields in which this country and the Soviet Union have common interests, as we have a common interest in the peace of Asia. That is why I do not think that my visit to Moscow was quite as useless as the hon. Lady supposed—and certainly my Soviet hosts did not think so. One thing that we were able to arrange there was that there should be a process of continuing dialogue between our two countries, of which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's forthcoming visits will be an important part.
Finally, overhanging the whole discussion has been the attempt to make an assessment of future relations between China and the rest of mankind. Answering Questions yesterday, I said that I thought that to speak of containing China was an inadequate approach to a very large problem. It is true that if China attacks her neighbours, as she has done in the past—if, by actions or words, she leads an increasing number of her neighbours to think that they must live in dread of her—she is bound to find that increasingly they will take common counsel for their defence.
But that is not an inevitable development. Side by side with any consideration one gives to that side of the matter one must try to combine it with efforts to bring China into the comity of nations. I dare say that a stern and rigid Marxist hearing that would say that this was exactly the kind of bourgeois sentimentality that might be expected from a Western statesman. But there have been times in history when the advocates of forceful and violent doctrines have had their way and have failed to solve the problems, and when the patient and laborious approach of trying to do things by reason and argument has been justified in the end—and so it may be here.
What I said about Indonesia's having a choice between fruitless conflict and the possibility of fruitful co-operation applies in even greater measure to the Chinese People's Republic. Recently, I asked someone whose opinion I respect, and who had been in China under the present Government for some time, what 347 the ordinary Chinese peasant living in the far interior of China thought about his Government. His answer was, "He feels that for the first time in centuries there is a Government in China that is interested in his welfare." I believe that to be an important fact.
But, as we all know, it is possible for Governments to be far-sighted and constructive at home and aggressive abroad. Scottish Members will immediately think of England. There have been other cases in history where what could have been a successful and constructive revolution at home has been wrecked because those in charge of it engaged, perhaps out of fear, in unnecessary adventures abroad. I trust that that will not happen here.
We are now looking long ahead, but if the West, with China's neighbours, can show that they are prepared to defend themselves, but are also anxious for peaceful relations—if we can all go on steadily making that clear for long enough—I would not despair of a willingness by this great country, in the end, to come into the comity of nations, and when it does many of the problems that we have discussed today will be far easier of solution.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Lord Commissioner of the Treasury)
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.