HC Deb 28 February 1966 vol 725 cc870-3
2. Lord Balniel

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement about the representations which were made by Her Majesty's Government to the North Vietnamese in Hanoi during the time when bombing was suspended by the United States Government.

57. Mr. Heffer

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what assurance he gave to the Government of North Vietnam, in the course of the representations made by Her Majesty's Government in Hanoi during the pause in the United States bombing of North Vietnam, as to the basis of the negotiations at the proposed peace conference, and as to the parties to be invited to that conference.

Mr. M. Stewart

During the recent bombing pause Her Majesty's Consul-General in Hanoi informed the North Vietnamese of my belief that the situation seemed especially favourable for initiating negotiations and offered to transmit any message or proposals. He drew attention to the United States' fourteen points which reaffirm their readiness for unconditional discussions. Neither then nor at any stage were Her Majesty's Government concerned with giving or demanding assurances on specific points from either side but rather with encouraging the promotion of negotiations.

Lord Balniel

While thanking the Foreign Secretary for that answer, may I ask him to explain the constant references by the Prime Minister to the difficulty of getting a line through to Hanoi, as it appears that our Consul-General in Hanoi, from the recent Government statement, can pass on political communications to the Hanoi Administration? It would also appear that a similar line of communication exists through the Hanoi Chargé d'Affaires in Moscow.

Mr. Stewart

It is certainly possible to get messages through. I think that what my right hon. Friend had in mind was the difficulty of getting any reply.

Mr. Heffer

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration the position which has developed in the United States, where, for example, Senator Kennedy and others have clearly indicated that their opinion is that the National Liberation Front ought not only to be there—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is getting wide of the Question on the Order Paper.

Mr. Heffer rose

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman may have another try, if he wishes.

Mr. Heffer

It was certainly not wide of my question, if I might say so, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I would ask whether, in view of the position to which I referred, the Foreign Secretary is prepared to support the type of representation and suggestion that is being made.

Mr. Stewart

I think that the proper thing for us to support is the desirability of getting a conference. We have continually done that, and shall continue to do so.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was right.

4. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the efforts being made by Her Majesty's Government to secure a solution to the Vietnam problem.

59. Mr. Royle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the Minister of State's discussions with the North Vietnamese representatives in Moscow.

Mr. M. Stewart

My noble Friend the Minister of State for Disarmament had a four-hour discussion with the North Vietnamese Charge d'Affaires in Moscow on 23rd February. During this he asked on behalf of the Prime Minister for clarification of certain points in President Ho Chi Minh's message of 24th January to Her Majesty The Queen. The object was to establish whether the North Vietnamese Government really wished their position to be interpreted in such a way as to exclude the possibility of reasonable negotiations. My noble Friend made clear the Prime Minister's conviction that negotiations are urgent and essential for peace and asked whether the North Vietnamese Government would wish the Prime Minister to make any communication to the United States on their behalf.

The North Vietnamese Chargé d'Affaires gave a lengthy and repetitive description of his Government's attitude without revealing any new point, but undertook to transmit the Prime Minister's inquiries to Hanoi.

Mr. Blaker

If it was possible for Lord Chalfont to have a four-hour discussion with the North Vietnam Chargé d'Affaires in Moscow, is it not a fact that it has always been possible to use that channel? Why, therefore, was not the British Ambassador in Moscow instructed to use it months ago?

Mr. Stewart

This is only one of many exchanges that we have had by one channel or another with the Government of North Vietnam.

Mr. Royle

Did Lord Chalfont achieve anything by his meeting in Moscow? Was it not put on purely to provide some sort of propaganda victory for the Prime Minister's visit to Moscow?

Mr. Stewart

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that when there was this opportunity we should not have used it, I cannot agree with him.

Mr. Soames

Surely the right hon. Gentleman appreciates that this is not the point? Will he tell us whether or not progress was made by the Prime Minister either on this or any other outstanding problem as a result of his visit to Moscow? In fact, the answer is "no". Is not this exactly what the right hon. Gentleman expected?

Mr. Stewart

It is true that we have not yet received the essential answer from Hanoi that is necessary to get negotiations going, although I do not share the right hon. Gentleman's pleasure at that fact. We know from past experience that it is extremely difficult to get the right answer from Hanoi. What I cannot accept is that for that reason it is wrong to try.

Mr. Mendelson

Will my right hon. Friend accept that there is widespread support in the country for he Prime Minister's efforts in his visit to Moscow to get a better understanding with the Soviet Government on the problems of nuclear proliferation and the other decisive issues facing all European countries, and that every effort, whether it succeeds immediately or not, to achieve peace in Vietnam will receive our full support?

Mr. Stewart

I am sure that that is so and that my hon. Friend's view is widely held. There are a number of matters on which it is difficult for the Soviet Government and ourselves to reach agreement, and because of that reasonably frequent discussions on all matters are useful.