§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)
I beg to move,That this House fully supports the three proposals put forward by U Thant for an approach to a peaceful settlement of the war in Vietnam, and his insistence in his statement on 10th April, 1967, that the cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam is the first preliminary requisite which alone can create the conditions for meaningful negotiations; and urges Her Majesty's Government to express public support for U Thant's policy and to support his position by making representations in Washington to this effect.It is my good fortune, as a result of the Private Members' Ballot, to have the opportunity of moving this Motion today. It is also the opportunity for many of us to express a collective view about the situation in Vietnam. It is purely fortuitous that our debate has taken place in the same week as the Washington meeting of S.E.A.T.O., and in the same week that Paul Martin of Canada has put to the world his proposals for attempting to secure discussions in an effort to bring the Vietnam conflict to an end.
The debate also occurs in a week when U Thant, passing through London, has made some very important comments. Quoting very briefly from a long statement, made by him in London yesterday, he said:I'm afraid it's going to be a very long war. If the present trend continues, there is increasing prospect of direct involvement by some of the countries not yet involved. I am convinced if there was a cessation of bombing—even for a few weeks—after the cessation there would be talks. So far, however, the Americans have not agreed to this.It is our purpose in the debate to support the proposals made by U Thant, and to support him in his belief that, if there was a cessation of bombing in Vietnam, it might be possible to find a way of bringing the war to an end. I believe that U Thant's experience is right on this occasion.
Those who are backing this Motion have received many hundreds of messages from all over the country, giving support for it. There have been messages of support from the United Nations Association, which was in conference in Manchester last week, and which passed a similar motion. This has been followed by messages from trade union branches 949 and constituency Labour parties throughout the country, expressing this point of view and hoping that the Government will be able to make the kind of representations in Washington that we have outlined. It is certainly a very grave and crucial time. U Thant has underlined the possibility of escalation. Therefore, we hope that in the debate we can make constructive proposals to our Government.
The basis of the Motion is the three proposals of U Thant. The first deals with the cessation of bombing as a preliminary requisite for any negotiations. The second concerns the scaling down of military activities by both sides. His third point is that there should be discussions between all those involved to secure a basis for negotiations—in other words, preliminary negotiations. But he has laid emphasis on the fact that all the people involved in the war in Vietnam should be consulted and included in those preliminary discussions leading possibly to serious negotiations.
Speaking personally—I cannot speak for anyone else—I do not doubt the sincerity of our Government in trying to bring the war to an end. They have made many efforts over the last two and a half years, and they are sincere in what they are trying to do. I do not try to belittle any of the efforts which they have made during that period. Our purpose today is not to analyse and belittle their efforts but to strengthen the situation by putting our point of view to the Government in support of U Thant and the work which he has undertaken during the last few years.
Our difference with the Government concerns priorities. They have said that they do not disagree with U Thant's proposals. What they say they disagree with is the order of priorities in which U Thant has put forward his three proposals. The first question is: why is the cessation of bombing a preliminary requisite? Why is the majority of people throughout the world arguing that this should he the first move? There are many reasons for this. Possibly the most important is the political reason. I will come to that in a moment.
From the Vietnamese point of view, the bombing of Vietnam is a non-reciprocal activity. The Vietnamese see 950 the cessation of bombing as the preliminary requisite to their becoming involved in negotiations. They also look on the United States troops as foreign invaders of their country. They regard the situation as an internal conflict to be settled by themselves. Therefore, they look upon foreign troops in Vietnam as outsiders and associate the bombing of their country with them. Thirdly, Ho Chi Minh has often said that it is impossible to start meaningful discussions while this duress continues.
The second question which is often asked is: why should Britain support this view? Why should Britain also argue that the cessation of the bombing is the preliminary requisite? Apart from being world citizens, and, therefore, having a very keen interest in the outcome of the conflict, the fact that we are co-chairman with the Russians of the Geneva Conference directly involves us and makes it all the more important that we support the priorities outlined by U Thant. The Soviet Union has already agreed, and has told the world that it sees this as the preliminary need. Therefore, if we are arguing that there should be a joint approach by the co-chairmen to Washington, it is important that the British Government should come to the same conclusion as U Thant so that the co-chairmen, side by side, can present to Washington this view of how the war in Vietnam can be brought to an end.
A further question which is asked is: would North Vietnam respond to a cessation of the bombing? In recent months we have listened time and again to the statements of Vietnamese politicians that they would consider negotiations and come to the table once the Americans had ceased bombing their country.
A fourth question is: why will not the Americans agree? We have often listened to the argument, certainly during and after the period of the New Year truce, that whenever the bombing has stopped in the past the Vietnamese have taken advantage of the truce and have continued the movement of troops and supplies into areas not previously occupied by them. What is the evidence for this? I have looked at a lot of aerial photographs. I have looked at evidence circulated in America. I have looked at some of the evidence to which our own Government 951 have referred. None of it is really convincing. How do we know that the troops were not there previously? American intelligence has accepted that it was not aware of Vietnamese troop movements, anyway. How does it know that these movements have taken place? There is nothing convincing about this. The Vietnamese deny that they have used truce periods to take advantage of American troops.
I think that the Americans have been searching for reasons to continue the bombing. It is important that we should understand the sort of things which are being said in Washington and the division of political opinion there about what is happening. We should appreciate the attitudes and arguments of the "doves" and the "hawks" in America. Throughout the United States there are battalions of citizens pleading with their Government to take the initiative and to stop the bombing. In this sense, there is a transatlantic alliance between this House and those Americans who have courageously said to their Government, "For God's sake, bring this bloody war to an end". These people are the "doves".
There are some people in the middle of the road. There are the Paul Martins in Canada who have been joined by many Americans in putting forward initiatives this week and urging that troops on both sides should withdraw 10 miles from the frontier between north and south. But they come up against the stumbling block to all initiatives in the past, namely, that until there is a cessation of the bombing these other proposals must remain secondary. None the less, there is great sincerity among members of this half-way house of American opinion who would like to bring the conflict to an end.
On the other hand, there is the tremendous influence in America of the "hawks"—the people who are really involved in the war and wish to see it continued. We must agree that they seem to be in the ascendancy. They seem to be pressing the United States President still further to the right, urging him to continue the war, because they believe that they can win, that they can bomb the Vietnamese people into submission. After about 20 years total war, including 12 years of military participation by the 952 Americans, the Vietnamese show no more sign of being bombed into submission now than they showed 20 years ago in their conflict with the French. This underlines U Thant's understanding of the situation—that the war can only deteriorate as long as it continues.
The "hawks" in America believe that the purpose of continuing the bombing and the war is to make it much more difficult for the Soviet Union in its relations with China. The cold war strategy adopted throughout the post-war years, starting in Formosa, Korea and now Vietnam, and the campaign to keep China out of the United Nations are part of the same pattern. The logic of that argument and that strategy is to continue the war for as long as the Americans can maintain it, because these people believe that the longer the war goes on, the separation between the Soviet Union and China will become increasingly wider.
The question which we must answer this morning—and I hope that the Government can be really clear—is, does Britain support the Americans in Vietnam? I do not believe that we do. I do not believe that we accept the strategy of the cold war. I do not believe, as many Americans have said, that there is room in the world for permissive wars within an umbrella of nuclear weapons. I do not believe that our Government accept that as part of their policy. The Government have a responsibility today to clear up the many misunderstandings which have been created by their own spokesmen in recent weeks.
I have seen a lot of conflicting and confused statements which have been issued from Washington this week made by our Foreign Secretary. We are very unhappy with this situation. I do not believe that he has said many of the things with which he has been credited and many of the things which were included in the Reuter messages from Washington. I do not believe that he was saying that we fully support the Americans in Vietnam and that we intend to stay in Asia for a long time to come. I do not believe that. It is the responsibility of the Government today to clear up these misunderstandings.
I also do not believe Hubert Humphrey when he appeared on American television on Tuesday of this week, when he said that Mr. Wilson, the 953 British Prime Minister, was a very strong, staunch supporter of the American rôle in Vietnam. That is a misunderstanding by Hubert Humphrey of the situation in this country. Again, therefore, there should be some clarification of the position.
The world has been saddened and horrified by the escalation that has taken place in recent months. The war has been going on for 12 years. It is a war in which the Americans say that they can stop the spread of Communism throughout the world if they are able to bring this war, from an American point of view, to a successful conclusion. They say that it would be disastrous for the world if the Vietnamese were able to establish a Communist Government in their own country. Therefore, the Americans say that they are bound to bring it to an end. The Americans are spending a lot of money, something like £10 a week on every man, woman and child in Vietnam. There are 16 million men, women and children in Vietnam, and the American Government are spending something like £10 per week on each of them.
I have heard some cynical comments that if the Americans wanted to get really involved in the Vietnamese political struggle, they could send a pension of something like £10 a week to every Vietnamese man, woman and child. This would be cheaper in the end for the Americans and, possibly, would carry a great deal more conviction. Despite that, however, the Americans are continuing to pour in money at this enormous scale because they believe that the cold war and the struggle in the world is far more important.
A message should go from this House to U Thant not to be discouraged by the rebuff which he has had from the Americans and letting him know that there are many millions of men, women and children throughout the world who support his efforts to bring this war to an end. Therefore, our message this morning in moving our Motion is to U Thant to do all he can, to do what he can, to encourage the Americans to look again at the priorities which they have set, to do what he can to encourage the British Government and the Russians, as co-Chairmen of the Geneva Conference, to march side by side and to put to Washington the views of the citizens through- 954 out the world that now is the time to stop the bombing and get to the conference table.
§ 11.25 a.m.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am very glad to follow the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) but I cannot take the same view. What we on this side of the House find strange is the serried ranks of people on the benches opposite. I would not be distorting their view of politics if I said that they are very far to the left of centre of the Labour Party. [HON. MEMBERS "Get on with it."] I see that my point has gone home. [Interruption.]
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
We are discussing a very serious matter—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—but it should be understood by people outside this House where the pressure is coming from within the Government party. I do not think that anyone who was fair and objective would deny that the pressure was coming from the serried ranks of the Left wing of the Labour Party. The heartfelt cheers which greeted that remark merely underline the point that I was trying to make.
I find it rather sad that on the Government Front Bench we should only have had until this very moment, when the Leader of the House has just joined us, an Under-Secretary of State to counterattack against the view which has been put by the mover of the Motion.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I only intervene because I have recently returned from the Anglo-American Parliamentary conference in Bermuda and because of what I learned there. I went on to Washington and to New York and had discussions. I know from what I learned in those places just how deeply worried the American people are about this great struggle which they are undertaking.
The American people have been brought up on an anti-colonialist view of history. We take a different attitude 955 in this country, but that is the way their history books are written. They have now found themselves fighting a war which is not all that dissimilar to a colonial war. This is one of the problems which besets them and tries them emotionally.
Secondly, the war is costing them a great deal of blood. The call-up—the draft—is hanging over many families in the United States. The Americans have deployed 432,000 troops in Vietnam. That is a lot of people. When one compares it with the total population of the United States, it is not really a gargantuan effort.
I tried to point out to the Americans that we in our turn had deployed 50,000 people in Malaya for 10 years and that in the end we won the struggle to suppress Communism in that country and produced a healthy, democratic government as a result of our efforts. The French in another sphere, in North Africa, deployed 500,000 troops for something like 10 years. Comparing their population with the vast population of the United States, the effort of the French was immeasurably greater. The Americans' is a big effort, but compared with other conflicts and anti-subversive wars which have taken place since the Second World War, it is not gargantuan.
The effort that America is making is, however, trying the American people emotionally. Anyone who goes to America knows just how deeply they are worried about it. They have now lost something like 8,600 people killed. That, again, is a problem in many villages and towns all over the United States and causes great sorrow. As to finance, this is costing them 150 million dollars a day. Therefore, again, they would like to bring this to an end.
I am quite convinced that they are desperately anxious to see peace talks started, if they can see those talks likely to be brought to a successful conclusion, if they can see that they will be more successful than the Panmunjom talks were, which were started after the North-South Korean conflict. I think this is worth reflecting on. They are worried about the conditions for starting talks. It is worth reminding the House that after they sat round the peace table at Panmunjom they lost no fewer than 65,000 of 956 their forces killed after those talks had started. It was obvious in the early stages of those talks that there was no intention on the part of the Communists to stop fightng. They were just a gimmick which inhibited the United Nations forces under American leadership did not in any way inhibit the behaviour of the Communist forces in North Korea.
I sought to remind the Americans that now they were the top nation the peace of the world was their responsibility today and that they should now do something which we did for several hundreds of years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes: something we tried to do—to give stability to the world, to see that international trade flowed freely, and tried to rid—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We listened to one opinion in silence. Those who hold that opinion ought to show the same courtesy in listening to an opposite opinion.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I am glad you intervened, Mr. Speaker, because I would have sought to turn aside somewhat, for I had not realised that there were still in this House people not prepared to admit that there was a period in which Britain, with her colonial policy, had undertaken that task, and when we look at what is now happening in many of those countries and look back upon their histories, surely people will acknowledge that our administration was enlightened, and led many, many millions of people to self government and to a measure—unfortunately an imperfect measure—of democratic rule very much better than exists in the Communist part of the world.
I also wonder whether some of the arguments which the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) put in his speech are really valid, the idea that we must press for the cessation of bombing. We are a little vulnerable; particularly the Left wing of the Labour Party is vulnerable, because they have not pressed Nasser to cease the bombing of the Yemen. If during the past six years there had been an equally vociferous outburst against that, for humanitarian if for no other reasons, then perhaps we could ask, and would be better placed to ask, the Americans to stop the bombing of North Vietnam, but that has not been so.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
Does the hon. Member not realise that if his party had heeded the protests made by us on this side, had not objected to Egypt and pressed Nasser, his position might be more reasonable?
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
It was an operation which lasted, I think it was, from six to ten days. I am talking of operations which Nasser has been conducting in the Yemen for six years, with bombing operations and the deployment of 50,000 troops in someone else's country. There has not been from the party opposite the vociferous attitude during this period about that that there has been about Vietnam. I think if there had been they would have been more closely listened to, if they had shown the same approach to Nasser as they now take towards the United States.
But the second argument of the hon. Member for Tottenham was that we ought to press for the cessation of bombing because we are co-chairman and Russia is the other co-chairman. That does not seem to have inhibited Russia from providing massive supplies of arms to North Vietnam—gargantuan supplies of arms.
I was interested to see that on the last day of Mr. Kosygin's visit here a newspaper report appeared about the Russian consulate staffs in China being chivvied, and there was issued from Moscow a warning that if they were to be chivvied in this manner and life made more difficult despite their diplomatic status Russia would stop the supply of arms to North Vietnam. This was an open admission that arms were going to North Vietnam. So I am not persuaded that this is a valid reason why we as co-chairman must coerce our friends and allies to stop the bombing.
Like the hon. Member, I have looked at some evidence, and I have got evidence that during the two trial periods of the cessation of bombing opportunity was taken to reinforce regular divisions of the North Vietnamese army which are now invading the South, and opportunity was taken to supply arms along the 958 various trails and routes from North to South.
No, I look on this as a Left-wing movement of the Labour Party, and I am much surprised that they have forgotten their history so quickly. It was so much the Left-wing of this Labour Party which in the 'thirties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—accused us of being appeasers—
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
Even if we were appeasers they still stand to be accused today as the people who ask the Americans to appease the Communists. Any appeasement, we learned—we learnt the hard way—does not pay against Communist or other dictatorships. Why should we try to coerce the Americans into appeasing Communist expansion in that part of the world? To my mind—and I hope that this will be the view put forward by the Government today—the Americans are trying to contain Communism east of Suez as we sought to do very successfully with our confrontation to Indonesia. We gave time for the Communist element in Indonesia to be unseated, and for rethinking in that part of the world. This was achieved only because we confronted them with a successful deployment of our troops.
§ Sir Ian Orr-Ewing
I think I had better not.
We tried to make our contribution to peace and stability in that part of the world. We tried in the Persian Gulf. Now the Americans are very gallantly doing so in Vietnam. They have got help from Australia; not much help, but I must tell the House how deeply grateful the Americans are for that contribution. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I hope that the Government will put up a robust and vigorous counter-argument to that put forward from below the Gangway on the Government side, and say that we understand what America is trying to do; we understand, as well, how desperately anxious the Americans are to get a settlement, and a settlement which will stick, and that they have all our sympathy and our moral support in the stand they are taking against the spread of Communism.
§ 11.39 a.m.
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker (Derby, South)
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) for having given us this debate, but I must also say that I regret that the debate has been so long delayed and that there have not been earlier debates in Government time.
The Vietnam war is the most important fact in international affairs. It is acting powerfully to disintegrate the whole system of international institutions and international law which was the fruit of two world wars. Over the last few months, there have been many developments which this House should have discussed and which in earlier times that I remember it would most certainly have debated. Democratic government is menaced when Parliament is not allowed to do its duty on the major issues.
I begin by declaring my absolute conviction that both sides in the war believe that they are fighting for a just and noble cause. The N.L.F., Communists and non-Communists alike, the whole people of North Vietnam believe ardently that they are defending their national independence against a new attempt by white invaders to impose Colonial rule. No less, the U.S. soldiers, and their President, believe that they are repelling an unprovoked aggression against the peaceful state of South Vietnam. The U.S. soldiers give their lives, as they believe, to uphold the rule of law in world affairs. But it is our duty, with our interest in peace, with our interests in Asia, and with open eyes, to ask two questions. How did the war begin? What are the legal rights and wrongs?
How did the war begin? It was not, as the S.E.A.T.O. Council yesterday asserted, by the unprovoked attack by one sovereign state, North Vietnam, on another sovereign state, South Vietnam. The whole S.E.A.T.O. theory, against which I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary protested, rests on distortions of what actually took place.
The Geneva Agreements of 1954 did not set up two separate states. They set up two provisional administrations with a provisional dividing line, the seventeenth parallel; and with elaborate clauses which promised free elections under international control, and union of 960 the North and South, whenever the two resulting Governments so desired.
It has always been nonsense to pretend that there were two separate nations in Vietnam. Air Vice-Marshal Ky is from the North. Pham Van Dong, the Prime Minister of the North, comes from the South. Last autumn, Ky caused a Cabinet crisis by trying to pack his Ministry with his Northern friends. The truth is that the Vietnamese are one nation, with the same language, the same religions, and a national history of which they are intensely proud. The basic falsehood on which the policy of U.S. intervention has been built is to treat them as two nations, when in reality they are one.
It was not the Hanoi administration which started up the war. It was the infamous Diem, chosen by the C.I.A. and supported by them for nine disastrous years. Within a few months of taking power, Diem declared that he would hold no elections and grant no amnesty to the patriots of the Vietminh who had fought against the French. When the International Commission of Control reported that he was thus destroying the whole system which it had been appointed to uphold, Diem set on the mob in Saigon to burn down the hotel in which its members stayed.
Then he set about oppressing everyone who held opinions different from his own. He broke up the village councils in which the peasants of the country had a basic democracy in the local affairs which mattered to them most. He appointed new village headmen from Saigon, loyal to himself, but often cruel and oppressive to the people whom they ruled. When we talk about atrocities by the Vietcong, that is a basic fact which we ought always to recall. He started a large-scale persecution of all supporters of the Vietminh. By his concentration camps, his tortures and his shootings, he drove those people, Communists and non-Communists alike, to take up arms in self-defence.
Mr. Arthur Schlesinger, who had 1,000 days in the White House with President Kennedy, says that, at first, the official Communists held back, as they did in Cuba. The resistance movement was well-established and well armed with American weapons before the Government of Hanoi, in 1960, began to help. 961 That is the true story of how the war began, and it destroys the doctrine, as Mr. Schlesinger shows, that it was Hanoi which committed unprovoked aggression against a peaceful neighbouring sovereign state.
What are the legal rights and wrongs? Eminent U.S. lawyers are constantly declaring that their Government's intervention in the Vietnam civil war, without reference to, and without endorsement by, the United Nations, is a flagrant violation of the Charter.
Dr. Ben Cohen was one of the most influential of President Truman's delegates to the United Nations. He was Oliver Wendell Holmes Professor of Law at Harvard. He says that, if we accept the view that a Government may intervene in a civil war at the invitation of either side, without the sanction of the United Nations, then we aretearing the very heart out of the Charter.As I have shown already, the whole war stems from the violation of Treaty obligations, from Diem's flagrant violation of the Geneva Agreements of 1954. President Johnson and Mr. Rusk sometimes say that they were compelled by their S.E.A.T.O. obligations to intervene. But if they were to look at the Treaty, they would see that, by Articles 1, 4 and 6, the S.E.A.T.O. Pact specifically and categorically forbids what the United States have done.
Every day that the war continues, the whole concept of world order based on law is progressively undermined. And, alas, the long sequence of tragedies is growing still longer: Suez, Laos, the Bay of Pigs, Santo Domingo, Vietnam, and now Thailand, too. Is the Charter to become a scrap of paper, as the Covenant of the League of Nations became in 1939?
Nothing that I have said is anti-American. Every fact and every argument which I have used comes from eminent Americans whom we all respect. I believe that our Labour Government should give these facts and arguments the attention and the acceptance which they deserve.
Perhaps the Government will say: "So what? If Hanoi will not accept Lyndon Johnson's statesmanlike and generous proposal of 22nd March, what use is 962 it for a British Government to try to act?"
What further is there that a British Government can do? I say at once that, like every other hon. Member, I deeply regret Hanoi's refusal of President Johnson's letter. But I try to understand it. Their distrust of the West is bitter and profound. They have been cheated thrice since 1945. They know that every peace proposal from the U.S.A. is accompanied or swiftly followed by a major escalation of the war.
They will note today that the S.E.A.T.O. Council, against the Foreign Secretary's advice, demanded victory. They note that United States spokesmen have never yet conceded that the N.L.F. shall be present at the conference as an equal partner from the start. This is a vital point. They want guarantees that this time the Geneva Plan, which they still accept, shall be honestly accepted and honourably carried through.
I believe that our Government can help to give those guarantees. The Foreign Secretary made a very important speech in the United Nations General Assembly in October last. He said not only that there cannot be, but there should not be, a military solution to the conflict. He said it again yesterday to the S.E.A.T.O. Council. Victory, he said, could settle nothing; it could hold no hope of lasting peace. Last October he went on to say that the N.L.F. must be equal partners in the conference from the start, and he set out the terms on which a settlement should he made, clearly, wisely, and as a coherent whole.
I believe that my right hon. Friend's programme, if they had thought it genuine and binding, would have brought the N.L.F. and the Government of Hanoi to the conference table. It would have given them the guarantees which they require. But I believe that my right hon. Friend should have acted last October as President Eisenhower acted over Suez 10 years ago. He should have turned his speech into a United Nations Assembly Resolution, rallied the Assembly, and gathered 100 or 120 nations in its support. I believe, with M. Spaak of Belgium—the most experienced and wisest of the United Nations statesmen, who urged this course six months ago—I believe with M. Spaak that none of the warring parties could have 963 refused to heed the just demands of what he called "the conscience of the world."
After all, this is what the United Nations Assembly was set up to do. It was used, and it succeeded over Suez. If the United Nations shirks the major crises, it will surely perish, as the League of Nations perished through the cowardice and the lack of vision of the appeasers long ago.
There is still time. The Foreign Secretary could still do it now. There is still time; but not so very much. New major escalations of the war are happening, and others are impending. As U Thant said yesterday, some new nations will soon be swept into the conflict. Soon it may become the dreaded struggle between the yellow races and the white. Let the Foreign Secretary act, in the name of Britain, of the Commonwealth, and of mankind; and let him act before it is too late.
§ 11.54 a.m.
§ Mr. Gwynfor Evans (Carmarthen)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on giving the House this opportunity of discussing the situation in Vietnam, and also on his most constructive and deeply-felt contribution to the debate.
I speak as a Nationalist in this debate, and I have no difficulty in identifying myself with what seems to me to be a struggle by the Vietnamese people for national freedom, a struggle infinitely more costly and more heroic than anything we have experienced in Europe. It is the struggle of an old people, a people whose culture goes back for millennia, and it seems to me to be another example of the struggle of a nation against an imperialist power.
We know that nationalism has often been accused of many evils, and not least has it been accused of being the cause of war, but very often we find, when we look for the cause of a war, that it is to be found, not in the nations who are struggling for freedom, but rather in those who are trying to oppress them, or take away their freedom, and I think that this is an example of that kind of situation.
It is strange that those who have been called anti-colonialists in the past now 964 seem to be colonialist powers. This war has been, and is, portrayed as a struggle against Communism. It is true that many of the Vietcong are Communists, and that the Communist powers are by no means neutral in this struggle, but one sees that the image of Communism is being improved because they are associated by the other side with this struggle for national liberation.
But even if they were all Communists, even if the Vietcong were all Communists, and the struggle waged by the Vietnamese was solely a Communist struggle, I cannot see that even then the Americans have any legal, moral or political right to be there. I do not think that they have any right to occupy the country. If people want to live under a Communist régime, it is their business, and it is nobody else's business to prevent them from doing so.
After all, Communism, like any other ideology, or any other doctrine is not static. It changes, and there are many different kinds of Communism. There are as many different kinds of Communism as there are of Communist countries. Each one takes the colour of the country in which it is found.
We know that Russian Communism has changed, and is changing. Twelve to 15 years ago there were many people, apparently sane, who would have been prepared to see the world incinerated rather than see Russia occupy the West. That was their attitude towards Communism. But look at Russia today. Nobody thinks that she is the same kind of tyrant as the Russia of 12 to 15 years years ago. Things change, and administrations change. Human nature has this deep passion for freedom, and that changes all these totalitarian administrations. I say this as one who holds no brief for Communism or for any other totalitarian system.
Not all the Vietcong are Communists. I have information on this matter, not from Hanoi, but from many friends who have lived in Vietnam for years and know personally many of the Vietcong leaders. They tell me that they are as democratic as any hon. Member in this House and that a high proportion of them are democratic Socialists or even Conservatives, National Conservatives, or even National Socialists. They are Vietnamese patriots, and they are fighting 965 for the freedom of their land. Their movement is a united front which includes people of all kinds of political opinion. I think that their struggle can be compared with the struggle of the Finns against Russia, of the Yugoslav Partisans against Hitler, of the Catalans and Basques against Franco, of the Abyssinians against Mussolini, or even, dare I say it, the struggle of the Irish against the British at one time. They are fighting for national liberation.
And how heroically they have fought for more than a score of years—against the most fiendish weapons that modern science can devise, all of them except atomic missiles, and these mobilised by three of the most powerful States the world has known, first Japan, then France, and now the United States. We know that during the latter years the French effort in Vietnam was underpinned by the United States. We know, too, that France, democratic as she appears to be, is capable of many tyrannies.
Even today I cannot refrain from referring to the policy of genocide which France is following against the Breton nation, though not by military means. The whole war in Vietnam is now one of the most obscene and unnecessary that the world has ever known. If there be people on this planet in 50 years time, and that is a doubtful proposition, and if they look back at this they will consider it to be an episode of inexcusable barbarism.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
Can the hon. Gentleman explain, perhaps I did not hear him correctly, the question of the French genocide in connection with the Bretons?
§ Mr. Evans
Yes. The French are completely ignoring the existence of the Breton nation. They will not teach any Breton in the schools of Brittany. They will not teach the history of the Breton nations in the schools there. They are ignoring in every way the existence of the national community, and they are doing that through centralised powers.
I want to draw attention in particular to one aspect of the Vietnam war, and it is that the very large proportion of the casualties, possibly the majority, are children. Consider some of these facts. 966 We are told that something like 2,000 villages have been destroyed. There were, according to General Paul D. Harkins, in 1962 alone, some 30,000 Vietnamese killed. According to the New York Times report, by 1963, napalm had been used in over 1,400 villages. Some Members may have had the January issue of the American magazine, Ramparts, which carries a large article, to which Dr. Benjamin Spock has written a preface. Dr. Spock is a world renowned authority on child welfare and child education. These are the first words of his preface:A million children have been killed or wounded or burned in the war America is carrying on in Vietnam, according to the estimate of Wiliam Pepper—that is the author of the article—not many of them even get to hospitals, which are few and far between, but when they do, they may lie three in a bed or on newspapers on the floor. Flies are in the wounds. Even such simple equipment as cups and plates are in sort supply. Materials for the adequate treatment of burns—gauze, ointments, antibiotics and plasma—are usually non-existent.How does the author arrive at the figure of a million? I will quote a paragraph from this to show how the figure is made up:In 1964, according to a UNESCO population study, 47.5 per cent. of the people of Vietnam were under 16. Today, the figure is certainly over 50 per cent. Other United Nations statistics in South-East Asia generally bear out this figure. Since the males over 16 are away fighting—on one side of or the other—it's clear that in the rural villages which bear the brunt of napalm raids, at least 70 per cent. and probably more of the residents are children.In other words, at least a quarter of a million of the children of Vietnam have been killed in the war.If there are that many dead, using the military rule-of-thumb, there must be three times that many wounded—or at least a million casualties since 1961.This is the most terrible thing that I have ever heard of, and I come from the country of Aberfan. Here one has not just one Aberfan, but thousands of them. This is continuing and being condoned by people. What is the treatment of these children, even when they get to hospital? Here is another sentence from the article:Torn flesh, splintered bones, screaming agony are bad enough. But perhaps most heart-rending of all are the tiny faces and bodies scorched and seared by fire.967 The author also speaks of the Vietnam children in the cities and the towns:… there is a forgotten legion of Vietnamese children in the cities and provincial towns—clinging together desperately and in small packs, trying to survive. Usually they have threadbare clothing, sometimes they go naked; they go unwashed for months, perhaps forever; almost none have shoes.That is the situation when they get to hospital. What do they have to cover them? Usually they have no linen or blankets, no clothing. It is a matter of paper, even to put on their wounds. This situation is quite intolerable and everything possible must be done to bring this to an end.
Many of us profess an adherence to Christianity. I am a member of a Christian Church, but I am deeply ashamed of the quiescence of the Church in this matter. Our Christianity seems too often to be subordinate to political and economic considerations, and I fear that the state of the Church today, and maybe in the future is a nemesis for its faithlessness. The kind of religion, the kind of Christianity which can condone the atrocity of Vietnam seems to be a contemptible caricature of the Christian gospel of love.
I would like to pay tribute to a non-Christian, to Bertrand Russell, for his great endeavour to alert the world to what is happening in Vietnam. I would also like to ask something about the policy of the British Government in this matter. Was this made explicit in a dispatch in Wednesday's Guardian? Perhaps we could have a reply on this. In that issue of the Guardian, on the front page one read:Mr. Brown told the S.E.A.T.O. of Council Ministers here today that the British Government contemplated no dramatic reduction of its military forces East of Suez.The United States in particular, and for psychological rather than for military reasons, is concerned that Britain should maintain her military presence East of Suez so long as the war in Vietnam continues.Even though Britain does not make any military contribution to the Vietnam war—and Mr. Brown reaffirmed this policy today—the American Government believes that sizeable British forces in Malayasia and Singapore afford moral support to the American war effort in Vietnam.Is this Britain's rôle in the world today? We have been told that Britain has lost 968 an empire without finding a rôle? Is this the rôle that she has found—to afford moral support to American imperialism? In. my view it is immoral support for an immoral policy and reflects, if it is true, the Government's moral bankruptcy in international affairs.
§ 12.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
This is one of the most difficult and tortuous problems facing the world today. It gained nothing in its discussion in this House from the contribution of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). This is an issue which is above the careful point-taking of party debate. It is a matter touching the deep emotional chords of everyone who has any sympathy with humanity at all.
I applaud the way in which this debate was opened by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson). At the end of what I have to say I shall disagree with his approach, but I do not disagree with his basic, underlying motives, or with the aspiration which has moved him to move this Motion. Anything that we can do to bring to an end this horrible war between a poor developing nation and the richest and most powerful nation on earth we ought to do. The question in the end is what is most effective in order to do that?
I accept to a large extent the historical analysis that was made of this problem by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker). There were points about it where I disagreed, but basically I thought that he was right to say that the fault is not entirely that of North Vietnam in the instigation of this war. A great part of it lies at the door of America. American policy has been misconceived since 1956. It would have been far better if they had allowed to be implemented the accord of 1954 between France—who knew the situation intimately, who lived with the fight against Ho Chi-Minh, who knew what the aspirations of the Vietnamese were—and Britain with her part in the affairs of the Far East, represented at the time, we may recall after the contribution from the hon. Member for Hendon, North, by a Foreign Secretary of a Conservative Government, who came to the accord that in Vietnam the North and South should together come to an agreement based upon free choice; but no one 969 at that conference could have had any expectation but that the agreement would lead ultimately to a Communist solution.
I accept what was said in Eisenhower's memoirs, that if there had been free elections in 1956 there would have been a Communist Government and that the reason there were not free elections was that America did not want a Communist Government in Vietnam. I believe that was short-sighted. It seems to me, from all that we know of the development of Communist affairs throughout the world, that Ho Chi-Minh was a genuine independent nationalist leader—a Communist leader, of course, but a leader of the standing of Tito—and that what we might have got in Vietnam had the accord been allowed to be implemented would have been a Yugoslavia of the Far East. This would have been by far the most stable settlement that we could have hoped for at the time.
Here was a solution which would have been accepted in Vietnam and in the Far East and would have relieved the world of this present problem. The Americans failed to see that because they were in the grip of the domino philosophy. They failed because they were still recovering from John Foster Dulles. Nevertheless, they have been left with the problem ever since. I do not think the American Administration sees this problem through the eyes of the domino theory. I do not believe that they would find wholly unacceptable a solution which led to a Communist Government. I believe that if they could get out now and save their face, and still have a stable Communist régime in Vietnam, that would be a solution which they would be willing to accept. Nevertheless, they do not feel that they can do that and still retain any kind of influence in world affairs. They believe—sincerely, I think—that if they were simply to capitulate now and get out, on the whole this would be a retrograde step in the general solution of the difficult problems of the Far East.
Therefore, we come to the problem which faces this Government who have done their utmost to bring about a solution. How does one play the most effective part in bringing to an end this terrible war? We can all wax emotional about the effect upon young children. We can wax emotional about the deaths from the bombing or from the guerrilla activity 970 the American Vice-President when he in South Vietnam. But in the end this is the nature of war. What we have to decide is how do we bring the war to an end.
The only way that any of us can see is that we should get those who are fighting round a conference table. How are we going to do that? I do not believe that we are going to do it simply by passing this Motion. I do not think that we shall contribute to a solution by a breach, however slight, with the Americans at this stage. I do not accept the tenor of American policy, but it does not seem to me that an open breach will improve our status with the American Government, that it will make us able to influence American policy at all.
One thing is certain. We cannot influence Hanoi. We have tried. There were several attempts in 1965 to put forward solutions directed by this country to Hanoi and all of them were rejected. Not only we but the neutral nations were rejected. The Pope was rejected. Russia was rejected. Every attempt has been rejected. France, who by no stretch of the imagination could be said to be pro-American, has been rejected. Therefore, we can only accept, perhaps regretfully, that nothing that we do will make one iota of difference to the position in Hanoi or indeed to the position of the Vietcong. We can only influence events in so far as we can influence the other side—America.
Some of my hon. Friends will say that we have had precious little influence over America so far. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am afraid that I do not agree.
§ Mr. Lyon
I think we have tried. We have been trying behind the scenes all the time that the present Government have been in power. We had some influence in prolonging the bombing pause last year. We had some influence in restraining that further escalation towards the bombing of Hanoi and Haiphong. It came in the end, but that does not mean that we did not have any influence in delaying the moment when it did come.
§ Mr. Silverman
Was my hon. Friend's attention called to a statement made by 971 returned to the United States after his visit to this country and other countries? He is reported to have said that the British Foreign Secretary had told him that the policy of this country was 100 per cent. in support of American policy in Vietnam. Does my hon. Friend think that if that statement is true we are likely to do anything to influence American policy in the right direction?
§ Mr. Lyon
My hon. Friend has been in politics for very much longer than I have, but I would have thought it would have occurred to him that what one says in public when one is in the position of the Vice-President of America or the Foreign Secretary of this country does not necessarily represent one's private feelings or one's private soundings. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has expressed himself on so many occasions as being concerned about the issues in Vietnam and has shown by his attitude and manner both here and in other places that he is desperately concerned to bring about an end of the war; and if my hon. Friend is prepared to accept that statement of the Vice-President about my right hon. Friend, I can only say that I do not.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
Does not my hon. Friend think that if the Vice-President of the United States of America was mistaken in what he reported in another country about what the British Foreign Secretary said to him, the proper person to put the matter right is not my hon. Friend but the Foreign Secretary?
§ Mr. Lyon
—and with major outbursts of disapproval. I do not. I believe that there is a place for secret diplomacy, for the kind of negotiations which go on in private, where things can be said which could not possibly be said in public. I believe that the Government have been doing this throughout in order to try to restrain the excesses of American policy.
But even if I were wrong and my hon. Friend were absolutely right, does he say 972 that we should influence the situation in any direction if we simply accorded with the agitation which is going on in certain parts of America to condemn the American Government? There is such a move, a liberal wing in America exists and is vocal, but no one can say that it is anything but a small minority of American public opinion. The large majority of American public opinion is strongly behind the President.
§ Mr. Lyon
I am sorry—no. I have given way twice already.
In these circumstances, can we expect that any condemnation by us will add anything to the condemnation which has been made by other countries of Western Europe or by the liberals in America? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] This, ultimately, is where we on these benches disagree. What is the effective political action which we can take? In my view, the effective political action which we can take is to do what we are doing now, to try to influence America behind the scenes, to go to the conference table on reasonable terms. My hon. Friends here disagree with me, saying that the most effective political action we can take is openly to condemn and publicly to denounce, thereby cutting ourselves off from our allies. I do not believe that that would contribute to a settlement of this dreadful war, and what I want most of all is an end to it. I am prepared, therefore, to accept that the Government are doing what they can in the present situation to achieve an end to this bloody war.
§ 12.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Tapsell (Horncastle)
venture to speak in this debate because I recently spent a week in South Vietnam. From the day when I made my maiden speech here more than seven years ago, urging that Dr. Hastings Banda be brought out of Gwelo gaol in Southern Rhodesia and given responsibility in Nyasaland—a point of view not universally held among my hon. Friends at the time—I have never ceased to support the cause of peoples aspiring to the 973 same independence, freedom and personal dignity that we want for ourselves in Britain. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members opposite will believe me when I say that my views on Vietnam are dictated by these same sympathies, although they have led me to conclusions different from those drawn by many hon. Members opposite.
Having in recent years visited the Congo, Indonesia and Indochina, as well as some of the overseas Portuguese territories, I cannot agree with those who think that the countries of the new Commonwealth have proved a great disappointment. On the contrary, I believe that, by comparison with the record of others, our retired colonial administrators have good reason for pride in their work. Posterity will honour them, and so will future generations in the countries they helped to build.
If Indochina had been given independence when India and Pakistan were given independence, President Ho Chi-Minh would long ago have been branded in Peking as Enemy No. 1. Everything I know about him as a man and about the character and history of the people he has led with such indomitable fortitude for so long leads me to believe, with the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), that Ho would have become the Tito of the East.
But the peoples of Vietnam were not given independence when they should have been, and neither were they adequately trained for it. It was one of the great missed opportunities of history. Today, therefore, we have to debate the situation as it is, not as we would like it to be. The Americans have had to grapple with the situation which they inherited, not as they would have chosen it. The ordinary people of Vietnam, North and South—simple peasants for the most part, patriotic but disinterested in political dogmas, anxious to be left alone to cultivate their land—they, too, have to endure the situation as it is.
Against this tragic background, for us in the ordered comfort and security of the House of Commons to lecture from afar the Americans for their bombing or the Vietcong for their atrocities seems to me a rather nauseating example of that "holier than thou" strain in our national 974 character which is unloved the world over.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I agree with the tenor of what the hon. Gentleman says, but will he justify his contention that the Americans inherited the situation? I do not see how he argues that.
§ Mr. Tapsell
I do not want to take up the time of the House with a long historical discourse, but the crux of my argument is that the present situation in Vietnam was created by French colonial government in the past and that the Americans have inherited it.
To continue with my theme, the irony is that those in this House who are sometimes most anxious to lecture others on their conduct of international affairs are often the same people who want to rob Britain of the effective armed forces which alone enable us to have that important influence for moderation in world affairs which we all wish to see exercised. The reason why Mr. Attlee, as he then was, could fly to Washington in December, 1950, and persuade President Truman not to allow American bombers to cross the River Yalu into China was that we had troops in Korea, we were nearly a nuclear Power, and we were, therefore, an important and valued ally whose wishes had seriously to be consulted.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
The hon. Gentleman realises that there are some parallels between the situation in Asia today and the situation in Europe rather more than 30 years ago, but, in charging us with preventing the Government from exercising proper influence on world events by failing to support them in their military defence policy, he is choosing the wrong parallel.
§ Mr. Tapsell
It is not for me to intervene in the dispute between the Government and their erstwhile supporters below the Gangway.
§ Mr. Tapsell
I apologise if I have strayed into the internecine political warfare opposite.
The Geneva Agreement of 1954 was largely due to the work of Sir Anthony 975 Eden. The following year, when I was a member of his personal staff, he once said in my presence that, although he had not thought so at the time when the Geneva Agreement was signed, he was beginning then, in 1955, to hope that that agreement, which brought an end to the fighting in Vietnam, might very well prove to be the turning point in post-war history, the point at which Communism abandoned force and agreed to co-exist with other systems of Government.
That was a reasonable hope to entertain in 1955. Why has it been proved so tragically false by subsequent events? This is where I part company with some hon. Members opposite, including the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), who always speaks on these affairs not only with a lifetime's record of distinction behind him but with immense sincerity. But I cannot accept, from my knowledge of recent Vietnamese history, the accuracy of the account he gave us. I believe that the responsibility for the renewal of the war in Vietnam lies wholly with Hanoi. After the 1954 Geneva Agreement, the French had gone. The Americans had not yet come. The fighting had stopped.
§ Mr. Tapsell
Perhaps the hon. Lady will allow me to develop my argument. I have noticed that there are certain hon. Members who, while ready to speak at great length on these subjects themselves, are extremely reluctant to hear another point of view, whether it is from a private Member or from the Vice-President of the United States.
The right hon. Member for Derby, South made a number of interesting points, some of which I should like to try to answer. He said rightly that the Geneva Agreement did not envisage either that there should be a permanent division between North and South or that no elections should be held. That is true, but it is not true to say, as he also said, that Vietnam is entirely one people which has merely been divided by recent events.
On the contrary, Vietnam is historically and ethonologically three peoples made up of traditional Tongkin, Annam and Cochin-China. It only became one people as a result of the rather arbitrary action of French colonialism, in the same way 976 as Nigeria, which we all know faces divisive problems at present, was given unity not by any inherent forces of its own but because we united it as a colony.
It is very important for us to realise that there are these great traditional and historical differences which have divided what is now Vietnam into three sections. When I had been only two days in Saigon somebody came to dinner who looked quite different to the other guests. I asked if he was South Vietnamese. My host said at once, "No. Of course, he comes from the North." I assure hon. Members who have not been there that after two or three days in the country one can very often tell just by looking at people whether they come from the North or South. There are very great differences.
§ Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)
The same can be said about citizens of the United Kingdom. Is it not a fact that 1,000 years of conflict and combat and struggle against the Chinese have welded these people, both of the North and South, as the parallel now fortuitously indicates, into a national entity, people who feel that they belong to each other against that external enemy?
§ Mr. Tapsell
I am not sure that I could tell by looking at the hon. Gentleman where he came from. For all I know, he may be one of the persecuted Bretons we heard about earlier from the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans). I agree that there is a strongly patriotic and, I dare say, anti-European feeling throughout Vietnam, but as one travels around Indochina one sees that there are strong differences. Unfortunately, I could not enter North Vietnam, but I went to Cambodia and other parts. It would be hardly too strong a phrase to say that there are traditional hatreds between the different areas of what the French turned into colonial Indochina. I merely made that point to reply to the right hon. Member for Derby, South, who seemed to suggest that those divisions had recently been created by the French and Americans.
I now come to his point about elections. Of course, the Geneva Agreement was supposed to lead to free elections in both the North and South, but the only elections that have been held have been in the South. I am not suggesting that 977 they were absolutely free democratic elections in the sense that we understand them in most parts of the United Kingdom. But they are certainly the nearest thing to free elections that have been held anywhere in that area. There have been no free elections of any sort in North Vietnam. Anybody in North Vietnam who took a different political view to the rulers in Hanoi would have very short shift indeed.
I would never suggest that as a result of the Geneva Agreement of 1954 South Vietnam became an ideal political democracy. I accept some of the criticisms about Vietnamese Governments in the South which have been made from the benches opposite. But in this respect South Vietnam has been no worse than many other independent countries in the world, and certainly no worse than North Vietnam.
If one wants proof of that, it is worth looking at the southward movement of refugees which followed the Geneva Agreement of 1954, when for a couple of year; there was a fair degree of freedom of movement from north to south and from south to north. The overwhelming movement of refugees in that period was from the north to the south, which answers the point made by the right hon. Member for Derby, South of why it is that Air Vice Marshal Ky and so many other people in Saigon are northerners. They were Roman Catholics who fled from Communist persecution in the North and came south.
§ Mr. Ronald Atkins (Preston, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the United States Government have claimed that those refugees were infiltrators? They cannot be both.
§ Mr. Tapsell
I shall not pursue the matter. I have already spoken at considerably greater length than I had intended. It may be that some of the refugees who came south subsequently joined the Vietcong, but a considerable number of those who came south are supporters and even leading members of the Saigon Government. I met many of them when I spent an afternoon at the Constituent Assembly there.
After the Geneva Agreement of 1954 the south merely asked to be left alone to work out its own destiny, but the 978 Communists in Hanoi were determined to impose their political philosophy by force on the south, despite its large Buddhist and Roman Catholic communities, both of them wholly opposed to Communism.
However muddied and bloodied the waters of history have since become, those are the simple facts of the case. As a consequence, half a million Americans are fighting in South Vietnam today, and hundreds of them are dying there every week to prevent the North taking control of the South by a deliberate act of aggression.
I should like briefly to reply to some of the points made by the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), to whom we are all greatly obliged for giving us the opportunity to have this important debate. There have been repeated cessations of the bombing. There was a cessation for six days in 1965, for no less than five weeks from Christmas Eve of 1965, and from the 8th to 13th February during "Tet" this year. When the lion. Member for Tottenham says that if only the Americans would stop their bombing Hanoi would come to the conference table, I ask him why it is that this has not happened. It is not as though the Americans had never stopped their bombing. As the whole House knows, there have been three occasions when they have done so and on the last there is every indication that Mr. Kosygin who was in London at the time, sent most urgent messages to Hanoi asking them to come to the conference table. Even in these circumstances, far from doing so, they used the period—I knew that hon. Members do not always accept the evidence, although the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have said that they believe it to be true—to reinforce their main forces and the Viet Cong.
I believe that Hanoi could have peace tomorrow on perfectly honourable terms. But Hanoi does not want peace. Hanoi wants victory. In denying such a victory to an aggressor, United States, Australia and New Zealand are fighting a battle for all mankind.
I found that this was clearly understood in many of the countries of Asia that I visited in February, more clearly than in Europe. In Bangkok, in Kuala 979 Lumpur, in Singapore, in Djakarta and in Tokio, to mention only the capitals I visited—with different histories and outlooks—they were all thankful that the Americans are in Vietnam. Peoples only recently independent themselves regard the American intervention in Vietnam as a safeguard. Close proximity to the China of Chairman Mao has a remarkably clarifying effect on thought about the nature of Communism in the Far East.
Free Asia today—here I refer to the point raised by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) about analogies with 30 years ago but I am talking about something more recent—Free Asia is in the mood of Western Europe after the rape of Czechoslovakia; and once again it is the Americans who have come to the rescue. We should be deeply grateful to them. This does not mean that we have to give uncritical support to everything that the Americans do. Of course not. But I for one have no doubts about the fundamental good faith and good intentions of American policy in South Vietnam.
Those in this country who, for the best of motives, dispute this and challenge the very right of the Americans to help South Vietnam to resist aggression, and even in some cases deny that there is any outside aggression, do not bring peace any nearer, as I think the hon. Member for York was seeking tactfully to imply. In so far as they have any influence outside our shores—and, fortunately, it is precious little—their influence is to prolong the fighting.
The war in Vietnam will go on until Hanoi is prepared to negotiate a peace settlement—to return, as U Thant said yesterday, to the essentials of the Geneva Agreement of 1954. America would be prepared to do that tomorrow. Hanoi is not. Those who encourage Hanoi to think that American will-power may falter if the fighting goes on long enough are the real enemies of peace.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)
I suppose that there is no single subject that has so preoccupied the Members of the House and the country for the past year as the terrible and cruel war in Vietnam. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) 980 on providing us with this opportunity of surveying the war at this point and analysing what is the best contribution that we in this country can make to bringing it to a peaceful conclusion.
The first thing that we have to ask ourselves is what is the long-term objective that we all hope for Vietnam. Clearly, we all hope for peace. But the question is: peace on what terms? Everybody involved would say that they want peace in Vietnam, the Vietcong as well as the South Vietnamese and the Americans as well as the North Vietnamese, but all want peace on different terms. We must look beyond the immediate future to the kind of peace that we want.
If we were to try to express in one word what we hope for, many in this House would be prepared to say that what they want for the people of Vietnam is self-determination. The curious thing is that probably many of those involved in the conflict would all accept this long-term objective for Vietnam. After all, what the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese are saying is that the United States forces are preventing the people of South Vietnam from choosing for themselves the kind of Government that they would like to have. Conversely, the South Vietnamese Government and the Americans say that it is the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong who are preventing the people of South Vietnam from deciding for themselves the kind of Government that they want.
If we agree that the long-term objective is self-determination for the people of Vietnam, how is it to be brought about? The first problem is whether we mean self-determination for the people of Vietnam as a whole or self-determination for the people of the two halves separately: are we in this House concerned to give self-determination to the people of South Vietnam alone in the first place? I would suggest that we must aim in the first place, in the immediate future, for self-determination for the people of South Vietnam.
We should aim to attain self-determination for the people of Vietnam as a whole as the ultimate objective. But there are two reasons why we must aim for self-determination for South Vietnam first. One is the practical difficulty of ensuring conditions in which 981 self-determination can be obtained by the people of North Vietnam under their present administration, the difficulty of securing fully free and fair elections or a referendum under a Communist Government, and the difficulty of reaching agreement on the terms on which it might be achieved. But a more important reason why it is necessary to aim at self-determination for South Vietnam first is that if there were shown to be a substantial majority of the people of South Vietnam who did not want to be ruled from North Vietnam it would provide them with an opportunity of expressing their views and choosing independence for themselves.
The populations of North Vietnam and South Vietnam are fairly equal. There are probably a few more in the north: perhaps 17 million in the north and 15 million in the south. If we had self-determination for the entire country, it would mean that we might have a minority in the south swamped by a majority in the north. If one had a situation in which 10 million in South Vietnam wanted to be independent and 5 million wanted to go under North Vietnam rule, the majority of those in the south would be able to obtain their wishes. If, on the other hand, it was shown that there was a majority in the south who wished a unified Vietnam, it would be possible to go ahead to the next stage of providing for self-determination for the people of Vietnam as a whole.
How, then, can one advance even to the stage of self-determination of South Vietnam? I suggest one thing is essential, that there must be some kind of international responsibility, an international presence and international assistance in the process of securing self-determination. It is true, as the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) said, that there have been elections in South Vietnam, and it is just possible that they were fairly free and fairly independent and gave a rough indication of the wishes of the people of South Vietnam. It is impossible for us here to say whether it is so or not. What is certain is that the results will not be accepted as being a free, fair and accurate account of the wishes of the people of South Vietnam simply because they were undertaken under the auspices of the 982 present South Vietnamese régime with the assistance of the American military authorities. So if one is to arrive at a conclusion of this kind that will be accepted by the world as a whole as being an objective and fair assessment of the wishes of the people of South Vietnam, it is essential that the United Nations should be brought into the process.
This brings me to the Motion on the Order paper, the Motion we are discussing here today which lays stress on the role of the United Nations, particularly the proposals made by U Thant. I welcome the opportunity this Motion provides to discuss this matter, and I know, and admire, the sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham and those who support him. But it will not be possible for me to support it, for three main reasons. First, it is ambiguous in its wording. It refers to "the three proposals" by U Thant. But, in fact, there have been three separate sets of proposals by him, all quite different and each consisting of three different points.
So the words:… the three proposals put forward by U Thant …".might mean a lot of different things.
§ Mr. Luard
The date 10th April, 1967, in the Motion refers to U Thant's statement of that date, not the proposals. It was evident from my hon. Friend's speech that he was thinking of the second of the three sets of proposals, which seems strange. One would have expected him to concentrate on the most recent. I agree with the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) who hoped that there would have been a date to make clear what was intended.
Secondly, the Motion is somewhat selective. It selects one of the three sets of proposals and one of the statements by U Thant. Above all, it is selective because it is directed to one side in the conflict rather than to both.
Thirdly, the Motion as a whole is one-sided in its approach to the war. We must recognise that in Vietnam there is a reciprocal situation. Two external powers are intervening. I agree with what many hon. Members have said, 983 particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) that this was basically originally a civil war and some of the accusations then made of external interference tended to be exaggerated. But the situation today is that two external powers are heavily involved—the United States and North Vietnam. It is reasonable to expect that a Motion like this calling for action by the British Government should deal with this aspect of the situation.
§ Mr. Molloy
Is my hon. Friend saying that the north of this nation—North Vietnam—is an external power?
§ Mr. Luard
I dealt earlier with the aspect of how far one can consider North Vietnam as a separate State. Both sides agreed in 1954 to the establishment of two separate countries. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] They provided for elections at a later stage, but a provisional boundary between the two was established.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
I am sure my hon. Friend wants to get the facts right. The Geneva Agreements expressly provided that the demarcation line was purely a cease-fire line and went on to say, in so many words, that it was not to be regarded in any sense as a political frontier and that Vietnam was to be regarded as one country and not as two.
§ Mr. Luard
I do not dispute that point. My hon. Friend can call it a cease-fire line if he likes. But it was a cease-fire line which at a subsequent date was violated by infiltration from the north. This may have followed intervention by the United States—I do not know—but it is essential to take the position as we have it today, which is that these two external Powers are involved and that, therefore, one could reasonably have expected the Motion to take account of the situation as a whole and of the different parties involved.
This is particularly necessary because the Motion attaches great importance to United Nations intervention and U Thant's statement. One must conclude that there is considerably more reluctance to accept the Secretary-General's proposals in North Vietnam than there is in the United States. I wish to go through 984 these in detail because it is essential to the substance of the debate to take account of all three principal proposals U Thant has made.
The first proposal was on 12th August, 1965. He called for
In a statement shortly afterwards, Hanoi denounced what it described as a "U.S. peace initiative" and stated:
- "(i) Informal, private and confidential dialogues between some of the parties involved as a preliminary to convening a more formal conference;
- (ii) Cessation of all hostile military activities;
- (iii) That discussions should involve those who are actively fighting, including the NFLSV."The 'unconditional discussions" proposed by the U.S. authorities is but an attempt to compel the Vietnamese people to accept their own terms.Any solutions at variance with the "four point stand" of the North Vietnamese Government, it said,… are inappropriate, and so are any solutions which seek a U.N. intervention in the Vietnam situation because such solutions are fundamentally contrary to the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Vietnam.The Chinese Foreign Minister, Chen Yi, said:The Vietnamese question has nothing whatever to do with the U.N. which has absolutely no right to intervene.That was the reaction of Hanoi to the first set of proposals.
U Thant's second set of proposals was on 9th March, 1966. He said that any move to bring the parties closer to negotiations must include:
A month later, the North Vietnamese Prime Minister, Pham Van Dong, repeated Hanoi's contention that the U.N. had no right to intervene in the Vietnam problem. The Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En-lai declared that the United States was using the United Nations which
- "(i) Cessation of bombing of North Vietnam;
- (ii) Substantial reduction by all parties of military activities in South Vietnam;
- (iii) Participation of the NFLSV in any discussions for a peaceful settlement."… has no right whatever to meddle with the Vietnam question …That was the reaction to the second set of proposals, which had called for the abandonment of bombing as the first step.
985 The third set of proposals came on 14th March, 1967. The three points this time were, first, a general standstill truce; secondly, direct preliminary talks; and, thirdly, the reconvening of the Geneva Conference. This has been accepted by the United States and British Governments but again rejected by the North Vietnamese and the Chinese. This again demonstrates that a Motion of this kind, calling for action by the British Government on U Thant's proposals, should refer to the most recent of those proposals, which are now presumably the substantive ones, and should also make some reference to the failure so far of the North Vietnamese Government or the Vietcong to respond to these initiatives Therefore, I could not support the Motion in its present form.
However, I want to talk in particular about the bombing.
§ Mr. Luard
The ending of the bombing is an essential point in the present Motion. I support—I have always held it—that the United States Government should be ready—it would be a wise and statesmanlike action—to cease bombing for at least three or four weeks in order to see what response might be received from the other side.
The British Government would be well advised to counsel the United States Government to follow this course. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) in that it is not reasonable to expect any action of this kind to be made public by the British Government at present. It would be likely to have less value and create less effect if it were made public in this way and would have little relevance to the kind of response that the United States Government were likely to make. It has already been pointed out that the fact that General de Gaulle has made proposals of this kind has not made him in any way influential in bringing about any change in United States policy.
There are two other elements of United States policy about which I must admit that I have considerable disquiet, and 986 behind the scenes I should like to see the British Government take strong action to secure some modification. There is first that mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South. If we are to have meaningful peace talks on Vietnam and get any worthwhile response to these proposals, it is essential that it is accepted that the N.L.F. will be a party to the discussions in its own right. It is one of the principal parties involved in the fighting and there will not be much response unless that fact is accepted and the N.L.F. is acknowledged as an equal partner in the negotiations.
There is then the matter of some of the types of weapons which are being used by the United States in Vietnam at the moment. I think particularly on napalm and fragmenation bombs and the horrible damage—the damage to children was mentioned earlier in the debate—which they can cause. I hope that the Government are prepared to use what influence they have with the United States Government to secure a modification of these weapons.
But when all this is accepted, we must recognise that it takes two to make a peace, just as it takes two to make a quarrel, and it would represent the general feeling of the House and the country as a whole if any Motion from the House of Commons calling for action by the British Government to bring peace in Vietnam were directed as much to the people of North Vietnam and to the Vietcong as to the United States Government. Although, of course, the latter is rather closer to us, such a Motion would create a more balanced picture of the general feeling in the country. For those reasons, regretfully, I do not feel able to support the Motion.
§ 1.2 p.m.
§ Mr. James Davidson (Aberdeenshire, West)
I must first apologise for having missed the first two or three minutes of the speech of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) who has given us the opportunity to debate this very important subject. I listened to the rest of his speech with great interest. We on the Liberal bench thoroughly endorse the Motion, although we have one or two slight reservations about it. For example, it would be unrealistic to expect the Americans to take any action beyond 987 the cessation of bombing unless there were at least an indication from the other side that it was willing to make a reciprocal action.
I want to refer to the American intentions in their action in Vietnam. I think that they honestly and genuinely believe that they are containing Communism. It is my view that they are in fact creating the very conditions in which Communism thrives, particularly in the aftermath of war and a state of economic chaos and particularly because any Communist government which makes any progress is almost invariably based on an indigenous movement with very strong nationalist overtones. I made that point in a previous speech. The Americans are fulfilling a function in the Communist plan. I quote from the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr. Chen Yi, speaking at a rally in Peking in December when he said:The Vietnamese people know quite well that they are fighting not only for their national liberation … but also for the revolutionary cause of the oppressed nations and people throughout the world.… At present the focal point of the world struggle against U.S. imperialism is in Vietnam.…Who would disagree that the people of North Vietnam are entirely justified in fighting for their own national liberation as they did, incidentally, against the Japanese 25 years ago? Ho Chi Minh and his Communists and patriots were those who opposed the Japanese and it was others who co-operated with the Japanese at that time.
§ Mr. Davidson
Precisely. At the same time, the United States must not allow itself to become the vehicle of Communist inspired aspirations, and that is what it is in danger of doing.
In my speech in our last debate on Vietnam, I gave a fairly detailed outline of the history of events leading up to the present situation, and I do not intend to go over the same ground today. I also dealt in some detail with the rights and wrongs of the American presence in Vietnam, with whether the Americans were entitled to be there, and drew the conclusion that on a legal basis they were not entitled to be there. Some might disagree and it is a view which 988 could be disputed, but that is my conclusion.
All we can be concerned about now is bringing the war to an end before it escalates into a global conflict, and the danger of that grows greater every day. Let us concern ourselves with what can be done in the present and the future and not with the rights and wrongs of what has already happened.
All Liberals would certainly emphatically endorse U Thant's attitude and his efforts to bring about a peaceful solution in Vietnam in this terrible war which he himself described as one of the most barbarous wars in history. His clear objective is the implementation of the 1954 Geneva Agreement.
In my last speech on the subject, I pointed to the differences which then prevented the parties from coming to negotiation, and those differences still appear to exist. There is the question of U.S. withdrawal—at what stage the U.S. withdrawal should take place, whether the Americans should promise to withdraw in advance of a promise of negotiations, or wait until that promise is forthcoming and then withdraw. There is the question of whether the United Nations should intervene. It has been made extremely clear by the North Vietnamese and others that they consider that the United Nations has no right to intervene. They have said so clearly and emphatically over and over again, which seems to indicate that we must go back to an international control commission. Certainly the United Nations could attempt through U Thant to influence American opinion, but I do not believe that its direct intervention in Vietnam would be at all acceptable to the North Vietnamese Government.
Then there was the question of the representation of the N.L.F. at any negotiating table. I think that we would all agree that the N.L.F. must obviously be represented at such negotiations. Finally, there is the question whether as a result of these negotiations there should be all-Vietnamese elections, or elections held separately in North and South. It is essential that there should be all-Vietnamese elections in due course, although I would not like to spell out the exact phasing of that operation.
§ Mr. Richard
Is it the hon. Gentleman's view that all-Vietnamese elections 989 should take place initially, or that there should be provisional elections in the South first to see how that goes and then after that go for all-Vietnamese elections?
§ Mr. Davidson
I think that that is something which should be decided in the course of negotiations. If it were to be laid down definitely in advance whether it should be all-Vietnamese elections or done by stages, we might deter one or other of the parties from negotiating. I should like to see it decided in the course of negotiations.
Since that last debate, a great deal of water has flowed through the Mekong Delta and various things have happened quite recently. President Johnson's secret letter offering peace negotiations and published by the North Vietnamese as recently as 21st March was emphatically rejected by the North Vietnamese. One can understand their reasons for rejecting it. There has already been mention of the distrust with which they must regard the West and one can well understand it after their experience of their struggles against the French and the events since 1960 when the Americans began building up their forces in Vietnam. Although one can understand their distrust, nevertheless this perfectly genuine offer by President Johnson in a secret letter was emphatically rejected. Equally, U Thant's latest proposals have also been categorically rejected more than once. As I said earlier, there have been repeated statements to say that the United Nations has no right whatever to interfere. There is a theory held by some people that failure—
§ Mr. Philip Noel-Baker
The hon. Gentleman keeps on saying that the United Nations has no right to intervene, but under the Charter—
§ Mr. Davidson
That is not what I said. The right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood my point. What I have said, which is fact, is that the North Vietnamese have repeatedly said that the United Nations has no right to intervene.
I was about to mention a theory held by some people that a world-scale setback to the proponents of revolution by force would take place if the North Vietnamese were not successful in their war in 'Vietnam. This is one reason why 990 certain Communist factions are insistent that the war should continue. It suits their book in many ways that it should continue. I do not say that this is the view held by the North Vietnamese Government, but it is certainly the view held by the Government of Communist China, by the Government of Cuba and by the Government of North Korea, among others.
Without negotiations, it is obvious what the alternatives are. On the one hand, we have the defeat of the United States and her eventual withdrawal, having done incalculable damage. The other equally horrifying alternative is that the United States should find herself remaining there as an occupying Power for 20 to 30 years, perhaps constantly beset by guerrilla forces. There would be no real peace under either of these two conditions.
The only thing which we can do in the present situation is to ask the United States, first, to state clearly, publicly and unambiguously what her objectives are in this war. There are differing opinions among Americans as to her objectives. I remember very well travelling back in an aeroplane from Copenhagen and talking with two American attorneys who had been "doing" Europe on a short holiday. Their view was that the war was entirely justified because it gave the United States the only battle-trained army in the world. Another view put forward by these two gentlemen was, did we really think that the Americans intended to evacuate Vietnam at any stage? If so, why were they spending thousands of millions of £s and using the labour of millions of people on building permanent military installations in Vietnam? This was the view of only two Americans, but it is certainly representative of a certain section of opinion. There are others who hold the opposite view.
The second thing which we should do is to demand from the Americans unconditional cessation of bombing for at least a month, probably more, to give the North Vietnamese one more opportunity to agree to negotiate. Parallel with this agreement to cease bombing, we should beg the United States to offer economic and technical aid without political strings attached, if possible on the same scale that they are now spending money on the war.
991 I am forced to these conclusions from thinking and reading about the situation in Vietnam. They may not be the right conclusions. I do not believe that the strategic planners of Communist China, Hanoi or various other Communist Governments want peace as long as there is a United States presence in South-East Asia. I believe that probably all the people of Vietnam want peace, regardless of the political strings and handles attached to it, because they are sick and tired of a ghastly war which has gone on for far too long.
I believe that the United States is allowing herself to be used as a vehicle of Communist planning to help create the conditions which are prerequisite to Communist progress. In my view, it would be in every sense a United States victory if she could achieve a peaceful agreement and complete withdrawal and replace her military expenditure by economic and technical aid on a massive scale without political strings. I believe that the potential rank and file Communist supporters will lose interest in politics once they have food, employment, housing and the promise of a reasonable future. I think that hon. Members will agree that people tend to lose their interest in politics if they have these things.
I believe that the peace initiative must come from the Americans, with an immediate and unconditional cessation of bombing and an undertaking to withdraw once negotiations, under the supervision of an international control commission, commence.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Hale (Oldham. West)
Hanoi and Haiphong, and the once grossly over-populated bank of the Red River, or that part which lies from the port to the capital, is today a new Stalingrad. Latest reports describe a state of siege. Latest reports say that there has been infinitely more destruction than has been reported and that there is an adult male population living in underground shelters carrying on the fight with limited arms while the army is well away engaged on various fields of encounter.
Ho Chi-Minh is one of the great indomitable figures who will on in history when many American Presidents are forgotten. For 40 years, since he made his 992 first speech in French Touraine, not the Vietnamese port, he has carried on this struggle. I have heard some remarkable statements made today, not least the ethnological disquisition from the benches opposite. Every book describes the Annamese as one people. The English have had infiltration, much more than has has occurred in Annam. The old colonial books which talk in terms of patronage gave one testimony to them and said that nowhere in the world was there this intense love of one's native soil. This is their devotion. a devotion of 1,000 years. The people of Annam stretched all over that coastal area which we used to call Cochin-China, Tonkin, Annam and even the montagnards area. They were one people; they must be one people; never was there a clearer example of an economy which needed division, with the minerals in the north and the rice in the south.
The hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell), who commenced his speech very well, but finished it rather badly, although he was interrupted and may have been put off, got to 1954 with some credit. He spoke of his association with Lord Avon and his successful efforts at Geneva in 1954. He said that we did not exclude elections. The point has been made that a cease-fire line has to be drawn somewhere. There is no great geographical significance in that. Elections were guaranteed in 1956. Not for the first time. There were to be elections in the south, before the time of the abortive treaty of Fontainebleau.
When we talk about South Vietnam as a people, why are the Americans bombing the Mekong Delta? Why is half the war being conducted on the territory of South Vietnam? Does anyone seriously regard the people carrying on the war against Saigon in South Vietnam or along the 800-mile Ho Chi-Minh Road as infiltrators? They have lived there. It has been said that they have been fighting for 12 years. They have been fighting for a quarter of a century. They were fighting while Ho Chi-Minh was abroad. These are the people who carried on the war against the Japanese invasion. These are the people who were fighting for the freedom of their country before the French said, "We used to own this. We bought one country for a couple of thousand cattle, and another part, old Indo-China, was given us by a French 993 explorer. We claim our rights "Having virtually surrendered and evacuated the country, the French returned.
I have great sympathy with President Johnson. He inherited this war—although the Americans did not—from his predecessors. His position now is clearly that if he continues with the sort of destruction that is now going on, America will forfeit the good will of the world.
The hon. Member for Hendon. North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) talked in rather airy terms about 450,000 Americans not representing a gargantuan effort, but this is not a war which is being conducted by men. It is a war which is being conducted by machines. The modern strata-Fortress aircraft which fly from Guam have 20 times the destructive force of each super-fortress which was used to bomb Germany during the war. Figures are incomputable, but the Americans are now pouring upon North and South Vietnam a force much greater in destructive power than was poured on Germany.
All the resources of modern science are being devoted to the creation of new machines of torture—in the North, the grenades which spread steel, minute darts or needles, in infinite quantities which enter the skin through a tiny hole and the results of which cannot be cured by surgical operation except by opening up the whole area of destruction inside.
The people suffer deprivation of food and in Hanoi the ration is said to be 300 grammes, or a little less than 1 lb. a month. There are no animals left in the zoo; they eat too much. Everybody has been evacuated as far as possible in the interests of safety. Children with baskets reproduce the history of the Nile by carrying soil to repair the damage to the river banks. In Hanoi, which was the capital of the whole country under French rule, a whole people are in a state of siege. They are showing courage, determination and nationalism which the world has never seen surpassed. They have carried on a war which for some of them has hardly ceased all these years —against the Japanese, for example; a resistance even to possibilities of Chinese invasion; against the French, and against the whole force of the United States of America.
Napalm bombs are now a weight of 750 lb. Some of the smaller planes go 994 out with a load of two such napalm bombs and two or three grenade bombs. The low-flying planes which spray bullets have weapons with a firing power of 600 bullets a minute. They go over in droves, so that the air traffic lanes outside Hanoi are now carrying more traffic than Orly.
President Johnson is in the situation that if he carries on with this war, he will lose the respect of the world. If he withdraws, he will lose the election. If he goes on, his situation will become worse than ever before, because if American troops cross the border and get near to the Red River or Black River, the American people will then want to know how many of their fighting troops will have to remain to man the border in face of 600 million Chinese, who are prepared to wait until their power increases and until the situation has developed into something irrevocable, inevitable, and final—the end of civilisation as we know it.
I have never wanted to quarrel with America. I have nothing anti-American about me. The Americans often do the right thing for the wrong reason, and the wrong thing for the right reason, but they do some very sinister things too. Even my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), in a brilliant and gifted speech, one of the best I have ever heard made in this House in so short a time, omitted that the Central Intelligence Agency, we understand, organised the Right-wing revolt in British Guiana, which we this House debated at the time without any suspicion, knowledge or comment. I think that I quote that correctly from the Sunday Times.
Looking back on the past can be a barren business. It was the late Sir Winston Churchill who said that the result of recriminating about the past was to enforce action about the present. Does anyone here think that Ho Chi-Minh can go to the conference table while his capital is being destroyed? Would we go to the conference table while London was being bombed? I am old enough to remember the Landsdowne letter and its reception, when somebody suggested that we should make peace in the First World War, when Lord Lansdowne suggested it with great statesmanship and with great wisdom. If the Lansdowne letter had been accepted, it might have been better 995 for the world, because the subsequent slaughter led to no conceivable identifiable result.
Does anyone think that Ho Chi-Minh can go to the conference table while President Johnson says, "I will not talk to the Vietcong. I will not have the National Liberation Movement represented "? That movement is of Ho ChiMinh's creation. It is, of course, the old Viet Minh. What authority can Ho Chi-Minh have now on guerrillas in the Mekong delta? How could he go to the conference table without them? How could he even announce terms? To speculate on terms is idle.
The longer this conflict lasts, the greater the hatred, the greater the bitterness and the greater will be the fragmentation of that community. General de Gaulle talked about a neutralisation of Vietnam. Mendes-France has gone further and has suggested something that is worth considering—and he has a right to be respected in matters concerning Vietnam. He at least altered French policy for a brief period. Mendes-France says that the real solution for the next 20 years is the agreed neutralisation of South-East Asia. It is not a visionary project when one thinks of Thailand and Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
That is not as difficult as one might think. One does not know how far it could extend, but think what it could mean if the resources of science were devoted to restoring mankind, to restoring prosperity, to building up the lives of the people, to carrying on the war against want. If arms and the necessity for arms were removed from this area, which is still one of the poorest areas of the world yet possessing minerals that have never been developed and possessing resources which could manifestly be greatly increased, then under the guidance of Powers which, I hope, will ultimately give up their arms, there could be established an area of prosperity, of freedom of thought and of liberty which the area has not seen since explorers came from the West in the centuries long since gone.
§ 1.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
Much of the most sincere speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale) I would agree with, but I am afraid also that much of 996 what was said was the very natural outcome of any war, and I do feel that in this debate there has been, in one or two speeches, quite a lot of emotion which, in a debate such as this, I am sure the House would wish to keep out. I think these stories of tragedies and cruelties, although they are very real, are already well known we know about them, and I think that this debate, as the hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) said, in what I thought was a very good and courageous speech, is about how we must endeavour to bring this war to an end.
We have had various contributions from various people here, but listening to the story about this war, I must say that it revives one's own memories of war, and one's own memories of war are horrible, and memories of cruelty. Moreover, one must recognise that all of us here want to see the war ended, and I think it essential to bring that point home. But for those who had the privilege to fight in the last war in defence of freedom, one cannot help saying this, that if some of the appeals which have been made today to stop the bombing had been made in that war we should not be sitting here in this Parliament today in freedom to debate what we are debating today.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Is the hon. Member really saying that it is false that the report of our bombing of German industry was to the effect that the injury we did to German production was very small and not comparable to the cost to us of bombing?
§ Mr. Marten
I am sorry, but I did not quite catch what the hon. and learned Member said. Would he like to say it again?
§ Mr. Paget
I am very sorry. As for the bombing of the German civilian population—and I was one of the people who strongly opposed it—in the last war, the ultimate result of the analysis was that the cost to us, to our industry, of that bombing was infinitely greater than the damage done to the Germans.
§ Mr. Marten
If halfway through the German war there had been successful 997 appeals to stop the bombing, I sincerely believe that the war would not have ended as quickly as it did. That was really the point I was making.
§ Mr. Marten
The hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) quoted U 'Thant as saying,I air convinced that if there were a cessation of bombing in Vietnam it would be possible to find a solution.But surely there have been three cessations of bombing, but there has been no offer, no peep, out of North Vietnam towards finding a solution. I think that the next Member who intervenes to support the Motion should explain why there has been no offer whatsoever, because I am mystified by this.
Another point which I would make about the speech of the hon. Member for Tottenham arises out of his remark that bombing in this area is a non-reciprocal activity. I think I understand what he means: the North Vietnamese are not using aeroplanes, nor are the Vietcong in their fighting in South Vietnam. But surely it is not bombing which matters so much: it is killing; it is the killing of people, whether bombed from the air or bon bed from the ground. It is the killing and maiming which we deplore. So to say this bombing is non-reciprocal is really only looking at one side of the case. For example, to look at the figures in 1963 of what happened in South Vietnam at the hands of North Vietnam or the Vietcong. There were 2,073 people assassinated by the Vietcong in South Vietnam in 1963. There were 8,375 injured by the Vietcong in 1963. There were 7,262 kidnapped by the Vietcong. Anyhow, there were over 2,000 deaths from the ground, and so to say that bombing is non-reciprocal is, I think, to give a very unfair slant to the argument.
§ Mr. Hugh Jenkins (Putney)
Will the hon. Gentleman not agree that almost exactly the argument he has just been using was used by the Germans during the last war? They accused the resistance movements of gross brutality and sought to justify the bombing of Coventry for that reason. Is he not saying the same thing?
§ Mr. Marten
I do not think so at all. I think the German charge of gross brutality by the Resistance movements is completely spurious, and having been in the French Resistance myself for a short time I would confirm that it was the German occupying forces who were extremely cruel indeed. With respect, I do not think that is relevant to this debate.
I should like to make just a comment on the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), whose great sincerity, if not whose wisdom, we always agree with. He said that in 1954 there was the cease-fire agreement and that all that happened was the military demarcation line on the 17th parallel. That is quite true historically, but, afterwards, it was consolidated by North Vietnam into what, unhappily, are now two separate States.
Another point which was made by an hon. Member opposite—I think it was the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman)—during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) was, how did the Americans get there? It was not answered because of the shortness of time, but in 1955 it was the Vietnamese who requested the President, President Eisenhower at that time, of the United States to assist Vietnam in the organisation and training of the Vietnamese forces. That is the origin of the American situation in Vietnam.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr
Is it not true that the United States in the year preceding Dien Bien Phu in 1954 poured in at least 1 million dollars on behalf of the French colonialists?
§ Mr. Marten
I am afraid that I cannot confirm or deny that figure. What I am saying is that the United States military commitment started by the request from Vietnam to go there and look atter the training of their army, and that is why they are there today.
But it is interesting to look at the events in those days. In the first year, 1954–55, 900,000 refugees came from the North to the South. It has been said in the debate today that some of those were South Vietnamese returning home. It has also been suggested by someone on the other side of the House that among those were the Vietcong coming in. I think 999 that is also true. North Vietnam used the great flood of refugees from the North to the South and placed in it Vietcong officers and training cadres to establish themselves in the South. The interesting part is that there was no reverse movement to the North. The only conclusion I draw from that is that the Vietnamese people did not at that time—and still do not—wish to live under a Communist regime, elections or no. These figures are very eloquent indeed, and there was no reverse flow of people wanting to go from South Vietnam up to the North.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irvine)
Order. As Mr. Speaker pointed out earlier, interventions prolong speeches, and there is a large number of hon. Members who wish to take part in this debate.
§ Mr. Marten
I would add this, that in this year of 1967 desertions from the Vietcong to South Vietnam are taking place at an annual rate of 40,000; 40,000 people are deserting from the Vietcong at that rate this year, and I cannot really believe that there is any reverse movement going the other way. Whether or not we have elections, these figures are very eloquent of the fact, as I believe it to be, that the Vietnamese people do not want a Communist régime.
As regards infiltration, between 1959 and 1964, it is estimated, 20,000 Vietnamese soldiers, officers and technicians entered South Vietnam from the North, and the organisation of the Vietnam People's Revolutionary Party in the South was proclaimed from North Vietnam, and North Vietnam claimed that this had been brought about by the Marxists and Leninists. I think this underlines the fact that what we are seeing in Vietnam is the old, old struggle, which has long existed between the free countries and the dictatorships, be they Nazi, Fascist or Communist.
Again to get the record straight, Vietnam has been receiving American aid since 1950. In May, 1961, the Americans decided to step up their aid and increase military assistance from 700 people. In the following year, 12,000 Americans were sent to Vietnam. Today, there are approximately 600,000 Americans in the 1000 area, costing something like 25 billion dollars a year. Since 1961, 8,000 Americans have been killed.
The House must recall that, in the last two years, there have been 38 peace efforts rejected by Hanoi, and we have had no explanation from hon. Members opposite who sit below the Gangway of why Hanoi will not come to the conference table. There has been a lot of argument about who is asked, and so on, but if they were prepared to come to the conference table, I am certain that the Americans would accept a round table conference including all the parties.
Most of us will remember the fearful cost throughout history of ignoring aggression. By any standards, we see in Vietnam aggression by the North Vietnamese against the South Vietnamese. We see the invasion of the South by the North. The South Vietnamese never wanted this war and never started it. It was the North who started it, and it is the North who continue it, aided by their Communist allies.
If one looks back to World War II, one remembers a very similar situation, with the build-up of a war like this by Hitler. I do not say that it is exactly the same, but one saw the same tactics of terrorism throughout Eastern Europe by Hitler, followed by the war. In the end, it was Britain and the Commonwealth who halted the march of the Nazis, and we were later joined by our Americans and other allies who defeated them. In the end, as much as anything, it was the very effectiveness of the bombing which brought the war to an end and which ultimately brought peace. Those of us who were in the war can be fairly certain about that.
After the war we had several similar attempts at aggression as we had from the Nazis. We had the Russian dictatorship which tried to expand into Europe, and that was stopped by the Berlin airlift. Then we had the Chinese dictatorship in North Korea trying to take South Korea, and that was checked by the action of the Americans and UNO. That is why 46,000 Koreans are now fighting on the side of South Vietnam in this terrible war. Then we had similar attempts in Malaya by the Communists to try to take over there—[An Hon. MEMBER: "And Rhodesia"] I am not sure that they tried to take over Rhodsia, but in Malaya we saw 1001 the same tactics of sabotage, disruption of the country and subversion. To win, Britain had to be determined, courageous and have the will to win. Now Malaya lives in peace, and I hope that that will be the outcome of the war in South Vietnam.
If a country like America is prepared to help a country like South Vietnam, which, after all, is recognised by 80 other countries, to defend its freedom against this brutal attack, it must use its military power to achieve the aim which it has set itself. Once it commits its forces into battle, it must fight to victory or at least to a satisfactory settlement. In the process, as in any war, unfortunately it must kill and maim. For the morale of its troops, it must do all that it can to bomb communications, dumps of arms and ammunition and supply lines, otherwise those same weapons will be used to kill its own soldiers. No army commander could allow that to happen, and that is why the bombing goes on.
This is the logic of war. It is the outcome of one thing only, and that is the aggression of the North Vietnamese. They could come to the conference table. If they persist in going on with the war, they must pay the price. I believe that the North Vietnamese, backed up by the Chinese and no doubt encouraged by the Russians, are playing politics with death, and the situation which we are now discussing lies firmly at their door.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Richard (Barons Court)
This is a Motion which, I should have thought, was a significant one for a House of Commons discussion of these important matters in South East Asia.
Before I turn to the remarks which I wish to make, may I say that I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) with interest and with the irritation which I find often in listening to him. His doctrine of reciprocal killing, so far as it is applied to the bombing of North Vietnam by the Americans is a ludicrous mis-assessment both of American intentions, and of what is going on in that country.
We have always been given to understand by the United States Government that the object of the bombing was not to kill North Vietnamese but to damage the North Vietnamese military potential and to help towards a negotiating position
§ Mr. Marten
That is the point which I was making at the end of my speech. I said that they were bombing dumps and communications for warlike purposes.
§ Mr. Richard
That intervention adds nothing to the hon. Gentleman's original statement. I do not accept the doctrine, of which apparently he approves, of reciprocal killing by bombing.
It is right that this debate should take place, that the subject should be given an airing, and that there should be an attempt to redefine the British attitude on the situation. It is right that at this stage, we should again try to analyse the situation and bring what influence we may have to bear upon the protagonists in an attempt to achieve a peaceful settlement.
I have heard all the speeches which have been made so far. The debate was opened in a very constructive manner by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson), and it has so far been an extraordinarily good debate, save only for the intervention by the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing). However, when he reads what he said in HANSARD and then compares it with what other hon. Members have said, he may find himself regretting some of his remarks.
If we are to try to redefine and reassess the situation, it is right that we should recognise our own limitations and the precise limits which there are upon our powers of action. The British status in the Vietnam situation is confined to one matter alone and that is that, almost by the accident of history, we find ourselves one of the two co-Chairmen of the 1954 Geneva Conference. It is certainly true that Britain did not become a co-chairman because she was neutral in the original dispute. She was made one of the two co-chairmen because, with the Soviet Union on one side and ourselves on the other, it was found much easier to agree upon having two chairmen, neither of whom was neutral, than to find one nation who could be said to be genuinely impartial in the affair.
Therefore, our diplomatic status is limited. Our power status in the area is non-existent. We have no troops committed in South Vietnam, the withdrawal 1003 of whom can act as a sanction so as to influence policy on either side. That is in no way an argument for committing troops to Vietnam. I am pointing out merely our limitation of action and power in the area. If we had troops committed there, we could have the sanction of threatening to withdraw them unless American policy went in a direction of which we approved. Lacking that sanction, our only status is diplomatic and our only power is one of persuasive influence in Washington.
I think that if we are going to reassess the situation today there are certain difficult facts which we should bring out in the open and try to face. First, a unilateral withdrawal by the United States is clearly not a practical proposition. Despite the peace movements which there may be in America itself, I see little sign of any crack in the American resolve to see this thing through. I see little sign of any weakening of the determination of the Americans, but if that be true of one side, it is equally true of the other. I see little sign either of movement within the ranks of the North Vietnamese to give up what they still think they can win by military means. I do not see any sign in Hanoi or in the ranks of the N.L.F. that they are prepared to withdraw.
I feel also an increasing sign of dismay in looking at the situation on seeing that both protagonists seem to be taking up firmer, clearer, and more entrenched positions in which there seems to be little sign of movement on either side, for I tend to apportion blame rather more equally in this whole unfortunate affair than do some of my hon. Friends.
Faced with this intransigent situation, with the two sides becoming firmer and more determined, it seems to me that to get a political settlement out of the whole affair one prerequisite is necessary. It will be necessary in any political settlement to provide some proposals which can give Hanoi the possibility of winning power in the south by political rather than by military means.
I do not see that the Americans or the South Vietnamese have any hope of persuading North Vietnam to give up its attempt to gain political sovereignity and power in the south. Therefore, if any 1004 political settlement is to emerge, it has to be one which the peace movement in Hanoi can show to the North Vietnamese people and to their opponents in the Hanoi Government and say, "Here are political proposals which it is worth one accepting because there is now a reasonable chance that if they are accepted we will win power by political means. Therefore, we can cease the fighting".
The proposals for that settlement must include three elements. First, it must include direct representation by the N.L.F. in any future political movement inside South Vietnam. If one is to try to arrive at a political solution in this unhappy war, it is hopeless to deny to one of the main protagonists the right to engage in political activities when that solution is eventually arrived at
The second element which it clearly envisages is a cease-fire on both sides, not I think by any grand declaration on the part of either the Americans or the North Vietnamese that they are prepared to cease fighting permanently, but perhaps initially a truce on the basis that each side will remain where it is at present until a political settlement results.
The third element is that the political argument must be one in which both sides take part. This is very important, because if when one comes to considering the politics of the matter either side feels that it is entitled to the whole share of such political fruits as may result from the settlement, the whole thing will break down.
The crucial question for the cessation of bombing is, therefore, would the unilateral cessation of bombing by the United States aid such a political arrangement or not? To put it another way, would it aid the peace party in Hanoi in persuading the North Vietnamese people that there is a reasonable chance of gaining political control in the south by non-military means? It is to this aspect of the matter that this debate ought to be directed.
I would like to say two things about the bombing. I am not convinced of the military usefulness or effectiveness of a continuation of the bombing. Evidence that the bombing of the North contributes materially to a slowing down of Vietcong activity in the south is extraordinarily scanty. There is little hard information to this effect, and I need more 1005 than I have seen so far to persuade me of the military usefulness of the continuation of the bombing.
Secondly, it seems to me that if the bombing is to bring pressure for a settlement, it is clearly not succeeding. What has happened since the Americans started to bomb intensively, is not that the North Vietnamese have become more amenable to negotiations, but rather that they have become less so. The possible military usefulness of a continuation of the bombing is beginning to outweigh the possible diplomatic advantages of a cessation, and this is a matter which the American Government will have to explore with more clarity than they appear to have done in the past.
Moreover, if one believes that the object of the bombing is to persuade the North Vietnamese to come to the conference table, then putting the bombing on this particular rung of the escalatory ladder is wrong. As a piece of machinery to bring pressure for negotiations, bombing should have been one of the last steps on the escalatory ladder, and not one of the first.
If the Americans were in a position to say now to the North Vietnamese, "We want these talks. We are prepared to negotiate a political settlement, but we must give fair warning that if our continued diplomatic attempts to get negotiations going are rejected we might then find ourselves in the position of having to bomb military targets in the north", they would be in a much stronger diplomatic position than they are at the moment. In my opinion it may well be that the military usefulness of the continuation of the bombing by the Americans is beginning to outweigh the diplomatic usefulness of the cessation of it. I think, therefore, that one ought to consider carefully what Britain's role should be in this affair.
The Motion as drafted seems to be unnecessarily one-sided. If one looks at U Thant's proposals, one sees that there were a number of other matters referred to in his proposals of 9th March, which I assume are the ones my hon. Friend had in mind in drafting the Motion. One was that with a cessation of the bombing North Vietnam would scale down its military activities in the south, but there has been no indication whatsoever from the North Vietnamese that in return for 1006 the cessation of the bombing they would be prepared to slow down their military activities in the south.
In this regard, believing that our only influence in this whole affair is one of persuasive influence in Washington— and I have always held this view since this matter first came before the House of Commons—it seems to me to be wrong that we should throw away the only influence we have in return for what, at best, would be a gesture of dissociation. I do not believe that a declaration of dissociation by the British Government, a public one as called for in the Motion, would achieve anything. I do not believe that the mere fact of dissociating ourselves from the United States Government would in any way aid a settlement in this area.
It seems to me that the attitude of the British Government is broadly right. I say this in that somewhat qualified way because I believe that what is in fact happening is that we are trying to maintain such influence as we have in Washington, while at the same time we are trying to point out to the American Government that the military usefulness of a continuation of the sort of bombing that is now taking place in North Vietnam is beginning to outweigh the possible diplomatic advantages of its cessation. This seems to me to be sensible and right.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
I say at once that I respect the feelings of hon. Members opposite who are supporting the Motion today. I disagree with them, but I respect their sincerity in what they have done. Equally, I hope that they will accept the sincerity of the views held on this side of the House, even though they may not agree with them.
I hope, too, that no one in this country will claim any special or unique degree of compassion or pity for what is happening in Vietnam. The President of the United States is just as concerned, if not more, about the killing on both sides in Vietnam, and he and the American people, as the Vietnamese people, the Australians and the rest, are just as concerned as any man in the House of Commons to see this war stopped, and frequently their concern is based on better information.
1007 I was recently in the United States. I was very impressed to see the intensity with which this war is felt by the American people. I will mention only two incidents. In a small town in Oklahoma, I went to a church service and was struck by the fact that after the sermon, the names of 18 American boys from that town in Oklahoma were read out as serving in Vietnam. At the University in St. Louis one morning my bed was left unmade. The dean of the university rang up and personally apologised because the negro woman who was to have made up my bed had had a telegram that morning saying that her son had just been killed in Vietnam. In America this war is very real. It is even more real in Vietnam and I hope that no one in the House of Commons will presume to some monopoly of compassion or pity about a war which affects those who are involved in it rather more deeply than it does us here in Britain.
I may add with some chagrin that the United Kingdom is not doing badly out of the war. We are trading with both sides and although our trade in the North is very small, our trade to South Vietnam, as a result of the war, has increased by 400 per cent., the largest increase of any nation to South Vietnam over the last four years. Last year it reached the very large total of £4,500,000. I have no complaint about this. Not in Cuba, nor China, nor Spain, nor Rhodesia have I ever believed that ideology should form the basis of trading policy. But I hope that hon. Members opposite will realise, when they lash themselves into emotional fervour over this question, that we are trading and doing well out of a lot of trade with this war.
§ Mr. Richard
Purely as a matter of fact, it is not correct to say that we are trading with Hanoi. As the hon. Gentleman ought to know, one or two British ships within the last six months have gone into Hanoi flying the British flag, but almost all have been registered in Hong Kong.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman and I accept his correction.
I want first to deal with why there is war in South Vietnam. I think that I know the history as well as hon. Members 1008 opposite do. It is a complex tangle, but the reason why this war is going on is that an attempt is being made to change an existing Government, recognised by 80 nations, by force. It is going on because at the request of South Vietnam, the United States is seeking to prevent that Government from being overthrown by force.
The ways in which this attempt is being made are well known. There are the guerrilla activities of the Vietcong themselves and there are the open reinforcements, one might say invasion, by regular battalions from North Vietnam. No one in the House will defend the invasion of South Vietnam, but I should like for a moment to consider the activities of the guerrillas the "liberators", as they are called. I have collected one or two recent examples in which hon. Members will be interested.
Since 1960, an enormous programme of rural education, providing schools for illiterate peasants, has been undertaken in South Vietnam and since that time 90 of the teachers sent to these rural schools have been murdered by the Vietcong and 260 have been kidnapped. Some other examples of the techniques of the liberation of the civilian population of South Vietnam consist of a hand grenade attack on a village cinema when 108 people were killed or badly wounded, including 24 women and children; a mortar attack on a civilian crowd in Saigon which killed 12 civilians and wounded 32 others; land mines which have blown up dozens of rural buses, killing village workers on their way to the rice fields; and there was even the case of 30 unarmed Vietnamese construction workers who were spending the night in a Buddhist pagoda when 23 of them were stabbed to death or had their throats cut during the night.
These barbarities are going on every day. Most of the publicity and most of the horror are attached to the American bombing. I regret that bombing, but the House should recognise that the Vietcong have murdered more than 11,000 South Vietnamese civilians over the last nine years, and some of them were killed in an effort to prevent their getting to the polling booths for elections which are denied in North Vietnam, but which have taken place in South Vietnam.
None of these murders by the Vietcong is accidental. None of them is 1009 indiscriminate. On the contrary, in every case they are carefully selected and deliberate acts of terror. Their purpose is clear and the Communists have openly acknowledged this purpose. It is to cow and to terrify the ordinary people of the South Vietnamese villages into deserting the Government in Saigon and joining the Vietcong. So much for "liberation", Vietcong style.
The second point which I want to make is why there is no peace in Vietnam. The principal responsibility lies with the war party in Hanoi. Since February, 1965, there have been not five, not 10, not 25, not 30 attempts to come to the peace conference table. There have been 38 separate international efforts to achieve a peace conference. In every case the United States and South Vietnam have accepted the proposition put before them and in every case, bar none, it has been rejected by the men of Hanoi.
I could easily weary the House with a list of those many attempts. I will not do so, for they are well known, but whether it came from the 17 unaligned nations, from the Pope, from the United Nations, from the British Foreign Secretary, from the Indian Prime Minister, from the President of the United States, Hanoi rejected it. I say that the responsibility for the continuation of the war and for the fact that there is no peace lies mainly at the door of the Hanoi Government.
Hon. Members have pleaded for the United States to stop the bombing. I would like the bombing to stop, but I would like to refer the House to a statement made by Senator Edwin Brooke, a distinguished negro who was Attorney-General of Massachusetts and who now represents his State in the Senate. Mr. Brooke is a liberal. How could any American negro be anything else but a liberal? During his recent visit to Vietnam, he urged President Ty to talk with the National Liberation Front. On his return, he advised President Johnson to do everything in his power to take the first step towards negotiations. When he reported to the Senate, Senator Brooke acknowledged that when he left America to go to Vietnam he intended to recommend a halt to the bombing, but on his return this negro Senator said: 1010Mr. President, I had hoped that a cessation of the bombing in the north would bring about negotiations for peace, that if we did cease our bombing, Ho Chi Minh would come to the conference table and honest negotiations for peace could commence.Senator Brooke continued:I am discouraged. Hanoi is not interested in negotiations. Ho Chi Minh continues to place unreasonable conditions on the negotiations for a peaceful settlement.There, I think, the House will see the discouragement, the recognition of reality by a distinguished negro Senator who had originally intended to recommend a halt to the bombing. He reached that conclusion after going to Vietnam and seeing the situation for himself.
I turn to my third and last point—British policy. I would annunciate two main principles. First, Britain has a strong and direct interest in the peace and stability of South-East Asia. We have large investments in the area. We are great traders there. We have obligations to Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Thailand. Therefore, we cannot and we must not stand idly by if this vast area is threatened either by direct aggression or by persistent subversion.
My second proposition is that since Britain cannot possibly maintain the stability of South-East Asia—we have not got the strength or the resources—we must attempt to do so with our friends and our allies. We must do it or attempt to do it with our Asian friends in Malaysia and increasingly as time goes by in India and Japan. We must do it as well with Commonwealth partners like Australia and New Zealand who did not let us down in our hour of need.
Above all, we must rely on our greatest and our strongest partner, the United States. I have never supported the United States uncritically. Indeed, I have been criticising the United States, whether over Germany or Korea or China or Cuba, in the place where it really matters—in the American Press, on the American television and in the United States State Department—for nearly 20 years. I have the record to show hon. Members if they would like to see it. But, however many objections I had and still have to American policy, whether in Vietnam or anywhere else, this much I know clearly: the Americans are not in South-East Asia for reasons of self-aggrandisement. They are there at the request of the legal 1011 Government—[Horn. MEMBERS: "0h"] —which we recognise—[Horn. MEMBERS: "Withdraw"]—and they are there to stop the Republic of South Vietnam being taken over by force. In this I believe the great majority of the British people support them.
I warn hon. Members opposite that it would be an infinitely sad and dangerous day if, by some mischance the Americans were to grow weary of their task in Asia and recoil into their North American bastion, letting the world go hang. We all know what happened after the First World War when America contracted out of world affairs. I hope and pray that this will not happen in Asia where the security and the livelihood of many millions of ordinary Asian people depend very largely on America.
Today the United States is feeding one-sixth of all the people of India and Pakistan. American food, given without any thought of international aggrandisement, fed Europe after the war, and today it is doing the same in much of Asia. Today the United States is providing a guarantee, similar to the guarantee that has been given to Western Europe under N.A.T.O. against aggression, for the Philippines, for Taiwan, for Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and, most important of all at the moment, for Thailand and Vietnam.
These Asian and Pacific nations who are on the spot, who have to live with Asia, which we do not, are in no doubt about where they stand. That is why Australia and New Zealand have sent troops to fight alongside the Americans, why the Filipinos, the Koreans and the Nationalist Chinese are in Vietnam. The Japanese and Indian Governments, like our own, want peace in Vietnam. But neither of them want the Americans to lose and to withdraw.
If any hon. Member opposite disagrees with this, let me quote a statement made last week by one of Asia's leading neutralist statesmen, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, the Socialist Prime Minister of Singapore. He said the problem of Vietnam wasnot a question of America wanting to dominate it. but whether the United States can prevent Asia being added to somebody else's strength.His conclusion as it appeared in the New York Times was: 1012… if the United States could maintain the situation in Vietnam and prevent the Communists from winning, it would have made a valuable long-term contribution to the stability of the area.That is the statement of the Socialist Prime Minister, the neutralist Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.
It is for that reason that successive British Governments have supported the American position. Both sides of this House are seeking an end to the war. From the Tory back bench I would give to the present Government and to the Prime Minister their due in doing their utmost to get both sides to the conference table. Yet, with one exception, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have also consistently supported our American allies and they have done so in the face of most determined assaults from members of their own party. Against that background the Prime Minister ought to be one of the most highly regarded and best trusted men in Washington. He has taken political risks on behalf of the American alliance, and I know from personal experience that this point is well appreciated in Washington. So, too, have been the efforts of the Prime Minister to get through to Hanoi.
However, I must tell the House that while his efforts rate a marking of "A", his achievements so far have got to be rated rather lowerer than that. The sad thing is that after all that the Prime Minister has done in recent weeks and months, his standing has taken a tumble in Washington.
§ Mr. Richard
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understood that this Motion was about Vietnam and not about the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I am listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. He has just begun to refer to the Prime Minister. He must, of course, relate all his remarks to the Motion on the Order Paper.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure the Prime Minister does not need the protection of his hon. Friend on this matter, nor your protection, Sir.
Rightly or wrongly, so far as Vietnam is concerned, the Prime Minister stands accused in America of using his peace attempts to head off Left-wing attacks on 1013 his own Government. I accept unreservedly the genuineness of the Prime Minister's efforts in Vietnam, and when I encountered attacks on his sincerity while in. Washington I rejected them out of hand, because there are no party politics on the other side of the water when we are in America. We are all Englishmen or Britons—not Conservatives or Socialists—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. This is a very serious debate. I hope hon. Members will listen to the arguments which are put forward.
§ Mr. Griffiths
If hon. Members opposite do not like this, they will just have to lump it. It is no use blinking the fact that many Americans, some of them in the highest places in the land, are deeply suspicious of the present Prime Minister on the question of Vietnam. They suspect him of using his Vietnam peace efforts for domestic, political advantage. They hesitate before giving him their complete confidence, if only out of an anxiety that he may be thought capable of seizing on any new American initiative and trying to claim credit for it.[HON. MEMBERS: "0h"]The Prime Minister and his hon. Friends may not like this, and I do not like it either. Having spent a great deal of my life in the United States, I never thought to live to see the day when I could be told in Washington that the British Prime Minister talks N.A.T.O. in Washington and neutralism in Moscow.
§ Mr. Mendelson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a serious point. The hon. Gentleman has just made a serious allegation against the Prime Minister. Ought he not now to give the source of it?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is responsible for any statements which he makes to the House, but nothing that he has said so far is out of order or a matter for the Chair.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I want to get through my speech quickly—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and it would 1014 be much easier if I was not interrupted so much.
I want the House to know why this suspicion of British policy in Vietnam exists, against the background of the Prime Minister having done so much, first, to support his American allies and, second, to seek out peace. I believe that the deepening American distrust of the Prime Minister stems from exactly the same source as the deepening distrust which his own hon. Friends are demonstrating in the Motion today. It stems, first, from the fact that the Prime Minister, on Vietnam as on other matters, has said different things to different people. Second, it stems from the fact that he has been seen to be capable of trimming his policy to suit his domestic political necessities. No one doubts that the Prime Minister has done this at home, whether over unemployment or over the Common Market—
§ Mr. James Johnson
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Has the hon. Gentleman given the Prime Minister notice that he intended to make this personal attack?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. There is only a short time left for the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Order. Many hon. Members wish to take part. I would say both to the House and to the hon. Gentleman that, if he can conclude his speech and not be interrupted further, that would enable more hon. Members to take part than otherwise.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I can undertake to conclude my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I cannot undertake not to be interrupted.
The reason why this distrust has come into existence can be illustrated by the reaction to the dissociation from United States bombing of Haiphong. For a year, the right hon. Gentleman supported the American bombing of targets in small towns and villages. Then, when the target was switched to the railway yards, oil tanks, and suburbs of Haiphong, at that point he dissociated. Since then, the Americans have extended their bombing to steel works and supply dumps much closer to the centre of Haiphong. What has the Prime Minister said about that? 1015 He has not dissociated now. He spoke one way six months ago and he speaks a different way today. Hon. Members know that this is true. It is this kind of morality mincing which does most to deepen American mistrust of his policies.
But that is not the end of it. Following Mr. Kosygin's visit—[HON. MEMBERS: "Rhubarb"] I hope that the House will listen to this, because it is of importance to Britain. Following Mr. Kosygin's visit, during which the right hon. Gentleman did his utmost to get the beginnings of negotiation started, he made a dramatic broadcast. The impression which he gave was that, as a result of his efforts, a settlement in Vietnam was almost within reach, and he used these words:… if only there had been one single, simple act of trust".He did not say from whom that act of trust should come. I must tell the House that the Prime Minister's words were picked up and were used as ammunition against the President of the United States by his critics, and, quoting the Prime Minister, Mr. Johnson's critics demanded that the United States should nowperform that single, simple act of trust".Yet, when the Prime Minister made that statement on television in Britain, he knew what the House, the public and the world did not know, namely, that President Johnson had written personally to Ho Chi-Minh offering to start secret talks at any time and in any place, and with the possibility of the bombing being called off. There could, therefore, be no question of the United States needing to perform a simple act of trust. That act had already been performed, and the Prime Minister knew it.
The reaction of the Americans to the Prime Minister's call for that act of faith has been conveyed very forcibly to many people. It caused a British Embassy official in Washington to explain, with embarrassment, that what the Prime Minister meant was not an act of faith by Washington but an act of faith from Hanoi. Lest hon. Members think that I am not an adequate source of this information, let me quote the dispatch of Mr. Anthony Howard, a well-known Socialist commentator who, writing from Washington, said:Mr. Wilson's standing here … has declined sharply over the past few weeks. This 1016 is a result of what is regarded as his grossly exaggerated account of how near to success he came in his efforts with Mr. Kosygin.… In a recent interview with a Commonwealth Ambassador I understand that President Johnson accused Mr. Wilson of having ludicrously magnified his role to reap a domestic political dividend.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right that this debate should be used by the hon. Gentleman for a spiteful personal attack on the Prime Minister?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. As I have said, the hon. Gentleman is responsible for what he says to the House. Nothing he has said so far is out of order. But I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are many hon. Members waiting to speak, and he has already taken longer than any other Member who has spoken in the debate.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I can claim to have had many more interventions and interruptions than any other Member, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Yesterday, I asked the Prime Minister a Question on the subject of Vietnam, and I asked it because I was given the impression in Washington that the Prime Minister, though he knew in general terms that another American peace initiative was under way, was not advised of the contents of Mr. Johnson's letter to Ho Chi-Minh until after it had been delivered. [HoN. MEMBERS: "Sit down"] This, after all, is precisely what one would conclude from the fact that, on the very day, 8th February, that the message arrived in Hanoi, the Soviet Prime Minister, Mr. Kosygin, went to the Guildhall and made a violent attack on the United States, which, if anything, must have been likely to damage the prospects of the President's overtures being accepted in Hanoi.
If the Soviet Prime Minister knew of Mr. Johnson's message and still made his attack, he was guilty of an extremely mischievous action.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have your Ruling on this point? We are today debating the Motion which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) succeeded in having the right to move as a result of the Ballot. 1017 Is it right that, at this time in the debate, with so many hon. Members waiting to speak and so little time left, the hon. Gentleman should use the occasion to continue a debate which he was having about something else with the Prime Minister yesterday afternoon?
§ Mr. Tapsell
Further to that point of order. Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that my hon. Friend has been continually interrupted throughout his speech, and that the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Sydney Silverman) in particular has been repeatedly on his feet during the course of our discussions today?
§ Mr. Speaker
I share the anxiety of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne that more of the hon. Members who have stayed up in London for this debate should have an opportunity to speak. The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) has been on his feet for half an hour now.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I accept your suggestion, Mr. Speaker. However, what I am referring to concerns the Prime Minister, the President of the United States and the Premier of the Soviet Union, and I beg you and the House to allow me to put this point to the House, because I believe it to be of importance to this country. If the British Prime Minister at the time of Mr. Kosygin's attack on the United States in the Guildhall knew of President Johnson's personal message to Ho Chi-Minh seeking an end to the war—
§ Mr. Griffiths
I was referring to this because it was an attempt to achieve peace in Vietnam, and saying that if the Prime Minister knew of the President's overture and saw Mr. Kosygin making that violent attack at the Guildhall, which was likely to prejudice the overture that had been made, it was the Prime Minister's duty to dissociate himself from Mr. Kosygin's attack.
Because I cannot believe that the Prime Minister would have just sat there and allowed that to happen, my conclusion is that the Prime Minister did not know of the overture at that particular time. Therefore, I conclude, as I said 1018 the other day, that he has pretended to an influence on, and knowledge about, American policy which, regrettably, he does not possess. I conclude in this way, more in sorrow than in anger, that when the Prime Minister reacts as he did the other day on questions of this kind he does no good for the cause of peace in Vietnam.
I support the Government's policy in their search for peace in Vietnam. I hope that they will continue not only to seek ways and means of getting all parties to the conference table but to put forward suggestions for a long-term settlement in Vietnam, which must include unification, neutralisation, some kind of international inspection and a great measure of economic and technical aid. But at the same time I also ask that the Prime Minister and the Government shall continue their general backing of the United States, and I hope that they will not allow the Motion or any similar Motion to deter them from solidarity with the United States. I trust that they will show a greater constancy of purpose and greater consistency of policy in dealing with Washington.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on his speech and on his Motion. I believe that it is a Motion on which we should take a stand, and I respectfully give advance notice that I intend to vote for it. Moreover, I would do so even if Keir Hardie himself asked me not to.
An eminent visitor from California recently came to the House and talked to some of my colleagues and myself. He told us that in the town of Redwood City, California, an American chemical factory had been awarded a contract for napalm equivalent in weight to 3 lb. for every man, woman and child in Vietnam. We have since seen the photographs of the children and women whose faces have been burnt off with napalm.
I admit that there must he atrocities occurring on both sides, because a civil war is taking place. But what we are witnessing, because of the scale of the American bombing and the use of napalm, Lazy Dog and other horror weapons, amounts to genocide. If we condemn people who stood idly by, to use a phrase 1019 sometimes used in other circumstances, when Hitler was guilty of genocide, we should be condemned if we stood idly by at the present moment. The fighting in Vietnam is a long way from London, but I hope that we and the people of the country realise that if it continues and continues to escalation it will finish up here in London, on our own doorsteps.
There are disturbing reports from the Far East. It looks very much as if there is an intensification of the war on both sides, and it seems to me that the world is heading for a conflict between American on one side and China and Russia on the other. If that happens it will be fought with nuclear weapons on both sides and we in England will not escape.
I want to refer to an aspect of the matter which has not been mentioned today—the British Government's refusal to admit a spokesman of the South Vietnam National Liberation Front to this country. Two applications for visas have been rejected, one last year and one last month, when the purpose was to address a meeting on the subject we are discussing, of Oxford, Cambridge and London students by whom the invitation had been made.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary replied that he concluded that0it would not be in the national interest.Yet my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary now the First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, said at that historic "teach-in" at Oxford that it was in the national interests that all sides be heard. These were his words:It is essential for the British people to have access to news, information and comment from all over the world to form their own opinions and express them freely.I hold that our Government are flouting two old and valued traditions. First, free speech and, secondly, the admission of spokesmen from any country with which we are not at war. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who has acted in a truly liberal way in that office from the day of appointment,is clearly embarrassed and unhappy about the answer he gave. The fact that he said in his reply that it was made in consultation with the Foreign Secretary was a quiet indication that the decision was either partly or wholly that of the Foreign Secretary.
1020 That was on 9th March. Since then, on 23rd March, the Foreign Secretary wrote to another hon. Member, who is present today and who had raised the matter with him. In my view, it was a shameful letter, and I intend to quote it. I have notified the Foreign Secretary, and the letter is not marked "confidential". The reply from the Foreign Secretary says that the views of the National Liberation Front were well known here, and that… these views confirm my belief that the people involved would come only to talk war.But the official spokesmen of President Johnson come here, and if there are any people who come only to talk war I consider that it is they. The Foreign Secretary continued:The resulting tension would hinder and not help progress towards peace.Many of us in the House who have listened to spokesmen from the United States Embassy feel precisely that about their speeches. Also, a speech from the Vice-President near here recently provoked widespread indignation among Members of Parliament. Why are the Government so frightened of hearing about the fighting from the National Liberation Front spokesmen themselves?
This view, along with our whole policy regarding Vietnam—I deeply regret having to say this—shows a shameful truckling to President Johnson's war policy, a lickspittling of Washington, which is upsetting millions of progressive people in Britain.
§ Mr. Allaun
Yes, and elsewhere. Hon. Members will have seen the half page advertisement in The Guardian last Friday and the full page in the New Statesman with hundreds of names of people in Parliament, the trade unions, the universities and so on asking the Government to place no obstacle in the path of this important visit. I ask the Government to listen to this request and to do the right thing at least on this secondary issue.
I am certain that America cannot win a war in Asia. It is fighting a combination of two things: first, the demand of hungry, poverty stricken, exploited people to get a little better standard of life for themselves and their children; and, second, the desire of the people to rule 1021 themselves, the desire for national liberation. These two are tremendous forces.
We got out of India; it was the best thing that the Labour Government did in their term of office from 1945. It might be said that if we had not got out we would have been thrown out. That would have been at the cost of half a million British lives and five million Indian lives. It is because we did the right thing that I am able to walk along the streets of Manchester and look an Indian student in the face. The French got out of Algeria. While we may differ from General de Gaulle, it is very much to his credit that he had the courage to get out. It would redound to the credit of the Americans if they were prepared to lose face and take their troops out as General de Gaulle did.
James Cameron, one of the great journalists of our day, told me that he was in Hanoi when the French evacuated the city. There were 400,000 French troops. They marched out in a great military parade. On the roads there were tanks, flame throwers—the latest equipment. The French were armed and uniformed in the most up-to-date way. Overhead flew the most powerful French bombers. As the French marched out of the city at one end the Liberation Army marched in at the other. They were dressed in gym shoes and short trousers and the weapons that they had they had seized from the French. Yet they had defeated the great French Army.
I warn the Americans that this will happen to them. They will have to get out because this combination is an unbeatable force. The Americans can use napalm, bombs and Lazy Dog, but the only effect will be to increase the hatred of the invader.
I can understand our Government's difficulties. I seriously appreciate them. On 23rd November, 1964, when the run on the £ came, the American Federal Reserve Bank instigated a loan among ten other central banks of 3,000 million dollars, which were very valuable to us.
Nevertheless, I believe that our Government should speak out both privately and publicly, first, because it is our right, and, second, because peace comes first even before our sterling position. We are not the only country in the world that is dependent on American aid. 1022 Reference was made earlier to the Indians. At this moment there are millions of Indian people starving to death. They are dependent on American shipments of grain to keep them alive. Despite that, their Prime Minister and her predecessor, Mr. Nehru, had the courage to say to America "What you are doing in Vietnam is wrong ", and I believe that the Labour British Government should be equally courageous.
Thirdly, while the £ is dependent on the dollar, the dollar is dependent on the £.They both tend to sink or swim together.
Lastly, the United States is deeply divided between the "doves" and the "hawks". The most important newspaper in America, the New York Times, is against the war. The most important journalist in America, Walter Lippmann, is against the war. Last Saturday there was the greatest political demonstration ever seen in the history of America, the best people, in my view, struggling against propaganda such as we have not had to experience. Nevertheless they did it. Even in the Pentagon there are divisions. There is a fairly close balance. I believe that the majority of people in America are neither on one side nor the other, but there are those who are fiercely for and those who are fiercely against at all levels. I believe that if the British Government added their weight they might tip the balance in favour of the "doves" and against the "hawks".
Somebody asked earlier today how we could influence the United States. We certainly shall not do it by going along with everything that she does, which seems to be what we have been doing.
Many of us have believed for many years that the best way to work for peace in Britain was through the Labour Party. Today some of us feel ashamed about what is taking place. But we should be tremendously proud if our Government again took the road for peace. This would bring respect and gratitude for our own Government from millions of people throughout the world.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)
I am glad to have the opportunity to intervene at this stage from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Opposition. I should like to congratulate the 1023 hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on his success in the Ballot, and also on the sincere and emotional way in which he put his views in opening the debate.
It has, I think, been a solemn and worthwhile discussion so far, but I should like to mention something to the Minister who is to reply which I read in the newspapers this morning about the conduct of this debate. I was concerned to read that the Government had decided to put a Whip on Government Ministers to bring them here to vote against a Closure, if one is moved, at four o'clock. This seems to me to be a strange action on what is, after all, essentially a Private Members' Day. I know how the Patronage Secretary's Department works; often on Fridays discreet telephone calls will go out to the various Ministries to make certain that Ministers come here to support the Government at the right time. But I think that on this occasion to send out a firm Whip to Ministers, both junior and senior, asking them to come here to vote against the Closure of this important debate, if this is what happens, at four o'clock is a gross breach of normal customs in dealing with Private Members' Business. If this is so, I wish to make a protest from this Box.
We have had a debate on a subject of major importance. The speeches on both sides have been marked by deep sincerity, many by close personal knowledge of the area that we are discussing—Vietnam—and some by first-hand experience.
I think that all of us were very much struck by the outstanding speech from the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker). All of us appreciate his deep feelings and knowledge, and all admire the work for peace that he has done over many decades. But I do not think he would expect me to agree with all he said. My hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) very skilfully and ably, following his visit to South Vietnam a few weeks ago, demonstrated that a great deal of what the right hon. Gentleman was putting forward did not, while put with all sincerity, meet the facts of the situation regarding the history of events in Indo-China over the last few years.
§ Mr. Royle
According to me, anyway, as the hon. Gentleman says. The last major debate on foreign affairs was on 6th December, 1966, and the last debate on Vietnam was on 7th July last year. Hon. Members have already mentioned that many of us feel that we do not get enough time to debate these important subjects. They are matters of life and death for the people not only of this country but all over the world, and I beg the Government to think carefully about giving more Government time for them. There were some remarkable speeches in the debate in July, including one by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and another by the then Foreign Secretary.
I want now to try to cover the main points in the Motion. First, I turn to the general situation and Her Majesty's Government's policy. All of us, no matter where we sit in this House, have a deep loathing of war. The hatred is not confined to those who parade their emotions in public or sign advertisements in The Times or The Guardian or the New Statesman.
This has been made clear by the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), even though his was perhaps slightly controversial, of my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle, of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) and of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), that we are all deeply concerned and worried about the bloodshed and the horror taking place in Vietnam. [Interruption.] One must regret that some hon. Members opposite appear to be somewhat intolerant of other people's views. We cannot all agree on this great question. but hon. Members who do not agree with views expressed by others should at least be prepared to listen quietly.
No one loathes war more than those most closely involved, and we should not forget the American, Australian and New Zealand Service men in Vietnam. They do not come from nations with a history of aggression. On the contrary, they come from nations which have proved their desire over decades to work for peace to take place in the world. They 1025 have shed their blood in two world wars alongside us in order to achieve what, unhappily, has not yet come about—peace for all time.
Cruelties in any way must exist. I saw this in my own service in Palestine in 1946 and 1947. Cruelty is not confined to one side, although some of the speeches made today might make it appear to be so. There have been cruelties by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese tar worse than any described here today as having taken place as a result of American bombing. My hon. Friend the Member, for Bury St. Edmunds, in his powerful and important speech, detailed some of the horrors which have gone on in South Vietnam, and I take the opportunity to relate one or two more that have come to my notice this week. It is important to remember them.
Ngo Tuong, mayor of the prosperous village of Ap Quang Nam, in South Vietnam, was attending a Buddhist prayer meeting at his aunt's house when two terrorists burst in and opened fire. The two officiating priests and the aunt were killed instantly and the mayor wounded. He was riddled with bullets as he staggered from the house.
In Phu Yen province, during the rice harvest, two terrorist mines exploded under a civilian bus, killing 54 farm workers. Terrorists publicly disembowelled a district leader at Kien Long, broke the arms and legs of his wife and child, then killed all three. In Haunghia province, on the road between Baotrai and Cuchi, a three-wheel motor scooter bus hit a pressure mine. Four men, four women and three children aboard were killed. Those are only three horrifying instances I have heard about, hut it is important to underline that the cruelties are not confined to one side.
§ Mr. Royle
The hon. Gentleman can make his comments from a seated position if he likes, but I will get on with my speech and his question will be answered.
For what reason is the United States continuing to carry out its task in South Vietnam? For territorial ambition? That is clearly not so. It has been made plain on many occasions. Is America involved in order to gain treasure or wealth? That cannot be so. As has been said, including by the hon. Member for Tottenham the cost to the United States is running at about 150 million dollars a day.
In spite of all this, in spite of the criticism of American policy, the opinion polls throughout the United States show widespread support for the American Government's policy. The right hon. Member for Derby, South queried why the United States was involved. He disputed that it was involved as a result of aggression on South Vietnam by North Vietnam, but I do not dispute it. It is clear, and the records show it, that aggression has taken place. There has been a continuing form of aggression into South Vietnam over the last six or seven years.
The American position is rightly supported by Her Majesty's Government and by our Commonwealth allies in South-East Asia. Let us look at the result of United States action in other parts of South-East Asia. By its commitment in Vietnam it has enabled the United Kingdom and Malaysia to bring the confrontation with Indonesia successfully to a conclusion. This would not have happened if the United States had not had its commitment in South Vietnam. Secondly, that commitment has halted Red China's expansion throughout the entire area of South-East Asia. That is very important to those who live in South-East Asia.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
The hon. Gentleman says that American intervention has staunched the flow of Communism in South-East Asia. The only place where this has happened is in Indonesia, where there was an indigenous revulsion against Communism. There was not an American marine within hundreds of miles.
§ Mr. Royle
I think the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that British troops were stationed on the borders of Indonesia at that time. The hon. Gentleman has also forgotten that the American commitment in South Vietnam stopped the Laos Agreement collapsing. If there had been such a collapse, there would have been no doubt whatever that the North Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces in Laos would very soon have swept into Thailand.
My third point is that the American action has brought comfort to the friends and allies of the West throughout the area. Many of them have democratically elected assemblies, from South Korea through to Japan through to the Philippines, to Malaysia, to Thailand, Singapore,—
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr
The hon. Gentleman would surely not say that Thailand has any kind of democratically elected Government, at least at this stage?
§ Mr. Royle
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Of course, I agree with her that Thailand does not have a democratic Government, but what I said, and the hon. Lady should pay attention, was that many Governments throughout South Asia, had democratic Governments, Malaysia has a democratically elected Government, as does Singapore, and these support and have supported American action. She will find when she visits these places, and I know that she does so fairly often, that they supported the American stand and are relieved that the Americans are making the stand that they are in Vietnam. Those who urge dissociation from the United States would achieve one result, which has already been mentioned. They would achieve the total abdication of what remains of our ability to influence United States policy in South-East Asia. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon), in an outstanding speech, stressed this point, and it was also stressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Horncastle. Is this what hon. Members below the Gangway want? I am sure that they do not, yet again and again we hear from them the cry "Stop American bombing."
This has been repeated today, but, as has been pointed out, the bombing has been stopped many times and on each occasion there has been no reaction what- 1028 ever from Hanoi. I must dispute with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tottenham, whose Motion we are debating today, his point that the stumbling block to a settlement in Vietnam is the bombing. This is not so, and it is proved not to be so by the reaction from Hanoi on the many occasions when there have been bombing pauses over the last year or two.
A point was made by hon. Members about the efforts made by the Americans to reach a peaceful settlement. I would like to quote from the Economist of 1st April which, in an article about the present truce proposals, says:Mr. Johnson's position was strengthened twice in one week, for criticism was likewise blunted by Hanoi's publication on 21st March of the letter he sent to President Ho Chi Minh on 8th February. Exactly why the North Vietnamese chose to publish these letters is still a matter of dispute. But, by doing so, they revealed Mr. Johnson as a man who had sought to extend the Tet truce; had offered a cessation of bombing linked with the halting of both sides' reinforcement of their strengths in South Vietnam; and had done this in a quiet Thant-like way, evidently seeking not kudos but results.It is important to show that the Americans have been striving, and, as my hon. Friends the Member for Bury St. Edmunds and Banbury said, the United States have subscribed to various peace initiatives on 38 occasions. Each time they have been turned down by Hanoi. We are not the blind followers of the United States policy, but the United States has supported all past efforts for a solution of the conflict, and all proposals put forward have been accepted by the American Government. Even this week the United States accepted a fresh proposal, put forward by the Canadians, for a withdrawal on either side to the 17th parallel. She accepted, but Hanoi did not, the three proposals of 28th March, mentioned in the Motion, of a general standstill truce, preliminary talks and a reconvening of the Geneva Conference. But now the Secretary-General has gone much further and has indicated that the bombing must stop unconditionally without necessarily any reciprocity. This must be unacceptable to the American Government.
During my recent visit to Laos and Vientiane, in discussions which I had with the International Control Commission, I received first-hand information of 1029 the extent of infiltration from North Vietnam down the Ho Chi-Minh trails into South Vietnam. It is quite unreasonable—and my opinion was confirmed by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury with detailed figures—to expect the Americans to cease bombing with no guarantee that North Vietnam will stop pouring in supplies to the South. Those supplies are certainly pouring in at the moment, and they were pouring in during all the bombing pauses.
I therefore regret that I cannot support the Motion. It is the part in the middle of it—that the cessation of the bombing of North Vietnam is the first preliminary requisite which alone can create the conditions for meaningful negotiations"—which I find unacceptable.
The hon. Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) mentioned military reasons for the bombing. I think that there are two: first, the need to convince North Vietnam that it cannot and will not win and that the United States is not prepared to lose; secondly, that in view of the extent of the equipment stored in dumps in North Vietnam it would obviously be wiser from a military point of view to deal with them in dumps rather than wait two months for them to come filtering down the Ho Chi Minh trail to be dealt with in penny packets and at great danger to Service men in South Vietnam.
Would hon. Members, who, like myself, are not serving in Vietnam, relish serving in the peril and danger in which the Service men of Australia, New Zealand and the United States are undergoing, knowing that requests for the bombing to stop by people living 6,000 miles away were being implemented with no guarantee that while the bombing was stopped, arms, ammunition and weapons were not moving south—weapons which would be used against the men fighting in South Vietnam? I do not believe that if hon. Members were fighting in the field in South Vietnam they would be very happy if their generals were forced, for political reasons, either at home or in Europe, to stop doing something which could save lives and prevent injury to the men fighting in the field in Vietnam.
Having visited Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, I am more than ever convinced that a solution on the lines of the Laos 1030 agreement which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) negotiated when he was Foreign Secretary is possibly the answer. But there must be troops on the ground. The fact that two-thirds of Laos has been overrun by the Pathet Lao underlines that for any Laotian solution to work there must be troops on the ground to police it. This could be the final answer.
As I have mentioned my visit to Indo-China, I should like to say how impressed I was with the high calibre of our diplomatic representatives in South-East Asia. Our ambassadors in Bangkok, Vientiane, Phnom Penh and Saigon are of the highest calibre. It says much for the Foreign Secretary and the Foreign Office that they have arranged that our representatives in this important part of the world should have such high ability.
We fully support Her Majesty's Government on Vietnam so far, but we deeply regret their dissociation last year from the bombing of the oil installations. I should like an assurance that there will be no dissociation from the bombing of the cement works and the electrical supplies about which we have heard today and yesterday.
It is very difficult to understand who speaks for Her Majesty's Government on Far East matters. I found this to be a matter of great concern in the many countries which I have visited recently in South-East Asia. Many of the comments which we have heard today from hon. Members opposite are quite different, both in tone and in content, from the policies of the Government and those put forward by the Foreign Secretary.
I should like the Under-Secretary, when he replies, to explain the Press stories, which have apparently "leaked", of statements concerning massive withdrawal from Singapore, the Far East and South-East Asia as a whole. According to reports in The Times of 19th April and the Daily Mail of 20th April, the Foreign Secretary appeared to deny this. He says that we will continue our association with South-East Asia and that there is no intention of any massive withdrawal. Why, however, is the Secretary of State for Defence now out in South-East Asia?
In The Times today, it is strange that on the top half of page 4 there is an obviously inspired article by the defence 1031 correspondent about probable defence cuts in Singapore, and at the bottom of the page another article about the S.E.A.T.O. meeting which seems to indicate that no cuts will take place. This, again, is all very puzzling and I shall be glad if the Under-Secretary will explain it.
The confusion is, perhaps, underlined by hon. Members opposite in recalling that earlier this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that there must be massive cuts in defence expediture during the coming year. What is the answer? I am glad to see that the Foreign Secretary has just arrived. I welcome him back to the House after his meeting in Washington. He has timed his arrival at the right moment, because I was just about to ask questions concerning his visit to S.E.A.T.O. No doubt, he can brief his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to give me the correct answers.
Will the Under-Secretary also tell us exactly what is our policy regarding Thailand? It is well known that bombing of North Vietnam takes place from the American air bases in Thailand. This has recently been published in the Press. British troops are stationed in Thailand. A small battalion of engineers has been building an airfield and is now working on roads. I would like to know from the Under-Secretary whether, if we are so requested, we will send more troops under the S.E.A.T.O. agreement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Put down a Question."] This is very much tied up with the Motion, which refers tothe whole situation now existing in Vietnam and the policy of Her Majesty's Government".The Thailand air bases are used for the bombing of North Vietnam. Therefore, Thailand, is very much involved in this matter.
I wish to know from the Under-Secretary whether, if requested, we would send more military aid under the S.E.A.T.O. agreement. I presume that we would, because the airfield which is being built by British troops, and which has now been handed over to the Thais, is presumably being built basically for use under the S.E.A.T.O. agreement if again, as in 1962, it is necessary for an air squadron to go up into Thailand.
1032 What will be the outcome in South-East Asia if United States policy fails and America withdraws from South Vietnam? My right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire summed up the position succinctly on 7th July last year. This is the answer to the points made by many hon. Members on this subject today. My right hon. Friend said:… if, as I think is certain, there is a collapse of South Vietnam on the withdrawal of American troops, Laos and Thailand will be the next targets. If Thailand is threatened or attacked, the S.E.A.T.O. alliance and all its conditions comes into operation. We are obliged, under the S.E.A.T.O. alliance, to come to the assistance of Thailand. We can judge the amount of the assistance we give, but the obligation is automatic. In that case we should be involved with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines in an Asian war. Let us be quite clear about that."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th July, 1966; Vol. 731, c. 793.]It is important to realise what would happen if there was a failure of American policy in Vietnam.
What are the Government's long-term plans in South-East Asia, which are all closely linked with the present position in Vietnam? Have any been thought out? What is the result of the foreign Secretary's visit to the S.E.A.T.O. Conference this week?
I read in the Daily Telegraph today a report that the Foreign Secretary was being pretty tough about the statement which was issued at the end of the S.E.A.T.O. meeting in Washington, but I was interested to read thathaving made his point for the sake of the record, and presumably for the benefit of Labour back benchers, he said he would 'accept the draft of the communiqué anyway".I wonder whether he or the Under-Secretary could confirm whether this report in the Daily Telegraph is true and that in factno substantial changes were made; but the new version gives a little more prominence to references to seeking a settlement. It remained a tough communiqué condemning North Vietnam for rejecting peace offers and reaffirmed that there could be no one-sided reduction of the forces and expresses concern at Communist activity in Laos and the Philippines.Did the right hon. Gentleman in Washington have any new ideas in his knapsack for the reorganisation of S.E.A.T.O.? Has there been any new Government 1033 thinking on this matter? I hope we shall have some answer from the Government about that this afternoon.
We accept that some form of neutralisation must be the final solution in the States of old French Indo-China. It has been achieved in some measure in Cambodia and Laos, and the psychological atmosphere has changed in the whole of South-East Asia in recent months. Whereas the shadow of China formerly dominated Asia, and the possibility of a major United States commitment seemed remote, conditions now seem quite different. Internal convulsions have caused the irruption of the Red Guards in China and have had a profound effect on other Asian nations, and this applied particularly in Cambodia when I was there in February. In South-East Asia public opinion where expressed and can be expressed gives full support to the United States policy.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that public opinions can be put forward in Thailand? I can tell him that I was not allowed to stop there more than 48 hours without getting the special permission of a general, one of the 20 generals who rule there. There is no democracy in Thailand whatsoever.
§ Mr. Royle
Although I have the highest regard for the hon. Lady and am distressed to hear that she could not stay there for more than 48 hours, in view of her political opinions I am not the slightest bit surprised that she was not allowed to stay there for more than 48 hours.
Are the Government going to continue to give full support to the United States policy in Vietnam. We must have a long-term aim in South-East Asia, and I do hope this afternoon the Under-Secretary will say a little on this.
Speaking this afternoon from the Front Bench on this side, I would say that the policy ventilated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire last autumn should be mentioned again this afternoon, and I ask the Government to give it careful consideration, namely the idea there should be a belt of unaligned States in Laos and Cambodia and Vietnam under international supervision that would have their neutrality guaranteed by the major Powers. This should be the final out- 1034 come of the Vietnam war. Behind this there could be an Asian security system composed perhaps of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines—[Interruption.] I ask hon. Members opposite to listen, because criticisms are made of us on this side of the House that we do not produce constructive alternatives. I am now producing a constructive alternative and I should like to have the chance to put it this afternoon. Behind this there should be an Asian security system composed of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines and, perhaps, in time, India and Burma could be involved as well. This grouping would carry the prime respossibility for their own defence in South-East Asia. It might be linked with A.N.Z.U.S. plus the United Kingdom, to guarantee the Asian system which would stand behind the neutral States, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.
The hon. Member for Tottenham has, I consider, done an extremely useful service to the House and to the country by bringing about this debate today, and whilst we cannot support his Motion, we on this side of the House welcome the opportunity we have had today to debate these grave matters.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. William Rodgers)
Apart from the cheap, mischievous, irrelevant and long-winded personal attack on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister from the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths), which many would feel was an abuse of this important occasion, this has been a serious-minded and tolerant debate. What we have discovered is that there is less between us than perhaps we supposed at the beginning. I think that we can honestly say that we are all doves here. What we want to do is to find the best possible way of ending this war.
I am not going to be drawn into a detailed discussion of our plans in the Far East, such as the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Mr. A. Royle) suggested. Least of all will I attempt to reply and give, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, an account of his visit to Washington. I think that I should try to follow the lead which was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) 1035 in his very sober and moderate speech, and deal with the question in the spirit in which it has generally been discussed.
Today, we are discussing a cruel and nauseating war and what Britain can do to end it. War is always ugly and wasteful, and unjust in the punishment which it inflicts on the innocent. There is very little glory, despite what people sometimes say, and very little honour. There is a great deal of physical and spiritual suffering. As my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Alexander W. Lyon) said, this is in the nature of war.
For the first time ever, in Vietnam, we have seen contemporary war in all its detail on our television screens. Every day, our stomachs are turned by the sight of its human consequences. To many people, this seems to be a crazy and, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Gwynfor Evans) said, an obscene and unnecessary war, a savage condemnation of the way politicians and governments involve a common people in useless self-destruction. I think that it is quite right that we should feel emotion about it, whatever view we take of how a solution can be found.
If we were here to compete in documenting the war's brutality, it would be right to set out that part of the account often too little commented upon in public discussion. There is no point in trading horror stories. The horror is real, whatever its origin. We are unanimous in our condemnation. In the spirit of today's debate, I am sure that no one in the House would wish to claim a monopoly of compassion or to discriminate between sides in showing it.
It is also a tragically wasteful war, not only in lives but in opportunities and resources. An immense military effort is going into it. If the same time and talent and money could go into peaceful purposes, a great service could be rendered to the people of South-East Asia. It is easy to look back and see the sad history of the post-war years, including the missed opportunities. With hindsight, we can all believe, like my hon. Friend the Member for York and the hon. Member for Horncastle (Mr. Tapsell) that it could have been different.
The first question, then, is what our attitude ought to be to this war—apart 1036 from horror. The second question is what action the British Government should take, if any. I say "if any", because it could be argued that we should wash our hands of the war altogether, contract out and turn the other way. We did not start the war and we are not fighting in Vietnam. But this, we must all admit, would be the most morally indefensible position. It would mean an abdication of responsibility for the lives and happiness of our fellow human beings. Whatever the difficulties and however limited the scope, in the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham, we must play our part as world citizens in trying to end the war.
A positive stance then is required. The Government must consider how best we can influence the course of events towards a peaceful solution. We must beware of public gestures which appear attractive and virtuous but achieve no purpose. This means being hardheaded in the pursuit of peace.
Let me, then, remind the House of our approach to this responsibility. It is quite clear that the settlement of the war must be a just settlement, because only such a settlement will bring to the area the enduring peace which it so sorely needs. This means that neither side can be forced into a position where it will have to capitulate. The North must clearly not be allowed to overrun the South and to attain its ends by military means, but, equally, it is essential that any peace settlement should safeguard the rights of the North as well as those of the South. There must be no premature withdrawal of foreign forces, but on the other hand such forces must not be maintained in the area once the immediate need for their presence is gone. These, of course, are the ideas which lay behind the proposals which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary put forward last October, and which the Government have consistently advocated in the ensuing months.
There is no doubt that as one of the Geneva co-Chairmen we have a peculiar and heavy responsibility to search for ways to end the war, and I think we can all agree in the House, and it has been said frequently today, that we have been in the forefront of those seeking a way to start negotiations. We have sought to discharge our responsibility by 1037 the almost ceaseless contacts Ministers have with leaders from all parts of the world. I have no need this afternoon, I think, to go through the whole story again. The House will remember in particular our efforts over the Christmas and New Year truces, our proposals at the New Year for direct talks between the parties to the conflict, and our efforts during Mr. Kosygin's visit to London. Furthermore, we have made every effort to develop the opportunities created by the efforts of third parties. We are looking all the time for openings for constructive action.
Our fundamental approach is based on principles that are widely accepted, that there cannot and should not be a military solution to the conflict, that the fighting must be stopped urgently, and that the only possible eventual solution is a political settlement reached through negotiations This approach is rooted firmly in the Geneva Agreements which both sides have publicly accepted as a suitable basis for a final settlement.
I know that all of us have regretted the failures to make progress which we have seen. We can all be pessimistic, but I do not think there is any doubt that some progress has already been made. The recent round of discussions and contacts has served to refine and expand our knowledge of possible areas of agreement between the two sides and the difficulties which remain to be resolved. On one side at least the willingness to enter direct discussions is becoming clearer. The South Vietnamese Government, who first publicly committed themselves to the search for peace at the Manila Conference in October last year, have since made clear their readiness not only for direct negotiations with Hanoi, but also, as recently as on 18th April, earlier this week, for specific steps towards peace negotiations like the pulling back of troops from either side of the demilitarised zone.
Equally, and I think that this is most important, there can now be no doubt that the urgency of the search for peace has been accepted in the Communist as in the non-Communist world. We ourselves Lave been able to have useful and detailed exchanges with the Soviet co-Chairman. These have not, unfortunately, led to any softening of the North Vietnamese attitude towards nego- 1038 tiations, but we now have a far greater understanding—and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) that understanding each other is a very large part of a move towards a relationship of confidence—than we had before of the difficulties which face Hanoi, and as a result we are not convinced that their current rejection of all initiatives is as final as it appears at first sight.
The crux of the problem, as my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have made clear in the House and elsewhere, lies in the need to establish sufficient mutual confidence so that the process of moving towards peace can begin. Without this confidence, we cannot hope to obtain acceptance of the principle of reciprocity which is a prerequisite for any further progress.
This brings me to the question of dissociation from the Americans which has been the theme of speeches today and which is implicit in the Motion. There are a number of aspects of dissociation, some of them more relevant to our position as a non-combatant than others. That which deserves most respect, because it gets to the heart of the matter of ending the war, assumes that by dissociating we should improve our ability to influence the course of events. In fact, our close relationship with the United States, which would, of course, be significantly changed if we were to act as has been suggested, is of the greatest help, as is our position as co-Chairman.
I would be happy to give way, but there may be time for further speeches if I do not do so.
It is precisely because it is known that we have the confidence of and access to the American Government at the highest level in a situation where the North Vietnamese are not willing to negotiate face to face that we can successfully carry out our rôle of intermediary. If we were not in the confidence of the United States, we could not do this.
Similarly, our rôle as co-Chairman gives us the opportunity for contact with North Vietnam's ally, the Soviet Union. As a co-Chairman, we should be abrogating our responsibility if we did not do all in our power to gain the confidence of 1039 both sides in this dispute. To throw away the confidence of one—and my hon. Friend the Member for Barons Court (Mr. Richard) made this point—by dissociating from the United States in the hope of gaining more confidence from the other side would merely be to set back the chances of our playing the positive, constructive and active rôle which we should play as co-Chairman. I admit that this is a matter of judgment, but, having followed the negotiations exceedingly closely and having a rôle to play, that is the view which the Government take.
§ Mr. Ben Whitaker (Hampstead)
Does my hon. Friend recollect that the American Government quite rightly dissociated itself from us at the time of Suez, with very constructive results?
§ Mr. Rodgers
That is not a conclusion which I would draw from the dissociation at that time, but, in any case, the circumstances are different on this occasion.
There should be no reasonable doubt in anyone's mind that the Government have all along made very clear their support for U Thant's efforts and their willingness to see the United Nations involved in the search for a solution. The House will remember that formally there have been two sets of proposals. The first became public almost two years ago and were reformulated in July, 1966, and consisted of three points—a cessation of the bombing, a reduction in the scale of the fighting, and negotiations.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has pointed out on a number of occasions, these points were all included in his own proposals which he put forward in October last. I remind the House that these were for a conference, a cessation of the bombing and an end to the introduction of United States and North Vietnam troops into South Vietnam. The conference should both negotiate a cease fire and agree on the main principles of a political settlement.
These are the same points in slightly different words and in a different order from those of U Thant. We still believe that, taken together, they form a basis on which a reasonable and just solution could be based. They enshrine the principle that there should be a cessation of 1040 hostilities reached by mutual moves by both sides to diminish the fighting and that there should be a negotiated settlement.
§ Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)
Would my hon. Friend be prepared to go to the Special General Assembly of the United Nations now meeting, and put a formal proposition to this effect to the Assembly?
§ Mr. Rodgers
What we have already said has made clear the initiative which we are prepared to take. I should add that if at any time we can see any further openings at the United Nations or elsewhere, we shall certainly not hesitate to take them.
U Thant's first set of proposals remained inoperative for 18 months while many efforts were made to bring both sides to the negotiating table. This always stuck on the inability, caused, I fully realise, by a mutual lack of confidence, of both sides, to agree on the first steps to de-escalation and peace. In these circumstances, as I understand it, U Thant presented his second set of proposals on 14th March for a general standstill, preliminary talks and a Geneva Conference.
This involved, of course, a complete cessation of bombing and also of troop movement. It overcame previous difficulties in that there was no question of having to evaluate whether one side or the other was de-escalating with all the loopholes which that would have left open.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The Under-Secretary is obviously not going to give way. I would remind hon. Members that there is very little time left.
§ Mr. Hale
If we are talking about de-escalation, does not my hon. Friend realise that the Americans are bombing the Vietnamese? The Vietnamese are 1041 not bombing the Americans. It may be that they cannot. But this is vital. This is the bombing of a colonial country and my hon. Friend must talk in those terms.
§ Mr. Rodgers
I heard my hon. Friend's speech. I understand his point but I think that what I have said and will continue to say—I do not intend to give way again—covers the point very fully.
The proposals which have been made have, I think, been eminently fair and sensible and, as the House is aware, we recognised this and in a message to U Thant warmly welcomed his proposals as offering a real opportunity for peace. The United States, too, accepted and said that they were ready to go immediately into the modalities. The stage, indeed, seemed set for progress and we waited hopefully for a positive reaction from Hanoi. We are still waiting. The North Vietnamese rejection has been couched in terms that not only rejected the proposals themselves but also reminded U Thant—we should remember this—that the North Vietnamese considered the United Nations to have no rôle in searching for a solution.
It is perhaps not surprising—I think that a tolerant spirit should be continued until the end of this afternoon's debate—that U Thant should feel that in these circumstances a unilateral standstill by the United States and a similar cessation of their bombing as coming from the more powerful nation might provide a chance of peace. This is the crux and this is where we differ. We do not believe that either move would bring peace any nearer. Ho Chi-Minh has himself provided us with the clue. In his reply to President Johnson's letter which was published on 21st March, Ho Chi-Minh clearly stated that the only way to the restoration of peace was for the United States to stop definitely and unconditionally its bombing raids and all other acts of war against North Vietnam, and withdraw from South Vietnam all United States and "satellite" troops. It was only after the unconditional cessation of the bombing and all other so-called acts of war that talks could even take place.
To all of us who are looking for a way out of this deadlock, this is surely an unreasonable position. It would mean that the United States would have had to cease 1042 defending South Vietnam before any negotiations could begin and before peace was restored. The demand, in fact, is for total surrender, and any demand for total surrender cannot possibly in the circumstances be a step towards the negotiating table.
I appreciate fully the very strong feeling there is about the bombing, which was expressed by, among others, my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Hale). Our own experience in the 1939–45 war makes us both remember its ugliness and, as several of my hon. Friends have said, doubt its efficacy. It is understandable, at this distance, that its ending would seem to remove one aspect of the Vietnam horror and make a contribution to a peaceful settlement. But there is no sufficient evidence that an end to the bombing would produce a reciprocal gesture or that it is, in fact, a precondition of a move forward to meaningful negotiations. An end to the bombing must come, and the sooner the better. But it is not unreasonable that the Americans should see it as a carefully judged step towards a real settlement based on necessary compromise. Moreover, I say to my hon. Friends, whose position I understand and whose sincerity I do not doubt, that to stop the bombing now, without any response, could be more disastrous to later prospects in more hopeful circumstances.
The plain fact is that the United States and the South Vietnamese are waiting for any indication from Hanoi that the North Vietnamese are willing to talk with a view to ending the war. We have all admired U Thant's attempts to make progress by discussions in any part of the world where there was hope. Any number of Governments who are not involved either directly or indirectly, in the war have made clear their good offices and tried to open channels for discussion. We are not asking for an open announcement of willingness to talk. What is said in public may be irrelevant. All that anyone has a right to expect is some sign, however discreet or oblique, that the North Vietnamese are willing to talk.
This is our position. Whatever there may be between some of us today, the whole House has shown its understanding of the efforts made by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary to find a solution. We 1043 shall continue to try because we have no interest except to see an end to this war, but, whatever we do, there is no hope until the North Vietnamese are prepared to move. I say again that the world is waiting for Hanoi to give us a sign.
I hope that we shall look back upon the war in Vietnam as a sad episode in the progress of South-East Asia to political stability, economic growth and peaceful social change. Britain's rôle is no longer primarily a military one. For us, at least on this side of the House, the age of imperialism is dead. We want to see the people of the area, whose tradition is one of disparate beliefs and cultures, come together and acquire the habit of mutual co-operation for their common good.
The signs are, in some ways, more promising today than they have been. There is a growth of regional consciousness. Further steps are being made which will result in economic development and greater political stability. We and the other countries of the West have our constructive part to play through aid and technical assistance. Let us not overlook the contribution which we are making through the United Nations Specialised Agencies and the Colombo Plan. Let us not forget the creation of the Asian Development Bank, or the Mekong project as another example of the great benefits which could be brought to this area once there is an end to the fighting in Vietnam.
These are constructive developments to set against the horror of the war. Britain's aim must be to help to provide the necessary conditions in which the countries of South-East Asia can decide their own future for themselves. Our task is to encourage and to assist where we can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Luard) said in a typically thoughtful speech, but also to bear in mind that only the South-East Asian countries themselves can determine their own political and economic relationships with one another.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles (Winchester)
I join with the many hon. Members who have congratulated the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) on having had this debate on this 1044 very important subject. I, too, am very critical of the Government's policy over Vietnam, but not for the same reasons as many hon. Members opposite. I am critical because in this vitally important matter the Government's policy is absolutely equivocal. The Government are sitting on a fence and, by doing so, are greatly diminishing Britain's influence—[Interruption.]
§ Mr. Tapsell
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for interrupting my hon. and gallant Friend, but as we on this side of the House listened with great attention to every speech from hon. Members opposite, should that not be a reciprocal courtesy?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
The Government's credibility gap grows wider every day. Perhaps that does no great harm at home—at any rate, no harm that the next general election will not put right. But overseas, in the eyes of the world, the Government are squandering Britain's influence, and once that influence has been lost it will be very hard to regain. The Government's policy on this matter is neither fish nor flesh, but is just bad red herring. This is just the sort of irresponsible fence sitting which the Under-Secretary of State condemned in his speech.
The Government's Vietnam policy is only one facet of Britain's policy in the Far East as a whole. There is a great deal of doubt in the world about how robust the Government are about maintaining a military presence in the Far East. The Foreign Secretary, whom we are delighted to see back today, goes to the S.E.A.T.O. meeting and says one thing, but the Secretary of State for Defence talks repeatedly about cuts and withdrawals. The cancellation of the aircraft carrier programme can only be interpreted—
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I was explaining that the cancellation indicated the lack of robustness about any Far East policy affecting Vietnam or any other part of that area. How do these wider and longer term considerations about British policy in the Far East as a whole affect British policy now in Vietnam? That is the question we should ask ourselves. The Defence Review said:In future, no considerable military operations will be undertaken without the help of allies.No doubt the Foreign Secretary will remember that sentence.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. We cannot discuss the Government's defence programme on this Motion. The Motion is specific.
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I for one would far prefer to see us retain sufficient forces to make our own completely independent contribution to peacekeeping in the world and be in a position to do that. But in today's circumstances some contribution to the United States effort in. Vietnam is the inescapable logic of the defence policy which the Government have so far pursued. While "confrontation" continued it was absolutely valid for Britain to support Malaysia and make our contribution to law and order in the Far East in that way. But now that "confrontation" has ended there is no reason or excuse for Britain not to lend a hand in Vietnam without delay. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Whitaker
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman clarify one simple question? Is it the policy of the Opposition also to support British armed intervention to ensure democratic elections in Rhodesia?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
Thank you for your further intervention, Mr. Speaker.
I do not pretend that this policy of military intervention on behalf of and beside the Americans in Vietnam would be universally popular in this country[Interruption.]—but, when certain sections of those on the Government benches 1046 have stopped enjoying themselves about that, I would say that I am sure that a great many more people would support it than Left-wing propaganda in this country would like us to suppose.
§ Mrs. Anne Kerr
Is it the policy of the Opposition to support intervention by British forces in Vietnam on the side of the Americans?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I am not saying that the Opposition would support this. I am merely saying that this is a point of view, and a very important one, which should be ventilated amid the welter of Left-wing propaganda, which has taken the blind point of view that unilateral cessation of bombing is the way to peace in Vietnam. It is not.
Many people in this country would agree that a contribution in Vietnam on behalf of Britain is a debt of honour and self-interest which we ought to pay. Britain's self-interest is linked with the maintenance of peace in the Far East. Once the Americans have set their hands to this plough, there is no way back and there is nothing that can be done except to see it through to the bitter end and bring about peace in the interests of all the people of that part of the world at the earliest possible time.
§ Mr. Mikardo
I know that the hon. and gallant Gentleman has great expertise in these defence matters of which he is speaking. Can he give the House for guidance some estimate of approximately how many British troops he is proposing should be put into Vietnam?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I was thinking of a nominal contribution by Britain to show that we understand the moral right on the part of the Americans in this part of the world. [Interruption.]
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
The Australians and the New Zealanders are doing this, and I believe that for their sake as much for the sake of the Americans we should make this contribution now when our hands are not full with confrontation. I explained that 1047 while confrontation was on it was valid not to do so. Now confrontation is ended I believe that we should do it. I have said before in this House that the Anzacs at Gallipoli and Tobruk were just as far away from home as our men would be if they were in Vietnam.
§ Mr. Russell Kerr (Feltham)
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that about half the Australian people are bitterly opposed to Australia's rôle in Vietnam?
§ Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles
I am not aware of that. I was in Australia three or four months ago and found very much the reverse to be the case. Furthermore, an election had just been fought there, and with admirable results, which proved the exact contrary of what the hon. Gentleman has said.
I believe that this matter of our sending assistance to the Americans in Vietnam would appeal to a large number of people who do not like the idea at first, who want a life of peace and quiet or who have not yet faced up to their obligations in this matter. I believe that there are a great many of these people who know in their heart of hearts that the British Government cannot honourably sit on the fence any longer.
§ 3.54 p.m.
§ Mr. J. J. Mendelson (Penistone)
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary when replying to the debate will have caused widespread disappointment throughout the Labour movement in this country and, indeed, beyond by his refusal to accept the Motion on behalf of the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) in his opening speech—we are all indebted to him for tabling the Motion for debate today—mentioned the proposals put forward by U Thant and said that it was a matter of judgment as to whether the opinion of U Thant is a guide to us in the present dangerous situation. Not only is this tragic war continuing but there is great danger, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary well knows, of further escalation.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State then said that the Government could not see any practical purpose in U Thant's proposals. He also referred to other proposals. The cardinal differ- 1048 ence between him and those of us who support the Motion so far as the Secretary-General is concerned is that only yesterday at London Airport U Thant said:I am convinced if there was a cessation of bombing—even for a few weeks—after the cessation there would be talks. So far, however, the Americans have not agreed to this.That is the burden of this Motion. That is the argument which my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham has put forward.
Let us examine for a moment how U Thant came to make this statement. After an impressive debate in the United Nations General Assembly last autumn, when the United States Government found itself completely isolated in its policy of continuing bombing operations, and when the Foreign Ministers of Italy, Sweden, Denmark and all our democratic allies in the Assembly condemned the continuation of the bombing and demanded cessation, President Johnson turned to the Secretary-General and asked him directly, on behalf of the United States, to do everything he could in his own way to arrange for negotiations.
The Secretary-General, with characteristic courage and despite all the difficulties immediately accepted. He has been working ever since and after various consultations he made a report to President Johnson in which he said:The cessation of the bombing is the first prerequisite of meaningful negotiations.
§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. George Brown)
Will my hon. Friend address himself to the point that the Americans have stopped bombing five times and have never had a response?
§ Mr. Mendelson
My right hon. Friend will not get away from the present position that the Secretary-General embodied in an official report to President Johnson. Of course there are many complicating circumstances and I would be glad to discuss them if I had the time. It is well known that, during the cessation of bombing which lasted for 37 days, while the full supply machine of the United States continued, the Polish Government sent the Director-General of its Foreign Office to Hanoi but, before he could make his report to Warsaw, President 1049 Johnson resumed bombing. That was one of the chances missed.
We saw the hasty resumption of bombing again after an interval when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was holding discussions with Mr. Kosygin and this is one of the main reasons for the present situation. We believe that we must accept and back the judgment of U Thant and I ask all hon. Members
|Division No. 313.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m.|
|Abse, Leo||Heffer, Eric S.||Miller, Dr. M. S.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Hooley, Frank||Molloy, William|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Horner, John||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Phllip (Derby, S.)|
|Barnes, Michael||Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Norwood, Christopher|
|Beuney, Alan||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Orme, Stanley|
|Booth, Albert||Jones, T. Alex (Rhondda, West)||Park, Trevor|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Kelley, Richard||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Carmichael, Neil||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Rankin, John|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Rose, Paul|
|Davidson, James (Aberdeenshire, W.)||Lee, John (Reading)||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Davies, Robert (Cambridge)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Ryan, John|
|Dickens, James||Lewie, Arthur (W. Ham. N.)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Lipton, Marcus||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Ellis, John||Lubbock, Eric||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Faulds, Andrew||Macdonald, A. H.||Whitaker, Ben|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||MacMillan, Malcolm (Western Isles)||Winnick, David|
|Gardner, Tony||McNamara, J. Kevin|
|Gregory, Arnold||Mendelson, J. J.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mikardo, Ian||Mr. Newens and Mr. Peter Jackson.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Charles R. Morris and|
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 32 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Mr. Hale
On a point of order. After your declaration of the Division results, as I was going out of the Chamber, I saw at least 100—well, I saw a large number—of people still locked in the Division Lobby. It may be that the number does not accurately represent the number of dissentions to the Motion, but I wonder whether there is any failure in the locking process or the opening of the doors, which
§ who agree with that policy to support the Motion.
§ Mr. Atkinson rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 60, Noes 1.
§ may have deprived many Members of their desire to vote against this Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have had no complaint from any hon. Member who wished to vote now and was not allowed to vote now.
§ Mr. Hale
I cannot speak as to that. I can only say that as I passed the door people were still in the Lobby. The doors were not open and people did not physically appear to be able to get out for the moment. There was a large number of them who presumably were passionately anxious to express their conscientious views about the Motion.