HC Deb 24 January 1967 vol 739 cc1263-6
Q7. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister if he will seek to meet the President of the United States of America to discuss the war in Vietnam.

Q13. Mr. Will Griffiths

asked the Prime Minister whether he will take steps to meet the President of the United States as soon as possible to discuss the developments in the war in Vietnam.

Q14. Mr. Rankin

asked the Prime Minister what representations he has made to President Johnson about the bombing of civilians in Hanoi by American military aircraft.

Mr. M. Stewart

I have been asked to reply.

We have maintained close contact with the United States Government at all levels and on all aspects of the recent situation in Vietnam. My right hon. Friend does not think a special meeting is necessary at present.

Mr. Winnick

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that recent visitors and correspondents in North Vietnam have reported a completely different state of affairs about how the war started and is progressing than the usual American stories? Would the Government now consider supporting publicly the request of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that American bombing should stop as the first essential step to getting peace and negotiations going?

Mr. Stewart

I would remind my hon. Friend, as my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made quite clear, that we supported the three points made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations together; that we deplore all the slaughter that is going on in Vietnam, but that it is neither useful nor possible to make a condemnation of one part of this matter alone.

Mr. Griffiths

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government's persistent refusal to take any new initiatives over the bombing in particular increasingly makes the Prime Minister's declaration of dissociation last August look like a grizzly charade? The Governments of New Zealand and Australia have troops committed in Vietnam, whatever I and some of my hon. Friends think about it. Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what they think about the escalation of bombing? They may have more influence, because at least they are supporting the Americans with their lives and not with their mouths.

Mr. Stewart

I do not think that it would be proper for me to answer for the Governments of Australia and New Zealand. I think that the position taken by Her Majesty's Government on the earlier bombing episode was made quite clear. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, there is no need to restate that position. We have repeatedly, on a great many occasions, made attempts to get the fighting stopped, and it will not be possible to get the result that everyone wants to See—an end to the slaughter—unless there is a conference and an agreement all round to stop the fighting.

Mr. Rankin

How can my right hon. Friend talk about stopping the war when he is supporting the policy of the United States in carrying on that war and in bombing women and children in Hanoi? Would he not rather now support the demand of the universities of Great Britain to withdraw our support from the United States and act as mediator in stopping the war instead?

Mr. Stewart

I saw the appeal to which my hon. Friend refers. It advances the proposition that, if this country were to criticise the policy of the United States in the way that they wish, it would help us in acting as mediator. But we have to notice that a great many different countries and parties, many of whom have strongly condemned the United States, have tried to act as mediators, and have been as much rebuffed as we have.

Mr. Hastings

Has the right hon. Gentleman ever attempted to check on the proportion of questions put from his own side critical of the Americans on this issue compared with those critical of Hanoi? Would it not be about 99 to 1 per cent.?

Mr. Michael Foot

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a growing number of Americans are agreeing with the kind of questions put on this side of the House? Will he look again at the claim, made by him today and by the Foreign Secretary a few days ago—that the Government support U Thant's proposals? To many of us, the Government seem to misrepresent them. Will he publish in the OFFICIAL REPORT the proposals put by U Thant so that we may see that these demand support for unconditional and unqualified cessation of American bombing?

Mr. Stewart

There is no doubt about what the proposals are. The point of difference between my hon. Friend and the Government is that the Government take the view that these proposals have to be taken together. We do not share the view that a unilateral condemnation of American action will be helpful or promote peace.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that President Johnson has said that the participation of the P.L.A. would not be an insuperable obstacle to the holding of a peace conference? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore advise the Foreign Secretary that, in any future peace initiative, he should include the P.L.A. as a necessary participant in peace talks?

Mr. Stewart

In what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said last week, he showed himself cognisant of this point. I think that it is now generally agreed that, if there were willingness on behalf of Hanoi to go to a conference at all, the point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman would not present an obstacle.

Mr. Ogden

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that any peace settlement in Vietnam would have to have the prior approval of the Chinese Government? Does he think it realistic in present circumstances to press for this in view of the conditions inside China?

Mr. Stewart

There are obviously a great many difficulties obstructing a settlement in Vietnam, not least the one my hon. Friend has mentioned. But the first step in a settlement must be a start of negotiations or talks of some kind. The offer which my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary made to facilitate such a conference or, if that seems a possible way to do it, to recall the Geneva Conference, still stands. It is not any unwillingness on the part of the British Government or indeed on the part of the United States Government that prevents talks starting.

Mr. Michael Hamilton

Are the Government considering giving any assistance to the Australian and New Zealand forces in Vietnam at present?

Mr. Stewart

This question has been asked and answered many times. It is not the intention of the Government to send troops to Vietnam. It is known that civilian help of certain kinds is being given and this is being continued.

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