HC Deb 09 March 1967 vol 742 cc1748-50
Q3. Mr. Russell Kerr

asked the Prime Minister whether, in order to enhance Great Britain's influence with the United States of America, he will supplement his hot line and similar diplomatic approaches to the United States Government by recourse to the public methods employed successfully by his predecessor between 1945 and 1951, notably during December, 1950.

The Prime Minister

I take it my hon. Friend is referring to my noble Friend Lord Attlee's visit to Washington in December, 1950. As he will know I have visited Washington four times since October. 1964.

Mr. Russell Kerr

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that many hon. Members on this side of the House who are far from dismissing the efforts of the Government towards a settlement in Vietnam are by no means persuaded that the Government are doing everything possible? Is he further aware—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—that many of us hold the view—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading.]—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must not be read.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Hon. Members opposite were under a misapprehension. Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us hold the view that the Government could exert a more influential rôle with the American Government by operating in a more open fashion than has been the case in recent months?

The Prime Minister

I know the strength of my hon. Friend's feelings about this to the point where he does not even need to prepare his supplementary question so thoroughly. In the Question on the Order Paper, he refers to a diplomatic approach, which is not an open approach, so I am not sure why, at the end of his supplementary question, he called for a more open approach. If what I think lies behind the supplementary question is that we would have more influence on the United States by a public denunciation of their policy which I know my hon. Friend would like me to make, I cannot agree with him.

Mr. Goodhart

Does not the Prime Minister remember that in December, 1950, he was getting ready to bite poor Mr. Attlee?

The Prime Minister

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman spends so much time working out his questions and takes them so seriously. I was, indeed, very much concerned in the events of December, 1950. One of the problems that day when Mr. Attlee, as he then was, made his approach to Washington was that, although it was six o'clock in the evening when he sent his message, there was no guarantee, with the then state of communications, that he would even have a reply by the time he wound up the debate in the House that night.

The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Russell Kerr), who has put a serious supplementary question, and to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), who has not, is that, compared with 1950—which is the basis of my hon. Friend's question—we now have immediate communications with the United States, whether by telephone or teleprinter, which makes suddenly arranged visits of the kind made in 1950 now unnecessary.

Mr. Dickens

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many on this side of the House find the American reasons for the renewed bombing of North Vietnam increasingly unconvincing? Is he further aware that the mounting volume of criticism in the United States itself would be rendered more important if he came out now openly and dissociated the Government from the renewed bombing?

The Prime Minister

I am aware that such a move would give great satisfaction to my hon. Friend, and if I thought that this was the right way to make peace in Vietnam more likely I might be tempted to follow it. But I do not think it is.

Mr. Thorpe

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is growing opinion in the United States in opposition to the current policy of President Johnson towards Vietnam? Does not the right hon. Gentleman feel that the apparent support that we have given in public to the American policy has undermined our position as neutral co-Chairman and reduced our initiative in this matter?

The Prime Minister

As I have often had to remind the House, there was never any suggestion that the co-Chairmen were neutral. I do not believe that our fellow co-Chairman, with whom I discussed this matter in great detail less than a month ago, regards his position as being that of neutrality. The position was that two co-Chairmen were chosen, one representing, broadly, the eastern point of view and one the western. We have, indeed, been the more neutral in our discharge of these duties in that we have not sent arms to Vietnam or become directly involved there.