HC Deb 23 March 1967 vol 743 cc1909-12
Q2. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister what further consultations he has had with President Johnson over the Vietnam war.

The Prime Minister

As my hon. Friend will know, I am in continuous contact with President Johnson on this and other matters.

Mr. Winnick

Will my right hon. Friend give us any more information about the background of the correspondence between Washington and Hanoi, and consider continuing to press President Johnson for the bombing to stop and press President Johnson not to listen to evil-minded, war-minded people like Marshal Ky who want the war in Vietnam to escalate?

The Prime Minister

Whilst I do not accept the conclusions in the latter part of my hon. Friend's Question, I am in continuous contact with President Johnson. On the exchange of correspondence, during the week when Mr. Kosygin was here he and I were naturally fully informed about what was going on, and the activities taken by Her Majesty's Government were in harmony with what was happening in another direction.

Rear-Admiral Morgan Giles

How does the Prime Minister think that we can expect to rely on the help of our allies in the future, as the Defence Review suggests, if we withhold our help from them in Vietnam? [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]

The Prime Minister

The hon. and gallant Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that speaking from the opposite Front Bench he advocated that we should intervene in Vietnam with force. If that is the view of the Conservative Opposition, I hope that it will be expressed with authority by all their leading members. We have said clearly on a number of occasions that we do not intend to intervene with force in Vietnam. We have our duties as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference, which are very important if we are to get what I am sure that the hon. and gallant Gentleman, President Johnson and North Vietnam want, that is, negotiations leading to a lasting peace on the basis of an honourable settlement.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Will my right hon. Friend take into consideration that Hanoi pays great attention to Marshal Ky, since he appears to be in charge of policy in South Vietnam, and will he publicly repudiate the demand for the escalation of the war which Marshal Ky made this week?

The Prime Minister

I have on a number of occasions publicly repudiated every demand for escalation of the war, and that still stands. What Her Majesty's Government have been trying to do over a period of two years is—if we must use these clumsy phrases—to secure the necessary degree of de-escalation to get the parties to the conference table.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

While not underestimating the importance of preserving our impartiality as a co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference, may I ask the Prime Minister to consider whether the time has not come when some more notable recognition should be given to the United States of our realisation in this country of the great sacrifices of effort and treasure that the Americans are making in the course of trying to bring about a situation in which self-determination can take place?

Mr. Winnick


The Prime Minister

In the first place, the Government's position in general has been fully stated. It has never been assumed that the two co-Chairmen remain completely detached above the battle. One is from the East and one from the West, and that has been the most fruitful basis on which we could come together at the right moment and in the right way.

On the point mentioned by the hon. and gallant Gentleman, one of the decisive factors is the strong feelings in the United States, inevitably, because of the loss of their soldiers and other fighting men. One of the difficulties that I found in the week that Mr. Kosygin was here was the fear on the part of North Vietnam of their own fighting men being cut off without support. That is why a great deal of ingenuity was displayed in the diplomatic exchanges to try to remove the fears on both sides and try to develop at least the minimum position of trust necessary to get negotiations going.

Q9. Mr. Dickens

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the prospects for a negotiated settlement of the Vietnam war.

The Prime Minister

We are constantly searching for ways to end the war, but at present I have nothing to add to what I told the House on 13th and 14th of February and to what my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said on 27th February.—[Vol. 741. c. 109; Vol. 741, c. 345; Vol. 742, c. 78.]

Mr. Dickens

Does the Prime Minister agree that there appears to have been a significant switch in the view of the Hanoi Administration as revealed in the recent correspondence between President Ho and President Johnson in that they now seem to be willing to have negotiations without a permanent cessation of the bombing? Will he aproach President Johnson with a view to a further bombing pause of such duration as will enable the North Vietnamese to consult the National Liberation Front in South Vietnam before replying?

The Prime Minister

It is only this week, when the letters had been published by Hanoi, that facts such as those stated by my hon. Friend have come into the general possession of the House. I did not feel it right to say anything about this immediately after Mr. Kosygin's visit. But the situation, even so, is not quite so simple as put forward by my hon. Friend. However, all the relevant considerations here—all that we knew as the result of Mr. Kosygin's visit about the attitude of Hanoi and the United States—were taken into account in the methods and proposals that were deployed during that important week, and it was a great tragedy that they were not able to bring the parties that little bit further that was needed to the conference table.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

Do the Government accept what the right hon. Gentleman said in reply to an earlier Question, namely, that the North Vietnamese Government are anxious for negotiations leading to an honourable settlement?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am sure that all the parties to this fighting feel, as do all hon. Members, the urgency of getting a settlement. It is not for me to say what each of them would consider to be an honourable settlement. We know clearly the American position, which has been very fully stated. We know less about the present Hanoi position. But I am satisfied—and the point which my hon. Friend made is proof—that there is a desire in Hanoi, if the right conditions can be created, to get to the conference table and to see whether peace can be achieved.