HC Deb 08 November 1967 vol 753 cc1005-8
9. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many Royal Navy personnel have been directly involved in the Vietnam war.

18. Mr. Hamling

asked the Secretary of State for Defence how many members of Her Majesty's forces have been engaged in Service duties on land in Vietnam, in the air over Vietnam or in coastal waters around Vietnam, in the last two years; what were their duties; to what units of Her Majesty's forces they were attached, or to which foreign or Commonwealth forces they were attached, or seconded.

59. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what British service personnel have been attached to United States or Allied forces in South Vietnam.

Mr. Healey

There are seven attachés and assistant defence attachés on the staff of Her Majesty's Ambassador in Saigon, together with a supporting staff of 10 other ranks.

Visits to South Vietnam by Service officers to gain information have numbered 19, involving 42 officers in all, in the last two years.

On three occasions a Beverley aircraft has been detached from Singapore to Saigon to help with the distribution of relief and welfare supplies provided by various charitable organisations. The total number of Service personnel concerned has been 56.

Occasionally, shorter-range R.A.F. aircraft stage through Saigon en route from Singapore to Hong Kong, there being no suitable alternative. In this connection, there is an R.A.F. movement control officer at Saigon airport.

Since 1965 some 30 British Service personnel who have been on loan or exchange with Australian or New Zealand forces have been to South Vietnam for short visits mainly in ships. The arrangements under which they are exchanged or loaned preclude involvement in active military operations and the Service men in question have not been so involved. However, extensive inquiries have brought to light that one Royal Naval officer, who retired from the Service in January this year, took part for a few days, while previously on a loan posting to the Royal Australian Navy, in bottom searches of merchant ships in Vietnam waters.

Mr. Winnick

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is strong feeling in this country that British Armed Forces should not be used in any way in the Vietnam fighting? Is my right hon. Friend saying that, apart from this one exception, the Evening Standard story was untrue? Can he make a definite statement about the Evening Standard article?

Mr. Healey

Yes. The Evening Standard article was completely untrue. It said that personnel of Royal Navy Combined Operations had been conducting secret military operations in Vietnam during the last 12 months. As I have made clear, this was totally untrue.

Mr. Hamling

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in view of the concern on these benches that our forces should never be engaged in any capacity whatever in that war, we are grateful to him for his careful inquiries?

Mr. Healey

indicated assent.

Mr. Goodhart

I agree that British combat forces should not be directly engaged in the Vietnam conflict, but will the right hon. Gentleman consider sending a British military medical team to serve with the Australian contingent in Vietnam, to help, our Commonwealth casualties and also civilian casualties?

Mr. Healey

Given our responsibilities as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference, I think it would be wrong for British forces to be involved in any way in military operations in Vietnam. I regret that I must decline the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Mr. Grimond

The House will be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for clearing up this matter, but will he make it clear that not only are British personnel not used in any secret investigations in Vietnamese waters but are not used for any purpose in clearing underwater obstructions or wrecks round Vietnamese ports?

Mr. Healey

Yes, Sir. I can give that assurance.

28. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Defence what steps he is taking to ensure that the military lessons of the Vietnam war are available to Her Majesty's Forces.

Mr. Healey

I have nothing to add to the answer I gave to Questions by the hon. Members for Dorking (Sir G. Sinclair) and for Merton and Morden (Mr. Atkins) on 31st May, 1967.—[Vol. 747, c. 65–6 and 71.]

Mr. Blaker

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that much less can be learnt by defence attachés, especially at embassies, than by observers stationed for substantial periods with the competent forces? Have we now or have we had such observers?

Mr. Healey

No, Sir. We have no such observers because the last Govern- ment, in July, 1964, decided that it would not be wise to allow British officers and men to serve as observers with fighting forces in Vietnam. That was a wise decision, and the present Government intend to stand by it.

Mr. Marten

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I draw your attention to the fact that reference is constantly being made to things said in this House during the last Session?

Mr. Speaker

I shall be dealing with that point of order at 3.30 p.m.