HC Deb 04 April 1968 vol 762 cc605-7
Q5. Mr. Whitaker

asked the Prime Minister what are the results of his latest efforts to achieve a settlement of the war it Vietnam.

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware of the latest developments in this situation, the statement issued on behalf of Her Majesty's Government yesterday and my own statement last night.

Mr. Whitaker

While every hon. Member will welcome yesterday's news, may I ask my right hon. Friend to indicate whether in the past the Russians have told him of any pre-conditions on the terms of which they would be willing to reconvene the Geneva Conference?

The Prime Minister

The position is that the two co-Chairmen and their Governments stand ready to help in any way they can, whether it be in reconvening the Geneva Conference or any variant of it, or in any other way in which we can help the parties to reach a settlement once the parties have agreed that negotiations should begin. That is, I think, the position of both of us. We have felt that it might be right to take the initiative at various times, but our Russian co-Chairman has not agreed. Nevertheless, I am sure that we both stand ready to give all the help that we can.

Mr. Heath

As the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Whitaker) said, the whole House welcomes the fact that there should have been this reaction from Hanoi to President Johnson's initiative. While recognising that this is a first step, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say if he will discuss with the other co-Chairman the possibility of broadening out the basis of discussion so that we may get discussions going rather further than just on the bombing?

The Prime Minister

I have been in close touch with the Prime Minister of the Soviet Union—indeed, I have been in almost continuous touch—since my visit to Moscow in January. The different posititons of the two Governments are understood. But both of us have a responsibility, from our different standpoints, in trying to bring our respective friends and allies together to get a settlement. At this moment of time and, of course, with the improved hopes—it is obvious that no one must build too much at this stage—resulting from the response to the dramatic and historic declaration made by the President of the United States on Sunday, we must see first what emerges there; but, as I said, we stand ready to further the solution to the still very difficult problem of agreeing on the content of an agreement.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

Would my right hon. Friend agree that it would be most desirable, if possible, to have the Geneva Conference reconvened in order that China may be there, since no settlement in South-East Asia can be lasting unless China agrees with it?

The Prime Minister

There is not exactly universal agreement that China would necessarily make the most constructive of contributions to a settlement. I agree that it is one possibility that there should be a reconvening of the original Geneva Agreement. Others have been suggested. There is the importance of the position of the International Control Commission countries, and there may be other ways of dealing with this. But obviously we must keep our minds very wide open in this matter and keep in close touch, as we are doing, with our fellow co-Chairman, as well as with the United States.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is the right hon. Gentleman in close touch, and, if so, is he keeping in close touch, with the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. I am in continuing touch with them and with other Commonwealth countries, because many of them have a vital interest in, are vitally concerned with and have strong opinions on this matter. We are in close touch with all of them, but at this moment I thing that it would be better for us to see the response to the initiative of the President of the United States and the response to the proposals made by Hanoi yesterday.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Winnick. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

Mr. Winnick

I am always pleased to get support. So that the talks between Hanoi and the United States can be as fruitful and constructive as possible, would my right hon. Friend be willing at least to urge on the United States that the bombing of North Vietnam should be stopped completely? Would he further agree that perhaps the biggest stumbling block to the securing of a lasting peace in Vietnam could be the very unrepresentative Government in South Vietnam?

The Prime Minister

I know the keen desire of my hon. Friend to see a settlement here. I am sure that the right way to achieve it—if my hon. Friend would be content to do this—is that it should now be left to the parties concerned, and to the co-Chairmen if they can provide any valuable help at the request of the two parties. I do not think that it is possible for us to agree on any particular plan and try to impose it on the parties, so that my hon. Friend's proposals are interesting but are not immediately relevant.