HC Deb 26 February 1968 vol 759 cc915-9
3. Mr. James Davidson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs by what authority the British Embassy in Saigon acted as an intermediary between the Governments of South Vietnam and the United States of America after the banning of the Council of Elders by the South Vietnamese Government in December, 1965.

Mr. George Brown

I am not aware of any such event in December, 1965.

Mr. Davidson

Was it not the case that the American Ambassador, Mr. Maxwell Taylor, denounced the South Vietnamese action at the time and that the British Ambassador had to intervene to restore relations?

Mr. Brown

I rather get the impression that the hon. Member is thinking of events that happened at the end of 1964, in which there was a short period of misunderstanding between the Americans and the South Vietnamese. The British Ambassador—as, of course, he always would—did his best to clear this up. It was cleared up in a very short time.

8. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will now take further action to bring an end to the Vietnam war.

19. Mr. Blaker

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will now take further steps towards a peaceful resolution of the war in Vietnam.

21. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will now take a new initiative to secure a negotiated settlement to the war in Vietnam.

25. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the latest developments in Vietnam, he will now take further steps to bring about a peace settlement.

37. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further proposals he has for ending the war in Vietnam.

Mr. George Brown

We are in constant contact with the Governments concerned in the Vietnam conflict in an unceasing effort to promote an early settlement.

Mr. Winnick

Since talks could begin the moment the Americans unconditionally stop their bombing of North Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend support the position now taken up by the Secretary-General of the United Nations? When will the British Government tell the Americans that they can no more win the war against the Vietcong than the French could win against the Vietminh?

Mr. Brown

I respect the military judgment of my hon. Friend in the latter part of his Question. On the first part, it is equally clear that talks could begin the moment Hanoi made it plain that they were ready to go to the table. We could go on for ever asking who is to start first. What I want to try to do— and what a lot of other people want to do; and I invite my hon. Friend to join with us—is to get them both ready to go at the same time. At the moment it is Hanoi that is holding back.

Mr. Blaker

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House a little more about the attitude of North Vietnam towards the possibility of talks? For example, what is their current attitude towards the San Antonio formula and what conditions are they laying down as preconditions to joining in such talks?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are many different indications and that one of the difficulties of attempting to discuss this matter openly by way of Question and Answer session is that one is making a subjective judgment all the time about which expression of view is really the one of the Hanoi Government. I have recently seen one in which they appeared to reject the San Antonio formula. On the other hand, there is reason to believe that this may not necessarily be the position. I have discussed this topic not only with the Governments concerned but also recently with U Thant. I cannot say to the House that I have any clear evidence that Hanoi is ready to come to the table, but, on the other hand, I do not believe that one should rule it out as a possibility. I suggest, therefore, that the best thing that I can do is continue to press through all the channels open to me.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In view of the rising tide of suffering and savagery in Vietnam, for which both sides are responsible, cannot the right hon. Gentleman himself try a further personal initiative to bring this appalling war to an end?

Mr. Brown

I do not think that any personal, public initiative at this moment would help very much. However, that does not mean that I am not taking initiatives and am not in contact with others who are also in a position to help. I shall continue to do that, but I think that, at this time, it would be wrong to identify them. I agree about the increasing savagery of this war. One of the things that moves one most is the fact that it is bound to go on increasing on both sides. There has been a good deal of recognition of this and a number of us are doing all that we can to arrange a situation in which the two sides can get to the table.

Mr. Barnes

Are not both sides now further from peace talks than they have ever been before? As one of America's friends, would not one of the best things that we could do be for us to concentrate on trying to bring home to her how tragically and hopelessly confused her present Vietnam policy has now become?

Mr. Brown

I do not agree that both sides are further from talking now than they have ever been before. Indeed, that may turn out to be very wide of the mark. I suggest that it would be better if we stopped identifying ourselves as either America's friends or Vietnam's friends and instead identified ourselves as the friends of peace who want to get both sides to the table.

Mr. Frank Allaun

If my right hon. Friend says, as he just said, that he would not rule out the possibility of U Thant's policy being operated, why not back it, since the wisdom of that policy could be tested within a matter of days?

Mr. Brown

I am sorry if my hon. Friend misunderstood me because I did not even say that. As my hon. Friend knows, the difference between what U Thant has said and what I have said is that he has identified one of the four points as something that should happen all by itself, and he says that he believes that, if it happened, something would then follow. I am bound to say that in my recent talks with him I was given no more basis than in others I have had for believing that this is necessarily so. I therefore remain with the view that the four points I have outlined on many occasions, taken together, provide a package deal which would justify the talks starting.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider what he said about not identifying ourselves with any of the countries concerned in this war? Has he no feeling of solidarity for our fellow subjects in Australia and New Zealand?

Mr. Brown

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, I was making the point that the feeling of most of us at the moment must be for the suffering of innocent people in Vietnam, whether North or South, and the casualties being suffered by all of those who are fighting, regardless of from where they come. The best thing we can do is not to raise partisan banners but to try to get the two sides to the peace table. However, I am prepared to go on to say, as I have said many times before, that the major responsibility now for holding this up rests with Hanoi.

Mr. Richard

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to reiterate clearly the fact that it is the opinion of Her Majesty's Government that to dissociate ourselves from the United States at this time would make the cause of peace more, rather than less, difficult?

Mr. Brown

That is very firmly our view. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said time and again that if we thought that such a step would bring peace nearer, we would take it. However, I do not believe that it would. I believe that it would lose us influence where we have it and would gain us none where we have not got it. I believe that the line we are taking now is the right one in the interest of trying to bring this conflict to a halt.

Mr. Molloy

Is not my right hon. Friend trying to face two ways at the same time? If we are genuinely trying to be the arbiter and neutral in this vulgar war, should not we dissociate ourselves from one of the belligerents and say that the proposal of U Thant should at least be put to the test?

Mr. Brown

I suggest that it is my hon. Friend who is trying to face both ways at once. If my fellow co-Chairman would cease his operations in support of one of the belligerents—or even if he did not do that but joined with me in reconvening the Geneva Conference—we could make progress this afternoon.

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