HC Deb 12 March 1968 vol 760 c1179
Q4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister whether he will dissociate Her Majesty's Government from the recently resumed United States bombing of the North Vietnam area near Hanoi.

The Prime Minister

I would refer my hon. Friend to the many statements of Her Majesty's Government's view on these matters.

Mr. Winnick

Would the Prime Minister state at what stage, apart from nuclear weapons, the Government would consider dissociating from American bombing of North Vietnam? Is he aware that many people seem to feel that, if we dissociated ourselves from American policies, certainly it would encourage many people like the excellent Senator McCarthy who want a policy of de-escalation?

The Prime Minister

I do not intend to interfere in any other country's elections or even primaries. But my hon. Friend will realise that his question is hypothetical. I made clear in Washington what our attitude would be if there was any suggestion of using tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam. But, as far as dissociation is concerned, my hon. Friend could not be more wrong than to imagine that this will help.

Mr. Frederic Harris

In order to save time during Questions to the Prime Minister, will the Prime Minister consider giving an Answer to the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) which, one day, will give that hon. Gentleman some satisfaction?

The Prime Minister

I feel that a much higher proportion of my Answers give satisfaction to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick) than do Answers that I give to the hon. Member for Croydon whatever-it-is who sits opposite.

Mr. Philip Noel-Baker

May we take it from the Prime Minister's original Answer that, since he dissociated himself and Britain from the bombing of oil installations near Hanoi in 1965, he now dissociates himself from the Pentagon's attempt to bring Hanoi to the conference table by bombing the city itself?

The Prime Minister

My right hon. Friend knows that we have always opposed the bombing of the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. That was our position, and it is still our position. I feel that my right hon. Friend also could help in what we on the Government Front Bench are trying to do in the matter if he would dissociate himself from the refusal—not refusal, because I hope that it is not a refusal—the slowness of Hanoi to respond to the proposals which have been made. If they now say that they will come to the conference table for prompt and productive discussion, the bombing will stop tomorrow. That has been clearly stated to me by President Johnson. That is known in Hanoi, and it is known in Moscow. If my hon. Friends would lend their weight to that, we could get peace in Vietnam.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Can the Prime Minister explain why so many of his supporters appear to regard American bombing as being so much more morally reprehensible than clandestine murder by the Viet Cong?

The Prime Minister

I have made it clear—I have said it in the White House, I have said it in America and I have said it in Moscow—that while this war continues there will be the most horrible consequences. All of us were appalled by that brutal execution by a South Vietnamese policeman. We are equally affronted by the brutal murders by the Viet Cong of their prisoners. If horror pictures are to be shown on television at all, I wish that they were all shown. The consequence is that, until we get the two sides round the conference table—and even then the task of securing peace will be enormous—there will be no end to the carnage and brutality.

Q5. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister if he will now state what further measures he will recommend to end the war in Vietnam.

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to add to the Answers I gave to Questions on this subject on 27th February.—[Vol. 759, c. 1223.]

Mr. Molloy

Would not the Prime Minister agree that, in the name of the suffering humanity in Vietnam, it is not too much to ask the mightiest nation in the world to cease their bombing unconditionally so as to make a contribution to getting people round the table? Further, would he agree that, before further escalation takes place, he ought to take the initiative and ask U Thant, Mr. Kosygin and President Johnson to come to an urgent meeting with a view to ending this war—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must be reasonably brief.

The Prime Minister

I have talked to all these statesmen to whom my hon. Friend has referred. The position is absolutely clear. As I have said, despite all the difficulties of the last three or four weeks the United States Government have made it clear that they are prepared to stop the bombing if they can have a clear sign—I do not mean Press interviews with French or Australian journalists or anyone like that—given to the Soviet, British or American Governments that they will come to the conference table with the idea of constructive talks towards a peace settlement on, as President Johnson has said, a free agenda. I do not think that there could be a more reasonable request. If they give that sign, the bombing will stop. He has made that clear. Obviously, following that, if there was a great military build-up and peace negotiations were rendered impossible, there would have to be second thoughts. I believe that that is the right road to peace, and I believe that we would all welcome a response which would make the transfer of this issue from the battlefield to the conference table a reality.

Mr. Hastings

In view of our impending withdrawal from the Far East, does the Prime Minister think that his opinions, views or position on Vietnam will have the slightest effect?

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman had been in Washington or Moscow recently he would have found that the answer is yes.

Mr. Mendelson

While accepting my right hon. Friend's assertion that he has now worked for a long time trying to get the two sides together, will he associate himself with the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Governments of Canada, India, Sweden and others who say that the bombing should stop now and negotiations will follow? Why should he not associate himself with that move?

The Prime Minister

I was fully appraised of all the moves of the Secretary-General, who was my guest at No. 10 to discuss these matters. Indeed, it was the result of the work of Her Majesty's Government—not least through the approach to my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) which enabled me to put U Thant in touch with the North Vietnamese representatives in Paris—which led to the later stage. But nothing that U Thant discovered on his mission in any way invalidates what I have said.

I have discussed this in detail with President Johnson, Mr. Kosygin, President Podgorny and Mr. Brezhnev.

Mr. Peyton

Is the Prime Minister aware that many of us sympathise with his difficulties in explaining to his hon. Friends how, due to hs own policies, this country no longer has any decisive influence in world affairs?

The Prime Minister

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's sympathy, which I accept in the spirit in which it is offered. If the hon. Gentleman will give the same degree of concern about ending this war in Vietnam as my hon. Friends, I would listen to him with some sympathy.

Mr. Tinn

Can the Prime Minister say anything about Russian influence or pressure to help to modify Hanoi's intransigent attitude regarding negotiations?

The Prime Minister

It would be very difficult and not helpful for me to speculate about that. Obviously the Russian co-Chairman corresponding to ourselves was appointed to that task because of their influence on the eastern side in the matter while we are connected and have close relations with the American side, and both of us have been working, so far as we can, to get peace there. But I think it would not be helpful for me to speculate about the internal situation in Hanoi.

Mr. Onslow

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to say that riotous demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, such as that planned this weekend at the American Embassy in London, serve no purpose whatsoever in bringing the war to an end and merely bring disrepute on those who take part in them?

The Prime Minister

I do not mind anyone demonstrating for peace in Vietnam. I do not always approve of the way they do it, though their aim, when they throw things at me, is singularly inefficient.

Provided those who demonstrate genuinely want peace in Vietnam and not military victory in Vietnam, whether for one side or the other, and it makes them feel good to demonstrate, I have no objection. This is not the way to get peace, because the peace in Vietnam banner is being carried by a number of countries, by this country and by Commonwealth countries, and by U Thant. We shall only get peace on the terms which I have suggested. Those who carry the banner of peace and say that what they want is victory for the Viet Cong, or the hawks in North America who talk about peace and want a military victory on the other side, are not, in my view, helping to get peace.

Mr. Heffer

As my right hon. Friend earlier said that dissociation would have absolutely no effect on American policy, may I ask him whether our present policy has had any effect on American policy? Is it not time that we carried out the policy of the Labour Party at its annual conference which urged dissociation from American policy?

The Prime Minister

But that would not help to bring peace. I am in no doubt that the relations which we as the Western co-Chairman have had with the United States have had some considerable effect. At all times the aim of Her Majesty's Government has been to prevent escalation, whether caused by hawks in America or by very dangerous proposals on the other side—for example, the time I went to Moscow in July, 1966. We have been trying to prevent escalation in order that the voice of reason and the cool voice of those whom we want round the conference table can be heard. That is still our policy.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since on previous occasions when there have been bombing pauses there has been no disposition shown in Hanoi to come and talk peace or move towards negotiations, is not the right hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the reasonable American attitude to this question to be welcomed, and does he realise that it will be supported in many quarters on this side of the House, if not behind him?

The Prime Minister

Obviously I welcome what I said. Concerning the previous bombing pauses—and we had something to do with the pressures which led to them; we are not alone in this, but we had something to do with it—it is true that there was no response. The North Vietnamese Government, of course, were aware of the change in American bombing policy last autumn which might have given a chance to come to the conference table. I do not underrate the difficulties either for the United States or North Vietnam. While I believe that the American Government have put forward proposals which anyone who wants peace in Vietnam should accept, I know that, in the present situation of the intensive fighting in South Vietnam, there are difficulties for both sides. I hope that it will not go on too long with all the blood and deaths and murder and everything else that is involved. After that is over, I hope there will be a realisation that reasonable terms for an adjournment to the conference table have been put forward. I hope that the sign—and it is a small sign—that is required for that to happen will be forthcoming.