HC Deb 07 May 1968 vol 764 cc206-8
Q2. Mr. Winnick

asked the Prime Minister what further discussions he is engaged in with other world leaders to secure a settlement to the war in Vietnam.

Q8. Mr. Molloy

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement regarding the progress of negotiations for a peace settlement in Vietnam.

The Prime Minister

The House will. I know, welcome, as I do, the agreement of the United States and North Vietnam to send their representatives to meet in Paris. It is, I am sure, the hope of all of us that these first contacts will be fruitful and lead to a just and honourable peace in Vietnam.

Mr. Winnick

Would the Prime Minister agree that, while we all hope that the preliminary talks will be fruitful, the central issue is still the future of South Vietnam, where certainly the N.L.F. has a great deal of support? Is my right hon. Friend also aware that many people who, like myself, oppose the American action in Vietnam and the Saigon Government, deeply deplore the killing of unarmed civilian journalists by the Vietcong, and that we express our sympathies to their relatives?

The Prime Minister

I am with my hon. Friend on the latter point. Throughout all the Questions that I have had to answer on Vietnam for well over three years now I have said that so long as this fighting continues there will be the most grotesque atrocities. In addition to the one mentioned by my hon. Friend, there was clear evidence recently of a mass execution carried out by the Vietcong. That is why we must all hope that, now that the two sides are in contact, we shall be able to get a peace that will end fighting and all these atrocities.

Mr. Molloy

Could the Prime Minister say whether the Government are keeping in close touch with both sides at this very important and tense moment in order to assist in any way, and allow these talks to proceed, so that ultimately peace might be achieved?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. We have kept in close touch throughout with all with whom we can keep in close touch on this matter. As I said in answer to a supplementary question a week or two ago, while it must be for the parties to declare how they wish to pursue this matter, the co-Chairmen stand ready to provide any facilities that both parties feel would help to secure the right sort of peace.

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that after the Panmunjon peace talks started in Korea the United States suffered 65,000 casualties? Would he not agree that it is to be hoped that quicker progress will be made in the peace talks in Paris and we shall not suffer such casualties on either side?

The Prime Minister

It has been my hope, and I know that the whole House shares it, that at the earliest possible moment this issue will be transferred from the battlefield to the conference chamber. The fact that now the conference is planned and agreed upon makes one naturally hope that it will also be the signal for a cease-fire.

Mr. Whitaker

While regretting that the N.L.F. has launched a new offensive on the eve of the peace talks, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend, with our co-Chairman, will propose an immediate cease-fire during the peace talks instead of what happened in Korea?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend will be aware that I have been in continuous touch with the Premier of the Soviet Union on these matters over a long period of time, and I am still in touch; but it is the attitude of our fellow co-Chairman, and has been throughout, that they would not feel able to join in any initiative unless it was desired by both main parties to the dispute.

Q5. Mr. Hamling

asked the Prime Minister what further discussions he will have with the Soviet Ambassador on the re-convening of the Geneva Conference.

The Prime Minister

As to the reconvening of the Geneva Conference. I would refer my hon. Friend to the Answer I gave to a supplementary question by the noble Lord the Member for Berwick-on-Tweed (Viscount Lambton) on 9th April, when I described the attitude of our Soviet co-Chairman to these matters.

As to my hon. Friend's reference to the Soviet Ambassador, he may rest assured that all the most appropriate and efficient means of communication between the two Governments are in use and allow for speedy consultation whenever this is necessary.

Mr. Hamling

Whilst thanking my right hon. Friend for that Answer, may I ask whether he would agree that a further initiative, together with the Soviet Ambassador, would materially aid the discussions which are now going on over peace?

The Prime Minister

As I have explained to the House on a number of occasions, the Soviet Premier and I have considered whether the Geneva Conference should be reconvened. There are some arguments for it and many against it. But both of us have taken the view—this is very much their attitude—that when the parties are in contact, as they now are, should they desire an initiative by the co-Chairmen, either in the Geneva context or any other, we will be ready to respond.