HC Deb 01 May 1970 vol 800 cc1613-20

Sir Alec Douglas-Home (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will say what steps he is taking in relation to the situation in Cambodia in view of the responsibility of Britain as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference.

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)

I have repeatedly made it clear that I am ready to act as Geneva Co-Chairman either by calling a conference or in any other way which could bring a settlement nearer. In recent weeks we have repeatedly urged on the Russian Co-Chairman the use of the Geneva machinery to help in the problem of Cambodia. Unfortunately, the Russians have not felt able to join with us but have maintained the position that the conditions for a conference do not yet exist. I still hope that they will change their attitude and I am making a further approach to this end. I am convinced that the right way to tackle the problem is through a conference whatever precise form it might take.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

The right hon. Gentleman has answered one of the questions that I was about to ask him, namely, whether his approach to the Russians had been formal. From what he has said I take it that his answer is " Yes ".

Is it not deplorable that the territory of a country so ostentatiously unaligned as Cambodia should have been occupied for a long time by the Viet Cong and the Communists and, therefore, the war spread to this territory? Should not the purpose of the Russians and ourselves as Co-Chairmen and the rest of the con- ference be to rid Cambodia of all foreign troops? I take it again that that would be the purpose of the conference which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to call.

Mr. Stewart

That is our view. It has been known for some time that the neutrality of Cambodia has been considerably violated, and the proper objective should be to secure its complete and real neutrality.

Mr. Michael Foot

Does not my right hon. Friend agree, however, that the invasion of Cambodia by massive American forces announced in recent hours is bound to imperil gravely, if not hopelessly, any possibility of getting the kind of conference that he has advocated? Can he say what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken in recent hours since President Nixon's announcement to protest against this action and to press President Nixon to call off the action while such discussions are taking place? Can my right hon. Friend also say what rights under international law President Nixon has for making such an announcement? Should not he have taken such a matter to the United Nations? What steps are Her Majesty's Government taking to deal with the immediate crisis which is directly attributable to the action of American forces?

Mr. Stewart

I do not believe that it is right for us to express judgments of that kind. The real objective of policy must be to secure the complete neutrality of Cambodia and the absence of all foreign troops from this territory. That is what we have persistently worked for and shall continue to work for.

Mr. Thorpe

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether this invasion was at the invitation of the Cambodian Government, or was it a self-invitation by the Americans? Does not he agree that the danger of these so-called temporary measures is that they will become a permanent engagement which will escalate and possibly spread to Laos? Can the right hon. Gentleman say any more about the grounds on which the Russians feel unable to agree to the convening of a conference?

Mr. Stewart

On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, the Russian view was that there must be a complete withdrawal of American troops from all countries in Indo-China as a prelude to discussions. That did not seem to us to be an attitude which was likely to promote the negotiated peace which I think we all want. I do not know of any invitation by the Cambodian authorities for the action which has recently been taken.

Mr. Howie

Will my right hon. Friend take it from me that many of us on this side of the House who do not merely become indignant when the Americans take action are none the less disturbed by the recent move on the part of the Americans? Will he press the Russians much further to reconvene the conference and, while doing so, make it clear to the Americans that we do not necessarily support them fully in their position at the moment?

Mr. Stewart

I have said that I do not think that it is for us to pronounce judgments of that kind, but I think everyone must find it, as my hon. Friend finds it, a disturbing situation. That is why we must continue to press our Co-Chairman to try to get the conference going.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Since the United Kingdom, unlike Australia and New Zealand, for whom we should have special regard in these matters, has not borne the burden of the defence of freedom in that part of the world, is it not quite improper for Members of this House to lecture President Nixon on how he should behave? Should not a message of sympathy and encouragement go out from here to President Nixon? Has the Prime Minister been speaking to the President on the " hot line " or in any other way in those terms? Were the Government informed by the American Administration about this very serious decision?

Mr. Stewart

No, we were not given advance information about this, and I simply repeat, in answer to all the rest of what the hon. Member said, that I do not think that it is for us to pronounce this kind of judgment. Hon. Members, of course, are free to express what views they like in this House.

Mr. John Mendelson

But is it not the duty of my right hon. Friend to give expression to the feelings of many people in this country as shown throughout the series of debates on Vietnam? This escalating of the war is a deliberate step by the President of the United States, after having approved the coup which removed Prince Sihanouk and introduced a Right-wing military clique in Cambodia as unrepresentative as the American clique in Saigon? Should not the Foreign Secretary express the view of this Labour Movement? That is his duty, and he is duty bound to do it. I am appalled at the way we are moving back to the " Yes, amen " position which we thought we, as a Labour Movement, would get away from.

Mr. Stewart

I am not prepared to say more on this aspect of the matter than I have already said. If one starts discussing this in the terms my hon. Friend has used one has to take into account also what has happened about the neutrality of Cambodia in the past and one has also to take into account the clear desire of President Nixon to get a negotiated peace.

Sir G. Nabarro

While rejecting utterly the pronouncements of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Michael Foot) and the hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson), is it not the duty of the Government to ascertain whether Australia and New Zealand are committed in any way to this new venture in Cambodia in view of the special defence links which exist between Australia and New Zealand and this country?

Mr. Stewart

I have no reason to suppose on present information that they are in any way committed. I shall, of course, be in touch with all the countries concerned.

Mr. Winnick

I apologise for not having been here at the beginning of my right hon. Friend's statement, but would he not agree that this latest act is of the same kind of madness and folly as that of the Americans in starting the bombing of North Vietnam in 1965? Is it not clear that there can be no military victory by the United States, and that what President Nixon is doing is embarking on a new, dangerous adventure in the war? What we want the British Government to do is to make the American Government see sense over the whole of the Vietnam operation.

Mr. Stewart

I will say again that I do not believe that it is right for us to pronounce judgments of that kind. Our business as Co-Chairman is, of course, to try to promote a conference and a peaceful settlement of all the conflicts raging in Indo-China.

Sir C. Mott-Radclyffe

Could not the Foreign Secretary confirm that the initial threat to the independence or non-alignment of Cambodia came from the Communists and the Viet Cong, and, of course, this provoked a natural reaction by the United States whose whole position in the Far East is, therefore. threatened?

Mr. Stewart

I have said already that the neutrality of Cambodia has been violated for a long time in the way the hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Heffer

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that this is a most dangerous escalation of the war situation in that part of the world? Is he not aware that his replies to the questions by my hon. Friends are exceedingly disappointing, and will he not realise that the Labour Movement of this country, by conference resolutions time after time, has made it perfectly clear that we would not support American policy in that part of the world? Is it not time for the Government now at this decisive moment to make it perfectly clear to the Americans that we cannot support their action? Is it not also clear that freedom is indivisible? If we can protest, rightly, at Russian policy in Czechoslovakia, we can at this moment of time equally protest at American policy in that part of the world.

Mr. Stewart

Surely, in that case. those who so emphatically protested against that must protest at the violation of Cambodians neutrality, too. I say that I do not believe that it is for us to pronounce judgments of this kind at this stage. That is not going to be helpful in the real task of trying to promote a peaceful settlement.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

The right hon. Gentleman has very properly confirmed that this has been a lengthy violation the Communists of Cambodian neutrality. Would the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is a yet further example of what we have all too often seen since World War II of Communists moving in wherever there is a vacuum of power? Would he now consider laying before the House, in one form or another, a full statement of all the protests which he has made on behalf of the United Kingdom or as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference to the Communists against these violations?

Mr. Stewart

I will consider that, but I must repeat that I do not think that laying a catalogue of the rights and wrongs in this matter will help us now.

Mr. S. C. Silkin

Whilst I do not accept for one moment some of the more extreme statements made by some hon. Members on this side of the House, arid whilst accepting that in our position as Co-Chairman it is right that we should refrain from obviously taking sides in this matter, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend does not agree that any escalation of the conflict, particularly at this time when there is a real chance of the opposite process taking place, must be a matter of very serious concern to the peace of the world, and would the Government make representations appropriately?

Mr. Stewart

I entirely agree with that.

Mr. Atkinson

Would my right hon Friend agree that President Nixon's statement indicates that American politics are now back to the worst days of Foster Dulles? If that is so, and there is every reason for us to suspect that it is the case that this invasion will not finish within eight weeks, surely there is every reason why the British Government should alert the United Nations through our representatives there to take urgent and immediate action to bring the nations together to discuss this deplorable situation?

Mr. Stewart

I could not agree with the start of what my hon. Friend said, but we are anxious, as I made very clear, to bring the nations together. We would have liked to have done that in the forum of the United Nations, but the Soviet Union always takes the view that it would not be appropriate. As I said at the end of my first answer, we want to get a conference whatever the precise form it might take.

Mr. Frank Allaun

May I, as a National Executive member of the Labour Party, ask my right hon. Friend to bear in mind that if the Labour Party is opposed to American intervention in Vietnam, as it is, it would be even more opposed to American intervention in Cambodia as well? Secondly, is it not a fact that the massacre of civilians and other troubles in Cambodia have arisen since the coup, which was assisted, according 'to many quarters, by the C.I.A. in that country?

Mr. Stewart

Well, I hope that the party to which we both belong, and indeed, everybody, is opposed to the violation of the neutrality of Cambodia. As to the reports of massacres in Cambodia, our Ambassador at Phnom Penh has expressed to the authorities there our grave concern about this. There have not, since his representations, been reports of any further atrocities.

Mr. E. Hudson Davies

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in his argument that in view of our role as Co-Chairmen we are absolved from stating opinions there is considerable danger that we may lose more by not taking a standpoint than we may be able to achieve in our role as Co-Chairman and in our admirable but unsuccessful efforts to convene a conference?

Mr. Stewart

I can see that that is a matter of judgment, but I believe that the decision as I have stated it so far is the right one, certainly at this stage.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

I hope that on this issue we can avoid talking in terms of party politics. Would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that if we are to take sides at all there is one side that we must take and support and that is the non-alignment of Cambodia, which has been violated by the Communists in the first place? Surely, therefore, the Foreign Secretary is correct in saying that we must try to get all foreign troops out of Cambodia. It is no use trying to concentrate on the Americans rather than anyone else.

Mr. Rankin

Can we dissociate what is alleged to be happening in Vietnam from what is now happening in Cambodia? Although America has pledged herself to withdraw from Vietnam, and has assured us that she is in process of doing so, can my right hon. Friend say whether or not the troops being withdrawn from Vietnam are now being used to invade Cambodia, so that we are presented with a double invasion by the United States in that part of South East Asia?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot answer a question about military dispositions, but it is true that the President has set forth proposals which involve the progressive reduction of United States troops in Vietnam, and has stated that, as part of a final settlement, all American troops will be withdrawn from Vietnam. It was our hope—and still ought to be our hope—that agreement could be reached on those lines.

Mr. Michael Foot

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I move the Adjournment of the House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not in order to seek to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 9 on Fridays. Standing Orders do not provide for it.

Mr. Foot

I apologise for being out of order in that respect, Mr. Speaker. I was not certain whether or not it was possible to move the Adjournment on a Friday. I accept your Ruling, of course. But I presume that on the grounds of urgency there is nothing to prevent our seeking to move the Adjournment on Monday, and I therefore beg to give notice that unless there is an announcement before then of a change in the Government's policy some of us will certainly seek on Monday to move the Adjournment of the House under the Standing Order.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I observe that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House is in his place. Has he come to tell us that he has arranged an early debate on these urgent matters?

Mr. Speaker

If the right hon. Gentleman had been desirous of doing that he would have risen and spoken the kind of words the hon. Member is waiting to hear.

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