HC Deb 24 July 1972 vol 841 cc1302-6
20 Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest situation in Vietnam and Her Majesty's Government's efforts in helping to secure realistic negotiation for peace.

41 Mr. Sproat

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest situation in Vietnam, in the light of the British Government's responsibilities as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference.

Mr. Anthony Royle

I have nothing to add to what I told the House in answer to Questions on 12th June and 3rd July.—[Vol. 838, c. 981–6; Vol. 840, c. 25–27.]

Mr. Dykes

I express some disappointment at that reply. Does not my hon. Friend agree that at this particularly delicate stage in the developments in Vietnam it ill behoves anyone, in whatever country, for whatever reason, to undermine the official American position of medium-term disengagement combined with short-term resistance to Communist aggression and thus jeopardise the chances of a realistic settlement later on?

Mr. Royle

I sympathise with the tone of my hon. Friend's supplementary question. We welcome the decision of President Nixon and the Government of South Vietnam to resume negotiations in Paris. We can only hope that the North Vietnamese will be ready to negotiate seriously and constructively. Formal sessions were held on 13th and 20th July and there have been some secret talks between Dr. Kissinger and Mr. Le Due Tho, a member of the North Vietnamese Politburo, but it is too early to say what progress has been made.

Mr. Whitehead

Whilst the negotiations are going on there is ever-intensifying bombing of civilian targets and dykes in North Vietnam. What information has the hon. Gentleman had from representatives in Hanoi and what has he said about it to the United States?

Mr. Royle

Any reports that we receive from the consulate general in Hanoi are confidential. I have no reason to believe that the Americans have departed from their present policy, which is to attack only military targets and targets related to the North Vietnamese military effort. President Nixon has recently reiterated that policy.

Mr. Sproat

Does not my hon. Friend agree that there is mounting evidence that General Giap and his Soviet advisers made a serious military error in attacking South Vietnam in this way at this time? Will he comment on the Press reports that this could be the last throw of the ageing junta which has held power in Hanoi for over a generation?

Mr. Royle

I do not think I can comment on that. All I will say is that we regard the proposals recently put forward by President Nixon as positive and constructive, and we hope that the North Vietnamese will show their desire for peace by making a suitable response.

Mr. Richard

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the situation in Vietnam has been delicate for at least seven or eight years? Is he further aware that the policy of silence pursued by successive British Governments in the hope of inducing a better negotiating position for the United States and North Vietnam has proved to be extraordinarily unsuccessful over the last seven or eight years? Is he further aware that his communications from Her Majesty's Consulate General in Hanoi are confidential because he wishes to make them confidential and for no other reason? Cannot he be more forthcoming?

Mr. Royle

I think the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that the situation in Vietnam has been delicate for nearly 25 years, not just for seven or eight years. It is not right for the hon. and learned Gentleman to accuse the Government of doing nothing. We are not making thoughtless and useless public comments. On the contrary, in the present situation we believe that every possible chance of international conciliation should be explored. I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree that the present Government, like their predecessor, consider that the Geneva Conference may yet have a rôle to play in restoring peace and stability in Indo-China. It is a forum where all the interested parties, including Laos and Cambodia, are represented.

37. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on British assistance to Vietnam.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Richard Wood)

The Government of Vietnam last year accepted the offer of a loan of £1 million to be spent on British goods and services in connection with projects which are the subject of discussion between our two Governments. We have established an English language teaching centre in Saigon and are considering proposals for a joint technical education project. I expect that about 25 Vietnamese will be trained in Britain this year at our expense.

Mr. Wall

Now that the Government of South Vietnam are winning not only the battle for the hearts and minds of the people but the military battle against the Communist aggressor, should we not do more for this ravaged country which has been fought over for more than 30 years?

Mr. Wood

I think that this is a quite considerable contribution. If more projects come to light in the future and they can be fitted into the aid programme, I shall be willing to consider the possibility of continuing our aid to this needy country.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Would not the best way to assist Vietnam be to ask Mr. Nixon to remove his armed forces—not just the Army but the Air Force and the Navy, which are decimating the country and are being greatly increased?

Mr. Wood

If I were to undertake the full answer that that question deserves. I might get in the way of other business following my reply.

Mr. Sproat

Will my right hon. Friend look again at the possibility of increasing the original £10,000 worth of aid given in April, since the number of refugees for which it was made has increased three or four times?

Mr. Wood

I shall continually look at the possibility of further relief. But the voluntary societies are themselves adding to that £10,000, and I understand that to a large extent the relief needs are being met.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Would it not be better to spend that money on medical aid to North Vietnam rather than to propping up the despotic military régime in the South?

Mr. Wood

I think it would be better if the war were ended and the régime in the North took the same view.