HC Deb 05 March 1973 vol 852 cc32-6
The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Anthony Royle)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement.

As hon. Members may know, I attended the International Conference on Vietnam held in Paris from 26th February to 2nd March. My right hon. Friend was present except for a period in the middle of the week when he returned to London to attend to parliamentary commitments.

This meeting also provided an opportunity to hold useful bilateral talks with other Foreign Ministers.

The main purpose of the conference was to acknowledge and support the provisions of the Paris Agreement on Vietnam of 27th January. The conference was able to agree on a document called the Act of the Conference which embodied the common measure of agreement. A copy of the Act has been placed in the Library of the House.

Besides supporting the Paris Agreement, the Act provides for the International Commission for Control and Supervision to report to the Governments taking part in the conference through the parties to the Vietnam agreement; and for the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a participant in the conference to receive these reports for his information. There is also provision for joint consultation in the event of breaches of the Agreement and if necessary for the reconvening of the conference. We attach the greatest importance to the withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia and an end to foreign interference. This is reflected in a separate Article which re-affirms the relevant provisions of the Paris Agreement.

As I said at the initialling ceremony on 1st March: No document, no words, indeed no conference, can ensure the maintenance of peace in Vietnam. This, as I have indicated, must rest with the parties concerned on the ground. If they are determined that the Agreement will work, it will. If they are not so determined, it will not. By signing this Act my right hon. Friend and the other Foreign Ministers gave proof of their common support of the Paris Agreement. If it is observed both in the letter and in the spirit, it will serve the cause of peace.

Mr. Benn

I thank the Under-Secretary of State for his statement. The Opposition share with him the sense of relief that this negotiation has led, first, to the cease-fire and then to the Paris Act to which he referred. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the need for the withdrawal of foreign troops and his hope that the settlement will last.

I should like to ask him three questions. First, is he in a position to say more about any relief work that Her Majesty's Government might undertake to repair the appalling destruction that has taken place during the war? Secondly, when may we expect full diplomatic links with Hanoi as relations normalise? Thirdly, does the hon. Gentleman look forward to the development of a broader and more general range of economic relations that might consolidate relations and contribute to recovery?

Mr. Royle

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. Many of the participants at the conference, including ourselves, hoped to see a reference to aid in the final Act. This was not acceptable to some others. In particular, the North Vietnamese made plain their preference for bilateral discussion on this point. The Government have not yet finalised their arrangements for aid but we see benefit in providing aid on a multilateral basis. On the question of North Vietnam, the Paris Agreement signed in January has created a new situation which is now under consideration. We took the opportunity offered by the conference to approach the North Vietnamese with a view to developing contacts between our two countries.

Sir F. Bennett

During the Paris conference many disturbing reports reached the outside world about the warning by the Canadians that they might have to pull out of the supervising force. Were these reports justified and, if so, what led the Canadians to feel like this and what is being done to find a replacement?

Mr. Royle

Yes, as my hon. Friend said, there was some concern during the course of the talks last week about Canada's position. The Canadian commitment is to remain a member of the ICCS until the end of March, but Mr. Sharp said that Canadian participation thereafter will be reviewed in the light of developments. The Canadians were not entirely happy about the way arrangements were going in the final Act to cover the reporting basis for the ICCS to the conference.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Minister able to say anything more about his hopes for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Laos and Cambodia to which he referred? What pressure are the Government bringing in that regard?

Mr. Royle

Laos and Cambodia were not represented at the conference and, therefore, the conference did not discuss the situation on the ground in detail. As I have explained, there is a provision in the Act of the Conference referring to Article 20 of the Paris Agreement of 27th January. We hope that the Khmers will come together to settle their differences by peaceful rather than military means. We also welcome the ceasefire by Laos and hope that foreign forces will be withdrawn within 60 days.

Mr. John Mendelson

The Minister will no doubt recall that about a fortnight before the opening of the Conference, my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) put a question to the Prime Minister in which she drew attention to the severe plight of tens of thousands of political prisoners detained in Saigon and in the environments of Saigon. The Prime Minister replied that this was one of the problems which would occupy the conference and said that it was a serious problem. Did the conference discuss the problem and, what are the Government doing in Saigon by diplomatic means to see that the tortures of these political prisoners cease and that they are released forthwith?

Mr. Royle

I cannot accept the last remarks of the hon. Gentleman, but I am aware of the concern which is felt on this matter. Indeed. I received a delegation of Opposition Members in the Foreign Office before I went to Paris. This subject was not discussed in the conference. The parties to the Paris Agreement of 27th January decided that this was a matter to be settled between the South Vietnamese parties themselves. In view of that, I am afraid that it was not possible to discuss it at the conference

Mr. Frank Allaun

Has the Minister read the first-hand and horrifying accounts in The Guardian and other newspapers of young women screaming in prison hospitals as a result of the tortures they have undergone? Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the fears that many of the 200,000 political prisoners in Thieu's gaols will be exterminated? Should not the British Government take initiative for the release of all political prisoners and for the admission of the international team to all gaols?

Mr. Royle

I think the hon. Gentleman must also accept the fact that there are prisoners held by the People's Revolutionary Government, which is the Government of the Vietcong. The present situation regarding the move towards peace in Vietnam, which all of us on both sides of the House desperately desire, is very delicate. As it is laid down in the various agreements that the parties have decided that it is for them to settle these matters between themselves, I must say that it would be inadvisable for Her Majesty's Government to intervene at this time.

Mr. Wilkinson

Could my hon. Friend say what it is in the reporting procedures vis-à-vis the supervisory forces to which the Canadian object? Surely an effective reporting mechanism will be very important if the accords are to be effectively implemented.

Mr. Royle

The Canadian Government, and Mr. Sharp who signed the agreement on their behalf, have accepted the act as signed last Friday. We would have liked the conference to institute more effective reporting arrangements, but at least the document which was agreed by all provides a reasonable link between the international community and the parties to the Paris Agreement on Vietnam.

Mr. Dalyell

Although the Minister says that fighting has stopped in Laos, is he aware that the recent Labour Party delegation found a far from satisfactory state of affairs? Do we in Britain have any obligations under the 1962 agreements? Secondly, although on the subject of Cambodia the Minister told the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) that the Khmers must come together, does he realise that this involves talking to the Chinese because "foreign troops" would be those possibly with some relationship with China, as Prince Sihanouk is in Peking. Have we discussed this matter with the Chinese Government?

Mr. Royle

The hon. Gentleman must not put words into my month. I did not say that fighting had ceased in Laos. I said that we welcomed the ceasefire in Laos and hope that foreign forces would withdraw within 60 days. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that fighting has stopped. In regard to fighting generally, particularly in Vietnam, the agreement is only gradually being put into effect and a total end to all acts of hostility has yet to be achieved. In regard to Cambodia, naturally we hope that the Khmers will come together to achieve a possible solution to the problem, but, as the hon. Gentleman will know, under the Paris Agreement of 27th January it was laid down that all foreign forces should withdraw from Indo China. The foreign forces in Cambodia today are North Vietnamese forces and, as far as I know, Chinese forces are not involved.

Mr. Molloy

Since the hon. Gentleman mentioned new contacts with Hanoi in the new atmosphere, will he consider the possibility of the early dispatch of a trade mission to Hanoi?

Mr. Royle

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. I think that it is a little early to do this yet. The possibility of talks concerning the establishment of diplomatic relationships at some time in the future was aired between our two delegations in Paris, but we have not yet reached any conclusion on discussions about a trade delegation.