HC Deb 30 April 1975 vol 891 cc441-4
1. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if, in the light of recent events in Vietnam, he will now recognise the Provisional Revolutionary Government.

The Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. David Ennals)

My best information is that representatives of the South Vietnamese liberation forces are in contact with President Minh and his Prime Minister. I should prefer not to anticipate the outcome of these discussions. I am keeping the matter under urgent review.

Mr. Newens

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we are to have anything to do with South Vietnam in future we shall have to recognise the Provisional Revolutionary Government? Would it not be better to take immediate steps towards recognition of that Government rather than cling to the remnants of a completely outdated and now failed American policy in Vietnam?

Mr. Ennals

In the circumstances I have described it is not yet clear what the successor Government in South Vietnam will be. It may be that later in the day this will become clear. I am watching the situation carefully.

Today the curtain has come down on a generation of war in Vietnam. Three thoughts are uppermost in our minds. The first is one of sympathy for those whose country and whose lives have been ravaged by war. The second is one of regret that the parties concerned were not able to achieve a political rather than a military solution to their problems. Finally, we feel relief that at last it is all over. We shall want to make what contributions we can towards binding up the wounds of this long and bloody war.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

As the Minister has fairly said, what has happened in Vietnam is clearly of the greatest importance and could well be a turning point in the history of Asia, if not of the world. May I, therefore, with your inulgence Mr. Speaker, ask the Minister three questions?

First, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Communist conquests of Vietnam and Cambodia represent a breach of the spirit and, indeed, the letter of the Paris Agreement and, as such, are a defeat for the rule of law and for the whole concept of peaceful negotiations as a way of settling disputes?

Secondly, will the Minister of State tell us what residual obligations still lie upon the British Government in respect of South-East Asia—to Vietnam under the Paris Agreement, to Thailand under SEATO, and to Malaysia and Singapore?

Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman accept, as Conservative Members accept, that no defeat for America can possibly be regarded as a victory for peace and freedom anywhere? Will he, therefore, use his influence to keep the United States, as far as they are willing, committed to the defence of the free world, including Europe?

Mr. Ennals

I agree with that part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question in which he referred to the gravity of the events. I shall not at present try to apportion blame for the events of these months and years. More than one party has been in breach of the Paris Agreement.

Her Majesty's Government's residual obligations in respect of Vietnam under the 1954 Geneva Agreements have been overtaken by the new international agreement, and the International Conference on Vietnam in 1973. The most important international obligation imposed on us is to refrain from any action which is at variance with the provisions of the Pads Agreement between the parties to the Vietnam conflict.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the effects of the Vietnam situation on the United States, and that country's rôle in the world. On 10th April President Ford told the Joint Session of Congress that events in South-East Asia must be kept in their proper perspective, that no potential adversary should believe in a slackening of the nation's will, and that America's destiny had never been more closely linked with that of Western Europe. Those are wise words, and I share those beliefs. I do not go along with those who want to use the Vietnam situation to weaken America's relations with Britain, with Europe and with others.

Mr. Flannery

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although when Tory Members were in Government they rushed with unseemly haste to recognise what the junta did in Chile, at this stage they refuse to pursue an honourable course on this matter? Does he further agree that the rape of Vietnam by the dropping of napalm on children by those who recently said that they wanted to help orphans and the ravaging of a small nation by the most massive bombardment that has ever occurred in the history of mankind was one of the most disgraceful episodes that has ever happened and, therefore, that immediate recognition of the Provisional Revolutionary Government would be acceptance of a political reality and could only advance the cause of all mankind?

Mr. Ennals

There have been terrible events in Vietnam. My hon. Friend has referred to some of them. Terrible actions have been carried out by both sides. We should not have our eyes blinkered to some of the horrors which have been committed by both sides in this terrible war. Today we should be looking to the future, conscious of the end of a ghastly period in the history of that part of the world. I do not think that it helps to rush into judgments and recriminations.

Sir D. Walker-Smith

Although at the appropriate time Her Majesty's Government will no doubt follow the traditional British practice that recognition of a foreign regime depends not on the test of moral approval but on the test of capacity to exercise jurisdiction, will the right hon. Gentleman nevertheless make it clear to the Provisional Revolutionary Government or any would-be Government that friendship and moral approval can be acquired only by humane conduct and a liberal and democratic attitude?

Mr. Ennals

The judgments that we shall have to take in deciding—as we have to decide, I expect, very quickly—on the question of a successor Government, will be made on the traditional criteria. I doubt whether our first action in doing so will be to preach any sermons.