HC Deb 30 April 1975 vol 891 cc467-70

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

18. Mr. Leadbitter

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs why Britsh passport holders were refused assistance by the British Embassy in Saigon in leaving South Vietnam during the evacuation of British Embassy staff; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ennals

Our embassy in Saigon did all it could to assist holders of British passports registered with the embassy to leave on the special flights arranged for the British community and embassy staff on 7th and 24th April. The embassy gave all the assistance it properly could.

Mr. Leadbitter

Without prejudging the reports which have come to this country and without accepting them as fact, will my right hon. Friend never theless agree that there is room for concern? Does he appreciate that the report of John Pilger, a correspondent of considerable repute and standing, gives rise to considerable concern? Will my right hon. Friend look further into that report and indicate that, if the conduct of the ambassador is as reported, it should be dealt with, and dealt with swiftly? I reiterate, however, that I am not prejudging the situation, because not too much reliance can be placed on newspaper reports at this stage.

Mr. Ennals

I have no reason to believe that there is any basis for criticism. My information is that only one or two members of the British community remained behind for want of the necessary exit documentation, which was a matter for the Vietnamese authorities. To have delayed the evacuation of the rest would possibly have jeopardised the safety of the others.

Plenty of notice was given. The British community was first advised to leave Saigon in a warning notice delivered by messenger on 1st and 2nd April to all those registered with the embassy. A final warning was delivered to remaining members of the community on 6th April. Repeated oral warnings to leave were given between 7th and 24th April.

Mr. Goodhart

Does the Minister of State recognise that there are still in Saigon many Vietnamese who wish to leave and who have connections with this country? Will the right hon. Gentleman make representations through Hanoi, now that it controls South Vietnam, that these Vietnamese should be allowed to leave, and will he ensure that some of the aid earmarked for Vietnam is spent in support of those refugees from Vietnam who have left and who have connections with this country?

Mr. Ennals

It is not so much a matter for us as for the people who wish to come to this country. If there are Vietnamese who want to come to Britain as refugees, I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, as he said, will look very sympathetically at any applications.

As for aid, the hon. Gentleman knows, as the House does, that a substantial amount of aid has already been made available to Vietnam. It was announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Overseas Development that roughly £1 million was available for relief work in all parts of Indo-China. I might add that on behalf of the European Community Her Majesty's Chargé d' Affaires in Hanoi informed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on 24th April that the Community had decided to take immediate action to provide relief for the victims of the Vietnamese war. This includes substantial quantities of powdered milk, rice and sugar, as well as medical supplies. Costs of transport will also be met. The aid will be distributed through the International Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

In view of all that has happened and is happening in Saigon, would not it be correct and decent for Her Majesty's Government to express sympathy to the Americans for what has happened to their efforts there and to express recognition of the moral right of what the Americans have tried to do throughout their time there?

Mr. Ennals

I saw a statement which was made yesterday, I think, by Dr. Kissinger, and perhaps I might quote from it. He said that one lesson to be drawn from the Indo-China experience was that the United States must be … very careful in the commitments we make but that we should scrupulously honour those commitments we do make … I believe the experience can make us more mature in the commitments we undertake and more determined to maintain those we have. I believe that that was a very balanced judgment by Dr. Kissinger.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This Question relates to the safety of individuals and not to the general situation.

Mr. Cryer

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that, once peace is finally restored, the British embassy will be reopened, and will he undertake to examine the possibility of recognising the PRG and see to it that the British embassy assists in every possible way in the reunification of Vietnam?

Mr. Ennals

The closure of the embassy was clearly, and was announced to be, only a temporary measure. The ambassador is in Singapore at present. As soon as possible, it will be the intention to reopen the embassy. As I said in answer to the original Question, the Government are looking carefully at the changing situation in Saigon, and the question of recognition is uppermost in our mind.

Mr. Tugendhat

In view of the rapidly changing situation in Vietnam, I hope that I shall be forgiven for extending the Question slightly by asking the right hon. Gentleman to say how he has responded to the request from the South Vietnamese ambassador in London and his staff for asylum here and to express the wish that he will behave in a tolerant and hospitable fashion to that unfortunate gentleman?

Mr. Ennals

I have not seen that application. However, as I said earlier, and as my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has said, if anyone applies for refuge in this country it will be very surprising and not in accordance with our principles if we do not look very sympathetically at such an application.