§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Newton.]7.24 pm
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Stepney and Poplar)
During the past appalling four years in Cambodia there has been a sustained barrage of questions, mainly, but not exclusively, from Conservative Back Benchers. That was the position when the Labour Government were in power.
I believe that this is the first time that a debate has taken place in the House on Cambodia. It is being held in Opposition time. The Opposition have chosen the subject because, contrary to the received and somewhat derogatory opinion that is so often expressed that we are becoming an inward-looking island, we ourselves, and more significantly our own people, are appalled by the dimensions of the Cambodian tragedy. We wish to assista small nation to escape virtual annihilation. We wish to make some proposals on what Her Majesty's Government could and should do, starting with the immediate withdrawal of British recognition from Pol Pot.
It is remarkable and creditable that the British people should be so concerned. Cambodia is to us not merely a far-away country—a phrase that many right hon. and hon. Members ivill recognise. It is a country with which historically—an important exception is our co-chairman-ship of the Geneva conference—we have had only the most tenuous contact. Unlike Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, we have no direct strategic interest and no political investment. We do not even have that affinity that draws democratic countries together in all parts of the world. However, we see a tragedy of such dimensions and suffering on an almost unbelievable scale. Our sense of common humanity compels us to do whatever we can to assist.
Our people have made a remarkable response. Many hon. Members will know of the "Blue Peter" television appeal—initially for £100,000–which was launched on 1 November. Within two days £150,000 was donated. The 710 figure announced today has exceeded £2 million. More than 10 million of our people, children and adults, have made some direct personal response to the appeal.
I shall not attempt more than a summary of the background events that have led to the Cambodian tragedy. Some account of it is necessary. That is because the events illustrate and explain the immense practical problems of assisting Cambodia now. Aid and relief are the overwhelming priorities of the next few months, but it is the continuing and longer-term political solution to which we must address ourselves.
As we all know, Cambodia was sucked into the vortex of the Vietnam war. The Ho Chi Minh trails ran through the border areas of neutral Cambodia. They were used to supply the forces of the Vietcong. In 1970 the United States decided on a massive and secret aerial bombardment of those areas, with the effects that are so vividly described in Mr. William Shawcross's book entitled "Sideshow". Apart from the physical and ecological destruction of the border areas, that military action and subsequent United States ground force deployment led to Vietnam counter-measures and to a great increase in support for the minority and, at that time, still containable forces of the Khmer Rouge. The neutralist Government of Prince Sihanouk were overturned by the army and the Lon Nol Government took over in Phnom Penh. That Government received substantial American military aid. Civil war waged until that Government fell in April 1975, a few days before the Vietcong took Saigon.
The five-year war that preceded the fall of Phnom Penh had already led to great devastation, raging inflation, a large displacement of people and a failure to plant rice, the staple food for the Cambodian people. The figures in my possession suggest that even in 1974 rice production was barely one-sixth what it had been before the civil war began. It would have needed immense effort to restore the Cambodian economy at that time. Instead, the people of Cambodia were subjected to one of the most ferocious regimes of which history has record.
The information about what happened was, and perhaps still is, inevitably patchy 711 and uncertain because foreign diplomats withdrew and foreign observers were expelled. Only a few countries chose to recognise the Pol Pot regime and even fewer to have diplomatic representation in Phnom Penh. Nevertheless, by the early months of 1978 the Labour Government felt that they had sufficient information, and of such a character, to raise the whole question with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. I have with me the report prepared by the United Kingdom Government and published on 14 July 1978. It makes painful reading. I shall pick from it only those facts that illustrate not merely the vengeful lunacy of the Pol Pot Government but the on-going problems that their barbarous conduct inevitably created.
I begin with the now to us familiar forcible evacuation of the cities. I quote:In the second half of April 1975 Phnom Penh and other towns were forcibly evacuated. Foreign observers, including diplomats, who were in Phnom Penh when the new regime took over, witnessed the evacuation of the capital, which then had a population of about 2–3 million. Refugees have confirmed that other towns were evacuated.The report goes on to cite the particularly serious aspects of the evacuation:Its precipitate nature and the lack of exception even for the very old, the sick, the very young, or pregnant women, whose physical condition rendered them virtually incapable of enduring the forced march. Within a few days the city was virtually emptied of its former population.How were they treated thereafter? The report tells us:The Kampuchean authorities in some areas may have made attempts to collect food for the evacuees but supplies were inadequate, and there was apparently no clean drinking water. There was virtually no medical care. As a result of the conditions of the evacuation many people are known to have died. Some were killed by Kampuchean troops in order to keep the marchers moving or to maintain discipline. More died from exposure, however, and from diseases like cholera. Almost all the refugees who were driven from Phnom Penh have spoken of people, particularly the young, dying from sickness on the roadside.This dreadful action was then followed up by a programme of extermination of the military and civil elite of the Cambodian nation. Officers and senior officials simply disappeared and were never seen again. This initial wave of killings slackened somewhat in the summer of 1975, but later in the year and early in 1976 evidence suggested a wide extension 712 of the categories of people marked down for execution. I quote again:The Kampuchean authorities appear to have believed that anyone with a secondary or higher education, particularly teachers and people who had served the former government even in a subordinate capacity, were a potential threat to the new regime and the success of its policies. Many refugees report that at this time ordinary soldiers, government officials, teachers and students disappeared from their work-places and were presumed to have been killed.
§ Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)
The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am entirely at one with him in all that he says. Does he not, in retrospect, rather regret the fact that we were not more outspoken—I am not seeking to make a party point—as a nation against these atrocities at the time?
§ Mr. Shore
I am quoting from the document that was prepared as a direct result and by and on the authority of the Government in 1976. It was the only Government which took the initiative with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. I do not feel that Members on either side of the House have any reason to reproach themselves for their efforts in this area in 1978. I only wish that others who had much closer and more direct contacts with Cambodia had been prepared, frankly, to make a similar effort.
But even then the terror was not to end. The revolution then turned to devour and destroy itself. I quote again:During 1977 and 1978 a new element appeared to have been the purging of the Government's own ranks. Reports indicate that in early 1977 central government was eliminating many senior officials in the northern part of the country on the grounds that there had been plotting against the government.In all this there was a total absence of judicial proceedings—no courts, no defence, no appeals and total suppression of the Buddhist religion, to which 85 per cent. of the population of Cambodia subscribed.
It is impossible to be accurate about the numbers who died during the Pol Pot regime, but most informed guesses put the figure at between 2 million and 3 million, half of the Cambodian population.
Not only did the Pol Pot Government wage war on their own people, but they engaged in continuing border hostilities 713 with both Thailand and Vietnam. In January of this year the Vietnam army, supporting the Cambodian leader Heng Samrin, invaded Cambodia and quickly occupied the bulk of the country, including the capital Phnom Penh, but stubborn guerrilla resistance in some parts of the country continued by the Pol Pot forces, who also pursued a scorched earth policy as they withdrew. So the new Administration inherited a totally devastated country—a country without administration or administrators, a country where virtually all means of transport and communication had been destroyed.
I have no affection for the present Government of Vietnam, but I do not find it in my heart to condemn them for their part in overthrowing this monstrous Cambodian regime. Following the overthrow of Pol Pot, the world seemed curiously unaware of the events in Cambodia in the first half of this year and curiously slow to establish any contact with Phnom Penh.
Much attention was focused in the summer on the tragedy of the expulsion from Vietnam of the boat people. It is quite clear, both from the statements made in this House and the proceedings of the conference held in Geneva, at the British Government's suggestion, on 20 and 21 July, that 90 per cent. of the attention and effort was devoted to the problems of the boat people and quite inadequate attention to the problems of Cambodia.
I myself raised this question during the exchanges that we had on 18 July about what I then called the "foot people", who made their way, as I put it, under appalling and distressing conditions to Thailand. I asked whether the Government could confirm that a major cause of the flight from Cambodia was hunger and what plans there were to bring food supplies to the area. The Government did not seem to have much idea of either the extent of the problem or what action could be taken. The Lord Privy Seal will confirm that we exchanged letters on this matter throughout the Summer Recess, and I was certainly pleased when the Foreign Secretary made the announcement on 6 October that Britain was prepared to make £4 million available as aid, and even more when the RAF 714 Hercules made its first flight iron Bangkok a week later. However, it was not until 5 November—I think that I have got the date right—when the United Nations Secretary-General convened the so-called pledging conference, that large-scale resources were at last mobilised from the international community.
Three to four valuable months were largely wasted. The reasons for this are not clear to me. The internationally backed relief agencies—the ICRC and UNICEF, which sent representatives to Phnom Penh—seemed singularly unable to make effective arrangements with the authorities there. Why? Was it simply that they were unable to agree on the conditions for supervision of the supplies? If so, what was it that suddenly made possible the Hercules flights from Bangkok to Phnom Penh from mid-October onwards? What arrangements were made for the supervision and distribution of supplies after that date? I have an uneasy feeling, taking due account of the early preoccupations with the problem of the boat people and the genuine difficulties of dealing with a suspicious and inexperienced new Administration in Phnom Penh, that there was lack of will and drive during those crucial summer months and that this lack of will basically stemmed from political and diplomatic calculations.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I am following the serious tone that my right hon. Friend is adopting. He has now reached the point where we are bound to ask questions. There are political considerations here. Why is there no condemnation of the United Nations, following the reports that it received in silence? Why is there no condemnation of ex-President Nixon, whose disgraceful conduct in the matter is now on record, chiefly through the efforts of the press? Why is there no condemnation of ex-Secretary of State Dr. Kissinger? Unless we are frank politically about those who have played what I consider to be a criminal part in the loss of life in this country, we shall not have a debate of much use. It is time that some of us stood up to be counted and condemned those who played a disgraceful part in the matter, including those in the present Government and in the previous Government.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The hon. Member cannot make a speech in an intervention.
§ Mr. Shore
Sometimes I am in favour of holus-bolus condemnations and I can well understand the underlying feeling and emotion of my hon. Friend. I was seeking, in as brief a way as possible, to go over the whole tragic issue that began with the military invasion of Cambodia that led, by successive stages, to the horrors of the various regimes, particularly the Pol Pot regime, which I have described.
I am trying to deal with the curious hesitation of the international community to act in a more decisive way during this summer. I suspect that the anxiety existed to help Cambodia under the Vietnam-dominated regime but that many countries felt that to help in such circumstances would be to condone the Vietnamese invasion. I also suspect that there was a considerable desire not to offend other powerful countries in the area. I hope that I am wrong. However, while I for one welcome and support the efforts to build up our friendship with China, I would not pay the price if that meant turning our backs on the clamant needs of the Cambodian people for fear of offending the Chinese, who continue to support the Pol Pot regime.
I turn to what is being done and what can be done in terms of relief and political initiative. Now that the international community has pledged the necessary resources and the machinery of external administration of supply has geared itself to the task, what is holding up the distribution of aid? There are conflicting reports. Oxfam has taken repeated and successful initiatives in getting in food supplies. Conspicuously without Government support, it has managed to work with the Heng Samrin Administration. It seems confident of getting supplies to the people who need them.
What about the ICRC and UNICEF? Has an agreement been reached on distribution, and is that aid getting through, as the UNICEF representative, M. Jacques Danois, claimed from his direct personal experience earlier this week in the country? If the aid is not getting through, or if it is moving far too slowly, as many other reports suggest, what is the reason? Have ICRC and UNICEF, unlike Oxfam, failed to reach agreement with the Cam- 716 bodian authorities or are the physical means of internal distribution inadequate?
What about the charge that Vietnam is either deliberately storing supplies or purloining them for its army and people? Is there any truth in that suggestion or is it part of the propaganda war against Vietnam by its hostile and uneasy neighbours, China and the countries of the ASEAN? I believe that we in Britain—indeed, in the world—should know what the truth is and what the problems are. We should state them openly and clearly, as I hope the Lord Privy Seal will be able to do when he winds up the debate. There is not much time left if the winter sowing is to take place and the relief supplies are to get through effectively. Unless the former of those objectives is achieved, next year's problem will be as bad as this year's.
I turn to the political problem of Cambodia, and I begin with the question of recognition. Given our doctrines of recognition, there was no alternative but for us to recognise the Pol Pot regime when it was clearly and indisputably in control of Cambodia in 1975. However, as the House knows, that recognition was not backed up by the exchange of diplomatic personnel. Since January of this year it has become increasingly clear that, whoever governs Cambodia, it is no longer Pol Pot. Therefore, according to our criteria, there is no case for the continued British recognition of Pol Pot. Why have we refrained from withdrawing our recognition? I asked that question of the Minister of State on one occasion and of the Prime Minister on 1 November. At that time, she did not dispute the fact that Pol Pot was no longer in control. She said:we try to act in concert with the five Association of South East Asian Nations countries which still recognise Pol Pot. It is advisable for us to try to act together on these matters."—[Official Report, 1 November 1979; Vol. 972, c. 1447.]Indeed, we should take account of the views of the ASEAN countries. However, having listened to those views, we should firmly commit ourselves to the de-recognition of Pol Pot.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) made the point that not only the ASEAN countries but over 70 nations of the United Nations voted for the continued recognition of that Government in September. It is 717 something on which Britain, at any rate, should give a lead, even is others do not follow. We should make our position absolutely plain. In urging the Government to withdraw recognition of Pol Pot,
I do not, as The Times urged in a recent leader, recommend that we should—certainly not at this stage—recognise the present Administration in Phnom Pen. The argument that we should recognise the Administration in order to make it possible for ourselves and other countries to feed our own hungry people is remarkable and repellent. To be fair, that argument has been used on their behalf rather than by the Heng Samrin Administration. If that was their position, in moral terms there would be little to choose between them and the monster that they have deposed.
De-recognition of Pol Pot would help to allay the unreasonable suspicions that the present Administration entertain towards the outside world and their obsessive anxieties that the flow of some relief supplies into the hands of the Pol Pot remnants is politically motivated. I strongly urge the Government to do what I believe the country and the majority of the House want—de-recognise Pol Pot, and do it now.
Nevertheless, there is more to be done. I direct the Government's attention to the dangers of the conflict between Cambodia—backed by Vietnam—and her neighbour Thailand. There have been heavy and frequent exchanges of gunfire across the border, and the Pol Pot forces move in and out. That may well lead to increasing Vietnamese incursions into Thailand. Obviously, we should take full account of the views of the Thailand Government. If, in their judgment, the danger is of a serious sort, it is right for the matter to go to the Security Council of the United Nations. Still more important is the conflict between Vietnam and China.
No doubt the Chinese incursion into northern Vietnam a few months ago had much to do with the Vietnamese policy of expelling ethnic Chinese from their territory. There is also good reason to believe that a powerful motive was to draw off Vietnamese troops from Cambodia to relieve the pressures on China's ally there, Pol Pot. That motive remains. There has been talk of China teaching 718 Vietnam a second lesson. That is a dangerous prospect which could threaten peace and security, not just in Indo-China but in other countries.
I should like the Government to consider whether there is any possibility of reviving the 1954 Geneva conference machinery. One advantage of that could be to bring the Soviet Union, ourselves and others concerned into talks on the future of Cambodia.
I entirely agree with the sentiments expressed in the communiqué issued after the Dublin summit last week:A solution to the wider problems which confront Cambodia should be based on an independent and neutral Cambodia, with a genuine representative Government, free from any foreign military presence and maintaining friendly relations with all the countries of the region.It was a neutral Cambodia that the Geneva conference helped to sustain for 15 years before the tragic events of 1970 and thereafter. Whatever conference machinery can be used, those are the goals which the Government and the House should pursue.
§ The Lord Privy Seal (Sir Ian Gilmour)
Like the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), I welcome the fact that we are discussing the situation in Cambodia. I agreed with a great deal of what he said, especially about the historical background, though my agreement lessened as the history came nearer the present. However, I certainly agree with the right hon. Gentleman's condemnation of the Pol Pot regime.
I hope to be able to assuage the right hon. Gentleman's fears about any lack of will earlier this year, but I agree with what he said about there being two aspects to the problem—a political aspect and a humanitarian aspect, the desperate needs of the starving and homeless people of Cambodia.
Over the past decade, the Cambodian people have had their traditional way of life utterly destroyed. Their involvement in the regional conflict dates from the previous decade, but their suffering was greatly intensified when the Khmer Rouge overran the country in 1975.
Unfortunately, it was some time before the free world realised the full horror of the nihilistic and ruthless regime that 719 came to power under Pol Pot and its dedication to the destruction of the social structure and every vestige of individual freedom in Cambodia.
The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar may be right in his estimate of 2 million to 3 million, but we shall never know how many hundreds of thousands of people died of hunger, torture, exhaustion or sheer mindless killing in a country where the possession of even a pair of spectacles was taken as a mark of privilege worthy of the sentence of immediate death.
The misery was compounded in December 1978, when, after a period of confused brawling on the frontier, the Vietnamese army surged into Cambodia. This is one area where I part company with the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar. I do not condone the Vietnamese invasion. The Vietnamese invaded not as liberators but as occupiers, in flagrant contravention of the Charter of the United Nations.
As we are all too well aware through television programmes, the relentless war has brought with it disease, death and starvation of a sort reminiscent of the 30 years' war or the middle ages.
We cannot view the invasion in isolation, but I should like to put it in a slightly different context from that outlined by the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar. In the past four years the policies and actions of the Vietnamese Government have consistently undermined the stability not only of Indo-China but of the entire region and particularly the Association of South-East Asian Nations.
The Vietnamese Government's expulsion of their unwanted population in small unseaworthy boats earlier this year spoke for itself. The free countries of the area, especially Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong, have faced intolerable burdens as a result of that action.
The invasion of Cambodia and the prolonged occupation by a Vietnamese army now numbering about 200,000, coupled with the starvation that the war has brought in its wake, have added enormously to the problem. I do not believe that we should be hesitant in declaring our condemnation of the Vietnamese Government's actions and our strong 720 support for ASEAN. Those countries are our friends. Two of them, Singapore and Malaysia, are members of the Commonwealth, and Britain has strong historical and commercial interests in the area. In addition, ASEAN is a major factor for strength and stability in the region and we have all watched with admiration its growing economic and political development.
It is strongly in the free world's interests that ASEAN should survive and develop as a major political and trading partner of the free world. We cannot be indifferent to such a major threat to the cohesion and prosperity of those countries.
Principal among those affected in ASEAN is Thailand. The effect on Thailand of the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia has been direct and devastating. About 300,000 Cambodian refugees have already fled to Thailand to escape the fighting and starvation.
As the House will be aware, the fighting is intensifying in those regions of Cambodia near the Thai border, and million or more homeless people are reported to be moving in search of food and sanctuary.
Faced with that intolerable burden, the attitude of the Thai authorities has been worthy of the highest praise. They have undertaken not to return refugees to Cambodia and they are taking extraordinary steps, in concert with the relief agencies, to offer housing, food and medical attention. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development recently visited the camps in Thailand and was exceedingly impressed by the high standards of efficiency with which they are run.
I shall deal shortly with Britain's role in assisting in that humanitarian effort, but I should like to refer first to our attitude towards political developments inside Cambodia.
Our objectives are clear enough. We abhor the barbarism of the Pol Pot regime. I do not think that there is any disagreement about that in the House. Vietnam's violation of Cambodian territory and its prosecution of a ruthless war have added a new and dangerous dimension to the conflict. We believe that the peace and stability of Indo-China depend 721 on the re-establishment of an independent Cambodia, free of foreign troops and the influence of great Power rivalries, under a national Government chosen by the people of Cambodia in an act of self-determination.
The continuance of Vietnamese aggression in defiance of the charter of the United Nations is indefensible.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
How does the right hon. Gentleman think that the people of Cambodia, who were suffering from what President Carter described as the most vicious and brutal regime in the world, could have freed themselves from that regime without assistance from anyone in the outside world, such as was brought to them by the Vietnamese?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that I am trying to outline to the House, namely, that although the regime of Pol Pot was indefensible and abhorrent, the Vietnamese invasion has made the situation of the Cambodian people even worse. That is a stark fact. It is easy to support one side against another. The difficulty is that in this case both sides are wrong. That is the stark fact with which we are faced. It has made their condition worse—war nearly always does.
The House will recall that last February, when the matter was brought before the Security Council, only the Soviet veto saved Vietnam from condemnation and a call to withdraw its troops. Since then, the ASEAN countries, with our wholehearted support, have sought with courage and persistence to invoke the authority of the United Nations. Last month, an overwhelming majority of 91 members of the General Assembly, including this country, adopted an ASEAN resolution calling again for foreign forces to be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I have not been in Cambodia as recently as my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond), but I was fortunate enough to go there in happier times. The truth is that many of those around Prince Sihanouk were educated in Hanoi. People like Son San had close ties with the Vietnamese, who, as I understand—I ask whether this is true—were asked by many Cambodians to help them 722 out of their shackles. Matters may have gone sour after that. But is it or is it not a fact that there were many suffering in Cambodia who actually asked the Vietnamese, in their desperation and misery, to come in?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
There may have been some. If such intervention were to be useful, it should have taken place much earlier. That may be a heretical statement. A lot of damage was done, and my argument is that the invasion has not improved the condition of the Cambodians. It has made it worse. That is the sad fact with which we are faced. The disasters of Cambodia began in 1969–70, became very much worse in 1975, and became very much worse again after the invasion.
This brings me to the question posed by the formal position that we have so far maintained of recognition of the regime headed by Pol Pot. I do not need to remind Opposition Members that the previous Administration recognised the regime established after the fall of Phnom Penh. They then offered to establish diplomatic relations, and continued in their attempts to do so even after the true nature of the Government led by Pol Pot became clear. In August 1976 they established relations with Pol Pot. Indeed, it was not until late 1977 that the last Administration ceased its efforts to accredit a British ambassador to that regime.
§ Mr. Edward Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil)
I have stood at the Government Dispatch Box time and time again on this issue. Were not many of the representations received from the then Opposition to the effect that perhaps we ought to get somebody into Cambodia in order to find out what was going on? Quite rightly, we did not do that. The pressures were not on the question of recognition at that time but on the barbarities of the regime, which we subsequently took up in the United Nations, almost uniquely, as a result of all-party pressure. I am puzzled and baffled that the Lord Privy Seal can stand and say that the Government position is that the Pol Pot regime remains a legitimate regime and the legitimate Government of Cambodia. That is totally indefensible.
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I have not said that. If I had said that, it might or might not 723 have been indefensible. I was not seeking to criticise the previous Administration; I was seeking to say that their attitude and behaviour was similar to the attitude and behaviour of the present Government. In that spirit, I perfectly agree that the actions of the previous Administration are easier to criticise with hindsight, and I fully concede that it was the previous Administration who eventually took the lead in citing the regime of Pol Pot before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We were disappointed that their efforts to achieve prompt action were blocked by Bulgaria and the Soviet Union. We intend, in the same spirit, to do anything that we can to ensure that consideration of human rights in Cambodia does not lapse in the Human Rights Commission.
When we came to power last May, Pol Pot's Government held a dwindling proportion of the territory in Cambodia. Since September that proportion has further dwindled though, of course Pol Pot's forces continue to resist. As the House is aware, our normal criteria require us to accord recognition to a Government who enjoy, with a reasonable prospect of permanence, the obedience of the mass of the population and the effective control of much the greater part of the country. The House will have noted statements by my hon. Friend the Minister of State on 22 October and on 1 November by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who emphasised our wish to explain fully to other Governments of the area our view of the situation as it has developed and as I have given it to the House this evening. This we have done.
It will therefore come as no surprise to the House if I say that we can no longer regard Pol Pot as leading an effective Government in Cambodia. By the same token, however, the dependence of the so-called Heng Samrin regime on the Vietnamese occupation army is complete; there is no reason to doubt that without the presence of the occupation troops it would be swept away by resurgent Cambodian nationalism. I therefore make it very clear that we emphatically do not recognise any claim by Heng Samrin. Our position is that there is no Government in Cambodia whom we can recognise. This position is shared by the 724 United States and by some of our leading friends in Europe.
§ Mr. Rowlands
I extend my apology to the Lord Privy Seal and withdraw my earlier remarks. I am delighted with the decision made by the Government.
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said.
I come now to the humanitarian issues, which are every bit as important. The immediate concern of the international community, obviously, must be to relieve the appalling famine and disease in Cambodia. As the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar recognised, we were one of the first Governments to make a positive, detailed commitment to supply humanitarian aid to the Cambodian people. We did so on 6 October. This was not due, as the right hon. Gentleman possibly suggested, to a lack of will on our part. We did so only 10 days after the international agencies first announced that they had received agreement from the Phnom Penh authorities to go ahead with their plans, and two weeks before the United Nations Secretary-General launched the joint ICRC/UNICEF appeal. We had already responded within 48 hours to the ICRC's request to lend it an RAF Hercules to start up the air bridge from Bangkok to Phnom Penh. Its first flight was on 13 October and in five weeks it delivered 470 tonnes of supplies, including 48 trucks and Land Rovers.
Other countries followed suit, and at Dr. Waldheim's pledging conference on 5th November, a month after our own announcement, a total of over £100 million was committed. Our own contribution directly and through the European Economic Community is over £7 million. The size and timeliness of our aid, in particular the loan of the Hercules, have been widely praised. The House will, I am sure, share the general admiration of the efficiency of all those involved in this operation.
Full details of our relief programme have been placed in the Library of the House and given to many hon. Members in correspondence with Ministers of the Foreign Office. This consists of direct relief totalling £3.5 million and an indirect contribution, through the aid programme of the European Community, 725 of another £3.5 million—about 18 per cent. of the total EEC programme.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)
Will not the Minister agree that one of the most successful agencies in this field has been Oxfam, especially in establishing relations? But that agency is one of the few within the consortia that is not receiving direct Government assistance. Would he reconsider that?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's point, but I think that it is a mistake to enter into any sort of competition, as it were, between the relief agencies. They are all doing their best. If Oxfam has any complaints and there is anything that we can do to help, we shall try to do so. However, I do not think that we should single out any one particular agency. I think that all of us in this House would wish to join in giving due praise to all the non-governmental agencies which have done so much to surmount the appalling difficulties in giving aid in Kampuchea. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, through "Blue Peter" and other programmes the British people have shown wonderful generosity in responding to the appeals. Our own relief programme has also benefited the non-governmental agencies.
I should like now to say something about the administration and distribution of the aid within Cambodia. All the international relief agencies have made excellent progress in adverse conditions. That is why we relied on them, because they obviously could do things that Governments could not do. They have managed to work wonders. If there have been any shortcomings in the relief programme, it has not been due to any lack of generosity or diligence among the agencies. It is due to the fact that inside Cambodia there are severe transport and distribution bottlenecks. But there is cause for deep concern about the attitude of the Vietnamese authorities in this matter.
Hon. Members will have read how the Vietnamese authorities for many long weeks laid down conditions that the international agencies were unwilling to observe. One condition was that no aid should be given any Cambodian who was not subject to their control. At the 726 end of September matters appeared to be resolved to the agencies, satisfaction. However, recently there have been reports that the authorities on the spot have inisisted on urgently needed supplies being stockpiled in Phnom Penh and Kompong Som, instead of being distributed as quickly as possible.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect that British Leyland workers donated two extra hours of working time and that Ford's truck division was working overtime for Cambodian relief? Will the right hon. Gentleman ask his colleague, in replying to the debate, to say whether these trucks have been distributed or whether there are any difficulties?
§ Sir I. Gilmour
I understand that 48 trucks were distributed, but I will ask my hon. Friend to deal with the hon. Gentleman's question.
Other reports have spoken of the Vietnamese destroying crops and food stores as part of their strategy of denying resupply to the Pol Pot forces. We are in constant touch with officials of the relief agencies and we are all deeply worried by mounting evidence of apparent obstruction and extortion by the Vietnamese authorities. If this proves to be true, it will be a monstrous scandal. We shall follow with particular attention the progress of the 2,500 tonnes of rice which will be sent to Phnom Penh later this month as part of our relief contribution.
Like every other hon. Member, I regret that the situation we are debating is one of unrelieved misery. In the course of 1979, the policies of the Vietnamese Government have created unprecedented human crises in Indo-China. The other nations in the area have absorbed this burden with enormous resilience, and the international community, mainly in the shape of the free world, has responded with generous material and financial help.
But the humanitarian response is not enough. Britain and our partners must continue to apply concerted political pressure in the hope that reason and humanity will prevail, and that sooner rather than later the Khmer people will find peace and prosperity again in their own country. This is a problem not just for the peaceful States of South-East Asia, which are dangerously close to the conflict, but for 727 all those who stand against cruelty and oppression.
I do not, naturally, wish to raise false hopes of an immediate political initiative which might result in a Government of Cambodia freely chosen by the Khmer people themselves. The history of 1979 suggests that any attempt to move matters to the conference table would not succeed. We envisage that a sustained and collective effort on the part of many nations will be necessary. However, I assure the House of the British determination to contribute in whatever way we can to achieve the objectives which I have outlined and which I am confident the House will support.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
In this short but very welcome debate, there are three main points that I want to put before the Lord Privy Seal.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) for having initiated the debate. I welcome the announcement that was made by the Lord Privy Seal in terms of de-recognition of Pol Pot, but I want to make some points that will be more critical of the Government's position so far.
We are debating a situation which is intensely complicated and intensely depressing. Cambodia as we know it is a lovely country of gentle people, and it is now in the course of obliteration. But let none of us imagine that that obliteration has simply been over the last few years; it has lasted for the last 10 years. We cannot exclude the fact that in May 1970 Cambodia was bombed and invaded by the United States. The intensity of the bombing at that time, as well as the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge forces, forced over 3 million people to flee their homes, many of them crowding into the cities.
Then in 1975, as my right hon. Friend said, the Khmer Rouge began their campaign of emptying the towns and killing their own people, creating a land of murder, starvation and fear and of utter demoralisation. The Opposition have condemned this. We ought to pay some tribute to the BBC and to the Daily Mirror for having brought these facts—which must have been known—before the country. It has been claimed that 728 up to 3 million people died as a result of the Pol Pot genocide, which I can only compare with the actions of Hitler in the 1940s.
Then we had the invasion of January 1979. I can understand those who say that there was some justification for it, but as I look at the evidence I cannot feel that Kampuchea has been liberated. I have heard reports from many sources that the Vietnamese are treating Cambodians with not as much respect as they deserve—not with the bitterness and cruelty of Pol Pot, but certainly not in a way that would entitle the Vietnamese, as the Lord Privy Seal said, to recognition at this stage. The Vietnamese must themselves accept some measure of blame for the famine which seems now to exist in parts of Kampuchea.
I give just one example. The International Red Cross asked for permission to visit Cambodia in February of this year. It was not until the end of July that one ICRC and one UNICEF man were allowed to travel up from Saigon for a few days. The ICRC submitted a detailed relief plan in August, and eventually six people were permitted to be stationed in Phnom Penh to monitor what relief supplies were coming in. However, I learnt today that even those six are not allowed to travel outside Phnom Penh to look at what is happening in other parts of the country.
I want to pay my tribute to what is being done by Oxfam. It was the first to get into the country, and it deserves credit for that. There has been mass support for Oxfam, for the Red Cross, for UNICEF and for the Churches. I therefore welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement that support for Pol Pot has been withdrawn. I think that he was right in not announcing recognition of Heng Samrin, undoubtedly imposed from outside by Vietnamese forces. Had he done so, it would have been a blow to Sihanouk, who, after all, preserved the neutrality of Cambodia from 1954 to 1970 and is attempting to do so once again. It would have been a stab in the back for him had we taken a different decision from the one that was announced today.
I am critical of the Government's failure to respond to the United Nations High Commissioner's appeal for financial support for his 729 operations in helping the Kampuchean refugees who are now in Thailand. I agree that the initiative taken by the Thais in opening their frontiers is one that we must commend. The refugee figures are enormous. I was told by representatives of the Red Cross at a meeting today that the number of refugees fleeing from Kampuchea into Thailand doubled between the end of October and mid-November, and more arrive daily. New holding camps are being hurriedly constructed 10 km from the border area which is being cleared by the Thai authorities. About 650,000 refugees are being moved to the camps, many of them too weak to walk and suffering from severe malnutrition complicated by malaria, pneumonia, heart conditions, intestinal disorders and so on. That was the report that I received from the ICRC.
I noticed the answer that was given by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office to a question from the hon. Member for Norfolk, North-West (Mr. Brocklebank-Fowler). He asked the Lord Privy Sealwhat requests for aid received from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are outstanding; and if he is in a position to make a statement about further support for…Kampuchea".The answer was:We have yet to reply to the recent appeal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in respect of Cambodian refugees now in Thailand. However, we have pledged £6 million this year to the High Commissioner's general programmes, which finance some of his activities in Thailand".—[Official Report, 23 November 1979; Vol. 974, c. 366.]The Minister will know that that was a very poor response. It may be that following the visit of the Minister for Overseas Development we shall have some new announcement, but since the United Nations High Commissioner, working with the Thai Government, has accepted such a huge responsibility, it is intolerable that the response from the British Government has been so modest.
I should like to deal with what I felt was an unsatisfactory reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar with regard to a diplomatic initiative. In 1954 the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union were joint-chairmen of the Geneva conference on Indo-China. I believe that we should again take up that task. Some of us have already paid our 730 tribute to the achievement of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in dealing with Zimbabwe-Rhodesia. He has a problem before him here which I believe he should also tackle. We have a role that we can play. Along with the Soviet Union, we are still joint-chairmen of that conference.
I am not suggesting that it will be easy, but I believe that it is expected of Britain, which, after all, has no external interests. It cannot be for the United States to step in and take an initiative. It cannot be the Chinese or the Russians, because they have been involved in one way or another, the big Powers have been involved in creating misery, bloodshed and horror for three small countries that were once one. But Britain has a different role, and I believe that we should try to fulfil it.
Even if it takes many months, we should have discussions with the other Governments concerned—the French, the United States, our colleagues in the West, the Soviet Union and China—to try to bring about a conference in an attempt to re-establish neutrality in that area. Otherwise, we may find not just conflict between East and West but conflict between the Soviet Union and China in that part of the world.
We need a conference that should provide for the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia and the restoration of genuine neutralism, and agreement by China to some form of non-aggression pact with Vietnam which would require that country not to attack Vietnam directly or through Laos.
I was glad that a question was asked about what contribution Japan had offered at the pledging conference. I have the list of those who attended, and Japan is not on it. That country did not make a pledge on 16 November. We should try, through the agencies of the United Nations and the Powers that are prepared to assist, to construct a massive programme of Marshall-type aid for the people of a part of the world who do not deserve the misery that has been imposed upon them, mainly from outside.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
I am sure that the whole House is grateful to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) for 731 bringing this subject before us. The plight of the Cambodian people is one of the greatest tragedies. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal compared it with the 30-year war, and the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) made a comparison with the Hitler regime. It would be more correct if he had compared it with Stalin's liquidation of the Kulaks, because almost exactly the same number of people have suffered from this appalling tragedy. I was glad to hear from my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal about his diplomatic relationship with Cambodia. It is most difficult, when there are two warring factions, to decide which one to recognise. I thought my right hon. Friend dealt with the situation admirably.
Our record in Cambodia is good. We should be proud of the way in which the British people have responded. Many of them have perhaps never heard of Cambodia and do not know very much about it, yet the response has been immense. I congratulate the Government on the way in which they have organised the help. I also appreciate the role that ASEAN has played. That is a step towards our recognition of an important and vital organisation.
I accept almost everything that the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar said, except for one comment. I differ with him about the reason for the invasion of Cambodia by the Vietnamese. I support my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal here. There was always a hatred by the Vietnamese—I remember discussing this with Lon Nol—because of the Ho Chi Minh trail and the use of the Mekong River which provided the Vietcong with their supplies. I think that is a stronger reason for the invasion than the humanitarian reason or any other reason. I regard the incursion of the Vietnamese into Cambodia as nothing short of an invasion.
When I was in Cambodia, Lon Nol was good enough to send me up to the front lines. I remember he said how difficult it would be for any regime, whatever its political complexion, to beat what was an extremely well-organised campaign. That campaign was organised by the Chinese and Russians. I remember that the weapons that were captured, rather like those of the Vietnamese army, were either Chinese or Russian. We must 732 look towards the future. Cambodia played an active part at the beginning of the war between North and South Vietnam but was a reluctant participant towards the end. I remember that when Lon Nol found he was having great difficulty in combating the Communists, Big Ming, commander-in-chief of the Vietnamese air force, flew me over in his personal plane to see Lon Nol, and it was at that point that the Vietnamese said that they would try to help the Cambodians in their struggle against the Communists. Therefore, there is some truth in what has been said. But the primary reason was the earlier long-standing difficulty they had had in getting supplies through Cambodia.
One of the most important and difficult things in a relief operation like this is to ensure that the food, materials and clothing get to the right people. In many of these operations the relief gets into the hands of the middle man and he sells the rice at double the price. Somehow and in some way we must make sure that the supplies given by us get to the right people and are not dissipated. I am sure that our Government have done their best. We are all grateful to Oxfam, UNICEF and all the voluntary organisations which have played such a great part. We are also grateful to our own forces who have worked hard in making their relief operation a success. With two warring Communist factions in Cambodia, combined with the Vietnamese occupation, things are extremely difficult.
I turn to the problems of Thailand. That country has given most generous help. For many years the Thais have been faced with the Communist threat in Udong and the northern provinces. We have been told by the Lord Privy Seal that the number of Cambodians actually in camps in Thailand is 300,000 but I have been told on good authority that the number coming from Cambodia to Thailand is between 750,000 and 1 million. What are we to do about these people? It is no use sticking them in camps. We must find employment for them. Thailand has its own employment problems. The most important task facing the international community is to look at this in the long term. We have here a block of people who must be settled and found jobs.
733 I stress that Great Britain has set the lead. Let us hope that other nations will follow us. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar was right when he said that we had no direct obligation to Cambodia and that the only obligation we had was as a co-signatory of the Geneva agreement yet, despite this, our people had responded in an unbelievable way. I agree.
We must solve the refugee problem and help Thailand. As the Lord Privy Seal said, we must endeavour to get some recognition for, and stability in, Cambodia. I do not know how we can do this, but we must find a way. Nations must get together, give relief and help to provide some form of stability. There is a danger here. We may at the moment have a rapprochement with China, but it is well known to those who know Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that the eyes of the Chinese have always been directed towards that area, which many of them regard as their sphere of influence.
§ Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)
As has been pointed out, during the last decade Cambodia has suffered the loss of over a quarter of its population, the complete destruction of its economy and the unparalleled devastation of its territories. I am delighted that the Government have contributed some aid and I give them credit for that. I am proud of the part that has been played by the British people in rendering assistance. However, those who have followed the events of the last 10 years should be sickened by the consequences of policies that many hon. Members in this House failed to denounce at the time.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) said that the tragedy of Cambodia began in May 1969, when B32 bombers, on the secret orders of President Nixon and Dr. Kissinger, began to rain down their bombs. Napalm and anti-personnel bombs were dropped on Cambodian towns and villages. The truth about that bombing has been revealed, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) said, by William Shawcrossin his book "Sideshow". It is all very well for people to say that they object today to the Viet- 734 namese invasion, as they now call it, but let us remember that at that time no hon. Members now sitting on the Government Benches denounced the American invasion or the bombing. There was no doubt that United States aeroplanes were not dropping food. They were dropping the means of destruction on the Cambodian population.
In 1970 the neutralist Government of Prince Sihanouk was overthrown by the American-backed coup of Lon Nol. None of the supporters of the present Government denounced the coup at the time. I was one of the Members of this House who spoke out against it but not one supporter of the present Government spoke out. The result was that, when American policies in the whole of Indo-China finally collapsed, a vacuum was created in which it was possible for a group of homicidal fanatics to set up the Pol Pot regime. That regime was responsible for the death of more than 2 million Cambodians.
Conservative Members were not silent about that regime. An early-day motion was tabled by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is not here this evening, as early as 1976 calling on Britain to withdraw recognition of the Pol Pot regime. I recall that the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) also spoke out about that regime. Strangely enough, in 1977 he was the sponsor of a motion which called for Government aid to be sent to refugees from the Pot Pot regime who had fled to Thailand. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will refresh his memory about that motion and perhaps put it into effect now.
I am glad that it has been announced today that the British Government are to withdraw recognition from the Pol Pot regime. The appalling thing is that a Conservative Government, many of whose supporters spoke out so long ago against Pol Pot, should have supported, in the Unied Nations a couple of weeks ago, a motion to continue recognition of the Pol Pot regime there. It was deplorable, particularly since at that stage the regime had ceased to fulfil the criteria that we normally apply. The reason is that British policy has been determined throughout not by humanitarian considerations but by pure power politics. I regret that that is still the case.
735 I refer to the invasion by Vietnam. A fair amount of hypocrisy is demonstrated in the denunciation of that invasion. The Government's attitude to that is nothing like the attitude which they adopted to similar circumstances in Uganda. In Uganda, opponents of the barbaric regime of President Amin were supported by an invading army—the Tanzanian army—yet Britain and many other countries rightly recognised that new Ugandan regime immediately. Anybody who suggests that the new Ugandan regime is more independent than the present Heng Samrin regime does not face facts. The reason why we recognised the new Ugandan regime and failed to recognise the Heng Samrin regime is that our policies are still dictated by power politics and not by the interests of the people involved.
Indonesian Government troops have invaded East Timor. That has resulted in the deaths of between one-eighth and one-quarter of the population. The Government have made not a murmur against the Indonesian invasion. At the United Nations the British Government abstained on the motion to denounce that invasion.
§ Mr. Newens
I am trying to relate my remarks to Cambodia. I am arguing that the Britsh Government have behaved differently towards the present Cambodian regime from the way in which they behaved in other parts of the world. They have applied double standards. We appear to prefer the Pol Pot regime, which caused so many deaths, to the Heng Samrin regime which has succeeded it. The dispatch of supplies was made more difficult by our stand. The Lord Privy Seal suggested that there was evidence that the Vietnamese had refused to allow supplies through. It is understandable that the Vietnamese object to supplies being sent to support the Khmer Rouge.
Today in The Times it is reported that the Thai authorities are cutting off food supplies to the so-called Free Khmers, on the ground that they are involved in hostilities. Not a word has been said this evening in condemnation of the Thais. I do not believe that there should be condemnation, but we should apply the same standards in both cases.
736 When considering the denial of food supplies, we must remember that the United States Government, more than any other, have been responsible for denying food supplies as a means of pressurising Governments of which they are not particularly fond. We should remember what happened in 1975. The Saigon regime was receiving enormous support from the United States, but when the war ended food and other supplies were cut off overnight. It is totally hypocritical for us to say that the Vietnamese are seeking to stop supplies getting through when they may be stopping supplies going through to the Khmer Rouge who are still fighting. Again, I quote The Times of yesterday. Jacques Danois, the UNICEF representative, said that he had seen the Vietnamese distributing aid among the civilians there. He said:I don't see why Vietnam would take away with one hand what they are giving with the other.I believe that in future British policy should be formulated on a different basis. We should recognise the rights of small nations, regardless of whether we think in the short term that it is in the interests of Britain to do so. We should not continue to follow a policy that is based upon a desire not to offend China or the United States in order to further general Western interests.
It is sad that the regime of Prince Sihanouk was overthrown. We must face the facts that prevail today. Sooner or later we shall have to recognise the present regime of Heng Samrin. It would be better for us to recognise that regime at this stage than to inflict further suffering on a people who have already suffered so much.
§ Mr. Ennals
Does my hon. Friend agree that if it were possible to achieve that it would be better to have once again a neutral regime in Kampuchea as opposed to a regime that takes one point of view or another? My hon. Friend will know that some Governments have already supported the initiative of Sihanouk. Why does he argue against that initiative?
§ Mr. Newens
I spoke out regularly in favour of Sihanouk at the time when he had been overthrown by Lon Nol. A number of my friends associated with the 737 Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation went to China to see Sihanouk. We did everything possible, with no recognition from the previous Government or the present Government when they were in Opposition of the case that we were making.
In the present circumstances I do not see how it is possible to return to a situation in which Sihanouk could rule a neutral Cambodia. I should not grumble if that happened, but we must face reality. The Heng Samrin regime is in power. If failure to recognise that regime will make it more difficult for us to supply aid, we should put the interests of the people of that country to the forefront. That would be singularly different from what we have done in the past.
We should recognise that those who failed to speak out in the past against the policies followed and supported by the House on the bombing and invasion of Cambodia have contributed directly or indirectly to the tragedy of that small country. The least that we can do is to learn the lesson today.
We should no longer regard it as in the British interest to support anti-Communist policies, however horrific they may be, because in the long run support for those policies can produce tragedies, such as Cambodia as well as damage our interests. We should put our policies on a different basis. We should recognise the tragic, criminal mistakes that were made in the past. We cannot do that if we allow what we do to be determined only by international power considerations and the promotion of what are blandly regarded as Western interests.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Before calling the next speaker, I should point out that I am anxious to call all right hon. and hon. Members who wish to speak in the debate. I shall be able to do that if speeches are now limited to five minutes.
§ Sir Bernard Braine (Essex, South-East)
I do not propose to take up the strictures that the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has seen fit to pass on Conservative Members. I prefer to follow the constructive line of the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore).
738 All hon. Members without exception have for a long time felt immense pity and an immense anger—immense pity for the vast numbers of gentle people deliberately destroyed and the millions more who have suffered appalling cruelty, and immense anger because such cruelty has been perpetrated without any part of the world lifting a finger to help them.
I do not altogether agree with my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal in condemning intervention. What do people do when they are crushed beneath a merciless tyranny? How were the people of Uganda to get rid of the atrocious, appalling Amin regime, except by welcoming the Tanzanian invader? It may be that the Vietnamese have not, for the time being at any rate, done much to ease the sufferings of the Cambodian people, but their intervention could be the beginning of a new chapter.
Yet pity, anger and even recrimination are not enough. Indeed, humanitarian aid, such as is getting through to the unfortunate people of Cambodia, is not enough. Mr. Rajaratnam of Singapore, speaking in Geneva in July, said that to discuss humanitarian issues without referring to their political causes was like playing Hamlet without the ghost: it was absurd. He was right.
What is needed now is a new political initiative. The right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) was right in saying what he did about that subject. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary's skill and patience have been rewarded by success in Africa. We must hope that it will continue and will lead to further success. It was an undoubted achievement of a kind that none of us thought possible a few months ago. We all pray that the way ahead is clear for a lasting settlement of a 14-year-old dispute which has poisoned Commonwealth relations and made things infinitely more difficult for the West in the key continent of Africa.
Why not follow on with another healing exercise? It seems to me that Britain, following the success of the Zimbabwe-Rhodesia conference, is now well poised for a diplomatic initiative in Indo-China.
I understand that Prince Sihanouk was in Paris last week and that he let it be known that he had approached the British 739 Ambassador in Peking with the suggestion that the United Kingdom should play a leading role in convening an international conference on Cambodia. He believes that such a conference should take the form of the 1954 conference on Indo-China, which, the House will remember, was recalled in 1962 to deal with Laos and was co-chaired by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.
I have a specific question for my hon. Friend the Minister. What has happened to that approach? Is it being seriously considered?
We are grateful to those responsible for initiating the debate, which is the first opportunity that we have had for a long time to focus attention on this grave matter and to express the deep concern of the British people of all sections and all political beliefs on what has been happening.
We are entitled to know, therefore, with what seriousness Prince Sihanouk's proposal is being considered. A conference leading to a compromise settlement is essential if Cambodia is to survive and if there is to be long-term stability in the area. Without the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and the imposition of a genuinely neutralist Government in Cambodia, the conflict will surely continue in one form or another.
My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) referred to China's interest in the area. If the situation is allowed to drift, there is always a possibility that China will seek to punish the Vietnamese a second time either directly again or through Laos, that the Vietnamese economy will atrophy further, that thousands more boat people will flee to South-East Asian countries or to Hong Kong, and that Thailand will be threatened by Vietnam.
The survival of the Khmer people must surely be our first concern, but in terms of pure self-interest it is to the advantage of the British and other Western Governments to do everything that they can to press for compromise—and "compromise" is the governing word.
I fully appreciate the difficulties of moving the Vietnamese, but the key lies not in Hanoi but in Moscow. Vietnam depends on COMECON support for her economic survival. Vietnam's present 740 adventures won scant approval in Eastern Europe. Indeed, I believe that the Soviet Union attaches far more importance to the continuing approval and consent of the Poles than to propping up a bankrupt regime in Vietnam. The USSR may very well have an interest in a settlement. The West could also offer a new Marshall plan to all of Indo-China, contingent on an agreement being reached.
The House is entitled to know whether there is any possibility of a British initiative of that kind. If we can obtain information on that, the debate will have served a valuable purpose.
§ Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, East)
I offer no congratulations to the Government, but I congratulate the people of Britain, who have responded magnificently to the television programme by John Pilger and the "Blue Peter" appeal, and particularly the children.
When I listened to the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, I was appalled. He used this opportunity to try to blacken the name of Vietnam instead of laying the blame fairly and squarely where it should be—at the door of the United States and China. Their hands are covered with the blood of the people of Kampuchea. The Government's clothes are spattered with that blood because we stood by and made no protest about what was happening. When the United States secretly bombed Cambodia, did we make any protest? When China supported Pol Pot all the way and was Pol Pot's only friend in the world, were we appalled? When Pol Pot went to China and said that his most valuable support in the world was the advice of Chairman Mao, did we say that we were appalled by the actions of the Pol Pot Government?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) asked why there was a sudden lull in the interest shown about events in Kampuchea. The answer is that between 21 April 1978, when President Carter said that the Pol Pot regime was the most vicious violator of human rights in the world, and the present, Britain and the United States have been bending over backwards to be friendly to China. We were afraid to speak out as we should have done. We were afraid to stop the 741 recognition of Pol Pot. We should have discontinued that recognition as soon as he was overthrown. If we had any guts, we would recognise the Heng Samrin regime today.
I should like to share my experience and the happenings that I saw with my own eyes when I recently visited Kampuchea. I think I am the only hon. Member who has been there in the past few years. I can bear out all the evidence that has been printed in newspapers world-wide—in Time magazine, the New York Times, Newsweek, Le Monde. All those newspapers carried accurate reports about Kampuchea when Pol Pot was in charge. The reports were accurate because I saw the prisons that Pol Pot set up. I have seen hundreds of thousands of bodies that have been buried in mass graves, left lying by the roadside, left in open spaces, or thrown in wells. I have seen piles of children's clothes. I have seen buildings which have been destroyed. The educated who were invited back to Kampuchea were murdered when they arrived. All those facts are beyond dispute.
I refute the Lord Privy Seal's suggestion that the present situation in Kampuchea is worse than it was under Pol Pot. I have been there and have spoken freely to the people of Kampuchea. I have discussed with them what is happening. I am sure that that would have been impossible under Pol Pot. The people welcomed the Vietnamese troops when they arrived in Kampuchea because they rescued them from final annihiliation.
It is all very well for the Lord Privy Seal to say that the Vietnamese army should not have gone in and that the people of Kampuchea should have been left to resolve their difficulties. They could not resolve them, because they were under a vicious iron heel that prevented them from taking any action. It was only because the Vietnamese army and Government took humanitarian action that any of the people of Kampuchea are alive today.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar has said, why should the Vietnamese prevent help and food from going into Kampuchea when they are reducing their own meagre rations to help those people? They have sent 100,000 tons of rice, 20,000 tons of 742 seed rice, agricultural equipment and medical equipment of all sorts to assist them. They would not stand in the way of aid going to Kampuchea. They have done everything they can to make it possible.
If we want to make our aid more effective, we must take a further step than the belated step that was dragged from a reluctant Government after so many months of de-recognising Pol Pot. We should recognise the Heng Samrin regime. That will open the way to the acceptance of much more aid from Britain. Contrary to the belief of some Conservative Members, the day will never come when the present Government in Kampuchea will be overthrown. I believe that they have the full support of the people.
§ 9.6 pm
§ Mr. Eldon Griffiths (Bury St. Edmunds)
This is not a time for recriminations about the past. Nor do I believe that it is the time for self-congratulation over the aid that we have managed to send to Kampuchea. It is a time for pity, for anger and for calm determination that we shall do all in our power to help those who suffer now and try to prevent anything of the sort from happening again.
I think that my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal had a difficult decision to make. In foreign policy there is often a conflict between right and right. In Kampuchea the British Government had to choose between one appalling wrong and another. My right hon. Friend showed courage in taking his decision, despite the invasion by the Vietnamese and despite the uncertainties, our knowledge being far from complete. He must now withdraw the recognition from the Pol Pot regime. That is a right decision and a courageous decision.
I shall remind the House of some of the consequences. We now officially recognise no Government. We have some nationals in Kampuchea, including those who are taking the aid to the people. There are some practical problems that are bound to arise when Her Majesty's Government recognise no Government. I have said that it took courage for my right hon. Friend to take the decision. In the weeks and months to come, we shall have to face some of the practical consequences.
743 Within limits we have done well in providing aid. I join those who congratulate the pilots and the aircrew of the Hercules and the many volunteers from Oxfam and other organisations who have tried desperately to help. However, is the aid enough? The figures speak for themselves. There have been 2 million to 3 million deaths. The total number now starving is about 4.5 million. About three-quarters of a million children will go to bed tonight, if they have a bed, desperately hungry. What have we done? Britain was the first country to provide aid. We have provided £1 million worth of rice and one or two aircraft. The European Community has provided 1,500 tonnes of dried milk and 25,000 tonnes of rice. We have done all that we can, but, when I compare the scale of the human tragedy with the scale of the response from the wealthy and the well-fed of the world, I am bound to say that the first is not commensurate with the second.
The conclusion to be drawn is that we must do more and do better. First, I suspect that helicopters will be critical in the distribution of aid. We all know that helicopters have done appalling damage in South-East Asia. During the American fighting I saw what the helicopter can do as a weapon of war. I am only too conscious of the role that helicopters can play. It would be appropriate if the Western world, including the United States, were able to mobilise a peaceful force of helicopters for the purpose of distributing aid in this difficult area of the world.
Secondly, I should like to see British armed forces once again doing what they have done magnificently throughout the world in the past, namely, giving more military aid to the civil power. Our engineers have helped in Thailand. They have helped in much of Africa. I believe that there is a part to be played at some stage—not now, but in the future—when the final days of reconstruction start to come about, as they will. This may be one of those areas where military aid to the civil power will have a part to play.
Finally, I look briefly to the future. I was interested in the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Ennals) of an Anglo-Soviet spon- 744 sored conference. There may be something in that, although, as far as I can see, the Soviet Union has shown no easy disposition so far to agree. For my part, I see very little to be gained by looking to the Vietnamese for the salvation of Cambodia. It is an invasion. They have resisted the help from the Western world. I am told that they have even pick pocketed some of it on the way. Therefore, I do not look to the Vietnamese as the saviours of Cambodia, nor do I look to the Communist world as a whole. The Chinese backed Pol Pot. The Soviets are backing Vietnam. Nor indeed, I regret to say, do I look to the United Nations Organisation—for, in spite of its achievements for refugees, it was spurned by the local authorities. Quite frankly, as so often happens, it will be the like-minded humane nations of the West which will bring to the suffering people of Cambodia the best aid that can be found.
So often we in the West have denigrated ourselves and condemned our colonial past and our American friends. There is much to condemn on all our parts. But I know this: when the chips are down and aid is needed for humanitarian purposes, it is to the Western nations and their Governments that those who suffer most had best—and frequently—look.
§ Mr. David Alton (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
It is hard to believe that only six weeks ago the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) asked a private notice question on the question of Cambodian aid. At that time, in answers to questions, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office answered myself in the following terrns: he believed that the important matter was not the question of recognition but rather the delivery of aid. I specifically asked him:Will the Minister ensure that in her discussions with Chairman Hua next week the Prime Minister will place on the agenda as an urgent item the whole question of the dissociation of the Republic of China and the United Kingdom from the Pol Pot regime?At that time the Minister of State dodged the question and talked about the long-standing agreement of different Governments in recognising and accepting that regime.
745 One wonders what has changed tonight. I am delighted with what the Lord Privy Seal said—that we are to dissociate ourselves from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. At the same time, I wonder what has changed from what the Minister said on 22 October in answer to the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore), when he said:The right hon. Gentleman should know the principles that successive Governments have followed for many years on recognition. We are following those principles precisely. I have stated that the Heng Samrin regime took power on the back of the Vietnamese army. If that army were withdrawn, the Heng Samrin regime might collapse."—[Official Report, 22 October 1979; Vol. 972, c. 31–34.]It was pointed out that 90 per cent. of the territory in Kampuchea and 90 per cent. of the people were controlled by Heng Samrin and that Pol Pot had been pushed back into peripheral territory. The Government took a view then that I believe had far more to do with the impending visit of Chairman Hua than any compassionate or humanitarian motives. Indeed, one wonders what has really changed since John Pilger published his report in the Daily Mirror back in the summer. He said:In attempting to describe the aftermath of the atrocity done to Cambodia, whose survivors are mostly starving children, words such as 'suffering greater than Biafra' look meaningless on the typewriter. For it is impossible to describe the sound and frequency of the cries of emaciated and sick children that have pursued us everywhere.They have become something to avoid each day, and that also is impossible. You walk across the street from this shell of a hospital, from the rats and the bullet-blasted dispensary, and you still hear the cries.Perhaps it is not so much the sound that is inescapable but the knowledge that the simplest things would save most of them: penicillin, which in Britain we dispense like Smarties, and dried milk, of which there is a surplus 'mountain' in Europe, and vitamins and so on.One wonders why we could not listen to the voice of many journalists telling us what was happening in Kampuchea in the summer. On wonders why we went on for months and months talking about what we were doing to distribute aid and how we were going to play our part. Frankly, it seems to me—and to others—like pure crocodile tears.
In 1970, there were 7 million Cambodians. Today there are about 4 million. By the end of the year, there may be 746 only 2 million left. Half the people of that gentle country have died. It is not just journalists like Mr. Pilger who have told us of the atrocities which have occurred there. The right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar mentioned earlier that William Shawcross wrote in The Daily Telegraph one month ago saying:Oxfam reckons that 100,000 tons of rice, 7,000 tons of oil, 15,000 tons of milk powder are needed in Cambodia at once if thousands upon thousands more are not to die. One International Red Cross official reported to Geneva in July that a massive international aid programme should be mounted at once".That is a requirement to which we have not responded.
The crucial issue is whether we as a nation are prepared to speak out on behalf of the people who will otherwise die. The first thing that we should do is to ensure that a new international conference on Indo-China, like the one that was mounted in 1954, is called. Secondly, we must mount pressure on Hanoi and the USSR to allow aid to reach the people who need it. Thirdly, we should listen to the cries of people like Norodom Sihanouk. On 3 December, he wrote in The Guardian:Hitler's murderers of the Jewish people were hanged; the Khmer Rouge murderers of the Khmer people are rewarded with votes at the United Nations and support elsewhere. Everything is being done to discourage me in my attempts to save my people".The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) pointed out the dilemma that the Government and the country now face. It is all very well to withdraw recognition from Pol Pot—although I believe that we have taken far too long to do that. Having arrived at that conclusion—better late than never—we must now decide on our position with regard to Heng Samrin and the free Khmers. Rather than twisting and turning like cats in a bag, the Government must look to the future and decide what they can do to wipe away some of the blood that is on the hands of successive Governments who have failed to do anything to dissociate themselves from the bloody murderers in Kampuchea.
About 2 million Cambodians have died at the hands of the Pol Pot regime. At Tuol Sleng, one of their extermination centres, about 12,000 people were brutally murdered and then placed in incinerators. 747 They suffered in the same way as people suffered at Auschwitz in the last war. It is a matter of grave concern that we have stood back and taken so long before uttering the cries of condemnation that have been murmured in the Chamber tonight.
It is possible to be totally precise about the number of people who died at places like Tuol Sleng because the exterminator—
§ Sir Ian Gilmour
The hon. Gentleman should pay attention to the facts. The barbarities of the Pol Pot regime were denounced not only by the previous Administration but also by the present Administration. It is ridiculous to allege that they were condoned by either Government. The hon. Gentleman must pay attention to the facts.
§ Mr. Alton
When the Lord Privy Seal spoke earlier about ruthlessness, nihilistic and mindless killing, and torture and barbarism, I listened carefully. I found it strange that he and those on the Opposition Front Bench had taken so long to decide that these were matters of concern and so long to decide that they should finally dissociate themselves from Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.
§ Dame Judith Hart (Lanark)
I should like to support the Lord Privy Seal by saying that it is a considerable time since the British Government suspended aid to Cambodia on account of the human rights problems involved there.
§ Mr. Alton
I am aware of that, but it is only tonight that the Government have decided to withdraw their recognition of Pol Pot. Evidence has been available for a very long time about the atrocious acts which that barbaric Government were carrying out. If anything, the Front Benches are partners in crime—just as Kissinger and Nixon were perpetrators of those crimes. The present Government and their predecessors failed to speak up.
We need to face up to the issues raised by the Lord Privy Seal's statement. Instead of recriminations and criticisms of previous Governments, easy as they are to mount, I hope that all sides will be prepared to work together for an international solution to save the needless bloodshed of yet more people in that troubled country.
§ Sir Paul Bryan (Howden)
As I have only five minutes in which to make my speech, I shall not dwell further on the horror picture of Cambodia that has justifiably been painted by both Front Bench speakers and a number of other hon. Members.
I should like to concentrate on a recent journey that I undertook to examine refugee camps, first in England at Sopley, Kensington barracks and Osterley, and, in company with the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil (Mr. Rowlands), a fairly thorough examination of camps in Hong Kong. I went on to see the camps on the Cambodian border.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) that this is not the occasion for self-congratulation, but our Government can take considerable credit for the lead that Britain has taken in a geographical region that is not really in our area of influence. We have taken the lead on the refugee problem, particularly through the Geneva conference.
The Foreign Secretary was impressed with what he saw and by the serious situation in Hong Kong, and it was on his advice that the Prime Minister called the conference. The Governor of Hong Kong Sir Murray MacLehose, instead of sitting back, went round the world preaching the gospel and impressing on the world that the refugees were an international problem which would not go away. All that was real leadership. If the conference had not taken place, many refugees would not now be settled in third countries.
Hong Kong is not the subject of our debate, but one can see hope there. The number of refugees is diminishing and the resettlement in third countries is getting under way. It is not progressing as quickly as we should like, but as long as we persist and keep the momentum going we can see hope there, and that is encouraging.
The situation on the Cambodian border is different. I had an extraordinary helicopter flight from Bangkok over many miles of rice and saw the agricultural wealth of Thailand. The camp that I visited had been in existence for only five days and was therefore in a rudimentary state, with about 33,000 749 people on a 40-acre site. It was more like a swarm of people than anything else.
Only 1,000 people—the sick—were under cover. The others were under small tarpaulins and so on. I cannot describe what a chaotic scene it was. There were piles of dead bodies here and there and emaciated children like those seen in newspapers and on television.
But there was hope, because it seemed that the camp would soon be well run. An admirable young Englishman, Mark Malloch Brown, was in charge of the extraordinary chaos. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development has visited the camp recently, and I am sure that the situation has improved. I saw another camp that had been in existence for five years, and that was in an orderly state.
The really depressing part of the situation is the future. In Hong Kong, one can imagine the ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese being eventually resettled in other countries, but I could not see that happening to a large proportion of the refugees on the Cambodian border. These were uneducated peasants who could not be settled in a Western country. The numbers were enormous, around 200,000, and that has built up since then. There is a long-term problem there. I agree with the Lord Privy Seal in his praise of the Thai Government and what they are doing. My only message is that the United Nations should take note of the help that will be required by the Thai Government, not just for the next six months—which is the period for which plans are being made—but for years ahead.
I do not see how it will be possible to move that mass of refugees who have only one thought, and that is to return to Cambodia. One is told that large areas of Cambodia are being taken over not only by the Vietnamese army but by the Vietnamese people, which means that there is nowhere for the refugees to go. I speak on the experience of one visit. It appears to be a long-term problem, and it is with that in view that the United Nations should concentrate on helping the Thai Government with their great burden.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
We are indebted to the hon. Member 750 for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) for his description of the camps.
Cambodia has created an emotion such as I have not seen in a similar case in my constituency. For example, the joint shop stewards' committee at British Leyland put a proposal to the management that some hours of overtime should be worked in order to present trucks to Cambodia.
Without vituperation, I wish to ask the Government Front Bench one question. I have had courteous interviews with the Minister who is to reply to the debate. We have been in correspondence for some months on this matter. Are the Government Front Bench sure that they are right in their opinions in relation to the Vietnamese?
The Minister spoke of his own time in Cambodia some 20 years ago. I concede that he was there for longer than I was, and I concede that in Cambodian history there has been dislike and fear of the Vietnamese. If we go back as far as the builders of Angkor Wat, we find that that is the tradition. But it is the sort of tradition seen between the Scottish and the English in the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It was my impression—admittedly after a shorter period than the hon. Gentleman, but 10 yearslater—that many of those surrounding Sihanouk knew the Vietnamese and grew up with them and that many were educated in Hanoi. Those who remained may well have asked the Vietnamese to come in.
The question is: who invited the Vietnamese, or who, in the opinion of the Government, invited the Vietnamese to come in? My impression is that they did not come in of their own volition. The Labour Party foreign affairs group has listened to the recent evidence of my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, East (Mr. Lamond) and others. We wish to know on what basis the Vietnamese came in in the first place. Our impression is that they came in to remove the shackles—I do not wish to be naive about it—as part of some sort of good-neighbour policy.
I do not doubt that some unpleasant things may well have happened, as in South-East Asia, and particularly in Indo-China there are some very unpleasant affairs. In these circumstances, it puts rather a different light on the recognition of what may be a Vietnamese-backed 751 Government. Unless we recognise that Government, we shall not be able to do many of the things that we would like to do through the aid that has been put forward, especially through the role of Oxfam.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mr. Douglas-Mann) asked me to raise one point. He received a letter from Oxfam saying:We had hoped for payment towards the British Leyland trucks we are purchasing—now a further 20 by sea, on top of the 50 in the bulletin. But these are now almost all earmarked for funding by Blue Peter or other consortium members. So, ironically, we are not at present in a position to accept HMG funds for the purchase of British goods; but the situation could change in the future if we had something to count on.Could the Minister comment on that?
I will stop now, in order to give my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) the opportunity to speak.
§ Mr. Michael Martin (Glasgow Springburn)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), I, too, was heartened by the response within my constituency. I have received a great deal of correspondence and representation to urge the Government to do what they can.
I understood that in his statement a few weeks ago the Minister said that the contribution of the Government was £4 million. If that is so—and that is my understanding from Hansard—I should be grateful to have some clarification, because the sum of £2 million was raised by the "Blue Peter" programme, £1 million was raised by the ATV programme, and there have been many other donations. It would appear that the amount raised by the public donations may well exceed the Government contribution. Surely, if that is so, the Government could at the very least match the contribution given so generously by the people of this country.
§ Dame Judith Hart (Lanark)
First, may I put very firmly on the record that, as has been made clear in the contributions of my hon. Friends, the Opposition warmly welcome the announcement that the Lord Privy Seal has made that we are de-recognising the Pol Pot regime. As 752 he will know, my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) has raised this matter over several weeks.
There are two questions in relation to it that I wish to put immediately, as there may be an opportunity for them to be answered in the Minister's final speech. First, is this now a shared view among EEC countries? Can we look forward to the possibility that other European and industrial countries will share with us this de-recognition of Pol Pot? If so, this could be of great importance.
My second point is one that has been touched on by one or two of my hon. Friends and also by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). Dc-recognition, as the Lord Privy Seal has presented it tonight, appears to indicate a new piece of British international case law. I am quite sure that the Foreign Office is very perturbed at the thought of quite how to deal with it.
Up to now, we have always had the very firm policy that we recognised the Government who were in effective control of most of the country. Indeed, the Lord Privy Seal said tonight that it was largely on that basis that we were now de-recognising the Pol Pot regime. But I know of no real instances in which we have had this vacuum of recognition. If we move from de-recognition of Pol Pot, what happens about the recognition of the regime which is apparently in effective control?
As has already been said, what happens to the protection of British citizens in a country with which we can have no diplomatic relations until we recognise the regime which is in control? Are these new guidelines? How does the Lord Privy Seal propose to deal with that problem? It is a new problem, so far as I know, in terms of British diplomatic case law.
I turn now to the main issue. On each side of the House hon. Members have mentioned very effectively that the concern of people in Britain is for the children and their mothers and fathers in Cambodia. The "Blue Peter" programme, having raised £2 million, has put up its sights to £3 million. My child acquaintances tell me of the collections made in their schools and how they are putting their pocket money into the appeals for Cambodia. It is happening. 753 all over the country. As someone has said, I have had close enough relations with these matters for a number of years, and I know of no instance where public feeling has been so deeply aroused as it has in contemplation of the sufferings in Cambodia.
What I found disturbing about the remarks of the Lord Privy Seal was that in a sense he confirmed the kind of fears and anxieties that to some degree have prompted the British people's reaction to this problem. Reference was made to John Pilger in the Daily Mirrorand to the television programmes. There has been a deep anxiety—and I know that the Lord Privy Seal will understand this clearly—that somehow international politics were getting in the way of sending help to starving people. That has been the basic anxiety.
I must explain to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stepney and Poplar that I have already told the Lord Privy Seal how much we welcome the de-recognition of Pol Pot. In many ways the Lord Privy Seal spent a great deal of time explaining why there were such complications of international politics. In other words, to some degree he confirmed the feeling of people that this stood in the way of effectively channelling the assistance. As we all know, the money and the commitment of money are in themselves not enough. What matters in this complex situation is that the aid is channelled to those who need it.
That brings me to the question of the British contribution and the way in which it has been channelled. I ask another question immediately, because it is just possible that an answer may be found before the Minister replies. We have made a pledge. How much of the pledge has already been spent? In the matter of humanitarian aid, in circumstances as urgent as this, pledges are one thing but spending the money and getting the aid through to those who need it is quite another. I should like to know how much of the pledge has already been spent in grain, food and medical help which is already beginning to reach the people of Cambodia. The money is no good sitting in the bank in the form of a formal pledge to the United Nations.
Is the amount of money enough? I entirely agree that the British Government 754 responded reasonably quickly to the request for assistance. They responded with the original £4 million. But the later pledging conference of two or three weeks ago asked for £105 million. Does the Minister think that our £4 million to £5 million is enough in terms of what Britain ought to be contributing to a pledging conference which seeks £105 million to be spent over the three to six months? I do not think that it is. I think that it ought to be more.
We know that the right hon. Gentleman has directed his main attention towards the International Red Cross and UNICEF. My understanding is that UNICEF is now able to get its help through. With regard to some of the remarks that have been made about assistance from Vietnam, my official information from UNICEF is as follows:UNICEF and ICRC and the World Food Programme have jointly delivered to Phnom Penh three times as much food and many times more quantities of drugs, vehicles and other supplies than any other agency or group of agencies, excepting Vietnam and the Soviet Union.They are also contributing and we should take account of that.
§ Mr. Ennals
Does my right hon. Friend understand that one of the concerns is not just what gets through to Phnom Penh but what gets through from that city to the countryside? That is another point that I hope will be dealt with by the Minister.
§ Dame Judith Hart
I hope so. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have heard, as I did this morning, one of the Oxfam representatives say that he was satisfied that Oxfam help was getting through to the people.
This is my last point, because I want to give the Minister time to reply to all the points that have been made. Why were the Government so reluctant to fund Oxfam in the very early stages of this operation? Oxfam was the organisation that, at the beginning and until recently, was internationally recognised by all the voluntary organisations in Europe as the agency able to get help through to the people. I recall that when Oxfam needed trucks and Land Rovers to help deliver its supplies within Cambodia, and asked the Overseas Development Agency whether it might purchase, or possibly 755 be supplied with, the 48 or 50 vehicles that are kept as a reserve in the disaster unit that I set up a few years ago, the reply was "No". Oxfam had to find its vehicles elsewhere, and yet those vehicles were sitting in the disaster unit of the ODA.
Why could not the Government have said "Oxfam wants these vehicles. We know all the international complications and the recognition problem that arose at the United Nations, but we also know that Oxfam is getting through to the people. Why can we not give that organisation the maximum help?" Why could not the Government have made money available from the £4 million that was already committed? Why could not that money be made available now? Why can we not extend the money that has been committed to the one organisation that is getting the supplies through?
Any minute now, we shall move out of the period of immediate relief into a period of reconstruction. That will mean going a little beyond simply feeding people and into rebuilding their medical services and the whole basis of life in a country that has been destroyed and so unhappily and tragically ruined by a ruthless regime. We are not talking about large sums of money, but we could be talking about more generous sums of money. We could respond to the latest appeal from the United Nations more generously. We could respond more intuitively and less bureaucratically.
If there is one occasion on which the will of the British people, on a non-party basis, has so expressed itself, it is on this occasion. The Minister would receive a great welcome from the Opposition if he were to respond with more heart to the needs of which we are all being made aware and which are so clearly understood by the people of Britain.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Peter Blaker)
This has been an excellent debate. Hon Members on both sides of the House have spoken with great sincerity. They have put to me many questions, and in the short time available I shall do my best to answer as many as I can.
I shall begin by trying to answer two of the questions put by the right hon. 756 Member for Lanark (Dame Judith Hart). She asked about the position of other EEC countries on the question of recognition. About half of them are in the same position as we are now. Others still recognise the Pol Pot regime. The United States has adopted the same position as we have.
The right hon. Lady also asked about the implications of not recognising either regime. We are unable to recognise the Heng Samrin regime for the very simple reason that it does not accord with our criteria for doing so. Over the years successive British Governments have adopted criteria involving taking a view about the likely permanence of the command over the loyalties of the people which the regime in question possesses. It is our view that it is not right to assume that the loyalty, if any, that the Heng Samrin regime may command from the Cambodian people is likely to be permanent.
Much of the debate has been concerned with the humanitarian aspects of the appalling famine in Cambodia. That is quite right. The whole House has been in agreement on that matter. This appalling situation is no fault of the Cambodian people. When I lived there 20 years ago, Cambodia could rightly be described as a fat and peaceful land. It was one of the countries of Asia with a surplus of land and a surplus of food. It caused no danger to its neighbours.
Since then, it has suffered as much as any nation in modern history. First, it suffered from the unimaginable, inexplicable barbarities of the Pol Pot regime. That was a Cambodian regime, but it seemed out of character to those who knew the Cambodian people. Secondly, Cambodia suffered from the invasion by Vietnam which started on Christmas Day last year. It was concluded within a few weeks with control by the Vietnamese army of most of Cambodia and the installation of a Vietnamese puppet regime, under Heng Samrin, in the capital, Phnorn Penh.
I rather regretted the impression that the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar (Mr. Shore) gave of condoning the Vietnamese invasion. My hon. Friend the Member for Windsor and Maidenhead (Dr. Glyn) was absolutely right when he said that that invasion was totally 757 in breach of the United Nations Charter and we should condemn it absolutely. I do not believe that the Vietnamese came as liberators. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths) was right when he denied that they came in that capacity. I believe that they came with an acquisitive purpose.
§ Mr. Blaker
I am just about to deal with that. The Vietnamese were invited in by a new party which was formed three weeks before the Vietnamese invasion with Heng Samrin as its leader. Heng Samrin was previously a subordinate of Pol Pot. The existence of this new party was first announced by Hanoi radio.
I join with other hon. Members who have paid tribute to the warm reaction of the British people to the famine in Cambodia. It is remarkable that after the "Blue Peter" programme the children of Britain raised £2 million in a few days. That is something for which they deserve great credit. It is a welcome sign that our people have lost none of their traditional sympathy for those in distress in other lands.
The British Government also have responded rapidly. The United Nations pledging conference for aid to Cambodia took place on 5 November. We had announced our aid programme on 6 October—a month before. We announced it within a few days of being told by the International Red Cross and UNICEF that they had reached an agreement with the authorities in Phnom Penh which would allow their relief operation to go ahead. We offered them a Hercules aircraft within 48 hours of being asked. That aircraft flew relief flights into Phnom Penh for over a month, carrying in 470 tons of aid, including 48 vehicles. Nobody can say that we were slow to respond.
§ Mr. James Lamond
Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Minister for Overseas Development when it was that he replied to a letter from myself and three of my hon. Friends? I will remind him it was in June this year. That reply stated that there was no money available for aid to Cambodia and that there was no food, not only in Britain but in Western Europe, that could be sent to Cambodia.
§ Dame Judith Hart rose—
§ Mr. Blaker
I am about to answer the question put to me by the right hon. Lady if she will allow me. I have very little time and I believe that hon. Members would wish me to answer as many questions as possible.
The right hon. Lady asked me how much aid we have provided. She knows how much we have offered. The airlift cost us £250,000. The world food programme already has received from us £800,000 as an initial payment to buy and deliver rice. The disaster emergency committee has been offered £480,000, and we are awaiting a reply about the acceptance of that sum.
§ Dame Judith Hart
I have two points to make. I asked the hon. Gentleman how much had been spent. I said that £4 million in the bank was no good. From what the hon. Gentleman has said, only about a quarter, or a little more, of what has been offered has been spent. Does he agree that, when we made the original commitment of £4 million, that was before the United Nations had made its assessment of what was likely to be needed over the next six months? We have made no further response to that assessment as to what is needed for six months.
§ Mr. Blaker
The right hon. Lady, if she compares what we have offered to what has been offered by other countries of comparable size and wealth, will find that we are not doing at all badly. As for our other offers, we have promised nearly £2 million to the ICRC-UNICEF appeal. Our share of the European Economic Community's aid for relief in Cambodia will be about £3½ million. In all, the aid that we have given and promised amounts to about £7¼ million.
What I am about to say is relevant to the right hon. Lady's questions. The problem now is not to obtain more promises of aid, or indeed to obtain more rice, but to make sure that the aid which is already available reaches the needy. Here there is ground for concern, as my right hon. Friend told the House. There are now many more vehicles in Cambodia. Forty-eight were flown in on our Hercules aircraft. The worrying aspect 759 is the refusal of the Heng Samrin authorities to allow into the country the number of workers which the voluntary agencies say are necessary for the proper distribution of the relief supplies. We have also had reports of deliberate obstruction by the Vietnamese and the Heng Samrin regime of the distribution of aid.
It has been suggested that our aid was held up for political reasons during the summer, that we delayed it either to please the Chinese or to use it as a lever against the Heng Samrin regime. There is not a scrap of truth in those allegations. My right hon. and noble Friend the Foreign Secretary said at the conference in Geneva in July:The pressure on Thailand is already acute. It could become intolerable if fighting continues in Cambodia and if there is a serious famine there. The international community must do what it can immediately to provide food for the starving under effective international supervision. There must be an end to the lighting. A political solution to the problems of this miserable and war-ravaged country must be found.
§ Mr. Blaker
The distribution was held up by the insistence of the Heng Samrin regime on conditions that the Red Cross and UNICEF found unacceptable. An example was that only the Heng Samrin regime should distribute aid and that none of the aid should go to people in areas controlled by Pol Pot. The UNICEF and ICRC authorities found those conditions unacceptable, and I am not surprised at that.
§ Mr. Blaker
The authorities in Phnom Penh did not admit that there was a famine until 26 September. We do not know why they changed their minds then. Perhaps it was connected with their losing an important vote in the United Nations when their credentials were rejected.
It has been argued that our continued recognition of Pol Pot has delayed the giving of aid. There is no truth in that. Our aid had already been given to areas controlled by Heng Samrin, as has that of other countries, even when we continued to recognise Pol Pot. The Foreign 760 Minister of the Heng Samrin regime has said publicly that recognition of that regime was not a condition of accepting aid.
I have already explained why we cannot and will not recognise the Heng Samrin regime. It was brought in by the Vietnamese army. Anybody who has lived for two years in Cambodia, as I have, will know that one of the strongest feelings of the Cambodian people is fear—hatred would not be too strong a word—of the Vietnamese. A so-called ruler who was brought in on the back of the Vietnamese army could not survive when the support of the Vietnamese army was removed.
Our position on the question of credentials in the United Nations is a separate issue. There have been occasions when the United Kingdom Government have supported the credentials of delegations representing States or Governments which the United Kingdom did not recognise. We have made clear that acceptance of credentials is not an act of recognition. This is also the practice of other countries. Several countries which do not recognise the Pol Pot regime voted in favour of the acceptance of his delegation's credentials at the current General Assembly. Among them were the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States of America.
We shall continue to work with our friends in opposing attempts to secure international acceptance of the Heng Samrin puppet regime. I say that because I believe that there was confusion in the mind of the right hon. Member for Stepney and Poplar when he said that 70 nations voted at the United Nations to recognise the Pol Pot regime. They voted not to recognise it but to accept credentials. That is different.
Hon. Members have rightly referred to the dangers which the present position imposes for Thailand. My hon. Friend the Member for Howden (Sir P. Bryan) was particularly eloquent on that score. The Government's firm determination is to support ASEAN and Thailand. We pay tribute to the admirable posture that the Government of Thailand have adopted in accepting the refugees.
§ Mr. Blaker
I will not give way.
761 Reference was made to the proposal by the Thai Prime Minister for an observer force stationed on the Thai-Cambodia border which could deter the Vietnamese from pursuing their victims on to Thai territory. The Government support that proposal. We support a further proposal for a safe area along the border area in Thailand where refugee camps are located which would be secure from the depredations of the Vietnamese troops. However, those proposals do not get to the root of the problem.
The root of the problem is Vietnamese aggression, backed by military and other supplies from the Soviet Union and by the Soviet veto in the Security Council when the ASEAN countries tabled their resolution in February calling for the withdrawal of Vietnamese forces from Cambodia.
The continued Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia is not only an injustice but a source of danger to the whole of South-East Asia. It is a provocation to China. I cannot judge whether the Government of Vietnam are prepared to listen to world opinion. During the summer, at the Geneva conference, it appeared that they were prepared to do so. So far they have not responded to the recent ASEAN resolution at the United Nations. I do not think that the world will continue to tolerate the continued seizure by Vietnam of a small neighbour which has done it no harm.
My hon. Friend the Member for Essex, South-East (Sir B. Braine) raised a question about Prince Sihanouk. We have been in touch with Prince Sihanouk and he knows that he is welcome in Britain. I am not sure whether a repetition of the 1954 conference—
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.