HC Deb 22 July 1991 vol 195 cc863-83 10.34 pm
Mr. Bernie Grant (Tottenham)

I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss a contentious subject, which has not been debated in the House for a considerable period.

There can be few countries in the world which have suffered as much as Cambodia in the past 20 years. The Labour party has repeatedly called for a reversal of British policy towards that country, but to no avail. It is to our great shame, 11 years after the Khmer Rouge's devastation of Cambodia ended, that the west has continued to punish one of the poorest countries in the world by denying it both bilateral and multilateral aid. Only after repeated pressure from the Opposition has a small amount of aid been channeled to Cambodia through non-governmental organisations.

The Khmer Rouge was driven from Cambodia in 1979 by the Vietnamese after the Khmer Rouge had murdered up to 1 million of Cambodia's people. Since then, the military factions opposing the Cambodian Government have, at various times, been given United Nations recognition, supplied with sophisticated weapons, food and even military training. At least 20,000 people are said to have had limbs amputated as a result of mines set by the Khmer Rouge inside Cambodia. Thousands of others have been killed.

Over the years, the British Government have repeatedly denied supplying military training to any of the factions fighting the Cambodian Government. Many questions have been tabled by hon. Members in an attempt to get at the truth, and hundreds of letters from constituents have been passed to Ministers for answer. Now, after years of denial, Her Majesty's Government have finally admitted, in reply to a question from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) on 25 June this year: From 1983 until 1989 Her Majesty's Government provided training to the armed forces of the Cambodian non-communist resistance, that is the Khmer People's National Liberation armed forces and the Armée Nationale Sihanoukienne. They said: There has never been and will never be any British assistance or support, military or otherwise, for the Khmer Rouge. Since 1989 Her Majesty's Government have not been involved in any way in training, equipping or supplying the forces of any of the Cambodian parties. In accordance with normal practice no further details about this training or any information about the nature of this training will be given." —[Official Report, 25 June 1991; Vol. 193, c. 454.] We hope that tonight the Minister will give further information in answer to a number of questions from my hon. Friends and me. If the Minister is not prepared to give that information, he should say why.

Over the years, at least seven Ministers deceived Parliament. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), told my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clywd) in a letter dated 10 October 1990: There is no British Government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or co-operation, with the Khmer Rouge forces or those allied to them". My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley had asked the then Prime Minister for an inquiry into repeated allegations that the Government were involved in such training, but the ex-Prime Minister dismissed that suggestion as "unfounded". But for a case that was due to go before the High Court the following week, in which three Ministers—the right hon. Members for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) and for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), and the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd)—were served with subpoenas, the truth might never have emerged.

Why were the Government so reticent, and why were they prepared to gag witnesses in court? To ensure that neither of the two Defence Ministers could be called as witnesses, the Secretary of State for Defence, the right hon. Member for Bridgwater (Mr. King) issued public interest immunity orders. The Government continued to deny that they ever assisted the Khmer Rouge, and in a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale admitted that the three factions—the KPNLF, Sihanoukists, and Khmer Rouge— co-operate on an ad hoc basis. In other words, British soldiers taught terrorists mine laying and guerilla techniques, and the Khmer Rouge benefited from that training.

After being inundated with letters from my constituents, I wrote to the then Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord Brabazon of Tara. He replied on 22 Febraury 1990: We have never given any form of support to the Khmer Rouge. We were one of the first governments to expose their brutal regime when they were in power. We are now doing what we can to prevent Pol Pot and his cronies from returning to power. It is strong language for a Minister, to refer to Pol Pot and his cronies". The KPNLF and the Sihanoukists are indeed the cronies of the Khmer Rouge, and the British Government have admitted to training them.

I will conclude shortly, as a number of my hon. Friends who are much greater experts on the subject wish to contribute. The Government should apologise for deliberately misleading the House for at least eight years. Most of all, they should apologise to the innocent men, women and children of Cambodia who suffered as a direct result of the Government's policies in that region of the world. We want answers to a number of questions tonight, and I hope that the Minister will provide them.

10.42 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) on securing this debate, which concerns a subject in which right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House have taken a close interest over the past few years. We certainly ought to examine British policies and those of the international community, as we seek to learn the lessons of the past and to secure a peaceful and stable future for the peoples of Cambodia.

We shall not achieve that objective simply by seeking to trip up British Ministers. Britain has a role to play in that part of the world, if not a major one. As the only permanent member of the Security Council that does not have a great past there, we at least can play a part in the region's future. We should look beyond the narrow issues raised by the hon. Member for Tottenham, such as the comparatively marginal question of the training of Khmer Rouge allies acknowledged in a parliamentary answer.

The House, the country and the international community should never forget what occurred in Cambodia. As monstrosity follows monstrosity around the world, and as tyrant succeeds tyrant, it is all too easy to put Cambodia to the back of our minds as someone else captures the headlines—be it Saddam Hussein, or someone from the South American continent that was the subject of the previous debate. Somebody will come along and people will seek to talk about that rather than the great horror of world history to which the hon. Member for Tottenham has referred.

We must never forget 1975–78, during which, as I think history will show—partly because of ancient rivalries and hatreds between the peoples of Thailand, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, and partly as a result of American foreign policy and disagreements in the post-Vietnam war period between the State Department and the White house—the Americans decided that it was more important to seek reconciliation with the Chinese Government than with the Vietnamese Government. As a result, the Khmer Rouge were given free play by their paymasters, by their gurus in Peking, to wreak havoc on the people of Cambodia. We saw Cambodia, that ancient, proud and civilised country, torn apart by the Khmer Rouge. As the hon. Member for Tottenham said, it was torn apart by Pol Pot and his henchmen. The wheels ceased to turn, towns were emptied, the fields were made barren, and even bicycles ceased to roll around Phnom Penh.

Then there was the period when the Vietnamese came to the rescue of the Cambodian people, and in so doing they brought some stability. No one suggests that they came in without their own atrocities and breaches of civilised law, but they enabled a sad country to pick itself up again. We should pay at least some tribute to the Vietnamese who enabled that to happen, even if we are critical of some of the practices employed.

We have now moved on to a period when we can begin to look forward to a solution of the problem, even though there are many question marks attached to it, through the promising getting together in recent weeks and months of the Phnom Penh Government with Sihanouk, and with some of the other members of the Khmer Rouge coalition —but not, one hopes, with Pol Pot, Ieng Sary or the worst of those—who are seeking under the Supreme National Council to find a way forward with the assistance of the international community.

The world is taking a gamble, but if the hon. Member for Tottenham is right, as I think he is, and there has been a world conspiracy against the people of Cambodia—it is not east versus west, north verses south or communist versus non-communist, but the world as a whole, including the United Nations community, China and the Soviet Union, developing and developed countries and many Asian countries—but that the world is saying now that it will learn from the past and try to ensure that peace can return to Cambodia. We should say that we shall give the gamble a try.

The hon. Member for Tottenham is right to raise questions about the gamble, as I have described it. We must ask questions of the international community. We must ask how we shall ensure that the ceasefire is monitored. If we can monitor the ceasefire in Yugoslavia through the European Community, we can surely find ways of doing that for Cambodia, whether through the United Nations or through some other international grouping. If there is to be confidence, it is crucial to ensure that the ceasefire lasts.

We must also ensure that there is confidence that the Khmer Rouge will be disarmed. It is clear that some of their leaders and groups are entering Phnom Penh—not Pol Pot, but some of the others—having left their arms outside. How can we be sure that, if things go wrong for the Khmer Rouge, they will not leave the conference table, dig up their arms and resume murdering people from their bases in the jungle? That sort of reassurance must be sought if we are to give the people of Cambodia confidence.

The hon. Gentleman was also right to mention the mines that have been laid around that area. Figures vary, but I have heard of 250 casualties, and some 80 amputees, a month. It does not matter now who was responsible for laying those mines; the world must come to the aid of those who are digging them up and trying to make them and the area safe once again. The world is ignoring that appalling catastrophe and those limbless people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will assure us that he will work with the international community to solve that problem.

The hon. Member for Tottenham spoke about trade and aid. Bringing Cambodia back into the world community must involve the reopening of trade and aid links and the removal of the embargoes with Vietnam and Cambodia. Japan is already well involved; it is Britain, America and the other western nations that are standing back. Because of that, the £44 million for aid in the United Nations development fund remains frozen.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the international community to find ways to ensure that trade and aid are pumped into Cambodia, at the same time as we are monitoring and assisting in the disarming of the Khmer Rouge. We must never relax. We must never forget that history. Even in the past few days, Khmer Rouge plans have been found that show that their tactics are still a mixture of a campaign of intimidation and a campaign of changing history through a propaganda war to persuade the Cambodian people, and then the world —although I hope that the world is not gullible enough to believe it—that the genocide of those 2 million people was nothing to do with the Khmer Rouge but was the result of Vietnamese atrocities. We will not believe that. We will support the Cambodian people.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham on raising the matter and I look forward to the assurance of my hon. Friend the Minister that he, the British Government and the British people will play our part in returning peace to Cambodia.

10.52 pm
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

You, Mr. Speaker, may have noted that when my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) said that he hoped that the Minister would give us more information on this issue, and with greater frankness than in the past, the Minister cheerfully shouted, "I certainly shan't." That summarises the attitude taken by a succession of Ministers towards Parliament and towards the taxpayers whose money they have been spending on nefarious projects. It also tells us that we are not likely to hear much from the Minister tonight other than the bluster and diversion that has become standard in such debates.

I pay tribute to John Pilger, David Munro and Central Television for a succession of programmes that have done more to bring this issue before the public in Britain and throughout the world than has been achieved by anybody else who has taken an interest in the matter. I was a journalist in my previous incarnation. Inquiring journalism is a dying trade in this country, and those who practise it expect to be vilified. I framed some of the better attacks on me and they hang on my wall—"Loony MP packs bomb gang", "Mr. Odious", "Twenty things you didn't know about crackpot Chris", and so on. None of that surprised me, and I note that a number of similar articles are appearing about John Pilger. I am sure that he and Central Television will not be intimidated.

I regret that Mr. Colvin, a senior civil servant in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is not here. He has taken a detailed interest in this subject over a long period. He has more knowledge and shoulders more responsibility for our policy than any of the 10 Ministers who have been responsible for it in the past decade. I notice that Mr. Colvin has started to circulate some of these articles. Such action from a civil servant is reprehensible, and I hope that it will stop.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Mullin

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak later. He represents interests that are quite different from mine, and not necessarily just those of the Conservative party.

I know which version of events I prefer—that told over the past decade or so by Mr. Pilger, Mr. Munro and Central Television. When the history of this unhappy little episode is written, they will be entirely vindicated.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said, on 25 June the Government admitted what some of us had been alleging for the past three years. They did so rather quietly in a planted written answer buried in Hansard, which confirmed that, from 1983 to 1989, British soldiers based in Thailand had been training Khmer terrorists.

That allegation has been repeatedly put to Ministers over the years and they have always answered with bluster saying how much they hate the Khmer Rouge and how wicked and terrible the Khmer Rouge are. They have never faced the issue that terrorists are people who plant bombs in public places. If it is wrong for the Irish Republican Army to do that, it is wrong for people who happen to be "friendly" terrorists. Thousands of people in Cambodia would not find it as easy as the Minister does to distinguish between terrorists of the Khmer People's National Liberation Front and the Khmer Rouge, to which they are so closely allied.

All those points have been put to Ministers. Parliament has been misled over a long period. On 13 March 1989, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), the shadow Foreign Secretary, said to the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), then briefly the custodian of Government policy on Cambodia: If the Government want to avoid a protracted civil war in Cambodia, why are they providing special forces training to one of the participants in that war? The Minister replied: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I will give no answer".—[Official Report, 13 March 1989; Vol. 160, c. 49.] The subject came up repeatedly in our debate on this subject on 26 October 1990. The Minister—happily, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), who has record tenure in justifying Government policy on Cambodia—said: I am personally completely satisfied that the explanations that I have been given are comprehensive and accurate. He declined to share those explanations with the House and said: I cannot say more than I have said … I must place it clearly on record that the British Government, of course, utterly and clearly refute the allegations made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and by Mr. Pilger in his programme."—[Official Report, 26 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 692.] The burden of the allegations was that British soldiers based in Thailand, funded by British taxpayers' money, were training terrorists. Such reports did not originate with Mr. Pilger; there is a wealth of other material on the subject, some of it from unlikely sources. On 24 September 989, The Sunday Telegraph reported: British Army teams—almost certainly from the SAS—have been training guerrillas of the Sihanoukist National Army of Cambodia at a secret training base in Thailand for the past two years.

Mr. Allason

Almost certainly.

Mr. Mullin

I had not realised that that was controversial.

On 30 September, Jane's Defence Weekly referred to the creation of a 250-man KPNLF sabotage battalion prepared by four Cambodian instructors … The latter were graduates of the UK-led courses, though this was not noted at the time"— in the previous report— members of the sabotage battalion were taught how to attack installations such as bridges, railway lines, radar stations, power lines and substations … Small group tactics and use of improvised explosives were also covered. Jeremy Stone in The New York Times, in an article in November 1989, said: The US is waging a secret war in Cambodia against the Hun Sen Government—knowing full well that none other than the genocidal Khmer Rouge"— I hope that the Minister is listening to this— are likely to be the ultimate beneficiaries. Even as White House officials shed crocodile tears over signs of the growing military strength of the Khmer Rouge, they are continuing to use US financial and intelligence resources to weaken the Vietnamese-installed Hun Sen Government, the only faction capable of preventing a military takeover of the Khmer Rouge. It then goes on to describe a secret organisation set up in Bangkok called the Cambodian working group, through which all aid for the various terrorist factions was to be funneled. It says: The United States pays $24 million annually that is in 1989— to support the resistance, and the Son Sann group is getting $150,000 a month for operating expenses alone … Through a Thai intelligence entity called 838, the Cambodian guerrillas receive weapons, food and other support. Jeremy Stone goes on to say: So the irony is exquisite. We are redoubling our efforts to overthrow Hun Sen even while we announce that such a result would produce a Khmer Rouge takeover … From every objective point of view we are allied with the genocidal Khmer Rouge. Those are not allegations made by Mr. Pilger, the hon. Member for Sunderland, South or any other hon. Member; that is The New York Times. It has been widely remarked upon. It is clear that the non-Khmer Rouge factions of the so-called phoney alliance are almost entirely the creation of a handful of western Governments, principally the United States, but by no means entirely the United States. Britain has had a part to play in that operation. I think that the French have had a part to play in it. The Thais have had a large part to play in harbouring all three factions. It is a matter of record that the Khmer Rouge themselves have a large number of facilities on Thai Government soil.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham said, over the years successive British Ministers, from the Prime Minister downwards, have misled the country and the House on the issue. As my hon. Friend said, the Prime Minister wrote to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on 17 October 1990 saying: I confirm that there is no British Government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or co-operating with the Khmer Rouge forces or those allied to them. That may have been true on 9 October 1990, but what the Prime Minister omitted to say was that we had been training them up to a year before that. The phrase—the wording is always identical— or those allied to them appeared in a succession of ministerial letters around that time. The Foreign Secretary and various other Ministers wrote that, and they all did so in the knowledge that the training had been going on and had stopped only just before that. That is being rather economical with the truth.

Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)


Mr. Mullin

No one has actually lied to the House, but no one has told the truth. All of them knew the truth but despite repeated opportunities they deliberately misled the House.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not mean that the House has been deliberately misled.

Mr. Mullin

I am prepared for the possibility that the House might have been inadvertantly misled, but misled it certainly was.

I look down the long list of Ministers who, during the past decade or so, have had responsibility for this disastrous little venture, and I wonder which of them was in charge at the time of this particular training scheme—a rather unfortunate expression—at the time the Special Air Services were introduced into the Thai border.

As I look down the list, my eye lights on the name of the right hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow) who was, between August 1982 and February 1983, the Minister responsible for Cambodia. This was exactly the sort of crazy scheme with which one might expect him to be associated. It was what is known in the parlance as a "touch of the Cranley Onslows". Perhaps he was not the one, however. The Minister responsible between August 1983 and November 1985—for over two years—was none other than the present Foreign Secretary. All those people must have known at the time—they must have been consulted when the scheme came into operation—yet they chose not to tell the truth.

We are told that, when he became Foreign Secretary, the present Foreign Secretary found out about all this and decided to do away with it immediately. If so, I am grateful to him for that, but he was responsible for these matters for two whole years earlier on, while the SAS were actively training the terrorists in Cambodia.

The statement that we were given in the planted written answer on 25 June was far from the whole truth. It failed to tell us what kind of training was provided. Taxpayers are entitled to know that. My information is that it included planting sophisticated, delayed-action mines of the sort that were certainly responsible for many of the hideous injuries inflicted on military and civilian personnel in Cambodia.

I read in The Independent last week that two little girls fishing in a river in Kampot hooked a floating mine which blew their arms off. I do not know whether it was a Khmer Rouge mine, or a KPNLF mine. I do not know whether we trained the terrorists or whether someone else did; but as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) pointed out, 20,000 people in Cambodia have had limbs blown off by mines. The whole west of the country is a vast minefield, and I have no doubt that some of the mines were planted as a result of training received by the terrorists from British soldiers.

It is more than tragic that the good people of Oxfam and the Red Cross should he attempting in Cambodia to repair the damage and run hospitals to provide the amputees with some means of survival, while on the other side of the border, people employed by Her Majesty's Government are attempting to destroy those same civilians.

The statement of 25 June did not tell us the location either. My information is that some of the training occurred at the border in a camp known as site B. Some of it took place in Malaysia, too. We first started training Cambodians in Malaysia in 1970, shortly after Prince Sihanouk was overthrown in the coup organised and inspired by the United States. When the United States and British Governments tell us how urgent it is that the prince should be back in Cambodia, it is worth recalling that we helped to overthrow him in the first place and that we celebrated his overthrow and exploited it.

I am told that a gentleman who until 1989 was based in the British embassy in Bangkok, a Mr. Dennis Galwey, was responsible for overseeing the British role in military training in Thailand. In The Spectator of 4 May, Derek Tonkin—the British ambassador to Thailand until 1989 and thus in place while much of all this was going on, and whom I had challenged to deny that British soldiers based in Thailand had been training Khmer terrorists—wrote: Mr. Mullin invites me to deny it. I deny it. How does that compare with the Government's answer of 25 June?

Did operations really cease in 1989? The Government say that they did, but they have told us all sorts of things over the years. Perhaps the matter was privatised, because such operations, when they become embarrassing, have a long history of being put out to people who call themselves ex-SAS or ex-this or ex-that. There are many bogus airlines in south-east Asia which operate for the Central Intelligence Agency. Bird Air was the big one in Cambodia, but Air America is the most famous in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

I do not know and do not allege that the operation was privatised, but if it was a good idea before the autumn of 1989 and remained a good idea for six or seven years, why did it suddenly stop being a good idea? If the Minister intends to shed light on anything, perhaps he will at least say why the operation was wound up, because that is a puzzling question. If the truth was leaking out, that may have been a motive for stopping, but I suppose that the Minister will have a more sophisticated explanation.

Exactly what is still being covered up? I have a letter from the Treasury Solicitor which was addressed to the defendants in a recent libel case involving two shadowy figures whom my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and the hon. Member for Broxstowe (Mr. Lester) ran into in Cambodia in September 1989. The letter states: It is the Crown's view that the public interest public interest, my foot— … requires that only certain information can be disclosed in court. That Information is contained in a statement made this afternoon to the House of Commons by means of a written answer That is the answer of 25 June to which I have referred.

The text of that answer is attached to this letter. It is accepted that this information, but no more, may be made public without damage to the public interest. Any further information would attract a claim for public interest immunity. That is not exactly the level playing field that we have come to expect from the Government. It seems that one side in that recent libel case was playing with its arms tied behind its back, while the other side had at its disposal the full resources of the British state. I have here an affidavit sworn by the Secretary of State which also became available for the purposes of the libel action. It states: As will be seen in the statement to which I have referred"— that is, the answer of 25 June— it contains no details of the training given to the armed forces of the Cambodian non-communist resistance. The statement has been carefully limited so as to disclose no more than can in the considered opinion of the Crown be disclosed without injury to the public interest. In my opinion the making of any further disclosure whether or not by evidence given by any person orally or by reference to any documents concerning the involvement of specialist Crown personnel in any covert activities or security operations or as to their nature, method, circumstances or the identity of any person engaged in them would cause damage to the public interest for the reasons set out below. It is my judgment that any such further disclosure would cause unquantifiable damage to the Crown's ability to conduct any such activities or operations currently or in the future. The affidavit goes on to say that the information would be of value to foreign powers.

I am unable to see how British people learning about the activities of British soldiers based in Thailand, some 8,000 miles from here, could possibly be a threat to national security. What are the Government trying to hide? We shall shortly hear a great deal of bluster from the Minister. The Government cannot have much confidence in their case when they have to issue affidavits of that nature in an at tempt to gag witnesses and fix the outcome of the case. I regret that that case was settled, because if a jury had found out the truth about what was going on, the outcome might have been somewhat different.

If the past is anything to go by, the Minister will be at pains to assure us that the Government have not supported the Khmer Rouge. He will even generate a little synthetic indignation at that suggestion. He is deluding himself. It is a matter of record that the organisations that we have been supporting—the KPNLF and the Army of Sihanouk—are closely allied to the Khmer Rouge.

I have here a report from The Sunday Correspondent of 5 November 1989. It speaks of Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who is the son of Prince Sihanouk. Those of us who have met him know that he is a chip off the old block and can bullshit in about four languages. It says: Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the son of the nominal leader of the resistance coalition, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, said last week that links between the non-Communist groups and the Khmer Rouge were closer than ever. Combat co-operation was total he said, and the Sihanoukists celebrated Khmer Rouge victories as their own. So much for funding the non-Khmer Rouge elements.

I know that, a couple of months ago, there was a meeting at the Foreign Office between Lord Caithness and the former Prime Minister of Thailand, who was recently overthrown in a military coup, and some of his close advisers. Mr. Colvin of the Foreign Office was also present. One of the advisers said that, in the field, the Khmer Rouge is in command of all three factions. All those there said nothing—they just sat there and nodded. The Government cannot say that they do not know.

Secondly, as the Minister knows, between 1979 and 1982, the British representative to the United Nations supported the seating of a Government formed solely by the Khmer Rouge. The fraudulent coalition did not come about until 1982–83. The Minister cannot say that we did not support the Khmer Rouge, because we did. For the following seven or eight years, we supported the fraudulent coalition, which was dominated by the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian representative in the UN was Mr. Thioun Prasith, whose brothers occupied three of the top 10 posts in the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979.

Thirdly, we provided food aid, through the UN border operation, much of which found its way into the terrorist resistance. Film has been shown of Khmer Rouge porters carrying that food away. Pol Pot was once housed in the Erawan hotel in Bangkok, although the Khmer Rouge leaders now stay at the Sheraton. All this went on quite openly, under the noses of many people over a long time.

The Government have got themselves into a sad and embarrassing situation. The hon. Member for Battersea said that we should look forward and not backwards, and I am inclined to agree with him—but before one can look forward, one must first face the truth. It is therefore necessary for the Minister to face the truth. So long as he cannot do that, he must not be surprised that there will be those of us who attempt forcibly to draw his attention to the truth.

11.18 pm
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

In my aborted intervention, I wanted to ask the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), when he spoke about his work as a researcher and investigative journalist and drew parallels between it and that of John Pilger, whether he had ever got his facts wrong, whether they had been challenged in the courts, and whether he had been forced to withdraw and apologise. I have followed his career with interest. He is an assiduous researcher and a doughty campaigner. I do not recall his ever having had to do that.

Having listened to the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant), I cannot believe that this proposition was based on an action that was lost in the High Court. The plaintiffs won, and received an apology. If such remarks were made outside the Chamber, another action for defamation would be brought.

I do not believe that there is a parallel between the hon. Gentleman and John Pilger. I think that the hon. Gentleman is being immodest. He says that he is sorry that the case was settled. I know something about the laws of defamation, having been on the receiving end of a libel case in the not too distant past. Indeed, I am in a rather difficult position: on that occasion, I appealed to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, who will be answering tonight's debate.

There is a parallel here, in that my case involved someone who had lied—and whom I knew to have lied —about his military record during the second world war. With the greatest regret, Ministers said that a precedent was involved in relation to public immunity. I subpoenaed people to give evidence for me. The issue concerned events that had taken place years before—before 1963, and, in the case of the war record, before 1945—but it was not aired in court, because of a certificate issued by the Secretary of State.

The John Pilger programme, which I watched, was built on supposition and innuendo. It contained no concrete facts. As a journalist, I was somewhat ashamed, and hoped that rather more facts existed to back up what I saw on the screen. After the programme, I asked my hon. Friend categorically whether SAS personnel were deployed in Cambodia. I was given a categorical assurance that they were not.

Let us consider what has taken place in court recently. John Pilger was challenged by the people whom he identified. It was not a question of any kind of settlement; he agreed that he had been wrong, and apologised—as did a Member of the European Parliament who had made similar baseless allegations. The two individuals concerned were British observers.

I have followed the aftermath of the case. Bearing in mind what William Shawcross wrote in the Sunday Telegraph last week, I am surprised that John Pilger has the temerity to continue to pursue the matter—and, indeed, that the hon. Member for Tottenham should be prepared to do so. The answer has been given.

I do not think that any hon. Member would support the Government for a moment if he believed that the Khmer Rouge were receiving support, or that children's limbs were being blown off, because specialist SAS personnel were training the Khmer Rouge. Certainly I would not do so. I simply do not believe that that is happening, and I accepted my hon. Friend's word when he gave me an assurance in the House. It is common knowledge that training was given from a base in Thailand, but the proposition, or conspiracy theory—constructed on the basis of an acknowledgement in a written answer—that all sorts of nefarious activities have taken place in Cambodia, and are continuing to take place, defies belief.

Both the hon. Member for Sunderland, South and the hon. Member for Tottenham have done themselves a disservice. When they look back on this episode, I very much hope that they will see that it is a case study of a left-wing ideologue, John Pilger, who has simply got it wrong. He was also proved to have got it wrong. He admitted that he had got it wrong. He apologised to the persons concerned for getting it wrong. Now it is being produced once again. I very much regret it.

I hope that I shall be allowed to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) in urging the House to look to the future. By trade, I am a historian. I believe that what took place in the past is of enormous importance —it rightly influences our current perceptions and our future behaviour. But the hope, surely, for that tragic, war-torn country in south-east Asia is that it should return to peace as soon as possible. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us that assurance.

11.25 pm
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

The hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) says that Mr. Pilger was proved to have got it wrong.

Mr. Allason

He admitted it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

He agreed that he had got it wrong. There is a difference between the two phrases which perhaps the hon. Gentleman—knowing the detail into which he invariably goes—will wish to consider.

The programme "The Betayal" lasted, I understand, some 30 or 40 minutes. The greater part of it was correct and will be proven to be correct. It may be that part of the programme contained an error. Mr. Pilger and his colleague, Mr. Munro, have apologised. The hon. Member for Torbay should view the whole programme in the context of its overall message. He should not allow himself to be influenced by a particular part of it, about which there is some controversy.

In the course of the libel action, which began on 2 July and ended on 5 July, John Pilger and David Munro argued that reference to these two men was not meant, in the film they produced, to suggest that they themselves were involved in training the Khmer Rouge. It was the judge who ruled that, in his judgment, he was satisfied that the words used in the film were capable of the interpretation that Mr. Geidt and Mr. de Normann placed upon them —that they were involved in military training.

The trial was abandoned after an out-of-court settlement was agreed between the parties. The hon. Member for Torbay should recognise why it was agreed: because the judge ruled that certain evidence was inadmissible in the trial. I agree with the judge that, as the law stands, that evidence was inadmissible. I disagree with Mr. Pilger, as he would tell the hon. Member for Torbay, if he were to meet him. He should not seek to misrepresent what happened, which was that an out-of-court settlement was arrived at because Mr. Pilger and Mr. Munro were unable in any way to put their evidence, which they believed would have influenced the jury if it had been heard.

Following the trial, Mr. Pilger and Mr. Munro issued a press statement which stated: It should be made clear that these two men"— their words— who sued us played no part in guerilla training. Since December last, I have always argued that, as absolute evidence did not exist proving their involvement, Geidt and de Normann would win their action. Indeed, because of that, I argued in favour of an out-of-court settlement. But Mr. Pilger and Mr. Munro have always sought to argue that they never alleged such involvement, and that on such a premise they would base their whole defence.

I want to deal with what happened in that trial and its bearing on British foreign policy on Cambodia. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Bailey (Mrs. Clwyd) first met Geidt and de Normann in Phnom Penh in September 1989, in the company of the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester). The Foreign Office Minister, the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), told the House: Those two men did not visit Indochina at our behest or as representatives of the Government. They went privately, at the invitation of the Institute for International Relations at Hanoi … Through the institute, they were introduced to the Phnom Penh authorities. Those authorities then invited them to witness the withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia".—[Official Report, 26 October 1990; Vol. 178, c. 691.] The public should be aware that much argument surrounds the activities of those two men, but it is argument that they have brought upon themselves because of the way in which they conducted themselves and because of the statements that they made. Their public statements have been most unconvincing. Nevertheless, I agree with the statement that Mr. Pilger and Mr. Munro made. Those two men made highly unconvincing statements, and I hope that the hon. Member for Torbay will research what they said.

In a covering letter to the Vietnamese embassy, de Normann was listed as a personal assistant to Geidt, as if he was from the Royal United Services Institute. That was untrue. I challenge Mr. de Normann and Mr. Geidt to question what I am saying.

In the same letter, Geidt said that he was part of an official two-man delegation. That was untrue. Group Captain David. Bolton, director of the RUSI, denied that they were representing the RUSI. It was not an official delegation.

Geidt referred to himself in his letter to the Vietnamese and Cambodians as assistant director of RUSI. That was not true and had never been so. He was an assistant to the director—a very different role indeed. They both contended, as did the Foreign Secretary, that they were invited by the Hanoi Institute and the Phnom Penh Government. That was not true. They sought to be invited by the respective authorities, and evidence exists to show that.

In a letter to Central Television, lawyers for Geidt said that he was not military. That was not true. Mr. Geidt had links with military intelligence and had served in the regular Army.

Why did they make these statements if they were not true? Has not it dawned on them that, when such statements are made and people subsequently find out the truth, they begin to question the identity of those involved, from which was born much of the programme "The Betrayal". If they had been truthful in everything they had said to the appropriate authorities, there would have been no reference to that in the programme. In many ways, they were responsible for what happened.

It is not surprising, with the truth so easily denied on such a scale, that Central Television felt it prudent to spend what is rumoured to be £350,000 defending Pilger and Munro in a libel trial. Notwithstanding such errors fact, when the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), was asked about contacts between Geidt, de Normann and the Ministry of Defence, he stated: The only contact with the Ministry of Defence in relation to the visit that has been traced was a routine inquiry by Mr. de Normann prior to departure to check on the regulations governing visits by ex-service personnel to communist countries."—[Official Report, 18 October 1990; Vol. 177, c. 923.] That was a perfectly acceptable request to make. But what happened? That answer was quickly amended when it was realised that the libel trial was proceeding. On 13 May, the story changed. The MOD, out of the blue, wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin): More recently it has come to light that Mr. Mackenzie Geidt had an informal discussion"— the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) knows all about such discussions and he has written many books about them— with an MOD officer in October 1989 on his return from Indochina Cambodia— during which he passed on some impressions he had gained about the political and military position in Cambodia which he thought would be of general interest to the Department. Perhaps the hon. Member for Torbay can tell me what that means. I think that I know what it means. The hon. Gentleman has written many books on such subjects, and I am sure that he could extrapolate within the remit of fact.

Mr. Allason

I am as good at conspiracy theories as the next man, but I think that you are going a stage too far—

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am quoting a Minister.

Mr. Allason

But you are quoting so terribly selectively. You are saying that a letter written by a legal representative to the television company was incorrect and you say that he had links to—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer his remarks through the Chair.

Mr. Allason

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. We are talking about the ministerial reply. Perhaps he misunderstood what I said.

None of those matters ever came out in the libel trial. In many ways, it was perhaps right that they should not have done so because they may not have been relevant once the judge had taken his decision. The onus was on Mr. Munro and Mr. Pilger to prove their facts conclusively before the trial, with all the evidence available. Of course, it was not quite possible in the circumstances.

None of those matters ever came out in the trial, because the judge, for reasons that I perfectly understand, on the basis of the law as it stands and following representations from the Government, ruled such material inadmissible. Pilger and Munro were very angry about the cloak of secrecy surrounding the trial. Throughout the trial, the Government did their utmost to hide the facts behind Government policy. They even quoted "Spycatcher".

The hon. Member for Torbay will remember that debate. He and I were on the same side and he argued my case. He argued then that the Government should never use such a defence in a court of law. On this occasion, does he think that they should have done? The Government intervened to block five subpoenas on three Ministers and the head of the Special Air Services, with the use of public interest indemnity orders in the name of the Secretary of State for Defence—I understand that he signed them. The jury were totally unaware of those matters and if required to make a judgment—which they were not—would still have remained unaware of them, because they were inadmissible in the courts.

The truth is that, if it had not been for the trial, the public would never have known the truth of Britain's involvement in Cambodia between 1983 and 1989. Every answer over all those years always avoided identifying where the money was going and where the military support was being given. The Government did not want the truth to come out. It was only the libel trial which extracted from the Government on 25 June the statement that we had all the time been supporting two of the three factions in the non-communist coalition, but not, the Government maintained, the third—the Khmer Rouge.

However, I believe that the answer that refers to "ad hoc arrangements" and the statement of Prince Sihanouk's son suggest that some co-operation went on. The Government may have believed that they were not supporting the training of the Khmer Rouge, but the Khmer Rouge were infiltrating the camps of the two other factions in the coalition and were securing training through the back door without official knowledge and approval of the British Government. That is why they could answer all the questions in the way in which they did over all those years. If the Minister were to concede that tonight, it would make a lot of difference.

It has cost £350,000 to establish the fact that the Government trained the non-communist resistence in Cambodia. The Government could have admitted that years ago. As for Geidt and de Normann, they became the unnecessary casualties of the whole exercise. That never should have happened and it cannot be excused, but to some extent they brought it upon themselves by failing to be more forthcoming and truthful about their activities. I am not convinced that those individuals are too unhappy with the results of their actions.

11.39 pm
Mr. Jim Lestor (Broxtowe)

I apologise to the House for not being here earlier, but I have spoken in every debate on Cambodia since the issue was taken up.

The debate is about the Government's policy towards Cambodia. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) that we should now be trying to look forward as things are looking far more healthy following the recent meeting in Peking with the Supreme National Council.

We have heard a great deal about the military and about the re-running of the Pilger film. It was a profound disappointment to me to learn from the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces that we had given miltitary training from 1983 to 1989. I had defended the Government in the House against that claim on many occasions. I had argued that I did not believe that such training was possible because we believed in the Foreign Office's policy by objectives.

I could not see any possible Foreign Office objective in training two elements of the coalition force against the Phnom Penh regime. It was a profound disappointment to discover that the claims about such training were true. The Government statements were economical with the truth, and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is now investigating the matter, because we do not feel that the manner in which those statements were given was correct.

We should now look forward. Following the conference in Peking, attended by the Minister's representatives, where do we stand now? Where do we stand in terms of aid to Phnom Penh and Cambodia? The Supreme National Council will form in the capital and it will represent all the groups. What are the priorities in terms of aid? I believe that there are three.

The first and foremost priority, as we understand it from representatives of the Phnom Penh regime, is English language training. They are desperately anxious for that, and we could undertake that relatively quickly. Secondly, it is equally important that a de-mining programme is undertaken soon. It is essential that the many mines that were laid in that poor country by all sides, and which are extracting terrible casualties from the civilan population, should be removed quickly. Thirdly, plans should be drawn up to bring in United Nations organisations to restore the infrastructure—the roads and the telecommunications system—as quickly as possible.

We should plan to act on those essentials as quickly as possible once the Supreme National Council resumes its role in Phnom Penh.

11.42 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

Those of us who have taken a long interest in Cambodia would have a lot to say tonight if there were time to say it. However, I am anxious that the Minister should have time to answer in detail the questions put to him by my hon. Friends. It is important that he should set the record straight today.

Over the years as the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said, the Government have all too often been economical with the truth. They have misled Parliament continuously, and at least seven Ministers are responsible for that.

Although I share my hon. Friend's disappointment and anger about what happened in the past, I want to talk about the aid and future needs of Cambodia. Cambodia has 20,000 mine amputees for whom we bear considerable responsibility, and 86,000 displaced people due to the ongoing civil war, for which we also share much of the responsibility.

Last April, a consortium of non-governmental organisations called for $12 million. So far, the response has been $500,000. The Government and the European Community should respond to that request. The 300,000 refugees on the Thai-Cambodian border have been there since 1979, and we now hope that they will have a future in a peaceful Cambodia. It is encouraging that the factions are talking and that there is an agreed international ceasefire.

However, Ministers must be accountable to Parliament. The former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made that point in the House just a couple of weeks ago. Other democracies do not have the same paranoia about national security as our Government seem to have. They seem to be able to accommodate secrecy and security without dashing for cover and invoking public immunity orders at the drop of a hat. It is ironic that former eastern bloc countries are looking at ways to make their security services accountable to an independent body. Even the KGB now has a press officer.

As Melanie Phillips said in The Guardian last Friday: The law in Britain at the moment makes it a criminal offence to disclose anything about the security services … but a law which puts an arm of a State outside the law is immoral, undemocratic and wrong. In a democratic country there should be one test—whether people are allowed access to enough information to meet their needs as citizens and to ensure that their servants are running the country properly. Although we all recognise that secrecy is sometimes in the public interest, we should also expect that, in a democracy, disclosure can sometimes be in the public interest. Until that is recognised, the elected members of the Opposition are in no doubt that the Government's first priority has been to mislead Parliament and the public continuously between 1983 and 1989 over their activities in Cambodia. As my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) have said, the Government owe us an explanation and, most of all, they owe the people of Cambodia an abject apology.

11.47 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) on raising this important subject once again. I am pleased that we are debating it again this evening. It is not a subject for which I am responsible in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but, each time that it comes back for debate, I find that my interest for and concern about the subject grows.

I am on good personal terms with virtually all hon. Members who have participated in the debate, even when they allege a cover up, which I utterly refute. I am grateful to my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and for Torbay (Mr. Allason) for saying that we should look to the future, and to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester).

The hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) said that he would be met with some bluster by me. I wish to say something that will be controversial, but I shall say it at the outset because I do not seek to shirk it. I shall not elaborate tonight on the written answer of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces..

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Why not?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Well, I do not believe that anyone thinks that I shall do so, because, at the end of that written answer, my right hon. Friend said that that was as far as the Government were prepared to go at that time.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Will you confirm that that was a blocking answer under our parliamentary procedures?

Madame Deputy Speaker

That is not a matter for the Chair. It is a matter for debate.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Obviously, I recognise that hon. Members in any quarter of the House may criticise me for what I am saying, but that is the position, and I am prepared to face that criticism. Furthermore, I shall not comment on the libel actions, including the one with which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) was involved, which has not been mentioned by anyone.

I wish to comment on the interesting developments that have been taking place in the past few months. Last November, the permanent five and the co-chairmen of the Paris conference on Cambodia between France and Indonesia met in Paris to complete the task that they had already begun. of turning the five's framework into a fully worked-out draft settlement document. That document became known at the United Nations plan. It comprises those elements which the permanent five and the co-chairmen consider essential components of a comprehensive political settlement.

Hon. Members will recall that, in September 1990, all four Cambodian parties agreed to form a Supreme National Council, but because they could not agree on a chairman, the SNC could not function. Nonetheless, the Paris conference co-chairmen decided to present the draft document to SNC members in Paris on 20 and 21 December 1990. The response was mixed. There was unanimous Cambodian support for the five's framework; and the resistance members of the SNC accepted the document in its entirety. But Hun Sen and his colleagues had reservations.

Much time and effort was spent in the first six months of this year in trying to bridge the gap between the Phnom Penh regime and the resistance coalition, so that the peace process could move forward again. It was not an easy task. The resistance coalition refused to contemplate amendments to the draft settlement document, but Hun Sen could not accept the document as it stood.

A number of countries, notably the co-chairmen, Australia and Japan, suggested various ways of attempting to meet Hun Sen's concerns without alienating the resistance. But none of their proposals was wholly acceptable to the Cambodians, who appeared unwilling at that stage to compromise for the sake of peace.

In late April, however, the Paris conference cochairmen rightly concluded that it was important to restore momentum to the process if it was not to stall altogether. They therefore proposed that, although the SNC was still without a chairman, they and the SNC should meet in early June with the aim of clarifying and, if possible, resolving the issues dividing the Cambodians. More significantly, they also called on the armed forces of all the Cambodian parties to observe a temporary ceasefire from 1 May, at least until after the meeting, to enable it to take place in a constructive atmosphere.

Against the expectations of most observers, all four Cambodian parties committed themselves to observing the ceasefire—the first time that they had all agreed on such a move. That was a milestone and, as more recent events have demonstrated, a turning point in the peace process. We warmly welcomed the way in which the Cambodians were finally heeding repeated international calls for self-restraint. For the most part, the ceasefire held, to the extent that the co-chairmen and the United Nations Secretariat felt able to dispatch a small "good offices" mission to observe it. Its report was encouraging.

The success of the temporary ceasefire made the outcome of the co-chairmen's meeting with the SNC, in Jakarta on 2 and 4 June, all the more disappointing. There was continued intransigence both on the part of Hun Sen and the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen presented extensive amendments to the draft settlement document, but the Khmer Rouge refused to accept a deal between Prince Sihanouk and Hun Sen which would have resolved the problem of SNC's chairmanship. The Khmer Rouge also threatened to resume fighting in Cambodia from 6 June.

Behind the scenes, however, it was clear that Prince Sihanouk and Hun Sen were making progress towards some kind of personal rapprochement. There were also signs of a shift in China's position, perhaps indicating growing unwillingness to support the Khmer Rouge at any cost. At any rate, Prince Sihanouk seized the opportunity to assert his authority over all the Cambodian parties and convened a meeting of the SNC in Thailand from 24 to 26 June. That meeting achieved welcome, but largely unexpected, success.

It was agreed that Prince Sihanouk should be de facto chairman of the SNC—a major breakthrough—and that he should lead an SNC delegation to this year's United Nations General Assembly. Most important of all, the meeting agreed that the forces of all four Cambodian factions would continue to observe an unlimited ceasefire; and would, moreover, not receive further outside supplies of weapons. We warmly welcomed the outcome of that meeting, and congratulated Prince Sihanouk and all the Cambodian parties on their constructive and positive approach.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Minister confirm or deny that military training is still being provided by the British Government to the non-communist resistance?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I stand by the answer given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton), which was absolutely clear. I must get on—I will not give way again.

Mr. Bernie Grant

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. As this is my debate. having been granted to me by Mr. Speaker, I believe that I have a right to ask the Minister to answer the debate. He is stating some obscure Government policy, but he is not answering the questions that were raised.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

The hon. Gentleman may feel frustrated, but the points that he makes are not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

If the hon. Gentleman takes that view, he does not show his desire to see progress made in Cambodia. I should like an opportunity to continue describing what is happening.

We regarded the unlimited continuation of the ceasefire and agreement on the functioning of the SNC as important steps in the peace process, and we urged all the Cambodian parties to work for the comprehensive political settlement, which, we believed, remained the key to a lasting solution to the Cambodian conflict.

Despite that notable achievement by the Cambodians themselves—the first time that they had met on their own initiative—we and others could not fail to notice that they had not addressed the contentious issues that have for so long divided them. If there is to be a durable peace settlement, those problems cannot be ignored. Given the history of false starts that plagued the Cambodian peace process for so many years, we must avoid the temptation to be over-optimistic.

The Cambodians' willingness and ability to co-operate and achieve compromise may yet fail. None the less, the developments in Thailand did give cause for hope that we may finally be on the verge of a breakthrough that could, in the foreseeable future, bring an end to the misery and suffering of the Cambodian people.

The latest events reinforce that hope, although we continue to be cautious. Last week, an informal meeting of SNC members took place in Peking, again under Prince Sihanouk's chairmanship. It continued to take decisions in the spirit of the earlier, formal SNC meeting in Thailand. The issue of the SNC's chairmanship was finally resolved when Prince Sihanouk was unanimously elected its president. The SNC is therefore now a properly functioning body.

The meeting also agreed that Hun Sen, Hor Nam Hong, Son Sann, and Khieu Samphan would accompany Prince Sihanouk to this year's United Nations General Assembly, and that the SNC would represent Cambodia at meetings of the Mekong committee, an important body in the development of Indochina. It decided too that the next formal meeting of the SNC would take place in Bangkok in late August. In pursuit of its previous commitment to observe an unlimited ceasefire, the meeting agreed that Prince Sihanouk should ask the United Nations to send an appropriate number of UN personnel to control the ceasefire and the cessation of foreign military aid, preceded by a survey mission to establish how that control would take place.

Mention of Mr. David Colvin has been made by the hon. Member for Sunderland, South. Mr. Colvin was in Peking from 16 to 20 July. He is still on a foreign trip, and that is why he is not here. He attended, first, in the margins of the SNC's informal meeting on 16 July and then later as one of the United Kingdom's delegates at the meeting of the permanent five and co-chairmen. His record of involvement in the search for a comprehensive political settlement is exemplary, and I wish to defend him tonight.

The permanent five and the co-chairmen had already decided to take advantage of the Cambodians' meeting in Peking to hold one of their own there immediately afterwards, and they did. The five and the co-chairmen welcomed the SNC proposal that a United Nations survey mission go to Cambodia to begin the process of preparing for the military aspects of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and to consider how the United Nations Secretary-General could use his good offices to help maintain the present ceasefire.

They welcomed the Cambodians' self-imposed ceasefire and ban on receiving arms supplies and undertook to respect this decision themselves. They also agreed to meet again in Bangkok on 29 and 30 August following the SNC's meeting there, and to hold discussions with the SNC. Finally, the five and the co-chairmen "viewed positively" the sending of diplomatic representatives to the SNC after it establishes itself in Phnom Penh "in the expectation of" free and fair elections under United Nations auspices, as part of a comprehensive settlement.

I am delighted to be able to report these positive developments. Not only is there renewed and sustainable momentum in the peace process. All the Cambodian factions have at last recognised the need for co-operation, consensus and compromise if there is to be peace in Cambodia. They are demonstrating this in their willingness to work together. Their commitment to ensure that the fighting stops and cannot begin again will create the right atmosphere for negotiation, and relieve the suffering of the Cambodian people.

Much work remains to be done. The Cambodians have still to tackle the divisive issues, and a major task of the five and co-chairmen in coming weeks will be to encourage constructive discussion of these difficult areas. But the more the Cambodians can agree among themselves, the easier the task for the United Nations will be. The Cambodians have been left in no doubt that, if they want the support and assistance of the international community, they must work together with the permanent five, the co-chairmen and, in due course, the Paris conference on Cambodia to produce an agreement which is acceptable to all, Cambodians and the United Nations alike. In practice, that means a comprehensive agreement, including all the elements which the five and the co-chairmen have already judged indispensable.

We shall continue to play our full part, both as a permanent member of the Security Council and with our other friends and partners, in these renewed efforts to end 12 years of conflict. A settlement would not just mean a permanent end to fighting in Cambodia and the prospect of legitimate and representative government in Phnom Penh. It would open the way to the large-scale multilateral reconstruction and development aid that Cambodia so desperately needs.

We hope that Cambodia can very quickly reap the benefits of a functioning SNC. The United Nations secretariat has already indicated that it may be willing to do business with the SNC as a government structure. The sooner the SNC takes advantage of this the better, for this in turn could enable the United Nations development programme to implement a country programme using the funds set aside for Cambodia during the past 10 years.

As my right hon. and hon. Friends have made clear to the House in the past, we shall be ready to play our part with other donors in contributing to Cambodia's aid needs in the context of a comprehensive political settlement. Meanwhile, we shall continue to support the humanitarian work of British organisations and the international agencies in Cambodia.

Our commitment to Cambodia remains undiminished. We shall do our utmost to ensure that the current momentum towards a peace settlement is sustained and strengthened. We shall continue to contribute to meeting the urgent humanitarian needs of the Cambodian people. We are committed to playing our part in implementing an internationally agreed comprehensive settlement, and we shall provide every support we can to all the Cambodian leaders who now accept that, despite the work of others, peace can be achieved only if they themselves co-operate.