HL Deb 23 January 1951 vol 169 cc1089-98

3.56 p.m.


My Lords, the Prime Minister has just made a statement in another place on the situation in the Far East. He has supplied me with a copy for the information of your Lordships' House. The Statement is as follows:

"Before dealing with the position which has been reached in the Political Committee of the Assembly, I would ask the permission of the House to summarise very briefly the events which have taken place since I made my statement on the 14th December.

"Honourable Members will recall that on my return from Washington I reported to the House on the very full and useful discussions which I had had there with the President of the United States. We agreed that aggression must be halted, but equally that the conflict should not be extended; and that our long-range objective was to reach a stable position in the Far East.

"This in effect was a re-statement of the policy which has been followed by His Majesty's Government in regard to the Far East ever since we assumed office. It can perhaps be best defined as applying certain basic principles to the facts of the situation. In connection with China, it appeared to His Majesty's Government that the basic fact to be faced was the emergence of a new Government which was in effective control of the mainland territory of China.

"Chinese intervention in Korea produced a new and most serious situation which jeopardised the attainment of the objectives of the United Nations in Korea and threatened the success of our efforts to confine the conflict to Korea and to reach a stable position in the Far East.

"His Majesty's Government welcomed the initiative taken by a number of Asian and Middle Eastern states in December to bring about a cease-fire in Korea in order to explore the possibilities of a negotiated settlement. Their first proposals were rejected by the Chinese People's Government on the 22nd December on the grounds not only that the cease-fire principles were unacceptable in themselves, but that the Cease-Fire Committee was an illegal body because of the exclusion of representatives of the Central People's Government from the United Nations Organisation.

"In the face of this rejection, which coincided with strong military pressure endangering United Nations forces in Korea, obviously a new and very dangerous situation was created.

"Despite the rejection of their proposals for a cease-fire, the Cease-Fire Committee displayed the utmost patience and perseverance and proceeded to draft a set of general 'principles' which in their view might form the basis for a settlement in the Far East.

"Before, however, these 'principles' had been tabled at the Political Committee, Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth met in London in accordance with long-standing arrangements. It was, I venture to think, of the greatest value that, at this difficult stage in the development of the Far Eastern situation, the Prime Ministers of the free countries of the British Common-wealth, representing so many races and points of view, should have met in London for the purpose of discussing international affairs and the maintenance of world peace.

"In point of fact, much of the time of the Prime Ministers was given to the affairs of Asia, and I personally found it encouraging and stimulating to note the unanimity of purpose which animated us all. We all recognised that the problem of peace was that of removing the causes of war; of easing tension and promoting understanding, of assisting those less-developed nations which needed our aid and of being at all times willing to discuss our differences. We agreed also on the urgency and importance of promoting a satisfactory settlement in the Far East, and expressed our earnest hope that the fresh approach which had then been made in the First Committee of the Assembly might lead to a settlement of outstanding issues in the Far East.

"This fresh approach referred to the principles for a settlement which had been tabled by the Cease-Fire Committee by an overwhelming majority, though I regret that the Soviet delegate and the delegates of the satellite countries, despite all their protestations about peace, saw fit to vote against these principles. They were then referred to the Central People's Government of China.

"The Chinese reply was received on the 17th January. It seemed to His Majesty's Government that the reply, though most disappointing, did not finally close the door to negotiations. It seemed, however, to us that before we could decide on the interpretation to place upon the Chinese reply, it would be necessary to try to elucidate it, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs accordingly, on the 20th January, instructed His Majesty's Charge d'Affaires in Peking to put to the Chinese Government certain points in their reply and to request an explanation. The most important issue was the reference to a cease-fire, and on this point the Chargé d'Affaires, who was received by the Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs on the 21st January, was informed that, as the Chinese Government saw it, there should be two steps in regard to concluding the war in Korea and reaching a peaceful settlement of the Korean problem. The first step should be a cease-fire for a limited period, which could be agreed upon at the first meeting of a conference of the Powers and immediately put into effect so that negotiations might proceed. The second step, in the Chinese view, was to discuss a number of problems, among them the withdrawal of foreign (including Chinese) troops from Korea, proposals for the future of Korea itself. the withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Formosa, and other problems concerning the Far East. At the same time, the Vice-Minister made it plain to the Chargé d'Affaires that the Central People's Government of China must be given their rightful place in the United Nations Organisation.

"This then is the point which we have reached in regard to Korea. We must decide whether the Chinese reply genuinely holds out any prospect of a peaceful settlement of the Korean problem, and of relations between China and the rest of the world, on a basis in harmony with the great principles of international conduct enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.

"At the same time, it is necessary to study the Chinese reply in the con-text of what they are in fact doing and have done in Korea. Do their actions in Korea support the view that they are prepared to accept normal principles of international conduct?

"This is not an easy decision to take. The wording of the Chinese reply, even with the help of the further explanations now given to us, is not altogether clear, and we cannot be certain as to their real intentions.

"In a situation of this sort it is essential that we should continue to take counsel with our friends. In particular, we must give all weight, in this Asian dispute, to the views of Asian countries.

"As I read it, there is a general feeling amongst the countries of Asia that we must patiently pursue every possibility of a peaceful settlement with China, so that the new emerging China may be given an opportunity, should she so desire, to play her part in the community of nations on equal terms with other members.

"These are the considerations which we have in mind in considering what our policy should be in view of the resolution now tabled in the Political Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. For our part, we have not lost hope of a negotiated settlement of the Korean war, nor have we lost hope that China may yet be ready to play her traditional part in world affairs and live on friendly terms with other numbers of the world community. We are therefore of the opinion that the United Nations should not at this stage take a new and important decision.

"The Resolution at present before the Political Committee of the Assembly seeks to condemn Chinese actions in Korea as the acts of an aggressor, to invite the Collective Measures Committee to study what additional measures can be taken against China, and to set up a committee of good offices.

"It follows, from what I have said before, that His Majesty's Government welcome the proposal to set up a committee of good offices which will provide machinery for exploring every possibility of a negotiated settlement. His Majesty's Government likewise recognise the stark facts of the situation in Korea, and agree in condemning Chinese intervention in support of an aggressor which has thwarted and frustrated the purposes of the United Nations. But we do not believe that the time has yet come to consider further measures. To do so implies that we have abandoned hope of reaching a peaceful settlement, and this we have not done."

4.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Leader of the House for the full and important statement which he has given us on the latest events in the Far East. I personally feel—and in this I think I shall carry the majority of the House with me—that it would be premature for any of us, with the knowledge at present at his disposal, to try and draw any definite deductions from the latest Chinese offer. Indeed, the Government themselves say that the re- wording of the Chinese reply, even with the help of further explanations which they have now received, is not altogether clear and that we cannot be certain of their real intentions. I can assure His Majesty's Ministers that we shall all study this Statement with the greatest possible care. The noble Viscount the Leader of the House knows that it will be the object of each member of this House to avoid exacerbating an already delicate situation, but I hope that there may be some opportunity in the near future of discussing all these matters. I will not press the Government for a definite date now, but per-haps we may discuss that matter through the usual channels. That is all I have to say, except to impress upon His Majesty's Government what I am sure they already know— that is, the very great importance of our maintaining a close accord with the United States, pooling our wisdom and experience with theirs in trying to find a peaceful solution to all these problems.

4.11 p.m.


My Lords, I would join in expressing the thanks of all sections of this House for the full Statement that has been made by the noble Leader, speaking on behalf of the Prime Minister, who has made a similar Statement in the House of Commons. I should like to go a little further into the matter than the noble Marquess has felt himself able to do, for we on the Liberal Benches hold very strong views on certain points which we feel it is our duty to express. As the noble Marquess has said, it is very important that we should not allow divergencies to grow up between ourselves and the United States, imperilling a union which is essential for the maintenance of the United Nations and for the peace and well-being of the world. I think that all of us who may not find ourselves in complete agreement with some steps taken recently by the United States should. miss no opportunity of reaffirming what we have said many times, over many years —that is, that the close association of the British Commonwealth with the United States should be the keynote of the international policy of all of us.

In this matter of Korea let me say again what I have, on behalf of my noble friends, said repeatedly: that nothing can exceed our feeling of gratitude to the United States for the promptitude and energy with which at once, when the North Koreans were guilty of overt aggression against South Korea, they stepped into the arena, and on behalf of over fifty nations, and with the authority of the United Nations as a whole, and under its flag, led the forces of the freedom-loving countries of the world in measures to repel that aggression. And deeply do we sympathise with those throughout the United States who have lost so many members of their families in the heavy sacrifices that have been involved in this campaign.

This desire for close co-operation can-not, however, involve the entire suppression of our own opinions. The United States is not acting on her own behalf alone but has responsibilities to all the United Nations who are co-operating with her, and who naturally desire to carry with her their public opinions. The public opinion of this country is not, apparently, quite coincident with that which prevails at this moment in the United States. We have very special responsibilities here in Asian affairs. We cannot ignore the effect upon the fortunes of India, of Pakistan, of Malaya, and of Hong Kong, as well as of Australia and New Zealand. of a war in the Far East between the United Nations, on the one hand, and China, and probably Russia, on the other. It was most fortunate that at this very juncture a Conference of the Prime Ministers of the whole of the Commonwealth should already have been summoned. They considered these matters and they issued a pronouncement of policy, carefully considered, admirably phrased, which seemed to me as I read it—and I think will have seemed to most readers—a noble pronouncement of the true purposes that our Western civilisation should have in view in the sphere of international affairs. Its terms and its temper were wholly admirable, and the policy which is now being pursued in the difficult conditions which are being investigated at Lake Success is in accordance with that pronouncement. Very great indeed have been the services rendered by the Government of India, and particularly the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Nehru, in endeavouring to arrive at a peaceful settlement of the grave issues that are now involved.

His Majesty's Government have now told us for the first time—we did not know it before—that two days ago they communicated directly with the Government of China to elucidate certain points which had made the first answer of the Chinese Government unacceptable. They have received a reply which is similar to that recently made public from other quarters. If this second reply had been the first reply, then I think probably everyone would have regarded it as a not unpromising step towards negotiation. Although, as the noble Leader has said on behalf of the Government, some points need further elucidation, the reply does embody answers not unsatisfactory—I will not say satisfactory, but not unsatisfactory—with regard to several of the most crucial points that have been at issue. We cannot expect that before going into negotiations, we should first have satisfactory assurances on the very points about Which we are going to negotiate. Yet some quarters in America seem un-willing even to sit down at a table until they have assurances with regard to the future of Formosa. That is one of the very points which ought to be negotiated.

But the principal point on which there has been an advance in this second reply, compared with the first, is that the Chinese now agree that there should first be a cease-fire, and that when that has been assured, then, and only then, shall the negotiations begin. That was a matter of crucial importance, because, as has frequently and obviously rightly been said, it is impossible to negotiate so long as hostilities are actually proceeding and your own troops are being called upon to fight to defend their positions. The divergence with the United States on certain of these points has been unhappy and deeply regretted here. We should welcome it most cordially—no people in the world more cordially—if we were able to find that at least all the progressive nations in the United Nations were at one in these matters. From these Benches I say that we feel sure that the course now being pursued by His Majesty's Government is right, and we give them our cordial support. We are grateful for the Statement, and we hope that the steps they are now taking will be crowned with success.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, without expressing any opinion upon what has just fallen from the noble Viscount who leads; the Liberal Party, may I, as a private member of your Lordships' House, express the hope that on this occasion we shall be content to be guided by the advice given a few moments ago by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and not debate this matter this afternoon? Every one of us realises how difficult the situation is, and I do not think that anyone would wish to make a speech in your Lordships' House without the fullest thought and deliberation. I hope that when the opportunity comes it will be possible for members in all parts of your Lordships' House to be as fully seized of what I doubt not is the American point of view in these matters as they are rightly seized of our own. As was stated by the Leader of the Opposition and by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, I do not believe that there is any matter upon which your Lordships' House is more fundamentally at one than that in this critical business it is vital that the United States and the British Commonwealth should move and remain together.

4.20 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely agree with what has fallen from the noble Earl, Lord Halifax, about the inopportuneness of debating in detail at this moment what has been said to your Lordships by my noble friend the Leader of the House, although we have had a considerable and very interesting contribution from the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. I think there are two things that require to be said. The first is this. With regard to the Statement itself, which has outlined to your Lordships the actions which have been taken by His Majesty's Government in this difficult situation during the time of our Recess, and also refer-ring to the most important meetings of the Prime Ministers of the Common-wealth, I think it right to say that, so far as I can judge (and I have been about the country a good deal in the last few weeks, and have met all kinds of people), what His Majesty's Government have done, with regard, first, to the recognition of the present Government of China, secondly, to dissociating ourselves from any hasty action with regard to Formosa, thirdly, to our joint action in supporting the United Nations in resisting aggression in Korea, and, fourthly, our most recent action, has carried the great bulk of public opinion with them.

The second thing I have to say is this. Besides what has occurred in the Far East, a great deal has happened since your Lordships rose for the Recess. I was waiting. I confess, to hear in She Statement something about the negotiations for a Four-Power Conference with the Russian Government. There have been exchanges of Notes, and a good deal of coming and going, and I am going to ask my noble friend whether he will consider it right, in collaboration with his colleagues of the Government, that we should at a fairly early stage have a statement on that subject, which after all is much nearer home. I think it is essential at the present time that too much attention should not be distracted to what is happening in the Far East, to the detriment of our attention being devoted to the equally important situation in Europe.


My Lords, I can say only that I thank noble Lords for what they have said. I can assure the noble Viscount opposite that I will keep him as fully informed as possible, and, whenever it is deemed to be useful and convenient, arrange such opportunities as may be desired for discussing these matters.

House adjourned at twenty-three minutes past four o'clock.