HL Deb 07 May 1952 vol 176 cc691-4

4.8 p.m.


My Lords, if the House will allow me to delay for a few moments the welcome which it would desire to give to a maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I would ask leave to make to your Lordships a Statement which my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, has just made in another place on the subject of the Korean Armistice negotiations. The Statement is as follows:

"The United Nations Command have now made public the terms of the offer which the United Nations negotiators made to the Communists on April 28 in the Korean armistice talks. The United Nations Command, for its part, offered to agree that the armistice provisions should make no reference to the reconstruction or rehabilitation of airfields. As the House will remember, this is a question to which the United Nations Command has hitherto attached very great importance, in view of its responsibility for the security of United Nations forces after the conclusion of an armistice. It has nevertheless been found possible to abandon our insistence on this point, provided a satisfactory solution can be obtained on the other outstanding questions. This proves once again the willingness of the United Nations Command to stretch the limits of concession to the utmost in their earnest desire to reach a just and honourable settlement.

"Secondly, the United Nations Command have expressed their readiness to accept the Communist nomination of Poland and Czechoslovakia for membership of the neutral commission for the supervision of the armistice, provided that the Communists would accept the nomination by the United Nations Command of Sweden and Switzerland in the same capacity. I think that the House will feel that this solution, to say the least of it, would not be likely to load the scales against the Communists in matters of armistice supervision. Finally, the suggested solution provides that the United Nations Command would exchange the 70,000 persons approximately who do not refuse to be repatriated, for the 12,000 men of the United Nations Command whom the Communists state they are now holding as prisoners-of-war. Following an armistice, the United Nations Command would still be willing to permit any suitable international body, or joint Red Cross teams, together with observers from both sides, to interview persons held by the United Nations Command who have indicated that they would physically oppose repatriation. If it were then found that there were additional persons who would not so object, these would be promptly returned to the Communists.

"In this connection, I think the House will wish to hear briefly how the investigation was conducted which established that only about 70,000 out of the 132,000 prisoners-of-war held by the United Nations Command would not violently object to repatriation. Written notices were posted in the prisoner-of-war camps, and announcements were made over the public-address system there, to the effect that all prisoners were to be interrogated by impartial United Nations Command personnel to decide who would want to be repatriated and who had compelling reasons for refusing repatriation. The extreme importance of the decision and its likely effects on prisoners' families within Communist territories were emphasised. The fullest publicity was given to an official statement issued by the Communist authorities on April 4 offering an amnesty to all returned prisoners-of-war, whatever their conduct in camp. Prisoners were then interrogated individually and privately by interrogators carefully selected by the United Nations Command, and only those who expressed their determination to resist repatriation were excluded. There was thus no question of pressure being put on prisoners not to return.

"In view of the scrupulous fairness of this interrogation, and of the offer made by the United Nations Command to the Communists for subsequent rechecking by independent bodies with Communist observers present, I am sure the House will feel that the United Nations Command has had no alternative but to resist the forced repatriation of Communist prisoners-of-war who have shown such a strong determination to remain in the free world. I will not dwell on the practical difficulties of forcibly repatriating more than 62,000 men, many of whom could be expected to attempt suicide on the way. It would, I think, clearly be repugnant to the sense of values of the free world to send these men home by force. It would make a deplorable impression on fair and liberal-minded opinion all over the world and would go far to cancel out the effect made on world opinion by the evident firmness of purpose underlying the United Nations resistance to aggression in Korea.

"The Communists were invited to consider this offer as a whole and not as a series of proposals, each open to separate discussion. It represents the limit of possible concession. At the same lime it is a just offer, which the Communists could accept with confidence, providing they are, as I assume them to be, no less sincere than the United Nations Command in their wish for a settlement of the Korean conflict. The Communist negotiators have not accepted this offer. They have instead put forward a counter-proposal under which the nomination of the Soviet Union as a neutral nation is withdrawn, but at the same time they have continued to reject the right of prisoners of-war to decline repatriation after an armistice.

"This is, of course, the essential point of principle on which the United Nations Command are not prepared to compromise. The United Nations Command have shown great patience in explaining and discussing their proposal in further closed plenary sessions. The time has now come when it is right that the world should know the terms of the United Nations Command's offer and the nature of its reception. The United Nations Command will, as always, be ready to carry on the meetings with the Communist negotiators and to continue the search for acceptable terms for an armistice; but it must be clearly understood that the United Nations Command will not agree to force prisoners-of-war to be repatriated against their will."

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Marquess for the Statement he has made. I shall content myself merely by saying that if the Communist desire for an armistice is really genuine, then, in the terms announced to-day, they obviously have something which they ought to consider immediately.

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