HL Deb 26 January 1955 vol 190 cc743-6

3.43 p.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now venture to answer the Question of which the noble and learned Earl, the Leader of the Opposition, gave me private notice at an earlier stage.

Her Majesty's Government have been in close and constant touch with the United States Government in recent months concerning the dangerous situation arising out of Chinese Communist attacks upon the islands off the coast of China near the Formosa Straits. We have also, of course, maintained close contact with the Governments of the Commonwealth, and particularly with Her Majesty's Government in New Zealand, which is the other Commonwealth member of the Security Council of the United Nations, and its present Chairman.

These small islands have been in Chinese Nationalist hands ever since the Japanese surrender in 1945. There had been a lull in attacks upon them between 1949 and 1954, but attacks were resumed in August last, shortly after the fighting had been ended in Indo-China by the Geneva settlement. The attacks were accompanied by a marked increase in the vehemence of Chinese Communist demands for the transfer of Formosa to the administration of the Chinese Communist Government.

In this situation the first concern of Her Majesty's Government has been and is to stop the fighting. They have, therefore, continued to urge on all concerned the importance of doing this and of preventing a wider conflagration. Force is not the solution of these delicate and difficult problems. A settlement can be arrived at only by the peaceful process of patient negotiation. Her Majesty's Government are convinced that the object of the United States administration has also been to reduce the risks of any extension of the fighting. Their treaty with General Chiang Kai-shek, which defines their commitments, was concluded with this object in view.

President Eisenhower, in his recent message to Congress, has been careful to say that he is not suggesting that the United States should enlarge its defensive obligations beyond Formosa and the Pescadores as provided by the Mutual Defence Treaty with General Chiang Kai-shek. The President has again emphasised the purely defensive nature of the arrangements with the Chinese Nationalists. We in this country respect President Eisenhower and know that he would sanction the use of United States forces only with the greatest reluctance and when, in his view, the circumstances constituted an immediate and serious threat to the security of Formosa and the Pescadores. This is not a new element in United States policy. On the other hand, Her Majesty's Government also understand that in the matter of the coastal islands the Chinese Government cannot be expected to act in such a way as might seem to prejudice what they regard as their rights.

We are, however, convinced that the problem of the coastal islands is susceptible of a peaceful solution if only all concerned are prepared to work for it. In consultation with the United States and other friendly Governments, Her Majesty's Government are examining various courses of action which might further this aim. I will give the House additional information on this subject as soon as I am in a position to do so, having regard to the international discussions which are now proceeding.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Marquess for making this most important statement. On this side of the House we desire strongly to support the policy of Her Majesty's Government in an endeavour to bring fighting to an end. We trust that this matter may be brought before the forthcoming Commonwealth Conference, so that this policy may receive the support of the entire Commonwealth. If Formosa is to be neutralised from attacks by the Communists, should not Formosa also be neutralised as a base from which attacks on the mainland may be made? We cannot embark on a debate on this matter now, but to avoid misunderstandings I should like to ask to what extent, if any we are associated with, or committed to, the policy of the United States in relation to Formosa and the Pescadores.


My Lords, I am obliged to the noble and learned Earl for what he has said, and I have noted his remarks. As regards the question that he has put to me, the position is exactly the same as it was when we last discussed this matter. Her Majesty's Government's obligation in respect of Formosa and the Pescadores is confined to those obligations arising out of their membership of the United Nations.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Marquess was not able to give a rather more specific reply to the exceedingly important question put by the noble and learned Earl the Leader of the Opposition. The House, I am sure, is glad to be informed of the course of events in a matter which is one of great delicacy and, as the Government statement has just said, one of danger. It has long been evident that the region of Formosa is one of the most sensitive points in the general world situation. For twenty years, the policy of the British Government has been not to intervene in any way in the Chinese Civil War between Nationalists and Communists. But the policy of the United States has been different; therefore whenever the local situation becomes acute this underlying difference is liable to become more apparent. Undoubtedly, the Government now are taking a wise course in exercising the virtues of prudence and restraint, and limiting themselves to endeavours to prevent warlike measures from being taken or, if they are taken, from being more widely extended. But we cannot close our eyes to the fact that a more lasting policy has to be envisaged, and the day cannot be indefinitely postponed when the status of Formosa in the future will have to be seriously considered by the British Commonwealth, by the United States and by the United Nations.