HL Deb 23 February 1965 vol 263 cc794-812

8.24 p.m.

LORD BROCKWAY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy for securing a political settlement of the situation in Vietnam. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to put the Unstarred Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper. I raise this issue for four purposes. The first is to seek to end the state of war in Vietnam which has gone on now for 25 years. First, there was the resistance to the Japanese occupation, then the struggle against French colonialism, and now the civil war, with the American intervention. Secondly, I raise this issue in the hope that it may help prevent the war expanding (of which there is a real danger) to China, Russia and perhaps to the world. Thirdly, my object is to assist a settlement in the wider regions of Indo-China, Laos and Cambodia, whose internal conflicts are intensified by the war in Vietnam; and, fourthly, to help to give the people of Vietnam at last the opportunity to rebuild life on a basis of security and freedom.

We must begin our consideration of the situation to-day by going back to the Geneva Conference of 1954. That Conference was a great occasion. It gave not only promise of a settlement of the problems of South-East Asia, but also the hope of reconciliation between the West and the Communist world when hostility between them was developing dangerously. Many of us in this House will remember how we spoke at that time of our faith in the spirit of Geneva. I want to-night to pay a tribute to the part which was played at that Conference by the noble Earl, Lord Avon. I wrote him and indicated that I should be making reference to him here. I have heard that he has returned to the West Indies, and all of us will wish him a continued recovery of health when he is there.

I think that probably the noble Earl was a little surprised when I indicated that I was going to refer to him appreciatively. We had our deep and passionate differences with Lord Avon in later years, particularly in regard to Suez; but I hope that we shall remember not only the tragedy of Suez, but also the triumph of the Geneva Conference, for which he was so responsible. His inspiration at that Conference not only opened the door to peace in Indo-China, but led to the hope of peace in a wider field, and it lifted Britain at that stage to the moral leadership of the whole world. This was the more notable event because Lord Avon stood out for principles and policy which were rejected by America. He proved that Britain had the right and the power to make our independent contribution to the peace of the world. I wish we had had more of this attitude in recent years, and I hope that we shall have a return to that attitude to-day.

The General Agreement and the Declaration which were adopted at the Geneva Conference still provide the basis of peace in Vietnam. I propose to remind the House of their main provisions, because they are relevant to the present situation. They can be summarised in nine points as follows. First, cease-fire and withdrawal of military units into the two zones, one North and one South of the 17th Parallel: Clause 4 of the Declaration. Second, No Intro- duction of fresh military personnel from outside: Article 16. Third, No 1mport of war materials or weapons of any type except as replacement: Article 17. Fourth, no military base under the control of a foreign State in either of the two regrouping zones: Article 18. Fifth, neither zone to adhere to any military alliance: Article 8. Sixth, the military demarcation line is provisional and should not in any way be interpreted as constituting a political or territorial boundary: Clause 6 of the Declaration. Seventh, general elections shall be held in July, 1956, under the supervision of an International Commission, preceded by preliminary consultations between the competent representative authorities of the two zones: Clause 7. Eighth, an International Supervisory Commission composed of representatives of India, Poland and Canada to supervise the execution of the Agreement. Ninth, the members of the Conference agree to consult one another on any question which may be referred to them by the International Supervisory Commission in order to study such measures as may prove necessary to ensure that the Agreements are respected: Clause 13.

There is no doubt that the Government of the United Kingdom at that time accepted entirely both the Declaration and the Agreements. Lord Avon said at the end of the conference: On behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, I associate myself with the Final Declaration of this Conference. His concluding words were: I am quite sure that each one of us here hopes that the work which we have done will help to strengthen the forces working for peace. And that work could have had that result, had it not been for the fact that two Governments at the Geneva Conference declined to accept the Declaration and the Agreements. One was the Government of the United States; the other was the Government of South Vietnam. But in the case of the Government of the United States, Mr. Bedell Smith, its representative, did say that … it will refrain from the threat or the use of force to disturb them"— that is, the Agreements.

I do not propose to follow the sad development of succeeding events in Vietnam. They can be summarised in this way. For more than five years, as the first ten reports of the International Commission indicate, the Agreements were observed by the Government of North Vietnam and respected by China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom. But during that period, as the reports of the International Commission also indicate (and remember that India and Canada served on that Commission with Poland), the Agreements were persistently flouted by the Government of South Vietnam and the Government of the United States. After five years of frustration, the Viet Cong rebellion began. The Americans had already sent in a Military Aid Advisory Group. The American military support has now grown to 23,000 troops.

I think that it is generally recognised, and indeed widely so in America itself, that the United States has lost the war. Two-thirds of the territory of South Vietnam is now in the hands of the National Liberation Front. The Government of the United States have also failed to establish stable Governments in South Vietnam. Within the last few weeks no fewer than seven Governments of South Vietnam have come to power, and have been overthrown, with consequent utter instability. I do not think anybody in this House would pretend that those Governments were democratic or had the authority of the people.

Despite the fact that the United States Government have failed to win the war against the guerrilla forces or to establish a stable Government, in one sphere their power remains: that is, in the air. It is now evident that they have had the expectation for some time that their troops in South Vietnam would be attacked by Viet Cong. They made their preparations for reprisals upon North Vietnam if that happened. We are authoritatively informed that those plans had been prepared at least two months ago. The attacks have now been made on North Vietnam and in consequence we have the dangerous situation with which we are all faced.

My main purpose to-night is to seek a solution of this problem. I wish to put before the House six points which I believe will contribute towards it. The first is this. It is clear from what I have said that the United Kingdom is absolutely committed to the terms of the Declaration and the Agreement at the Geneva Conference. As we are committed to that Declaration and Agreement, we must consequently decline to countenance the course which the United States and the Saigon Governments have followed in South Vietnam. Secondly, a political settlement must be sought. I am quite sure that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are actively seeking one. The United Kingdom has special responsibility as co-Chairman with Russia of the Geneva Conference. There is some mystery regarding Russia's attitude, but I would urge that we should not be tied to reconvening the Geneva Conference. The important thing is to get negotiations going in whatever form.

Thirdly, I should like to ask the Minister who is to reply to-night whether we are having consultations with the Governments of the Commonwealth about this situation. It was inspiring to many of us that, in the first days when the danger developed, the Prime Minister of India should have made his declaration for a settlement by negotiation rather than by the force of arms. Both India and Canada are on the International Commission. The Geneva Agreement laid it down that any question which may be referred to the co-Chairmen by the International Supervisory Commission should be considered. I hope that we are in very close consultation with India and Canada and with other members of the Commonwealth, who might contribute very powerfully to influencing the Governments and the parties which are concerned.

Fourthly, my Lords, I would urge that the first necessity is a cease-fire. The Foreign Secretary has urged that Viet Cong should end its attacks. I hope Viet Cong will. But a cease-fire cannot be a matter for action by Viet Cong alone. There are four elements which are engaged in the fighting in South Vietnam—Viet Cong, North Vietnam, but also the Governments at Saigon and America—and any cease-fire must include all the forces which are now operating in Vietnam.

The obvious preliminary steps towards a cease-fire must be by diplomatic approaches. I believe—and I welcome the fact—that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary are already making their approaches to the United States and to Russia. I would urge that they should also make that approach to China, which, after all, this country recognises and which is even more closely involved. We should also make our views known to the Government of North Vietnam and perhaps, through that Government, to Viet Cong. I believe that if those steps were taken we could obtain a cease-fire in Vietnam if it were associated with a proposal for a conference.

The fifth point which I am putting to the House is that, after those diplomatic approaches, the United Kingdom with Russia should take the lead in calling a conference. I do not necessarily say, a renewal of the Geneva Conference. It might be a conference of Governments more directly concerned; the technique matters little. The important thing is that we should get discussions going.

My Lords, I believe that prospects are favourable for a settlement if we can bring that conference together. Not only the articles which have appeared in The Guardian, from my friend the Member for Nottingham, Ashfield, in another place, but other sources, have indicated that North Vietnam and Viet Cong would now accept terms of a settlement which would certainly be welcomed by any Government which endorsed the Geneva Agreement, and which I think America would find it very difficult to reject. Those terms are, first, that there shall still be two Governments in North and South Vietnam, in the first instance, allowing events to determine in the future when reunification takes place. Secondly, the Government of South Vietnam shall be a national Government including Viet Cong, but also other representative sections of the people of South Vietnam. One would have hoped that the experience of these last few months had shown that, unless one does have a representative Government of that character, there can be no stable Government in South Vietnam.

Thirdly—and this is tremendously important—the Government of South Vietnam would be both politically and militarily disengaged, both from the Communist bloc and from the Western bloc. Fourthly, the Government of North Vietnam would be militarily disengaged from the Communist bloc and, quite clearly, from the Western bloc. It is too much to ask that it shall be politically disengaged, though I express the view from what knowledge I have that the Government of North Vietnam is not likely to come under the tutelage either of China or of Russia. It is much more likely to become the Yugoslavia of the Asian Continent. The above conditions would involve the withdrawal of United States troops and the closing of its bases in South Vietnam, and a prohibition upon the United States of further military equipment. But, equally, they would involve the withdrawal of military aid by North Vietnam or China or Russia to the Viet Cong. They would neutralise South Vietnam completely both militarily and politically. Surely these proposals provide the opportunity for, at least, negotiations.

I want to make two concluding points. The first is that there is great hope today in the reaction of American opinion to this situation. Their soldiers were killed. It is natural in that situation that there should be a feeling of indignation and that passions should rise. One pays tribute to the maturity of American opinion to-day, because despite that intense feeling the Americans have looked at this situation in a realistic way, and with the hope of peace.

The second point is that I want to make a great appeal to my own Party and to my own leadership. We are dedicated to the cause of the freedom of peoples and the peace of the world. In this House we have an honoured Member who has served both these causes with unique courage and imagination, Lord Attlee. Under his guidance the nationhood of other Asian peoples—India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Burma—was recognised. More than that. At a moment of great danger to the peace of the world, in a situation not dissimilar from to-day's, when many people in Washington were thinking in terms of bombing China across the Korean border, my noble friend Lord Attlee flew to Washington and dissuaded the President from that course of action. I do not believe it is too much to say that he may have saved the world from war by that initiative. The danger is with us now. I ask the Prime Minister, I ask the Foreign Secretary, I ask the Government of our Party, again to prove that the United Kingdom in its own independence can contribute by its initiative to the freedom of peoples and to the peace of the world.

8.51 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to speak in support of the Question which my noble friend Lord Brockway has put on the Order Paper. I agree with a considerable amount of his speech. I think also that he has rendered a service in raising this matter at this time. My Lords, there is no doubt of the widespread concern about the South Vietnam situation. It is the most dangerous crisis point in the world at this moment. We know that during recent weeks the situation has gravely deteriorated and there is a growing fear that the conflict may degenerate into a dangerous threat to world peace. The situation has been greatly complicated by the absence, as my noble friend pointed out, of political stability in South Vietnam itself. He used the figure seven, but my investigation shows that there have been at least ten political crises in Saigon within the short period of fourteen months. This seems incredible irresponsibility in the face of persistent internal troubles and is bound to discourage the support of the people, whose conditions are in a deplorable state.

I am not going to spend time reviewing the events which have helped to produce this complex and critical situation. My noble friend covered the ground adequately for the purposes of this debate. I want to confine myself to only a few of the points that belong to the present situation, and in this I am not going to apportion praise or blame. I need only remind your Lordships that in recent weeks there have been damaging armed attacks by the Viet Cong guerrillas against the South Vietnam Government forces and positions, one attack involving serious loss of American lives. This was followed by retaliatory air action by the United States of America and South Vietnam against limited military targets in North Vietnam which were said to be centres of support and supply for the Viet Cong guerrillas in the South.

My Lords, here is the heart of the danger. It seems to be generally accepted that North Vietnam has for a long time been furnishing the Viet Cong rebels with men highly trained in jungle warfare, as well as training Viet Cong reinforcements, and that it has been providing military equipment, ammunition, direction and organisation for Viet Cong operations. So long as North Vietnam continues to make available these various forms of military aid there will be constant danger of incidents involving retaliation. So far, Hanoi has not shown any evidence that this aid will stop, except on terms which will not be accepted. Their main demand is the withdrawal of all American military personnel from the country. On the other hand, the United States Government have repeatedly made it clear that they seek no wider war, and that they are acting, on the invitation of the South Vietnam Government, merely in defence of the independence and security of South Vietnam which is faced with a rebellion encouraged and supported by men, arms and direction from the North.

If following armed attacks involving American lives the Americans decided to retaliate on a big enough scale against North Vietnam, there can be little doubt that it could inflict such damage as to put a stop to North Vietnamese intervention. But it is just as surely true that such an enterprise would bring about Chinese and perhaps also Russian intervention. There would be almost certain danger of another Korea. Nobody wants this to happen: neither the United States of America, nor China, nor Russia. However, for the Americans to pull out without a guaranteed peace settlement would leave South Vietnam to a predictable fate because it is certain that North Vietnam would continue to aid the Communist Viet Cong.

There would be other serious consequences. American and other non-Communist influences in South-East Asia generally would be fatally weakened. The whole of South-East Asia would become a Chinese sphere of influence, which means that it would pass under the domination of Chinese Communist Imperialism. It would not be long before Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and even Malaysia, which is already defending its independence against Indonesian confrontation, would be in danger. And it might not end there. Even now one asks: What is the purpose of the 13 to 16 Chinese divisions which have been concentrated near India's border with Tibet, and the new air bases which have just been constructed?

My Lords, there is the dilemma. The United States are not ready to withdraw unless there is a real settlement: North Vietnam is not ready to stop its interventionist activities unless the Americans leave—and what is at stake is the peace of the world. Yet surely no one believes that a satisfactory solution can be found by military means. The only alternative, as my noble friend has said, is a negotiated settlement. What is urgently needed is to get a cease-fire followed by a peace conference. Various suggestions have been advanced to this end from different quarters. One is for a Far Eastern Summit Conference, where America and China would come together, face to face. Another is that the Geneva Conference should be reconvened. A third is that the Johnson-Kosygin meeting, forecast to take place before the end of this year, should be advanced, and that they should consider as the first item on their agenda the issuing of an invitation to China to attend.

One thing is certain: there will not be stable peace in South-East Asia until the United States and China have arrived at some form of working understanding which will remove the danger of direct and indirect conflict between them. I know—indeed, we all know—that it is not within the power of Her Majesty's Government alone to bring the opposing parties together. But no doubt, as my noble friend has said, the Soviet Government could use its influence with Peking and Her Majesty's Government could seek to use persuasion in Washington. I believe that a co-operative initiative rests in the hands of these two Governments, who are responsible for the co-chairmanship of the Geneva Conference—and it should be used.

I hope, therefore, that my noble friend the Minister of State, who is to reply, may be able to assure the House that Her Majesty's Government are engaged in a diplomatic initiative. I am not concerned here to urge the particular form of conference that should be held: that is obviously a matter to be agreed by the participants. The important thing at this stage—and this I would emphasise in conclusion—is to get private discussions going to bring about, first, a cease-fire, and, secondly, an early resort to negotiations; and I hope we may be told that Her Majesty's Government are now actively engaged in that urgent task.

9.4 p.m.


My Lords. I feel that we should thank my noble friend for giving this House an opportunity of debating, even at this late hour and in a House where there are few Members present, a matter which should be of the greatest concern to every Government in the world. I am quite sure that there are representative people in America who are astonished to learn that our Parliament has failed so far to give adequate time to debates on this subject.

Like other noble Lords here, every Sunday night I am accustomed to listen to Mr. Alistair Cooke's comments on the radio on American affairs. Mr. Cooke was born in England but has lived in America, and I would say that he represents the liberal voice of the United States with, of course, a strong bias towards this country. It is significant that on these last two Sundays his broadcasts have dealt exclusively with Vietnam, which rather suggests that he considers the matter of such concern that he, as an experienced journalist and commentator, was prepared to risk the disapproval of the millions who listen to him who would have preferred something of a more entertaining character.

I believe that these two broadcasts were deliberately arranged in order to focus the attention of the people in this country on the seriousness of the situation. It seemed to me that Mr. Cooke was subject to some considerable strain in defending his adopted country—for his knowledge, common sense and, surely, his international background must incline him towards the views of the increasing number of Americans who are looking at the whole picture anew. He said on the radio that the newspapers in America were full of letters and articles criticising the situation in Vietnam.

My Lords, one can judge President Johnson only from what we hear of him, and see of him on our television screens, but one is inclined, I think, to suspect that President Johnson, in his heart, must be eager to wind up the Vietnam commitment. But, as Mr. Cooke asked—and he specifically posed this question on the radio on Sunday night: How can this be done without losing face? Indeed, it was a most remarkable broadcast because in his peroration, if I may so call his winding-up remarks, he said: To anybody who is listening to me now I ask you to write to the White House. And after all, one cannot be jocular about matters of this kind.

The question he had posed was a most curious rhetorical one; nevertheless, it indicated that this man, who is a well-known world commentator, was asking this country to help by raising its voice in those quarters where it might be likely to be heard. There is no doubt about this. After years of warfare it would be difficult to try to save your face without exacerbating partisan passions; and we know that President Johnson, quite understandably, is very anxious to present, if possible, an all-Party face to the world in international matters. But it seems to me not only that Britain can help, by back-stairs methods—and all those who have been in Government know well that diplomacy in this respect is of the utmost importance—but that our diplomats surely can be helped if those who have a great deal of knowledge, sympathy and understanding of the position would ventilate the whole question and thereby assist in educating politically those Americans who are obsessed with this fear of losing face.

There are two aspects of war which my noble friend has mentioned but which have to be brought home, I think, to the Americans. First, in 1954, when the Fourteen-Nation Conference on Indo-China met in Geneva and arranged the cease-fire, when Vietnam was partitioned many Communist soldiers were left South of the armistice line; so that the war in Vietnam has all the makings of a civil war in which no other country should be associated. Second, it was decided that Vietnam should be united after free elections, and every country concerned with this decision signed the agreement, with the exception of John Foster Dulles, for the United States. There are, I suppose, sections in America who feel they must be loyal to John Foster Dulles and his very serious omission.

Undoubtedly this fear of "losing face" has been responsible on untold occasions for precipitate action which has resulted in war with its ever-widening consequences. When I read about the First World War and about the Second World War, I find historians saying time and time again that if only at a certain stage somebody had raised his voice…. But once you are committed, those who are responsible for conducting war are desperately afraid (if I might say this, as a woman) in a schoolboy fashion, of criticism of themselves on the grounds of lack of courage. The Korean war might have ended in disaster if General MacArthur had not been replaced, following his decision that the bombing of the Chinese mainland was essential to success. But President Truman took decisive action which might have been interpreted by some in America as weakness in the face of the enemy. Again, not long ago, President Kennedy blockaded Cuba to prevent more arms from reaching the country. Mr. Khrushchev, a shrewd and realistic head of a powerful nation, removed the missiles from Cuba rather than precipitate war. In the light of history, could one say that the stature of Mr. Truman and Mr. Khrushchev as statesmen had been diminished by their decisions?



On the contrary, as we look back we say that these men had the courage to say: "This thing shall not be done." I say this as a politician: it takes a big man to make decisions which court unpopularity. The small man can always be relied upon to do the popular thing. And I dare say it requires an act of courage in certain circumstances to admit defeat.

The time has come when the fighting in Vietnam should be stopped. Apart from the loss of life and the waste of valuable resources, this war must be doing untold harm to the United States' image in the uncommitted nations of the world. Of course, the best facesaving organisation which has been contrived is the United Nations Organisation, and it is a matter of serious concern that at this time the General Assembly appears to be suffering from a near-fatal illness. Of course, the Security Council could be called upon to conduct a peacekeeping operation; but unfortunately the Security Council no longer commands confidence among the smaller Powers. Undoubtedly, the Charter is out of date, particularly Chapter 7, which gives major powers to the Security Council, when world opinion regards the General Assembly as being the more fully representative body.

In Vietnam—we have to say this—the United States are taking on the mantle of the United Nations but without the authority. The motives of the United States and of the United Nations are very different. The United States are trying to promote their method of government as against what they consider to be the intolerable system of Communism. The United Nations, on the other hand, is a peace-keeping body, which endeavours to encourage warring countries to co-exist. The United States persistence in intervention in Vietnam has resulted in prosecuting war between two ideologies.

Finally, let me say that a war which the whole world views with apprehension should not be encouraged. And we, in this Parliament of ours, must be allowed the privilege of being critical of American policy, because, after all, that is the prerogative of a true friend.

9.17 p.m.


My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. I cannot agree, of course, with all his views on this pressing and difficult problem, especially with his picture of the etiology of the present Vietnam situation—indeed, I suppose that he would not expect me to—but, if I may, I should like to pay a tribute to the sincerity and compassion of his approach to the debate and to the depth of his knowledge and experience. His resume of the history of the Geneva Agreements was a valuable background for this short debate, and the five points which he put forward towards the end of his remarks were in general helpful and constructive. Here again, he will not expect the Government to accept them all. Nevertheless, I am grateful to him for the deep thought he has clearly given to this subject. I am most grateful, too, for the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill. They were, as one might have expected, both knowledgeable and constructive. I found the remarks of the noble Baroness particularly moving, although perhaps I may take her up on one point and say that the problem of face-saving is not all on one side.

Instead of commenting in detail on what has been said, perhaps I may most aptly begin by answering, so far as I am able to do so, the Question that stands on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway. My right honourable friends are deeply concerned with the situation in Vietnam and we hope that Her Majesty's Government can play a really effective part in resolving the present problems and in arriving at a basis for a peaceful settlement. I can say that to this end we have been actively engaged in diplomatic consultations of a confidential nature. These consultations are still going on, and I hope that the House will understand that it would be unwise to prejudice the results of much patient and discreet diplomacy by making some premature public announcement. However, I can assure your Lordships that, as soon as it is possible to do so, I will inform the House of the progress we have made and of the further action which we consider could most fruitfully lead to an end to the fighting and to an eventual settlement. I am sure your Lordships will agree that it would be irresponsible in the extreme to endanger the success of these very delicate consultations by revealing either their scope or their nature now, even though to do so might resolve some of the doubts that quite clearly exist in the minds of my noble friends. I can, however, say that we have been in close and continuous touch at diplomatic level with the members of the Commonwealth, especially those most closely concerned with this problem.

I think it might be of interest to your Lordships if I briefly outlined some of the principles which are guiding Her Majesty's Government in their consultations. The policy of the Government is to promote and support the right of the people of South Vietnam to conduct their own affairs without interference from the North, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, to enable them to build their lives upon a secure and peaceful foundation. And I think I should make it clear here that the Viet Cong activities in the South are not, as has sometimes been suggested, purely and simply operations of an indigenous force or a national liberal front against the Government in power. They are, as we have heard, given help, comfort and support from North Vietnam. If these operations and North Vietnamese support for them were to come to an end, then I think we might be able to look forward realistically to some sort of peaceful settlement in the area. As the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said, a cease-fire cannot be unilateral; it must be multilateral. The Government, of course, accept this. But I must confess that I find it difficult to see how this can be achieved so long as the present Viet Cong attacks continue.

It has been suggested, too, that the present delicate and serious situation in Vietnam—and the Government accept that it is serious—has been brought about, or at least aggravated, by the American action in attacking military targets in North Vietnam. I must tell your Lord-ships that this is not the view of Her Majesty's Government. We regard these American operations as a carefully limited response to attacks made on their soldiers and their military units in South Vietnam. What they have done is to draw attention to the gravity of dangers that have existed, as we have heard, for many years. It is, I think, naive to suggest, on the one hand, that these American counter measures were carried out suddenly and without warning, or to suggest, on the other hand, that the United States are in some way to blame for preparing these counter-measures in advance.

The United Stales Government have, in fact—and this is public knowledge to everyone—given repeated and clear warnings of the extent to which they intend to exercise their right of self-defence, and their recent response to Viet Cong attacks should have surprised no one. Indeed, I do not believe the United States Government could have reacted in any other way. Moreover, as President Johnson has repeatedly made clear—this was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and President Johnson last said this on February 17—the United States seek no wider war in South-East Asia. I must tell your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government are determined to maintain the closest collaboration with the United States Government in their efforts to seek a peaceful solution in Indo-China.

A persistent element in the concern that Her Majesty's Government should take some initiative towards securing a possible solution in Vietnam has been that it should be in the context of their co-chairmanship of the Geneva Conference. But I would ask my noble friends to bear in mind that the 1954 Geneva Agreement did not, in fact, make any provision for Britain and Russia to continue to exercise the duties of co-Chairman. It is true that since 1954 it has become customary to regard Britain and Russia as having a special responsibility for trying to see that the Geneva Agreements are observed. This, however, I must emphasise, has been entirely informal; it has depended solely upon the voluntary co-operation of the two Governments concerned. Indeed, only in respect of Laos, under the terms of the 1962 Agreement, was it given any formal expression.

I think it important to point out, especially to those who say that there is some mystery about the Soviet Government's attitude to this, that they have reminded us very recently that the 1954 agreements contain no provision for the continuing exercise of any special functions by the co-Chairmen. I do not think it will be possible to resolve this grave situation in Vietnam without the active collaboration of all the Powers chiefly concerned in the dispute. Of course, this includes the Soviet Government, and the Soviet Government are aware of our views.

I think, however, that, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, has said, it would be much too narrow an approach to begin talking about a Geneva Conference. I suggest that it is no good going to Geneva or anywhere else and sitting round a table to discuss Vietnam disarmament, trade, or anything else, unless there are some firm and constructive proposals to be put forward and unless there is a basis for a settlement. Once we arrive at the basis for a settlement, the means of negotiation can be arranged quite easily. When the political will to arrive at a solution of these problems exists, the machinery for doing so is a matter of the utmost simplicity.

I should like, if your Lordships will permit me, to sum up the attitude of Her Majesty's Government by repeating that we are deeply concerned with the situation in Vietnam. We will continue to seek for a means within our power to achieve a peaceful settlement, but we insist that the first need is some indication of readiness to do so on the part of the North Vietnamese. Meanwhile, I should hope, in spite of the very real concern that must exist in the minds of all of us about the brutal and wasteful fighting that is going on in Indo-China, that we shall find it possible to keep a sense of proportion about it. We should recall (and, indeed, we have been reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway) that there has been fighting in Vietnam, on and off, for over twenty years. When some particularly violent episode occurs, such as the destruction of the American barracks by the Viet Cong, or the sharp and prompt retaliation by the aircraft of the United States Seventh Fleet, of course people become more actively aware of the problem. The war, for a little while, comes a little closer to all of us.

So far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, these latest events add a real sense of urgency to all the efforts which have been made and which, I repeat, are now in progress towards a peaceful solution. In this context, I think we should do well to remind ourselves that in recent years the United States has made a notable and courageous contribution to the defence of freedom all over the world. I believe, in conclusion, that if the Powers chiefly concerned in this terrible problem can finally arrive at a basis for negotiation, all of us, all those countries that have taken part in these efforts, will have earned the gratitude of scores of millions of people in South-East Asia.

9.28 p.m.


My Lords, I will not keep your Lordships a moment at this time of night, but I should not like the House to adjourn without saying that I welcome the well-balanced and clear statement which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont. I should like to add that I am satisfied that Her Majesty's Government are just as anxious and just as active in the cause of peace as those who are pressing them to be more active than they are. It is a very delicate, very complex situation in Vietnam. There may well be scope for the friends of the United States to give advice which will lead to a peaceful solution, for which, of course, we all hope. But I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Chalfont, balanced that by pointing out that South Vietnam is an independent country which has a right to freedom; that it is entitled to its independence, and that for some years it has been the victim of open, brazen aggression on the part of the Communists in the North.

I will conclude by just saying that I have every sympathy with the six points which were put by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, and I would only add one more point of my own. To his statement that we were dedicated to the freedom of peoples and to the cause of peace, I would just add that we shall not necessarily advance the cause of peace by surrendering to Chinese imperialism, or the freedom of peoples by deserting our Allies.