HL Deb 23 March 1965 vol 264 cc567-94

6.23 p.m.

LORD KENNET rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their longterm policy in Asia. The noble Lord said: My Lords, my Question this evening is to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their long-term policy in Asia. This Question means exactly what it says, and the thought behind it is a perfectly sincere request for information. I do not propose to speak about the short-term policy of Her Majesty's Government in Asia, or, indeed, about the short-term policy of the United States Government in Asia, except in so far as they are connected with the longterm policy of our own Government there, which is a matter that I feel has received insufficient airing in Parliament and in public since the last Election.

If you see a man setting out from Glasgow in a southward direction, as we see our Government now setting out in a certain direction in Asia, it is not very interesting to spend a lot of time debating whether he is going, or ought to be going, through Lancaster or through York or through Sunderland. But it may be a topic of the most intense interest, which should be debated, whether he is going to London or to Bristol or to Plymouth, and what the final end of his journey may be. This is the question to which I wish to direct the attention of the House this evening. Where do we want to be in Asia in ten or fifteen years' time?

Let me first speak for a moment about India and our policy towards that country. Ever since the Chinese attacked in 1962, we and the United States have been strengthening the armed forces of India. India is a country of about 400 million inhabitants; China is a country of getting on for 800 million—nearly twice the size. Is it our intention to make India as strong in conventional weapons as China has the potentiality to be in ten years, or is that not our intention? If it is our intention, I fear that it may be very difficult, and that it may be a great drain on our economy if we have to pay for any of it, and certainly on the Indian economy if they have to pay for the whole of it. If it is not our intention to do so, then are we not bound to rely on whatever confidence we may have that the Chinese are not going to attack India again or, at least, not invade her and subjugate her? If we have any degree of confidence in that direction, why should we spend any money or effort at all on strengthening India against something which we are confident will not happen?

China, as we all know only too well, has recently become a nuclear power. We also know that there is very strong political pressure in India for India to become a nuclear power, in order to deter a possible Chinese attack backed with nuclear weapons. What are our intentions in this respect? There have been some statements from the Government and highly tentative feelers put out about a possible nuclear guarantee to India. There has been a statement of the sort, "If the Chinese threaten to use nuclear weapons against you, or even do use them, they know what to expect from us".

What are the Government's thoughts about the following questions? Could we ourselves physically extend such a guarantee, and what with? We plan to have four Polaris submarines. How many of them could we afford to have sailing around the seas near China to back up our guarantee? The V-Bombers are expected to come out of service at just about the time when the Chinese will be getting means of delivery which could carry nuclear weapons to India. Could we do it ourselves physically? If not us, do we expect the Americans to do so? What are the thoughts of the Government about this possibility of an American nuclear guarantee to India?

There is no doubt that the Americans could do it physically, but if it were to happen would not fourteen or eighteen other countries near China clamour for the same guarantee? Would you not get, in effect, art Asian NATO forming up? Might we not find the Himalayas turning into a frontier like the Elbe? Might we not get a demand for an M.L.F. for Asia, which would be answered in turn by a Chinese-North Korean-North Vietnamese M.L.F.? Do we want this? If not, how do we propose to avoid the Europeanisation of the military situation in Asia over the next ten years? We could nuclearise Asia so that it looked like Europe. Has the experience of Europe in the last fifteen or twenty years been such as to lead us to believe that this would be a wise course?

Next there is the situation between Indonesia and Malaysia. We have a lull there at the moment and not very much is happening. Is not this a good moment for the British Government to take the initiative into their own hands? I fear there may be a temptation in Government circles to say, "All right, we have set up Malaysia. Malaysia has been constituted with the approval of everybody including the Indonesians in the United Nations when they belonged to it". There may then be a temptation to feel, "Let us therefore defend this country through thick and thin whatever happens, and let us accept their advice about the political terms on which we guarantee them and defend them". I think that this may be too easy a way out; in a way, too lazy a way out.

Malaysia is not a very big country, and we are a big country in military terms. The military confrontation there is in our hands. Would it not be appropriate for this Government now to say what ought to he the solution to the conflict between Indonesia and Malaysia? What should such a solution be? It would depend, of course, on the Government's assessment of President Soekarno's intentions towards Malaysia. What is that assessment? Do we think that he wants simply to "swipe the lot"; to absorb it into a greater Indonesia? Do we think that he wants to keep things boiling as they are at present? If so, do we think that part of his motive may be a wish to break sterling? Is it plausible to imagine that the Indonesians have this desire? Could they do so? Could they not draw us into an endless expenditure on large, powerful weapon systems and thousands of troops in that part of the world?

We notice that, so far, the casualties on each side are about equal. Normally, we go on to say, "Yes, and they have all happened on our side of the line, haven't they? That is proof of Indonesian aggressive intentions". And so it is. Casualties may be equal, but what is the relative cost to the two sides concerned in this small war, of killing one Indonesian soldier and killing one Malaysian soldier? It must obviously he a great deal cheaper for Soekarno to get a soldier into the Indonesian fighting area than it is for us. For one thing, Soekarno's man has to walk only ten miles, whereas our men have to go 12,000 miles by air and sea. For another thing, the Indonesian soldier does not earn very much and does not eat very much; and ours does. How long are we prepared to go on without taking any initiative in the extraordinary economic disequilibrium of this war, in which I assume that we may be paying a hundred times as much, for the same military result, as the Indonesian Government is paying?

Having reached our assessment of the Indonesian intentions, we should then ask ourselves: do we agree with those intentions? Are we prepared to settle on the terms they want, or which we assume they want, and may be presumed to want? If we are, this would be a good time to do it. If we are not—and I think it most likely that we are not—in agreement with what we assume to be their intentions, then I suggest to the Government that we should propose our own solution. We should not depend on the diplomatic initiative and the wisdom of a Government which is only two or three years old and which we have (let us make no bones about it) invented. Let us have our own say in that settlement. Otherwise, I fear that the fighting may go on for decades, at an enormous cost to us in money, if not in men.

I come now to the question of the moment—the extraordinary war in Vietnam. I want first of all to say that I do not intend to repeat the points made by my noble friend Lord Brockway in a recent debate, which I conceive were extremely well thought out and delivered with extraordinary clarity, and with which I agree. He was speaking about the immediate issue. Let me now stand back a little and look ahead, in the same way, to ten or fifteen years ahead. We should not be blinded by our immediate passions. There are those who think that the Americans are dead right, and that we must back them; and there are others who think the Americans are dead wrong, that what they are doing is an offence against civilisation and that we must make a public statement against them. Let us not go into that. I think we all have fresh in our minds the 1965 Report of the Control Com, mission, in which the Indian and Polish delegations reported that the American bombing of North Vietnam was a violation of the Geneva Agreements, and that was that; and in which the Canadian delegate dissociated himself from this position, pointing out that the bombing was due to the increased activity of the Viet Cong, with North Vietnamese and Chinese help.

Perhaps we do not remember so well the back history. What happened before? How did we get into this position? How did the Americans get into this position? Let us remember also the 1962 Report of the Control Commission, in which all three delegations—the Polish, Indian and Canadian—agreed that both sides had repeatedly broken the Geneva Convention. The North broke it in ways with which we are all too familiar—by running arms across the frontier to support the Viet Cong revolt. The South, they maintained, broke it because there was a de facto military alliance (which was precluded in the Convention) between the Government of South Vietnam and the Government of the United States; because new weapons of a superior type had been brought into the South, which had been forbidden in the Geneva Convention; and because the number of foreign troops had not been withdrawn as required by the Convention. Since then, things have gone on, with both sides quite freely breaking the Convention, starting from the time in 1956, when no elections were held by either side—by either side, let us remember, not only by theirs.

What is the present tactical shape of the war? It is a very odd one. On one side you have gun-running; aid through small arms run across the frontier—mortars, rifles, machine guns; some of them good modern ones, but small arms. On the other side, you have aircraft-carriers, jet bombers sent out without a target just to look for something, napalm, white phosphorous bombs and gas. Now a word about gas. It would be quite improper, I think, at this stage for anybody to commit himself to any view about this matter, except on one point to which I shall come. We do not know what sort of gas it was, because the American statements have been contradictory.

The main statement said that it was a kind of tear gas which causes nausea and vomiting. But tear gas does not cause nausea and vomiting: it affects the eyes and the throat. Gas which causes nausea and vomiting is not tear gas. So there is a complete and obvious contradiction on this statement, and we should find out the truth before adopting a position about whether or not this is simply a police-type gas which happens to have been used in a war. If it were, it would not be so terrible. If it causes nausea and vomiting, I think the preliminary conclusion should be that it is not a police-type gas. I know of no police force in the world which uses gases causing nausea and vomiting.

There is another contradiction. One of the American statements yesterday said that this gas was used to "clear out" areas in which Viet Cong forces had taken refuge among non-combatants—which I assume means to make the Viet Cong forces run away. Of course, tear gas has precisely that effect. If you meet it, you run away to try to get out of it: but a gas which produces nausea and vomiting by no means has that effect. It makes you lie down and vomit. It seems, then, that if this is the nature of the gas, it would not be proper to describe it as an agent for "clearing out" this or that area. It would be proper to describe it as an agent for laying out the troops concerned while you occupy that area. By the time they have recovered, you are in charge.

That is enough about gas, except for the overall point of the 1925 Convention, which America did not sign. On the one hand, you may say that any sort of incapacitating gas from which people recover is much more humane than napalm or white phosphorus, or even plain bullets and mortar bombs. In physical terms, that is true: it does not kill you. But the 1925 Convention was not selective. It banned the use, I think I am right in saying, of all noxious gases—it did not say lethal gases, but noxious gases—in warfare. The use of this gas in what is undoubtedly a war therefore reintroduces, for the first time in 50 years, the use of gas as a weapon in warfare. The fact that it is apparently a small and harmless gas should not lead us to neglect the fact, that in one respect the clock has been put back 50 years to a form of weapon which we thought we had abolished.

Now this war, my Lords, is one which we support—there is no doubt about that. I am not talking now about declarations. We have a military mission in Vietnam, in support of the Government of Vietnam, working in collaboration with the United States forces there. We have a large civilian mission, builing roads, development ways; but we also have a small military mission. I know it is only advising on village defence; it is not occupied in the sort of operation which the Americans are now carrying out across the border of North Vietnam. But it is, nevertheless, a military mission under a serving British military officer. It is, therefore, our war, and that gives our Government every right to speak on it as they wish; and it gives our Parliament every right to urge what it wishes upon our own Government.

What is the strategic and geopolitical shape of this war? I have already spoken about the tactical shape. The United States of America has 30,000 troops in South Vietnam, six thousand miles from home, and they are bombing a country which contains not one Chinese soldier. What is the U.S.A.'s long-term aim? Do they see this shape in the same way as it might be seen by someone less closely involved in it? How long do they expect to maintain 30,000 troops six thousand miles from home and to bomb a country which does not contain any of the troops of their principal adversary?—for China is their principal adversary. How do they expect to bring it to an end? Here I wish to put one possibility before your Lordships. I cannot see myself how they expect to bring it to an end. They have said nothing about what they wish their position to be there in, say, ten years' time. All they say is: "Let the Viet-Cong stop attacking and we will stop attacking, too." But this is a minimum statement and does not withdraw the veil at all from their true intentions about what they want in the area. Is it possible—and I ask Her Majesty's Government this question—that the United States wish to draw Chinese forces into that war in order to have the excuse to bomb the production facilities for Chinese nuclear weapons in Sinkiang? If it is possible, I think we may hope the Government will do their best to dissuade them from so doing.

Lastly, on the question of China itself—because what we are talking about really boils down to China—what sort of an animal is it, the new China? I think we may be blinded by the short term issues; but we ought not to forget that these are people who were civilised a thousand years before the Greeks learned to read and two thousand years before we got as far as woad. They have not forgotten that civilisation. Is China our enemy? Our immediate and most vulnerable interest in the neighbourhood of China is Hong Kong. They have not done anything about that. Would it be right to say that China was and should be regarded as an implacable adversary of Britain's interests for the rest of time? If not, what plans have the Government for getting out of this position of continued escalation of a war in which we are directly involved? Do we want to stop China from having a position of peaceful hegemony, dominating peacefully South-East Asia or Eastern Asia in general? Can we stop them if we want to? Do we want to, even if we can? Do we want to stop China from achieving a position similar to that achieved by the U.S.A. in Latin America? Should we not first face the possibility that (a), we cannot stop China from achieving this position in time; and (b), it is not against our or American interests if China does achieve such a position?

My Lords, I come back to the question of the Government's long-term policy. I think this country is rather like a small dinghy being towed by an extremely large and fast ship. This is not a bad position to be in if you know where the ship is going. I ask this question again; do the Government know where the American ship is going? If not, have they any right to keep the people of this country on tow, going in an unknown direction which involves manifest danger? It would be for discussion—and I hope that we can get some light from the Government this evening—whether it might not be time to change the position. I do not recommend that we cut the painter. We might lengthen it, which would enable us to yaw a little, or shorten it and climb on board to talk to the captain. Has that been done?

Lastly, there is one final point which was very much on my mind. The Foreign Secretary is in Washington and has been talking of these very things with the President of the United States. Is it proper to say anything at all at such a moment? I examined that question for a very long time and I came to the conclusion that it was proper, if only for this reason: in these days of high-powered inter-Governmental diplomacy, there is always a Minister somewhere talking with some other Government about the most pressing issues of the day—and so there should be. If one is to refrain from raising a matter in debate because of this, then one would never get a chance to air one's views at all.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to make a very brief intervention in this debate with particular reference to Vietnam. May I make it clear at the outset that I have no desire to rouse or to stir up anti-American feeling? It would be very unwise to do so and it would not help bring about the ultimate settlement which I am sure all of us wish to see achieved. We are concerned about the situation in Vietnam. Reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to the use of gas. I must emphasise the widespread concern felt in this country at the use of gas warfare and the effect on opinion in Asia, which may well be quite out of proportion to any military advantages to be gained by such a form a warfare. It may be that this particular use of gas is in the nature of a policing activity. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said, we do not know precisely what kind of gas has been used. But surely it is clear that it must provide material for very powerful propaganda among the people of Asia, against not only the United States of America but the West as a whole. Therefore I think the best friends of America must express their views at this time.

As the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, pointed out, since the 1914-18 war use has not been made of gas and we must be thankful that that is so; but I understand that there has been much research and great progress—if that is the right word—in the methods of use and development of gas and germ warfare. If, even in its mildest form, gas is used in Vietnam, is there not a risk that this will be extended and that we may in future see the use of very much more serious and devastating forms of gas and germ warfare in consequence? It may be difficult for Her Majesty's Government to say all that is known to them. It is always difficult in situations such as this, where there are diplomatic considerations to be taken into account; but I hope that some indication will be given to-night of Her Majesty's Government's views of what representations have been made to the United States.

Finally, I should like to have some assurance that, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, there has not been a breach of international obligations and conventions. It may be difficult for the spokesman on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to tell us all the facts; but I hope at the close of this debate something will be said to allay the fears that are very genuinely held.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to make any observations on Lord Kennet's Question, but I hope the House will allow me to say one thing, because the noble Lord always makes a very interesting speech and always asks very interesting questions. Now that the noble Lord, Lord Wade, from the Liberal Benches has said something, it might seem odd if nobody from these Benches made any remarks at all. Unfortunately, I did not hear the earlier part of Lord Kennet's speech, as I came in rather late; but in his closing remarks he suggested that this country was like a small dinghy being towed by the large ship of the U.S.A. and he wanted to know where that large ship was going. That is not for me to answer. No doubt that is what the noble Lord, Lord Walston, is going to answer in a moment.

However, I would say this on behalf of those who sit on these Benches. I hope very much that nobody is going to suggest—regardless of gas or any of these things—that the American ship should be going in the direction of an abandonment of their position in South Vietnam. Those of us who remember history, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has pointed out, remember that there has been a gradual erosion of the Western position —and it is a Western position—in that area. We started off with the whole of Vietnam. Now North Vietnam is entirely dominated by the Communists, and South Vietnam is partly so. An abandonment of the American position there would have the most serious effect upon the other two States, Laos and Cambodia, and would have an effect on the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation, on the Philippines and, in particular, on Thailand, which would be incalculable for the whole position of the Free World in that area. So I hope that nobody will suggest that the Americans, wherever the dinghy is going—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Walston, will say where the ship is going as well as the dinghy—should abandon that position. I think that the Americans are in a very difficult situation and that they should have our support in what they are doing to contain aggression and to support the position of the Free World in that area.

6.52 p.m.


My Lords, I think that we may not be able to know where the ship or the dinghy is going, because things are so serious and dangerous that there may not be much of South-East Asia left. However the noble Lord, Lord Walston, answers for the Government this question on the Order Paper, our policy in the Far East has needed the biggest military build-up since Suez. Is it a mere coincidence that this has taken place at the same time as the American open war in Vietnam?

The struggles of the people of Vietnam and of Malaysia are part of a single struggle against Anglo-American imperialism in South-East Asia. To-day, when public opinion has been stirred up over the use of gas, we surely have to ask ourselves why we and the Americans are in South-East Asia at all. The Question put down by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, is an apt and pointed one to-day, when the people of Britain are deeply horrified to hear on the radio and to read in the Press that the Americans are using gas. Yesterday, it was napalm; to-day, gas. As has been said, in 1925, all the leading countries, except America, signed an agreement saying that they would never use gas.


Did the Soviet Union?


I do not know. It might be at present a nerve gas, though it is ominous that the Pentagon has refused to identify its chemical composition. And if this gas is unsuccessful, who is to say that it will not be a lethal gas to-morrow? If napalm is unsuccessful, who is to say that it will not be nuclear weapons to-morrow? There are already rumours and reports of discussions on selected nuclear targets. Again, new weapons have been tried out on a coloured race.

There has not been such consternation in this country since the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, went to President Truman to stop the use of atom bombs in Korea. The American Ambassador in Saigon, General Maxwell Taylor, has said that there is no limit to the escalation of the war and that the United States may directly enter the ground fighting. Furthermore, the American Air Force jets are now flying over North Vietnam selecting targets at will. This means that young, trigger-happy pilots are "making whoopee" with rockets and napalm. We must remember that, although President Johnson won the election easily, an awful lot of people voted for Goldwater.

The 1955 Geneva Agreement, in the drawing up of which the noble Earl, Lord Avon, played such a leading part, provided for the independence of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia; for the withdrawal of foreign troops and bases; and for the establishment of the 17th Parallel as the demarcation line until elections in the whole of Vietnam in 1956 to unify the country. America did not sign, but undertook not to use force to overturn this agreement. However, she poured in money, equipment and advisers, to prop up the corrupt and unpopular Dien, who refused to hold elections in 1956. He and his Government were loathed and despised for their oppression and corruption. So, in 1960, the National Liberation Front was formed. Its programme was merely land reform, factory welfare and the liquidation of American monopolies.

The British Government, as co-chairman of the 1954 Geneva Convention, should insist that the 1954 Agreement, which stipulated that there should be no foreign troops or bases in Vietnam and that the people of Vietnam should decide their own affairs, is observed. America is violating this Agreement. Any conference on negotiations must be based on its observance.

Those who helped to put in a Labour Government hoped that there would be an end of imperialism and of "showing the flag". They hoped that there would be a big cut in armaments and armaments expenditure. But, instead of a gunboat policy, there are now huge fleets, napalm, gas and nuclear bombs. Every day the Labour Government continues to support the Americans' open and dirty war is a challenge to the Labour movement and is causing consternation, cynicism and anger; but America's criminal irresponsibility brings the possibility of a third world war nearer.

6.59 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Kennet for initiating this debate tonight. It covers a very wide area, the whole of Asia; and the noble Lord has referred to many parts of Asia. I am going to take advantage of this by making some reference to the Middle East, from which I have just returned. Rather to my surprise, I was made the leader of a Parliamentary delegation representing both sides of the House. I think that probably all members of the delegation would agree that the situation in Jordan is be-devilled by the Arab-Israeli conflict. The national expenditure of Jordan is £35 million a year, and of that total £21 million is spent upon the Army and security forces. It is fair to add that these forces are often used for constructive purposes. We saw the military, with military equipment, building a great dam for water storage and the generation of power. But concentration upon the conflict between the Arab Governments and Israel means that while £21 million is expended for military purposes, the expenditure on education is only £4 million, and that on health only £2 million.

I am not going to suggest that it will be easy to resolve the conflict, but I believe that something could be done to deal with some of its effects. I wish to refer to four of those effects which we saw. There was a village near Bethlehem, the birthplace of the man who lived up to the Jewish Commandment, Love thy neighbour as thyself". where the netting frontier between Jordan and Israel passes between homes with mothers and their children on different sides. As we came to that fencing, I have never in my life seen anything more inhuman in relations between families. They are prohibited even from speaking to each other through the netting. A daughter gave her aged mother a chicken at the New year, and the mother of 81 years of age was sentenced to one year's imprisonment for receiving it. Fortunately, as a result of the intervention of the Member of Parliament for Bethlehem, that sentence was reduced to three months. There were little children on either side of the fencing not allowed to speak to each other. I became so angry that, had I not been a guest there, I think I would have tried to break down that fencing with my fists. It is one of the most cruel things I have ever seen in my life.

Let me take another instance. On a hilltop over old Jerusalem, on the Jordanian side of the frontier are a hospital and a university which have remained empty for seventeen years. Those people are desperately in need of hospitals. The Jordanian Government, with considerable heroism, are begining their own university, but after two years' effort they have been able to provide accommodation for only 230 students. And there the hospital, which could save lives, and the university, which could develop minds, are empty, guarded only by 60 Jewish soldiers who once a month are escorted over the frontier by United Nations guards.

There is the problem of the refugees in their camps, living in appalling conditions: one room—dirt floor, mud walls, no furniture, a mattress, a Primus lamp, a washing basin, a frying pan-10 feet by 7 feet, and a family of ten living there. There is the fact that the United Nations have been compelled to give their rations only to the original refugees, 250,000 children born since receiving no rations at all.

There is the problem of the Jordan waters. One saw in Jordan itself a tributary running into the Jordan from which a canal has been built which can already take one-third of the waters of the river. That canal is doing constructive work: it is feeding parched land; it is giving the opportunity to peasant populations. It has been deepened so that it will be able to take 60 per cent. of the water indeed, it will be able to take 100 per cent. Israel, itself wanting water for the great jagged mountain area of the Negev, may be starved of water if in Lebanan, Syria and Jordan the waters are cut off.

I am going to make this plea: that, whilst it will be impossible for Jordan and Israel to have direct negotiations in present circumstances—the Arab Governments declining to negotiate with the Israeli Government and the Israeli Government declining to negotiate on these problems except within the terms of a general peace—it should be possible, by a third-party effort, to seek to reduce at least the suffering of some of the effects of this conflict. When my noble friend, Lord Robens of Woldingham, was at the Foreign Office for a time he made a suggestion on this problem which T think was of great promise. He suggested that someone should be authorised, perhaps unofficially, patiently, if necessary over the years, to pass from Cairo to Jerusalem negotiating, negotiating, negotiating and trying to find agreement on concrete proposals. I believe that if that were done on the four issues which I have particularly mentioned some agreement might be found.

Already there has been a reconsideration of the frontier between the two territories in a particularly cruel case of a division of families. I heard, as I returned through Israel itself, that on the Israeli side there are similar cases. I would urge very strongly that there should be a reconsideration of the worst features of this frontier division so that the kind of cruelties I have described might be ended. I have my friends in the Israeli Government, and I am now going to make to them an appeal that the policy they pursued in retaining the hospital and the university in Jordanian Jerusalem, which they hoped would be temporary, should now, after seventeen years be reconsidered. The beds and student places are so much needed that the Israeli Government should make the concession that the hospital and the university should now be made available for Jordanian needs.

So far as the Jordan waters are concerned, there is no consideration as to where those waters can be best used to satisfy human needs. The only consideration is the needs of the Governments on the two sides. Indeed, I believe that if there were a proper allocation of those waters they could be of benefit both to the Arab countries and to Israel. I saw how effectively they were being used in Jordan. Lebanon has its great plans for the irrigation of the South, and for its dam to store water. But the very waters which Israel proposes to go far to the South, to the Negev, could be used not only for the benefit of Israel. I was a little surprised, as I went South through Jordan, to reach Akabar, on the Gulf of Akabar, to find that one passed through exactly the same territory as one finds in the Negev—sand, jagged rocks, fantastic mountains of all colours, rich with mineral resources. The very water that could be taken to the South of Israel could be piped to the South of Jordan, and could be used also for the benefit of Jordan. I believe that that problem could be dealt with on a reasonable and constructive basis if, unofficially, we could find some third party who would negotiate.

Now the problem of the refugee camps. I came back from Jordan more optimistic about that problem than when I went. I do not believe it to be as intractable as it is thought. In the first place, the original refugees—many of them now growing old, unable to work their farms, even if they were returned to them, and wishing to end their days in a sympathetic environment—are more and more ready to spend the rest of their lives in an Arab environment rather than in the environment of Israel. I believe that, if their right of self-determination were conceded, if they were given compensation, many of them would elect to stay in Arab countries rather than return to Israel.

Secondly, there is the development of the youth in the camps. In the seventeen years they have grown up; many of them have been technically trained. I went to that wonderful training school in Jericho, conducted by a man who I think might be called the Dr. Schweitzer of Jordan, where training in farming and in mechanical processes proceeds. When the boys have finished their technical training they are passing to Kuwait, to Iraq, and to Syria.

In my view, the problem of the refugee camps in Jordan, and in other areas, could be solved if it were recognised that the refugees should have the right to decide for themselves where they were going, and if compensation were given to those whose property had not been returned to them.

My Lords, I have spoken longer than I had intended on that subject, and therefore I will be brief on the very urgent other matters that I want to raise. I should like, first, to say to Her Majesty's Government, of which I am a loyal supporter (and I often subdue my own language because of my admiration for very much that they do) that many of us have been disturbed, we are uneasy and have disquiet, because of the use of the phrase, "British responsibility East of Suez". That policy has led to the despatching of large numbers of forces. It has been reflected in the Government's White Paper on Defence and in the allocation of bombers which could carry nuclear arms. They are termed "peace-keeping forces" but many of us remember how that phrase has frequently been used by Imperialist Governments in the past; and we hope that it will not be used in a similar way to-day.

On the last occasion when I spoke in your Lordships' House, I dealt mostly with Vietnam, and I do not want to go over the ground again to-day—I should like to acknowledge what my noble friend Lord Kennet said about that speech. But there have been very disturbing developments since. I am not now thinking of the report of the use of gas. Non-lethal gas is not as destructive of life as napalm bombs, or bombs which are explosive, dropped from the air; the greatest danger of it seems to me that, once having used gas, there may be reports of using more deadly gas, and that we may deteriorate to a situation where the most deadly forms of gas which have been developed might be used. No, my Lords, I am thinking really of such statements as that made by General Maxwell Taylor, the United States Ambassador in Saigon, to which my noble friend Lord Milford referred—the statement that there is no limit to the military action which may be taken by the United States.

I want to urge upon Her Majesty's Government, with all the earnestness that I can possibly command, that it is not enough now to speak with a mute voice upon these issues. Those of us who belong to the Labour Party are probably more proud of the action of my noble friend Lord Attlee during the Korean war, in going to Washington and persuading President Truman against making bombing attacks upon China across the Korean frontier, than we are of any other single action within our Labour Movement. Oh that that action could be repeated now, and that Her Majesty's Government might make a similar gesture in relation to Vietnam!

When I spoke on the last occasion, I indicated the terms of peace which the Government of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong were prepared to accept. I think that at least we now have the right to ask: what terms of peace would the Government of the United States accept? It has given no indication. It has been satisfied merely to continue the war, and surely the British Government, with its Foreign Secretary now in Washington, ought to be seeking from the American Government the terms on which it would be prepared to end the war.

I had proposed to speak about Indonesia and Malaysia, but I will refrain. I will end by saying that if I speak with feeling on these matters, it is perhaps because I am a son of India. I was horn in Calcutta, and India is still my spiritual home. I would urge, as my last words, that the policy of the Government, in the whole spirit of the British Socialist Movement, should now be one of seeking peace: peace in Vietnam; peace between the Arab countries and Israel; peace between Indonesia and Malaysia. Difficult? Yes. But only as we move towards this peace will the future of Asia and the peace of the world be made secure.

7.21 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to detain your Lordships for only a minute or so, to refer to one or two points. It is perhaps interesting for the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to ask what are the Government's intentions for, say, the next fifteen years; but I am not so sure that the question is particularly helpful when the Government are dealing with this particular crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, asked what are our intentions in India in the next fifteen years: are we going to build up a large force of arms there? That sort of question can be answered by asking: are we going to allow China to overrun India in the next fifteen years? That is just as relevant as his own question.

With regard to gas, the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said that the use of gas in Vietnam puts the clock back. For my part, I should not mind putting the clock—that is, the nuclear clock that we have at the moment—back fifty years. But non-lethal gas? It is non-lethal gas, we are told. It may have its dangers; stronger gas may be used. But let us remember that we have the most powerful weapon of all; we have the nuclear bomb, and nothing can touch that.

7.23 p.m.


My Lords, may I, before the noble Lord answers, ask a question or two about gas? We are told that it is non-lethal. What proof have we? It is a fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Milford said, that the United States refuses to reveal the chemical constituents. If that is not so, could the noble Lord tell us what are the chemical constituents of this gas? It seems to me extremely powerful if it produces severe gastro-intestinal symptoms and blindness. We are told that the blindness is only temporary; but if it is a simple kind of chemical why cannot we be informed precisely what the constituents are?

May I ask another technical question? Is gas a "conventional" weapon? If the United States or any other country that happens to be our Ally are using a weapon which is not conventional, do they tell us, or do they ask our advice, on what is known, I believe, as the "hot 'phone", as to whether they should? The other point about this gas is that it is non-selective. We are told that the gas is going to be used in those areas where there are noncombatants. A non-selective gas then will attack not only the combatants but also entirely innocent non-combatants; and that is an important aspect of gas warfare. If the noble Lord can answer these technical questions I shall be very much obliged.

7.24 p.m.


My Lords, the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, as shown on the Order Paper is: To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their long-term policy in Asia. I am glad he put it down. I think this is a very important Question, and that it is very apt at this time that we should be talking about such matters. But I would emphasise that all this Question asks is what is Her Majesty's Government's long-term policy in Asia. Therefore, with the greatest respect, I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, that the composition of the gas now being used in Vietnam and the motive behind it are really entirely irrelevant to this particular Question, important though they are in the immediate present and in the immediate future. I think we should be straying far too far, at this relatively late hour, from the subject of this Question if we were to embark upon that.

Once more, let me refer to the Question itself. It is not only on long-term policy, but on Asia, which is a pretty large area, ranging from the Bering Straits to the Suez Canal. So it was entirely right and proper that my noble friend Lord Brockway should raise a matter concerning a part of the world which, I think, many of us do not always realise is in fact in Asia; but I hope he will not think me discourteous if I do not spend very long on his point as far as Jordan is concerned. That is not because I do not think it is important; it is clearly of the greatest importance, and I think all of us who listened to him must have been moved by what he said and how he said it. I personally was particularly pleased when he raised this matter, because I remember many years ago, some thirteen or fourteen, I also was in those parts. I visited some of the refugee camps and saw the magnificent work being done by a fine Arab, I believe called Musa Alami.


My Lords, may I just interrupt the noble Lord? Musa Alami was the "Dr. Schweitzer" of the Jordan to whom I referred.


I discerned that that was so. I hesitated only because his name has not been in my mind for many years and I was not sure that I had it right. I agree entirely with what the noble Lord said about the value of his work, and I recall the magnificent things he was doing while I was there and which I am glad to know he is still doing, although I am sorry that there is the need for them to be done. I also remember writing an article, which I believe was published, called something like "The Barbed Wire Curtain separating the Jordan Waters"; and I would bear out everything that my noble friend Lord Brockway has said in that respect. I sincerely hope that the efforts, whether they be governmental or made through private individuals—and often in a case of this sort private efforts are of greater effect than Government efforts—will do something to mitigate the hardships of those refugees who are living there in those conditions. I say very sincerely that if the Israeli Government felt that they were in a position to allow this hospital to be used for the relief of suffering, whether the sufferers happen to be Israelis or those on the other side of the border, they would command the respect and gratitude of the whole world.

Let me move from that part and come to what I was going to say were the more urgent points—I do not know whether that is the right word—or to the points which are occupying our minds rather more urgently at the present time: specifically the points of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, in the order that he raised them. Before doing that, let me answer with real gravity his Question. Unfortunately, it would not be right if I sat down immediately after doing that

Our long-term aim, the long-term aim of Her Majesty's Government, in Asia is to ensure that all the countries of Asia are able to lead a life of freedom and pursue their march towards prosperity without interference from any other country, large or small. It is towards that objective that we are making all our efforts, and everything that we are doing at the present time must be viewed in that light, and I say categorically that we have no aggressive intentions, no desire to promote Empire, to influence other countries into a way of life that they do not wish to have; and that when we have our forces East of Suez it is solely for the protection of those things that we hold to be important for ourselves and, therefore, hold to be important for other people too. Our intentions in India are not specifically, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, to make India strong. What we want to do is to help India, and other countries too, so to build up their own economy and their own strength in every aspect, not only military, that the 400 million people living in India can live their lives in freedom and bring up their families in security, free not only from the threat of invasion from China or wherever it may be, but from the even greater threat to them of starvation. That is our intention in India and elsewhere.

So far as the nuclear problem is concerned, we believe, in Asia as well as in Europe in non-proliferation. Because China now has a nuclear bomb, we do not want other countries to feel that they must achieve their own nuclear bombs, and so we will work towards any form of collective assurance to non-nuclear countries, which means at this stage all in Asia other than China or Russia, if you include Russia as an Asian Power, so that they will not feel constrained to have their own nuclear bombs. How this can be done is a matter for negotiation. We are thinking of it; we are talking of it. It is our long-term aim that this should be achieved.

And when the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, spoke rather disparagingly of the dangers of the Europeanisation of Asia, I ant not sure that the present situation in Europe, although it has many worries and many problems, is all that disastrous, when we think of what it might have been, when we think of the relaxation of tension which has taken place along the Iron Curtain, which is a word now scarcely used and with very little meaning, and the relative spread of freedom in many countries in Europe which before were not free. So the Europeanisation of Asia is not necessarily something we should regard with despair, though I hope we shall profit from the many mistakes which have been made in Europe and not repeat them when we come to Asia.


My Lords, may I interject? In saying a kind word for the Europeanisation of Asia, would the noble Lord extend the kind word to cover tens of thousands of nuclear weapons up against the Himalayan frontier, as they are now against the dividing line in Germany?


Most certainly not. I hope that is one of the lessons we have learnt and profited from, and that we can achieve non-proliferation so that that sort of thing does not take place.

Turning to Indonesia, if I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, he seemed to me to be adopting what I can only call a neo-colonialist attitude towards Malaysia. He says that we, Her Majesty's Government, should take the initiative and not leave it to the Malaysians; that they are a young people; they have been there only three years, and it is the lazy way out to leave it to them; we must do it. That is not the policy of Her Majesty's Government. We do not believe we should step in and dictate to an independent country, whether it be a member of the Commonwealth or not, how they should run their foreign policy. The situation in Indonesia and Malaysia is quite simple. Malaysia is an independent country. It has been confronted by aggressive acts, by its far more powerful neighbour, 120 million Indonesians. Malaysia is defending herself to the best of her ability. She has called upon us and other members of the Common- wealth, Australia and New Zealand, to help her in meeting this aggression.


My Lords, is it then the position that Her Majesty's Government have committed large numbers of British troops without any idea whatever of a suitable solution to the confrontation in which they are engaged?


Of course we have ideas as to a suitable solution. The first suitable solution, which the Malaysians accept and which we support them in accepting, is that the aggression by the Indonesians should stop. When that has happened we have no doubt that the Tunku—and he has said so—will be prepared to enter into talks; in fact he went so far the other day as to say he would gladly enter into talks with President Soekarno so long as the actual incidents stopped. For some reason best known to himself, President Soekarno went back on the offer he had made through the Thai Government, and at the moment these talks are off. But I cannot say this too emphatically: that we do not consider that this is something where we have any right at all to dictate to Malaysia what the conditions should be; but we will assist them in the first instance in repelling aggression and, in the second instance, we will do all we can to bring about a peaceable and permanent solution in that part of the world.

Simply on one matter of fact, may I say that the noble Lord suggested—I do not think I am misquoting him—that the casualties were fairly equally divided between the two countries. In fact that is very far from the case. I do not know that it is particularly relevant, but there have been in the two years, the 23 months, since this started, 74 casualties on the Malaysian side, including British Commonwealth troops, and very nearly 1,000 casualties on the Indonesian side.

I turn to Vietnam, about which most of your Lordships who have taken part in this debate have spoken. Again I menion two questions of pure fact, possibly not relevant but for the sake of the record. I think two noble Lords spoke of gas as not having been used for 50 years. In fact it is more like 30 years since gas was used, by the Italians in Abyssinia. I do not think that has any great relevance to this argument; it does not make gas any more attractive or less repulsive to us, but the fact is that it was used 30 years ago and not 50 years ago. The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, said we had a British Military Mission in Vietnam. We do not have a British Military Mission; we have a British Advisory Mission which consists of civilians, a very small number of civilians. One of them who was there at one time but is there no longer was a retired Army officer. But it is a civilian mission which is there to help with experience we have gained in these parts of the world in counter-insurgency among civilians, and is not a military outfit at all.


My Lords, on a point of refinement, is not counter-insurgency a military operation?


It depends whether it is among civilians and carried out by civilians or carried out by members of Her Majesty's Forces. In this case they are not members of Her Majesty's Forces and therefore it is not only technically but actually not a military mission. However, we are giving help and we are not ashamed of it; we are proud of it. And we shall go on giving help of this kind so long as it is needed.

Let me once more remind your Lordships what I said was our long-term objective: that is, to enable these countries in South-East Asia and the rest of Asia eventually to lead a life of freedom. That is not open to them at the present time in Vietnam. It would take far too long, and I think it would be profitless, to go back to past history of who started what when. There is no doubt about it at all, however, that at the present time the Viet Cong are being helped by troops and arms from North Vietnam, some of which have come from China, some of which have come from Czechoslovakia and some of which have come from Russia; and in South Vietnam the Government of the country, whether you like them or not, are given help by American forces. What we want to do, as the Americans want to do, and certainly as the Vietnamese want to do, is to bring these hostilities to an end, and I am quite certain that if North Vietnam were to say that it would desist from helping the Viet Cong there would be little in the way then of getting both sides to sit down and talk. But so long as they refuse to do that, one can hardly be surprised that the South Vietnamese are anxious for their allies to go on helping them, and one would hardly admire an ally who left South Vietnam to fight this battle alone at this stage.

Many noble Lords have urged that we, Her Majesty's Government, should take strong action with the United States Government, to demand from them what their peace conditions are, and things of that kind. I do not know what noble Lords who have said that really think goes on in Washington, when my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs talks with the Secretary of State, Mr. Dean Rusk, or the President, and when Mr. Gromyko comes here, and so on. Of course these things are talked about the whole time. Of course we are doing what we can not to desert our allies, not to surrender this area to a totalitarian regime which they do not wish for, not to turn it into the sort of country that Communist China is to-day; because we do not want to live in that sort of country and we do not think that other countries who do not want to live like that should be left to their fate either, to become a Hungary or whatever it may be.

But we do not want this fighting to continue, we do not want it to escalate, and we talk. We do not talk at the top of our voices in the market place, telling everybody what our discussions with our allies are, and they do not do that either. But I can assure your Lordships, if your Lordships need any assurance, that we are in continuous consultation and, as I say, my right honourable friend is to-day in Washington at this moment speaking with the United States Governmenf on these particular matters. We do not have enormous confidence that within the next week or so peace will be restored to that part of the world; but we do have hopes that within the next months there will be some settlement of this fighting which will not be a betrayal either of our allies or of the people who are dependent upon us; it will not be a scuttling for safety, for the safety of our own Continent, for the safety of our own comfortable Island, but will be fulfilling the responsibilities of any civilised country which has any power and any pretentions to have influence in the world.


My Lords, may I intervene for just one last time? A few hours ago the Prime Minister said in the House of Commons that he did not know the Americans were going to use gas. May I ask now the precise question: do Her Majesty's Government know the overall American plan?


My Lords, I would not give a precise—


My Lords, I asked that question. I must ask the noble Lord why he told me in his opening remarks that he could not answer my questions. We now hear that in another place the Prime Minister has been asked questions similar to mine and has given an answer.


My Lords, the answer to the noble Baroness is that somebody put down that Question by Private Notice and my right honourable friend answered it. I could have answered it without any difficulty, because I could have said exactly what my right honourable friend said. But I still maintain that this has nothing to do with the long-term policy in Asia, which is what we are discussing.


My Lords, may I correct the noble Lord? It was a supplementary question.


My Lords, the noble Lord had informed us that he was going to interrupt for the last time. I hope that he will stick to that.


My Lords, I can answer the last question of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, though not in a way satisfactory to him. All I would say is that we are in close consultation, almost continuous consultation, through different sources with the Americans and with all the other people interested in this matter. The actual long-term policies must have a certain amount of fluidity in them, and it might be misleading if I said that in fact—if I were allowed to tell him precisely—I could say what the United States Government were intending to do in the next three weeks. All I can do is to assure him that we are working closely with the Americans in this matter. I would refute his suggestion that we are a small dinghy being towed behind a large and powerful ship. I would rather say that we are two ships moving in convoy, one obviously rather larger and rather more powerful, but that we are working under our own independent captains but in concert towards the same objective.

I have been asked questions about the United States long-term policy. It is not for me to answer for another Government, but I can assure noble Lords that in the long-term objectives there is nothing between the United States and ourselves. We have the same traditions; we have the same beliefs in freedom and the other things that I have spoken of. Those are the things which move us here, in Vietnam, in Malaysia, in Indonesia and throughout the whole of Asia.