HL Deb 06 May 1970 vol 310 cc218-22

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are the facts concerning the terrible massacres of civilian Vietnamese reported to be taking place in Cambodia and what steps are being taken to prevent their continuing]


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are deeply shocked by reports of killings of civilian Vietnamese in Cambodia. We have expressed our serious concern to the Cambodian Government. They have assured our Ambassador in Phnom Penh that they fully understand the importance of ensuring that no grounds are given for reports of this nature. Since that time, I have seen no further reports of this sort.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord the Minister for his reply, may I ask whether he is not aware that since that episode new violent, brutal aggression by the United States Forces has taken place in Cambodia, so that the war now covers the whole of Indo-China? Hundreds more innocent Vietnamese and Cambodian peasants are being slaughtered and burnt. Will Her Majesty's Government now dissociate themselves in the strongest possible terms from these shameful events?


My Lords, the answer to the second part of the noble Lord's question is "No". As to the first, may I draw the noble Lord's attention to the fact that for many years now Viet Cong forces have been in Cambodia. They are completely alien to the country of Cambodia; they have been asked to be removed, and they have not been removed.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend, while very sincerely appreciating the first Answer he gave—I repeat, very sincerely appreciating it—whether he is aware of the deep concern of many of us about events in Cambodia? Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to suggest, through Lord Caradon, that there should be a special meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations to support the proposals of U Thant for an international conference to end this terrible war?


My Lords, we would support discussion either in the United Nations or anywhere else which could bring this war to an end. As perhaps the House will remember, I think it was last Friday that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, as co-chairman of the Geneva Conference, called upon his fellow co-chairman, the Russian Foreign Minister, to bring a conference into being. I am afraid that we have not yet had a reply.


My Lords, could my noble friend give some reasons why his answer to the question whether Her Majesty's Government would not dissociate themselves from present events in Cambodia was such an emphatic negative?


My Lords, I answered with an emphatic negative in view of the way in which the question was put. But I think the position of Her Majesty's Government was fully explained in another place, yesterday by my right honourable friend, and I would suggest that my noble friend reads that speech.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that we all want peace in Vietnam and in the Far East? I happened to spend a fortnight in the war zone, with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, on the Opposition Benches, last year. It is really serious, the infiltration from Laos and Cambodia, where American soldiers and Vietnamese do not know whether their next-door neighbour is their friend or whether he will stab them in the back.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the tied bodies floating down the Mekong River are a foretaste of what the occupation of Cambodia by the Viet Cong might involve?


My Lords, war in South-East Asia—or for that matter anywhere, but particularly in South-East Asia—is of a most beastly character, and all those who have any influence, whatever the side may be, should seek to use that influence to bring the parties to a conference table and negotiate a settlement.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us are opposed to the presence of Viet Cong forces in Cambodia as well as to the presence of the American forces? We are seeking a solution which will mean that there will be no foreign forces at all in that territory. Will Her Majesty's Government exert the fullest influence to try to bring about that result?


My Lords, as I said the other day, we will use whatever influence we have, as we have done in the past. All we need is a little co-operation.


My Lords, I am rather confused about this situation and I should like to ask whether my noble friend can tell us who started this war: was it the Communists or the other side?


My Lords, I think the noble Lord knows as well as I do.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that the explanation he has given as to why President Nixon has taken this new aggressive step is similar to explaining why a criminal takes to new violence in order to escape from the scene of his original violent crime, in this case the waging of a war of extermination in Vietnam——


My Lords, may I raise a point of Order? Your Lordships are very fair-minded in the way questions are allowed to be posed in this House, but may I ask for a ruling as to whether it is right to use a Question for purely propaganda purposes, as I feel—though I may be wrong—the noble Lord has done, both in his original Question and in his second supplementary question?


My Lords, I am not sure that that is strictly a point of Order. I have always been mystified about points of Order in your Lordships' House, and I am not in a position to give a ruling, I can only occasionally give some rather tentative guidance. I think it is quite clear that Questions ought not to be used as a means of expressing views or arguments. Your Lordships take a tolerant view up to a point; beyond that point your Lordships begin to get restless. But since a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Blyton in his most interesting intervention, have also expressed views, I did not feel that it was fair for me to intervene against the noble Lord, Lord Milford. None the less, I think the House would much prefer that Question Time should not be used as a kind of concealed debate.


My Lords, I would not in any sense disagree with what the noble Lord the Leader of the House has said on this matter, and I think he has been very fair about it, but I hope we shall not be too restrictive about Questions in our rules of Order. I sometimes think that if noble Lords who have less usual points of view and express themselves more strongly than others are allowed to put their point of view the House can hear what they really mean and can express its own opinion quite adequately.


My Lords, there is a Resolution of the House saying that speeches should not be read. Perhaps the noble Lord the Leader of the House might consider whether Question should be read.


My Lords, is the noble Earl asking whether propaganda should not be "Red"?


My Lords, I really think we should now return to Question Time.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord the Leader of the House whether we could have a debate on this subject?


My Lords, it is open for noble Lords to bring about a debate. Because of the flexibility of our arrangements, it is customary for us to do so by discussion, and clearly if there is a strong opinion that there is a requirement for such a debate, one could be provided. The noble Lord has his own rights in the matter, of which I have no doubt he is aware. I shall certainly be willing to discuss it through the usual channels. If I may express a personal view, I am bound to say that I know that there are strong feelings, and I wonder just how much could be achieved by debating this subject.


My Lords, would it be right to bring the noble Lord, Lord Mil-ford, into the "usual channels"?