HL Deb 24 January 1973 vol 338 cc173-7

3.32 p.m.


My Lords, I think it might be for the convenience of the House if I were to intervene now to repeat a Statement that is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. This is the Statement:

"Honourable Members will already have seen reports of President Nixon's announcement on the 23rd of January of an Agreement on ending the war and restoring the peace in Vietnam and a cease-fire to come into effect at midnight on the 27th of January. I am sure that the whole House will be immensely relieved that, after so many terrible years of conflict, a cease-fire has finally been agreed. The opportunity is there to achieve an enduring peace, and to extend the settlement into the neighbouring countries of Laos and the Khmer Republic, which have also been ravaged by the war. The United States has kept in close touch with us during the negotiations but we must have time to study the final text of the agreement.

"The history of Indo-China gives little scope for easy optimism. But after nearly thirty years of war and near war this agreement, if observed in good faith, appears to offer the prospect of peace at last.

"The Governments concerned are to be congratulated on their success in bringing this agreement about. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending to them and to the peoples of Indo-China our sincere good wishes in their task of achieving a peace of reconciliation. The Prime Minister and I will of course be discussing Vietnam among other subjects when we see President Nixon next week."

My Lords, That is the Statement.


My Lords, I feel sure that the whole House cannot but be overjoyed at this news. How much more difficult it was for President Nixon to get out than for earlier Presidents to get in! I have three short questions. Can the Government tell us when the text of the cease-fire agreement will be available? A more important question: we are, of course, still co-Chairman of the old Geneva Conference. Is it proposed that there shall be any sort of revived Geneva Conference; and, if so, would this country expect to be a member of that? And a related question: is there any news yet of a Control Commission to supervise the cease-fire itself, and is there any news about the relation between that Commission and a possible revived Geneva Conference? Is there a role for our country in any of that?


My Lords, we on these Benches naturally join with the two noble Lords who have spoken in heartily welcoming the cease-fire which is about to take place in Vietnam. It may not result—though we naturally all hope it will—in a cessation of all the fighting in Vietnam, to say nothing of Indo-China generally, but it does signify the end of American military intervention in a situation in which, in the light of hindsight, we may say they should never have intervened. Happily, withdrawal seems to have been arranged on terms which the United States can accept without being humiliated, and which at least hold out some prospect of the maintenance for the time being of a non-Communist règime in South Vietnam. Therefore I am sure we can all agree not to try to assess too accurately which side has got the better of the cease-fire bargain; rather, we ought to do our best to assist the process of reconstruction which we now all hope will happily begin.


My Lords, perhaps I may answer the questions put by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. First of all, may I say I am grateful to both noble Lords who have spoken for the way in which, as I felt certain they would, they have welcomed this news to-day. The noble Lord asked first when the text of the agreement will become available. I understand that it is to be released at a Press Conference by Mr. Kissinger later on to-day; so one would hope that we shall have the full text during the next 24 hours or so. Of course, until we get that I cannot be very specific in answering the noble Lord. Our understanding is that a proposal is being made that an international conference should be called to consider the whole future of Vietnam, and indeed of Indo-China as a whole. I cannot give any more information about this, except to say that I would have thought such a conference, if it did not supersede, would at any rate be complementary to the Geneva Conference. Or it may be a wider conference. I cannot at this stage give any details, but this is what I understand is going to be proposed. We shall know more to-morrow.


My Lords, I am sure the wise thing to do would be to follow the good advice of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, who said that no one should assess fault on either side. That would be a fruitless process at this moment, I am sure. We are all, in Britain and throughout the world, glad that this slaughter has ceased. Nevertheless, we hope that the cease-fire agreement is not like a cheap colour television set, brilliant and gaudy in illumination but sadly out of focus. In other words, we hope to get more precise statements later. May I therefore follow up the question of my noble friend on the Front Bench? There is to be, some 30 days from now, a conference in Vienna at which will be represented Canada, Poland, Indonesia and Hungary, which seems to be the net setup to oversee the cease-fire. Having many years ago made an effort, although a humble one, in Hanoi to get some answers, which leaked too soon, may I ask whether the Government will press for the valuable information which has been gathered over many years by the International Control Commission, of which we were Chairman, to be available at that conference, and that some people representing that Commission should be present at that conference, because I am sure that their practical information will be of great value.


My Lords, I think that that suggestion of the noble Lord is very useful. I shall certainly pass it on to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, I imagine that for most of us this is the happiest day since the day which concluded the Great War, and therefore we do not want to say anything which will prejudice hopes. But is it not the case that, while this agreement may be signed, the dangers of conflict in Vietnam, and perhaps still more in the rest of Indo-China, still remain very great? Therefore, would Her Majesty's Government do all they can—and one welcomes what the Minister said about the possibility of an international conference—to try to secure effective international action to deal with the situation which may arise after the peace agreement has been signed? The situation has reached a new stage, where it is in the international sphere, and either the United Nations or a resumed Geneva Conference will be necessary if there is to be that common action which is to realise our hopes.


My Lords, I of course welcome what the noble Lord says about the present situation, but, as he says, it is only a first step. I think that the next stage will be equally difficult, and certainly Her Majesty's Government are fully ready and prepared to do everything they can to make certain that this time we shall get a lasting peace in this part of the world. My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the British Government will consider, at the appropriate time, giving what assistance and aid they can for the people of Indo-China and the devastated areas?


My Lords, certainly. This is obviously something that we shall have to consider very seriously.