HL Deb 16 March 1978 vol 389 cc1475-6

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper, and I should like to make a correction of a slip which has occurred. The reference in my Question to "General Secretary" should, of course, read "Secretary-General".

The corrected Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ask the Security Council of the United Nations to instruct the Secretary-General to use his influence to end the war between Cambodia and Vietnam.


My Lords, I do not consider that an initiative would help at this stage, and I note that neither of the parties, nor other countries in the region who are immediately affected, have sought the Security Council's intervention.


My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether it is not the case that, since the end of December, Vietnam has proposed the immediate end to all hostilities, the withdrawal of the armies to five kilometres beyond the borders, and negotiations for a treaty recognising the existing borders under international supervision? When that proposal is made, should it not be for the United Nations to support it?


My Lords, it is perfectly true that the Vietnamese forces have withdrawn from the 30 kilometre line to which they had penetrated by January, and that was a hopeful sign. The Government of Vietnam have also made a three point proposal for the settlement of the dispute. At the moment fighting appears to have died down; it is somewhat intermittent. While the Cambodians have not yet accepted the Vietnamese proposal, there may be hope that they will. I think it is best to await a local settlement of what is, after all, a local dispute, rather than to complicate matters by proceeding to the Security Council at this stage.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not unwise, and even misleading, to imply that the UN has the power to do this, or that we or any other Government have the power to instruct the Secretary-General to do such-and-such a thing?


My Lords, the United Nations is the sum of its members, and to my knowledge no member or group of members so far has decided that it would be helpful to invite the Secretary-General to take the course suggested by my noble friend Lord Brockway. To that extent, certainly, my noble friend Lady Gaitskell is absolutely right.


My Lords, would the Minister care to define when a war is a war and not a local dispute?


My Lords, a local dispute qualifies for the description of a war equally with a continental hostility.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether there is not a danger that other Powers may become involved in what he has described as "a local dispute"?


My Lords, there is always that danger. Most wide-ranging wars, in the sense that the noble Lord had in mind, have indeed arisen from local disputes. This is local in the sense that it is long-standing and deep-seated as between these two national communities. The fact that they are both Communist countries does not in any way erode the nationalistic hostilities which subsist at present, as they have done for many years in the past. It is local in that sense. If your Lordships would prefer, shall we call it "a regional dispute"?