HL Deb 23 July 1979 vol 401 cc1621-5

2.53 p.m.


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 whether any aid is now being provided by this country for Vietnam.


My Lords, there can be no question of our giving any new aid to Vietnam while the Vietnamese Government continue their callous and inhuman policy which is the root cause of the present Indo-Chinese refugee problem. Current British aid commitments, carried over from the previous Government, are to meet by agreed instalments the remaining £2.3 million of the total grant to support the sale of four British-built cargo vessels to Vietnam and to complete the courses of English language training in Britain for the few Vietnamese teachers who are due to remain here until June 1980.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer and for the courteous and helpful letter which he sent me, may I ask him whether, none the less, he would accept that there are many people who feel it is quite wrong, despite the difficulty caused by the commitment of the previous Government, to continue putting the money of the British taxpayer into the hands of this gang of genocidal murderers? Would it not be better to stop the flow to that Government and use what resources are available to help their victims, the refugees?


My Lords, I am not sure I would use the language my noble friend used in referring to the people of Vietnam, but certainly the situation there is highly unsatisfactory. My noble friend will have read however of the fairly satisfactory outcome of the conference at Geneva at the end of last week. On the question of ships aid, as the House knows, in Opposition we were highly critical of the ships aid. On taking office we looked promptly to see whether we could stop it, but, as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in another place, unfortunately it would cost us more to cancel those contracts than to complete them. Furthermore, the commitment was a firm one and cancellation would have had damaging effects on British Shipbuilders and its employees.


My Lords, are the Government intending to make a full Statement on the outcome of the Geneva talks to either or both Houses of Parliament?


My Lords, I understand that is in my noble friend's mind.


My Lords, in view of the decision of the Geneva conference regarding the treatment of exiles from Vietnam, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government would reconsider their decision if that agreement was implemented?


Yes, my Lords: we will do that, I think, but we shall want to see the outcome and the effect of the undertakings given by the Vietnamese before we move further.


May I press the Minister on that last reply, my Lords, which I am not totally sure I understood? Would he not accept that the Governments who have experienced this huge wave of refugees must take first priority so far as any additional aid is concerned? Is he not aware that many people in this country, understanding as they do the situation explained by the Minister today about existing contracts, nevertheless feel deep unease about British money going to support a régime which has murdered tens of thousands of its own citizens?


Yes, my Lords, and we felt deep unease about it as well, and that is why we reviewed the whole matter when we came to office.


My Lords, would the Minister not agree, in respect of the vessels to which he made allusion, that in technical language they would be classified as " unrequited exports "?


My Lords, I understood the Minister to say the Government proposed to make a fuller Statement about what happened at the conference in Geneva. When is that Statement to be made? Is he aware that all the information We have had, apart from Answers to Questions—and they have not gone into detail—has been gained from the Press? In view of all the complications that are likely to emerge from what happened at Geneva, are we not to have a Statement before we depart from this House for the Recess?


My Lords, I am not able to bind my noble friend the Foreign Secretary to make a Statement today, tomorrow or any other day, but I know that is very much in his mind.


My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to answer my last supplementary question, as to whether the Government have considered diverting the remaining payments from the Government of Vietnam, notwithstanding the latter's undertaking not to murder its fellow subjects for a few weeks, to the refugees? Could not, for example, these ships be sold and the funds made available for that humanitarian purpose?


My Lords, that was certainly one of the things we considered at the outset, when we came to office, but it proved to be impracticable, however desirable it might seem.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister to realise that, so far as I am concerned, I do not dissent for a moment from his condemnation of the conduct of the Vietnamese Government? But, in the interests of the long-term policy of this country, to secure the stabilisation of the Far East, would he also bear in mind that that country has had 30 years of war, first with the French and then with the Americans, during which time it was bombed to an even greater extent than the allied bombing of Germany? Is he aware that, if we do not bear that in mind, we shall be creating a situation which will continue and worsen for many years?


My Lords, I find it impossible to justify the action of the Vietnamese Government, even bearing in mind the factors mentioned by the noble Lord.


My Lords, on that line, too, may I ask the Minister to convey to his noble friend the admiration for his noble friend's speech in Geneva which commended itself to many sections of this House?


I will do that, my Lords.


My Lords, in the light of what my noble friend said and the fact that we have a Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary in your Lordships' House, something we must all be conscious of, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he will approach the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to see whether he would be willing to make a Statement in the House in regard to the conference in Geneva, something which the House would very much welcome?

The LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL (Lord Soatnes)

My Lord, as my noble friend Lord Trefgarne said, I know that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has it very much in mind that he would like so to do and would hope to fit it in.

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