When I last spoke to the House, I gave an account of the first stage of the Conference. The House may now wish to hear something about the agreements which were finally reached at Geneva on 21st July.
First, there are three agreements containing the detailed provisions for a cease-fire in each of the three States of Indo-China. These were signed yesterday by the representatives of the Military Commands of the two sides. The full texts are not to be made public for the present. I regret this necessity because publication would enable a clearer view to be taken of our work. The dates of the cease-fire have, however, been fixed. They are spaced in time in order to meet conditions in different parts of Indo-China. The House will therefore understand that there must be some delay in publication to enable the necessary orders to be transmitted to the scattered forces in the various areas concerned in a country where communications are limited.
Then there is the final declaration of the Conference. This takes note of the military agreements and of a number of declarations made by individual delegations on separate points. It also records an undertaking, by each member of the Conference to respect the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of the three States of Indo-China.
In Viet Nam, arrangements have been made for the progressive regrouping, after the cease-fire, of the forces of the two sides north and south of a temporary military demarcation line, near the 17th parallel. This regrouping will be completed within 300 days. As a result, French forces will have to evacuate the important area which they now hold in the north. On the other hand, Vietminh forces will have to be withdrawn from large areas in central and south Viet Nam, in some of which they have been established and in control for eight years.
It is further agreed that during the period in which forces are being regrouped civilians wishing to move from one zone to the other will also be permitted and assisted to do so.
Provision is also made for the eventual reunification of the country, that is, Viet Nam, through free elections, by secret ballot under international supervision, to be held in July, 1956.
In Laos and Cambodia provision is made for the withdrawal of the Vietminh forces from these two countries. Thereafter all citizens are to be enabled, without reprisals or discrimination, to take their place in the national community and to take part in the elections that are to be held next year under the existing constitution of these two countries.
Both Laos and Cambodia are to be enabled to build up armed forces for the effective defence of their territories. For this purpose provision is made for French aid and assistance for their training and equipment. I do not think that the detailed arrangements on these points when published will be found unsatisfactory by the House.
At the same time it is clearly understood that none of the three States will allow the establishment of foreign military bases on its territory or will become a member of a military alliance. The purpose is to ensure that each of these countries shall be able to lead its own life in peace. This should surely be in the continuing interest of all the countries represented at the Conference. Her Majesty's Government sincerely hope that other Governments in Southern Asia and the South-West Pacific will associate themselves with the agreements which have now been reached.
I think everyone will agree that the proceedings of this Conference have been of unparalleled complexity. I am myself convinced that the arrangements now arrived at are the best that could have been contrived in the circumstances of each individual case. The fact that we were able to reach an agreement at all in these last days was due above all to the courage and tenacity of the French Prime Minister, M. Mendès-France. We in this country feel a deep sympathy for the ordeal through which the French people have passed during these last eight years. At the end of it all, France has now to make heavy sacrifices.
We remember also the fate of the peoples of these three countries of Indo-China, so much of whose lives has been passed under the shadow of war. And as we form judgment upon these events, it is a fair comment to make that the only alternative to these agreements was continued fighting, further misery and suffering, and the certainty of even greater sacrifices in the end.
What is more, there was a wider danger for us all. So long as this fighting continued there was an ever-present risk that the conflict would spread, with measureless consequences. In so far as our toils have averted these dangers, they have been, I am sure, a real gain for peace.
The House in general will share with the Foreign Secretary a sense of relief that there is a ceasefire. That in itself is a substantial gain, and we are all very glad about it. We also join with the right hon. Gentleman in our appreciation of the part that has been played by M. Mendès-France, the Prime Minister of France, working, as he was, in very difficult circumstances. We are very glad that this cease-fire agreement has been reached.
It would be rather unwise, I think, for us not to recognise that there are many complications left for future consideration; there are many loose ends. Therefore, we should not assume that all the problems are necessarily solved, but we are indeed glad that the shooting part of the business has now come to an end.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the nation will be profoundly grateful for what has been achieved in conditions of unexampled difficulty, and will wish it to be said that those achievements are due, in no small measure, to his own tireless zeal, initiative, great skill and knowledge of affairs and, not least, to the enormous prestige which he enjoys among the other nations concerned?
I think all Members on this side of the House will join with those on the other side of the House in congratulating the Foreign Secretary, M. Mendès-France, and the others taking part in this Conference. In view of the much more encouraging results and the much more encouraging spirit shown at this Conference as compared with the Berlin Conference, will the Government seriouly consider now whether the time is not opportune for inviting new talks about a settlement of the German problem?
While the Foreign Secretary's labours have been crowned with these most welcome assurances, a great ideological struggle is more likely to be carried on by economic, social and moral rather than military, means. Could the right hon. Gentleman and his friends look once again at the answer they made about S.U.N.F.E.D. to see whether this occasion should not be used to make a better answer so that we shall now be making a really effective contribution to the kind of struggle which is likely to be intensified in that area, and upon which the long-term future depends?
I think we have been conscious throughout that the settlement of any of these problems essential to Central and South-East Asia depends on our having, in the work we are doing, the support of the people of those countries, without which nothing whatever of value can finally be achieved. That is the stern reality. It is not merely a military issue or a military challenge; it is a challenge in respect of a way of life. That is why all that we have done in relation to the Colombo Plan and other efforts is, I think, of first importance.
May I say, in response to the right hon. Gentleman, that I agree that we have to be very cautious in our approach to these matters? I hope that I have been so; and I do believe that when the House can see the terms of the armistice agreement themselves they will not be distressed by them, and that they will feel that the work, despite the difficulties, has been thoroughly and well done. But we have to look beyond the armistice plan to the spirit behind it, and that depends on both sides.
Finally, in answer to the right hon. Member for Attercliffe (Mr. J. Hynd), of course we hope that these results will lead to better relations elsewhere. We shall do what we can as and when we think the mood right to try to promote this.
There are no French bases or French troops in Cambodia. As for Laos, I am afraid that I must ask my hon. Friend to await the publication of the armistice terms. I beg him and others not to take a pessimistic view before he has read them.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is no need for him to apologise to this side of the House at least for the part which he has played with M. Mendès-France and others in helping to bring peace to the whole world for the first time for nearly 15 years?
May I ask my right hon. Friend—the right hon. Gentleman—whether he will be assured that, no matter what differences may exist between us on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards other parts of the world, as far as I am concerned I have nothing but admiration for the way in which he has handled the Geneva Conference?