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Foreign Affairs

Part of Orders of the Day — Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st July 1961.

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Photo of Mr Edward Heath Mr Edward Heath , Bexley 12:00 am, 31st July 1961

I am weld aware of these difficulties. Our object is to find means whereby negotiations can be started in order to deal with these difficulties. I do not believe that the hon. Member is right in saying that President Bourguiba believes that the whole of his Western policy has broken down because of the circumstances as stated by the hon. Member. That is far from the truth. We in the West will do our utmost to reconcile these two countries.

I now want to turn to the other problem which has concerned us greatly in recent months, namely, the problem of Laos. When we last discussed it a ceasefire had just been accepted, and the Conference at Geneva was beginning. We can at least be glad that the cease-fire is being generally observed. There have been a few incidents, but there is now little serious fighting and the front has become stabilised. Unfortunately, there has been little progress towards a permanent solution.

There are really three sets of negotiations going on at the same time. First, there is the Conference at Geneva, which has been in session for nearly ten weeks and is only just beginning to consider in detail the proposals put before it. These are concerned with two things: first, the nature of the neutrality for Laos and, secondly, the means of guaranteeing and supervising it. There are major differences between the proposals which have been put forward, and it will take a lot of patient work to reach agreement. We have not put forward any proposals ourselves. The cochairman, Mr. Malcolm Macdonald, to whom I should like to pay tribute, has concentrated on finding the best way for the Conference to conduct its business in order to find a procedure on which a discussion of these proposals can take place. He has now been successful in that, and this has enabled the Conference to get under way.

The second lot of talks is between the three Princes, the leaders of the three main Laotian groups. When they met in Zurich they agreed that it was desirable to set up a Government of National Unity, and the object of this would be to pursue a policy of neutrality, economic development, and reconciliation internally. It was then left, on Prince Souvanna Phouma's suggestion, that they should meet again in Phnom Penh. This was agreed to by Prince Boun Oum, but unfortunately it has apparently been turned down by the Pathet Lao leader, Prince Souphanouvong. He wants details of these arrangements to be worked out at the third series of talks which I shall describe in a moment, at Ban Namone, the village between the lines where the cease-fire talks took place. The fact that this conference has not taken place at Phnom Penh has lost much of the momentum which was made at the Zurich talks.

The third series of talks at Ban Namone is where the political and military representatives are trying to get agreement on a permanent cease-fire, but there has been very little progress here. This is mainly because of opposition to the work of the International Control Commission, but proposals have now been tabled and we hope that progress can be made. What I think we must recognise is that there is a fundamental difference between the Communist and non-Communist Powers both in Laos and in Geneva about the future of this unhappy country. Everyone says that he wants to see a neutral Laos, but we want to see some guarantee that this will be carried out.

Laos is weak, and unless its neutrality and independence can be protected in some way it could collapse either through external pressures or through internal subversion. That is why we have asked that the International Control Commission should be given sufficient powers to supervise and control any arrangements that we make for Laos. The Communist countries, on the other hand, attacked this as an interference with the internal affairs and the sovereignty of Laos, but they have put forward no other way of dealing with it.

The next disturbing feature to us is the refusal of the Communist Powers to acknowledge the existence in Laos of a considerable number of North Vietnamese technicians and soldiers who have played a considerable part in the insurgency. We could be reassured if the Communist countries would admit that these men were there and would frankly say that they would be gone when an agreement was reached at the same time as military personnel from the West were withdrawn.

Another problem which faces us is the question of aid to Laos in future. We want Laos to be free to enjoy assistance offered by any country, provided that it is not used by the donor country for political purposes; and it should be given only to the legally constituted government who are recognised by all three sides. It must be given in a way which will enable Laos to preserve its neutrality and independence.

It appears from the Communist proposals that what they want is to make it easy for them to influence Laos, and at the same time make it very difficult for the West to do so. We cannot accept this provision, but we agree that we must persevere with the negotiations to get a reasonable settlement which will guarantee the neutrality and independence of Laos. The one thing which could help this and ensure the success of the negotiations would be if the Laotians themselves could agree on one central Government who could then represent them at the conference at Geneva. We hope that the Princes together will be able to form a Government who are acceptable to the country.