asked the Prime Minister whether he will associate himself with President de Gaulle's approach to the Soviet Prime Minister, with a view to a joint initiative for ending the war in Vietnam through a conference of the powers which met at Geneva in 1954 and 1962 in order to make peace in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
As I told the House before, what would stop the fighting would be a proper observance of the 1954 Geneva Agreements, thus putting an end to the aggression by the North against South Vietnam. As the House knows, we have in our traditional rôle as Co-Chairman been engaged in diplomatic consultations of a confidential nature. It is the view of Her Majesty's Government that if there is genuine cessation of hostilities, then talks in some form should be started. But for the moment the form is of less account than the bask of talks. Our own diplomatic efforts have been directed to seeing if this basis exists. As I have already told the House, we have been in touch with the Soviet Government, who were given our views on this problem on 20th February. We are now awaiting their reply and will maintain contact through the diplomatic channel as well as taking the opportunity for further discussions which will, I hope, be afforded by Mr. Gromyko's visit to London next week.
My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be paying a visit to Washington on 22nd and 23rd March, when Vietnam will be among the subjects discussed, though this is not the specific purpose of the meeting.
Meanwhile, we will continue our diplomatic consultations with a view to achieving a peaceful solution which stands some chance of assuring a lasting genuine settlement. The House will not expect me to say more.
I have dealt with this situation on a number of occasions. I have said that, as we all recognise, if the 1954 Agreement were honoured in full there would be no problem, and it is certainly the case—I think that this needs to be understood—that the United States have in fact offered to withdraw American military forces from Vietnam in the event of a prompt and assured cessation of aggression by Hanoi.
While adding my thanks to my right hon. Friend for his reply, may I ask him whether he has read the majority Report of the International Supervisory Commission pointing out that American attacks on North Vietnam constitute a violation of the 1954 agreements, or rather of the American undertaking to do nothing by force to upset those agreements? Does he recall that on 5th March and 30th June last year he himself urged the then Prime Minister to make it clear that we opposed the extension of the war to North Vietnam? Finally, does my right hon. Friend recognise that the course outlined in my Question No. Q6 is being urged on him by a large number of his followers in this House, by the Liberal Party, by the Transport and General Workers' Union, by the National Union of Railwaymen and by an influential section of the Press? Will he not take action in that sense?
First, I have read the majority Report of the Control Commission and the minority Report. To get a good balanced view, I think that one needs to read both. I well remember the occasions when I put across the Floor of the House to the Leader of the Opposition the proposition which my hon. Friend has not incorrectly quoted. But there has been a substantial change in the past few weeks, not of degree but of kind.
A year ago, the general supposition was that the fighting in South Vietnam was a spontaneous, so-called nationalist rising on the part of the Viet Cong people. But now there is no attempt at all to deny the responsibility of North Vietnam who have said that they are fighting a war in South Vietnam. That makes a very big difference, I think, in terms of our analysis of the problem. We have never sought to see the war extended. I still think it right—I have just quoted what Mr. Adlai Stevenson said—that if there were clear evidence of a cessation of the aggression by North Vietnam the United States are prepared to take their troops out. The other thing which my hon. Friend has in mind would then automatically follow.
Irrespective of the advice which the Prime Minister may be receiving from the Transport and General Workers' Union, and presumably from the unpaid general secretary, will be bear in mind that the vast majority of the House very much welcomes his Answer this afternoon? Will he bear in mind that appeasement is not the way to get a solution in Vietnam?
I am not, frankly, in need of compliments from the hon. Gentleman. I think that the issue which we are dealing with this afternoon is too serious for the kind of low-level tomfoolery which he likes to indulge in.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a growing anxiety in this country at constant and continual reports both in the American and British Press suggesting that our Government have not taken sufficient action in relation to initiatives in this direction because of certain commitments which we have entered into with the United States Government? Would he repudiate these suggestions?
If there is one thing on which, perhaps, I disagree with my hon. Friend it is his assumption that the anxieties to which he refers are not shared by every hon. and right hon. Member on both sides of the House and certainly by the Government. Of course, we understand when hon. Members sign Motions, but it should not be assumed that, when hon. Members go to sleep at night, their cheeks suffused with that virtue which affects all of us when we have signed Motions—I have signed many Motions—there are not some people staying up long into the night on the telephone trying to achieve the very objective which, I am sure, was the main purpose of those who signed the Motion.
While appreciating the position of the Government, and without casting any doubt on the motives of the Americans in South Vietnam, may I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that it is not only in this country but in very respectable circles in America itself that there is widespread anxiety about the end of the present operation? Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether he has received from the Americans any indication about whether they think that the present operation will help towards the resumption of conversations which he himself said is so desirable?
Further, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether there is any prospect of getting political stability in South Vietnam, because unless the people of South Vietnam are enlisted in defence of their own freedom, and unless we get some form of reasonably stable administration in South Vietnam, we appear to be in danger of sinking into an absolutely bottomless bog?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The anxieties which he has expressed are expressed very widely in many parts of the world—in this country and in many others, as he has said. I think that I am interpreting him right when I say that I do not think it will help particularly to start examining motives. We are more interested in getting results than examining motives or doing any sort of analysis of that kind.
With regard to the essential need for effective civil administration in South Vietnam—and there has been a great deal of political instability there—I would much agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. But we must recognise that it is not conducive to political stability of any kind if people are not allowed to go about their daily work and on their farms, especially in the villages, because of this continued violence.
Will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister bear in mind that in the last few weeks there has been a dangerous escalation in the military operations which may threaten the peace of the world and that in any action which his Government can take in accord with Russia, France, Canada or anybody else, the vast majority of the people will give him support, since they agree with the view of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that no settlement can come from further fighting and that a cease-fire is urgently required?
My right hon. Friend has throughout this very difficult problem expressed the anxieties which he and so many feel in a restrained and constructive way. When he referred just now to escalation, I think that he was referring to what I had in mind when I said that the events of the past few weeks represent not merely an intensification in the degree of fighting, but a difference in kind—a difference in kind which results from the now quite clear commitment on the part of the North Vietnamese Government to perpetuate this war in South Vietnam, taking it out of the concept of a civil war, and the response which has inevitably followed that disclosure and that determination. That is why I think that my right hon. Friend is quite right in saying that this carries with it very grave dangers.