Oral Answers to Questions — Vietnam

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th February 1967.

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Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West 12:00 am, 27th February 1967

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy regarding the rôle of the United Nations in the Vietnam conflict and its implications for the future of international peace-keeping machinery.

Mr. Colin Jackson:

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if Her Majesty's Government will encourage further initiatives by the United Nations to solve the Vietnam crisis.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

There are, unfortunately, considerable difficulties in the way of the United Nations taking action over Vietnam. These stem from the North Vietnamese refusal to accept that the United Nations has any positive rôle to play.

Photo of Mr Frank Judd Mr Frank Judd , Portsmouth West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this situation in Vietnam is an acute symptom of the general problem of South-East Asia to which a lasting solution can be found only in the context of a multilateral policy through the United Nations, and that, if we are not to stagger from crisis to crisis, we must give priority to strengthening international peace-keeping machinery through the United Nations generally?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

However much we strengthen the international peace-keeping machinery—my hon. Friend knows how keenly I feel about that—it cannot really move if the North Vietnamese go on saying that they will not allow the United Nations to play any part there.

Mr. Jackson:

In regard to South Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend consider the United Nations together with the International Control Commission establishing contact with the National Liberation Front, which must be in any talks which take place?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

It has been made clear already many times that the presence of the National Liberation Front is not an obstacle to talks taking place and would not be a problem. Therefore, the rest of the question does not arise.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a great many of us are getting sick and tired of this constant attempt to blame the continuation of the war on North Vietnam? Is he not aware that the Prime Minister's acceptance of the United States excuse for the renewed bombing, that North Vietnam had broken the terms of the truce, was complete nonsense, and has it not since been established beyond further controversy that the terms of the truce permitted both sides to reinforce and to give supplies to forces already in South Vietnam?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have Questions later today on that subject, if they are reached. I shall not, therefore, answer it now since that would be to pre-empt those hon. Members who have put the Questions down. But I say straight to my hon. Friend, whether he is getting sick and tired or not, that it was the North Vietnamese who had it in their power to bring this war to an end.

Hon. Members:

No.

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further proposals he has to end the conflict in Vietnam; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest developments in his exchanges with other Governments on the war in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make a statement on British proposals for ending the war in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will take a new initiative to obtain a negotiated settlement to end the war in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a further statement about negotiations for peace in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr James Wellbeloved Mr James Wellbeloved , Erith and Crayford

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further action he intends to take in pursuance of Her Majesty's Government's policy of seeking to establish peace in Vietnam; and whether he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Sydney Bidwell Mr Sydney Bidwell , Southall

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a further statement on the success of Her Majesty's Government's policy of seeking peace in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

As the House knows, we are constantly searching for ways to end the Vietnam war, but for the present I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House on 13th and 14th February.—[Vol. 741, cc. 109, 345.]

Photo of Mr Eric Heffer Mr Eric Heffer , Liverpool, Walton

In view of the fact that the Government say they are searching for peace in Vietnam, has not the time come to tell the Americans to stop escalating the war, as they have done again by their bombardment from the sea of North Vietnam? Would not the efforts of the Government be best directed to giving their full support to the three peace proposals of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, which mean, first, the stopping of bombing of North Vietnam?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have repeatedly made it clear that we support the Secretary-General's three peace proposals. In fact, I put them forward when I spoke at the Labour Party Conference and in the General Assembly of the United Nations, but we regard them as package proposals and not proposals to be taken separately in the way suggested. On the question of making efforts to end the war, that we have been doing for a long time past, and we are doing it, but I do not believe it will be any contribution to that end to suggest that one side should be asked to allow the Communists to take them over.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Why does my right hon. Friend keep on identifying the two sides as though they were exactly equal in what they are doing? Does he not regard the sort of bombing which North Vietnam is being subjected to as infinitely more harmful and anti-human and destructive than what is being done in the South?

Hon. Members:

Criminal.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

No, frankly I do not. I deplore both. There are horrors being inflicted in the South. Lives are being taken in the South and people are being maltreated in the South in far greater numbers compared with what is happening in the North.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

Can the right hon. Gentleman yet disclose what proposals were considered or tried during the time of Mr. Kosygin's visit?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

No. I think that would have been very counter-productive. If one is to achieve things in this field, as the Prime Minister told the House, there are areas which obviously must remain confidential.

Photo of Mr Norman St John-Stevas Mr Norman St John-Stevas , Chelmsford

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the prime need in Vietnam is for an impartial mediator which the British Government in the nature of things cannot be? Will he seek to avail himself of the efforts made by the Vatican in this regard?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

There is no evidence, I am afraid, even though I discussed this with the Pope when I was there, that they would be any more welcome to the North Vietnamese than we ourselves are, but I have repeatedly said here and elsewhere that the question of who is the mediator or what is the mediatory machinery is much less relevant than bringing about mediation. It is to this end that we are addressing our attention. For this purpose we have made proposals; and as soon as it is possible to get a response from North Vietnam, whether it be from us or anyone else the mediation can proceed, hostilities may cease and then we can consider by what machinery we can reach an ultimate settlement.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that in the last few days the United States Government have quite definitely taken steps to escalate and intensify the war? Does he further agree that it is almost overwhelmingly certain that this was partly made possible by the build-up of forces and reinforcement of American positions during the truce? Will he set this factor alongside the statements made by the Prime Minister that the whole operation of securing peace was made nugatory by the action of the North Vietnamese in sending reinforcements during the period of the truce?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have repeatedly said that one of the reasons for working very hard to halt the war, for the efforts we are still making, is that in the nature of things it is bound to escalate if it continues. Whatever comment my hon. Friend may want to make on the Americans, I now ask him to recognise that in the first days of the Tet truce the North Vietnamese regrettably made an enormous build-up which no doubt has had consequential effects.

Photo of Mr James Davidson Mr James Davidson , Aberdeenshire West

Is the Foreign Secretary not aware that, according to newspaper reports and reports in the French journal Le Monde, the build-up of American replenishments and stores during the truce period was evidently just as great as that of the movement of forces and replenishments in the opposite direction?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

What I am absolutely certain of is that it was the critical first 36 hours of the truce which were misused in a massive way, and I regret to say that I think that that had a lot to do with subsequent events.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards support for the bombing of North Vietnam by United States forces, in view of the forthcoming Vietnamese New Year truce.

Photo of Mr William Griffiths Mr William Griffiths , Manchester Exchange

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in view of the official announcement from Hanoi that negotiations cannot start before bombing ends, whether he will now support the proposal of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that the bombing of North Vietnam should cease unconditionally in order to make it possible to start negotiations.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Reading

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will now amend his Vietnam peace proposal at the General Assembly of the United Nations so as to make it the policy of Her Majesty's Government that bombing must cease unconditionally before negotiations can begin.

Photo of Mr Jon Rankin Mr Jon Rankin , Glasgow Govan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will make representations to President Johnson on the need to institute an indefinite bombing pause in order to create the pre-conditions for peace in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

It was the view of Her Majesty's Government that the New Year truce provided a great opportunity for action which could have ensured no further bombing and a reduction in other military activities in Vietnam. Despite all our efforts this hope was disappointed for reasons I have already given to the House. We shall continue our efforts.

Photo of Mr Arthur Newens Mr Arthur Newens , Epping

Could my right hon. Friend say what assurances on the bombing were sought by him and given by the President of the United States and Secretary of State Dean Rusk during his visit to the United States in October?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I would not go into discussions that must remain confidential if they are to be valuable. I hope that my hon. Friend will take it from me quite sincerely that I had enough knowledge to be able to go on and talk in Moscow as I did and to be able to join my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in talking to Mr. Kosygin as we did.

Photo of Mr William Griffiths Mr William Griffiths , Manchester Exchange

Whilst we increasingly despair of moving my right hon. Friend from his position of almost uncritical support of the Americans, may I ask whether he will now give the House a straight and honest answer to the question whether he and the British Government support the demands of the Secretary-General of the United Nations that unconditional cessation of bombing must precede negotiations?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I am sorry that my hon. Friend despairs of moving me from my position, which is not one of uncritical support for anybody but is one of absolute determination to stand by just standards and fair dealing in this matter. All my answers, whether my hon. Friend likes them or not, are straight and honest. I stand by my support for U Thant's three points, but I believe that they should be taken together.

Photo of Mr Gwynfor Evans Mr Gwynfor Evans , Carmarthen

Is the Foreign Secretary aware of the reports, which add so much to the urgency of the matter, that no fewer than 1 million children in South Vietnam have been killed or seriously injured, many of them burnt by napalm and white phosphorus? That is no fewer than one out of every four of the children of the whole country, 70 per cent. of the civilian casualties of that country.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

Nobody will imagine that I do not have an enormous emotional involvement in the matter, for the sort of reasons the hon. Gentleman gave. I would desperately like somehow to bring about an end to the hostilities. I should like to make the first move in that direction. I have tried very hard, and shall go on doing so.

Photo of Lord  Balniel Lord Balniel , Hertford

Whatever our various views as to how best to achieve the result the right hon. Gentleman wants, and of course the whole House wants an end to the horrifying war, was there any indication during the bombing pause and during the visit of Mr. Kosygin of a desire or preparedness by Hanoi to move from the battlefield to the conference table?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I do not have anything to add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in his very full statement on the subject. There were moments when we thought that we were very near getting something to happen. Alas, it did not.

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Tottenham

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the U Thant proposals as a basis of settlement in Vietnam; and what steps he will now take to get these proposals implemented.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will approach the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in order to make a joint approach as Joint Chairman of the Geneva Conference to all the combatants in the Vietnam war upon the lines of the proposals of the Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant, in order to initiate early negotiations and an early cease-fire.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on Her Majesty's Government's policy towards the latest proposals of the Secretary-General of the United Nations for the settlement of the Vietnam conflict.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will urge the United States Government to accept U Thant's three proposals for bringing about peace in Vietnam.

Photo of Mr Konni Zilliacus Mr Konni Zilliacus , Manchester, Gorton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether, in view of the recent official proposal of the Hanoi Government that it would negotiate only when bombing ceased, the National Liberation Front or a South Vietnam coalition including the National Liberation Front were an independent party to the negotiations, and if the latter were directed to implementing the 1954 Geneva Agreements, he will now support U Thant's proposals to make negotiation and a settlement possible on the basis of these three points.

Photo of Mr James Dickens Mr James Dickens , Lewisham West

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will state the present policy of Her Majesty's Government on the three-point proposals for a settlement of the war in Vietnam, advocated by U Thant, United Nations Secretary-General; and what further steps he now contemplates.

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

As I told the House on 18th January, we support U Thant's proposals, taken together, as a basis on which the fighting could be stopped.—[Vol. 739, c. 425–438.]

Photo of Mr Norman Atkinson Mr Norman Atkinson , Tottenham

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely dishonest to talk about accepting those proposals as a package deal when he is really saying that he thinks that negotiations are possible even though the bombing may continue? It makes absolute nonsense of the proposals if he now says that he does not agree with U Thant's sequence of ideas. Could my right hon. Friend say how it is possible to bring this thing to an end while at the same time denying the validity of U Thant's proposal to bring the bombing to an end before negotiations proceed?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

We have had that question as a supplementary on every Question that has preceded it. There is not very much I can add, except to say that I believe that the three points put forward by U Thant provide a basis on which an honourable cessation of the hostilities could have occurred, and I very much regret that it was not accepted.

Photo of Mr Julius Silverman Mr Julius Silverman , Birmingham Aston

Is it not now quite clear that the road to negotiations will be through the cessation of bombing, which is not merely U Thant's proposal but is also now clearly stated as the proposal of the North Vietnamese Government, which is an advance on their part? Will my right hon. Friend make representations to the United States Government to take the single step which will be the prelude to negotiations and which can possibly result in the end of that terrible war?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister told the House, the North Vietnamese know full well what needs to be done in order that bombing should stop and that there should be a reduction in the level of other military activity in that unhappy country. I believe that we should serve the cause of peace better if we directed our addresses to both sides instead of only to one.

Photo of Mr Michael Foot Mr Michael Foot , Ebbw Vale

But will my right hon. Friend recognise that what he says is in direct conflict with what U Thant said? The British Government's initiatives having failed in the matter, will he ask the British Government to reconsider the proposals which U Thant is making and which U Thant himself said had come very near to the possibility of getting a settlement during the time of the pause? Will the British Government now reconsider this proposal on U Thant's own basis?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I regard the cessation of hostilities, or certainly the reduction of the level of them, as an immediate requirement. Of course the stopping of bombing in the North would be a good thing, but if its consequences were that still greater violence, killing and harming of people went on in the South, then I do not think that we should have achieved very much. That is why I believe that the three points taken together constitute a package, that is why I believe that the proposals which we are urging on Hanoi as well as on the United States are right—and that is why I invite the support of my hon. Friend for that kind of approach.

Photo of Mr Frederic Harris Mr Frederic Harris , Croydon North West

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that, whatever the strength of feeling by individual hon. Members on these vitally important matters, many of us admire the way in which he has stood up to Questions in the House?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

How far that will help me I do not know, but I am obliged to the hon. Member.

Photo of Mr Stan Orme Mr Stan Orme , Salford West

If my right hon. Friend says that he accepts U Thant's three points, why have the British Government moved their position from that of last year in relation to the bombing of North Vietnam? Why does he not condemn the extension of the bombing from the sea which is taking place at this very moment in Vietnam? Why will he not accept U Thant's first point as a basis for getting a settlement of this war?

Photo of Mr George Brown Mr George Brown , Belper

I have dealt with the matter repeatedly. That is my view, right or wrong, and that is the view which I hold firmly and from which I shall not depart. The propositions which I repeated were essentially the core of what I put, with overwhelming support, may I repeat, at the Labour Party conference last October. I believe that, as the party conference clearly said, that is the right approach. On the bombing, my hon. Friend is confusing two things. I draw his attention to the fact that for a long time past there has been no bombing in the Hanoi-Haiphong areas.