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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.