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South-East Asia (Defence)

Volume 527: debated on Monday 17 May 1954

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asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on the proposed security pact for South-East Asia.


asked the Prime Minister whether he will now make his promised statement on the progress towards a South-East Asian defence pact.

42 and 43.

asked the Prime Minister (1) whether he will make a statement regarding the proposed Asian security pact;

(2) whether he will make a statement regarding the Geneva Conference.


asked the Prime Minister to what extent it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to consider the Anzus Pact as the nucleus of the proposed South-East Asia Pact.

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members for postponing these Questions until now.

The Geneva Conference is now entering on its fourth week. The immediate object of the discussions about Indo-China is to bring the fighting to an end on terms acceptable to both sides. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is doing all in his power to help in finding an agreed basis for this, and I am sure the House would not wish that anything should be said which might make his task more difficult. Moreover, the situation is in constant flux. As those who have put these Questions on the Paper have no doubt seen for themselves, it has undergone changes even since last Thursday. I certainly feel sympathy with the desire of many Members of the House to discuss more fully than is possible at Question time the whole foreign situation in all its bearings, but I cannot yet fix a suitable occasion. It certainly would be a great advantage—I think we should all agree to this—if the Foreign Secretary himself were present to give his own account of the events which have taken place and set his own proportion upon them.

All I will therefore say today is that until the outcome of the Conference is known, final decisions cannot be taken regarding the establishment of a collective defence in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific. Meanwhile it will be clear from the statements already made that Her Majesty's Government have not embarked on any negotiation involving commitments.

These problems of future policy to which I have just referred are, of course, quite distinct from the question of the examinations undertaken without commitment by existing military agencies, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State referred in reply to a Question on 10th of May. They are equally distinct from the conversations which, as reported in the Press, have been in progress during the past few days between the United States and French Governments about the situation in Indo-China.

In our consideration of all these matters, we are maintaining the closest touch with the Governments of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, and also with the Government of Burma. All these Governments are being kept fully informed from day to day of the development of events at the Geneva Conference, since we fully realise that they will be closely affected by its outcome and may feel willing to make a contribution towards it. There is, of course, also very intimate consultation with the Governments of Canada, Australia and New Zealand through their Delegations at Geneva as well as through the usual channels of Commonwealth consultation.

It should not, however, be thought that the terms of this statement cast any doubt upon our readiness to examine, when the outcome of the Geneva Conference is clearer, the possibility of establishing a system of collective security and defence in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific within the framework of the United Nations. We shall certainly do so. But our immediate task is to do everything we can to reach an agreed settlement at Geneva for the restoration of peace in Indo-China. Her Majesty's Government are resolved to do their utmost to achieve this aim and to exercise their influence to ensure that any acceptable settlement shall be backed by effective international guarantees.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is widespread appreciation of the difficulty of his answering in more detail while the Geneva Conference is on? At the same time, is he also aware that there will be general assent to any reinforcement of a settlement in South-East Asia in which India and China were taking part in order to bring about peace, but that there will be resentment about a collective peace designed to encircle China by any military entanglements?

Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify one point? He said that there was a distinction between the general talks which were taking place, and to which the Minister of State referred, and the talks which are taking place between the French and United States Governments; will the right hon. Gentleman give a firm assurance that there is no contemplation on the part of Her Majesty's Government of any kind of military intervention in Indo-China before the outcome of the Geneva Conference is known?

Will the Prime Minister consider sending a message of encouragement from the House as a whole to the Foreign Secretary in his valiant and sustained exertions in the cause of peace in the Far East?

Will the Prime Minister say whether, in considering this pact for South-East Asia, the problem of economic aid to the countries concerned is being borne in mind, as that is the main reason why N.A.T.O. has been a success in Europe, that economic aid has been given to the countries concerned?

Would the Prime Minister agree that in any question of a pact guaranteeing the nations of South-East Asia a prerequisite is that those nations should desire to be so guaranteed, because surely it is a most doubtful policy to guarantee people who do not wish to be guaranteed?

That is a point which no doubt will be mentioned in the course of these discussions.

Can the right hon. Gentleman clear up a point which the Minister of State was unable to clear up earlier, namely, can he say whether or not any initiative has come from the Governments of India, Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon or Indonesia for the formation of such a military pact in South-East Asia?

I think I would rather deal with that as a whole, not on that one particular point.