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Volume 639: debated on Wednesday 3 May 1961

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asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement on the negotiations for a cease-fire in Laos.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what assistance the United Kingdom and Russian Governments have given to the rival forces in Laos to enable them to negotiate a cease-fire.


asked the Lord Privy Seal if he will make a statement on the present situation in Laos.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what information he has received regarding the response to the call for a cease-fire in Laos.

Since I made my last statement, military representatives of the two sides in Laos managed to make contact in no-man's-land in the Vang Vieng sector on 1st May. It was expected in Vientiane today that there would be further meetings which may well have taken place by now but I have no confirmation that this is the case. No details are available but I understand that a de facto cease-fire is now operative on the front north of Vientiane and if the talks go well this should be extended shortly to other fronts. Both the Pathet Lao command and Captain Kong Lae have broadcast over their radios instructions to their forces to cease fire.

Her Majesty's Government have used their diplomatic resources to help to bring about these negotiations.

We have now received the report of the International Control Commission, with which we are entirely in agreement, and Her Majesty's Ambassador in Moscow has been instructed to discuss with the Soviet Co-Chairman the arrangements for the return of the Commission to Laos.

Has the Lord Privy Seal seen the report in The Times this morning to the effect that, following the arrangement of the cease-fire throughout the whole of Laos, political discussions are to take place between both sides—that is to say, the Government and Pathet Lao? Can we be told whether that is likely to delay the ratification of any cease-fire by the Control Commission?

While we must all be thankful that the cease-fire has now been arranged, might not the tension and danger of recent days have been obviated if the United Kingdom Government and Russia had offered their own services to facilitate a meeting, rather than issue an appeal for a cease-fire without making any concrete suggestions?

It was the view of the Soviet co-Chairman that the co-Chairmen should issue the appeal, and the actual arrangements for the cease-fire were bound to be a matter for the forces taking part. Naturally, we offered all our facilities where we could and used what influence we could to bring that about.

From our latest information, and from what the Lord Privy Seal has just said, it is the case, is it not, that Pathet Lao have laid down their arms and accepted the cease-fire? Is that also true of the Royalist forces? At the moment, it would seem not to be so. Did the right hon. Gentleman confute that statement?

What has happened, as we understand from a monitored broadcast, is that Pathet Lao has radioed to its forces, and Kong Lae to some of his, ordering the cease-fire—

That is why I have made this statement in rather careful terms, because we have not had direct information from the area that it has in fact happened yet. But General Phoumi has certainly shown extremely good faith in moving towards this cease-fire, proposing the place, and sending his troops forward under a flag of truce into no-man's-land, and I have no doubt at all that he will carry out the cease-fire.

Surely, such progress, slow as it may be, towards a cease-fire is the strongest argument against hasty unilateral action and intervention on either side in this affair. Can the right hon. Gentleman say to what extent the cease-fire agreement is intended to cover the supply of armaments to either side from foreign countries?

These talks are being carried on by representatives of the opposing forces and we have not yet had any information about the terms on which they have agreed, so I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman what the answer to the last part of his supplementary question is.

Surely Her Majesty's Government have reached some understanding with their Soviet co-Chairman as to whether a cease-fire should imply the cessation of external military aid to the two sides that were previously fighting—or is that not the case?

We have always urged that the greatest restraint should be shown in these supplies, and there is a greater possibility of doing that once an actual cease-fire has been secured.

Will the right hon. Gentleman go a step further and express the view of Her Majesty's Government that no foreign military aid should be given to either side in Laos following the arrangement for a cease-fire?

I would be very careful in remarking on this, because these are matters to be arranged between those taking part in the cease-fire agreement.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the United States Government concerning the establishment of the military liaison group at a time when a cease-fire was being called in Laos.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that at a time when the most delicate negotiations were proceeding between this country and Russia about the situation in Laos the decision of the United States Government that its advisers in Laos should be put into uniform and re-formed as the United States assistance advisory group to the Royal Laotian Government and permitted to be present with the Government forces in advanced positions was a most unwise one which might have a serious effect on the negotiation of the cease-fire?

It was not a case of the United States sending a military mission to the area. What happened was that the instructors had been with the Royal Laotian Forces for some considerable time as a group of programme evaluation officers, and their description was changed to that of a military advisory aid group so that they might be put into uniform and moved forward with the troops which they were training. The decision to do this was taken before the co-Chairmen issued their request for a cease-fire.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the Soviet Government concerning the continued supply of arms to the Pathet Lao.

Since it was first known that the Soviet airlift of arms to the Pathet Lao had begun, Her Majesty's Ambassador at Moscow has left the Soviet Government in no doubt as to our views about the danger of it.

We hope that once the cease-fire has been declared, all concerned will show great restraint in this matter. Control of these supplies is one of the matters to be handled at the conference.

Has the right hon. Gentleman read the Press reports over the week-end which continue to allege that such supplies are still going into Laos? Will he make it quite clear that this House would deplore tendentious reports which were wilfully calculated to sow distrust in an area where agreement would be so valuable? Can he state whether, when he received the assurances from the Soviet Union and when they issued an appeal for a cease-fire, they gave an assurance at the same time that they would stop the supply of arms?

I did not say in my reply that the Soviet Union had given any assurances. I said that we had made plain our view that it would be extremely dangerous if such assistance should be flown in.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what proposals he will put before the Geneva Conference to ensure international acceptance of the neutral status of Laos.

The aim of Her Majesty's Government is to establish a neutral, united and independent Laos, but it would be premature to put forward proposals to this end at this stage.

Will the right hon. Gentleman now give serious consideration to the proposal I put to him a couple of months ago that Laos, Cambodia, and South Vietnam should be withdrawn from the designated areas of the Manila Treaty? Does he recognise that the preservation of the right of military intervention by one of the military alliances would be totally incompatible with a neutrality status for Laos?

The means by which a neutral, united, and independent Laos can be achieved and security given to it must be a matter for the conference to settle.

Can the Lord Privy Seal say whether the International Commission will be able to control and prevent this supply of arms by either side to either side?

The instructions to the International Control Commission are to supervise and control the cease-fire.

We hope that the greatest restraint will be shown in the supply of arms. So far as the first stage is concerned, that is a matter for agreement between the parties now meeting to bring about a cease-fire. So far as the permanent arrangement is concerned, that comes under the terms of reference of the conference which will have to decide how the future status of Laos is to be secured.


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will give an assurance that, in the current discussions on Laos, the Government will oppose any form of military intervention in any circumstances.

Is not the Minister aware that a policy of military intervention in Laos could very well lead at the best to a Korean war and at the worst to a world war? This situation is now arising in Laos, and unless the Western Powers part company with these doctrines there is no hope whatever of any disarmament agreement or any move towards peace.

Her Majesty's Government have striven very hard in these last few months to bring about a peaceful solution of the conflict in Laos. It now seems that we may be within reach of that. The fact still remains—this is really the answer to the hon. Member's supplementary question—that we have our obligations under the Treaty of Manila, but of course we hope that we can bring about a peaceful settlement and have a conference which will ensure the neutrality, unity and independence of Laos.

Will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the declaration by all 81 Communist and Workers' Parties claiming the right of military intervention in any conflict which they regard as anti-colonial, is the greatest possible threat to peace at the present time?