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Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 21 February 1962

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


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether he will make a statement on the situation in Laos and on the recent proceedings of the Laos Conference in Geneva.

Since my reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby, South (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) on 29th January, there have been renewed breaches of the cease-fire in North and Central Laos. These have delayed the meeting of the leaders of the Laotian groups.

However, a meeting was held between Prince Souvanna Phouma and General Phoumi on the 17th of February and it is thought that further meetings have begun in Vientiane today to deal with the military situation as well as with the formation of a Government.

The Geneva Conference is now awaiting the outcome of these talks.

Is the Lord Privy Seal aware that the situation now is very serious and dangerous? Would he agree that the Right-wing leader Prince Boun Oum is really asking too much, and will he give an assurance that if the negotiations for a neutral Government break down as a result of his attitude there will be no question of further support for his régime by the British Government?

I do not want here to start passing judgment on the particular demands of each of the Laotian leaders. What I think is encouraging is that Prince Souvanna Phouma has seen the King and has been encouraged to continue his work for the formation of a national Government. He is meeting General Phoumi today and that will cover the military situation as well as the formation of a united Government.

Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that the forces which so disastrously turned out Prince Souvanna Phouma two years ago are not again at work?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some of us think that it is quite right for people to be cautious in Laos? Can he name one single Government where Communists have been taken into the Government which has not become ultimately a wholly Communist one?

I think that it is possible to have a Government of national unity in Laos where all three parties are represented. Speaking from memory, I believe that formerly in Laos there were Communist members of the Government. A Right-wing Government was then formed in which there were no Communist members and Laos retained its independence. I think that answers the question of my hon. Friend.

In view of the right hon. Gentleman's statement that he does not want to pass judgment, may I ask whether it is not a fact that the good work done by the two Co-Chairmen. one from this country and one from the Soviet Union, who arranged for a joint meeting several weeks ago has been deliberately destroyed by the reluctance of the Right-wing Government to honour that preliminary agreement? Can he not say on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that he will do everything he can to see that a coalition Government is now formed and to impress upon the Right-wing that we are not going to stand by and see another dangerous war situation arising out there!

We have done our utmost to bring about a Government of national unity in Laos. A large number of meetings have been arranged from time to time and all these have failed to materialise because one or other of the princes has not been willing to attend them. I know that at the moment the cease-fire has been broken in the area of Nam Tha by Prince Souphanouvong's forces and also that there has been a breach of the cease-fire in the area of Mahaxay by both his and the other forces, and so there are difficulties on both sides. Our purpose is to bring the three together.

While we condemn breaches of the cease-fire from one side or the other, would the right hon. Gentleman perhaps think that it is time to start passing judgment on this issue? Is it not a fact that both the British and American Governments have made strong representations to Prince Bonn Oum and to General Phoumi, and does he not think that it is time that they now made it clear that their patience is getting a little thin and that they will give no further military or other support to General Phoumi unless he sets out to honour the agreement made in Geneva?

Her Majesty's Government are not giving military support to General Phoumi. What we are trying to do is to encourage the formation of a Government of national unity, and so are the American Government. That must be our purpose.