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Volume 656: debated on Monday 26 March 1962

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asked the Lord Privy Seal what action has been taken by the representative of Her Majesty's Government, as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference on Vietnam, following the recent worsening of the situation in South Vietnam.


asked the Lord Privy Seal what action he will now take, as co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference on Vietnam, in view of the recent developments in Vietnam and the deterioration in the situation there.

As the House is aware, we have had exchanges of Notes with the Soviet Government. These rest with a Soviet aide mémoire of 17th March, which again urges that the United States should be called upon to cease interfering in South Vietnam. This ignores the United Kingdom proposal that the Soviet Government should deal with the root cause of the trouble by exercising restraint upon the North Vietnamese. As there is clearly no agreement between the two co-Chairmen on the facts of the situation, we must now await a report from the International Control Commission.

Is not this a very serious situation for the whole of South-East Asia, particularly in relation to Laos nearby? Will the hon. Gentleman answer these questions? First, what are British commitments in Vietnam at present? Second, in addition to communications with Russia, has there been any communication sent to America regarding the military aid which America is offering to South Vietnam? Third, will the Government consider recalling the Geneva Conference so that this very grave situation can be discussed in the spirit of the earlier conference at Geneva?

As I said when the matter was last discussed in the House, it is, obviously, a serious situation. I gave the reasons why Her Majesty's Government think that it is serious. In answer to the questions which the hon. Member has put: first, there is no British commitment in South Vietnam. Second, we have had no communication with America in our position as co-Chairman, although, of course, we are in communication with America on these and all matters which affect us. Third, it would hardly be possible to agree on a policy when there is no agreement at all as to the nature of the situation. Therefore, I think that we should await the report from the I.C.C. before any question of recalling the Geneva Conference arises.

Since the Minisster has said that there is no commitment by the British Government in South Vietnam, can he go further and say that that implies that there is no commitment under the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation in Vietnam, and will he assure the House that we shall not interfere in the internal affairs of Vietnam? I endorse the supplementary questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Mr. Brockway). Will the Minister please approach the American Government to see whether we can, at least in the transition period, bring about a standstill in the movement of troops and military equipment into South Vietnam?

When I said that there was no British commitment in South Vietnam, I was not talking about our obligations under Article 4 of the Manila Treaty.

Whether or not Britain would be required to give assistance under that Article would depend upon the situation at the time. Clearly, I cannot give a categorical assurance at the moment. On the other matter which the hon. Gentleman has raised, the United States has said that if the North Vietnamese will stop their campaign to destroy the Republic of Vietnam the steps which the United States is taking to assist the South Vietnamese in their defence efforts will no longer be necessary.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that this country has serious commitments and responsibilities in South Vietnam, and is he aware that, although, no doubt, the interference of North Vietnam is contrary to all principles of co-existence and is a main cause of the crisis there, it is nevertheless the fact that the Americans are being provoked, it seems, beyond the brink of what is sensible in their aid to South Vietnam now, and will he urge on the Americans that they should not go beyond operational military training of troops at the most and should not in any circumstances take part in operations themselves as service men?

I think that the Americans are fully aware of what their responsibilities in that area are. They are there assisting at the moment by reason of a call which came from the South Vietnam Government. If the campaign which is being conducted by the North Vietnamese were to cease, the American intervention would no longer be required.

Is my hon. Friend aware that some of us think that the Americans are doing a great deal to help against very serious Communist penetration in South-East Asia in what they are doing in South Vietnam?

It is quite clear that what is taking place in South Vietnam now is a calculated Communist take-over bid.

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House what, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, the oppressed and impoverished people of this country are to do while great Powers thousands of miles away play with their fortunes and their future for ideological considerations of their own?

As I have said, I cannot agree with the view frequently expressed in some quarters of the House that what is happening in South Vietnam is the action of an oppressed rebel minority. In fact, it is quite clearly directed and assisted from North Vietnam.


asked the Lord Privy Seal whether, in view of the participation of United States pilots and ground staff in military operations conducted by South Vietnam Government forces against South Vietnam guerrillas, he will, as co-chairman, reconvene the Geneva Conference on Vietnam and propose bringing the situation before the Security Council as a threat to peace.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that American armed intervention in Southern Vietnam, whatever may be the allegations concerning North Vietnam help or otherwise to Southern Vietnam, is contrary to the Charter and might involve us in war? Will not the hon. Gentleman at least give the same warning that Mr. Eden, as he then was, gave to Mr. Dulles over Dienbien-phu, that, if American military action in Vietnam results in war with China, we will dissociate ourselves from such a war and will refuse to be involved in it?

As I have said before, there is no agreement between the two co-Chairmen as to what is the cause of the conflict which is taking place in South Vietnam. In our view, the next step is for the International Control Commission to report to the co-Chairmen.