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House of Commons Hansard
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23 November 1965
Volume 721

Q14.

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asked the Prime Minister, in pursuance of his initiative to seek peace in Vietnam, what consultations he has had with President Johnson about the offers made by the Government of North Vietnam to start discussions about the ending of the war in Vietnam.

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We are in constant touch with the United States Administration at all levels but we have not ye: had from the North Vietnamese authorities any clear sign of willingness to negotiate.

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rose—[Laughter.]

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Mr. Philip Noel-Baker.

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In view of the startling admissions made last week by the State Department, and of the appalling savagery of the methods used by both sides in the war in Vietnam, will my right hon. Friend consider whether he and his colleagues in the Commonwealth Peace Mission could not now attempt to secure in the General Assembly of the United Nations a world consensus about the conditions on which discussions could begin for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement of the war?

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I certainly agree that the Vietnamese fighting is not a laughing matter, as may be thought on the benches opposite. With regard to what my right hon. Friend referred to—an attempt to get a settlement—this was, in fact, in September, 1964, and I heard about it afterwards. It is the aim of the Government of this country to get people round a table, and I think that we began to get some success, from April onwards at any rate, in getting American willingness to go there. Finally, with regard to his suggestion, I am in touch with other members of the Commonwealth Peace Mission. The whole matter has been raised again very recently as a result of my visit to Africa, and, also, I hope that I shall be in touch with the President of the United States before too long. But I do not believe that the right place at which to raise this at the moment is either the Security Council or the General Assembly, for reasons which my right hon. Friend will recognise.

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As we now know, in May the French Government passed on the offer from Hanoi to negotiate provided only that the Americans withdrew their troops. Can the Prime Minister say what it was which led him to make his proposals in June, when the Commonwealth Peace Mission stood no chance of success at all?

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There is a great deal of doubt about the message from the French Government, and I do not accept the summary of it as stated by the noble Lord. In June we took our initiative representing the whole Commonwealth, every point of view on the Vietnam issue, but it was clear in all that followed that we got no response at all from Hanoi to a proposition, certainly not on the lines mentioned by the noble Lord.

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Can the right hon. Gentleman say what conditions, if any, were attached to this offer of negotiations by Hanoi? In view of his recent discovery that some approach was made, does the Prime Minister consider that any fresh negotiation by Her Majesty's Government is worth while at the present time?

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This is not a recent discovery. I heard a long time ago about the initiative taken by Hanoi in September, 1964, although there was no reason to suppose that it looked, at that time, like solving the problem. I have not been given any information by any Government with whom we are in touch suggesting that there was any reasonable offer by Hanoi. Our task must be to probe continuously to see if there is any chance of a willingness, even a conditional willingness, to come to the conference table.

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Following the revelations we have had in relation to the United States Government, will my right hon. Friend impress upon that Government that this country will not accept any extension of the war into North Vietnam or the bombing of Haiphong or any of these other places?

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I am not accepting any responsibility for what happened before October, 1964. The revelations my hon. Friend referred to were made in September, 1964. Our task earlier this year was to try to bring about negotiations through the Commonwealth Peace Mission. The speech by President Johnson in Baltimore in May made clear the United States Government's willingness to negotiate and it has since been elaborated on. If we could get a similar willingness from Hanoi there might me more hope of getting negotiations.

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Order. The Prime Minister—statement.

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May I ask the Prime Minister—

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Order. I do not think that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) heard me. Question Time is over. I called the Prime Minister to make a statement.