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Vietnam

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 25 November 1965

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Q7.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement on his recent consultations with President Johnson about the conditions for ending the war in Vietnam.

Q8.

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that President Johnson's offer of discussions to end the war in Vietnam was not unconditional; and, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Government's policy of seeking a solution of the Vietnam problem, if he will make representations to the United States Government that they should remove their condition excluding recognition of the National Liberation Front.

Q9.

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the fact, recently published, that several offers of peace talks have been made to the United States Government by the North Vietnamese Government, he will, as co-Chairman, now ask the Soviet Government, jointly with Her Majesty's Government, to seek to arrange such negotiations between all the Governments and parties concerned.

Q11.

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of his declared 100 per cent, support for United States policy in Vietnam on the basis that the United States of America was prepared for negotiations while North Vietnam was not, and of the recent disclosures that the United States of America rejected proposals for negotiations made on behalf of North Vietnam, he will now inform President Johnson that Her Majesty's Government is no longer prepared to offer unqualified support, in particular to a further escalation of United States air attacks on North Vietnam.

Q12.

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the disclosure that the North Vietnam Government made peace overtures which were rejected by the United States Government, he will now, in pursuance of Her Majesty's Government's initiative towards peace in Vietnam, seek to renew consultations with the interested parties.

During the tragically long conflict in Vietnam, there have been many changes of attitude by all the parties involved, and these will no doubt be of great interest to future historians. But the immediate issue confronting the British Government is not what other Governments did or said in the past. We are concerned with the attitudes of the various parties in 1965, and these have not significantly varied over the past year. The United States still want unconditional discussions and North Vietnam is still demanding terms that amount to unconditional surrender. In our desire to promote negotiations, we shall continue to probe for any change in attitudes which can bring the parties to the conference table.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that it is very urgent to have fresh consultations with the United States President about the conditions for ending the war, particularly in view of the extension of the methods of indis- criminate terror in the conduct of that war, as described in the report of the Washington Correspondent of The Times this morning? Would my right hon. Friend undertake to read that report and to make a statement to the House upon it? Would he not also agree that it is a matter of major importance for this country to consider whether the terms offered by President Johnson a few months ago remain the same today?

I have said many times that, as long as this war continues, there will be a tremendous degree of terror, death and homelessness as a result. It could be ended only by getting all the parties concerned to the conference table. I shall, of course, be discussing the Vietnam situation with President Johnson next month, but this will not of itself end this problem until we get a positive answer from the authorities in Hanoi that they are willing to come to the conference table.

As this war is developing into one of the bloodiest in history, would my right hon. Friend not agree that urgent action is needed now? Would he consider seeing President Johnson not next month but next week and putting to him the views of the British people on this matter?

President Johnson is well aware of the views of the British people, as I have put them to him on various occasions. Even if I were to see him this afternoon it would still not get Hanoi to the conference table. We have had many discussions with President Johnson and have found it very difficult to get a line into Hanoi and to get an answer out suggesting any willingness to negotiate. But I still remain hopeful. We are not giving up. We shall continue to try to get them to the conference table.

Is the Prime Minister aware that, although we should all like to see the parties brought to the conference table, meanwhile the Americans, with significant Australian help, are fighting a decisive battle in Vietnam on behalf of the free world? Is he aware that it does not help that battle for freedom if people in the free world tug at the coat-tails of the Americans and Australians?

There are many lessons to be learned about people who tug at coat-tails in the free world. When the right hon. and learned Member calls this war "decisive", in one sense, knowing what he has in mind, I agree with him, but in another sense we have all said many times—both sides of the House have Lgreed—that this problem will not be solved by military means alone. It must require a political solution, which must require a willingness by both sides or, one might say, by the three sides, to come to the conference table. So far there is a block on that and I think that we all know where it is coming from.

Would my right hon. Friend say whether—whenever an offer of negotiation was made and wherever or by whomsoever it was produced—he is still of the opinion that whoever is against negotiation is against peace? Would he not agree that an escalation of the war as described in this morning's newspapers would be a crime against humanity?

I have always said that, as long as the war lasts, the danger of escalation either way was very grave indeed, with all that that might mean for a major land war in Asia or worse. I said in the debate on this matter that, certainly, the enemies of negotiation are the enemies of peace. That is the situation at present and will be so until we get some real proof—I hope that we shall have it soon—that there is a genuine willingness for negotiation.

Would not the Prime Minister agree that the willingness of the Communists to enter into realistic negotiations as opposed to propaganda statements is in almost direct proportion to the success of the American Army? Would he not agree that the many American soldiers who are dying in Vietnam are dying on behalf of a cause to which this country subscribes as well as their own?

There are very many who took the view that as the military situation became more balanced and as the monsoon came to an end, this might lead to a greater willingness on the part of Hanoi to negotiate. So far we have seen no evidence of this. I hope that we shall see evidence of it. If we do, there seems to be nothing at all—certainly nothing from the American side as far as I am aware—which would prevent full-scale negotiations. But we want, as the hon. Member does, real negotiations and not propaganda statements.

Following these revelations, what does the Prime Minister intend to do to help to stop this carnage, since both the Vietnamese and Russian representatives have stated that if the Geneva terms are accepted they are prepared forthwith to attend a reconvened conference? Will he now press Washington to drop its objections to this Geneva agreement?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will, of course, be discussing this in Moscow next week. We have been seeking all along to get the Geneva Conference reactivated, and it has been made quite clear by the American Government that they are prepared to have discussions on the basis of the 1954 Geneva settlement. This is what all of us want to see. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] This is what all of us want to see, but the conditions stated up to now publicly and privately by the Hanoi authorities require the fulfilment of other conditions. They have never said that they are prepared to negotiate unconditionally. On top of that we have twice had statements from my noble Friend, Lord Brockway, that they were prepared to negotiate unconditionally, and then these have been publicly denied afterwards. I hope that the private statements are all right.

Order. There we must leave the Prime Minister's Questions today. Sir Keith Joseph, a Private Notice Question to the Minister of Labour.