HC Deb 16 March 1965 vol 708 cc1069-71
Mr. Sydney Silverman (by Private Notice)

asked the Prime Minister what action he proposes to take to promote a peaceful solution in Vietnam in view of the most recent air raids on North Vietnam by United States Forces, which exceed in severity previous raids and penetrate deeper into North Vietnam territory than before, and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson)

I indicated last week that urgent diplomatic activity is proceeding with a view to securing a cessation of hostilities. This is continuing.

Mr. Silverman

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that this attack by the armed forces of the United States on the armed forces of North Vietnam, deep within Vietnamese territory, goes far beyond the hostilities in earlier days which we were prepared to tolerate? Do not they amount to an act of plain, naked war? Would not my right hon. Friend further agree that it would be difficult to reconcile approval by this country of such an action with U Thant's proposals or with the obligations of this country as co-Chairman of the Committee in charge of implementing the Geneva declarations?

The Prime Minister

I said last week that I felt that in recent weeks the situation in Vietnam had changed, not merely in degree, but in kind, and I said that this was partly because of the now frank admission by North Vietnam that they are involved in this war, and, of course, by the change in the nature of the United States response. These are two facts which have changed the nature of the situation.

In my original Answer I referred to diplomatic activity. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is seeing Mr. Gromyko this afternoon, and I think that it would be best left to the two co-Chairmen to see whether they can agree—which, so far, has not been the case—on further action to help bring about what I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see, and that is a cessation of hostilities.

Mr. Maudling

Arising from the terms of the Question, may I ask whether it is not the fact that the United States action is in response to aggression by North Vietnam deep in South Vietnam territory, and must not the beginnings of a solution of this problem arise from a cessation of this aggression?

The Prime Minister

I dealt with that question last week, and I have nothing to add to what I said then.

Mr. Jackson

Would not the Prime Minister agree that one of the dangers of the American bombings in North Vietnam is that they may provoke the Russians and draw them into a war in South Vietnam, and thereby somewhat retard the progress of reconciliation between the United States and the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister

Wherever there is warfare being carried on, and where-ever there are military operations going on, there are dangers of escalation. This is a danger on which I think all of us have commented before, and this is why we are urgently seeking to find a means of bringing these hostilities to an end.

Mrs. Kerr

Does the Prime Minister appreciate that a large section of American public opinion would welcome a public statement by this Government dissociating themselves from the attacks on North Vietnam?

Hon. Members


The Prime Minister

In the past few weeks I have made our position quite clear about the situation in Vietnam. I have said that we are pursuing these matters through diplomatic channels. I am more concerned with getting the right answer than with getting the right declaration.

Mr. Wall

Does not the Prime Minister agree that the danger today comes from guerrilla warfare and the subversion of existing Governments, rather than from nuclear exchange? Are not the Americans therefore fighting the same war as we might have to face in Malaysia?

The Prime Minister

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not start spreading that argument into other areas. We have dealt with the Malaysian question in the past. None of us would underrate the dangers that we face in that area.

The position in Vietnam is that it was, and is to a considerable extent, a civil war, but for a long time the Government of North Vietnam regarded this as a spontaneous nationalist rising in the South. It is now clear that the North Vietnam Government regard themselves as being in the war, as conducting part of the war, and this has led to a change in the American reaction far beyond what, a few months ago, we felt was appropriate to the then situation.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this without a Question before the House. Sir Alec Douglas-Home.

Sir Alec Douglas-Home

We are, of course, following this situation with great anxiety. Will the Prime Minister take it from me that we on this side of the House support him in the action that he has taken so far, and that we think it necessary to support our American allies in this matter?

The Prime Minister

I am well aware that both sides of the House are anxious, in whatever seems the best way, to secure, first, a cessation of hostilities, and then negotiations leading to a peaceful, lasting and effective settlement of this problem. There is no difference in the House on that question, although we may have different ideas on how it should be achieved. I feel that in present circumstances the way in which we are proceeding is the only way.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We must get on with the business of the House.