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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder whether you have had any notification from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about whether he is to make a statement this morning as a matter of urgency on the spectacular collapse of the Polly Peck empire headed by Asil Nadir, who was the 1985 Thatcherite businessman of the year. A lot of small investors are involved, and a lot of important, well-run and well-organised companies have been subjected to an imprudent entrepreneur, as happened in several other collapses following exactly the same pattern. It is important that we get a statement as soon as possible.
Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South) : This is an unexpected bonus, Madam Deputy Speaker. I came here expecting the statutory 12 or 15 minutes, but hon. Members now find themselves with an opportunity to explore aspects of the Government's policy on Cambodia that we had not imagined we would have time to consider.
Cambodia is a faraway country of which most people in the Foreign Office know very little. That is surprising in a way, because the Foreign Office probably receives more correspondence on this subject than on any other issue ; it is a matter of enormous interest to citizens of this country who have been moved by a succession of excellent television films made by John Pilger and David Munro and who have learnt in the past decade or so that our policy in that area of the world is not all that we have been led to believe. Among those who know least about Cambodia--I mean this as no disrespect to the Under-Secretary of State--are Foreign Office Ministers who, from time to time, are called upon to speak on the subject at the Dispatch Box. That is no reflection on the Under-Secretary. Everyone knows that he is a newcomer to the Foreign Office. In any case, responsibility for Her Majesty's Government's policy towards Cambodia has been kept well away from the House of Commons over the years and has been allocated to a series of Bertie Wooster figures in the House of Lords, one of whom, Lord Brabazon, spectacularly self-destructed in front of John Pilger's television cameras a year ago. Not a lot has been heard from him since. I do not think that he will be allowed out on his own again.
In one's search of the Foreign Office for someone with a detailed knowledge of Her Majesty's Government's policy on Cambodia, one comes fairly quickly to a senior civil servant, Mr. David Colvin, head of the south east Asian department. I referred to Mr. Colvin when the subject was last debated in the House in November 1989. One or two Ministers, particularly the Minister for Overseas Development, felt that that was unsporting of me because, as she said, Mr. Colvin, like most civil servants, has no opportunity to reply. I bear that in mind in anything I say, but Mr. Colvin has a great deal more opportunities to reply on this issue than I have. There is no question but that the speeches that are read out by
Column 641Ministers--there have been at least three of them in the past year, and Ministers have passed responsibility from one to another rather like a hot brick and cannot wait to let go of it--are drafted or authorised and certainly studied by Mr. Colvin. Also, I imagine that the recent article in The Independent in the name of the Foreign Secretary was also drafted or, the very least, double-checked by Mr. Colvin. That article, I recollect, poured scorn on some of us who had been attempting to criticise Government policy on the issue, and suggested that some of us--it did not single me out, but had it done so it would have been false--were originally supporters of the Khmer Rouge.
Mr. Colvin has plenty of chance to reply, albeit through whichever Minister happens to come to the Dispatch Box, so I do not feel all that shy about mentioning his long-term association with this issue. He it was, no doubt, who approved the speech by the right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)--the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who briefly had responsibility for this matter last November--which purported to give a history of events in Cambodia and Vietnam and dealt with the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam in Christmas 1978, but omitted to make any reference to the fact that the Vietnamese invasion, whether it was right or wrong--I make no comment on it--was in response to the massive and prolonged attacks over two years on the western provinces of Vietnam which had resulted in large civilian casualties.
That omission was not the fault of the Minister. I did not blame him at the time. I thought that it was more likely to be the responsibility of Mr. Colvin, because, as the Minister said only a few days before, he knew nothing about Cambodia ; yet there he was at the Dispatch Box reading out a brief that came from somewhere in the Foreign Office. Let me be fair to Mr. Colvin. I do not suggest for one minute that he makes policy on Cambodia, but he is the only person who has any detailed knowledge of it. I do not suggest that policy on the subject is made ultimately in his department. Perhaps it would be better if we had a Minister from the Ministry of Defence or, better still, someone representing the interests of the Cabinet Office or Downing street because policy on the issue had been made at a slightly higher level.
Perhaps we should have someone from the American State Department here, because it is noticeable that a great deal of our foreign policy is made in the American State Department. That is a matter of record. The policy may originate in one of the murkier areas of the American Government system. I do not think that it originates here, because we are a satellite state. When the telex comes from Washington telling us that there has been a change in policy, as there was a few months ago when Mr. Baker started to talk to the Vietnamese for the first time, a Foreign Office Minister instantly tells us that our policy has changed by precisely the same percentage as the American policy has changed. I suspect that the real villains lie on the other side of the Atlantic. That is merely one of the more humiliating examples of our satellite status in relation to the United States.
I recollect--it was a source of deep shame--when, a few months ago, a member of the unrecognised Cambodian Administration in Phnom Penh, Mr. Cham Prasidh, came to this country. He was the first member of that Administration, which is in a desperate situation struggling against great odds and its plight has aroused sympathy all around the world, even to be permitted a visa
Column 642to set foot in this country, but he could not establish contact with any member of the Government to discuss the situation in his country. I thought that that was a matter of deep shame. Mr. Cham Prasidh lost his parents and 86 relatives the last time the holocaust passed across his country. That man was deeply depressed. He knew that the holocaust was coming back and that the likelihood was that it would consume more of his family, if not himself. I felt that there were people who were unfit to tie his shoelaces, never mind receive him at the Foreign Office.
Mr. Cryer : What my hon. Friend is saying is really quite appalling. Will my hon. Friend venture any reason why that poor country, which threatens nobody, should be treated with such contempt by the Government? The Cambodians do not seem to be in a position to exert influence on any other country. They pose no military threat to any other country. It is a wretchedly poor country. Will my hon. Friend speculate on whether the Government's attitude might simply be a continuing vendetta by the United States because they happened to be unfortunate enough to be associated with the wrong country when they were rid of the menace of Pol Pot by Vietnam?
Mr. Mullin : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He puts his finger on the point. I do not think that this extraordinary tragedy, which has now been stretched out for many years, has happened because anybody has any particular animus against the Cambodian people. Their great tragedy is that their liberators, which is what they were--whether or not they were right to go in--came from the wrong side of the cold war. Cambodia is trapped in a situation in which those who are seeking to undermine its regime are not interested in the destruction of Cambodia, although that happens to be a by -product, and are more interested in undermining its neighbour, Vietnam. That is the genesis of this terrible matter.
Cambodia has an extraordinarily tragic history. I visited that country on a number of occasions, the first time being in 1973 when United States B52s were burning down the countryside and, indeed, some of the towns up to within a few kilometres of the centre of the capital. I used to lie awake at night listening as the whole city shook to the sound of the B52s as they plastered the area. If one went to Sattahip in Thailand--Utapao was the name of the American base in Thailand--one could watch the B52s taking off, with 30 tonnes of explosives and napalm each time, on their way to annihilate and destroy Cambodia. I saw that. I went to Cambodia again in 1980 shortly after Pol Pot and his cronies left town. No one who went there at that time could fail to be moved by the horrors awaiting them.
For many years Cambodia was ruled by Prince Sihanouk, first as an absolute monarch and later, by some deft footwork, as a constitutional Head of Government. He managed, precariously, to preserve an imperfect neutrality for his country and to keep it out of the holocaust that was taking place next door in Vietnam and further north in Laos. He managed to do so until 1970, by turning a blind eye to the activities of both the United States and the Vietnamese communists, both of whom were operating in the eastern provinces of his country. That precarious neutrality proved not to be sufficient for
Column 643those who were running the war next door and a military coup was connived at which removed Prince Sihanouk in March 1970.
When the Minister replies, he will no doubt tell us that one of our objectives nowadays is to get Prince Sihanouk back into government again. One has to pinch oneself to recall that one of our objectives 20 years ago was to remove Prince Sihanouk, which is exactly what happened. There was not a word of protest from the British or American Governments about the military coup that removed Prince Sihanouk, because it is widely believed-- there is some evidence--that the Americans were behind it. During the four or five years of the crazy Lon Nol regime, the country was opened up to carpet bombing on the most enormous scale. It was probably the greatest bombardment in the history of warfare. As I have said, it annihilated most of the countryside, outside a few main cities.
Out of that holocaust grew a revolutionary movement more terrible than any ever seen--the Khmer Rouge. The only reason that that group of revolutionaries--a tiny group in 1970--was able to take over the entire country by 1975 was the backlash that, not surprisingly, drove thousands of ordinary Cambodians into their arms as a result of the holocaust that had been unleashed upon them.
The Khmer Rouge's activities during the four years in which it had total control of the country is a matter of record and I do not propose to dwell on it. It is not controversial. What is controversial is what happened next. At Christmas 1978, after a long series of massive attacks on the western provinces of Vietnam--there were similar attacks by the Khmer Rouge, with similar atrocities, although not on the same scale, on the eastern provinces of Thailand and so everybody knows what they were like-- the Vietnamese finally lost patience, invaded and removed Pol Pot regime. That invasion took place in, I believe, exactly the same week that the Tanzanians, with western backing, invaded Uganda and evicted the regime of Idi Amin and were generally celebrated for having done so.
Mr. Cryer : Will my hon. Friend use the word "liberate" more frequently because we know how concerned the Government are to create images? The fact is that Vietnam saved many Cambodian lives and was the only country prepared to take action to release Cambodia from a holocaust, the nature and extent of which had not been witnessed since the 1939-45 war and the gas chambers of the Nazis in Germany. It is worth repeating time and again that in the view of many people Vietnam liberated Cambodia. The Foreign Office probably likes to differ from that view, and we must ensure that quotations from Hansard cannot be used to suggest that my hon. Friend is underlining the American attitude that there was an invasion.
Mr. Mullin : Once again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am not suggesting that the Vietnamese motives were the purest because there was a considerable amount of self-interest, which they own up to. Their western province had been attacked, with the slaughter of perhaps 20,000 people, mainly civilians, as has been attested to by the western correspondents who were there at the time. If
Column 644a country to the south of us invaded the southern part of England and slaughtered people on a similar scale, I doubt whether anybody would hold it too much against us if we took some extremely serious action, up to and including invasion. That is primarily what provoked Vietnam to go in and, as a by-product, it liberated many Cambodian people who might have expected death shortly. Many people had already died- -
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe) : It should be made clear at this stage that the view of the British Foreign Office about the Vietnamese invasion was not peculiar to the Foreign Office but was also the view of the United Nations and of the vast majority of the countries of the United Nations, and was repeated year after year. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's view of the motive. The invasion was provoked by attacks on Vietnam. I agree that there was a benefit in that the Vietnamese deposed Pol Pot and got rid of the Khmer Rouge. However, it was not a particular view of the Foreign Office, which then condemned the continuing invasion and the threat of invasion into other countries.
Mr. Mullin : Like myself, the hon. Gentleman has taken a long and persistent interest in Cambodia and is quite right. As I said, I was in Cambodia shortly after the Vietnamese invasion. Although, historically, there was no love lost between the Kampuchean people and the Vietnamese, the word "liberate" was frequently used because many of the people to whom I spoke believed that they would not have survived another year or two of the regime.
Apart from consuming many of the country's citizens, the regime was consuming its own. Those of us who had the opportunity to visit the death camp in Tuol Sleng--perhaps Mr. Colvin did not--noticed that its most compelling feature was that the killers took photographs of the people they killed, including many women and children, shortly before killing them. Most of the victims were Khmer Rouge. The organisation was eating itself. Like all Stalinist organisations, there was a succession of purges. Most of the civilians who died, died from hunger and overwork in the paddy fields or were murdered. Many Cambodian people, of all persuasions, and whatever their attitude towards the Vietnamese, were grateful for the arrival of the Vietnamese, sudden though it was. According to those who have travelled the country--I know that the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) have been there recently-- the people are terrified at the prospect of what awaits them now that the Vietnamese have withdrawn.
Although not a state of affairs that one would wish to prolong unnecessarily, the Vietnamese invasion should have been at least as celebrated as the Tanzanian invasion and removal of the Idi Amin regime in Uganda, but precisely the opposite happened. For very different motives, China and the United States decided that it was in their best interests not to arrange for the removal of Pol pot from the scene, but to arrange his preservation, and in the succeeding decade, they took steps to ensure that Pol Pot did survive. Those of us who are satellite states of the United States are implicated deeply in that policy. As we shall see in a moment, we are implicated a lot more deeply than many British citizens and hon. Members understand. It cannot
Column 645be stated too clearly that specific steps were taken to arrange for the survival and reorganisation of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. I remember that the objective was stated frankly by an American Under-Secretary of State at the time as being to bleed Vietnam. It was not to get Vietnam out of Cambodia ; it was not to get the Khmer Rouge back into power in Cambodia--I accept that nobody wanted that--it was simply to keep the Vietnamese in Cambodia, to tie them down and to drain their already seriously depleted resources. That was the object of the wicked policy that has been carried out during the last decade.
Thailand was leaned on--the relationship between the Thai military and the United States is extremely close--to provide facilities for the Khmer Rouge. Some deal, the details of which were not made public, was arrived at with China that it would supply the guns, at least at first. The guns would come into the port of Sattahip or Utapao, the former American base, from which they would be transported by Thai army vehicles. The Thai military would pause only long enough to take their rake off before distributing the guns to the Khmer Rouge. It was also agreed that food would be supplied-- this is a bit rich--under the cover of the United Nations Border Relief Operation. The regime of Pol Pot remained the recognised Government at the United Nations. For a while the Khmer Rouge flag flew at the United Nations. Enormous efforts were made by China and the United States and their satellites initially to make sure that recognition of the Pol Pot regime was sustained at the United Nations. When it became unsustainable a fraudulent coalition was constructed, to which Prince Sihanouk--who is a tool of the Khmer Rouge ; he was not originally but he is now--was added, along with a clapped-out politician called Son Sann. It was called a coalition and for the past seven or eight years that coalition has theoretically represented Cambodia at the United Nations. It did not control a single centimetre of Cambodian soil for most of that time, although it now controls a considerable amount. The representative of Cambodia was not even someone from the more acceptable and palatable half of that fraudulent coalition. It was Mr. Thiounn Prasith--the House will forgive me if I do not pronounce his name correctly. Four members of his family, indeed I believe that they were his brothers, were members of the regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1978 while the Khmer Rouge held sway. Mr. Thiounn Prasith is a member of the Khmer Rouge. All the facilities of the United Nations have been at the disposal of the Khmer Rouge under the guise of that fraudulent coalition.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : Does my hon. Friend agree that particularly on that issue we can nail one of the lies which the Government have consistently peddled? They maintain that they have never given support of any kind to the Khmer Rouge, yet, as my hon. Friend said, the Khmer Rouge among others held the seat at the United Nations until recently, and on three occasions--in 1979, 1980 and 1981--the United Kingdom Government voted to seat the Khmer Rouge at the United Nations. On those three occasions at least, the Government gave diplomatic support to the Khmer Rouge.
Column 646will have seen the United Nations debate on the subject and seen delegates congratulating Mr. Thiounn Prasith on his success in becoming yet again, somehow or other, the representative of that fraudulent coalition at the United Nations.
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton) : I concede the hon. Gentleman's great knowledge of the area but is not he being rather naive in making the assertions that he makes? Is not it clear that the only way in which the extremely powerful Khmer Rouge could have been stopped from overrunning Cambodia, taking control and resuming its killing fields operations, was to keep it within a quadripartite agreement within which there was at least the hope that the Khmer Rouge could be controlled? Does not that explain the attitude, not of the British Government but of the United Nations as a whole, and the decision to take a course which, it is true, from time to time could give the impression of lending support to the Khmer Rouge, as the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) just suggested? It was the lesser of two evils. The alternative was too horrible to contemplate.
Mr. Mullin : The hon. and learned Gentleman is a distinguished lawyer. He used to say that I was naive when I said that the people convicted of the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings were innocent. I imagine that he now shares my view on that. He used to say that I was naive --indeed, he said so in the House once or twice--when I said that the people convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings were innocent. I predict that he will be in this place long enough to see them released and their convictions quashed.
While the hon. and learned Gentleman was speaking I noticed his hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe shaking his head. I hope that he will forgive me for calling him in aid. There is no foundation whatever for the assertions that the hon. and learned Gentleman makes.
Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend agree that the curious argument that the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) just advanced could be compared to someone suggesting after the 1939-45 war that we should incorporate Hitler in a coalition to prevent him from developing his position in Germany again? That would be an exact parallel and we should have rejected it with contempt in 1945. We should reject with contempt the same suggestion with regard to Cambodia.
Mr. Mullin : My hon. Friend puts the point far better than I. I do not suggest that the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is malign ; if anything, he is naive in the interpretation that he puts on recent events. We did not simply incorporate the Khmer Rouge into our arrangements in order to keep it under control. We resuscitated it ; we reorganised it ; we helped it set up military training camps ; we supplied it with food ; we arranged for the supply of guns. I see the hon. and learned Gentleman shake his head, but it is true. He does not know the slightest thing about the matter or, at least, he knows only as much as he knew about the Guildford and Woolwich case.
Pol Pot was provided with facilities in Thailand. He still has them. They are there for anyone to see. People have been to see them. Thailand is a member of the western alliance. It is a member of the Association of South- East Asian Nations, but it has a close relationship with the
Column 647United States and a friendly relationship with Britain. There is a training camp in Thailand for officers of the Khmer Rouge--not officers of the coalition. The main leaders of the Khmer Rouge, including Pol Pot, regularly give lectures there. The camp is a few miles from the border, about 20 miles from the town of Trat in the province of Trat. In addition, an island in the Gulf of Thailand near the border between Trat and Cambodia has been set aside for the exclusive use of the Khmer Rouge leadership. Defectors from the Khmer Rouge have been interviewed in The Daily Telegraph, of all papers, on the facilities that are available to the Khmer Rouge leadership there.
The Khmer Rouge come and go through the main airport in Bangkok through the military section of Don Muang airport. When Pol Pot had heart trouble--yes, Pol Pot has a heart--a few years ago he was given hospital treatment twice in a hospital in the centre of Bangkok. A suite in the Erawan hotel in the centre of Bangkok was put at his disposal. We all know that that is what has gone on.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the role of Thailand. He is wrong to imply that that is somehow part of British policy. Will he explore a little--I know that he wants to be fair about the background to this case--the history not only of east-west relations but of Sino-Soviet and Sino-Vietnamese relations? Will he also explore the fear and perhaps hatred between the Thais and the Vietnamese which also plays a part in the background to the horrendous situation? Perhaps he should address that as much as his concern about western alliances.
Mr. Mullin : I respect the intelligent interest that the hon. Gentleman has taken in the issue over a long period. However, one can exaggerate the hostility between Thailand and Vietnam. One of the main problems in Thailand is that the military is more or less independent of the Government. I am friendly with people who are extremely senior in the Thai Government so I have access to their thoughts on the subject. Merely to be Prime Minister of Thailand is not sufficient to persuade the military to desist from the arrangements that they have arrived at with the Khmer Rouge. The military deals directly with the United States military and, to some extent, the Chinese military. That is a funny old turn up for the books. When I used to go to Thailand in the early 1970s the newspapers were full of phoney stories about the imminent Chinese invasion. That shows that 15 or 17 years is a long time in politics. No, that generous interpretation from the hon. and learned Member for Burton cannot explain what has happened, because everyone involved in the western alliance and everyone who has taken a close interest in these matters--Mr. Colvin has a detailed knowledge of them--knows that the facilities that I have described have been made available to the Khmer Rouge for a long time. They have also been made available to the coalition, which has facilities in Thailand, including soldiers who are said to be supporters of Prince Sihanouk and a few who are said to be supporters of Mr. Son Sann. However, everyone who knows anything about the situation knows that the real
Column 648fighting, the real dying and the real killing are done mostly by the Khmer Rouge, which is experienced in and good at it.
Building up the non-Khmer Rouge wing of the coalition, an effort which has been more or less unsuccessful, has been an objective of American and British policy. It has led to what we now have--the Khmer Rouge in an extremely strong position.
Mrs. Clwyd : Has my hon. Friend seen this week's Jane's Defence Weekly, which has three worrying articles in it? One, headed "New Khmer Rouge offensive planned", talks about a meeting between Khmer Rouge army commanders on the Thai-Cambodia border--that reinforces my hon. Friend's point that they can come and go as they please across that border--which was attended by Pol Pot and other Khmer Rouge leaders, and brought together 25 division and five special regiment commanders. It says :
"The recent meeting represents the largest Khmer Rouge military gathering in more than five years."
It is clear that they are reinforcing for a new offensive within Cambodia as soon as the rainy season ends, and that this offensive will be strong.
Furthermore, according to Jane's Defence Weekly, there is concern that, for the first time in 12 years of guerrilla warfare, there will be a major push towards one of the Cambodian cities. Is not this news deeply worrying to those of us who know that, despite the efforts of the United Nations, neither the ceasefire nor the cessation of arms supplies has taken place?
Mr. Mullin : Jane's Defence Weekly has not always been my required reading, but I dip into it now and again as I am always interested in what I find there. I shall be referring to another article in it later.
If the situation is as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) suggested, I ask him this question. Why have the British and American Governments, who are close friends of Thailand, never protested about the facilities afforded to Pol Pot? The answer is that we are in it up to to our necks. We are not just neutral observers. We make a contribution. The Minister will tell us at some length how much the Government abhor and hate the Khmer Rouge and how wicked and terrible it is. In that case, he has to address the question of what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken over the past decade to persuade the Thais not to support those facilities for the Khmer Rouge. The Thais are embarrassed about this, and the Thai Government- -I cannot speak for the Thai military--are anxious to get rid of the Khmer Rouge. One of the reasons why they cannot do so is that the United States, China and other western counties, no doubt including ourselves, are putting pressure on them not to evict the Khmer Rouge. I can quote an article that appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review on 2 March 1989 about what is happening in Thailand. This all depends on Thailand because were it to kick out the Khmer Rouge, it would not matter what anyone else did. The United States is getting worried that the Thais' resolve is slipping. Its officials "privately warned that if Thailand abandoned the Cambodian resistance and its leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk"--
that is a laugh, for a start--
"for the sake of doing business with Phnom Penh, it would have to pay a price. Thailand should consider whether the total value of any new Indochinese trade would even cover the
Column 649United States trade access privileges it still gets under the Generalised Special Preferences, one administration official said." That is where we are at. Thailand is trying to pull out and break the circle, but, like us and probably more so, it is a satellite of the United States. Furthermore, the Thai military is largely independent of its Government. Thailand is being leaned on to keep coming up with the goods in respect of the Khmer Rouge.
The Minister will tell us that a settlement is in prospect, that we can all relax, that, terrible though the situation has been, we should not get too bogged down in the murky history, that we should look forward, that the United Nations is in the process of imposing a settlement that will bring together all factions of Cambodia, that it is up to the Cambodians to get themselves together and sort themselves out, and that everything will be all right on the night. The hon. Member for Broxtowe, whose views I greatly respect on this issue, and I take a slightly different view of the wisdom of this settlement.
It is said that the Hun Sen Government in Phnom Penh have agreed to the terms of this settlement, but if they have, it is because they are desperate. The situation there is so bad because the Government were badly undermined. They were attempting, with some success, to restore some semblance of normality to life, with the help of aid agencies, although not many western Governments, and aid from the eastern bloc. They have suddenly found, as a result of the great changes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, that their eastern bloc aid is about to be cut off. When that happens, they will have no source of development income from outside.
I see Mr. Colvin saying "Rubbish", but when that happens, the situation will be even more desperate. The only source of arms for the Phnom Penh Government was the eastern bloc, and now they are having to buy on the international market with what small gold reserves they have. Tragically, they are getting some of their weapons from the same source as the Khmer Rouge. If the Hun Sen regime has been forced into this proposed UN settlement, which everybody who knows much about the area thinks is unworkable, it is because they have no other choice and the alternative facing them is annihilation.
Mrs. Clwyd : Have not the Opposition repeatedly called for bilateral aid to be given to the Cambodian Government, while the Government have repeatedly refused to give it, although that means that the Cambodians are desperately handicapped? Their Government have never been given the international assistance that they should have been given to help the country to recover from the disastrous American bombing and the Pol Pot years. One of the poorest countries is denied bilateral aid from the United Kingdom while the aid that it gets through non-governmental organisations is hopelessly meagre and cannot deal with the problems. United Nations development aid is also denied to Cambodia. Although there is $40 million in the account for Cambodia, it is frozen, as is another $40 million for the next two years. Is not this a scandal, given the desperate needs of the Cambodian people?
Mr. Mullin : My hon. Friend has visited Cambodia more recently than I and she knows how desperate the situation is. In the past decade Cambodia has attempted to get off its knees and to improve the circumstances that have been forced upon it by outside powers too great for
Column 650that country to overcome. Every time that country appears to be in the process of doing so, it receives a new kick from the national boycott that has been systematically organised in the past decade. Its neighbour Vietnam is also subject to that boycott.
Mr. Cryer : I recently asked the Minister for Overseas Development about aid to Cambodia. In a written parliamentary answer she informed me that the British Government, with all their humanitarian concern welling up in their stony heart, will give in 1991 a massive £7,000 to assist in the provision of rural water supplies in Cambodia. That is about the annual cost of a drinks cabinet for each Minister. It is appalling that the Government should be so contemptuous of that poverty-stricken country.
Mr. Lester rose --
Mr. Mullin : My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) is one of the more reliable Members of the House, and if the figure he has quoted is correct, it is scandalous. The most useful thing that the Government could do is to stop assisting the terrorists to undermine the regime. If they did that alone and left it to other sources to provide the aid that would make a tremendous difference.
Mr. Lester : The truth is that in the past year we have given more than £1 million directly to United Nations agencies in Cambodia. We have financed £500,000 worth of expenditure on joint funding with organisations working in Cambodia, for example Oxfam--the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) and I have seen the fruits of that expenditure. It is nonsense to try to make a shallow, miserable political point about Ministers' drinks cabinets when we operate an open joint-funding scheme. As other schemes come forward, we shall fund them. I have more to say on funding later.
Mr. Mullin : I do not want to get too bogged down in this issue now, as I am sure we shall return to it later. Suffice it to say that I am sure the hon. Member for Broxtowe would agree that the Government do not give development aid.
Mr. Cryer : I do not wish to exaggerate the argument, but I am merely basing my information on the information given to me by the Minister for Overseas development. If hon. Members turn to Hansard for Monday 22 October they will find at column 23 in the written answers, the figures given by the Minister relating to aid to Cambodia--figures given in a specific response to my question. In 1991 the committed money for a rural water supply is £7,570.
Mr. Mullin : I am grateful for that clarification. On a number of occasions Ministers have reiterated that we do not give development aid to Cambodia. Such aid as we give is directed through non-governmental agencies. That aid has not been given out of the kindness of the Foreign Office heart, but as a result of the enormous public pressure generated by the excellent films made by Mr. Pilger and Mr. Munro, as well as the writings of other people. The aid is also the result of pressure exerted on
Column 651Ministers by Opposition Members and the hon. Members for Battersea, for Broxtowe and others who take an intelligent interest in this issue.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : I understand that the Foreign Office received 3,500 letters following the initial John Pilger film. I have received a mass of letters which represent the greatest spontaneous response that I have ever received from individual constituents as distinct from organised pressure groups. This subject arouses great concern and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his fortuitous circumstances that will enable us to have a full debate on it.
Mr. Mullin : I stand open to correction, but I believe that the response has been even greater than that. As a result of the past two Pilger films shown at the end of 1989, the Foreign Office has received 16,000 letters and the Prime Minister has received the 3,500 to which my hon. Friend referred. There is no doubt that, despite our difficulty in persuading Foreign Office Ministers to take the situation seriously, the public already do so. It is that concern which encourages me to raise this issue in such strong terms.
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme) : The letters are still coming in. I received one this morning from the Rev. Victor Oxford, the parish priest of Chesterton in my constituency. He wrote to express the deep concern of his parishioners at what is happening in Cambodia and stated :
"I do not believe that Britain's involvement has been an honourable one."
Mr. Mullin : I shall deal with the most dishonourable part of Britain's involvement later.
Mr. Cryer : Perhaps my hon. Friend should dwell on our proceedings yesterday. My hon. Friend will recall that we debated the Broadcasting Bill and the imposition on broadcasters of a legal framework for impartiality. Many Tory Members claimed that no television producers should be allowed to hold views that intrude on their programmes. The Government's decision last night could lead to court decisions requiring, in the interest of balance, any programme on Cambodia to include representatives of Pol Pot. In that way the legal restrictions imposed by the Government would not be breached.
Mr. Mullin : I imagine that the films that aroused the great public concern to which we have referred were uppermost in the minds of those who devised the new arrangements. Civil servants and Ministers who are engaged in activities that cannot be easily justified in public need and require silence--they do not want those activities talked about. I note that the Minister is looking upset, but I absolve him as he has been in office for only a short time. The main Government spokesman for policy in south-east Asia sits in the other place--that subject has always been the responsibility of Bertie Wooster figures whom it is difficult to take seriously. That practice, however, keeps any detailed questioning on the subject away from the House--that is the effect ; who can say if it is the intention?
Column 652The only reason why this subject has been discussed at any length is the persistence of a handful of hon. Members, most of whom are in the Chamber today. Last year's debate on the subject in the House had a meagre impact on Government policy, but the only reason for that debate was our decision, in response to great public interest, to allocate one of the Opposition half-days to it. It is only by good fortune that we are able to have this extended debate today rather than an Adjournment debate that might have taken place, unwitnessed, in the early hours of some morning. Good fortune does not often smile on lowly Back Benchers such as myself.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : It is true that the John Pilger films have led to a flood of letters from our constituents, but for many years I have consistently received letters and representations of a most thoughtful nature from people who cannot understand the Government's attitude. They cannot understand why the survival of the Cambodian people should be put at risk. Although I welcome the recent flood of letters, it is important to remember that they do not represent an isolated incident. For many years there has been considerable public reaction to the Government's policy.
Mr. Mullin : My hon. Friend is right. We continually refer to the Government's policy, and while we are discussing that as a subject, it is not really British Government policy. Somebody in a dark area in Washington has created the policy and we, as in many other areas, are lamely following, and as in many other areas, that is bringing humiliation on all who are having to defend the situation. I shall deal with the settlement to which I referred before dealing with two areas of Government policy of which I gave the Minister's office notice. The agreement that is now being imposed on Cambodia is unworkable, and I do not think that those who are imposing it believe that it will work. When it breaks down, they will blame it on the faction-fighting among Cambodians and say, "It is extremely difficult to get the fractious Cambodians to co-operate with one another." If I were a Cambodian, I would be nervous about co-operating with the Khmer Rouge and some other groups with whom they are being forced to co-operate. One effect of the agreement will be to give the Khmer Rouge a place in the Government. It will also give the Khmer Rouge territory that it has not yet captured on the battlefield. Others have used the analogy that it is as if, towards the end of the last war, instead of opting for unconditional surrender, we had suggested a coalition under which even if Hitler were allowed to retire to a military training school in Bavaria, it would at least have included Himmler, Goering and a few others.
There is fear in Cambodia lest, under the cover of the agreement, the Khmer Rouge will come back, and I share that view. One effect of the agreement will be to disarm--it forces disarmament on all factions--the only faction that is conducting any serious resistance, which is the regime in Phnom Penh. If I were in the Phnom Penh regime and I were being required by the agreement to lay down my guns, I should be extremely hesitant to do so.
As I say, the agreement will not work and I do not believe that those who are trying to impose it believe that it will work. Unfortunately, it will provide an alibi for those who designed it, who will be responsible for what
Column 653may happen in the next few years and who will say at that time, "It is not our fault. We did our best to impose the agreement, but the fractious Cambodians would not sit down and sort it out among themselves. What else could we do?"
For a long time I took the view that neutrality was probably the best that western Governments could offer, and some of us argued for that, at any rate over the United Nations seat. We said that at least the United Nations seat should be left vacant until arrangements were made for an elected Government in Cambodia to become internationally recognised.
For a long time the British Government, along with the Americans and the Chinese, took the view that a Vietnamese withdrawal was required. I recall when travelling in that neck of the woods being told by representatives of Her Majesty's Government, "The priority of our policy is to get the Vietnamese out of Cambodia." When asked, "What will happen after that?" the answer was invariably, "We have not yet got round to thinking about that." Occasionally the representatives were more frank and would reply, "It worries us, too." Unfortunately, being servants of the Foreign Office, Mr. Colvin and the rest in Whitehall, they had to pursue remorselessly the line of removing the Vietnamese troops from Cambodia, without giving much thought to what would follow.
Though it may have surprised many, the Vietnamese have gone. For a time some people tried to pretend that they had all changed into Cambodian uniforms and were still there. Nobody seriously argues that now. Mr. Colvin may disagree with me over that, and there may be the odd adviser there, but the Vietnamese troops have gone home and, as a result, the regime is crumbling. The Khmer Rouge is in a stronger position than ever before, because nobody thought about what would happen after the withdrawal, even though many people there were trying to smuggle messages to those in authority telling them what would happen and what is now coming to pass.
I would have settled for neutrality five years ago, until an acceptable Government in Phom Penh had been worked out, so that the Vietnamese could withdraw in an orderly fashion, provided that all concerned could be satisfied that the Khmer Rouge no longer posed a threat. It is too late for that now. The only way out now is to provide aid to the only faction that is offering any serious armed resistance to the Khmer Rouge, and that is the regime in Phnom Penh. I cannot see any other way out of the situation. If there is another way, I wish somebody would tell me, because time is short. I come to some points relating to British Government policy about which I gave the Minister's office notice. This may be rather unfair on the Minister, as I said at the outset, although I think that I see the Minister dissenting, obviously indicating that what I say is not unfair on him. It would be good to have taking part in the debate a representative of the Ministry of Defence at the least. Ideally, because the authority for this whole issue goes much higher than the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign Office, one would prefer to hear the Prime Minister's view on the subject.
The only recorded interview of which I am aware on the subject of Cambodia, apart from a few brief comments that the Prime Minister made when she visited the border two years ago, was in the Blue Peter children's television programme-- [Interruption.] --hon. Members should not
Column 654laugh, because that interview was rather more perceptive than some of those conducted on this subject by many of the pompous political correspondents. The right hon. Lady was asked a few awkward questions and I shall deal shortly with her replies.
The British Government's support year after year at the United Nations for the thinly disguised coalition which is a front for the Khmer Rouge is a matter of record to which I have referred. So, too, is our contribution through the United Nations border relief operation for the food that has helped to sustain the Khmer Rouge and its allies through the 11-year guerrilla war that has brought it to the point of having a real prospect of regaining control of Cambodia.
Today I shall address one area of Government policy about which I have given the Minister notice, and that is the fact that between July 1985 and October last year, British soldiers had been providing military training for Khmer terrorists, including the Khmer Rouge, and that since last autumn the programme appears to have been contracted out to former, sometimes very recently former, British soldiers.
The first report that I saw about that appeared in Jane's Defence Weekly, which is not regarded as a left-wing publication and which is probably read more by Conservative than Labour Members. The article was by a journalist named Mr. Robert Karniol, who is based in Bangkok and has excellent military sources, which is the most discreet way that I can put it. The article which appeared on 30 September 1989, was headed :
"UK trained Cambodia guerillas"
--terrorists, as I prefer to call them. The report said that training commenced in July 1985 and that the courses were conducted by serving United Kingdom military personnel said to be from British special forces, which I take to be a euphemism for the Special Air Services. It went on to say that those participating in the course were said to be members of the Sihanouk and Son Sann factions. That is probably how we privately describe them.
It said that among their achievements was the creation of a 250-man sabotage battalion which was no doubt responsible for planting many of the mines with which the country of Cambodia is now infested and which are reported to be causing up to 80 amputations a day. No doubt that sabotage battalion has done more destruction to the fragile infrastructure of Cambodia than could be repaired by any aid squeezed out of the British Government so far.
I spoke yesterday to someone who is personally acquainted with some of the SAS men who have been engaged in training Cambodians. He said that although the original proposal was to train supporters of Sihanouk and Son Sann, many Khmer Rouge soldiers started to present themselves for training. Apparently the training is taking place at purpose-built camps near the Thai-Cambodian border. It is being conducted by British soldiers in groups of 12. It is headed by a captain. Several NCOs are also involved. I was told that some of the SAS men have accompanied raiding parties of Khmer terrorists into Cambodia and that several British service men have been injured. I recall discovering in the mid-1970s from someone who was in the SAS that one or two SAS men were killed in Malaysia. Through a friendly Member I tabled questions about the fatalities of service men in Malaysia. By God, there had been a lot of car accidents and swimming
Column 655accidents that year. I suspect that if any SAS men who have been involved in training Cambodians have been killed--I have no knowledge that they have--there will be car accidents in Thailand as people return from leave spent in Hong Kong, or something like that. The person to whom I spoke yesterday said that SAS involvement with the Khmer Rouge and its allies was causing misgivings among SAS soldiers. I suggest that they are not a body of men who are given to crises of conscience. When the first reports of the involvement appeared in the autumn of 1989, Ministers refused to take Parliament into their confidence. Certain favoured journalists, however--I have spoken to one or two of them--were given background briefing by a Minister and civil servants to the effect that training had been given. Recent inquirers have been told that the training has now ceased. That no doubt accounts for the letter that I received from Lord Caithness, the Foreign Office Minister with direct responsibility for this part of the world. It is dated 19 October and contains this sentence :
"There is no British Government involvement of any kind in training, equipping or cooperating with the Khmer Rouge forces or those allied to them."
The key word in the sentence is "is". On 18 October--that is the day before I received Lord Caithness's letter--I tabled a question that put the matter in a slightly different form. I took it to the Table Office. I asked :
"If British service men have been involved in any military training for Cambodians".
The question was returned by the Table Office on the bottom of the page the word "blocked" had been written in pencil. There was reference to an answer to a similar question of 30 October 1989. It was stated in that reply that it was not the practice to provide information of that nature. On the one hand, the Government wish their denials to be believed. On the other hand, it is not their practice to provide information of this nature.