Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Speech)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th February 1962.

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Photo of Mr Harold Wilson Mr Harold Wilson , Huyton 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

Because the Foreign Secretary, to smear the United Nations, made the point that 82 nations were behind with their subscriptions: and if he is right about those 82 one of those was Britain. If the hon. Member wants Britain to be excluded he had better choose another test.

The other thing that needs to be said about subscriptions is that despite the fact that the Foreign Secretary has implied that it is the new members—the anti-colonial members—who are behind with their subscriptions, the figures show that there is no correlation between new or anti-colonialist members, on the one hand, and any backwardness in paying subscriptions, on the other. Some of the new countries have joined some of the old in being among the best payers, while some of the oldest, like others of the newest, are among the worst. There is no rule about this. Anyone reading the speech of the Foreign Secretary would have thought that only the new and anti-colonial countries were behind with their subscriptions. That statement will not stand up to inspection.

As I have said, Britain relatively has done reasonably well in the matter of paying subscriptions. But the Prime Minister was a little too enthusiastic this afternoon about the fact that Britain spends £12 million on all the direct and indirect services of the United Nations. This sum is only about one-fifth of what we have just been shown to have spent on Blue Steed. It is not all that much to get excited about. It is only about one-seventh of the Government's miscalculation on the farm subsidies. Therefore, the Prime Minister should not write home about that one.

I come to the problem of the United Nations bonds, which have upset a number of hon. Members opposite. Here, I agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson). The idea of the bonds was a means of forcing defaulting nations to pay their share of the costs of the Congo and the United Nations expeditionary force operation, because the amortisation of these bonds and the interest on them will fall on member countries' statutory annual contributions. Therefore, by this means—I am glad that the United Kingdom voted for these bonds—Russia, France, Portugal and the rest will be contributing to the Congo operation, whether they want to or not, under the threat of losing their votes. Is not that what we all want?

Therefore, a substantial British contribution to the bond issue, for which we voted, was essential. It was essential partly because of the wave of suspicion which followed the Foreign Secretary's speech. Britain, in fact, fought hard against making any contribution. It was only United States pressure, in my view, that secured the Government's 'drudging response to this invitation from the United Nations. As usual, we have had the worst of both worlds. We make the contribution, but we are getting precious little recognition for it. The Lord Privy Seal announced that we shall be paying this amount up to a maximum of 12 million dollars before the end of 1963. Why not now? If the money is needed, why not pay it now? Are the Government hoping for an excuse to wriggle out of it—some distorted remarks, perhaps, in one of the Swedish newspapers that the Lord Privy Seal reads so avidly.

Then there is the size of our contribution. It is to be a maximum of 12 million dollars. Why a maximum? This is far less than our fair share. On our proportion of the United Nations' budget we would have paid, not a maximum of 12 million dollars but at least 15 million dollars. When it is remembered that the three Scandinavian countries, whose combined national income is about one-third of ours, are contributing almost as much as our maximum offer—they are contributing 10 million dollars—it is obvious that Britain is undercontributing.

Our contribution ought to have been decisive, generous and quick. Why all this wriggling? I think that we know the answer—because this dithering Government were trying to get a middle figure between what their allies were pressing for, on the one hand, and what they thought they could get the Welensky lobby behind them to accept, on the other. I think that today's debate again has shown that they have got the worst of both worlds, as usual.

I come to the Foreign Secretary's attack on the United Nations. Let there be no argument about this. It has been construed all over the world as an attack on the United Nations. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition quoted newspapers from all over the world. We have only to look at the document issued by the United Nations Association, of which I think the Prime Minister is vice-president and a Conservative member is chairman. The Association must have had a lot of difficulty drafting this document. Nevertheless, it said: We do not believe that there is ' a crisis of confidence in the U.N. ', but consider that such a crisis might be induced by an assumption that it already exists. We fear that these statements may suggest that Great Britain's support for the U.N. depends on the extent to which our own policies prevail there. This is how the United Nations Association took it.

When I was in America—I think that the Lord Privy Seal was there at the same time—the Foreign Secretary's speech was quoted, or misquoted, in a full-page advertisement in the American Press on 12th January by the John Birchites—a bunch of American reactionaries who are so reactionary that they would make the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. P. Williams) look like the editor of New Left Review. These are the people who are quoting with approval what the Foreign Secretary said then.

The Prime Minister, of course, clung desperately to the fact that at the end of the speech—about one-fifth or one-sixth of the whole speech—the Foreign Secretary murmured a few words of hope about the future of the United Nations. He could hardly do otherwise. He was addressing a meeting of the United Nations Association—he had to say something. A master butcher addressing a vegetarian gathering would, at the end of his speech, have found time to say a few words in praise of lettuce. It means nothing, and I am surprised that the Prime Minister was taken in by it.

I turn to the Foreign Secretary's specific charges against the United Nations. First, there is the charge that many members, especially new members, have a double standard of conduct in judging issues in different parts of the world. As we have already made clear, double standards from a "man of Suez" is strong language.

Even last Friday the Foreign Secretary was repeating this. Addressing a university gathering in London, he said: Unless the United Nations stands against the use of force it will be useless to the civilised and free world. But not if British interests are involved, because he went on: When I find that by abuse and misuse of the rules legitimate British interests are being damaged, I must say so, and say so plainly. That is the argument, of course. British interests were involved, or thought by right hon. "blimps" opposite to be involved, in 1956, so then the United Nations was wrong to resist aggression, but when it is someone else—particularly India—the United Nations should have resisted aggression. If that is not a bad attack of double standards, I do not know what is.

It is going on all the time. Right hon. Gentlemen attack, and rightly attack, terrorism in Tibet and Hungary and in other parts of the world, but when Portugal's bestial massacres in Angola were sickening the whole world the Foreign Secretary paid a State visit to Portugal. He sponsored good-will naval visits. We all attack, and rightly, the prison wall in Berlin, and all that goes on behind it, but when has the Foreign Secretary attacked the régime of terrorism in Algeria, where Nazist torture has become a day-to-day instrument of French civil and military government, as was said last week by a French judge? Right hon. Gentlemen criticised, as we did, the measures taken by India in Goa, but had not a word of criticism to say of Portugal for failing for seven years after the Pondicherry settlement to settle the Goa problem by peaceful measure, or even to give self-Government to the people of Goa. Double standards, indeed!

The Foreign Secretary said, and the Prime Minister, of course, dutifully repeated this afternoon, that the new nations do not attack Communist tyranny, but those new nations have passed resolution after resolution against Communist action in Tibet, Hungary and the rest, and have voted for them. I think that the Foreign Secretary would have rendered a greater service had he put forward in that speech plans to improve the United Nations and make it more effective, but he was more concerned there to devalue and discredit.

The Prime Minister gave us an interesting and, in its way, a quite valuable historical lecture this afternoon. He referred to the inability of the Security Council to work as the Charter intended, and I think that a great deal of what he said would be supported on both sides of the House—and especially the reason for the failure of the Security Council to work as the Charter intended. But I should have liked to have asked him this: why was it that on the one occasion last year, when the Security Council did give instructions about the Congo, Her Majesty's Government did everything in their power to frustrate those instructions when they were being carried out?

The other time when the right hon. Gentleman went right off the rails this afternoon was when he said that the United Nations was trying to exercise executive power in its resolutions, but he knows that all the resolutions about which we have talked were not executive at all but were resolutions on principle. I was not impressed with his argument that in all these declarations of principle, when there were 95 out of 100 votes for them, the nations were all out of step expect Her Majesty's Government.

Does it mean nothing to the Prime Minister that nations—big nations, big, power-bloc nations—now have to pay some attention to what the smaller nations say in this Parliament of the world? The truth is that there are really two views on the United Nations. There is the static view, which wants to restrict the United Nations to the minimum of action, as a sort of glorified Concert of Europe. That is the approach of the Foreign Secretary, and his Portuguese, French and South African allies—and, for different reasons, his co-belligerents in the Soviet bloc, who also want so to restrict it.

But the other view held by the vast majority of the United Nations, which the Foreign Secretary so cheaply criticises, held by practically the whole Commonwealth, old and new, by the United States and by most of Western Europe, is of a dynamic developing peace-making authority, developing step by firm step into a world organisation which will be the basis for ultimate world government. This is the concept which we on this side of the House share and it is that which divides the House today.

Right hon. Members opposite say that it is all right so long as it does not interfere with British interests, or with Sir Roy Welensky's interests, or those of Union Miniére or Tanganyika Concessions. It is all right there; but if we are to have this national escape clause, are we to give the same rights to Russia and to every other nation? Are we to say that they need not take any notice of the United Nations if it acts contrary to their interests?

The Foreign Secretary used the phrase "crisis of confidence". He was right. But the crisis of confidence is not in the United Nations. It is in the willingness and ability of Her Majesty's Government to act as a loyal member of the United Nations and a loyal supporter of the United Nations rôle in the world.

It is only too easy to point to defects in the United Nations operations. One does not have to be Foreign Secretary or even Prime Minister to do that. President Kennedy, in his State of the Union message, made a reference to the United Nations in that speech which has been quoted by a number of hon. Members and which was widely construed as a calculated snub to Britain and to the British Foreign Secretary. In the course of that speech the President censured the impatience of those who would abandon this imperfect world instrument because they dislike our imperfect world. What a caricature of the Foreign Secretary!

We want to see the United Nations strengthened, not made the subject of cheap sneers by frustrated imperialists opposite. After its success in the matter of Middle East frontiers, its hopeful efforts in the New Guinea crisis—about which I hope we shall hear more tonight—its triumph in preventing the Congo from becoming a cockpit of international conflict between the major Powers—after all this, we on this side of the House want to see its peacemaking powers, and particularly its preventive powers, strengthened.

First changes are needed in the Charter—we all agree about that—quite apart from the problem of the veto. Perhaps reform here is visionary in present circumstances. Certainly, the Security Council ought to be made more representative, perhaps by increasing its non-permanent members, and made more representative of particular parts of the world.

Secondly, since so many of the world's conflicts begin in colonial territories, there must be more power in the United Nations to act in such cases as Angola, Goa and South-West Africa. The juridical excuse that these are part of the domestic territory of the colonial Power must really not go on blocking action. The festering sores of colonialism, like other diseases, do not recognise domestic or national frontiers. When they have reached the point, as I believe they have in some countries, of affronting the conscience of the world and threatening its peace, it should be within the competence of the world to deal with them.

In a very real sense the concept of trusteeship must replace the concept of colonialism. No man is an island, and the bells of Angola toll for us, for all of us except, of course, the shareholders of the Benguela Railway. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is no use hon. Members sneering at that. I ask the Government to consider publishing the speech of Captain Charles Waterhouse, the chairman, in his address to Tanganyika Concessions, with the callous remarks that he made about the suppression of the battle for freedom in Angola last year. It would be revealing of the state of the real Tory mind.

Thirdly, we must strengthen the police functions of the United Nations. We are all in a little difficulty here. We have all got so used to cartoons showing the United Nations, like the old League, portrayed as the innocent, rather frightened maiden, being alternately ignored and maltreated by the big Power blocs, that it is a bit of a shock for all of us when we see the United Nations suddenly required to discharge the duties of a tough and armed policeman. Many of the difficulties which we have had—all of us—about the United Nations actions in the Congo result from the fact that it is not very easy for us to see the United Nations in that rôle—abut I will say a word about that in a moment. In the debate on the Congo, in December, there were criticisms from both sides of the House about the quality of the military advice available to the Secretary-General. Frankly, in all the circumstances I think it surprising that there is not room for more criticism than was then expressed.

We do not suggest that it is yet possible to set up a central force capable of being switched to any area where peace is threatened, but we believe that it is urgently necessary to build up at the United Nations a powerful cadre of trained officers, skilled in all the problems of transporting, commanding, administering and supplying a multinational United Nations force in any area where it has to be deployed, so that United Nations intervention, when it becomes necessary, is quick and effective. This is an urgent reform which would help to overcome many of the difficulties which we have had up to the present time.

Fourthly, we suggest that one way to break through the grim and tragic deadlock in nuclear disarmament would be the establishment of a United Nations specialised disarmament agency able to draw on the experience of scientists and others from all over the world and to take a fresh initiative. The Prime Minister, when Minister of Defence, made a statement which I have quoted more than once in the House, suggesting that there would be no real hope for world disarmament until some real authority were given to the United Nations. I hope that there will be a chance to develop these ideas in some future debate as well as suggestions which we have put forward from this side of the House for a Minister for Disarmament in this country, a senior foreign office Minister with a skilled and powerful Department working under him, instead of the man-and-a-boy on whom the Foreign Office now relies.

There is no time to develop these ideas tonight. On the other hand, it is a pity that we have not been able to spend today debating a speech by the Foreign Secretary in which some of these ideas were put forward, because it would have been far more rewarding if the Foreign Secretary had been spending his time, his energies and his speeches in developing ideas such as these.

The tragedy of that speech, as my right hon. Friend said this afternoon, in its effect on world opinion was that it followed a year of equivocation on major United Nations questions. After Katanga, in particular, there was genuine anxiety and doubt about the Government's ability to follow a policy of support for the United Nations in the face of opposition from a very powerful group of back-benchers. It would, I think, be unfair to brand all hon. Members opposite with opposition to the United Nations. We remember that in the brief recall of Parliament pre-Suez, in September, 1956, a group of pro-United Nations, rule-of-law Conservatives, led by the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald), made at that time a powerful and decisive intervention, though it did not last very long.

This same group, I am sorry to say, was strangely silent last autumn, and now it has had to leave the duty of keeping the Tory flag flying in the United Nations circles to the Bow Group a group, I gather, which does not find universal support among hon. Members opposite.

The time has passed", said the Bow Group, when Britain can afford to abstain at the United Nations on colonial issues. Petulant criticisms of the United Nations and dangerous talk of a common interest amongst white races against an Afro-Asian bloc must find no further place in our foreign policy. There is a small group of young hopefuls, but there is, too, as we all know, a group of aboriginal, true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool Conservatives who have never accepted the United Nations at any time in its history. It is, of course, a simple point, but for some of them the trouble with the United Nations is that there is a majority of foreigners there. What is worse, the proportion of foreigners has risen sharply in the past few years, and some of the wrong kind of foreigners. Too many are coloured, and, worse still, ex-colonial territories with the wrong ideas.

Reading through the speech of the Foreign Secretary we find this preoccupation with anti-colonialism becoming an obsession. There is his nostalgia about the founding fathers of the United Nations; how nice it would be if we could go back to San Francisco. Just as Metternich tried to freeze the Vienna settlement and use the Holy Alliance to stamp out all European liberalism, so the Foreign Secretary tries to freeze the 1945 pattern and stem the tide of nationalism and anti-colonialism in Asia and Africa.

I say this seriously to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen apposite. In their rush to get into Europe they must not forget the four-fifths of the world population whose preoccupation is with emergence from colonial status into self-government; and into the revolution of rising expectations. If this is so, is the world organisation not to reflect the enthusiasms and aspirations of the new members and new nations entering into their inheritance, often through British actions, as the Prime Minister said, and who want to see their neighbours also brought forward into the light? It must be recognised that this is the greatest force in the world today, and we must ask why it is so often that we are found, or thought to be found, on the wrong side.

The record of this country since the war, under both Governments, is good enough to proclaim to the world—India, Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon, Ghana, Nigeria, Tanganyika and Sierra Leone, and even, after the agonies, Cyprus. We have had to protest against long delays and repression in some areas, especially those which are near enough to feel the impact of Sir Roy Welensky, but with those exceptions the British record is a proud one.

Why do we contrive it that in the eyes of the world we are so often allied with reactionary Governments whose record in the scales of human enfranchisement weigh as a speck of dust against real gold and silver so far as our record is concerned? Why is it that the British Foreign Secretary speaks in accents of the dead past, as though he fears and resents the consequences of the very actions which his Government as well as ours have taken?

It is this which colours the whole of the noble Lord's spech. He tries to suggest that the countries to which I have referred, by their concern to liquidate the remnants of colonialism, are allied with the Communists. My right hon. Friend dealt with this, how they voted against the troika proposals, the Russians on the Congo, and all the rest of it. But to maintain this argument he perverted, as my right hon. Friend showed, his rendering of what the Charter says. He quoted part of Article 1, which talks about the organisation of peace through collective security, but omitted the reference to Article 2, which says: To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of people and he paid no attention, as my right hon. Friend said, to Article 73, in which countries with responsibilities for the administration of territories whose people have not yet attained a full measure of freedom pledge themselves to develop self-Government, to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their full political institutions … The noble Lord cannot rewrite the Charter to suit his purposes. He cannot seek to crystallise a fluid world in the pattern of a time that has long since passed. What he is attacking is not the United Nations. He is attacking the world of 1962 and saying, "Stop the wagon, I want to get off". This is shown by his condemnation of the anti-colonial resolution to which the Prime Minister referred in some detail. Those who voted for it were "reckless of peace and security"—Canada and Australia. Do hon. Gentlemen say that the United States is reckless of peace and security? It is only two years since the Prime Minister was using the then President of the United States as an election gimmick on a television programme.

Of course, we all know what has really created the crisis of confidence is that in recent months the United Nations has offended against British policy in Central Africa and against British financial interests in Central Africa. The United Nations' action in the Congo has been necessarily distasteful and we would all have preferred the United Nations to have been able to act as a mediator, holding the ring, not being forced to get into the ring in some tough, nasty, no holds barred infighting.

That was impossible because of the armed and illegal secession, backed by powerful and unscrupulous financial interests who illegally financed the employment of some of the worst Fascist types drawn from the French extreme Right in Algeria. The Prime Minister knows perfectly well that if the United Nations had not acted as it did, there would have been no hope of preventing the incursion of thousands of even more dangerous mercenaries or volunteers from Russia and Eastern Europe on behalf of the Gizengist secession.

There is no time in this debate to summarise all the new evidence which has come to light since the last debate. The Prime Minister said that the function of the United Nations should be to preserve peace and not wage war, and we agree with him. What about the facts that have become clear since the last debate? The right hon. Gentleman, on 14th December, was talking about the battle between the United Nations and the people of Katanga. What about the use of Union Miniére industrial properties for firing on United Nations troops? What about the use of the Union Miniére hospitals and another hospital to mount machine guns, the occupation of Union Miniére buildings by the group of French North Africans who called themselves Les Affreux? All this after Tshombe had left for Kitone and after all United Nations' military action had ceased. What about the use by mercenaries of vehicles with Red Cross markings? What about the evidence of mercenaries crossing the border? We should like to know a great deal more about this from the Lord Privy Seal.