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 Hugh Gaitskell Mr Hugh Gaitskell , Leeds South 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

I did originally say 82, but an hon. Member opposite said that it was 87. I am glad to have the corroboration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We need not argue about it.

If the Foreign Secretary meant by this statement that these members are in arrears with their regular subscriptions, then his figures are wrong. I believe that he was entitled to draw attention to this matter, but, in fact, only six countries are in arrears with their regular subscriptions. They are Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Paraguay and Nationalist China. Every one of these six countries in arrears was a founder member of the United Nations.

I agree entirely with those who have, in various Motions placed upon the Order Paper, said that, in the case of such countries, Article 19 of the Charter should be applied, and that if they do not pay up after two years they should not be allowed to vote in the Assembly. Indeed my right hon. and hon. Friends have made this point in the House before.

But if the Foreign Secretary meant, as I think he must have done, that a large number of members were in arrears on what they were supposed to pay in connection with the United Nations Expeditionary Force in the Middle East and the Congo operation, he must know that, unfortunately, the legal position in this case is not clear. It is not clear whether they are bound to make these special payments when they disagree with the decisions of the United Nations, or when they choose not to do so. As the Foreign Secretary must know, the matter has been referred to the International Court for decision. I hope that the decision will be that they have to pay. I believe that, when the United Nations makes these decisions, even though some members do not like them, they should be supported all the same.

Meanwhile, however, as a result of the initiative of President Kennedy we now have the United Nations bonds. Their great advantage, which is a substantial one, is that we get over the difficulty of special payments, because the repayment of the bonds will be out of the general account and, therefore, will come from the regular subscriptions of members. That is an additional reason for giving our warm support—warmer than the Government have given—to subscribing to these bonds. But I will leave to my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) further comments on this problem.

I would now like to take the Foreign Secretarys' case step by step. His first point was that the United Nations had a crisis of confidence because … for the first time since its foundation a number of countries have voted publicly and without shame in favour of the use of force to achieve national ends. He was referring to a vote about Goa in the Security Council. What was that vote about? It was about a resolution deploring the action of India. It was a vote in which seven members of the Council voted for and four voted against—those four being Ceylon, Egypt, Russia—who vetoed it—and Liberia. As a matter of accuracy, I should add that these four nations were not voting for the use of force. They were opposing a resolution which deplored the action of India.

Hon. Members opposite may say that that is just a quibble. Is it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] I thought that they might. Then perhaps they will answer this question: when we voted in the Assembly in 1959 against a resolution condemning apartheid did that mean that we therefore approved of apartheid?

But, of course, there were other occasions, not so dissimilar, in the Security Council a few years ago, when there was voting on the question of the use of force. I will remind the House of what happened. On 30th October, 1956, the United States, in the Security Council, called upon Israel to withdraw its forces behind the established armistice lines and upon members of the United Nations to refrain from the use of force or threat of force in the area. There were seven affirmative votes and two votes against—Britain and France, which vetoed the resolution. Was this or was it not a public vote in favour of the use of force to achieve national ends?

On the same day, Russia proposed in the Security Council a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israeli troops, and again Britain and France voted against it, thereby vetoing the resolution. In the General Assembly on 2nd November, the United States proposed a resolution calling for a withdrawal of all foreign forces from Egypt. It was carried by 64 votes to five, with the United Kingdom voting against. I do not think that it can be said after this that there has not been an earlier instance of a vote in the Security Council in favour of the use of force.

Of course, I am not saying that we have been the only ones. We know perfectly well that before Suez the Russians had frequently used their veto in the Security Council. We know perfectly well that, had they been in the Security Council at the time of Korea, they would have done so. We also know that there have been other occasions when other great Powers have, unfortunately, used force to achieve national aims. For my part, I find it difficult to withhold that comment from what the United States did over Cuba not very long ago. What I am saying is simply that India was following an example already set by every one of the four great Powers, and, most of us would say, with somewhat greater justification.

If the Foreign Secretary had been content to regret the use of force by India, as the Commonwealth Secretary did and as we on this side of the House did and as Mr. Stevenson did in the United Nations, nobody would have objected; nor if he had said, "We have all done it—Russia, Britain and France and even the United States—and now India", and had then said, Let us make a fresh start". That would have been understandable. But to stand in a white sheet and to talk in self-righteous tones about this kind of thing happening for the first time, to boast as he did in his speech that we "practise the rule of law", is the worst humbug and hypocrisy.

I pass to the second charge made by the Foreign Secretary, that relating to resolutions, passed in the Assembly, which were "reckless and careless of peace". To which resolutions was he referring? He was referring to that of 14th December, 1960, which was reaffirmed on 27th November, 1961. What was the voting? There were 97 for the resolution and nil against, with five abstentions? Who was reckless and careless of peace? The whole of the Commonwealth apart from ourselves, 12 Western European countries and the United States of America.

It was not just a matter of the new countries and the Communist bloc, but the whole of the rest of the members of the United Nations. The five who abstained were France, Britain, Spain, Portugal and South Africa. Yet we accuse the rest of the Commonwealth and our allies in N.A.T.O.—apart from France and Portugal—of reckless and careless attitudes to peace.

Why was there this difference? How did Her Majesty's Government justify their decision to abstain—they did not venture to vote against—on this resolution? It is clear from his speech that what the Foreign Secretary objected to were the words: Immediate steps shall be taken in Trust and non-self-governing territories or in all other territories which have not yet attained independence to transfer all powers to the peoples of these territories without any conditions whatever. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence". Why was it that other members of our N.A.T.O. Alliance and other members of the Commonwealth did not abstain or oppose? I think that it was because of the circumstances in which this resolution in 1960 was carried. It has been suggested that the words "immediate steps" meant the immediate granting of independence, but that is not so. The resolution in 1960 was passed only after the Soviet Union had attempted to secure support for a declaration containing a demand for complete independence and had been defeated in the Assembly. It was only passed after they had been defeated on an amendment moved to the Afro-Asian draft calling for independence by the end of 1961. The present President of the Assembly, Mr. Slim, supporting the resolution, said that the sponsors did not want the colonialism question to become an ideological struggle within the framework of the one in which East and West vie against each other.We do not want this action to be the object of horse-trading between the two blocs. We do not want this action to be a means of intensifying the cold war. But the most surprising thing about that debate, in the light of what the Foreign Secretary said in his speech, is that the United Kingdom representative, Mr. Ormsby-Gore, as he was then, congratulated the sponsors of the Afro-Asian declaration on having produced a text which in spite of imperfections has succeeded in emancipating the subject of independence for colonial countries from the tendentious and unconstructive language of the Soviet declaration. That resolution, praised so strongly by the then Minister of State, was the one which the Foreign Secretary described as reckless and careless of peace and revealing an almost total lack of responsibility". The Foreign Secretary attacked the attitude of the new nations, as will be seen from the quotations from his speech which I have already given, and accused them of adopting a double standard of behaviour. In particular, he said that they seldom condemned the Russians and constantly harrassed us. What are the facts? Quite apart from the fact, as the Foreign Secretary himself later admitted, that they succeeded in defeating the troika proposals of the Soviet Union, mentioned grudgingly in the end of his speech, when he said: Nor need we expect that the Communist Powers will always get their way … as though they always had up to now, the United Nations Assembly, with the support of the new countries, heavily defeated the Soviet attack on the United Nations intervention in the Congo. Incidentally, there are some queer alliances here among those who are against United Nations intervention in the Congo. They opposed the Soviet bloc by passing a resolution asking Russia not to explode the 50-megaton bomb, condemned the violation of human rights in Tibet, deplored the continual disregard by the Soviet Union of Assembly resolutions on Hungary and refused to condemn the United States action over Cuba; even on the resolution proposing the admission of the Peking Government to the United Nations, a whole series of new African States voted against.

Yet we are told that these people are all the time voting on the Communist side and only occasionally for us. I do not know exactly what the Foreign Secretary had in mind. I suppose that he must have had in mind the occasions when the new nations voted heavily against the line that we were taking. What were those occasions? Perhaps it was that on 19th December, 1961, regretting Portugal's refusal to submit information about her overseas territories, when the motion was carried by 90 votes to three with one abstention, that of the United Kingdom.

Perhaps it was the resolution appointing a committee of information from Portuguese self-governing territories, which was also passed by an overwhelming vote and on which the United Kingdom again abstained. Perhaps it was the resolution regretting South Africa's non co-operation with the United Nations concerning the administration of South-West Africa and reaffirming the right of South-West Africa to self-determination. Again, even on this the United Kingdom abstained, although the resolution was passed by 90 votes to two with four abstentions.

Or perhaps he was thinking of resolutions from the previous year, the one condemning South Africa's refusal to co-operate with the United Nations on which the United Kingdom abstained the resolution urging Portugal to implement a policy on self-determination in her colonies, on which the United Kingdom abstained; or the Security Council resolution condemning Portuguese policy in Angola, on which the United Kingdom abstained.

The truth is that the United Nations, whether in the Security Council or in the Assembly, has harassed very considerably those in open breach of the Charter over Hungary, Tibet and South Africa. [HON. MEMBERS: "Suez."] Yes, and Suez. But it is not harassing us. There is not a single case that I have been able to find where it can be said that the United Nations has harassed the British for anything that we have done. The truth is that it is not us. It is Portugal and South Africa, this tiny group of colonial Powers, mostly dictatorships, with whom, unhappily, the Foreign Secretary has lined up this country.

It is impossible to read from all that has happened in the United Nations any evidence of the Foreign Secretary's remarks that the new States apply One rule for the bully, who deals in fear, and another for the democracies because their stock in trade is reason and compromise? In which we are involved.

Reason and compromise! Dr. Salazar, that "reasonable" man, who is so willing to compromise over Goa, or Dr. Verwoerd, that "reasonable" man, who was so willing to compromise about apartheid. How can such words be used about such countries and such leaders?

It was a major point with the Foreign Secretary that we are now getting away from the original objects of the Charter, which he said were peace and security. He urged that we should return to these. I have already pointed out that it is the greatest error to say that we have just begun to get away from these ideals when, from the very start, as the Foreign Secretary knows, the Russians did not show any great enthusiasm for them and, only a little later, Britain and France abandoned them. But this departure is not something that has anything to do with the new nations. It began at once.

There is, however, another lesson here. It will not do to concentrate upon one aspect of the Charter alone however important that is—and I certainly yield to no one in attaching importance to it. We must remember other parts. For instance, in the same Article 1, the aim of the United Nations is said to be To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples … Article 73 involves a pledge from countries in their colonies to develop self-government, and to take due account of the political aspirations of their peoples, and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions … In other words, it is surely one of the lessons of these post-war years that if we are to avoid breaches of the Charter we must not be content only to defend the status quo. We must tackle the problem of peaceful change. To refer to the United Nations as simply preserving the status quo—and the Foreign Secretary goes a very long way towards saying this in his speech—is to be false to its past and dangerous to its future.

It is, of course, perfectly natural—and surely we should all understand, and a man who has been Commonwealth Secretary especially should understand—that countries which were formerly colonies should feel very deeply on the issue of colonialism. Of course it is natural and, of course, we should understand that these new nations, whether they be drawn in one direction or another in the great struggle which divides the world, want, almost all of them, one thing above everything else—not to be committed. They do not want to get involved in the hot war or the cold war, and why should they? What matters to them, and again it is the most natural thing in the world, is freedom from colonial rule everywhere.

The Foreign Secretary, at the beginning of his speech, spoke of a crisis of confidence about the United Nations. What was he thinking of? Where is it to be found? In France? I do not know about the French people, but certainly I would say that it is a rather mild way of describing the attitude of President de Gaulle to the United Nations. In Portugal? I do not know about the people, but it is certainly accurate about Dr. Salazar. In South Africa? Not among the majority of the population, but the minority in power, their leaders, Dr. Verwoerd and the others. One may say about all these people that in their minds there is a real crisis about the United Nations. Is there such a crisis in the Commonwealth today? I know of no Commonwealth country where one can suggest that any such thing exists. Is there a crisis about the United Nations in N.A.T.O.? In Belgium, perhaps, as well as France, and of course Portugal, but elsewhere I see no sign of it. In the United States, President Kennedy went out of his way, within a fortnight of the Foreign Secretary's speech, to emphasise his strong support of the United Nations, and he did not mix this with sharp criticism of what was being done in the Assembly.

Why did the Foreign Secretary make this speech? As Secretary of State he must have known that such a speech was bound to have repercussions. It was clearly not an "off-the-cuff" affair. It was carefully prepared. What did he want to achieve? To strengthen the unity of the West, an object of British foreign policy to which we all adhere? It was hardly the way to do it. All it produced was a dispute between the United States and the United Kingdom which we attempted to resolve by the visit of the Lord Privy Seal. It may be said, of course, that it was an attempt to bind Portugal more closely to the N.A.T.O. Alliance, but I hardly think that this was worth the trouble.

Was it to change the views of the Assembly, so that they could be more acceptable to us? I can hardly think of a speech less calculated to win anybody over. Was it to strengthen the United Nations? It contains no practical suggestions whatever to that end. Or was it to help us—because surely this is another object of our foreign policy—to win the cold war among new and uncommitted nations? I can think of nothing more calculated to produce exactly the opposite effect.

What is the explanation? I doubt whether there is a rational explanation in international terms. It may be that the Foreign Secretary made the speech to impress his own party, but more probably the speech simply reflects the two strains of the Tory outlook which, between them, have done our country grave harm over the years. The first of these strains is the suspicion of the United Nations and similar bodies. We saw it clearly enough at the time of Suez in this House, but it was obvious long before that in the disgraceful episode of the Hoare-Laval Pact in 1935 and the defence by a British Minister of Japan's attack on Manchuria. The attitude of the Tories to the United Nations is like a hidden stream which is below the surface a large part of the time and then breaks to the surface every now and then.

The second strain in Tory thinking and feeling is the deep resentment which undoubtedly exists on the other side of the House against anti-colonial movements of all kinds. This is evident in the long series of votes and abstentions in the United Nations on Portugal, Africa, and colonialism, which I have quoted. It is evident from what happened during the Angola trouble. When that trouble was at its height Her Majesty's Government went out of their way to show their friendship for the Portuguese dictatorship. There was the visit of the warships, the proposal to train troops, the sale of arms to Portugal, and the visit of the Foreign Secretary.

It is also evident in the equivocal attitude to the United Nations operations in the Congo—the shabby, discreditable story of the bombs; the flimsy excuse for the change of front; the smearing of Dr. Linner; the open support of the Right wing of the Tory Party for President Tshombe and his mercenaries; the failure, again and again, to stand up to Sir Roy Welensky, and the inability of the Government even to assert the rights and responsibilities which clearly belong to them over the issue of the United Nations observers on the frontiers of Northern Rhodesia.

I know that some hon. Members opposite and some Conservatives outside the House take a different view. I believe that most of the younger generation does. I notice that the Bow Group has recently published a slashing attack on all this, and on the Foreign Secretary. I know that there are a handful of hon. Members opposite—though not, I fear, many right hon. Members opposite—who opposed Suez. But whenever anything like a serious episode occurs they are unhappily overwhelmed by the solid block of knights and baronets whom the Prime Minister has rewarded. [Interruption.] At any rate, that is what the newspapers told us at the time of the bombs episode.

Hon. Members on this side of the House deplore these tendencies. We regard them as especially dangerous to the cause of the West. To us, Britain's proud record of giving freedom to her former Colonies should lead us not to support but to repudiate Portugal and South Africa, and to demonstrate in every possible way our sympathy with the desire for colonial freedom anywhere. If we, in Western Europe, want others to believe in the sincerity of our devotion to freedom, we should show that we believe in freedom everywhere. Our failure to do this, encouraged by speeches like that of the Foreign Secretary, give N.A.T.O.—make no mistake about it—a taint in other continents that it is chiefly an alliance of colonialist Powers and their sympathisers.

Today, of course, colonialism is enormously diminished.