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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 Arthur Henderson Mr Arthur Henderson , Rowley Regis and Tipton 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

The whole House has listened with great interest to the Prime Minister's speech. I think his analysis of the imperfections and weaknesses of the United Nations would meet with a great deal of agreement even on this side of the House. However, we are here not to discuss the imperfections in the United Nations or in the United Nations Charter but to discuss a speech that was made recently by the Foreign Secretary.

While the Foreign Secretary's speech dealt with matters of considerable importance to all those who are concerned with the success of the United Nations, his speech, in its criticisms of the United Nations, was unfortunate as regards its timing and much of its content. I believe that is a widely-held view in the country today, and it seems to me that the Foreign Secretary should have foreseen that such a speech would cause a great deal of public uneasiness.

It was ill-timed, because it followed so closely upon British official disapproval of certain aspects of United Nations' policy and of activities by United Nations' representatives in the Congo and also unofficial hostile criticisms of the United Nations which had been expressed both in the House, below the Gangway on the Government side of the House, and outside the House during the conduct of the United Nations operation in the Congo.

The Foreign Secretary made his speech within a few days of the achievement of the cease-fire to which the Prime Minister referred a few moments ago, and it is not surprising, therefore, that many people regarded the speech as an extension of the attacks to which the United Nations had been subjected. It is, of course, true that the Foreign Secretary made only a brief reference to the Congo troubles when he referred to a premature grant of independence to a country whose people were totally unprepared for their new responsibilities". To this extent that is true; it was due not to the United Nations but to the shortcomings of the colonial Power which had previously ruled the Congo. The Foreign Secretary did not mention, as President Kennedy did last Tuesday, that the United Nations emergency action in the Congo had prevented large-scale civil war and had avoided great Power intervention". It was against this background that the Foreign Secretary directed his criticisms of the United Nations, some of them, as I hope to show. unsubstantiated and misconceived. To my mind the Foreign Secretary's balance sheet was not fairly drawn. The adverse side was exaggerated both in language and in substance. No one would claim that the United Nations is a perfect instrument for the purposes it was designed to serve. Like all human institutions, the measure of its effectiveness and success is determined by the measure of loyalty and support which it is given by its members, and in this respect, I am afraid, some of its founder members have been seriously at fault.

The need to strengthen the United Nations in the light of the years of experience since it was founded has been recognised for some time, and, indeed, the late Secretary-General, Mr. Hammarskjoeld, was alive to this problem. It is a problem which will have to be faced, and we look to the Government of this country to play an influential part in this important constructive task.

Like my right hon. Friend, I have known the Foreign Secretary for many years, and I believe him to be as sincere a supporter of the concept of the United Nations as I am, but, I am sorry to say, I do not consider that his speech was constructive in this respect. He was singularly reticent as to what should be done to put matters right. How much more to the point his speech would have been had he related his criticisms to a series of concrete proposals for ending what he called "the crisis of confidence."

I should like to examine some of his specific criticisms. First, he asked … why is there a crisis of confidence in the United Nations? As my right hon. Friend indicated in his very powerful speech this afternoon, the Foreign Secretary's answer was that four countries which were members of the Security Council had supported a resolution condoning the use of force by India in Goa. It was, he said, the first time in the history of the United Nations that it had happened. It is to be regretted that this occurred, but such a minority vote on the Security Council surely cannot be held to carry with it the approval of the United Nations as a whole. Indeed, it was not even put to the test in the General Assembly.

It is also to be regretted that India had recourse to the use of force, but, as we have been told this afternoon, India is not the first member of the United Nations which has resorted to the use of force. On no previous occasion, as far as I can recall, was any charge ever made of a crisis of confidence in the United Nations. Nor did the Foreign Secretary adduce any evidence to justify his allegations that we have reached a stage when a large part of the organisation which is dedicated to peace openly condones aggression. It would be interesting to have a list of the countries openly condoning aggression as the Foreign Secretary stated. Secondly, he said, Resolutions have been persistently passed by the Assembly, in particular on colonialism, which could only be described as reckless and careless of peace and security". I have tried to find out the number of such resolutions passed by the General Assembly. According to my information, there have been two such resolutions, one of which has been referred to this afternoon and which indeed was referred to in the Foreign Secretary's speech, dealing with general colonial policy as distinct from special problems such as apartheid in South Africa, the problems of Angola or special parts of the world. According to my information there have been only two colonial resolutions, dealing with general colonial policy, passed by the United Nations General Assembly.

The first of these resolutions was passed by the General Assembly in June of last year, and 89 States voted in favour of it, with nine abstentions, including, as we were told, the United Kingdom. On the second Resolution, which was quoted by the Foreign Secretary in his speech, 97 voted in favour and there were four abstentions.

It is interesting to note that amendments to the second resolution, which would have fixed 1962 as the year of the elimination of colonialism, were rejected. It is true that there appeared a number of drafts which might be described as extreme and which many people might regard as reckless, but the fact is, according to my information, that none of these drafts was adopted, and some of them were not even put to the vote. Indeed, one was a draft put forward by Nigeria which indicated that Nigeria considered that the year in which these immediate steps should be taken was 1970.

I believe that I shall carry most hon. Members on both sides of the House with me when I say that Britain expects to wind up its colonial responsibilities in all probability by 1970.

Surely the fact that we may disapprove of particular resolutions passed by the Assembly is no reason for indicting the United Nations. Moreover, when the Assembly is accused of irresponsibility, the Foreign Secretary must surely have overlooked its firm support of the Charter at the time of Suez and the Russian invasion of Hungary. As my right hon. Friend reminded the House this afternoon, even in the present session of the General Assembly Russia has been heavily outvoted on the Troika issue, the Soviet megaton explosions and Communist behaviour in Tibet and Hungary.

We have heard from both my right hon. Friend and the Prime Minister references to what the Foreign Secretary called the "double standard of behaviour" in the United Nations, especially by many of the newly-elected countries. Is this criticism justified? Is it not rather the case that many of these nations have just emerged from conditions of colonialism and are concerned to ensure that other colonial peoples are given their freedom as soon as possible? Whereas Russian Imperialism is hidden behind puppet governments and a façade of independence, this country and other Western countries have established in the past direct rule of their colonial territories, and that is why these colonial resolutions are ostensibly directed against the so-called Western colonial Powers and do not refer to what we know as the captive nations. But the Foreign Secretary was undoubtedly right to contrast the British record with that of Russia. This country has every reason to be proud of its colonial policy since 1945 and the freeing of more than 600 million colonial peoples in that time.

As I said a few moments ago, I doubt whether any hon. Member would disagree with me when I suggest that by 1970 British colonialism is likely to be a thing of the past. World opinion is undoubtedly running against colonialism, but this country is well on the road to ending that situation. It is British policy to bring the few African colonies remaining under our control to the goal of independence in the next few years.

I wonder whether there is not much to be said for the recent suggestion made by the Guardian that if Britain is sure that her African policy is right she should aim at an Anglo-United Nations policy on colonial freedom. Such co- operation might go a long way towards removing the fears and suspicions of the peoples of the remaining colonial territories, especially those in Africa.

A further criticism made by the Foreign Secretary was in his reference to the evidence of a serious falling away from the principles of the Charter, placing Britain in an appalling dilemma. I agree with the Foreign Secretary that peace must be the first British interest—I do not think that there will be any disagreement about that on either side of the House—but I am afraid that there have been many occasions in the postwar years when member-nations have flouted the rule of law. They can always advance some national justification or other for their actions. But that is not the way to build up an international peace system based on the principles of the Charter.

Russia, the United Kingdom, France, India, Communist China and, to some extent, the United States must accept some of the responsibility for what the Foreign Secretary calls a serious falling away from the principles of the Charter". On the other hand, the United Nations should not stand aside or be kept inactive until a dangerous situation has developed and threatens peace. It should be enabled more actively to operate the provisions of the Charter governing the pacific settlement of disputes, and something should be done to reconcile Articles 1 (2) and 73 with Article 2 (7), of the Charter.

As the House will remember Article 1 (2) refers to the principle of self-determination for all peoples and Article 73—I should like to quote it because I think that it is so important in this connection—says: Members of the United Nations which have or assume responsibilities for the administration of territories whose peoples have not yet attained a full measure of self-government recognise the principle that the interests of the inhabitants of these territories are paramount, and accept as a sacred trust the obligation to promote to the utmost, within the system of international peace and security established by the present Charter, the wellbeing of the inhabitants of these territories, and, to this end (b) … to take due account of the political aspirations of the peoples and to assist them in the progressive development of their free political institutions. That has been frustrated by Article 2 (7) which, as the House knows, provides that … matters essentially within the domestic Jurisdiction of any State are excluded from the operation of the Charter. But if the use of force is to be excluded, as it should be, then effective ways and means must be found for achieving peaceful settlements. It is not right that disputes should be allowed to develop until they come to the boil. India was a case in point. It attained its independence in 1948. Pondicherry was handed to India by France in 1954 and yet nothing was done either by way of a peaceful settlement between India and Portugal or even through the agency of the Security Council or the General Assembly to secure the peaceful settlement of the Goa problem.

There are, of course, problems, to which the Foreign Secretary rightly drew attention, facing us, whatever view we take about the justification or otherwise of the Foreign Secretary's speech. There is the size of the Security Council. The Prime Minister referred to the fact that we were bound by the Charter. Owing to the veto it is impossible to secure an amendment of the Charter unless there is agreement among the five Powers of the veto. That is one of the problems which is confronting us today. It is all very well to have a Security Council of eleven when we have forty-five or fifty members, but now that we have 104 members it is obvious that the non-aligned nations should have the right to a permanent seat on the Council.

The question of the non-payment of contributions has been dealt with, and I do not propose to go into detail with regard to that except to say that if the majority of the member-States are not prepared to pay their share of financing special operations then the General Assembly should not approve them, as it has done, by overwhelming votes. To my mind, both Suez and the Congo have only underlined the need to establish a United Nations permanent force, together with a civil organisation akin to the Military Government Service which functioned so successfully in Europe and elsewhere at the end of the Second World War. Its job should be to administer areas where local or regional administration has broken down. These problems should not be dealt with on a special or emergency basis, nor should their financing be left to a few member-States.

Just a word on the questions of the bonds issue. I welcome the action of Her Majesty's Government in taking up 12 million dollars' worth of United Nations Bonds, but I regret that the Government did not follow the example of the United States and the Scandinavian countries. The United States has taken up 100 million dollars' worth, which represents 34 million dollars more than its proportionate share of the United Nations' budget. The Scandinavian countries are taking up 10 million dollars' worth, representing more than twice their proportionate share of the United Nations' budget. By contrast, the United Kingdom has taken up 12 million dollars' worth, which is 3 million dollars' worth less than its proportionate share of the United Nations budget.

I regret very much that Her Majesty's Government have not seen fit to give the same firm support to the United Nations as has been given by President Kennedy and the Scandinavian countries. I believe that it would have enhanced Britain's standing in the world and removed some of the doubts which have recently arisen had the Government followed this example or taken at least a proportionate share. It would have demonstrated in a practical manner their determination to stand loyally by the United Nations.

In conclusion, I only wish to say that I hope that this debate will result in making it clear that this country is not going to weaken in its support of the United Nations, that the Government will put their whole weight and influence behind that support and that they will wholeheartedly subscribe to President Kennedy's recent statement, which I quote: Whatever its imperfections, the United Nations' effectiveness and existence are an essential part of the machinery to bring peace out of this world of danger and discord. Let us not damn the United Nations with faint praise but uphold and strengthen it.