Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Speech)

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Derek Walker-Smith Mr Derek Walker-Smith , Hertfordshire East 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

I always listen with friendly attention to the speeches of the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. A. Henderson), and this afternoon has been no exception. I think the House will agree that his speech was cast in very temperate tones for a speech made in a censure debate, and with certain passages of what he had to say I certainly did not find myself in disagreement. But, of course, I find myself in fundamental disagreement with his assessment of the speech of the noble Lord.

I think that the speech of the noble Lord was useful and timely. I think that it was made in the interests of both this country and the United Nations as a whole. I think, therefore, that it deserves not the censure but the commendation of this House. Of course, it was not all unqualified praise. The noble Lord took the rôle of the candid friend. The rôle of the candid friend is one which is traditionally often unwelcome to the recipient, but nevertheless in the long run more often than not it is beneficial to him.

Certainly I would not expect it to be put forward in any quarter of the House that the measurement of our loyalty and support for the United Nations—or any other institution—was the degree of facile flattery uncritically bestowed. Those who refuse to recognise the present weaknesses of the United Nations, and to urge a constructive and remedial approach, are false friends to the United Nations, because they are obstructing the possibility of improvement and jeopardising the development of this immensely valuable, but still young and formative, institution.

The noble Lord cast his balance sheet and declared a dividend of hope, a hope which we all share, because the prospects of peace depend so greatly on the ability of the United Nations to tread successfully the path which its founding fathers charted for it.

I agree with the criticisms of the noble Lord as being timely and constructive, and will, if I may, say a word about each of the three main grounds for concern canvassed in his speech and dealt with in the speeches of the right hon. Gentlemen this afternoon, namely, first the use of force; secondly, the financial position; and, thirdly, the 'perversion of the true purposes of the Charter in efforts to make the United Nations a launching pad for attacks on colonialism and a mechanism for accelerated action in that field.

First, its use of force. Here, though the action of India in regard to Goa saddened all sensible and sensitive people, and particularly those who have the Commonwealth cause most closely at heart, the primary and continuing ground for concern is the Congo. I do not claim any omniscience, or even necessarily accurate knowledge, about the detailed course of events in Katanga. Like all who have any experience in the practice of the law, I know how difficult it is to establish truth with matters small in scale and local in character, even with the aid of the detailed and diligent processes of the law. It is not necessarily or solely because people want to mislead; it is because of the infinite fallibility of human observation, human memory, and human perspective.

But if that is difficult, how much more difficult to unravel the tangled skein of events in remote Katanga; to find our way precisely through a maze of claim and counter claim, rebuttal and rejoinder. But though it is difficult to find the truth, it is nonetheless important. It is important because we share responsibility for the truth, be it what it may. I am therefore in agreement with those of my hon. Friends who have asked for an inquiry into these events and allegations, and it should, I think, be a judicial inquiry in the full light of day with ample scope for oral evidence and cross-examination.

Even assuming such an inquiry, and whatever its results, we are left with the general question of the ethics of the use of force. I am against the extension of the use of force beyond the clear contemplation of the Charter. Article 42 of the Charter prescribes the use of such force as is necesesary for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security—and that is all. I am against the extension of the use of force to impose a domestic pattern upon a member country, because Article 2 (7), to which the right hon. and learned Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton referred, enshrines the principle of non-interference in affairs lying within the domestic jurisdiction of a sovereign State. If it is wrong to intervene to oppose a Government, it is wrong to intervene in support of a Government. I do not want to see the secession of Katanga, but nor do I want to see its suppression.

Let us lift our eyes from this particular case to the general principle which its authority would enforce. Would not it be said on the strength of this precedent that the collective force of the United Nations should be available to any Central Government, whatever its quality, or lack of quality, against men struggling to be free? Our instincts reject, and our whole history repudiates, such a concept as that.

Consider the changed pattern of the past if that principle had prevailed. In the last century the liberty-loving Londoners feted Garibaldi and pelted the Austrian Ambassador. But, today, if this principle held sway, they would be asked to pour out their treasury to assist the Hapsburg Empire as a sovereign State restrain the secession of the provinces of Italy. And Greece—the secessionist province of the Ottoman Empire. And Byron would no longer be the legendary hero of Greek independence, but merely the mercenary of Missolonghi. Hon. Members will get such consolation as they may from the no doubt agreeable but superficially paradoxical fact that Mr. Bing is still a Bwana in Ghana.

To summarise on the use of force. First, a judicial inquiry into the events and allegations in Katanga. Secondly, no extension of the use of force beyond the clear contemplation of the Charter. Thirdly, no encouragement to Katanga to secede, but equally no coercion of its will by force.

I pass for a few moments to the financial aspect. It is, on the face of it, a surprising position that we have in regard to the financial matters. Hon. Members may think it a little surprising that Article 19 ever envisaged a period as long as two years in which to pay these dues. It was no doubt intended as a provision for the exceptional case but we might get into the position where we have a sort of, up-to-date edition of Pharaoh's dream of the lean kine eating the fat kine.

It is not only, or mainly, a question of money. What we are concerned with is the degree of support for the United Nations; and if we are attacked in this context our spokesmen are entitled to draw attention to our own performance in this regard, and the lack of diligence, to use a neutral term, on the part of some other member States. After all, we know on the highest authority that "where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also". And surely the converse is true, that where thy heart is, there should thy treasure be also; and not necessarily wait for the International Court to make a finding in regard to it.

I think that we should be, as we are, punctual with our own payments and not pharisaical about the faults of others. I think that, if our sincerity is called in question, we are entitled to adduce as evidence of it the prompt and punctual discharge of our own obligations as contrasted with the delay of some others.

I come finally to the third main ground of concern, that is the perversion of the basic purposes of the Charter by attacks on so-called colonialism and the effort to undermine the position of those countries which are still charged with the duty of colonial administration. I think that the noble Lord was justified in taking exception to resolutions which he characterised as careless and reckless of peace and security. Of course, it serves the purpose of some Powers, of the Soviet bloc, to seek to blacken our colonial record and endeavours; but is it to be said that the United Nations is weakened if our representatives repudiate these charges and seek to guide the United Nations back to its proper paths and purposes?

These manifestations really have taken two forms. First, the blackening of the colonial records of Powers, including ourselves; and, secondly, the demand for immediate, simultaneous action in regard to all the remaining colonial territories, whatever their present position and circumstances may be. That is the matter as put forward in the United Nations in recent times. I would not have thought that our colonial record would need any defence in this House, but it does need defence in the United Nations against the misrepresentation of the Soviet bloc and sometimes of others. Our conduct of colonial affairs follows the well-known requirement of Article 73, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, with close and scrupulous adherence. Indeed, Article 73 might well have been formulated, and I have no doubt that it was in fact formulated, with British colonial practice very presently in mind.

After all, there is no issue as to objectives here. This country, under successive Governments, has laboured conscientiously on a great constitutional conveyor belt carrying our Colonies forward to responsible self-government; and responsible self-government remains the goal for the remaining Colonial Territories with proper safeguards for minorities in multi-racial communities. There need be no issue as to timing either if regard is had to realities. After all, all that we say is that you cannot successfully introduce self-government until the conditions and prerequisites of self-government exist. To seek to do so is not to expedite self-government; it is to frustrate it. We do not seek to alter the direction of the wind of change. All that we say is that it is wrong to try to whip it up into hurricane force which may bring damage and destruction in its wake. Events in the Congo, as the noble Lord has said, are sad testimony to this unwelcome truth.

The fact is that in human affairs we cannot eliminate the time factor however worthy the cause. History teaches us that if we try unduly to compress the processes of Time, Time will take its revenge upon us. Those who will not learn the lessons of history have to live the experience of history again. The lesson of history in this context is this: we cannot seek to erect institutions, however good in themselves, on inadequate foundations. The attempt to do so risks crisis and chaos and the creation of a power vacuum which is promptly filled by a dictatorship. This happened in France in 1789. It happened in Russia in 1919. It is the way that Communism wants it to happen in Africa in 1962.

The tactics behind these manifestations are, of course, to create the opportunity for the swift and unrelenting grip of Communism on inexperienced and unsuspecting communities. I do not for a moment suggest that this is the motive of the great majority of those who support these resolutions. The fault is no more than over-simplification of these problems and, perhaps, in some cases the natural exuberance of youth. Nevertheless, inevitably although inadvertently, they are, by participating in these manifestations, promoting the prospects of communism and risking the attainment of viable self-government on a decent, democratic basis which is their own objective.

The resolution of 14th December, 1960, to which the noble Lord took exception, called for immediate steps to be (taken in trust and non-self-governing territories, and in all other territories not yet independent, to transfer all powers without condition or qualification. Those were the terms of the resolution. The object was stated to be for their complete enjoyment of independence and freedom. "Complete enjoyment"—these words may, I think, be the key to the misconception here. Independence and freedom are not just things to be enjoyed; they are not an indulgence, but a laborious responsibility. Freedom is not a mere abstract thing to be discussed by philosophers or to be debated by demagogues; still less is it a gift to be bestowed for the effortless enjoyment of the recipient. It is not a passive exercise at all. It calls for the active exercise of the corporate qualities of the nation—restraint and responsibility as much as effort and endeavour.

I believe that, thanks to the long labours of our forefathers in the fields of free and democratic institutions, we in this country, in this generation, can render a signal service to these younger nations in helping to guide them along these paths; and that, in particular, we can help to concentrate their attention on the practice rather than on the polemics of liberty—on not mere lip-service to an idea, but the constructive task of forging the institutions and equipment of freedom. Surely to preach this gospel and practise this creed cannot be to injure the United Nations. To seek to do so is not to undermine the structure but to buttress it. Indeed, failure to do this may provoke consequences too awful to contemplate. The noble Lord referred to the consequences of the premature grant of independence in the Congo. I should like to refer the House to the conclusion reached by Dr. Ruth Slade in her book on the Belgian Congo, published by the Institute of Race Relations.

Dr. Slade writes: For so small a country as Belgium, without any previous colonial experience, her achievement in the Congo was amazing. Dr. Slade specifies that achievement—the best health service in Africa", education transport, and the like—and goes on: Constant criticism of colonialism worried Belgium unduly, for she liked to think of herself as a model character in international affairs. Pressure in the United Nations, pressure from the newly independent countries in Africa and … pressure from the Belgian Socialist Party, all combined to destroy her self-confidence. A country which has lost its self-confidence cannot hope to command the confidence of others.

I am not one of those who have lost confidence in the mission of the British people in the second half of the twentieth century. I believe that, whatever may be the diminution in our material resources and military might, we are still uniquely equipped by long, diverse and extended experience in the ways and workings of freedom to give guidance and leadership in this troubled, fast-moving modern world, with all its hopes and its hazards, its perils and its problems.

That, I believe, should be our rôle in the Commonwealth, in the United Nations and in the world; and in so far as the noble Lord and his right hon. Friends are labouring conscientiously and courageously to discharge that task, with all my heart I wish them well.