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 John Mendelson Mr John Mendelson , Penistone 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

Like a number of other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate, the hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr) has completely avoided discussing the Opposition's real indictment of the Foreign Secretary's speech. Hon. Members opposite have been led in that careful avoidance by the Prime Minister himself. It was he who first addressed himself to something other than the Motion. I, therefore, want to return almost immediately to the two parts of the noble Lord's speech which I regard as particularly dangerous and irresponsible and which are my two main reasons for supporting the Motion.

The noble Lord said: Why, then, if there is such a universal urge for peace and the machinery to achieve it is ready to hand, is there a crisis of confidence in the United Nations? The second passage, later in his speech, was: All our instincts and interests therefore combine to urge support for the kind of United Nations for which the founders drew up the Charter. The question which many sober and responsible observers of its practice are asking is whether we can continue to do so and whether the United Nations of the authors of the Charter has had its day. That was an attack upon the future of the United Nations which created serious uncertainty. However much the Prime Minister may try to explain away that aspect of the speech, I think that the Lord Privy Seal will at least agree with me that how the essential part of the Foreign Secretary's speech was read abroad matters and is of great importance to this country.

While the Prime Minister said several times that the noble Lord had given a considered and balanced statement, no such impression was made upon the reporters of very important newspapers which have their own correspondents in this country. For instance, the New York Times, generally regarded as the leading newspaper in the United States, had a headline which said Lord Home scores U.N. for line on force and Colonialism Another newspaper in another member country of the N.A.T.O. alliance, a very respected newspaper published in Munich, said that the Foreign Secretary made a "sensational speech" in which he attacked the United Nations. If there were more time, one could quote other evidence from respected French newspapers. But it is quite clear that many people experienced in these matters regarded the Foreign Secretary's speech as an attack upon the United Nations.

There may well arise the important question of why the Foreign Secretary should be mentioned in the Motion. It is a time-honoured practice in a situation of this kind to single out the Minister responsible particularly if he is a principal Secretary of State. It will be generally agreed that the Foreign Secretary is in a special position to some extent. He is one of the two original principal Secretaries of State, dating back to the 1780s, and he is in charge of foreign affairs in the widest possible sense. It is not possible to argue that the Foreign Secretary, committing himself to a statement which casts doubt on the future of the United Nations and, equally important, on whether this country is prepared to continue to support it, can shrug it off like any speech of any junior member of the Government in a casual debate.

The Foreign Secretary always carries very much influence and power in the Cabinet over the conduct of foreign affairs. We are told by people who have written their biographies and autobiographies on these matters—and there is agreement among most learned authorities on the matter—that it is normal after discussion in the Cabinet for the Head of the Government to say that the Cabinet would be well advised to accept the view of the Foreign Secretary.

I have brought out those examples to show that there is no question of personal animosity being involved and I deliberately do not refer to the constitutional aspect of this position which worries many of us and which was mentioned by the right hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). That is not the burden of this debate, but if the Foreign Secretary were a Member of this House, and if the same kind of speech in the same kind of terms had been made, the indictment would have been equally severe. However, before leaving that subject I should like to say that there have been many voices throughout the country which from time to time have said that it is a positive disadvantage for the man mainly responsible for the conduct of our foreign affairs not to be able, in the atmosphere of the elected assembly, to take part in debates on the conduct of foreign affairs. That is an argument sometimes supported by people of all political parties.

I now turn to some of the Prime Minister's comments. The right hon. Gentleman was very anxious to establish a position for the Government in which he might be able to say that the United Nations, and particularly the Security Council, was not functioning as its founders hoped. That is not in dispute. That is what I had in mind when I charged the Prime Minister with not addressing himself to the Motion. We all know that the main hope of the founders of the United Nations was concentrated on agreement among the major Powers. But in the absence of such agreement the United Nations is nevertheless capable of doing many useful jobs and of playing a part in preparing the ground for such agreement.

I was rather concerned to hear the Prime Minister say that he himself put all his hopes for agreement between East and West in direct negotiations between East and West. All my political life I have been in favour of having as many contacts as possible between the statesmen of East and West so that they could go on negotiating in difficult situations and in better situations. I still am, but it is underestimating the potential influence of the United Nations in helping in the process of bringing the countries of East and West together to take the view expressed by the Prime Minister. I hope that the Lord Privy Seal wild accept that and will make it clear that it continues to be the Government's view that the United Nations has great potential influence in improving relations between East and West.

The Prime Minister was anxious to prove that the resolution which the Foreign Secretary attacked, Resolution 1514, contained a demand for immediate independence for all remaining colonial countries. However, careful reading of the terms of that resolution shows that it was the result of many negotiations and was put in opposition to a motion which would have carried the implication of a demand for immediate independence without any qualifications or preparations. Secondly, the term "pretext" was fully justified as many of the delegates of former colonial countries felt—as do the spokesmen of countries which are still colonies—that they had sometimes been told that they were not ready for independence while at the same time they received no preparations or encouragement to make them ready. They attacked those pretexts for not being allowed to become independent and not being prepared for such a change of status.

Indeed, the main indictment of the United Nations against the Government of Belgium—and many of us who have discussed these matters with members of Belgian political parties have been provided with much evidence for it—is that for many years the Belgian Government did nothing about preparing the Congo for independence in the belief that the need for it would never arise.

I now turn to the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) concerning the interests of this country in regard to the United Nations. It is a very dangerous procedure for the representatives of this country to attack the United Nations and undermine confidence in it. The Prime Minister made a brief reference to what went on before the war, but he left out a good many facts about the undermining of confidence in the League of Nations at that time. He completely ignored some of the statements made by our statesmen, which had that effect.

The relevance of these statements is very simple; it always turns out to be a danger for our people if we take part in undermining confidence in international organisations. That is what happened when war broke out. We have a direct interest—forgetting for the moment all about the idealism of the United Nations, to which the Prime Minister referred—in maintaining the rule of law through the United Nations, and we shall not do it if we make speeches like that recently made by the noble Lord.

It is equally important to be clear about the task confronting the Foreign Secretary in his conduct of foreign affairs. I do not believe that the noble Lord was speaking for all Conservatives, either in this House or in the country. For instance, very soon after the Foreign Secretary had made his speech the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) spoke in the Hallam division of Sheffield, at a meeting whose chairman was the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn). In that speech the hon. Member for Kidderminster warned the country and the Conservative Women's Association in the constituency against making attacks on the United Nations. There are many people, especially in my area of Yorkshire, who vote Conservative regularly and who care very much about the future of the United Nations. It is therefore very important to isolate the tendency that is now developing among hon. Members opposite continually to misrepresent the operations of the United Nations in the Congo. It is important to realise that in making speeches containing insinuations against the United Nations they are acting against the interests of this country, in the long run.

At this stage it is equally important that the Foreign Secretary should give a lead about what should happen in the United Nations, instead of confining himself to criticisms. On a number of occasions recently, not only in respect of United Nations affairs but in negotiations on other matters, the Foreign Secretary has confined himself to a short statement in which he has cast real doubt upon the hope of successful future negotiations. He did that in relation to the problem of Berlin on more than one occasion, and he has done it in connection with other matters.

There are many people who would like to see the Foreign Secretary of Her Majesty's Government taking the initia tive in restoring confidence within the United Nations. I am equally convinced that, because of the speech that he made and the unsuccessful attempt he has since made to undo its effects, he will be greatly handicapped in carrying out his job in the future. Debates on the Congo and upon other controversial matters in the United Nations are debates that need the inspiration of the leading statesmen of the major countries. It is in our interest to adopt an attitude of deliberate encouragement and friendliness towards the emerging territories, which are colonies at the moment but will become independent quite soon. It is playing into the hands of the Soviet Government and the Communist forces in the countries concerned to adopt a negative and discouraging attitude.

The argument is always raised that delegates representing Communist countries use the United Nations as a forum in order to create an atmosphere adverse to the Western Powers. That is true. From time to time the Soviet Government use the United Nations in that way. My argument is that our attitude of non-comprehension in relation to the ambitions of the newly emerging countries plays into Russia's hands. On every occasion when a move is made in the United Nations to frustrate a propaganda attempt by the Soviet Government one of the questions that is asked—as anyone who has talked to United Nations delegates will confirm—is, "Can we get the support of the older colonial Powers for a solution which will show that we are interested in the advancement of these countries, but do not want them to become images of Communist dictatorships?" In many cases, instead of taking a lead in helping to provide such a solution, we have lined up with the most discredited colonial Powers, such as Portugal, and have thus found ourselves incapable of giving a lead which would avoid the acceptance of Communist resolutions and also make it quite clear where we stood, thus giving encouragement to the new countries.

The Foreign Secretary, because of his responsibility, often has to act on his own decision. It is accepted constitutional doctrine that he cannot consult the Cabinet on every point. He must, therefore, have wide-ranging powers, and be able to make decisions by himself, from time to time. That being the case, added to which is the fact that everything that he says is always studied with great care abroad, I submit that he has done a disservice to the conduct of our foreign affairs by his recent speech, and that he ought to forfeit the confidence of the House.