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 Stratton Mills Mr Stratton Mills , Belfast North 12:00 am, 5th February 1962

The hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) has delivered a controversial speech. He took some time in making a criticism of my noble friend the Foreign Secretary. I draw his attention to the wording of the Motion tabled by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. It refers to the attack made upon the United Nations. I suggest that neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the hon. Member has substantiated that charge.

It could be said that the speech was capable of criticism by a political opponent as being an incorrect analysis of the United Nations. I do not agree with that view, but the point could be validly argued by a political opponent. But it should be remembered that the speech was made at a meeting of the United Nations Association, and not a political meeting. It should also be noted that in a statement made by the Executive Committee of that Association, on 13th January, it said that it had studied the speech with great interest, and welcomed my noble Friend's analysis of the credit side of the United Nations.

I do not deny that it then made certain criticisms of the speech. My point is that if this had been an outright attack upon the United Nations the Association would have immediately made a strong attack upon it. It did not do so. It welcomed the Foreign Secretary's "analysis."

The general tone of the analysis by my noble Friend has my support and the support of hon. Members on this side of the House. I have been a member of the United Nations Association for a much longer time than I have been a Member of the House. Nevertheless, I shall gladly vote in the Lobby with my right hon. and hon. Friends this evening.

I want to refer to one part of the Foreign Secretary's speech with which I do not completely agree, although my disagreement is a matter of emphasis. At one stage my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary said, referring to the double standard of behaviour of certain sections of the Afro-Asian group: The United Nations members know that to be true, but they seldom condemn the Russians and constantly harass us. This is perhaps an over-simplification of the situation. It is true that they criticise the West very much more than they criticise the East, but when an Afro-Asian nation has, after a struggle against colonialism, won its political freedom it tends to be over-obsessed with the issues of colonialism.

The Leader of the Opposition particularly will appreciate this point. He is faced with a similar situation in the Labour Party. The Labour Party has fought for many things for seventy-five years and Labour Members cannot forget the battles which they have won and the issues which the electorate have many times rejected. They continually fight and re-fight old battles.

This is what is happening with many of the newly independent nations. Nations which are newly independent from colonialism are gradually learning the dangers of the Communist menace, but we must not expect this to be a fast process. It will obviously take a very long time. I am not one of those who despair of the strong nationalism of the Afro-Asian groups. We may in twenty years' time look back aT the strong nationalism of the Afro-Asian groups as having been of very great importance. Perhaps in that light we should welcome it now.

I believe that the nationalism of the new Afro-Asian nations will make them much more politically sophisticated and very much more careful to look out for the hidden trap of the Communist Party. One of the most important events of recent months, which has passed comparatively unnoticed in this country, took place in the former French colony of Guinea. Recently, there was much fear that it was becoming part of the Communist sphere of influence. Many people threw up their hands in despair. Earlier this month the Government of Guinea expelled the Russian diplomats and technicians who have been in their country. They have themselves learned the hard way about the creeping paralysis of Communism. How much better it was that they should have learned by experience and set an example to other African and Asian countries, rather than having to have the point made clear to them by the older nations.

I believe that the Russians at the United Nations perform a valuable educational role. Their presence gives the new nations at the United Nations the opportunity of seeing Russian tactics in operation. Being able to do this at close quarters gives the new nations the opportunity to spot the political tactic which may have influence inside their own countries.

The record has already been stated this afternoon of the occasions on which members of the Afro-Asian group in the United Nations have turned against the Communist Powers, and I believe it to be relevant to our discussion. I believe that the new nations are slowly learning about Communism. Let them learn by their own experience of Russia and they will learn the lesson very much more deeply.

Purely from Britain's point of view, it is a definite British political interest that there should be a strong and powerful United Nations. I do not believe that we can over-emphasise this point. There is in some quarters a tendency to talk of Britain leaving the United Nations. This is the viewpoint of a madman. Nevertheless, there is an important rôle for Britain in remaining a member and helping in the task which Dag Hammarskjöld began—of educating for international democracy the nations of the Afro-Asian group.

I wish now to refer to the finances of the United Nations. The point has already been made in the debate that no country other than the United States contributes more to the United Nations than this country. I add my welcome to the fact that, as my right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal announced on 29th January, Britain is to purchase United Nations bonds. A question has been raised as to whether the bonds will be redeemed. I cannot help thinking that there is at least as great a chance of them being redeemed as there is of the redemption of the undated securities issued by the British Government.

Britain has agreed to purchase bonds up to a maximum value of 12 million dollars. I wonder whether this is the night amount. The total value of the issue is 200 million dollars. The United Kingdom's contribution to the overall budget is 7·58 per cent. If we were to purchase bonds to a value consonant with our full contribution to the finances of the United Nations, we should have to purchase slightly over 15 million dollars' worth of these securities. It should be made clear that we are falling short of that amount. Our contribution is, to put it no stronger, a little on the fine side. I cannot help wondering whether this is due to the restraining hand of the Foreign Office or the sharp axe of the Treasury.

What is the background to the financial difficulties of the United Nations? We have heard today about the number of countries which are in default. There seems to be some dispute about whether the figure is 82 or 87. I cannot help wondering whether the word "default" is not a gross over-simplification of the position. My right hon. Friend the Lord Privy Seal said, when announcing that Britain was to purchase some bonds: In the payments countries make, there is a certain time lag as to when they deliver the dues. All countries, even those which are regular payers, have special arrangements. As far as the rest of them are concerned, they are not in default of their normal payments.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th January. 1962; Vol. 652, c. 691.] This suggests that there may be various national arrangements so that when a bill comes in it is not paid on the spot. Some hon. Members may do the same as I do. On receipt of an account do they always rush to find their cheque-books and immediately pay it, or do they, like myself, pay all accounts once every three months or so? I cannot help wondering whether this affects my creditworthiness. Similarly, these nations should not automatically be considered as defaulters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) has a Motion on the Order Paper asking that our delegate at the United Nations be instructed to propose a motion there to the effect that no country which is in default on the payment of its dues should be permitted either to vote OT to take part in the proceedings of the United Nations. Does he fully realise the implications of that Motion? Does he realise that it would mean art amendment of the Charter, and that such an amendment would stand no chance at all of being accepted? Does he want our United Nations delegation to be put in a ridiculous position? That is what would happen.

I myself and about 20 of my hon. Friends have tabled an Amendment to that Motion, its basis being that the present position under Article 19 of the Charter should be observed, as that is a much better way of dealing with the defaulter. Article 19 makes arrangements for countries which, in certain special circumstances, cannot pay their dues. A country may have had a severe earthquake, for instance, or it may be going through an economic crisis, or may have an unstable Government which is not able to hold elections. It may be that in many of the countries listed by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition such special circumstances may be found to exist.

An editorial in The Times of 30th January stated: This will not be the last time that the United Nations will have to be hailed out by emergency measures of this kind. The problem of financing special operations has been there for five years without being resolved. It will go on until the United Nations organisation is reformed and strengthened, so that a larger and more representative Security Council, exercising the balance of influence according to the common sense of the Charter, works in co-ordination with the General Assembly. It would be easier than to pounce on defaulters … Those are wise words.

The question of default is very closely tied to the strengthening of the Charter and to making use of existing provisions on the Charter. It is important that those provisions are themselves aimed at strengthening the United Nations as an organisation. I believe that it was with that purpose in mind that the Foreign Secretary spoke as he did to a branch of the United Nations Association at Berwick-upon-Tweed, and because of that I will gladly vote against the Opposition's censure Motion this evening.