Although this is the first time that I address the House, I make clear that I give no undertaking to remain totally non-controversial in what I say, and I am ready, therefore, to forgo the privileges and courtesies which are usually accorded maiden speakers.
The subject about which I shall speak may not at first sight seem of such immediate importance as the question of Britain's entry into the Common Market, or the current crisis in N.A.T.O. arid subjects of this kind, to which other speakers have referred in the debate. It is certainly not of the same overwhelming, tragic urgency as the war in Vietnam, which was debated here last Thursday. But it is a subject which, in the long run, is of as great or perhaps even greater importance both to this country and to the community of nations as a whole.
I refer to the discussions at present taking place in the United Nations Special Committee on Peace-Keeping, in which our own Government have been closely involved. Although these discussions came about mainly as a result of the acute crisis in the finances of the United Nations about two years ago, their course has already shown that they are leading to a total re-examination of the structure and purposes of the organisation, and, in particular, the general relationship between the main political organs of the United Nations, the Security Council, the General Assembly and the Secretary-General.
The discussions were established by a decision of the General Assembly about a year and a half ago with a view to examining not only the financial crisis then being undergone, but the general future peace-keeping capacity of the United Nations. The Committee was set up with a membership of 33, that is to say, a large membership of more than a third of the total membership of the United Nations, and it was given very wide terms of reference.
It would not be appropriate, and it is not necessary, for me to recount in great detail the discussions that have taken place in the Committee. The most important development has been the inquiry that was undertaken by the Secretary-General and the then President of the General Assembly into the views of members, not only of the Committee but of the United Nations as a whole, on the financing, authorisation and control of peace-keeping operations by the United Nations. Since that time, these views have been published, and the Secretary-General, and the President of the Assembly also suggested some general guidelines that could guide the Committee in its future discussions.
Member States have now expressed their views on these guidelines, and discussions are now taking place mainly in private, in confidence, to see what measure of common ground can be found between the very different views that have been put forward by different members of the organisation on these very contentious issues.
What are the main issues that have come up in the Committee? Without wish to over-simplify extremely difficult and complex subjects, one can probably say that the most important single subject is the relative distribution of authority in the organisation between the General Assembly and the Security Council, how far it is possible for peace-keeping operations to be set in motion against the veto of one of the permanent members, and, in particular, how far any member should be obliged to give financial support to a peace-keeping operation which it has not voted into existence with its own vote in the first place.
The International Court of Justice has already given an advisory opinion to the effect that the General Assembly is empowered to authorise peaceful peacekeeping operations, that is, peace-keeping operations that do not require enforcement action by armed forces, and it has held that the expenses of these can be regarded as normal expenses of the organisation, to which all members are obliged to contribute.
It is possible that the best solution would be to leave the matter there, because there is advantage in it being made clear to members of the Security Council that, if they do not agree to establish a peace-keeping force in some situation of crisis, the General Assembly itself is likely to do this, with the authority of the International Court of Justice, in which case it will be the General Assembly rather than the Security Council which will control the future activities of the force.
It may, therefore, not be necessary to spell out in more explicit terms the relative rights and rôles of the General Assembly and the Security Council. But, if it were necessary for these to be spelt out in greater detail, and if the British Government were to be asked for their views, I and, I think, many others in the House and outside would regard it as extremely important that the British Government should support the opinion of the International Court and continue to maintain the view that the General Assembly has the right to authorise peace-keeping operations if for any reason, such as the veto, the Security Council has failed to act.
One of the most important single problems which arise in this connection is the question of the control of operations after they have been authorised. It is, perhaps, a legitimate complaint of some of the permanent members of the Security Council, such as the Soviet Union and France, that on some occasions in the past an excessive degree of authority has rested with the Secretary-General himself, who has often, in a sense, been directly controlling these forces, being thereby put in a position in which he can quite crucially influence the political situation within States where the operations are taking place.
It seems, therefore, that one possible way of making progress on this difficult problem would be by establishing, or by agreeing to establish, where necessary, a political committee consisting of a fairly broad membership within the United Nations, possibly of the same composition as the Security Council itself, which could undertake the day-to-day control of operations, which the Security Council certainly cannot undertake, of course, thereby mediating, in some sense, between the Security Council and the commander of the forces in the field rather than relying on the Secretary-General himself to do this. A proposal along these lines would be an initiative which many of us would like the British Government to take in the deliberations of the Peace-Keeping Committee.
There are two other fields in which, perhaps, there is even more urgent need for an initiative by the British Government. One of these is the financing of peace-keeping operations, which as I said earlier, was the original cause of the crisis and of the establishment of the Committee. Here, there would seem to be great advantage in the establishment of a voluntary peace-keeping fund to which member States of the United Nations would contribute, with their normal contributions, though on a voluntary basis. The effect of this would be that, when a crisis arose, members either of the Security Council or of the General Assembly would be encouraged to authorise the establishment of a force in the knowledge that the finance to underwrite the force was available and was not likely to create the kind of crisis which arose from similar operations in the past.
The second initiative which, I believe, would be very valuable if it came from the British Government now is a proposal for a strengthening of the staff of the Secretary-General and his military adviser in New York to enable a greater degree of advance planning to be undertaken. Again, the effect of this would be that member States would have confidence that they could authorise the establishment of an operation of this kind in the knowledge that the forces were available and that the necessary organisation could be put in hand without the kind of ad hoc improvisations which have been necessary in the past.
Although this is to some extent a contentious matter, and one in which the British Government alone might not be able to take the initiative, it is one in which we should have the sympathy and support of many other members of the United Nations who are interested in this matter, including the Scandinavian countries, Canada and Holland in particular, and I am sure that joint action by ourselves with these countries would have a most valuable effect within the Committee.
There is the further point to be made that, whatever system for financing is evolved and whatever kind of preparations are made at United Nations headquarters in New York, it is most important to establish the principle that a share in the control of a peace-keeping force should be enjoyed only by a Power which is contributing financially to that force. This has not always been established in the past. The advisory committee set up by the Secretary-General on these occasions has sometimes included Powers which, in practice, did not ultimately contribute to the force at all.
If it were known, on the other hand, that only those Powers which would contribute financially to the establishment of the force were to have any share in its control through the kind of committee I described earlier, this would be a valuable incentive to member States to agree to contribute financially to these forces in a way which very many States, including some of the most important members of the organisation, have not been prepared to do in the past.
I emphasise that this is not a remote matter of only marginal importance to us in this country. It is likely to affect the whole future fabric of international relations. The House will know that this whole theme is the subject of an early day Motion now on the Order Paper which has already attracted the signatures of very many hon. Members on both sides. Although I cannot speak for those hon. Members, nor for the Parliamentary Group for World Government which, I think, was responsible for initiating the Motion, I believe that very many of those hon. Members and of the members of the Group would welcome signs that the British Government were to take initiatives of the kind I have described.
British Governments of both parties have many times declared that they wished to make the United Nations the centre of their foreign policies. This is very easily said, of course, but it becomes convincing only when the words are translated into deeds. The record of the present Government is not bad in this respect. They have taken two quite important initiatives during the past year and a half, in their offer of logistic support for peace-keeping operations and in their offer of a financial contribution to overcome the financial crisis last summer, but a great deal more needs to be done.
I believe that very many people not only in the House, but also in the country outside would very much welcome a sign that the British Government were prepared to take new initiatives to enable the United Nations to act as the effective guardian of peace and security in the world which its founders intended it to be.