United Nations

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th May 1967.

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11.40 a.m.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Longden Mr Gilbert Longden , South West Hertfordshire

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for having given me the opportunity of raising this morning the whole question of the United Nations. I am only sorry that two of the most lamentable statements from the Government which we have heard for some time should have curtailed the debate by 40 minutes.

I asked to be allowed to raise this subject because I am most seriously concerned with the growing attitude of irritable impatience, and indeed even hostility, among reasonable men and women of good will towards this first worldwide attempt to establish a rule of law between nations. For that is what it is; the League of Nations was nowhere near world-wide.

My party is sometimes accused by some members of the Labour Party of hostility to the United Nations. It is true that there is a right wing fringe which would have us withdraw from the United Nations, but that is no worse than the fringe of blind worshippers who greet with undiscriminating applause every action and utterance which emerges from the United Nations. After all, it was a Conservative Foreign Secretary who hedped to draft and who signed the Charter. The truth is that no responsible person who reads its Preamble could fail to support what the United Nations is trying to do. Where the difference between us and these critics lies is that we tend to see the United Nations steadily and whole, warts and all, whereas they regard it through rose-coloured spectacles with their feet planted firmly in the clouds.

I am by no means alone in my fears for the U.N. When my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) heard that I was to raise this matter, he drew my attention to an article, "The U.N.: Reform or Die", which he had written in the Weekend Telegraph of 14th April, while another friend of mine, Mr. Gerald Bailey, sent me World Issues for spring, 1967, which he edits for the Friends' International Relations Committee and in which he is highly critical of current trends in the United Nations. I will quote one passage from his article: I do not take an idolatrous view of the U.N. I do not believe it to be omnipotent nor omnicompetent and certainly I do not believe it incapable of error. But I do believe it to be indispensable". I quote that because it precisely sums up my own attitude. Unlike my hon. Friend, Mr. Bailey does not so much fear the demise of the United Nations as a steady and persistent decline in its powers and influence", and that is what I, too, fear and that is what we are seeing today.

I make one further preliminary observation. I am grateful to the Minister of State for having come down to answer this debate this morning, and I assure him that my Motion is not a peg on which to hang an attack on Her Majesty's Government, still less on the distinguished civil servants from various Departments of State who carry out the Government's instructions in New York. Goodness knows, successive Governments have had their "wet" moments there. I should like to say at once that I greatly admired the address to the General Assembly delivered by the present Foreign Secretary on 11th October when he told the Assembly that he approached the United Nations in a mood of constructive discontent That set the tone for a sensible and realistic speech.

What are the principal reasons for the present state of affairs? They are much easier to state than to cure, but it is something if we can agree upon the dangers which threaten the United Nations and can acknowledge them squarely and together see what can be done to avert them. I will briefly mention the following: the utter failure of the Peace-keeping Committee of 33 with which is bound up the non-fulfilment of parts of the Charter; the infamous double standards; futile resolutions; the non-universality of the organisation; and the plethora of small States.

First and foremost, then, the Committee of 33 has so far failed miserably, and this is tied up with the non-fulfilment of Articles 43 and 19 of the Charter. Article 43 is in Chapter VII of the Charter which provides for sanctions, economic and military, in the event of threats to peace and acts of aggression. Article 43 stipulates that all members shall make available to the Security Council, on its call, armed forces and facilities necessary to maintain peace, but that these obligations shall be in accordance with special agreements to be negotiated as soon as possible on the initiative of the Security Council. In all its 22 years the Security Council has never been able to negotiate these agreements, so that the built-in sanctions have never operated and the Military Staff Committee has had no work to do. The result has been that when peace has been threatened, as in the Gaza strip or Cyprus, or when the help of the United Nations has been invoked by a member Government, as in the Congo, ad hoc arrangements have had to be made by invoking the "Uniting for Peace" Resolution of 1950. What do the Government propose to do about Article 43?

These ad hoc military operations are very expensive and they alone account for the financial straits of the United Nations, because many States, and especially France and the Soviet Union, have consistently refused to pay their fair share. While on the subject of finance I must say that it is, of course, a disgrace to all of us that finance should be a source of anxiety to the Secretary-General. I say that because our total annual outgoings to the United Nations amount to less than we spend every year on giving each other free prescriptions, and at that we are the third largest contributor to the United Nations.

Although the International Court of Justice expressed by a majority of nine to five the opinion that the cost of these ad hoc military operations must be considered as being expenses of the organisation and therefore under Article 17 fairly shared by all members, and although the General Assembly adopted this opinion by the necessary two-thirds majority, these States have continued to ignore it and so the financial burden is being carried largely by the United States of America and ourselves.

We deserve to bear it because we refused to implement the Charter. We condoned, we colluded in, the non-implementation of Article 19 which provides that any Member who is two years in arrears on its assessed financial contributions "shall have no vote in the General Assembly". What happened? After wasting the whole of the XIXth Session arguing whether or not to enforce Article 19, it was eventually decided not to do so, and so the door is now wide open to others to default too. It was a grievous error, as I said at the time. We were afraid of members walking out, as they had from the League. But would they have walked out? After all, Article 19 does not deprive a Member of its vote, or veto if it has one, in the Security Council, but only of its vote in the General Assembly. So no progress is being made by the Peace-keeping Committee of 33. I hope that when he goes to Moscow the Foreign Secretary will tell the Russian leaders that perpetually to prate of peace, so that it has almost become a dirty word, while all the time surreptitiously practising incitement to war, is not to observe the spirit of the Charter.

As for the double standard, this grievous characteristic is enough of itself to alienate all honest men. It was defined and condemned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) when he was Foreign Secretary in a speech in another place on 17th October, 1961, and again at Berwick-on-Tweed in December of that year when he said: I have gone into these matters at some length because the United Nations is of such importance in the life of Britain. This is bound to involve some criticism of its practices; but where does loyalty lie: with those who urge upon it actions beyond its strength; or with those who insist that its actions should remain within the compass of the Charter? … Having drawn up the balance sheet between pessimism and hope, I come down decidedly on the side of hope Yet for that speech, packed with honesty and common sense, and therefore of the greatest value to the United Nations, my right hon. Friend was censured by the then Opposition.

Alas, the standards of the United Nations are still double, as are those of many in the world today. It seems to so many people that all criteria are purely subjective. It is not what is done, but who does it, which seems to matter to them. Self-determination, non-interference, banning of racial discrimination, non-aggression—all these are principles of the Charter, but they are practised by the signatories of the Charter only when it happens to suit them.

There was no reason whatever why self-determination should not have been granted to Goa and West Irian. There is no reason whatever why self-determination should not now be granted to the inhabitants of Korea, Vietnam, Gibraltar or East Germany. Then there is non-interference in matters essentially within the jurisdiction of any State: certainly where the Communist countries are concerned—it appears in every single manifesto that they ever issue. But not for colonial territories or South Africa. Racial discrimination is bad everywhere, but not in Tanzania or Southern Sudan. Aggression is condemned in Rhodesia, whose Government, however illegal, is threatening no one, but is condoned in the Yemen, where Nasser is guilty of the most flagrant aggression since Mussolini's day. In peaceful Rhodesia there is said to be a threat to the peace; in the Yeman, whose wretched inhabitants are daily bombed and massacred, there is perfect peace.

Now for the resolutions, or some of them. The Foreign Secretary's address to the General Assembly on 11th October said: We must not think that a resolution which has no connection with reality is a substitute for action. I have time to cite only two classic examples of such resolutions. The first was on colonialism, No. 1514 in December, 1960. The Assembly actually resolved that: Immediate steps shall be taken … in all territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples in these territories without any conditions whatever. … Inadequacy of political, economic or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence. That was six months after the lesson of the Congo. Almost more extraordinary than the resolution was the fact that the United Kingdom Government and Australia, alone in the Commonwealth, did not vote in favour of it; and that even they only abstained. This utterly irresponsible resolution led to the formation of the Committee of 24, which has been poking its fingers into many places where it has no business, stirring up trouble and apparently motivated solely by hostility to what it calls colonialists, and not remotely motivated by any regard for the welfare of the inhabitants of the colonies visited.

We cannot complain about the ludicrous farce of the three-man visit to Aden, because we invited it. Was any effort made to ascertain, before its appointment, that its members would be persona grata with Her Majesty's Government? Years ago Mr. Butler, as he then was, when Foreign Secretary, warned the General Assembly that it would do itself harm if it persisted in passing resolutions wholly outside its competence. He said that the United Nations interest had encouraged extremism on both sides and made more remote the chances of two races working together. Yet we joined the Committee of 24. Why? It is not an edifying spectacle to see so many people in glass houses throwing stones.

The present Foreign Secretary's speech, which I have already quoted, went on to say: … the British Government are guided and shall continue to be guided by the principle of that the interests of the inhabitants of the territories for which they still have responsibility are paramount. Britain stands ready to give independence to territories that want it and can sustain it. Certain problems of de-colonisation remain. It is inevitable that these are some of the most difficult. They cannot be settled by a mixture of theory and enthusiasm. They are practical problems which need practical solutions. We are happy to have your help, provided it is offered impartially in the true interests of the people concerned. That seems to me to be sound common sense.

A more recent example of a resolution which, for fatuous futility, beats anything even on the General Assembly's record hitherto, concerns South Africa and South-West Africa. This is a matter in which the Republic of South Africa is wholly in the wrong and the United Nations wholly in the right; where the injunction against non-interference under Article 2(7) has no application whatever. South Africa is determined to make South-West Africa into a fifth province. The United Nations, supported by the opinions of the I.C.J., is determined that South-West Africa is a mandated territory for the future welfare and constitution of which the United Nations has sole responsibility. There is complete deadlock, and it could obviously be solved only by force or by a change of heart and government in South Africa. No one knows better than her Majesty's Government that force is out of the question.

Yet in these circumstances it is proposed that the Assembly should create a United Nations Council for South-West Africa which could go there at once to take over the administration and ensure the withdrawal of South African police and troops. Any counter-action by South Africa would be considered "an act of aggression" and the Security Council would take enforcement action against South Africa—in other words, war, to be paid for by others, as usual. A 58-Power draft incorporating these "Afro-Asian" proposals was debated by the Assembly last week. One after another, the spokesmen of such splendid democracies as Albania, Tanzania, Byelo-Russia, Mali, the Yemen and others urged adoption of the resolution; the corner-stone of which, according to the representative from Indonesia, is realism.

I come now to non-universality. Here again I would like to quote from the Foreign Secretary's speech: I feel with the clearest conviction that all the peoples of the world should be represented here. This is not a club solely for those who think alike. This is a place where all should meet; mix and exchange their ideas and bring them ultimately to some kind of harmony and agreement. The non-members include the "split" States, Korea, Vietnam and, above all, Germany, although West Germany plays her full part in the specialised agencies. There is also the People's Republic of China.

The fact that this great country is not a member means that her rulers are kept in an ivory tower, and scarcely meet foreigners other than fellow-Communists and fellow-travellers. Ever since I was a delegate to the United Nations, I have advocated that an invitation should be extended to Peking. I wrote to the then Prime Minister, Mr. Macmillan, and said so. Soon afterwards, our policy was changed. Who am I to say that it was not a case of cause and effect? The question not only reaches the agenda every year now, but every year we vote—with many strange bedfellows, it has to be admitted. All the so-called blocs, except the monolithic Soviet bloc, are split on this issue. We vote for inviting Peking to take her place in the U.N., including her permanent seat on the Security Council.

Of what use are the endless talks about disarmament if China is not at the table. Assume that, by a miracle, a treaty for "general and complete disarmament under effective international control" were to be signed tomorrow. Who would honour it if China was not a party? Then again Vietnam: how can the United Nations interfere effectively there when three of the four contesting parties are not members of it?

I want to give a word of warning before I leave China. Formosa, unless and until a maojrity of her 11 million inhabitants freely determines to join the mainland, is fully entitled to membership of the U.N. as an independent sovereign state. She is not entitled to masquerade as "China" or to occupy a permanent seat on the Security Council.

The last problem that I want to touch on is to do with the smaller States. There are now 122 members of the United Nations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds tells us in his article that a blocking third could be composed of members who, between them, pay less than 2 per cent. of the budget; while one could compile a simple majority from countries whose contributions, even if paid, amount to under 7 per cent. We alone pay 7·21 per cent. of the annual budget.

There was a curious passage in the Secretary-General's report for 1964–65 which seems to have escaped notice. He was talking about the recent phenomenon of the emergence of exceptionally small new States. He added: I believe that the time has come when Member States may wish to examine more closely the criteria for the admission of new Members, in the light of the long-term implications of present trends. But members have not wished to do so. Meanwhile, a dozen new States with populations little larger than that of an English country town have become members.

I strongly suggest that members of the United Nations should act on the Secretary-General's hint and, meanwhile, should consider whether it is practicable or desirable to institute some system of weighted voting. I say "practicable" because it would mean a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, and why should these smaller nations vote themselves less power? As to the veto, in the present state of political sophistication of most members, it would be unwise for us to forgo it, even if the other permanent members were to agree to do so.

What then to do? That is a very much harder proposition to speak about. I have made some suggestions, but I would go on to suggest, first, that Her Majesty's Government have a very long and serious talk with the Secretary-General, U Thant—that great and good man—when he comes to London next week, because things are reaching serious proportions. Secondly, I would suggest that the Government should have serious talks with our fellow permanent members of the Security Council and perhaps with some of the other senior members of the United Nations.

Thirdly, I would suggest that the Government send Members of Parliament as delegates to the United Nations. They must, of course, be supporters of the Government. When I was a delegate every member of the delegation, except the Permanent Representative, was a Member of this House, and there was one other Member of the House even among the five alternate delegates. Without any disrespect whatsoever to the civil servants, I think that Members of Parliament carry more weight in the Assembly, and that foreigners think so, and that they can take charge of committees in a way which civil servants cannot; what is more it is very good for Members of Parliament. With great respect to the Minister of State, I do not think that his reply on 17th April was good enough.

Fourthly, we should continue to support with all our force the specialised agencies, which employ 80 per cent. of the United Nations staff and which do all over the world, except in the more favoured places such as our own little island, the most wonderful work in, for example, medicine, health, law, labour relations and education. Fifthly, I suggest that at U.N.O. we stick to our principles and never "trim". Common sense, integrity and clarity of exposition will win friends and influence people.

Finally, I would encourage support for the United Nations Organisation from the people of this country. I would encourage them to join the United Nations Association, which recently appointed, in the person of the former Conservative Member for Lancaster, a new Chairman with great drive and ability who I think will do the Association a power of good. But they must not get mixed up with the peace cranks and the "rent-a-crowd" boys. That would alienate all the people to whom I appeal—the reasonable men and women of good will throughout the country. We must try to persuade our fellow countrymen that with all its faults, which we must face and try to cure, the United Nations Organisation is, in U Thant's words, an effort to make the world safe for diversity".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

This is a very short debate. I wish to call a number of hon. Members to speak, but I can do so only if speeches are brief.

12.4 p.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Noel-Baker Mr Philip Noel-Baker , Derby South

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) for initiating this debate. He will, however, be well aware, before I utter the words, that I disagree with many of the things which he has said. For example, I disagree about weighted votes in the Assembly. I think that any attempt to create a basis of weighted votes would lead to far more difficulties than it would solve. Think only of the entry of China. Is China to have 10 or 12 times as many delegates as this country? Where should we end? I believe that the present system, if only we adhere to the fundamental principles of the Charter—and that will be my main theme—would work reasonably well. I disagree with the hon. Gentleman about the veto. I would abolish it tomorrow. I believe that if only the smaller and medium powers had been allowed a proper voice at San Francisco it would never have been inserted in the Charter.

However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the influence of the United Nations is waning. We stand in a very dangerous situation. In The Times this morning the Secretary-General is reported as saying that we are in the early stages of the third world war. It further reports that the Vietcong have destroyed a large number of American aircraft and have killed and wounded a large number of Americans at an air base 16 miles from Saigon. They have done it with heavy Russian rockets. That illustrates what the Secretary-General means when he says that we are in the early stages of the third world war.

If I read the signs aright, there is all too great a danger that the Pentagon will do its utmost to persuade President Johnson to invade the territory of North Vietnam. I do not believe that that could happen without the participation of China in the war following very swiftly and on a major scale. The parallel with the 1930s is all too clear. If the new escalation taking place day by day in the attacks in North Vietnam should culminate in an invasion, we should pass some of the turning points of the events which happened in the 1930s and which may now repeat themselves.

Why have we reached this parlous condition? I believe that the reason is that all the major Governments, followed by a number of smaller Governments, have violated the Charter in different ways. Today is not the day when we debate Suez; that is coming. On the same day we shall debate the tragic events in Hungary which followed Suez, and which I believe were connected with Suez. They were both clear, flagrant violations of the Charter. What happened in the Lebanon and Jordan perhaps was not so clear a violation. But Britain and the United States sent large-scale forces—troops, warships off the coast, with aircraft on their decks and nuclear bombs loaded up for discharge against a possible enemy, infantry and guns and tanks—to the Lebanon and Jordan against the strong advice of the Secretary General, Mr. Dag Hammarskjold, who said that his observers could easily deal with the danger with which Britain and America alleged that they were dealing.

What happened in the Lebanon was followed by the Bay of Pigs, by the tragic events in Laos, in which the rôle of the C.I.A. hardly bears examination; and by the events in Malaysia. In my opinion, which is shared by many, both the Government of right hon. and hon. Members opposite and my Government were quite wrong not to take the Malaysian "confrontation" to the Security Council and to insist on the implementation of the procedures of the Security Council, with the dispatch of observers to the spot and all the other measures necessary to bring that confrontation to a speedy end.

We allowed a war to go on for three years which, in my view, should not and would not have happened, if the two Governments of this country whom I am arraigning had done what I believed to be their United Nations duty. This was followed by the far more serious events in Santa Domingo. There was a flagrant violation of the Charter on a major scale. Every Latin American State expected us to intervene and stop it—to do what Eisenhower did in 1956. Simultaneously there was the despatch of great American forces to Vietnam.

The United Nations Agencies, together with the Technical Assistance Board and the Special Fund, have, in my view, done magnificent work. An examination of the record of the International Bank, of the International Monetary Fund, which has helped us so much, of the International Labour Office, of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, of any of them, shows that, for the money which they receive, they have given to us in promotion of British interests a very remarkable dividend indeed.

I think that in some departments of this agency work—I have no time to go into the detail of how the I.L.O. secures the observance of its conventions or how the International Bank administers its loans—we are advancing rapidly to what most hon. Members desire—international government. All of it will perish, as the similar work, very successful, of the League of Nations perished, if the Charter is not upheld. Therefore, the first remedy for the present situation is to ensure that the law of the Charter shall in all relevant cases be maintained.

I repeat what I have sometimes tried to suggest at Question Time and in other ways, that now, this year, 1967, our Foreign Secretary should turn the speech which he made in the United Nations General Assembly last October about Vietnam into a General Assembly resolution; that he should call for an immediate emergency session; that he should ask the nations to support his proposals for a solution. I believe that his proposals would obtain the support of 100, if not 120, members of the U.N.

As Paul Henri Spaak said last year in an article in The Times—the hon. Gentleman knows his great authority in United Nations circles—if such a resolution were adopted by the General Assembly it is not the United States which would oppose what was put forward.

As for Hanoi, I believe that the Assembly resolution would give them the guarantee they now need, and without which they cannot come to the conference table, that they would have the honest application of the Geneva Agreements, without the danger of being cheated, as they were cheated by the French in 1946 and as they were, most tragically, by Diem in 1955.

I have tried to be brief, because others wish to speak. I cannot think that the arms race will continue indefinitely without leading to the disaster which the hon. Gentleman fears. All Governments have a tendency to say, "Disarmament? Yes, of course. But real disarmament will have to wait. It will come tomorrow. Today we will deal with the small partial measures—non-proliferation or a test ban. That will ease the way". I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the effects of the test ban of 1963. Has it really eased the way to further progress? Is the tension in the world less now than it was then?

I do not believe that any of these partial measures will do what is required, and I hope that our Government will try in the early future to pass beyond these smaller measures. Let them go on with these negotiations if they like, but let them, with the co-operation of the Commonwealth, put forward proposals for real disarmament as early as they can.

Finally, I would express my agreement with the hon. Gentleman that the proper representation of Britain in the United Nations is a very important factor in its success. It is something which could be done at once without waiting for the negotiations on disarmament of which I have spoken. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that every committee in the General Assembly—the Steering Committee, all the technical committees, everything—should have, as delegates from this country and from other countries, parliamentarians who understand how Parliamentary debate is carried on. Either the United Nations is an instrument of democratic rule in international affairs, either it is conducted by public debate, or else it is a fifth wheel in the diplomatic machine, of hardly any importance at all.

I urgently hope that, when the Government announce the Assembly delegation this year, they will make it plain that they have now decided that this work must be done by Parliamentarians, by members of this House, and not by the Foreign Office clerks, for whom we all have a great regard, but who have never had the training that is needed for this task.

Even more important is the participation of leading Ministers in the work of the Security Council, the General Assembly, and the agencies of the United Nations. I remember a speech by the Prime Minister at Scarborough in 1963, before he came to office, in which he said that this was to be an important part of the duties of every Minister in a Labour Government. Alas, it has not happened. I believe that that has been the cause of many failures which might have been averted.

I will not elaborate on the subject, for already I have spoken too long for the patience of hon. Members and of you, Mr. Speaker. But I beseech the Government that they will consider that a visit by the Foreign Secretary or the Prime Minister, in which, for one day or a day and a half or two days, he makes a speech and then goes away, is not a help to the Assembly. It is more like an insult. It shows that, while you think it is all right for them to listen to your speech, you have no interest or duty to listen to theirs. Unless the leading Ministers take a major part in the work of the United Nations, they will never understand what it is really about and the United Nations will never work as its authors intended that it should.

12.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr Philip Goodhart Mr Philip Goodhart , Beckenham

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) in their plea that Members of Parliament should be included in the delegation to the United Nations General Assembly at the next session; but I certainly do not support the strictures the right hon. Gentleman made on the unsuitability of certain Foreign Office "clerks" for carrying out the job in the committees.

It so happens that when I was a delegate at the United Nations General Assembly in 1963 one of the Foreign Office clerks on the delegation was my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) who, from the admirable training he received there, has translated himself into an admirable Parliamentarian.

The right hon. Gentleman made a highly selective tour round the world. I do not think that there was a single spot on which he alighted on which I agreed with his interpretation of events.

There was, however, one single point on which I did agree with him. That was the impossibility of changing the present voting system in the United Nations Assembly on to a realistic weighted basis. When I was a delegate at the United Nations General Assembly, I served on Committee 3. As the representative of the United Kingdom I sat next to the delegate from the United States. On the other side of the delegate from the United States was a delegate from the Upper Volta. I remember on one occasion the American delegate made a most moving and powerful speech about the freedom of the Press. It was an excellent speech, and at the end of it the delegate from Upper Volta, who was a charming and courteous man, leant across to the American delegate and said, "Felicitations. I was most interested in your speech on freedom of the Press, but of course in the Upper Volta we do not have any Press of any sort." And yet the vote of the Upper Volta in the General Assembly is precisely equal to that of the United States; but I do not believe that there is going to be in fact any realistic way of changing this.

I do not believe that we help an individual or an organisation by asking it to do a job which it cannot possibly undertake with skill. The United Nations has, rightly, gained prestige in recent years from the success of the military observer groups in certain areas such as Palestine, the borders of Israel, Jordan and Syria and Egypt, and also in Kashmir, and I believe that those observer groups have done excellent work. The United Nations force in Cyprus has also performed its task well, although I am disturbed to see a report in the paper today of U Thant saying that the deficit on this force will by the end of July amount to £2½ million. But certainly, although the financial arrangements are highly unsatisfactory, the force on the ground has done a good job.

But in the areas where the United Nations observer groups or special forces have been able to perform a useful task their task has been to separate distinct, easily definable groups. It is easy, even in Cyprus, to tell the difference between the Greek and Turkish communities, and there their job solely is to keep the two communities from flying at each other's throats. The job gets more complicated in the Yemen, where a U.N. observer group was sent, and it is unfortunate that the United Nations has not had anything like a similar success in the Yemen in recent years. It has been a regrettable fiasco.

I am afraid that the conditions for suitable United Nations intervention do not obtain in Aden either. Before the recent mission went there I warned the House that it would be a fiasco, and a fiasco it certainly turned out to be. I hope it will not return to Aden. It has certainly not helped the position in Aden, nor has it helped the prestige of the United Nations Organisation itself. Meantime the Government persist in wanting to involve the United Nations, but it seems likely, to put it no higher, that with the mandate that is given to any United Nations group which actually goes to Aden will be at the best imprecise and at the worst wholly unhelpful. After all, if we do get a battalion of Danes or of Ethiopians in Dhalla to maintain law and order, whose law and order are they going to maintain? I do not believe that the presence of a few Swedes in blue berets walking round the streets of Sheikh Othman will make any material contribution to the solution of the problems there.

So I would ask the Government to be very careful in their efforts to get the United Nations involved in Aden, and to have it very carefully set out in their own minds precisely what they want the United Nations to do, because if the present air of imprecision is carried forward I am afraid that U.N. involvement will not help the people in Aden, and it is not going to help the United Nations Organisation itself.

12.26 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alan L. Williams Mr Alan L. Williams , Hornchurch

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) upon introducing this debate. It is a long overdue debate, and it is a pity we have such an embargo on the time for it. Already enough has been said to indicate the anxiety of hon. Members about waning support for the United Nations. My experience has not been from the New York end, as has that of some hon. Members, though I have spent some time in New York observing the work of the United Nations, but rather I speak with experience of working for four years for the United Nations Association in London, explaining to people the various organisations and work of the United Nations, and, in particular, working to try to persuade successive Governments to give proper support to the work of the United Nations. So it is on this side of its work that I should like to speak this morning.

There is no doubt at all that among the general population there is a good deal of good will towards the United Nations, but it has been vastly dissipated because the news presented to them concentrates on the 10 per cent. of the United Nations' work, admittedy in an extremely important field, where it has not been so successful, not on the 90 per cent. of the work in social fields, U.N.E.S.C.O., U.N.I.C.E.F., the Food and Agriculture Organisation, where there is a great success story, which is not sensational news, and so, with one or two exceptions, the newspapers give it very little publicity. So, quite naturally, public opinion is concentrated on the differences between the members of the United Nations and in particular the differences which have emerged between the General Assembly of 122 members and the Security Council. On this aspect, certainly, the United Nations Association has produced some literature.

It is not surprising that there should be tensions between these two bodies. The Charter was written in a world vastly different from that of today. I do not think anyone in 1945 could possibly have anticipated the emergence of the number of independent territories which have since emerged. Consequently there is, in my view, a power imbalance inside the United Nations, and this is one aspect which partly explains why member States, the new member States in particular, working mainly through the Committee of 24, appear to pass so many untenable resolutions. As has been said this morning, this does damage, and part of the reason is that they have only the opportunity to express their views and express them by vote. By and large, the Security Council members still dominate power politics without reference to the United Nations and sometimes with little sensitivity to the greater needs of the members of the United Nations. This is the problem.

On the other hand, it is so easy to go to the other extreme and over-simplify the question. There is not another organisation like the U.N. at which so many absurdities can be uttered. There are extremists on the Right wing, but there are also extremists on the Left wing. Both want the U.N. to perform tasks which it cannot perform and even call on Her Majesty's Government to support resolutions which they could not possibly support.

This all proves that a programme of public education is needed and, in this respect, the United Nations Association is greatly neglected. There is always an element of danger if one recommends that Her Majesty's Government or any other Government should give a grant to the associations of the U.N. These are free and independent bodies which will always require the right to speak freely. If they receive grants there is usually some question of strings being attached to them. Nevertheless, there is a case for more Government assistance for the U.N.'s work among young people. The Council for Education and World Citizenship, a successful part of the U.N.A., receives a very small amount of money compared with the amount spent by the Government on the Atlantic College. More money could be spent to good effect on education among young people.

Ultimately, if we are to see the U.N. live up to its Charter, we must work for a better understanding among the member Governments, and it is here that the U.N.'s C.W.C. is of such importance, remembering that that Committee can work through the World Federation of United Nations Associations, a body which is growing in influence and which is representing many of the new, emergent territories. It is through bodies like this that public opinion can be expressed.

If the action of those who wrote the Charter in 1945 can be rededicated and reinterpreted in the conditions of the 1960s, I feel sure that the U.N. will go on to live up to the high hopes expressed when the Charter was set up, and I believe that the U.N. still remains the main hope for mankind.

12.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr Peter Blaker Mr Peter Blaker , Blackpool South

I agree with everyone who has spoken in the debate in welcoming this discussion and in recognising the importance of the United Nations. I wish that sufficient time were available for me to discuss other points raised by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker) but I will concentrate on one. It appeared to be his basic assumption that it is important that we should establish in the world the principle that change should not come about by force. I believe that this proposition is even more important than the U.N. itself, if it is possible to imagine anything more important than the U.N. It is because I believe in the fundamental importance of establishing that proposition about change that I consider that the Americans deserve to be supported in Vietnam.

I hope that the Minister will answer an important question about the mission to Aden. 1 agree with most of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), but I should like to ask whether the Government would not have been wiser to have seen that this mission was set up through the Security Council. The way things have gone, it has been unfortunate that the mission was appointed, because it has developed into a farce. That may have something to do with the fact that it was appointed by the General Assembly and the Committee of 24, where the influence of Her Majesty's Government must have been very much less than it would have been in the Security Council.

If they believed that a mission should be set up to deal with Aden and South Arabia, why did not the Government see that it was established through the Security Council which, after all, is the body primarily responsible for international peace and security? Does not the Minister agree that, if it had been set up in that way, its mandate and membership could have been more beneficially influenced by Her Majesty's Government?

12.35 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dennis Walters Mr Dennis Walters , Westbury

I begin by joining other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) for enabling us to have this important discussion. I also wish to congratulate my hon. Friend for introducing the subject with his customary skill and lucidity. This is too brief a discussion and a number of hon. Members who would have had contributions to make are unfortunately not able to take part in the debate. However, it has at least given us an opportunity to have a short and reflective discussion of the United Nations; and any discussion of this subject in Britain is often disappointingly shrill.

Journalists, politicians and even professors who are ready to analyse objectively other problems lose their calm when they come to the United Nations. There are those for whom the United Nations is, at best, a powerless debating society and, at worst, a cynical hypocrisy which we know to be untrue and a grossly exaggerated view. There are others who see the United Nations as a prototype of a future world government. Unfortunately, many of the dedicated believers go on to assume that the best way of making sure that the United Nations evolves into a world government is to treat it as if it already was one.

This assumption is dangerous, not only because it leads to uncritical veneration, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West referred, but also because the supporters of the United Nations feel that they must encourage recourse to it regardless of the circumstances and chances of success. This is already a temptation for baffled Governments, as we have seen in the cases of Palestine and Rhodesia, and is not one that should be encouraged.

Adlai Stevenson once described Hammarskjold as understanding that the United Nations … has limited, not unlimited, functions; that it has finite, not infinite, capabilities under given circumstances at a given time". If this is the right approach, we must reject the idea that the United Nations, as it stands, is a sort of tribunal of morality equipped to hand down judgments on the state of the world.

It is difficult for anyone who has visited or worked at the U.N. and seen how resolutions are drafted and carried to understand how this idea can have taken such deep root. The General Assembly and Security Council are the meeting places for representatives carrying out the instructions of governments. Moreover, all of them use the U.N. to further or defend their national interests. Although, of course, there does exist some claim to moral authority, I am doubtful about its exercise. I suggest that it could be exercised validly only if the United Nations was able to keep the scales of justice exactly even, but representatives of Governments pursuing national or regional interest cannot hope to do this, and many examples were given this morning, particularly by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West, of how this does not happen.

The majority of the United Nations have concentrated on one particular denial of rights which it dislikes most, and this is colonialism. This is why it has carried the campaign aganst colonialism up to and beyond the limit of the Charter, swamping Article 2, and even straining the collective security provisions of Chapter 7.

All this, then, creates the double standard which has been referred to this morning, and so long as the majority of members of the United Nations continue to make moral claims for their selective judgment they are justly vulnerable to criticism such as was rightly made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Sir Alec Douglas-Home) in his famous speech at Berwick.

Breaking the financial deadlock is certainly one of the first necessities, but the major powers, I believe, could also encourage the United Nations to be more active diplomatically in areas where it is already involved. The United Nations, having intervened successfully to end the actual fighting in Kashmir, Palestine, and Cyprus, has since lapsed into relative passivity in these places. The disputes which it has temporarily smothered splutter on beneath the surface, and could at any time erupt again. The Security Council and the Secretary-General should surely be more energetic than at present in pressing the parties towards negotiation, in appointing mediators, or in suggesting compromises.

Part of the trouble is that the United Nations Secretariat is not well equipped for the kind of sustained diplomacy which is needed, and now that U Thant has been re-elected for five years as Secretary-General, an appointment which, as has been said, was widely and generally welcomed in this country and throughout the world, I suggest that he could be bolder in the actions that he takes, for instance, in the reorganisation of his Secretariat. The Secretary-General is too often hemmed in with subordinates chosen by nationality rather than by merit. He should now insist on a freer hand. He should certainly strengthen the military staff at the United Nations.

It becomes clearer with each year of its history that the United Nations can only grow by real achievements in peacekeeping, not by putting forward moral pretensions. As a peacekeeper, the United Nations has increasing opportunities as the bitterness goes out of the cold war. Its true friends will help it by turning its attention away from rhetoric, and by giving it the instruments for its real task and the encouragement to use them.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

We have managed to rescue a minute for the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths).


Photo of Mr Eldon Griffiths Mr Eldon Griffiths , Bury St Edmunds

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. That is extremely courteous of you. In the 60 seconds in which I propose to speak before the Minister wishes to rise, perhaps I might tell the House that I have been at the United Nations on many occasions. I admire the United Nations, I support it, and I wish to see it succeed, but I believe that it faces a crisis of confidence, and that this crisis arises because first, alas, there has been irresponsibility among many of the many States which have recently joined it; secondly, because there has been the double standard referred to earlier, and, thirdly, because it has been ignored by many of the Powers.

I believe that the United Nations must either reform or face the danger of withering away. I believe that the reforms are required principally in the General Assembly, where it is most difficult to achieve them. 1 should like to hear from the Minister whether he would think it wise to press that those nations which do not pay their quota should be deprived of their vote. Secondly, will he say whether there should be consideration of the establishment of regional committees within the General Assembly so that particular incidents may be considered within the committees before being presented to the General Assembly as a whole? Finally, would not the Minister agree that the crucial thing is that major States and the General Assembly collectively must stay within the Charter and accept the rule of law in all their doings?


Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I join the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) and others who have taken part in the debate in an expression of gratitude to the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden) for initiating this debate. There can be no more important question for the House of Commons to discuss than the future of the United Nations. It is very important to raise our sights from immediate detailed problems to what is the long-term hope of peace in the world, the United Nations Organisation.

I know that in making the various criticisms which he did the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West was doing so not as one of the knockers of the United Nations, but as a long-time champion of the Organisation, and one of those anxious for its good name, and for its increased effectiveness and credibility in world affairs.

The hon. Gentleman and others who have taken part in the debate have put forward a number of interesting ideas for strengthening the United Nations. I do not accept the basic thesis of the hon. Gentleman, that the prestige of the United Nations is waning, although I heard this view expressed from both sides of the Chamber this morning. During all its existence the United Nations has been a centre of controversy and criticism. This is as it should be, and is inevitable, but I think it would be a misconception to believe that, taking its work as a whole, its prestige is waning throughout the world.

The British Government's attitude to the United Nations was described the other day by the Foreign Secretary—and the hon. Gentleman referred to this—as one of constructive discontent. I might perhaps put it in my own words by adapting one of the more limpid phrases of Lord Butler and saying that it is the best United Nations that we have, and that it is the constant aim of the Government to make it better and better until it can bring about disarmament, and become an effective peace-keeping authority, and eventually become a world government.

That is why, for example, the British Government made their offer to earmark part of our defence forces to give logistic support for United Nations peace keeping. That is why we led the way in regard to voluntary contributions to rescue the United Nations from the deadlock it faced, and the answer to the hon. Members for Hertfordshire, South-West and Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Eldon Griffiths) about the Article 19 controversy is that although in the end the compromise that was reached was unsatisfactory in many of its aspects, it was the wisest compromise in the interests of the work of the United Nations Organisation, and ended a dangerous paralysis which had overtaken it at that stage.

The British Government's proposals in the Peace-keeping Committee, our initiative on the peaceful settlement of disputes, with which we are persisting, our recourse to the United Nations over Rhodesia and South Arabia, and in fact our whole approach to the Organisation, are evidence of our desire constantly to strengthen it.

As I have mentioned South Arabia, perhaps I might deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). The reason why the United Nations mission to South Arabia was not appointed by the Security Council is that the British Government do not have control over the proceedings and decisions of the United Nations Organisation.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

I cannot give way. I am dealing with the hon. Gentleman's point. The mission was appointed as a result of a General Assembly resolution on the basis that its membership should be agreed between the General Assembly and Her Majesty's Government as the administering Power and the appointment was made by the Secretary-General. We continue to believe that the United Nations has an important, indeed, a vital rôle to play in achieving a settlement of the South Arabia problem.

Both the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby South (Mr. Philip Noel-Baker), who speaks with such authority and experience on United Nations matters, pressed that we should have greater Parliamentary representation on the British delegation at the United Nations. I remind them that we have permanently, as part of our delegation to the United Nations, something which did not exist under previous Governments, that is, a full-time Minister as our head of mission at the United Nations and another Minister of State as our disarmament Minister at the United Nations. In addition to that, we have announced that there will be one further House of Commons member on the delegation during the forthcoming Assembly. This makes four Members of Parliament, which compares favourably with what took place in the past.

In addition, the annual delegation from Parliament to the United Nations is this year to be lengthened to two weeks as opposed to the one week last year. I hope that these will be regarded as helpful steps in maintaining a direct Parliamentary involvement—which is most important—in the work of the United Nations.

The future of United Nations peace keeping was discussed by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West. It ought to be made clear at the outset that it is Britain and those who think like her at the United Nations who take a dynamic view of the need for the United Nations to grow and develop, and it is the Communist countries which hang back, saying that the San Francisco Charter is not a starting point but a sticking point. I hope that, when they lay such emphasis on the Charter, hon. Members will bear that point in mind. I have heard a Communist statesman say that we must regard the signing of the Charter in 1945 as a high-water mark of international consensus. In view of this Communist attitude, we have to recognise that it would not have been possible to get international agreement on the Charter at any moment since it was signed. However, it is important constantly to try to treat the United Nations as a dynamic organisation adapting itself to meet the changing world situation.

For our part, we have no illusions about some of the present defects of the United Nations Organisation. We are often victims of particularly ill-informed and ill-disposed attacks on our policy of bringing independence to our dependent territories, but we believe that the right reaction is not to retire and sulk but to defend our record of bringing an Empire of 600 million people to its present stage of being an association, a Commonwealth, of free and independent nations. I was asked why we served on the Committee of Twenty-Four. We served on that Committee because we believe that we have a good record to defend and we are ready to defend it however unfair the criticism which is made at times.

The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West raised an important point when he spoke of the renewed interest shown by the Soviet Union and some other Communist countries in reactivating Article 43 of the Charter and pressing forward with agree- ments under that Article. The British Government are very ready to study this problem, but I utter a word of warning. As the House knows, Article 43 deals with enforcement action under Chapter 7 of the Charter. But, short of that, there are already, as the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) pointed out, important United Nations peace-keeping operations going on in several trouble spots. Soldiers in blue berets and United Nations observers are maintaining watch on the borders of Israel and her Arab neighbours, they are holding the ring in Cyprus, and maintaining peace in Kashmir.

Whatever advance is made with Article 43 arrangements, whatever agreement is reached in the Peace-keeping Committee—I regret that I cannot report to the House much progress in that Committee at the moment—it must not be at the expense of the existing peace-keeping operations. We must not risk ending up with less than we have at present in terms of United Nations peace keeping. As the Foreign Secretary urged at the General Assembly in October last year, the United Nations should be given a more effective peace-keeping capability. My right hon. Friend listed a number of practical steps which could be taken if there were reasonable agreement at the United Nations, without seeking to reconcile the major arguments in the dispute about the United Nations role in peace keeping.

In the few minutes which remain to me, I shall say something in general about the limitations and possibilities of the work of the United Nations. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South, whose devotion to the United Nations and its predecessor, the League of Nations, we all know and admire, that it must be accepted that the United Nations can be no better than its members allow it to be. The balanced view of the United Nations is that it is an organisation composed of sovereign States capable at any moment in time of achieving only what they are collectively prepared to see it achieve. In our view, therefore, it is foolish for the United Nations to embark on a course beyond its capacity to carry through. There is need for a severely practical approach to consideration of proposals for action. This may lead to frustration, but it is far better than having the United Nations pass impracticable resolutions, which may sound splendid at the rostrum of the Assembly but which are impossible of execution.

To give the United Nations heavier burdens than it can carry is not to show faith in it but to discredit it. This was why Her Majesty's Government withheld their support from the resolution on South-West Africa, to which the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West referred. In taking that attitude, we believe that we can play our part in strengthening the organisation and reinforcing its prestige, not undermining it.

That is the negative side of the United Nations, and I hope that it will not be allowed to obscure its great positive achievements. I am glad that my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Alan Lee Williams) both reminded us that the bulk of the work of the United Nations is done not in the delegates' lounge at New York but in the jungles, deserts and dust bowls of the developing countries of the world. In fact, the greater part of the United Nations manpower is devoted to the war on poverty rather than the verbal war which goes on in the General Assembly. No one who has seen the work of the United Nations in the field in the developing countries will be in any doubt that, in that aspect of its work at least, there is no question of its prestige waning in any way.

In reference to another way in which the United Nations can be strengthened, I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Westbury, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, about the role of the Secretary-General and the strengthening of his office. The United Nations has been blessed by being served in the Secretary-General's office by some distinguished and dedicated men, one of whom, of course, gave his life for the organisation which he served.

U Thant has deservedly been reelected for a further term of five years by acclamation of the membership. He enjoys—through his own quiet integrity—unexampled authority. We should wish to support any proposals which U Thant will feel able to make for strengthening and streamlining the top administration of the United Nations. I assure the House that we shall talk to U Thant about this and other matters when we welcome him as the guest of the Government here in London next week. We are sure that U Thant will find that he commands wide backing for any plans he puts forward to give the United Nations and administrative machine with a cutting edge adequate to its authority in the world today.

I sometimes think that the United Nations suffers from being over-criticised in some quarters and, perhaps, over-praised in others. I am reminded of the well known couplet, Two men look out through the same bars: One sees the mud, and one the stars". People looking at the United Nations may be divided into two groups, those who see nothing but the mud and those who see nothing but the stars. I have tried in what I have said to take account of both the mud and the stars, as other hon. Members taking part in the debate have done.

But the debate is not wholly representative of opinion about the United Nations. Her Majesty's Government certainly have their feet on the ground, knowing what the United Nations is and recognising its limitations, but with their eyes on what the United Nations may be. In our view, the United Nations is an instrument, admittedly imperfect but absolutely indispensable, with which member States seek to mitigate the hazards of international anarchy. No country has done more than Britain to strengthen this instrument. We have a good record in this country, and we intend to maintain it.

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I am grateful to the House for its co-operation. The next debate will end at a quarter to two.