HC Deb 07 December 1949 vol 470 cc1868-73
41 42. Mr. Dumpleton

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) why the United Kingdom representative at the United Nations General Assembly, on 15th November last, voted against a resolution, which was passed by 49 votes to 1, endorsing the Trusteeship Committee's recommendations asking that the indigenous inhabitants of Trust Territories be given a greater participation in the economic life of the territories and reaffirming the principle that the interests of those inhabitants must be paramount in all economic plans or policies in the territories;

(2) why the United Kingdom representative at the United Nations General Assembly, on 15th November last, voted against a resolution, which was passed by 52 votes to 1, endorsing the abolition of child marriages, corporal punishment and discriminatory laws and practices in Trust Territories.

Mr. Rees-Williams

As the answer is long, I will, with permission, make a statement in reply at the end of Questions.


Mr. Rees-Williams

The, recommendations of the Trusteeship Council, which this Resolution endorsed, were not limited to the suggestion mentioned in my hon. Friend's Question, and were not all such as His Majesty's Government could accept without qualification. The Trusteeship Council recommendations contained references to the Cameroons Development Corporation and the Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Board, the implications of which His Majesty's Government considered objectionable. The Resolution also expressed concern at the lack of budgetary autonomy in certain Trust Territories which is neither practicable nor desirable in our West African Trust Territories.

Our representative in the Fourth Committee made it clear, however, that it is our policy to give the indigenous inhabitants the greatest possible share in controlling the development of their territories.

We are as anxious as anyone to see the speediest possible disappearance of the practice of child marriage in our Trust Territories. This practice is rapidly disappearing, but it is unrealistic to suppose that such traces as still exist of age long customs and practices can be abolished by legislation.

As regards corporal punishment, the Resolution demands "immediate abolition." This subject for some years has received much study both from our Advisory Committee and the Secretary of State and the offences for which this form of punishment may be awarded in our territories are already being progressively reduced. Our aim is its total abolition as rapidly as circumstances permit.

As regards the examination of discriminatory laws and practices in Trust Territories, two years ago my right hon. Friend called for a survey of this nature in respect of all our dependent territories. The survey is still in progress, but it should be borne in mind that much legislation which can be classed as discriminatory, is designed and works in favour of the indigenous inhabitants.

The United Kingdom representative explained our position to the General Assembly on these lines.

Mr. Dumpleton

Is my hon. Friend aware that while the explanation he has now given will go some way towards allaying the concern that the full announcement of this vote in the United Nations Press release caused to many people in this country, there is a necessity for reaffirming that the policy of the Government is as in the terms put down in the Question? Also, will he use his influence with the Lord President of the Council for a Debate on the whole subject of the United Nations Trusteeship Committee as soon as possible?

Mr. H. D. Hughes

Is not our delegation at the United Nations getting itself into an impossible position by seeming to oppose principles with which in fact the Government agree; and will not my hon. Friend do everything possible to allay the mischief which has been caused by some of the votes which have been recently cast by this country, almost alone, against progressive principles.

Mr. Stanley

Do I understand that having voted against these resolutions the Government do not intend to implement them?

Mr. Rees-Williams

The resolutions to which objection was taken were, generally speaking, on specific points, and we do not accept those recommendations.

Mr. Gallacher

Is not it very undesirable that arising out of those votes we should have references made to inferior peoples in the United Nations voting against Britain, and the impression created that the United Nations is all right so long as it keeps to the job for which it is supposed to be founded—attacking the Soviet Union?

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Is it not the case that there are quite a lot of discriminatory laws and practices in some countries which are misusing the machinery of the United Nations to stir up trouble in British Colonies?

Mr. Platts-Mills

Will my hon. Friend agree that these Questions and answers and the votes under discussion show the hideous reality behind all the fine talk about colonial emancipation?

Mr. Rees-Williams

Our record is second to none and better than most.

Mr. Wilson Harris

Is there any particulars in which His Majesty's Government have not completely fulfilled the provisions of the trusteeship articles of the Charter, and will the Government resist any attempt to impose obligations which are outside the Charter altogether?

Mr. Rees-Williams

That is our view; that is what we are doing.

Mr. Wyatt

Can my hon. Friend explain how it is that this country which has the finest record in colonial affairs of any country for the last 30 years, nevertheless, always seems to be appearing at the United Nations as voting against progressive motions.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Because the recommendations put up are often entirely unrealistic.

Mr. Bramall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the first answer he gave indicates that the Government stand by the policy of the paramountey of the interests of the native people.

Mr. Rees-Williams

I set it out quite clearly. Our policy is: to give the indigenous inhabitants the greatest possible share in controlling the development of their territories.

Mr. Scollan

Can the Government get somebody to represent this country at the United Nations who can make it clear that the colonial policy of this country is as advanced as anything proposed by these peoples at the United Nations? At the moment we are suffering from the disability of being misrepresented right, left and centre by our own representatives.

Mr. Stanley

On that point, although I think we all agree that the representative from the Colonial Office on this Committee put up a very good show, would not it have been wise, in view of its importance, for the Secretary of State for the Colonies to have undertaken the work himself?

Mr. Rees-Williams

May I say that we were very fortunate in having the advocacy of the Minister of State from the Foreign Office, who made a magnificent speech on this question in the General Assembly. Furthermore, last year the case was presented by a colonial, Mr. Grantley Adams, who made a great impression, and I do not agree that our case has gone by default at all.

Mr. Hughes

Is it not in fact playing into the hands of those people who are trying to stir up trouble in the Colonies to cast our vote at the United Nations in a way which goes contrary to the magnificent record of everything that this administration is doing in progressive colonial administration?

44. Mr. Ivor Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of the fact that the procedure laid down in the Charter has not been followed by the United Nations, he proposes to continue to transmit to the Secretary-General information on non-self-governing territories under Article 73 (e) of the Charter.

Mr. Rees-Williams

Yes, Sir. We have accepted this obligation under the Charter and shall continue to discharge it; this does not of course mean that we in any sense acquiesce in the use to which the information is being put, which goes far beyond the provisions of the Charter.

Mr. Ivor Thomas

Can the hon. Gentleman say definitely if the United Nations does not fulfil its part of the Charter, can we be expected to go on taking this lying down for ever? Will the hon. Gentleman consult other Colonial Powers in order to reach some more satisfactory modus vivendi in this matter?

Mr. Rees-Williams

The hon. Gentleman has raised a large question. I have given the answer which I think is satisfactory in the circumstances.

Mr. Stanley

Could I ask the hon. Gentleman whether there is any intention that a statement shall be made by the Minister of State on his return, and that an opportunity shall be given to the House to debate this extremely important matter which embraces no party political issues and gives great concern to hon. Members in all quarters?

Mr. Rees-Williams

The right hon. Gentleman will recollect that my right hon. Friend, in answer to a Question from the hon. Member for Mid-Bedford (Mr. Lennox-Boyd), promised a full statement on this matter in the form of either a White Paper or a Colonial Paper. The other question which the right hon. Gentleman has raised is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

63. Mr. Ivor Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of recent decisions by the United Nations Assembly, he proposes to continue to send a representative to the special committee set up by the General Assembly of the United Nations, outside the Charter, to examine information on non-self-governing territories transmitted to the Secretary-General.

Mr. Rees-Williams

My right hon. Friend is not yet in a position to make a statement on this matter.

Mr. Thomas

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that, unlike the transmission of information, this at any rate is quite outside the Charter?

64. Mr. Ivor Thomas

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether, in view of recent decisions of the United Nations Assembly, he will give an assurance that there will be no transfer of British responsibility for trust territories and other non-self-governing territories to organs of the United Nations.

Mr. Rees-Williams

I can certainly give such an assurance.