HC Deb 30 November 1949 vol 470 cc1126-8
17. Mr. Wilkes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why the British representative at Lake Success on 22nd November, 1949, voted with the South African representative to exclude the Reverend Michael Scott from making representations to United Nations Organisation regarding the treatment of certain native tribes in South-West Africa by the South African Government.

22. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why he instructed the British representative to vote against permission being given to Rev. Michael Scott, a missionary, to state the grievances of natives of South-West Africa to the United Nations Trusteeship Committee.

Mr. Mayhew

His Majesty's Government consider that a hearing in the Committees of the General Assembly of a private person claiming to represent a group of individuals is a thoroughly undesirable precedent, and might lead to requests for a hearing from any group of persons with a complaint against their own Government. The Assembly Committees are not the appropriate bodies for such a task.

Mr. Wilkes

Can my hon. Friend enlighten us on this? Since the South African Government have refused to send any reports of German South-West Africa to the United Nations, and since no provision exists for referring these matters to any tribunals, how can the United Nations find out what is happening, unless some hearing is given to non-governmental organisations and non-governmental individuals?

Mr. Mayhew

The question is to what extent this is a matter for the Government of South Africa alone, and to what extent it is a matter for the United Nations. It has now been decided that that question is to be put to the International Court.

Captain Crookshank

Will the Under-Secretary make it quite clear that nowadays there is no such place as "German" South-West Africa?

Mr. Lipson

Would it not have been more in accordance with the British traditions of championing the weak if His Majesty's Government had not taken refuge behind a technical point? May I ask for an assurance that in future the policy of the Government will be influenced by justice and not by political expediency?

Mr. Mayhew

I should make it clear that I am making no comment whatever on the justice or injustice of the case put forward by the Reverend Michael Scott. I am saying that if we allow the procedure of the United Nations and the Charter of the United Nations to be twisted in this way there is no knowing where it will end.

Mr. Driberg

Whatever the legalistic evasions behind which my hon. Friend has to take refuge may be, may I ask whether he has consulted with the Colonial Secretary, and if he is aware of the grave repercussions throughout the Colonial Empire of our failure to stand up to South Africa on this matter?

Mr. Mayhew

I do not accept the implication in that question. My right hon. Friend has, of course, been in constant touch with this problem.

Mr. Mikardo

Since my hon. Friend in his reply to a previous supplementary question takes satisfaction from the fact that this has now been referred to The Hague Court, can he say why our representative did not support this?

Mr. Mayhew

We have all along taken the view that it should be referred to the Court. I regret that I must ask for notice of the particular aspects of the resolution which made it necessary for us to abstain. We have always championed the principle of sending it to the Court.

Mr. Sorensen

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the Reverend Michael Scott is accepted as a voice on behalf of those who otherwise would have no voice at all? Is he aware that he has a tremendous influence in South Africa?

Mr. Mayhew

As the United Kingdom delegate made it clear on that occasion, it is open to the Reverend Michael Scott to make his views known in many other forums, and he has done so. But we must maintain the procedure and Charter of the United Nations.

Mr. Sydney Silverman

Can my hon. Friend say what was wrong with the procedure adopted, inasmuch as the great majority of the nations which took part did not think there was any breach or twisting, and what does he think is the right method for a minority group to have its infringed rights investigated by the United Nations?

Mr. Mayhew

There are other ways of raising these matters outside the United Nations. Within the United Nations there is discussion on a convention on human rights where, under certain safeguards, it may be possible to raise these matters. But to raise them in the way that this was raised, I can only repeat, is a very dangerous precedent.

Back to