HC Deb 17 November 1958 vol 595 cc839-43
52. Mrs. Castle

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs why the British delegate to the United Nations voted in the Political Committee of the General Assembly against a resolution regretting the apartheid policies of the South African Government.

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

The United Kingdom delegate voted as he did for the reasons given in his statement to the Special Political Committee on 21st October. I am circulating the statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mrs. Castle

Did not 70 other members of the United Nations challenge the legal interpretation of the Charter which the United Kingdom delegate put forward? Did not those 70 members include two Dominions, India and Ceylon, and the United States of America? Is it not the case that no other Dominion voted against that simple expression of regret at the apartheid policies of the South African Government? Is it not astonishing that the United Kingdom alone of the whole Commonwealth should consider it necessary to put a legalistic interpretation on the Article?

Mr. Lloyd

As the hon. Lady knows, there is an annual legal argument on this matter and we have maintained a consistent view about it. If the hon. Lady will read the statement made by the representative of the United Kingdom Government on that occasion, she will see exactly why we took the view we did.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the Foreign Secretary make it clear that the Government, Parliament and the country will not tolerate for one moment the application of apartheid principles to any of our Colonial Territories?

Mr. Lloyd

That is why I ask the House to read the statement made by the British representative, in which we say that we accept the principles in the first operative paragraph of the Resolution, for the reasons which are given in the statement and which are absolutely valid and wise, and why we voted as we did.

Mr. Younger

Is not the Foreign Secretary aware, though what he has just said may be perfectly true, that this never makes any impact on world opinion? Does he not think that the time has come to review what has, I admit, been a consistent legal attitude on the part of Her Majesty's Government in this matter? In view of the ambiguity and doubt about the interpretation of this Article and the very serious political consequences which follow every time the United Kingdom votes in this way, should we not reconsider the issue?

Mr. Lloyd

By implication, the right hon. Gentleman has been a little fairer than have some of his colleagues in this matter. He knows that their views about Article 7 were not given by the Government on this occasion for the first time. However, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to read the statement made by our representative.

Sir Godfrey Nicholson

Can my right hon. and learned Friend circulate the statement in HANSARD?

Mr. Lloyd

Yes, I have said that I will do so.

Following is the Statement:

Mr. Chairman, I have listened attentively both to the General Debate on the item now before the Committee and to the discussion on the Resolution which has been sponsored by 33 members. I understand and respect the motives which led the delegations concerned to inscribe the item and to table the Resolution. At the same time I will permit myself to express a doubt as to whether the promotion of this annual debate in the Assembly is in fact a service to the cause which these delegations have at heart. But I do not wish to develop that remark, or indeed to discuss the substance of the question in any way whatever. To do so would be inconsistent with the fundamental objection which the United Kingdom Delegation has raised in previous years, and which it raises again today, against the whole of these proceedings.

Before I proceed further, I should like to thank the distinguished representative of Ghana for the friendly references which he made to the United Kingdom in his speech this morning. I hope he will accept what I am about to say as an answer to the questions he asked about the attitude of the United Kingdom Government on this matter.

We maintain that in discussing the policy of the Government of the Union of South Africa towards its own citizens the General Assembly is exceeding its legal competence. If it were to adopt a resolution on the subject, the impropriety of this action would be even more serious. But the debate alone is, in our view, a violation of the Charter. Paragraph 7 of Article 2 is quite unequivocal on this point. It states that "nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State". The same paragraph goes on to say that this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under chapter 7 of the Charter, but this proviso obviously does not have any bearing on the case before us. We stand therefore on the text I have quoted and on the fact that the policy of apartheid of the Government of the Union of South Africa is a matter essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of that State.

Attempts have been made in the course of this debate to reduce the significance of paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the Charter. Many speakers have referred to paragraph (c) of Article 55 and to Article 56. Some appeared to maintain that these Articles should be regarded as overriding Article 2, others more cautiously contended that there was conflict between the relevant Articles of the Charter, and implied that the Assembly was free to resolve the conflict by deciding on the constitutionality of debates and resolutions on any specific issue involving on the one hand human rights and on the other domestic jurisdiction. But, Mr. Chairman, there can be no such conflict. It is not possible to invoke anything else in the Charter to justify a breach of Article 2, paragraph 7, since that paragraph specifically says that "Nothing contained in the present Charter"—I repeat, "Nothing contained in the present Charter"—shall authorise the United Nations to intervene in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. This disposes not only of the argument from Article 55, but also of similar arguments based on Articles 10, 13 and 14 of the Charter.

The obstacle presented by the wording of Article 2, paragraph 7 was recognised, if I understood him correctly, by the distinguished delegate of Venezuela, who sought however to turn the obstacle by suggesting that we should not place too much weight upon what he termed the "literal interpretation" of this paragraph. I find it impossible to accept a distinction between the literal interpretation of the Charter and some other interpretation of an unspecified character. I was present at the San Francisco Conference, as were many others round this table, and I am sure they remember as I do the care with which the words of the Charter were chosen, discussed, amended and finally agreed upon. They were intended to say what was meant, and to mean what they say. Any attempt on our part to modify the balance of the Charter by ignoring or explaining away certain parts of it amounts to a tacit revision of the Charter, and this is a process in which the United Kingdom Delegation must decline to participate.

I venture to doubt, moreover, whether the supporters of the Resolution before us who have argued or accepted the view that Article 55, for example, can be held to override Article 2, have sufficiently considered the implications of this opinion. Article 55 has been frequently quoted in this debate, but I will again remind the Committee of its terms. The relevant part of it provides that "The United Nations shall promote…universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion." The Government of the Union of South Africa is not the only government which is considered by other member states to be vulnerable to criticism on the basis of this Article of the Charter. There are many situations in which the domestic policy of a member state is for one reason or another repugnant to other member states. That these situations do not become matters of international dispute is due at least in part, I believe, to the general recognition by member states of the important principle embodied in paragraph 7 of Article 2 of the Charter. In so far as this Article is disregarded by the General Assembly in relation to the internal affairs of the Union of South Africa, a precedent is created which could have a wide application to the domestic affairs of other member states.

There have also been many references to Article 56. Even if this Article had not to be interpreted in the light of Article 2 (7), I do not think it could bear the meaning which has been put upon it by some speakers in this debate. It reads as follows: "All members pledge themselves to take joint and separate action in co-operation with the Organisation for the achievement of the purposes set forth in Article 55". It is hardly necessary for me to remind the Committee that the United Kingdom Government has fulfilled and is fulfilling this pledge in all the territories for which it holds responsibility. The United Kingdom Government is moreover in entire agreement with the principle stated in the first operative paragraph* of the draft resolution before the Committee. But we interpret Article 56 of the Charter as a pledge to maintain our own standards and to co-operate by mutual agreement with other member states in the advancement of human rights and and fundamental freedoms. We do not regard it as an undertaking to investigate or attempt to reform the relations between other governments and their peoples.

The United Kingdom Delegation will vote against the Resolution before the Committee. It follows from what I have said that in so doing we are not expressing any opinion on the internal policies of the Union of South Africa. The United Kingdom vote has one meaning only. It is a vote in defence of the United Nations Charter.

* This paragraph reads: "The General Assembly…declares again that in a multiracial society harmony and respect for human rights and freedoms and the peaceful development of a unified community are best assured when patterns of legislation and practice are directed towards ensuring equality before the law of all persons regardless of race, creed or colour, and when economic, social, cultural and political participation of all racial groups is on a basis of equality."