HC Deb 20 July 1960 vol 627 cc493-7
Mr. Healey

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on Britain's position in the Security Council discussions concerning the situation in the Congo.

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

From what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already said when he spoke on 14th July, the House will know that we are giving our full support to the United Nations action and tonight the Security Council will meet to hear a progress report from the Secretary-General.

I hope that there will be general agreement that we have good cause to be grateful for the speedy and efficient manner in which Mr. Hammarskjoeld and his staff hive begun discharging the difficult duties laid upon them by the Security Council.

United Nations forces and assistance teams have been got out to the Congo very quickly. This has already improved the situation. We have played our part in this. We have provided aircraft to help carry the Ghanaian contingent. In response to an appeal from Mr. Hammarskjoeld, we are providing food.

In our view it is very important that all the offers of help and supplies should be channelled through the Secretary-General. I hope that when the Security Council meets this evening it will give unanimous support to Mr. Hammarskjoeld and agree that he must be left a large measure of discretion in discharging his task.

We shall continue to do everything in our power to support his efforts to achieve what I am sure is the general wish of the House, the maintenance of law and order and stability in the Congo.

Mr. Healey

I think that the whole House will be extremely grateful for the Foreign Secretary's statement and that there will be unanimous agreement that almost the only favourable outcome of this tragic story is the strengthening of the authority and power of the United Nations. Would he not agree that the Congo crisis has shown that there is a strong case for making more permanent arrangements for the provision of a United Nation force on future occasions?

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he would not agree that the present key to the situation is in Katanga and that, while we welcome the withdrawal of Belgian troops from the Leopoldville area, it may be difficult to remove doubts about the real intentions of people in Katanga so long as Belgian parachutists are exercising so great authority as they are now? Also, is it true, as reported in the Press, that the Prime Minister of Katanga has agreed to receive Mr. Hammarskjoeld in his Province?

Mr. Lloyd

I am grateful for the hon. Member's acceptance and support of what I said in answer to his Question. With regard to the United Nations force, we have long believed that it is necessary to have either a stand-by force, or some- thing capable of being put into operation very quickly. I know that some hon. Members have thought we have not gone quite as far and as fast as we could in this respect, but we have not wanted this to become a sort of element in the cold war. We know that there are strong Russian objections to such a force and, also, there are differences of opinion, but I remain convinced that it is important to have a suitable arrangement that can be put into operation very quickly. We can draw great consolation from the speed with which action has been taken in this case.

On the question of the situation in Katanga, I think that it Should be our purpose, on both sides of the House, and in the United Nations and elsewhere, to try to enable things to calm down in the Congo so that we can permit them to work out their own constitutional solutions themselves. We warmly support the statement of the Secretary-General that it was not the function of the United Nations force to intervene in the internal affairs of the Congo. They must be allowed to work out the answer to that problem themselves.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is not the relative peace and order in Katanga in sharp contrast to the chaotic and bloody state of affairs in M. Lumumba's Republic? Therefore, do not the efforts of M. Tshombe's Government to defend decent standards deserve the support and approval of the nations?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that our purpose must be, without too much comment at present, to see whether it is not possible to get, in a united Congo, support for law and order and stability and some tolerance for their various constitutional problems and difficulties.

Mr. Grimond

While welcoming the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement, and appreciating that he may not want to go much further today, may I ask whether the Foreign Secretary will agree that there are considerable difficulties about the situation? When he said that it is not the function of the United Nations to interfere in the internal affairs of a country, is that not inevitably what they are doing in the Congo? What are the present directives to the United Nations force? Is it simply to get out the white people who are endangered, or to restore order on behalf of the Government, or is it to interfere in some way between Katanga and the central Government? If it is the last named, it seems a difficult matter and one on which the House should have further information at some point before we wholeheartedly approve of the United Nations force simply being put into the Congo without rather more explicit directives.

Mr. Lloyd

The hon. Member asked me whether I am aware of the difficulties of the situation. I would say to him, "You're telling me". I am very much aware of the difficulties, and have been ever since the crisis started.

As to the rôle of the United Nations, I certainly do not regard it as limited to getting white people out, and I very much hope that we can create a state of affairs in which people who can help there can stay there, and help to produce a viable, stable Congo. It is a wrong idea to regard this as just an operation to get the white people out. We hope that in this newly-independent territory we may get conditions of stability so that it can be a viable and united state. That is our purpose.

There are still these internal problems, because the present Government of the Congo draw their support, I am told, from a considerable number of political parties. Not one of the political leaders has a majority, or more than a small proportion of the votes concerned. That is one of the difficulties of the situation. One does not want to make too precise directives and that is why we seek to leave it to the discretion of the Secretary-General to handle the situation. It would be a fatal mistake to give any currency to the idea that the United Nations forces are to be used to settle internal constitutional problems.

Mr. Goodhart

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is considerable anxiety in this country lest the United Nations forces should be used directly or indirectly to try to suppress the legitimate opponents of Prime Minister Lumumba? Can he say whether any precise instructions on this point have been given to the United Nations forces?

Mr. Lloyd

I have already quoted what the Secretary-General said about the way he regards the rôle of the United Nations. One point was raised on the question of the invitation to Mr. Hammarskjoeld. I should have thought that the use of a United Nations intermediary in the situation is something quite different from the use of United Nations forces. Any initiative of that sort is something which we certainly would support.

Mr. Callaghan

Has the Foreign Secretary noticed that an earlier statement on this subject by his Department fell foul of the Prime Minister of the Central African Federation? Can he say whether his present phrase, that assistance should be channelled through the United Nations, has been conveyed to the Prime Minister of the Central African Federation, and whether he agrees with this view?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that regard was being had by the Prime Minister of the Federation to what was reported to have been said by a spokesman of the Foreign Office but that, in fact, was not what had been said. On these matters, judging by the recent statement by Sir Roy Welensky, I do not think that there is a great difference between us.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify one point about Belgium's obligations under the Security Council directive? Is it to remove her forces altogether when the United Nations takes over or is it to remove her forces to the bases which are guaranteed to her under her defence arrangements with the Congo Government?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend knows that we did not feel able to vote for the Resolution in the Security Council precisely for that reason—because it was not at all clear what the Security Council was asking the Belgian Government to do. Taking one thing at a time, there is no doubt at present that the United Nations forces have created a stabilising influence. I am told that there is being a gradual withdrawal at the moment by the Belgian forces from Leopoldville. I think that we had better leave it in the terms of my original statement and see how this situation develops.

Mr. Stonehouse

Can the Foreign Secretary say what reply has been sent to Mr. Tshombe's request for the recognition of Katanga as an independent State? Are we to understand from his second supplementary reply that there will be no question of a hasty recognition of Katanga before Mr. Hammarskjoeld's report is considered by the Security Council?

Mr. Lloyd

There will certainly be no question of any hasty action by the Government in this matter, except in the support which we have given for the United Nations' effort which has taken place. I have received Mr. Tshombe's message. No answer has yet been returned.