HC Deb 28 March 1960 vol 620 cc953-7

Mr. Callaghan (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs whether he will instruct the United Kingdom delegate on the Security Council, for the debate which is to take place on Wednesday, 30th March, to support proposals for bringing the South African situation within its jurisdiction?

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

Instructions to the United Kingdom delegation are under consideration. It is not yet known what form the discussion will take or what resolution or resolutions, if any, will be put before the Council. As the House is now aware, the Security Council meeting has been postponed from Tuesday until Wednesday. The matter which will arise at the first meeting will be the adoption of an item for the agenda. It is not yet certain how the item will be defined. If, however, the hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) will put down a Question to me with regard to that point for Wednesday, I will try to give him an answer.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that on the last occasion on which this matter was considered we found ourselves in the company of only two other States, against 66 members of the United Nations, supporting South Africa on this issue? Is he aware that we are anxious, for our country's reputation, that we shall not be placed in this position again?

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it is not possible for him to give us an answer tomorrow to a simple question? Under Article 34 a situation which may give rise to international friction can be inscribed on the agenda with seven affirmative votes. Is it not possible for him at least to tell us tomorrow that Her Majesty's Government do not propose to vote against inscribing it on the agenda when a request has already been made for that by a number of independent African States?

Mr. Lloyd

I am fully aware of the deep feelings of the House on this matter. The Opposition are not alone in deeply regretting the loss of life in this tragic incident. The hon. Member asked me several questions. This matter has not been considered before by the Security Council. We must have some knowledge of how the item is to be framed and, later, what the resolution is likely to be, before we pronounce upon what our attitude will be, either to the item or to the resolution. I assure the hon. Member, and right hon. Members and hon. Members on both sides of the House, that we have very much in mind the feeling on these matters.

Mr. Callaghan

While we are glad to hear that advance made by the Foreign Secretary, may I put this question to him: is it not clear that the situation in South Africa has now reached a stage at which it will be in the interests of all, both the Europeans and the Africans living there, that the United Nations should take cognisance of it? While we do not ask him to bind himself in advance to accept anything which might appear on the agenda, because none of us knows what that might be, can he not tell us now that a simple discussion of this matter, which can arise under Article 34 of the Charter, would not be opposed by the British Government?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not want any inference to be drawn from my answer to this, but we must know with some particularity the nature of the item and the nature of the discussion. The hon. Member asked whether we will support proposals for bringing the South African situation within its jurisdiction. We cannot alter the Charter of the United Nations. There it is. Its rules have to be applied. All I can tell the hon. Member, with complete sincerity, is that we will bear in mind the very deep feelings on this matter.

Mr. Grimond

Will the Foreign Secretary bear in mind that, whatever the form of this proposal, the substance of it will be taken as a proposal that the expression of world opinion on events in South Africa is overdue? Will he also bear in mind that it is very desirable, for the South Africans themselves, that this country should maintain its clear attitude that what has been done in South Africa is abhorrent to all parties in this country? Any repudiation of this, or what might seem to be repudiation, will be quite inconsistent with the Prime Minister's speech in South Africa.

Mr. Lloyd

However that may be, I do not think it reasonable to expect us to define beforehand our attitude to a hypothetical item and a hypothetical discussion. If I may, I will repeat what I said last September in the general debate at the United Nations on these matters. It is still the Government's position. I said: In those territories where different races or tribes live side by side, the task is to ensure that all the people may enjoy security and freedom and the chance to contribute as individuals to the progress and well-being of these countries. We reject the idea of any inherent superiority of one race over another. Our policy, therefore, is non-racial; it offers a future in which Africans, Europeans, Asians, the peoples of the Pacific and others with whom we are concerned, will all play their full part as citizens in the countries where they live, and in which feelings of race will be submerged in loyalty to new nations. That is the position which I set out last September and that is our approach to these matters.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will my right hon. and learned Friend give an assurance that this country will not countenance any disorderly debate in the United Nations? Will he remember that this institution was established to uphold the rule of law and that it is indeed sad that it should set such a bad example by ignoring its own constitution? Will he further say that whether the matter falls within the domestic jurisdiction of a member State cannot and must not depend on how strongly some people outside happen to feel about it?

Mr. Lloyd

I quite agree that we must have some regard to the rules of procedure and the terms of the Charter in discussing these matters. But I think that we are all conscious of the deep feelings which are held on all sides about this matter, and in that spirit we will approach this debate.

Mr. Foot

Have the Government considered the terms of the resolution passed last week by the Afro-Asian group of nations stating that immediate consideration by the United Nations of the situation in the Union of South Africa is imperative if the Continent of Africa and, indeed, the whole world is to be saved from a conflagration which might seriously threaten the peace of the world? Can the Foreign Secretary say whether the Government are generally in sympathy with that resolution?

Mr. Lloyd

That is one of the difficulties. That resolution is quite different from the terms of the letter which has been addressed to the Security Council asking for this debate.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider whether it might perhaps be likely to lead to a happier result for all the people concerned if questions of this kind were discussed at a Commonwealth conference rather than at the United Nations?

Mr. Lloyd

That certainly is a consideration.

Mr. Swingler

Why cannot the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that the Government recognise that the tragic events in South Africa have an international significance and international repercussions, and that, therefore, without prejudice to his views about any resolution put forward, the Government would actually welcome a discussion of the events and the policies which have provoked them in order to make clear what is world opinion on the matter?

Mr. Lloyd

I have had very considerable experience both at the Security Council and at the United Nations. These matters really have to be dealt with in accordance with the procedures there, just as we have to work here according to our procedures. We have to see the nature of the item before we can decide beforehand what our reactions are to be.

Mrs. Castle

If the Foreign Secretary is uneasy about the form which the other countries' proposals might take, why do not the Government themselves take the initiative in tabling this as an item on the agenda in the form which they believe to be appropriate?

Mr. Lloyd

I can assure the hon. Lady that I am not uneasy, but in this case the request for a discussion has been received from the Afro-Asian Group, and we had much better deal with it on that basis.

Mr. Gaitskell

Since the Foreign Secretary is unable to give us a definite answer today, but has said that he might do so on Wednesday, will he undertake to make a statement on Wednesday in case Foreign Office Questions are not reached?

Mr. Lloyd

I will certainly give an undertaking that I will answer a Question with regard to how we are dealing with the item on the agenda on Wednesday.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot debate this now.