HC Deb 30 March 1960 vol 620 cc1329-35
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd)

Mr. Speaker, with your permission and that of the House, I wish to make a statement about the Security Council meeting today.

As the House is aware, a meeting of the Security Council is at present taking place to decide what action to take on a request from a number of African and Asian countries that it consider the situation arising from the recent tragic events in the Union of South Africa.

The first business of the Council is the agenda for the meeting. The United Kingdom representative has instructions not to oppose the discussion of the item requested by the African and Asian countries. We do, however, adhere to our view that, in accordance with Article 2 (7) of the Charter, nothing in the Charter authorises the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State.

It is the primary responsibility of the Security Council to promote the maintenance of international peace and security. We have a very delicate situation. I am sure that the House will join with me in hoping that the Security Council discussion will contribute to an alleviation of this situation.

Mr. Callaghan

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that hon. Members on this side of the House believe that the whole nation will welcome the decision of the Government not to oppose the discussion of this problem? We appreciate the right hon. and learned Gentleman's view about domestic jurisdiction, but in his discussions with our delegate at the United Nations will he take into account the fact that, quite apart from last week's events, we now seem to be moving—as he says—into an even more delicate situation during the next few weeks?

In view of the possible threat to the stability and peace of the whole of the Continent of Africa as a result of the events which are happening there now, may we take it that if the proposition were put on those grounds our delegate would not automatically oppose a discussion and a resolution reaching a conclusion on it?

Finally, is the Foreign Secretary aware that a United Kingdom citizen was arrested this morning—a missionary at the Anglican mission, who is well known in this country as a former almoner at Hammersmith Hospital? Can he or the High Commissioner get in touch with the South African Government in respect of this event?

Mr. Lloyd

The last matter raised by the hon. Gentleman is not a matter for me Departmentally, but I will see that the point he has made is put to my noble Friend.

As for the earlier part of his supplementary question, as I have already said, we are not opposing and will not oppose a discussion of this matter. Our future course of conduct will depend upon the nature of the discussion and the nature of the resolution, if any.

Only a few minutes ago I was in touch with our permanent representative, and I think that what will happen today is that the representatives of Tunisia and Ceylon in the Security Council will speak at some length, and then other representatives of Afro-Asian countries will wish to speak. We must see how the discussion develops.

Mr. Callaghan

Have the Government reached any conclusion about taking the initiative themselves in relation to the danger to the stability on the Continent, in view of the developments that have been reported today from Africa, which seem to be mounting in danger and severity, to the anxiety of all of us, and in which the whole future of everyone, especially in South Africa and perhaps throughout the whole of Central Africa, may be involved? Is not there a case for asking that some international body should try to take command of the situation before it deteriorates into anarchy?

Mr. Lloyd

We are all very much aware that this is a very serious and delicate situation. There is a very great responsibility on the members of the Security Council and all others who are concerned to see that they do not make matters worse. There is certainly a responsibility upon us, and we will not burke our responsibility. But there are some very important issues at stake. The other day I indicated our deep regret, which I know is shared by the whole House, at what happened. I have stated our basic approach to racial problems.

On the other hand, there is this very important matter of intervention in the domestic affairs of States, and the House will have been very interested to see what both the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Australia said on that matter. Then there is the whole question of Commonwealth relationship, and the tradition of noninterference by Governments in the affairs of other free and independent members of the Commonwealth—a concept which flows from the Statute of Westminster. There are, therefore, very wide issues at stake, and we shall approach them with a due sense of responsibility.

Mr. Gaitskell

I recognise the complexity of the problem, especially the question of jurisdiction over internal affairs, but does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman nevertheless agree that what is happening in South Africa cannot but be of the utmost concern to the rest of the Commonwealth, because it has a bearing upon racial relations in a multi-racial society? In those circumstances, have Her Majesty's Government been in touch with the South African Government directly on this matter, quite apart from whatever may be said in the Security Council?

Mr. Lloyd

We most certainly have been in touch with the South African Government.

Sir G. Nicholson

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that it is fully appreciated that the right forum for these discussions is, first, the Commonwealth Prime Minister's conference? Will he do nothing to endanger the future of that conference? Secondly, will he stress the fact that while, in certain circumstances, it may be right and, indeed, necessary to condemn measures, statements condemning individuals and peoples are likely to lead to the exacerbation of an already delicate situation?

Mr. Lloyd

I agree that it is a delicate situation. In many ways it is a very serious situation. There have been these tragic incidents, and there is a difficult situation at this time, as hon. Members know. Our task is to try to secure a return to internal quiet in the Union of South Africa and to see that the situation is not exacerbated by our actions, in the hope that the lessons will be learnt.

Mr. Grimond

As the Foreign Secretary has said, I am sure that the House will join with him in hoping that the discussions in the Security Council will alleviate the situation. But is it not the case that the mere fact that he said that confirms that these events go far outside the boundaries of South Africa, and that some discussion of this question by world opinion may be useful? In the course of talking to the South African Government will the Foreign Secretary make representations against these latest repressive measures, which will only have the most serious repercussions all over Africa?

Mr. Lloyd

The situation in South Africa is, quite obviously, a delicate and serious one, and it would be better for me not to comment.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that many people will learn with intense disquiet of this decision that there can be a debate in the United Nations about the internal affairs of an independent State which does not amount to intervention? Is he aware that this decision bodes very ill for the future of the United Nations as a body instituted to uphold the rule of law and not emotion?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend will not expect me to agree with him that the decision we have taken is wrong. I think that, in the circumstances, we have taken the correct action in instructing our delegate not to oppose this matter. But my hon. Friend is quite right in pointing out the danger of this position, and I think that we have to be careful that we do not destroy the efficacy of that body by acting in a manner which would be ultra vires the Charter. I think that we have to be very careful.

Mr. A. Henderson

In view of what the Foreign Secretary has just said, would not he agree with the statement made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, two or three days ago, that it had never been considered at the United Nations that Article 2 (7) excluded discussion, that it merely excluded intervention? In view of the existence of Articles 55 and 56, which relate to the obligation to respect human rights, how can the Foreign Secretary take the view that it is not within the cognisance of the United Nations at least to discuss any matter affecting the rights of human beings?

Mr. Lloyd

I have not taken that point of view. I have stated that we were not going to vote against the discussion. I did refer to Article 2 (7) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will remember that the article begins: Notwithstanding anything in Charter … This article prevails whatever may be in Articles 55 and 56. I agree with him about the use in the article of the word "intervention". That is precisely the matter to which I drew attention earlier.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Has my right hon. Friend anything to tell the House about the progress of the judicial inquiry now going on in South Africa, because if this matter is to be discussed at the United Nations, which I personally would regret for the reasons which have been put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), would not it be desirable that facts as well as prejudices should be before those called on to pronounce on these events?

Mr. Lloyd

I have no information to give to my hon. Friend about (his inquiry.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind in this matter the International Convention on Human Rights, and the Human Rights Commission which was set up under the auspices of the United Nations? Will he bear in mind that this Convention was arrived at only because it was generally felt that any infringements of a serious nature of human rights went beyond the confines of the country where they occurred and involved an international responsibility which we all shared? In view of that, does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman feel that his former position with regard to this matter is no longer tenable in the light of the worldwide anxiety that these events have provoked?

Mr. Lloyd

I could not agree on that. Nor would I be prepared to answer a question on the Human Rights Convention without notice. It is a matter of considerable legal perplexity and I should need to know the precise position of South Africa with regard to that matter and other nations, also.

Mr. Fisher

As against the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell), would my right hon. and learned Friend recognise that although many of us, including myself, defended the attitude of the Government in the December debate, it would, I think, be much less easy now to accept what to the public outside might look like a somewhat technical and procedural vote on this occasion? Would he agree that, as the leaders of a multi-racial Commonwealth, we cannot this time pass a vote which, to opinion outside, might be misconstrued as a vote in favour of the apartheid policy?

Mr. Lloyd

My hon. Friend has referred to what happened last December. On that occasion, we did not oppose discussion of the matter. So far as the future is concerned, and future decisions, I think that we have to do what we believe to be right.

Mr. P. Noel-Baker

The Foreign Secretary has referred to Article 2 (7) of the Charter. In the instructions to our delegate at the Security Council about a possible resolution, will he call his attention to the fact that Article 1 (3) of the Charter says that one fundamental purpose of the United Nations is To achieve international co-operation … in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion, …"?

Mr. Lloyd

That is a fine statement and a fine ideal, but again we have to remember the contractual basis on which members join the United Nations, 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.

Mr. Brockway

May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether there are not occasions when issues may arise inside a country which will so disturb the people in other countries that there is a danger to peace? Is he aware that the situation in South Africa is moving millions of people in the whole continent of Africa—[HON. MEMBERS: "And elsewhere."] Yes, and elsewhere, but immediately in the Continent of Africa—and that unless the United Nations finds some solution of this difficulty there is grave danger of the struggle which is evolving in South Africa spreading to other African territories?

Mr. Lloyd

I think that all the issues involved will be very much in the minds of members of the Security Council. As I have said, I hope that this discussion will alleviate the situation. I think that we must work for that result.

Several Hon. Members


Ms. Speaker

Order. I must again remind hon. Members that there is no Question before the House.