§ The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Michael Stewart)
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on the United Nations.
Now that the General Assembly has adjourned I wish to assure the House that we, and the vast majority of nations, are determined to do our utmost to see that the United Nations shall emerge from this crisis stronger than before. To this end, the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly have been invited, as a matter of urgency, to undertake appropriate consultations and a decision has been taken to establish a peace-keeping committee. For this outcome, much credit is due to my noble Friend Lord Caradon.
The committee is required to undertake as soon as possible a comprehensive review of the whole question of peacekeeping operations in all their aspects, including ways of overcoming the present financial difficulties of the organisation. It is to submit a report to the General Assembly not later than 15th June. The Assembly has adjourned until 1st September unless it proves necessary to reconvene it earlier in the light of the committee's report. A single vote necessary to reach this situation, 235 and postponing the Article 19 issue, was taken without prejudice to conflicting views.
This country intends to play a leading part in the peace-keeping committee and we intend to bring to it new ideas worked out in consultation with experts on United Nations' affairs. Further, as an earnest of our intention, we shall make the following offer of support to United Nations peace-keeping. If so requested, and subject to our national commitments, we will help to provide logistic backing for a United Nations force of up to six infantry battalions. This could include, for example, short-range aircraft, engineering and signal troops, and ambulance, ordnance and motor transport units. If it were desirable, suitable units of these categories would be earmarked for use as available.
Her Majesty's Government also hope to take a share in providing long-range aircraft for the transport of peacekeeping forces. The financing of this offer would depend on the arrangements prevailing at the time.
Great Powers are and should be closely concerned with United Nations problems. But they are not alone; the United Nations must develop as a result of discussions and agreement among all its members, great and small. Small nations have played a great part in the United Nations itself; and it is to their interest and that of the United Nations that they should continue to do so. With this in mind the 18th Session of the General Assembly passed resolutions expanding the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council. This involves Charter amendments, which Her Majesty's Government intend to ratify.
It is one thing to keep the peace; another to settle the problems which threaten peace. A number of experts are considering the process of settling disputes by conciliation, mediation, arbitration and other methods. After examining their recommendations we shall expect to make positive suggestions.
The Security Council, the Economic and Social Council and many other organs of the United Nations can continue their work despite the Assembly's adjournment. Disarmament negotiations can continue; the United Nations Trade 236 and Development Board can go to work; so can the Human Rights Commission, in which Her Majesty's Government have a keen and continuing interest. We shall continue to work in all these fields. We have announced our increased contribution to technical assistance and the Special Fund.
Great difficulties remain. But we are determined that solutions must be found; the United Nations must be enabled to fulfil its task of keeping the peace and improving the conditions of human life.
§ Sir Alec Douglas-Home
With the general objectives of the right hon. Gentleman we have full sympathy, but will he allow me to bring him down to earth and reality to some extent? I take it that this peace-keeping committee—it is rather a grandiose title—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] I am asking the right hon. Gentleman for information.
I take it that the peace-keeping committee to which he refers in his statement is not to take the place of the Security Council, or anything like that, but is a purely advisory committee which will see whether it can make recommendations to the Secretary-General or to member States as to how to settle the financial deadlock.
The right hon. Gentleman mentions the question of earmarking. In the last Parliament we were always pressed by his party to earmark forces. As I read his statement, the forces will be earmarked "subject to our national commitments" and "if it were desirable" certain units would be placed in certain situations. How does this differ from the situation which has existed hitherto? I understand that we have always been willing and ready to do this.
Thirdly, and lastly, will the right hon. Gentleman compare the speech made by Secretary-General U Thant, 10 days ago, in the United Nations with a speech I made on the crisis of confidence in the United Nations four years ago?
§ Mr. Stewart
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have taken the tone he did. Like all human organisations, the United Nations has many defects, particularly in the light of the enormous task that it has to undertake. In my statement—and this was the point of our offer of logistic support—I have endeavoured to recognise that despite the 237 very great objectives of the United Nations we have to consider what immediate practical thing we can do at any time. That was the purpose of my statement.
As for the nature of the peace-keeping committee, it is not in any sense a substitute for the Security Council. Nor, however, are its functions quite as narrow as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested. As I said, it is charged with a comprehensive review of the whole question of peace-keeping operations in all their aspects, including the present financial difficulties.
Further to the other points that the right hon. Gentleman raised, I do not think that a British Government have ever made as precise an offer as that which I have just announced. I accept that there must necessarily be certain reservations in it, but when the peace-keeping committee gets to its work and we, together with the other nations, are able to see what general structure for peace-keeping is emerging, we shall be able to make our own offer in a more precise form.
I do not charge my memory with the speeches made by the right hon. Gentleman four years ago. I hope that he will be prepared to agree that this is a useful and constructive contribution in what has been a very serious crisis in United Nations history.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
On a point of order. In view of your Ruling a few minutes ago, Mr. Speaker, that making statements after Questions is not under your control, is the sentence with which these statements usually start—and with which the statement started today—"With your leave, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House", appropriate? Has it any significance?
§ Mr. Grimond
As I understand from the Foreign Secretary, this is a clear decision and the committee will now definitely come into being. Has any proposal been made as to which nations should serve on it? Further, what is the attitude of the Russians? Will the forces that we have earmarked for it be available in support of the United Nations forces which are already in the field, or is this purely another force for the future? 238 Does the word "earmark" mean, for instance—which would seem rather inportant for its logistic rôle—that this force will be available for training with forces of other nations? If so, how will this be carried out and under whose command will it be?
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that the right hon. Gentleman asked me first about the membership of the peace-keeping committee. The President of the General Assembly hopes to announce its composition within the next few days, when he has completed his consultations. This country, of course, will be a member of it. I do not think we need anticipate any difficulties arising. We have only to await the exact statement of the President of the General Assembly.
The offer referred to by the right hon. Gentleman does relate to future peacekeeping operations. It is intended as a contribution to the committee's work. Quite clearly, the earmarking of units does imply that suitable training must be given. The details of that, I think, are more a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the very great satisfaction with which this statement will be greeted throughout the world will be heightened by a sense of relief that the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with his constant sneers at the United Nations, is no longer in charge of our affairs?
§ Lady Tweedsmuir
Will the Foreign Secretary say whether any of the member States over two years in arrears with their financial contributions to the organisation took part in the vote which postponed the Article 19 issue? If so, although it was a procedural one, and great care was taken to settle all procedural matters behind the scenes, does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that this would seem to compromise Her Majesty's Government's support of the ruling of the International Court of Justice on the matter?
§ Mr. Stewart
No, I do not think that it will compromise us or the position in any way. This vote arose as a result of a quite unexpected intervention by the Albanian delegate in the General Assembly. It was generally understood by all parties concerned that this was a 239 procedural vote and there was a statement by the President of the Assembly that all parties preserved the reservation of their positions for the future.
I understand the point which the hon. Lady has in mind, but I believe it was right, in view of the safeguards, that the vote should be taken.
I should have referred to the mention by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union took part in this vote and supported the establishment of the peace-keeping committee.
§ Mr. Ennals
I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement and the indication at this moment of crisis in the United Nation's history that Britain has stood firmly behind the United Nations. May I ask my right hon. Friend, who referred to the fact that other activities could go on, whether the British Government would take the initiative to bring about an early meeting of the 18-nation disarmament conference in Geneva?
§ Mr. Stewart
I think that that carries me a bit beyond the terms of the statement. Perhaps my hon. Friend would put down a further Question on that matter.
§ Mr. Biggs-Davison
Since the Foreign Secretary cannot remember the Berwick speech and other courageous statements made by the Leader of the Opposition when Prime Minister—[HON. MEMBERS: "He was Foreign Secretary."]—when he was Foreign Secretary, before becoming Prime Minister, may I ask whether he would study them, because if the advice of my right hon. Friend had been followed, the present parlous state of this world organisation might have been avoided?
§ Mr. Stewart
It is a bit much to ask me to remember the right hon. Gentleman's speeches when his own supporters cannot remember what office he was holding at the time when he made them. I do, of course, have a great deal to study in my present office, but I shall be happy to do my best to refresh my memory of such contributions as the right hon. Gentleman has made.
§ Mr. John Hynd
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the overwhelming 240 majority of people in this country and the Commonwealth and beyond will, in contradistinction to the Leader of the Opposition, welcome the initiative from this country in this very necessary task of reorganising the United Nations?
With regard to the peace-keeping force, can my right hon. Friend tell me whether he has any information that other countries have made or are ready to make a similar kind of offer?
§ Mr. Stewart
The answer to the latter part of my hon. Friend's question is, not to my present knowledge. Regarding the first part of his question, I believe that that is so.
As I said in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, it is very easy to point out all the shortcomings of international organisations. Mankind at present is living in a world which is not organised politically for the complexities of modern life. It is trying gradually to put that political organisation together. That is a laborious task in which perhaps some false starts may be made. The United Nations is the main instrument we have for that purpose. I believe that it is right to take whatever practical steps we can to strengthen it.