HC Deb 21 June 1965 vol 714 cc1191-5
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 present situation concerning United Nations finances and peace-keeping arrangements.

A United Nations Peace-keeping Committee was set up in February this year to review the whole question of peace-keeping operations and the present financial difficulties of the United Nations. As the House is aware, we played an active part in setting up this Committee and in its subsequent work.

So far, however, no arrangement has been reached on the settlement of the constitutional or the financial problems of the organisation. It is clear that the financial problem can only be solved eventually by voluntary contributions from member States.

In these circumstances, we have decided that it is essential to make a voluntary, unconditional, financial pledge to the United Nations. My noble Friend Lord Caradon has, therefore, informed the Secretary-General today that we pledge a sum equivalent to 10 million dollars. This decision arose from discussion with a number of other countries and, in the course of today, several other delegations will make similar voluntary unconditional pledges to the Secretary-General.

This contribution is designed to help restore the United States to solvency— [Laughter.] I ask the House to excuse me; I should have said, "restore the United Nations to solvency"—

Sir G. Nicholson

What about the United Kingdom?

Mr. Stewart

—and improve the atmosphere for further discussions. In this improved atmosphere, there is a better chance for some compromise on the peace-keeping problem to be worked out before the autumn. Our pledge represents, indeed, an act of faith in the United Nations. It is made entirely without prejudice to our position of principle, and we are fully aware that it does not immediately solve the constitutional problem.

There have been gloomy voices recently hinting that the United Nations has been going the way of the League of Nations. I am not on any account going to accept this. It is the policy of this Government to work to strengthen and support the organisation, and one of the practical ways in which we have demonstrated this earlier was our offer of logistic support for peace-keeping operations for up to six battalions last February.

We shall continue to do all in our power to ensure that the United Nations, far from being allowed to wither and die, emerges strengthened from its present difficulties and better equipped to serve the cause of international peace.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his statement. I am sure that the whole House will welcome it, in particular the last part, and will appreciate the necessity for making this voluntary contribution.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say how many other nations have pledged themselves to make a contribution, and, if so, is he in a position to say which they are and how much they will be contributing? Can he say, for instance, whether the U.S.S.R. has agreed to make a contribution?

It appears that the Peace-keeping Committee, which has worked very hard, is far from reaching a solution. Unless a solution is found, is there not a danger that the General Assembly will either not meet or not be able to function properly next August? On 23rd February, I think, the right hon. Gentleman told us that he had some new ideas which he or Her Majesty's Government had in mind to put to the Committee, in consultation with experts at the United Nations. Have these new ideas been put forward, and, if so, is the right hon. Gentleman in a position to tell us something about them?

Mr. Stewart

Other nations will be associated with us, but I did not wish to give the House what might prove to be an incomplete list. Therefore, I would rather not answer the right hon. Gentleman's first question at present. The House will find that other nations are associated with us. I have no information that the Soviet Union is at present making a voluntary contribution.

As regards the longer-term problem of the mechanism for peace-keeping itself, the right hon. Gentleman will remember that I answered an earlier Question setting out the ideas which we had put before the Peace-keeping Committee. It is my hope and belief that the General Assembly will be able to resume its work. I do not want to disguise from the House that we should like to see the United Nations take a real step forward in its history on this question of how peace-keeping operations, when necessary, can be carried on. It does not look as though we shall be able at present to get as far as we could wish in that direction. But we shall at any rate, I think, be able to resume the Assembly's work.

Mr. A. Henderson

I warmly welcome the generous lead which my right hon. Friend has announced, but will he not agree that this approach by the method of voluntary contribution with the object of wiping off the £70 million deficit of the United Nations is far more likely to be effective than seeking to use, or having to use, the provisions of Article 19 of the Charter?

In view of this, will my right hon. Friend say whether diplomatic discussions will continue with the Governments of both the U.S.S.R. and France with a view to persuading them to join in this voluntary effort to wipe off the United Nations deficit?

Mr. Stewart

We thought about it on the basis of a certain number of Governments making this initiative in the hope that it would be followed particularly by the States which my right hon. and learned Friend has mentioned. We still adhere to the view that we have held about Article 19, but we felt that it was necessary, quite apart from anything else, to help the United Nations to solvency, and we thought that this method was the right step to that end.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that any steps which will strengthen the United Nations are to be welcomed? Is this contribution for the specific purposes of the Peace-keeping Committee, or is it to help the United Nations generally? When he talks about the position of principle, I take it that he has in mind that we should insist that other nations pay their normal contribution. I take it that this contribution is over and above our normal contribution. Can he tell us whether any of the nations which are already in default, apart from making any further contribution, have agreed to pay up what they owe to date?

Mr. Stewart

The answer to the last part of the supplementary question is "No". This contribution is for the general purposes of the United Nations. It is not tied to any particular item of expenditure.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether any of the nations in default had agreed to pay up. No, they have not.

Sir Geoffrey de Freitas

Since one of the greatest debtors is France, which happens to be an ally of ours, will not the Government make special representations to that country?

Mr. Stewart

My right hon. Friend will remember that this was the subject of very keen argument which, at one time, looked as if it might endanger the organisation. One has to consider very carefully, therefore, what representations one makes and how one makes them in this field. What we hope is that this act will make it easier for everyone to discuss the problem in a more relaxed atmosphere.

Mr. Maudling

The right hon. Gentleman is reluctant to specify the other countries involved in this initiative, but does he not appreciate that to judge whether this is bold or merely quixotic we must have more information about what other countries are involved?

Mr. Stewart

I hope that it will before long be a matter of public knowledge, but, if necessary, I would make a further statement to the House.

Mr. Mendelson

My right hon. Friend will do doubt be aware that there is widespread support for the action that he has announced on behalf of the Government. Will he also bear in mind that this dispute involving France and the Soviet Union, is also a political dispute and not merely a matter of paying contributions to the United Nations?

Will he, therefore, bear in mind that he has the full support of most of us in the patient efforts that he and the Government have made? Will he refuse to allow himself to be in any way inspired by those, very often not the best friends of United Nations, who are now particularly interested in Article 19, and will he continue his patient work to reach agreement no matter how long it takes?

Mr. Stewart

I should like to repeat that we adhere to our view about Article 19 and the advisory opinion of the International Court on certain payments. I would accept my hon. Friend's point, which I take to be that this is not merely a question of defaulting on payment. There is here a difference of view about the purposes of the United Nations and the legality of certain decisions. We take one view on that, and we adhere to it.

I will certainly follow my hon. Friend's advice about patience. That will certainly be needed. I think I should draw the attention of the House to this, that, unsatisfactory instrument as the United Nations is in many ways in reflecting all the imperfections of the world as a whole, if anything were to happen to cause the organisation to disappear and be replaced by possibly two or more groupings of like-minded nations on an ideological basis, that would be an extremely dangerous development for the world and one that we must seek at all costs to avoid.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

We cannot debate this now without a Question before the House.