HL Deb 12 February 1946 vol 139 cc373-9

2.48 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. As its title indicates, it is an Act to enable effect to be given to certain provisions of the Charter of the United Nations. An examination has been made of all the provisions of the Articles of the Charter leading to the conclusion that there is only one Article, namely Article 41, which requires immediate legislation in order to put His Majesty's Government in a position to fulfil their obligations as a member of the United Nations. It is true that the Charter in various places envisages the inclusion of conventions and agreements and that possibly the pro- vision of these future conventions and agreements may necessitate legislation, but the time to consider whether any and if so what legislation is required to fulfil these agreements and conventions is when they have been adopted in final form and not now. For instance, there will probably result from the labours of the present Assembly a General Convention on immunities and privileges of the United Nations, which is likely to involve small amendments to the Diplomatic Privileges Act, but at the present time this draft Convention has not been approved by the Assembly.

Similarly, it is possible, but not, I think, probable, that agreements made under Article 43 of the Charter, generally referred to as Security Agreements, may involve legislation, but we cannot know whether this is so or not until these agreements have been drawn up. Lastly, there are in existing Acts of Parliament a number of sections rendering applicable, or capable of application by Order in Council, certain provisions of these Acts to territories administered under Mandate by His Majesty. It will be necessary some time to have legislation applying or rendering capable of application the same provisions to territories administered by His Majesty under trusteeship. It has, however, not yet been found practicable to draft satisfactorily the necessary clause until the trusteeship agreements are concluded and we know what territories His Majesty will hold under trusteeship and whether he will hold any territories under trusteeship jointly with any other Power.

That leads me to turn to the Charter and examine briefly the provisions. Your Lordships, of course, will be familiar with the provisions of Article 27 which deals with the voting of the Security Council. Decisions of the Security Council on procedural matters are to be made by an affirmative vote of seven members. Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters are to be made by an affirmative vote of seven members, including the concurring votes of the permanent members, that is, you require seven, and at least five of the seven have to be the "Big Five" permanent members (so it is that if one of the five does not vote, you have what is called the Veto), provided that in decisions under Chapter 6, a party to a dispute shall abstain from voting. Chapter 6 is the Chapter dealing with the pacific settlement of disputes.

Chapter 7, with regard to which, all the "Big Five" must concur, is described as "Action with respect to Threats to the Peace, Breaches of the Peace, and Acts of Aggression". Article 39 says the Security Council shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42. Article 40 provides that in order to prevent an aggravation of the situation, the Security Council may decide on certain provisional measures. Article 41, and this is the Article in question here, says that the Security Council may decide what measures, not involving the use of armed forces, are to be employed to give effect to its decisions—that, of course, is its decisions under Article 39—and it may call upon members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations.

Your Lordships will see, therefore, that assuming the Security Council takes such a decision—and, as I have said, before it can take such a decision this country, as one of the permanent members, must concur—there is an obligation on our Government to give effect to it. At present the Government have no powers to impose upon its nationals the duty to comply with such a decision. Hence this Bill, and the main part of the Bill, Clause 1 (1), provides that if under Article 41 of the Charter the Security Council call upon His Majesty's Government to take certain decisions, then His Majesty's Government may, by Order in Council, in their turn, impose upon their nationals the obligation and the duty to observe the provisions of the Order in Council.

The second subsection of Clause 1 deals with the territories to which Orders in Council under subsection (1) may be extended. The obligations of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom under the Charter extend not merely to the United Kingdom itself but also to all those territories which are within the British Commonwealth and Empire in the widest possible sense, and which are not within the jurisdiction of the members of the Commonwealth which are themselves separate members of the United Nations—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India—and except Eire, which may become a member of the United Nations but which has not yet done so. The scope of His Majesty's obligations under the Charter extend, therefore, to territories such as Newfoundland, Southern Rhodesia and Burma, to all the Colonies, to all the British Protectorates and to all British protected states, as well as to any territories which His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom hold under mandate or trusteeship. Subsection (2) does not, however, render Orders in Council capable of extension to all these territories. Burma and Southern Rhodesia are excluded on the understanding that the Governments of these two territories either possess or will possess the necessary local legislative powers to enable the Burmese or Southern Rhodesian Governments, on the request of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, to take the necessary steps in those territories when required.

Further, there are some British protected states, such as, for instance, the Arab States along the Persian Gulf and Tonga, for which Parliament has no power or only limited power to legislate. In those cases, therefore, the matter must be taken up with the local Governments, so that they, too, will be able to answer any call by His Majesty's Government for the fulfilment of Article 41 of the Charter. It may not, in fact, be necessary to extend the Orders in Council to all the Colonies and territories to which they are capable of extension under the subsection. If and when some of the local Governments obtain the necessary powers to deal with a matter by local legislation, it may be found preferable to let them deal with a matter by local measures instead of extending the United Kingdom Order in Council to them.

Those are the two substantial provisions of the Bill. I need not refer, I think, to subsection (3). Subsection (4) provides that Orders in Council shall be laid forthwith before Parliament, but it excludes the application of a provision in the Rules Publication Act requiring the publication in the London Gazette of notice of the proposal to make the Order in Council for forty days before the Order is made, it being obvious that the urgency with which decisions of the Security Council must be carried out renders any such notice quite impracticable.

I commend this Bill to your Lordships, conscious of the fact that we all are putting our hopes and our trust in the United Nations Organization, and conscious of the fact that for that reason we must not be laggard in taking the necessary powers to see that we can fulfil, in the fullest measure and to the letter as well as in the spirit, all the obligations which we are called upon to do. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read22.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.2 p.m.


My Lords, the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has on more than one occasion had to introduce Bills in this House dealing with Orders in Council which I do not think he has liked very much, and which certainly some of us have not liked at all. Today he is fortunate in being able to bring forward a Bill to enable this Government to do things by Order in Council which will, I believe, have the complete, unanimous, and enthusiastic support of everybody in this House. If this organization fails, all fails. If it is to succeed, it must be able to take effective action, and that action must be prompt and immediate. All the world must know that when it takes a decision, all the member States will be prompt and loyal in giving effect to such a decision. For the reasons the noble and learned Lord Chancellor has given, this method of Orders in Council is the only effective way by which we can do that.

All countries will, I trust, at the earliest date take the necessary powers, if they do not already possess them, but that is no reason why we should not be the first to take this action. By our lead we shall not only show our faith bat, I hope, encourage others to pass the appropriate legislation, if such legislation is required. Therefore it is right that we should take the lead here and now. This particular procedure, it appears to me, has another advantage. Not only can action be taken immediately in this country, but that action can be timed to be concurrent with the action taken by other countries. That may be very important. Therefore, because this is the way of making our membership effective, and of carrying out loyally our undertakings imposed by that membership in the most effective and the most convenient way, we on this side of the House give this Bill our wholehearted support.

3.4 p.m.


My Lords, noble Lords on these Benches also will cordially support this Motion. It is of a limited character; it asks for the Second Reading of a Bill to confer certain powers on His Majesty in relation to action taken under the Charter of the United Nations. This might have been taken, if we had so desired, as a Parliamentary opportunity for discussing questions relating to the United Nations Organization in general, the great events which have been proceeding during the last few days in the close vicinity of this building and their bearing upon the future, but it would be far better if those matters could be discussed on a separate occasion, suitable and allocated for that purpose. I would ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether the Government contemplate that at an early date there should be a discussion in this House on the international situation, particularly in relation to the proceedings of the United Nations at the meeting here in London. Perhaps the noble Lord would kindly give an answer to that question.

This particular Bill makes provision for the eventuality that coercive measures may become necessary by the United Nations against some State which is indulging, or is apparently about to indulge in acts of aggression Those coercive measures may be either military or nonmilitary—what we are accustomed to speak of under the name of sanctions, economic sanctions, or similar sanctions. The Charter of the United Nations was approved by your Lordships' House on a formal Motion last August without dissension, and I am sure your Lordships would therefore agree that it is right now to pass this legislation, which would provide generally and in advance for contingencies which might possibly, arise at any time. His Majesty's Government have declared that the first principle of their foreign policy is support for the United Nations, and that declaration is, I think, unanimously approved throughout the whole country. We may feel proud that our country is, as I believe is the case, the first of all the fifty-one included within the ambit of this great international organization to take legislative action in order to show that it is prepared, willing and ready to carry out to the full the obligations imposed upon the member States by the Charter of the United Nations.

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the way in which this Bill has been received. In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, who raised the question as to whether it would not be appropriate that we should have a discussion on foreign affairs, I am happy to say that, having discussed the matter with my noble friend the Leader of the House, I am able to give him an answer in the affirmative. We will gladly provide an opportunity in the not far distant future. The actual time and the form in which the debate takes place had better be discussed through the usual channels, but His Majesty's Government will be very pleased to afford an opportunity as soon as is convenient.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.