HL Deb 21 December 1960 vol 227 cc1014-7

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if they can now indicate what proportion of the cost of United Nations operations in the Congo is likely to fall on the British taxpayer, and what is the estimated total of such expenditure by the United Nations to date].


My Lords, the costs of the United Nations' military and civilian operations in the Congo to the end of 1960 have been reduced from 60 million dollars to 48.5 million dollars by the waiver by certain Governments of their airlift charges. The resulting costs will be financed from a Special Account, to which all members are to contribute in accordance with their percentage assessment of the regular budget. Her Majesty's Government's assessment is 7.78 per cent. and their share will amount to about 3.77 million dollars. They have waived charges of 520,000 dollars in respect of the airlift undertaken on behalf of the United Nations and have also contributed 3 million dollars to a voluntary fund of 100 million dollars designed to give budgetary aid to the Congo.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for his reply, may I say that it is a little difficult to take in the exact figures he quoted? Does he not think this is a heavy burden on the public when, according to the reports so frequently appearing in the Press, it seems to produce very little humanitarian gain? Secondly is it right to assume that the United Kingdom's proportion of this cost is increased by the apparent thought of so many other countries that the Organisation does not merit support in the way of payment of their full assessment?


My Lords, I think that the House, and, indeed, Parliament as a whole, has felt from the start of the Congo operation that the absolutely vital thing was to prevent the Congo from becoming the scene of open hostilities in which outside Powers would intervene. Therefore, although I agree with the noble Lord that it is costly to the British taxpayer, nevertheless we have been willing to pay the contribution to see that that did not happen. Although the United Nations is in great difficulties now, I think—and Mr. Hammarskjoeld will have to think very clearly as to the role of the United Nations Force in the Congo—nevertheless, it is our firm opinion that the best chance of preventing the Congo from really returning to complete chaos is the presence of the United Nations forces there. So long as that is our feeling we must pay our fair share, whatever others do.


My Lords, I hope it will be in order for us to say at this point how much we agree with the Foreign Secretary's statement. We do not see what else a civilised country like ours could do, what other course it could have taken, and we heartily agree that if it had not been done the situation probably would have been worse. What worries us, if I may put it to the noble Earl, is as to what new effort can now be made to prevent a situation where we have to say that it is only for Mr. Hammarskjoeld now to think how to get out of the trouble. We surely cannot leave the whole burden of this matter on one man's shoulders. While I recognise that the British Government have done their best in the discussions this week to get a right decision of the United Nations in the present stage, I think some further special effort ought to be made.


My Lords, the House will know that Mr. Hammarskjoeld is not left alone in this matter and, of course, we are always in close touch. But although there was no decision yesterday on a Resolution in the United Nations and the two-thirds majority failed by only one vote on what I think would have been a constructive Resolution, nevertheless, the previous Resolutions under which Mr. Hammarskjoeld is operating are valid, and it is a matter of making the best use of those Resolutions in the existing situation.


My Lords, might I ask whether any part of this sum which we rightly give to the United Nations is allocated to the relief of the appalling suffering in the Kasai Province which has worried many of us a great deal, where I understand hundreds of people a day are dying from malnutrition. Has the noble Earl any information? Perhaps I ought to have given notice of the question.


My Lords, I am afraid it is only too true that a great many people in the Kasai Province of the Congo are dying of starvation, and that is all the more reason why we should try to achieve the situation in which law and order is preserved, communications opened up and supplies got to this area without danger. As I said in my original Answer, we have so far contributed 3 million dollars to a voluntary fund of 100 million dollars designed to give budgetary aid to the Congo authorities to help in this matter.


My Lords, arising out of the original reply of the Foreign Secretary, am I right in assuming that all member nations of the United Nations are morally obligated to pay their contribution towards the cost of the Congo operations by the United Nations?


Yes, my Lords, that is so. I understand that the Russians have said they will not pay. I think there are enough funds to carry us forward to the first quarter of the next year, but of course the Russian attitude will have to be reviewed by the United Nations Secretariat.


My Lords, if the Foreign Secretary will permit me to say so, I do not think he replied to the second part of my question: that is, whether the United Kingdom's contributions are increased proportionately because of the failure of so many nations to pay their regular subscriptions?


My Lords, our proportion is 7.78 per cent., and I do not think that that has been increased by reason of this operation. I am afraid that we shall certainly pay out large sums of money, but I think that as long as we wish the operation to succeed we must face that burden.


My Lords, may I take it, from what the Foreign Secretary has said, that although the assistance of 100 million dollars is called "budgetary assistance to the Congo" that money will in fact be expended by the United Nations authorities, and under their supervision?


Yes, my Lords.