HL Deb 23 February 1965 vol 263 cc707-13

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, on the United Nations.

"Now that the United Nations 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 peace-keeping 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 the 15th of June. The Assembly has adjourned until the 1st of 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 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 peace-keeping 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 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."

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for the long Statement that he has communicated to us, I propose to reserve comment upon it until I have given full consideration to its content. It would appear to have some very far-reaching implications which will have to be considered. There are just one or two matters which perhaps the noble Lord might clarify. In his reference to the peace-keeping committee he said that one of its tasks would be to consider ways of overcoming the present financial difficulties of the Organisation. By that does he mean the question of contributions for past peace-keeping operations? Then, my Lords, he referred to the offer which we have made to commit six infantry battalions, aircraft, engineering and signals troops to provide logistic backing for a United Nations peace-keeping force. Has any other country made any similar offer? Is this not something quite independent of the constitution of the peace-keeping committee, and is it the case that the finance required is left open? I think that is so.

The noble Lord referred also to resolutions which have been passed expanding the Security Council, and said that they involved Charter amendments which Her Majesty's Government intend to ratify. Would the noble Lord, in some form—either in a White Paper or in Hansard—make available to this House the Charter amendments which are envisaged, so that we may see them and consider them? Then in the peroration of the Statement the noble Lord said that great difficulties remained. By that, did he mean the difficulty of securing contributions from other countries for peace-keeping operations, or had he anything else in mind?

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies, may I, from these Benches, welcome this Statement? I agree with the noble and learned Viscount that it is, of course, a rather full Statement that needs a lot of digestion before we can go into it in profitable detail. It is, to me, rather a sad and bitter reflection that this great organisation, founded so many years ago, should need to establish a peace-keeping committee, when surely it was itself conceived as a peace-keeping committee. However, we have come to that, and it cannot be helped.

There is just one small point which perhaps the noble Lord will be good enough to explain, if he can. I interpreted our support of this force differently from the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Dilhorne. I take it that the figures of the force mentioned by the noble Lord relate to the total force which we were intending to support but not to produce ourselves. Perhaps he could amplify that. A second point strikes me—that we may be called upon to use our forces within this force. I think we must keep in mind very clearly that, while no doubt we should be most willing to obey orders, instructions or requests from the Security Council, we should want a little further discussion and thought before we took an instruction of that sort from the Assembly.

There is just one small point. If I may refer to a speech made by my noble friend Lord Ogmore in this House in, I think it was, January of last year, be pointed out how very necessary it was to have a permanent staff or a permanent command structure, not merely an ad hoc body which might or might not be called upon to deal with this or that situation. I would urge Her Majesty's Government to bear in mind that this should be a permanent body, a permanent staff, a permanent structure, which I am sure would have support in many quarters in this country.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government realise that the length of this Statement will make it necessary for it to be examined at some length, and I hope, therefore, that we can leave detailed discussion of it until a later date. However, with regard to the points which have been raised by the noble and learned Viscount and the noble Lord, I think that I must first of all make it clear that the support which Her Majesty's Government propose to make available to the United Nations peacekeeping activities is logistic backing for a force of up to six infantry battalions—not the six infantry battalions, but simply the logistic (that is to say, the administrative) backing to keep a force of that sort in the field.


Not British battalions, presumably?


Not necessarily British battalions. There is No 1ntention on the part of Her Majesty's Government to contribute infantry battalions to this force, but simply the administrative and logistic backing for any United Nations force of that sort which may be put into the field.

So far as the finance for this logistic backing is concerned, that will, as I think was made clear in the Statement, depend upon the conditions prevailing at the time. There is no evidence at the moment of any other country making such a force available, or making such an offer. This is an earnest indication of Her Majesty's Government's support for the ideals and activities of the United Nations. We should, of course, expect to be responsible for the financial support of these forces in the normal course of events, while they were a part of the British Armed Forces. We might expect that there would be other arrangements made for financing them if they were actually engaged in United Nations operations. But, in fact, the whole business of the financing of United Nations operations, as I think was made clear in the Statement, will be included in the comprehensive review which will be carried out by the committee of the whole question of peace-keeping operations. This will involve the whole spectrum of the problem of providing financial support for these operations.

So far as the question of Charter amendments is concerned, Her Majesty's Government will take note of the request of the noble and learned Viscount, and we shall make such information as we have available. With regard, finally, to the question of a permanent command structure, that, of course, is one of the possibilities which the various expert advisers at present available to Her Majesty's Government are looking at. We realise that this is a very valid and a wise suggestion; we shall be looking into it. But, for the moment, our only specific proposal is for the provision of this administrative and logistic backing for a force of up to six battalions.

The Earl of DUNDEE

My Lords, with regard to these Charter amendments on which we hope to get information, have we already agreed to these amendments, or are they now under discussion?


The 18th Session of the General Assembly passed these resolutions in which they expanded the Security Council. This involved Charter amendments. The resolution was passed in the General Assembly, and Her Majesty's Government intend now to ratify that resolution.


So there can be no difficulty about making information about the amendments which will have to be made to the Charter available to this House without delay?


So far as I am aware, my Lords, there will be no difficulty about that whatsoever.


My Lords, as one who has given very strong and consistent support to the United Nations and to the idea of equipping it with a peace force—it is very difficult to follow the details of the long Statement the Minister has made—may I say to him that the active part that Her Majesty's Government have taken in this wide-ranging initiative at the United Nations will give considerable satisfaction to wide sections of the public?


I thank the noble Lord for his remarks. I believe, as he obviously does, that a great deal of praise and of gratitude is due in this matter to Lord Caradon for his splendid efforts in New York.


My Lords, with reference to the logistic support referred to by the noble Lord in the Statement he has just read, surely this is precisely what we are now doing in Cyprus?


My Lords, this is not exactly what we are doing in Cyprus. We have, of course, in the past provided considerably more than logistic support in Cyprus, and this was support provided partly, as noble Lords will remember, from forces in Cyprus, partly from forces in the United Kingdom. The intention behind the present proposal is that certain specific logistic units shall be made available and shall, as the Statement says, possibly be earmarked for operations when any United Nations force is put in the field. The Cyprus operation was very largely an ad hoc operation, and the major part we played in it was very largely due to the fact that we had a military presence in Cyprus at the time. This is to be a standing commitment which we are now offering to the United Nations.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord.