HL Deb 24 November 1966 vol 278 cc352-6

3.8 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government—

  1. (1) Whether it is their policy to replace the representation at the United Nations of Members of both Houses as full delegates by:
    1. (a) Civil Servant representation on the various Committees with the exception of the Minister in charge; and
    2. (b) A visit by an all-Party political delegation for one week during the autumn session;
  2. (2) Whether they are aware that this will greatly weaken the standing of the United Kingdom representation at the United Nations in the eyes of other delegations.]


My Lords, in addition to the Minister in Charge, Lord Caradon, and the Minister for Disarmament, Lord Chalfont, the United Kingdom delegation to the 21st Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations includes a Member of this House, Lady Gaitskell, who represents Her Majesty's Government in the Third Committee.

Representation at the General Assembly and other organs of the United Nations is undertaken by Ministers or senior officials as the circumstances may demand.

In addition, an all-Party Parliamentary delegation has recently completed a most successful visit to United Nations Headquarters. Her Majesty's Government consider that this is the most effective way of demonstrating British Parliamentary support for the United Nations, and of emphasising, through the all-Party nature of the delegation, that the organisation has the support of the whole country.

A delegation to the Assembly led by a Minister, and a special Parliamentary delegation, seems to Her Majesty's Government to be the best way to represent Governmental and Parliamentary interests.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us think that to send out a Parliamentary delegation just for one week is nothing like as effective to maintain the status of the British delegation at United Nations as having Members of Parliament permanently there taking charge of the committees? Is the Minister aware that the Government have a majority of 100 in the House of Commons, and is it not a reflection on the capacity of the Labour Members in that House that three men, or three women, cannot be found to go out to represent this country properly at United Nations?


My Lords, as one who was a Member of Parliament, and also a member of the first delegation to the first General Assembly, I naturally have some sympathy with what the noble Lady says. On the other hand, it is also a widely held view that the present combination of officials and Members of Parliament going out is probably the best way of securing an impact.


My Lords, I have sympathy with the questions of the noble Baroness, because delegates are picked if they are "blue-eyed boys, or girls", in the hierarchy on the Front Benches. Nevertheless, I think it is important that the political representation in the United Nations, where we have to take a responsibility, should be by politicians and not by civil servants.


My Lords, the noble Lord probably did not hear that in my answer I referred to my noble friends Lord Caradon, Lord Chalfont and Lady Gaitskell, all of whom, probably, would not be too dissatisfied if we described them as politicians.


My Lords, is thenoble Lord not aware that political experience in one of the Houses of Parliament is, in fact, of enormous benefit to these committees, and that it probably is to the advantage of Members of the House of Commons and of this House that they have served a term on one of the committees of the United Nations? Is the noble Lord also aware that we very much appreciate the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, on a particular committee? She has made an outstanding contribution, and I feel that it would be worthwhile for the Government to have another look at this matter to see whether they cannot man their delegation with more politicians.


Yes, my Lords. As I have said, when the occasion arises politicians do go to the U.N., including Ministers. But certainly I will see that the views which have been expressed from both sides, are conveyed to my right honourable friend.


My Lords, can the noble Lord explain why one very distinguished and long-serving Member of your Lordships' House has been struck off the list? I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Crook. Why is he no longer a member of the delegation?


My Lords, I think it would be invidious if I were to go into details of that kind—indeed, I have no idea. But may I call attention also to the other aspect of my reply—namely, that of the visiting delegation? Although I accept that membership of a delegation is not quite the same as serving upon a committee, nevertheless members of these delegations do sit in on the delegation meetings each morning. They are able to bring to bear the political insight which they acquire in the House, and I do not think their contribution should be overlooked.


My Lords, as a matter of information, may I ask whether the all-Party delegation includes Members of this House?


The answer to that is, "Yes", my Lords.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether sending out an all-Party delegation is not really treating the United Nations as a place for people to go and observe? Surely the object of having delegates—and I endorse every word which my noble friend Lord Harlech has said about the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell—is to treat the United Nations as a world Parliament, in which Parliamentarians sit on committees and work every day. I did it myself at one period. That is the interest they have. Surely, to treat the United Nations as it seems to me the present Government are treating it, as a place where members of delegations go and observe, or take some rather vague part for one week, is to reduce the status of the United Nations and the status of the delegation which represents Her Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I agree fully with what the noble Baroness has said about the contribution of my noble friend Lady Gaitskell. But I do not agree with what she says about the visiting delegation. The visit has had a two-way effect. First, there are more people in both Houses of Parliament here who know how the United Nations works. Secondly, they do take with them, not just a capacity to observe, but a good deal of Parliamentary experience which is available to the delegation when considering the business before the United Nations.


My Lords, may I ask this question? Do the members of a visiting delegation rank as delegates; do they go to committees: do they take part and vote during one week only and then disappear? What is their status as part of the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations?


My Lords, the answer is that they are not delegates—this, I agree, rather supports what the noble Baroness has said. They are observers.


My Lords, would the noble Lord consider, if there is an advantage in having a delegation of this sort to go out, combining the two types of representation, because I really think that to be a full delegate is absolutely essential for a Parliamentary representative?


Yes, my Lords. As I have already, said the visiting delegation which went out for the first time last year was most successful. And because everyone who has had any connection with the practice has said how successful it was, it is intended to continue it. But this afternoon there have been other expressions of opinion, and I shall certainly see that that opinion is considered by my right honourable friend.