HL Deb 20 March 1967 vol 281 cc528-31

2.46 p.m.


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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they were asked to give their approval to the composition of the United Nations Mission of three about to visit Aden, consisting of the national of one country which abstained, and two nationals of countries which supported the resolution in the United Nations Special Committee, which Her Majesty's Government have described as being virtually unprecedented and wholly objectionable in its discrimination.]


My Lords, in accordance with General Assembly resolution 2183 of December 12, 1966, the members of the United Nations Special Mission to South Arabia were appointed by the Secretary-General in consultation with Her Majesty's Government as the Administering Power and with the Committee of 24. Her Majesty's Government were not asked to give their approval; they were, however, consulted.


My Lords, is it not apparent that Britain stands in some danger of being double-crossed by the United Nations in this matter? Is it not a fact that Her Majesty's Government accepted the Mission presuming than it would be impartial? Is it not now a fact that the Commission is packed with representatives of countries which have expressed themselves as unwilling to hear any evidence about Egyptian terrorism? What further action do Her Majesty's Government intend to take in order to ensure that this Mission does not become merely a propaganda exercise against the interests of Britain?


My Lords, in answer to the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary—I think he uses strong language—it is probably true to say that the Committee of 24 steer a very careful course between partiality and impartiality in this matter. Nevertheless, the Mission which was eventually appointed is expected to be objective, and I think it would be wrong to question it in the way the noble Lord is now questioning it. So far as the latter part of his supplementary is concerned, we hope that the outcome of the Mission will be constructive.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not agree, having regard to the background of nationalities of two out of the three members of this Commission, that any report they make will have to be regarded with the greatest reservations?


My Lords, noble Lords opposite have had some experience of the difficulties in getting a balanced Mission on this international scale. In this matter it was hoped to get one member from Asia, another from Africa and another from Latin America. This we have succeeded in securing. The Mission will be landing in this country in the matter of an hour or so. It is on its way to Aden by way of Cairo and Jedda, and I should have thought that the best thing now would be to see what it does before making the sort of criticism which came from the lips of the noble Lord opposite.


My Lords, in view of the objections that were expressed by our representative at the meeting of the United Nations sub-committee, would my noble friend ensure that the United Nations Mission which is to proceed to Aden will be asked to agree to receive the eleven petitioners whose petitions were rejected by the Colonial Committee?


My Lords, it is not for me to say how the Mission should set about its work. But it will be conferring in London this evening; it will be meeting other interested people, as I said, both in Cairo and in Jedda, and I should hope it would get all the information necessary before reaching conclusions.


My Lords, does the noble Lord really think it possible for the Committee to steer a course between partiality and impartiality?


I was endeavouring to impart a little wit. I am sorry it is beyond the Liberal Benches to understand it.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether it is not the case that, in contrast with the opinions expressed on the other side of the House, this Mission has also been criticised in Cairo and by the nationalist leaders of Aden? Does not this suggest that it might make very useful impartial progress?


My Lords, it is true that no matter who was appointed to a body of this kind it would be open to be "shot at". As I said, the Mission is now on its way to take up what will be a most difficult assignment. The members have been appointed on their individual capacities, not as representatives of different countries. I should have thought that we should give it every encouragement, and let us see what happens.


My Lords, in view of these exchanges and the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, protested in very strong terms, and, according to the Press, has also written to the Secretary-General U Thant; and having regard also to the answers which the noble Lord gave, me last Wednesday or Thursday, is it not rather a pity that Her Majesty's Government, having made all these protests, should now to try to pretend that the Mission is likely to be impartial?


My Lords, I stated what I did state last week about the Committee of 24 and that behaviour. I made some reference to the Committee of 24 to-day, although I am sorry that what I said went above the heads of certain noble Lords. As I have already said, the Mission is on its way. To suggest at this stage that we should refuse permission for it to proceed to Aden would be simply to play into the hands of the terrorists. I should not have thought noble Lords opposite wanted Her Majesty's Government's policy to be determined by terrorist organisations.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree Her Majesty's Government would be exceedingly unhappy to see grow up a practice by which sovereign nations like ourselves would veto the personnel of these various Missions which are bound to be sent about the world from time to time?


My Lords, there can be no question of veto. As I have already indicated, I think it is very unlikely that in all cases all members of international bodies would be exactly of the type we ourselves would appoint.


My Lords, I trust the noble Lord's expression "open to be shot at" is not precognition.