The Commonwealth at the U.N.
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Nov 1960, p. 94-103

Tweedsmuir, Lady, Speaker
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Some of the speaker's impressions of an Assembly described by the Prime Minister as "this extraordinary and dramatic assembly." Some milestones for this Assembly of the United Nations. A review of the voting strength of the Commonwealth. A discussion of the United Nations achievements, and difficulties. Comments on Mr. Khrushchev's assault on the Secretary General and the structure of the United Nations. Problems confronting the United Nations in the Congo. The Commonwealth as a strengthener of the U.N. The issue of the cohesiveness of the Commonwealth in the U.N. The importance of making the United Nations work.
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17 Nov 1960
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Full Text
Thursday, November 17th, 1960
CHAIRMAN: The President, Alexander Stark, Q.C.

MR. STARK: It is fitting that our first Ladies' Day of the season should be addressed by Lady Tweedsmuir, one of the most distinguished British politicians who has many Canadian roots. Her husband, Lord Tweedsmuir, is the son of a very famous and beloved Governor-General of Canada, so well-known to us as John Buchan.

Lady Tweedsmuir comes to us from New York, where she is a member of the United Kingdom Mission to the United Nations, especially to address the Empire Club. For fifteen years she has been Conservative Member of Parliament for South Aberdeen, and her career has been a brilliant one.

Her maiden speech was made in a debate on economic planning, when she spoke of the difficulties which beset women in industry, faced with double duties at home and in business. She has returned to this subject more than once, for she feels strongly that woman's first duty is to the family. She knows the problem at first hand, for she is the mother of two daughters by her first marriage, and she and Lord Tweedsmuir have a daughter born in 1949. She herself has combined three careers successfully. She runs her home and is a Member of Parliament; and in March, 1951, she joined the board of a public relations firm. For three years previous to that, she had been one of the Governors of the British Film Institute. In addition, she writes frequently in the press and in periodicals.

She is well-known as a lecturer in Britain, in Europe, and in the United States. She is widely travelled, having visited many parts of the Commonwealth, Indonesia, Egypt, and many European countries. In 1955 she was a member of the Parliamentary delegation which visited the West Indies.

Lady Tweedsmuir has long been interested in international affairs. She attended the Hague Congress in 1948. She has made a special study of German problems and of Anglo-American relations. She is presently fulfilling important responsibilities on behalf of the United Kingdom by her attendance at the United Nations.

In the 1953-54 session of Parliament, she piloted through the House of Commons a Private Member's Bill which reached the Statute Book as the Protection of Birds Act, 1954. The Act clarifies former legislation, repealing and consolidating twenty-six former measures, some of which date back 200 years. Lord Tweedsmuir, himself an ornithologist, sponsored the Bill in the House of Lords: this is only the second time in Parliamentary history that a husband and wife have been responsible for the passage of an Act in both Houses of Parliament.

In November, 1957, Lady Tweedsmuir was chosen to move the Address in Reply to the Queen's Speech on the opening of Parliament. This was the second time that a woman had been given this honour. Her recreations include swimming, stalking, and photography. Thus, her career is varied, fascinating, and brilliant. It is a great honour to now present to you Lady Tweedsmuir, who will address us on the subject, "The Commonwealth at the U.N.".

LADY TWEEDSMUIR: I do want to thank you very much for a warm welcome because it makes me feel a bit better. I think you will understand it is not very easy to be billed on the ticket for this meeting as the daughter-in-law of a well-beloved Governor-General. It is also, I think you will agree, not very easy to come back to this Club after having spoken here, I think, nine years ago. Then I spoke together with my husband, but now I have to do it alone. He is not coming to Toronto for about ten days, but he asked me to say that if any of his friends were here, he sends you all good wishes and hopes he will be able to meet you.

Now, I chose the topic of United Nations and the Commonwealth because, as your President has rightly said, I have been doing nothing else but thinking about the United Nations for three solid months. And, of course, this is quite the most crucial session that the United Nations has ever held.

I felt that you might perhaps be interested if I tried to give you some impressions of an Assembly which was described by our Prime Minister as "this extraordinary and dramatic assembly". Of course that is exactly what it has been this year.

To begin with, I think the fate of the United Nations in many people's minds does hang in the balance this year. It has never been so much attacked.

Secondly, never before have we had such vast issues at stake. Also, for the first time in its history, it has over fifty heads of government and state visiting together at the same time.

And then, of course, as you know, at this session we had the largest number of members we have ever had. Ninety-nine countries--including those we welcomed this yearthe fifteen new African states and Cyprus. You will, of course, recall that each nation has one vote, regardless of population.

I thought it might be interesting if I just read out to you what the voting strength is at this particular moment in the United Nations from a geographical point of view. That is not to say that states always vote together because of their geographical area or because of their ethnic racial groups, but you will appreciate that there is very strong persuasion on them to do so.

Now, we have twenty-one African States. We have fifteen Asian states, nine Arab, nine Soviet bloc (who, of course, always vote together solidly), seventeen European, twenty Latin-American, the old Commonwealth five, the United States one, and two countries that have been unable to fit in geographically, except in the Middle East-Israel and Cyprus.

I find--I don't know whether you agree--that the attitude of many countries toward the United Nations often varies as to whether they find that the United Nations helps or retards some national desire.

The Untied Nations is often accused of being biassed, impotent, or lagging, but the reasons for failure to act swiftly or to achieve some advance toward peace are not due to the power of, or to the very controversial structure of the United Nations. It is due to the simple fact that the United Nations reflects the world political struggle for power, and the mere act of gathering together in one large assembly hall is quite useless unless there is a majority desire to try to reduce differences.

That is why people often say, "Well, why have the United Nations? Will it ever work?"

Of course that is the big question which is with us every day down in New York.

Personally, I am an optimist. This is my first Assembly, and when I first saw it, I must confess, I wondered how any assembly could possibly come about at all--so very wide and deep appeared the interests of all those present.

But on the other hand, one could say that in a way it is an achievement even to agree to meet and discuss these differences, however acute. Let us not under-estimate the value of the United Nations as a safety valve.

There is, I think, no other form that we can at present conceive in which the leaders of ninety-nine countries could meet together at the same time. What we must do is try to invest this world body with greater authority.

I have myself always had a life-long belief in the value of personal contact. If this is true in personal relations, it must also be true in international affairs. These ninety-nine countries come together in order that the leaders of these nations should have a chance to learn a little about how each others' minds work and why. One should know what makes various countries tick, what are the suspicions and fears and doubts and what are their ambitions. I think that, quite apart from the debates in the assembly halls, the personal contacts that go on throughout the period of three months are of value.

Speaking of that sort of thing, your Canadian delegation gave the most marvellous Hallowe'en party, and they asked people not according to protocol, but because they thought the people who came would be fun. The result was that we had the most marvellous evening and indeed, night; and at two or three in the morning, you could have seen the representatives, including those of the Soviet bloc, dancing all kinds of square dances, according to their own arrangements. It was, I think, a very valuable experience. At any rate, you knew the person you met that evening couldn't quite have all the imperfections which his enemies said he had.

The United Nations has, of course, grave difficulties, but don't let us forget the very solid achievements which it has to offer-those which do not reach the headlines. There is UNESCO, the WHO, the Technical Assistance Programmes, the Refugees, and much else, and all have meant some improvement in social and economic conditions. And maybe one day, prompted by the greatest problems of our time, we shall be driven to agreement by a common wish to survive.

Mr. Chairman, in my opinion the visit of the heads of government gave great stature and authority to the United Nations, but I must confess that that was not the general view of the permanent diplomatic commission who, I think, heaved a sigh of relief when the great departed.

To me, of course, it was an absolutely fascinating experience and extremely instructive. I was there throughout the debate when Mr. Khrushchev took part, using both old methods and new. I was there when Mr. Diefenbaker gave a really fine speech and a great lead. I believe some of you heard our Prime Minister, and I think he, too, if I may say so, showed leadership that day.

Now, Mr. Khrushchev's assault on the Secretary General and the structure of the United Nations was, without doubt, damaging. For the United Nations is only as strong as the will and effort of its members. The Soviet leader's idea is to create a three-man Secretariat to represent various existing blocs of nations-a system which would not only perpetuate present political divisions, but also destroy the concept of the United Nations Civil Service as being dedicated not to national, but to international interests.

The attack on the Secretary General, of course, put Mr. Hammarskjold in a very delicate position, indeed. I am not going to deal with the most controversial question before him now--that of the Congo--because if I were to do so in detail we should be here all night. The one thing I admire about this particular Club, from past memory, is the way you eat your lunch, hear a speaker, and depart in three-quarters of an hour. I promise you I am not going to be too long.

One must, however, say just one thing in trying to sum up the question of the Congo. I think perhaps it is enough to state the problems there confronting the United Nations are really the crucible of all United Nations' problems anywhere. First, there is the inadequacy of the United Nations force and the enormous cost which the Soviet refuses to pay.

Secondly, there is the problem of continuing the cold war-in this case out of Africa.

Thirdly, there are the daily decisions as to how the United Nations can be impartial and yet maintain law and order while not interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

These are the hourly dilemmas that confront the United Nations.

Now, at a time when some people seem to be trying to paralyze the United Nations or use it for their own ends or use it to inflame rather than to reduce international tensions, the existence of a group like the Commonwealth which does not identify itself with any particular bloc, should strengthen the United Nations. If it can judge problems on their merits, if it can respect the rule of law and keep high standards of international consultation, it must be of value.

When I last spoke here in 1951, there were eight members of the Commonwealth. As you know, there are now eleven, sovereign and independent, and the Commonwealth is still growing. We hope that before long it will be joined by Sierra Leone, the West Indies, and territories in East Africa. It is not impractical to recall to our minds that the Commonwealth today represents over a quarter of the world's population; and certainly it is unique in that it is the only association which, having members in every continent except South America, cuts across all racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious boundaries. The existence of the Commonwealth in the United Nations has so far been recognized by the provision on the Security Council and ESCO, the Economic and Social Council of the Commonwealth, and also by representatives allotted to the general committee.

Now, people often ask, in a world where the Communist bloc votes solidly and is so highly organized, should the Commonwealth not try to mould itself together into a more compact body, able to take decisions more swiftly?

Well, you cannot do that with eleven sovereign and independent states. I will also say there is nothing greater than a decision come to voluntarily by eleven nations that are independent and flung across the world. That decision, backed by the will of those people, will be something far more practicable than the will of nine nations, however great the Soviet bloc and however rigid their discipline.

Of course, a great deal is done in the United Nations, as you can imagine, to try to have regular meetings in which things are very frankly discussed, on the pattern of the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meetings. The object of them is that if they cannot always agree to take a line together in the United Nations, at any rate the problem should be threshed out beforehand in a small group. In that way, the attitudes are perfectly well understood, and misunderstandings do not arise. It is from the little misunderstandings that the great arguments follow.

As you know, the United Nations is at present overshadowed by the debate over nationalism and colonialism. These are certainly emotional matters which often drive out all rational thought. I do not think that the Commonwealth is the outstanding example in the contemporary world of the possibility of solving colonial problems without fuss; and it is a proof that after achieving independence, the former colonial territories can still find it helpful to go on maintaining their relationship with the former administrating country and get all kinds of aid, such as in the Colombo Plan.

On the other hand, the complete independence of Commonwealth members of the United Nations is proved by their debates which are on record at the United Nations. I should have thought it was the best possible refutation of the charges against colonialism which still persist after the achievement of total independence.

Now, as you know, there is a big debate pending at the United Nations on a Soviet item which asks for the granting of immediate independence to all colonial peoples. The Afro-Asians are clearly anxious that they, rather than the Soviets, should take the lead in the United Nations in urging independence of the remaining colonial territories, and it is a perfectly understandable and legitimate objective with which the United Kingdom is obviously in agreement.

The Russians will, no doubt, try to use it for cold war propaganda and will, in return, get the counter-charge of their brand of colonialism. But the Asian and African members of the Commonwealth are in the forefront of those United Nations members who want a responsible and constructive approach to the question, and they are at this moment in the process of drafting a resolution of their own.

On this, I would just like to say that since the Second World War, a quarter of the world's population which was formerly administered by Great Britain, has become independent. We have always tried to carry out one main objective, and that is that the granting of self-government shall, in fact, mean the granting of responsible government; that the economy of the countries concerned shall be stable; that there shall be provision for the respect of minorities; and that there has been some experience in government and in running the civil service.

Now, if the Commonwealth group in the United Nations is less cohesive than many of us would hope, this, like many other forces of the United Nations, merely reflects the facts of life in the world at large. There is no magic that makes the Commonwealth work as the effective force it is. If it is to do so, it requires a consistent effort and, indeed, occasionally sacrifice, by every one of the members. With the changing composition of the Commonwealth, it is more than ever important that it lead in close consultation and that the working out of the greatest possible degree of agreement in policies should not largely and only be taken by the United Kingdom. There is here great responsibility and immense opportunity for the other older members of the Commonwealth and the junior ones as they come along, and in this, of course, Canada has naturally a very large part to play. We have all of us a real job to do, every single one of us in this room, whether in private or in public life. The actions of government can only come about when they are upheld and supported in a free democracy by the understanding will and effort of each citizen.

I think we have a great deal to do in spreading a thorough knowledge of the facts of the modern Commonwealth and the part it can play in this world organization to which we have set our hands. There is, of course, no more suitable organization to do that than the Empire Club of Canada.

But somehow we have got to make the United Nations work. I believe that the new member states need this organization very much and I think they will use the power of their vote to do what they can to make it work. But, of course, it can all too easily go the other way. It can be controlled and used by the unscrupulous for their own ends, and all of us must guard that the United Nations does not have two standards--one for the law-abiding and one for those who treat it with indifference.

If we are discouraged or anxious about it-which is not unnatural after only fifteen years of its life-and if we cannot reach agreement on very much of this session, at least we will have done something if at the end of the Fifteenth General Assembly we can say in the words of our Prime Minister that "we did try our best to make a sustained effort to agree."

It is true that the 1960 assembly has not achieved very much so far, but maybe that Assembly has prevented far worse from happening. A large part has been a stalemate due in great measure to the American elections and to the fact that Mr. Khrushchev refused to take any constructive part whatsoever in disarmament, saying he would not negotiate with any one except the new President when he takes office in January.

Whatever may happen with the new administration in your great neighbour south of the border, there is one thing which I think must be quite clear to us all. This is that the new President-elect is of a younger, newer generation. He will look at every one of us with fresh eyes and not least, the Commonwealth, and whatever we may have achieved together in the past, there can be no resting on the record. We must make fresh marks on history and, indeed, nothing ever--particularly in the world of politics--can be taken for granted, and even alliances, like friendships, must always be kept in good repair.

We have such a lot to do, each one of us, in the battle of minds because it does belong to each of us to participate. Above all, we must somehow meet the longing among ordinary folk for peace, for a nominal peace, and perhaps allow also for time to be given-time to think out the very deepest problems of human beings: what is the reason for their short sojourn here on earth at all?

That being so, I think that any instrument that we have at hand like the United Nations, must give us some chance to edge toward agreement, and perhaps over the months and over the years to get some better mutual understanding even though we have so little time. Remember that even with the fearful possibility of the misuse of nuclear power, the story of the world is a long one. If we can look at our generation in relation to the historical continuity of our countries, I think we have some hope for the future.

Therefore, I would only say that I am still an optimist. I am also hopeful that something lasting and of value will come out of all this because I do not forget that in the House of Commons, where views, as you know, are passionately held, it is nevertheless possible to reach a collective judgment. Therefore, maybe in the end, out of all this turmoil, we shall reach a common cause and work for that. This seems to me a job well worth doing.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Z. S. Phimister.

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The Commonwealth at the U.N.

Some of the speaker's impressions of an Assembly described by the Prime Minister as "this extraordinary and dramatic assembly." Some milestones for this Assembly of the United Nations. A review of the voting strength of the Commonwealth. A discussion of the United Nations achievements, and difficulties. Comments on Mr. Khrushchev's assault on the Secretary General and the structure of the United Nations. Problems confronting the United Nations in the Congo. The Commonwealth as a strengthener of the U.N. The issue of the cohesiveness of the Commonwealth in the U.N. The importance of making the United Nations work.