HC Deb 01 March 1995 vol 255 cc1032-4
8. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he next plans to visit the United Nations in New York to discuss plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has no plans to visit the United Nations to discuss plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Minister as fed up as I am at right wingers such as Rosemary Righter of The Times using the 50th anniversary to rubbish the United Nations? Will the Government support the idea of a United Nations parliamentary assembly to bring some democratic accountability and scrutiny unto the United Nations system so that the agencies and the UN can be looked at by parliamentary representatives?

Mr. Hogg

I certainly deprecate efforts to rubbish the United Nations, although I am bound to say that I am not particularly troubled by the writings of the journalist to whom the hon. Gentleman referred. I did not find the hon. Gentleman's particular suggestion very constructive and I would not support it.

Mr. Jopling

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the United States ambassador to the United Nations, will he make clear the House's concern about proposals in the US Congress to reduce contributions to the United Nations, which would have a disastrous effect on peacekeeping around the world?

Mr. Hogg

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. The fact that the United States Congress proposes to put a cap on the peacekeeping contributions by the United States of 25 per cent. is unwelcome and I would hope that it might be possible to persuade Congress to take a different view.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

As the Minister knows, the cap to which he has referred takes effect on 1 October and is now part of the domestic legislation of the United States. Clearly much work must be done to persuade the members of the more Republican-dominated Congress that any further reduction would be substantially against the best interests of the United Nations and, indeed, those of the United States. May we assume that the Foreign Secretary will take the earliest opportunity to make those points—not to the American ambassador here in London, but to people on Capitol hill?

Mr. Hogg

I share the hon. and learned Gentleman's concern. The attitude of Congress towards peacekeeping is a matter of considerable anxiety to us all. Naturally, our ability to persuade the members of another legislature to change their minds is limited, but we shall try to find ways of expressing our anxiety about the approach to which the hon. and learned Gentleman refers.

Mr. Lester

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs conducted a serious study of the future of the United Nations, and as we travel around the world we find that the Canadians, Americans and Australians—and other countries and their Parliaments—have done the same. Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider setting up a conference—something short of a parliamentary assembly—enabling parliamentarians who produce serious reports about the future of the United Nations to meet and discover what common ground can be used to ensure the survival and better use of the United Nations in the next 50 years?

Mr. Hogg

I am not sure that I want to promote a large number of additional conferences, but my hon. Friend—and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)—made an important point in stressing the need to reinforce the basic propositions that the United Nations contributes to peace and stability in the world, that it will do so increasingly, and that the Security Council is working constructively and as it was intended to do for the first time since its foundation.

Mr. Cousins

I am sure that the whole House is thinking today of the Pakistani troops being withdrawn from Somalia. I echo what the Minister has said about peacekeeping, but will he acknowledge that there is now a real crisis in UN peacekeeping in Somalia, Angola, Burundi and Yugoslavia, with costs and material requirements rising five and sevenfold?

Will the Minister assure us that—Prime Minister to President—the House's view will be made clear that the dangerous right-wing UNO-sceptics in the American Congress who are imposing this limit on peacekeeping provision must not be allowed to prevail?

Mr. Hogg

As I have said, I consider the cap to be extremely unwelcome. I also believe that the United Nations has a major contribution to make to world peace and tranquility through peacekeeping, among other policy measures.

I do not believe that there is a crisis in peacekeeping of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has suggested. I see a fundamental difficulty, however, which I think will remain a difficulty for as far ahead as we can see. I refer to the unwillingness of member states—with which I have some sympathy—to put national troops into the front line when the nation in question has no direct interest in what is going on in the country experiencing civil strife. That is an inevitable fact of life of which account must be taken.

Mr. Fabricant

May I suggest that, instead of travelling 5,000 miles to New York to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, my right hon. and learned Friend should travel just 400 yards? Is he aware that the UN's first meeting was held in the Methodist central hall right here in London?

Mr. Hogg

Indeed I am, and perhaps I may take this opportunity to remind you, Madam Speaker, of the invitation for 26 June, which I know that you will accept.

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