HL Deb 14 January 1987 vol 483 cc590-619

5.34 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby rose to call attention to changes in Britain's commitment to international institutions, and to the consequences for Britain's influence on world affairs and the prospects for peaceful co-operation; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Ever since men began to live together attempts have been made through various agencies to develop means of cooperation between them. Right from the days of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia attempts have been made, sometimes by force, to collect people together into co-operative units. The great Mediterranean civilisations of Greece and Rome followed the same type of endeavour—again, often with the use of force but not always—with the objective of getting communities to live and work together. The same kind of events were happening in India and China at the same time.

Following that period there were the great Arab empires, also around the Mediterranean and stretching into Asia. Moreover, one should not forget—and many people in this country either do forget or never knew—that the same kind of progression was developing in Africa at the same time. There were empires in Africa. There were the empires of Ghana, of Songhai Mali and Monomatapa. All these endeavours were to get people, by some means or other, to work together for single aims. They were all supranational endeavours.

Perhaps the best and most successful of these attempts can be seen as that of Latin Christendom in Europe during what are called the European Middle Ages—a common language, a common faith, a common church, movement across boundaries and a common community. At the same time so was Islam endeavouring to achieve the same objectives around North Africa and into the Iberian Peninsula. The same attempts were being made during that period in Asia.

However, in the 16th century there was a development which still continues and which constantly threatens the attempts to get communities to work together. I refer to the development or concept of the sovereign state. So we find that there followed a period in which the world was largely under the domination of great powers such as the Iberians, the Dutch, the British, the French, the Hapsburgs, the Ottomans and the Russians with very little attempt to develop any form of international co-operative movement.

After the Napoleonic wars there was a specific attempt in Europe—perhaps the first specific endeavour made in modern times—to get a form of international order and a form of international law. Following the Congress of Vienna and its succeeding congresses, what was known as the Concert of Europe was established. It did not last, but it was attempted. One could perhaps also say that of the Berlin conference later in the century although that had a different characteristic and a different dimension in that it was largely based on the division of the Western world between the European imperial powers. However, there was again an attempt to get some form of order accepted between them.

So we come to our modern organisations: first, the League of Nations after the First World War, and then the United Nations—both of them with many weaknesses and many mistakes, but nonetheless human organisations. The case that I want to argue tonight is that with all their faults, all their weaknesses and all their mistakes those are the types of institution which alone can save mankind for a healthy future.

Nor should one forget that since the end of the war, when the United Nations was established, there have been other attempts on a regional basis, such as the Organization of African Unity, the European Community, the Organization of African States and the South-East Asia Treaty Organization, to bring people together for common objectives. I suggest that out of this history one can identify a specific choice between mutuality and polarity, between co-operation and conflict. I believe that that is the choice that lies before mankind today.

In our own generation we have seen the large nations of Europe and the Atlantic bound together in a military alliance, which was unfortunately all too quickly broken at the end of the war. Yet out of that alliance there arose the United Nations, which was again an attempt to establish international law and to establish an organisation in which disputes, quarrels and conflicts could be settled internationally rather than on the basis of national sovereignty. Unfortunately that hope very soon deteriorated into the cold war and into the concept, which I believe the Government have taken up much too readily, that the world is divided between two super powers who are the determinants of everything important that happens in the world.

However, if one looks back over the past 20 years, does one not see that this bipolarity has been crumbling ever since the 1960s? During the 1970s the word detente became not only popular but realistic for the first time since the cold war began. One can mark this period with successes in understanding, partial though they may be, between the major powers: at Helsinki in 1975 and at Reykjavik in 1986. Despite the coming together in understanding of the two great super powers to an extent never seen since before the cold war, there are still in the world those strong forces which, in American parlance, believe in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, which in America is commonly and rightly known as MAD.

So far as concerns the United Nations, I speak with the full authority of the Labour Party, of which I am a member, because the Labour Party has written into its constitution pledges supporting the international idea and the United Nations in particular. I shall quote just one of the key objectives as stated in the constitution; namely, to: Support the United Nations Organisation and its various agencies, and other international organisations for the promotion of peace; the adjustment and settlement of international disputes by conciliation or judicial arbitration; the establishment and defence of human rights; and the improvement of the social and economic standards and conditions of work of the people of the world". I believe that that declaration represents not just a pious hope but the international character of the British Labour movement.

However, it has too frequently seemed that the Government have been reluctant to accept (and sometimes they have downright sabotaged) institutions of international endeavour; yet they have accepted the concept of super power division of the world and have increasingly hung on to the coat-tails of the United States. For example, the specialised agencies of the United Nations, which are of major importance—and I have frequently raised the issue of the International Fund for Agricultural Development as a good example—have been neglected and starved of funds and yet these agencies are the basic agencies for development, humanitarianism and emergency relief in the world.

And what about the peace-keeping force? The United Nations was set up also to keep the peace. Why are there no peace-keeping forces? Why has it never been suggested? Why have the British Government never taken the initiative to suggest that there ought to be a peace-keeping force—perhaps more than one peace-keeping force—in Southern Africa to protect our friends in the front line states against the constant attacks and sabotage from South Africa? Similarly, in Central America, why has there not been any attempt made to mobilise a peace-keeping force to protect the people of Nicaragua?

I cannot go through the whole history of the Government's relations with the United Nations, but it is obvious to anyone who follows that history that frequently this Government have flouted the decisions of the General Assembly. Moreover, Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council, and ten times in five years, from 1981 to 1986, the Government have used the veto on Security Council resolutions, usually on Southern Africa.

Then, what can be said about UNESCO? It was a sad day in the history of this country when the Government took Britain out of UNESCO, which was one of the major attempts made to collect together education, science and culture throughout the world on an international basis. The Government followed the example of the Reagan Administration: But there was a more menacing dimension that came into the decision to withdraw from UNESCO, and I refer particularly to the work of the Heritage Foundation. Two years ago some of us met Gough Whitlam, the former Prime Minister of Australia, who was then the Australian Ambassador to UNESCO, and the stories that he told us—all of them corroborated—of the work of the Heritage Foundation in persuading leading politicians and the media in this country to withdraw from UNESCO make reading that could have been written by John Le Carré.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships that the Heritage Foundation in the United States, which urged President Reagan to speed up the arms race, to end disarmament talks with the Soviet Union, to increase paramilitary action against foreign governments and to defy SALT II is an organisation that has its own associated organisation in this country; namely, the Institute for European Defence and Strategic Studies. Those stories of wining and dining and the pressures brought to bear on leading politicians and media personnel in this country over UNESCO is something that I believe the Government should look at very closely because that infant organisation in this country is accepted by the Charity Commissioners as a charity.

The British Government have equally refused to sign the United Nations convention on the law of the sea. Why? Surely that convention is based upon a fair share of the wealth of the sea bed. Is that not a worthy international objective? Is it not crucial for this country's future economic prosperity which depends upon international co-operation?

What about the Commonwealth? The Conservative Party used to claim to be the major supporter of the Commonwealth. Let us look at what has happened over the past year. There was Nassau. In a minority of one, or perhaps with one or two satellites supporting them against the whole weight of opinion in the Commonwealth, the Government disagreed with the imposition of sanctions on South Africa. There was a rejection of the Commonwealth's proposition for changes in the world's financial institutions and a rejection of the report of the Eminent Persons Group, which Nassau set up.

It is a similar case with the EC. There was similar opposition to the weight of opinion favouring the use of sanctions to undermine the policy of apartheid. Surely the Government will agree that there is a crying and ever-increasing need for international action in the world in which we live for global arms control, for the control of environmental pollution, acid rain, lead in petrol, radioactive discharge and industrial effluent. After Chernobyl, surely the need for international action is apparent to everyone. It is needed to face the debt crisis which shapes not just the third world but a great deal of the developed economy; to meet the famine conditions which have spread throughout Africa and parts of Asia over the past five years; for the task of economic reconstruction and particularly for the finding of jobs when 16 million people are out of work in the EC (6 million under the age of 25); and for the provision of technology and equipment not just for the third world but to help international recovery.

What have the Government done about that when a quarter of the world's population is living in poverty? They have cut aid during their lifetime by 20 per cent. They refuse to give any extra aid to combat the African famine; they reject the two Brandt Commission reports prepared by highly distinguished international economists and politicians, and they have done nothing about one of the central issues of the economic weakness in the world—the varying price of commodities.

Our generation faces a challenge which has never had to be faced before by mankind—just the pace of change. It could well be that the pace of change is so rapid that man will not be able to provide the answers quickly enough for his self-preservation. It could be that by mistake, miscalculation, accident or madness our nuclear age could end the existence of mankind on this planet. The only protection against those dangers is the mutuality in mankind's history of which I have spoken. It is essential for survival. Polarity, conflict and competition between sovereign nation states and insistence on national sovereignty may be fatal to mankind.

Only genuine international co-operation expressed through international institutions can give us, our children and our grandchildren any reasonable hope of life on this planet into the next century. That will be based upon a common security—security between East and West and security between North and South—in which Britain should be playing a full and complete role, because that is in the interests of our people as well as those of the rest of the human race.

It is the Government's job to build confidence between nations and people. They have had an opportunity through UNESCO, through the British Council and through the external services, but aid to them all has been cut. I suggest that by their lack of enthusiasm and frequent opposition to the international organisations upon which mankind's future depends, the British Government are doing the British people and the rest of the human race a grave disservice.

5.56 p.m.

Lord McNair

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, not just on his luck in the ballot but on his speech, with a good deal of which I was delighted to find I could agree. I also owe him an apology. I may have slightly misunderstood his Motion. I hope that neither he nor the rest of your Lordships will find my speech too esoteric, because I want to remind the House and the Government of our commitment to one particular international institution. It is called UNRWA. For the benefit of noble Lords with long memories, I should explain that it has nothing to do with an earlier UNRRA which did its essential work among displaced persons in the chaotic aftermath of the second world war. That was the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. The one about which I want to speak is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East which was established originally in 1950 as a purely temporary institution. It was the collective response of the United Nations to the painful consequences of our relinquishing the mandate in Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel, and of the unsuccessful attempt by Israel's Arab neighbours to prevent its creation.

All those events were highly controversial. One obtains a starkly different narrative and opinion according to whom one asks. I do not want to re-open old wounds or blow on the embers of past arguments. I believe that the minimum requirement of honesty is that anyone who touches on those subjects should make his position clear, at least in outline.

I first became closely involved in the problems of the Middle East about seven years ago when the Council of Europe's Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography handed me as rapporteur the simple task of writing a report on Palestinian refugees which had to be "non-political".

My study of the UN Yearbooks for 1947 to 1950, my visits to the refugee camps in all the areas of UNRWA's operations, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, my conversations with representatives of all the governments concerned and with many Palestinians, left me convinced, as I had been beforehand, of three things: first, that the events of 1933 to 1945 in Europe had made the creation of the state of Israel inevitable and wholly desirable; secondly, that the Arabs made a fatal miscalculation in not accepting the partition plan which was offered to them by the United Nations and at least trying to make it work; and thirdly, that in a situation where every single party has made mistakes, it is outrageous that the consequences of those mistakes should be visited upon the children and grandchildren of some of those who made them.

I also became convinced at that time, as perhaps I had not been before, that the Palestinian Arabs must not indefinitely be denied a homeland, some adequate territory which they can regard as home and within which they can exercise the same sovereign rights of self-government as every other country. To discuss that question in detail belongs to another debate, a debate which I hope we may one day have, but it does not belong to this evening.

I must get back to UNRWA. Perhaps I should add that I am still closely in touch with the agency, as chairman of the Middle East Sub-Committee of the British Refugee Council. UNRWA started at the very end of 1949 as a typical emergency operation, supplying food, tents and blankets to about two million refugees who were then in the direst need. Its mandate has been renewed periodically by the General Assembly. It operates in five different geographical areas, in Jordan, Syria, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and, most critically of all, in the Lebanon. It has a little over two million registered refugees of whom just over a third live in camps. It is noteworthy, perhaps, that this is the only substantial body of refugees, so far as I know, which is not the responsibility of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. In that respect, UNRWA is unique.

Moreover, in the course of these nearly 40 years, while the Palestinians and the rest of the world have waited for a just solution to their problems—essentially the problem of a people without a country—the needs of its clients have changed and the agency has altered the nature and emphasis of its operations to meet those needs. Thus, today, we find it operating 635 schools for 350,000 pupils and eight vocational training centres for nearly 5,000 older pupils.

So much for education, which is UNRWA's most important and most expensive activity. However, it also has to run 98 health centres which deal with 4¼ million patient visits a year, as well as 94 supplementary feeding centres for just over 100,000 of the neediest of the refugees. I said that education is UNRWA's most important function. I think this is true, though in no way would I wish to downgrade the importance of the health service which has rightly a very strong preventive element.

Now, about the schools. I wish that every one of your Lordships could have a chance to visit them. You would see 10,000 teachers, all Palestinians, working under conditions which would provoke an immediate walk-out almost anywhere else. Nearly all the schools have to operate a shift system with one set of children coming in the morning and another in the afternoon. You would also see in the children themselves a thirst for knowledge which would make any member of any of our teacher unions green with envy. Discipline is no problem. The punishment for misbehaviour is not being allowed to come to school the next day. That threat is enough to ensure good behaviour. The end product is, I think, as good an education as you can get in that part of the world.

Before I come to Britain's commitment to UNRWA, may I suggest an additional reason why that commitment must be maintained and, I would hope, increase? The humanitarian reasons surely speak for themselves. But, additionally, one has to appreciate that over the years, UNRWA has turned into what one could almost describe as a de facto quasi-governmental authority. By that, I mean that it is supplying to the refugees many of those services which ordinary people expect to get from their governments—a rudimentary health service and a more than rudimentary educational service. This means that when the day comes, as I hope it will, when the Palestinians can order their own affairs within their own territory, they will find a substantial part of the essential social infrastructure waiting for them more or less ready made. The contribution which that will make to the viability of the Palestinian state is surely obvious.

What of our commitment? I am glad to assure the noble Baroness that it is no part of my purpose to accuse the Government of excessive meanness. I fully understand the innumerable demands made on our aid programme. But perhaps I could first explain, for the benefit of other noble Lords—and I am sure the noble Baroness knows all about it—how UNRWA's finances are assembled. Quite unlike the UNHCR, it is funded by special contributions which are announced at an annual pledging conference of donor countries in New York. Its budget for last year amounted to 156 million dollars. The United States is, as one would expect, far and away the largest donor, contributing nearly half the total. There are some rather moving token contributions from small places remote from the Middle East-1,000 dollars, for example, from Burma, and 500 dollars from Panama. There is a growing generous and most welcome contribution from Japan, making that country the second largest donor at a figure of 14½ million dollars.

From all the Arab states added together, UNRWA receives a mere 3½ million dollars. Although the historical reasons for this modesty are easy to understand, I have to confess that I sometimes wistfully wish that those who finance the PLO would divert one-tenth of those funds to UNRWA. It would solve UNRWA's problems overnight, and some may agree with me that it would do more to help the Palestinians than any number of Kalashnikovs and Katynshas. From the list of donors there are some notable absentees. Not a single kopeck comes from the USSR or the Eastern bloc.

Now, what of the United Kingdom? If you add to our national contribution our share of the contribution made by the European Community, we just squeeze ahead of Norway and Sweden into third place. We seem to have got stuck. I think it is six years since we made any increase in our pledge. This means that as a percentage of the total it is going down, since UNRWA is as subject to inflation as anybody else. I said I was not accusing the Government of excessive meanness and I repeat that, but I do wonder whether possibly 1987 might be the year in which we consider an upward revision of our national contribution. If that is ruled impossible, perhaps the Government might consider funding or helping to fund one of the special projects for which UNRWA from time to time has to make special appeals.

I could have made a whole speech about the appalling difficulties being experienced in the Lebanon—the destruction of installations and the death of many of devoted employees. There has been a special appeal for reconstruction work in the Lebanon.

In conclusion, I was heartened to see a letter from an official of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office which said that the ODA was in touch with UNRWA about contributing to one of its special appeals. If the noble Baroness could tell me that such contact is heading for a happy ending, then, when I go out to face the rigours of the outside world tonight, I shall be a happier man than when I came here this morning.

6.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Derby

My Lords, some of you may have seen a recent television programme which showed and interpreted a gathering of the World Wildlife Fund at Assisi. It was presided over by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and it was held at Assisi because of the special relationship which St. Francis had to animals and his care for them. What made this gathering so unusual and remarkable was that the World Wildlife Fund had succeeded in bringing to the gathering representatives of all the larger Christian Churches from all the continents, together with leaders of the other main world religions.

One commentator, the son of an Anglican clergyman who had been much involved in arranging the conference, said rightly that the Churches themselves would not have initiated or achieved such a gathering. In the future, as Christian ecumenism and interfaith dialogue progress, the Churches may do so, but here was a voluntary secular organisation leading international Churches and faiths in producing world unity around a shared concern.

That recent event, along with other considerations, stirs my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, for introducing this timely debate. By contrast, a letter to the Guardian of 31st December 1986 referred to a disturbing situation. Among the signatories were the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York and other Members of this House. The letter drew attention to the damage being done by the Heritage Foundation of the United States of America to the United Nations Organisation and its specialised agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has given us some of the facts contained in that letter, and so I shall not repeat what he said or quote from it.

It is a sad reflection that from one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world there should be concerted and sustained attacks on the very organisations which seek to promote co-operation, mutual respect and peace. Thus, there is all the more reason that Britain's commitment to the United Nations Organisation and its specialised agencies should be seen to be firm and strong.

In the complex world in which we live today, it is essential that there be organised international fora where nations, large and small, can meet to exchange ideas and share problems and difficulties. No one nation can expect, nor should it expect, that its policies which affect others should go unchallenged. Sadly, it is this very challenging of the stronger by the weaker which has led in some instances to a lessening of commitment by the more powerful nations.

In the early days of international organisations, most of which date from the 1940s, there was a more clublike atmosphere. Large numbers of nations had as yet to gain independence, and the idea of inter-independence was much less generally accepted than it is today.

It is a temptation to think that it is only the threat and fear of nuclear warfare that keeps nations communicating with each other. While that threat and fear may be real, there are many more positive and hopeful reasons for nations to meet and work together, such as cultural exchange, travel, which widens mental horizons and opens eyes to common hopes and aspirations, and the sharing of skills, experience and resources, which happens particularly through the specialised international agencies. One thinks immediately of those which deal with famine and disasters and the exchange of educational and scientific knowledge in a search for fuller human development. Many more reasons could be mentioned, but there are areas of international cooperation in which the Christian Churches are particularly active.

Like the noble Lord, Lord McNair, I find myself having to be selective in material in such a widely drawn Motion. First, there is the co-operation of the Churches on an international basis. The Church of England, like the Church of Scotland and the major evangelical Free Churches of this country, is a founder member of the World Council of Churches. In that organisation our role has changed and modified over the years in ways not unlike Britain's in the secular sphere.

From having had in the early days a more dominant role in a smaller more compact organisation, we have had to learn, not always with ease, that smaller Churches and Churches from different traditions may have very different but equally valid perspectives on topics of common importance. Sometimes, rather strong conflicting opinions are held, but the importance of being in dialogue is always paramount and when resolution is achieved, as it often is, we have found that trust and mutual respect are strengthened.

The basis of all this is that men and women of whatever race or colour are our brothers and sisters. Their experience and their views can be as valid as our own. Belonging with them to a universal society is bound to impose restraint on any infallible nationalism. The Roman Catholic Church is the most effective symbol that there is of world unity. All its parts depend on one another and learn from one another.

I want to pay tribute to the difficult and painstaking work done by the department of the World Council of Churches dealing with international affairs, the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, work on peace and disarmament, defending human rights and religious liberty and playing a part, often off the record, in the resolution of conflicts. One Church alone could not undertake these activities, nor hope to have the variety of perspectives required, but an international Christian agency, informed by and accountable to its member Churches, can do this on behalf of all.

Alongside the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches, each group of Christians has its own international organisation. Methodism has worldwide links; Lutherans and Presbyterians have world federations; the Churches of England, Wales and Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church have the Anglican Consultative Council, which gives a world expression of Anglicanism between the Lambeth conferences of Bishops which are held every 10 years. The next will be held in 18 months' time and its membership will be more diverse in race and language even than in 1978.

Obviously these smaller bodies have a more familiar and family atmosphere because each group has its historic roots. However, even in this atmosphere there are areas which lend themselves to disagreement and take time, understanding and patience to resolve. Anglicans in the Falkland Islands and in the Argentine still have need to speak a word of reconciliation to one another and to us.

Within all international Christian gatherings one of the dominant issues today is that of South Africa. Anglicans are particularly proud that one of the leading and most outspoken critics of apartheid is the Archbishop of the Anglican Province of South Africa, the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu. I am sure that many of your Lordships would want to join me in honouring this great leader for justice, whose patience, long suffering and recognition of the Christian faith of his opponents is so remarkable.

Reference to Archbishop Tuto leads me to the second area of international co-operation on which I want to speak briefly; namely, the Commonwealth. Here I am bound to repeat some of what the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, has already said. It was with the profoundest regret and sorrow that the Churches in this country witnessed the inability of Her Majesty's Government to accept and implement the findings of the Eminent Persons Group set up at Nassau because the Government could not accept the proposals of the other Commonwealth members. It is sad that our country should be the one to reject the bulk of such a distinguished Commonwealth report. The Commonwealth is a family institution. All its members share a common language and much common history. The very uniqueness of it makes it essential that Britain encourages and enables all its work and plays a positive and active role in its life.

In closing let me say how much I earnestly hope that this country will increase its commitment to all international organisations, be they the Commonwealth or the United Nations Organisation and its agencies. Let us be seen as a nation which listens sensitively, acts wisely and works for the benefit of all humanity. That is the way of true greatness for this generation.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I appreciate the dispensation to speak from the Privy Council Benches not as a Front Bench spokesman but in a personal capacity as Chairman of the United Nations Association. That is an all-party body of which my noble friend Lord Caradon and the noble Baroness Lady Elliot—who was here until a few moments ago—are our honorary presidents. I too thank my noble friend Lord Hatch for opening the debate this evening.

In a few minutes I can do no more than sketch the outlines of a speech. Let me, perhaps strangely, begin with my conclusion. Britain is a medium-sized European power with far less influence in the world than we had when the UN was created 41 years ago. That is clear and obvious. I believe that we are today faced with the same challenge that was put to us a generation ago by Dean Acheson when he was then Secretary of State for the United States. He referred to Britain as a nation which had lost an empire and seemed unable to find a role for itself in the world. I believe that we have much to offer that is unique.

In the first place there is no other country which is a member of the Commonwealth, the EC, and the United Nations, as well as all but one of its specialised agencies. We are therefore in a unique position of influence. Secondly, I believe that the diplomatic expertise resulting from our colonial past and from the process of decolonisation, as well as our role in the world today, provides us with an opportunity for service. Thirdly, the technical advisers in many fields of expertise who have been able to visit almost every country in the world under the auspices of the UN and its agencies is again a fairly unique service which we can and do provide.

Fourthly, in Britain we have a network of voluntary organisations such as Oxfam, Save the Children Fund, Christian Aid, Voluntary Service Overseas, the World Disarmament Campaign and indeed the United Nations Association which is itself involved in creating support for the United Nations and at this time is involved in a major fund-raising campaign for refugees, through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, and especially for the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and for the refugees in Sudan. We are part of a world-wide network, as is the Church, with United Nations Associations in just under 80 countries of the world working through the World Federation of United Nations Associations.

Fifthly, there is a wllingness of the public to respond when they see human misery. I was reminded of this earlier today when I was at the Sudanese Embassy. The British public responds when it sees an urgent need. Sixthly, we have the universites and colleges which are ready to take in students from around the world and enable them to gain experience which can help us and them.

I believe that our historic role is through our skills, experience, energy and resources to promote a better and more peaceful world. How are we responding to this challenge? First, our aid programme, as a percentage of gross domestic product, is not increasing but decreasing. Secondly, we have placed financial obstacles in the way of Britain being the centre for overseas students. I believe that is both to their great disadvantage and to ours. Thirdly, we have isolated ourselves in the Commonwealth by our attitude to South Africa. Fourthly, our influence in the United Nations—since the days when the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, was our spokesman there—has diminished in a variety of ways.

Our voting record on the great issues of disarmament has been in too many respects negative. Only three of the 159 member states of the United Nations supported Britain in the UN's plea both to Britain and to the new government of the Argentine to enter into negotiations about the future of the Falkland Islands and the waters of the South Atlantic. Three countries decided to support us. We were in a very small minority in supporting the United States bombing of Libya. We have greatly angered our friends by our unilateral decision to withdraw from UNESCO, thus breaking the principle of universality and reducing our influence for good in improving UNESCO's performance—a task that much needed to be done and for which I welcomed much that the Government were seeking to do. Thus we have failed to sign the Law of the Sea Treaty which we played such an important role in drafting.

In my last three criticisms we seem to have almost slavishly followed the lead of the United States, although there was no reciprocity when it came to the vote in the United Nations Assembly on the Falkland Islands when the United States voted against us. We have set a lead in recent times in what seems to be a concentrated locking of doors by the Western powers in general to refugees from the third world. This is a new and very disturbing element, and seems to include even refugees from Afghanistan.

Those are all criticisms. I could give a balanced list of actions in which the Government have supported the United Nations. It is no part of my case this evening to suggest that the United Kingdom does not give its support to the UN or does not believe in the UN. I am certain that we see this in every Queen's Speech and every manifesto. I have heard moving speeches by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in support of the United Nations.

I will say also that we are regular payers unlike sometimes the Soviet Union, which is regular, but has made virtually no contribution except to UNIFIL for the peace-making forces provided by the United Nations. Then, regarding the United States, I was horrified to read what the Guardian said yesterday: The United States said yesterday it withheld its 1986 contribution to the World Health Organisation because it was short of funds for international bodies and gave priority to those in most serious financial trouble. The US delegate, Mr. Neil Boyer, was explaining to the WHO's executive board in Geneva why Washington did not pay its $62.8 million share of the United Nations agency's 1968 budget of $247.4 million". It said that it did not have enough to pay its share for all the UN agencies. That is not the case so far as Britain is concerned.

My simple thesis is this. Britain's greatest contribution to world peace—and indeed I believe to our own interests—does not lie in pretending that we are a great power in the sense that the United Nations and the USSR are great powers. It is true that, by history, we are one of the five permanent members of the Security Council and we should use that fact to maximise our influence in the United Nations.

I am especially concerned by some United States attitudes, and reference has been made—which I need not repeat—to the Heritage Foundation, which seems to be putting pressure on the United States Government and, I believe, on Britain too precisely at a time when the USSR seems to be putting more influence on the value of the United Nations. I found this on a recent visit in a delegation to the Soviet Union. When discussing Afghanistan they made it clear that they had great hopes that they would be able to achieve some settlement through the negotiations in the United Nations.

In conclusion, I believe that there are tremendous opportunities for Britain using its links with Europe and with the Commonwealth to establish a position of great influence in the world by far greater commitment to the United Nations.

The United Nations Association with its branches in all parts of the country will warmly welcome and support a more dynamic role in the United Nations by Her Majesty's Government.

Britain's greatness will never again lie in its military might but in its leaderhip, its statesmanship and its experience in helping, through the United Nations, to create a better, fairer and safer world with far greater emphasis on human rights and equal opportunities.

It may be trite to say that the world is crying out for such leadership, whatever party is in power in Britain, but I honestly believe that this is true.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said in the debate so far, which is quite an unusual sensation, at least for me, and, perhaps, for most of your Lordships. I do have to relate that fact to the regrettable fact that there is not a single Conservative speaker tabled to speak in the debate with the exception of the unfortunate Minister who has to wind up. This is one of the areas of politics in which the present Government stand a little bit apart from all other strands of opinion in the country at present.

Intergovernmental aid from the industrialised world to the third world has dropped by one-quarter in the past 20 years, and it now stands at 0.36 of 1 per cent. of the GNP of the industrialised countries. This is a pretty indicative figure, and I start my speech with it because aid is really very largely what the United Nations is about. Between crises, what it does is to transfer wealth and skills from the developed world to the developing world. In the 10 years to 1982 arms expenditure in the third world rose from £7 billion to £100 billion. That fact also speaks for itself. Those two figures together are a measure of what has to be done.

Now: how to do it. The United Nations at present gives us a choice of friends. The two super powers approach the United Nations, each in a manner that I believe we should only find quite unsatisfactory. We and other countries like us stand in the UN between a bigoted and profoundly unprincipled administration in the United States, and a Soviet Union which, though it is becoming more UN-minded, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has just pointed out, is yet still profoundly skinfint. It pays hardly a penny of what it ought to pay towards third world development.

In this position we could have taken a great opportunity of sticking with the UN and doing the right thing, of taking a lead—the way we all love to talk about taking a lead still—of some sort, particularly with our fellow members of the EC, in being principled, in not being bigoted, in paying up, in having bright ideas. The record is not all black. There have been success stories. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, would agree with me that the United Nations Children's Fund can perhaps count as one of the success stories.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I used to work for it.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, it has just published an annual report and has marked the 40th year of its existence by making it a bumper issue. It is in itself a remarkable achievement as a report. It is excellently presented and sets out clearly both what has been done and what remains to do.

This is one organisation in which the United States is not defaulting on its natural role. It pays 26 per cent. of the governmental contributions, which perhaps we could agree is not far from what it should be. This country pays 3.7 per cent., which is not all that brilliant, but perhaps it is not too far from what we should pay. It is at any rate better than West Germany, which pays 2.2 per cent., France, which pays 1.4 per cent., and of course far better than the Soviet Union, which pays 0.3 of 1 per cent. of the governmental contributions. Let us give credit to our Government where credit is due, and this is one place where we can.

In earlier days the industrial world delighted in finding super-sophisticated solutions to the problems of the third world, and then in just throwing money at the third world countries as if they were indistinguishable from us in everything except capital resources. The result is the familiar sight of hi-tech installations abandoned and of vast schemes misused. Meanwhile throughout the third world millionaire politicians live in luxury and ex-politicians have emigrated and live on Swiss bank accounts.

Our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Bauer, and his teams have chronicled that phase of the developed world's aid policies with a sometimes justifiable glee, and they have pointed out that the best way to help the poor is to help them make themselves richer. If we can help them to make and sell competitively with the rest of us then we shall have done the best we can for suffering humanity. That is now the conventional wisdom.

The director of the IMF has recently spoken of third world countries' difficulties in producing goods which are competitive on the world markets. He has spoken of education and health as particular obstacles to their doing so. That is the new conventional wisdom enshrined by the highest authority. But today Western follies are being committed in the third world equal to any committed in that earlier phase. They are being committed precisely in the name of competition in the world markets, in the name of the new wisdom.

Let us consider drug crops. What could be more competitive? The developed world introduced into the third world the idea of cash crops, and drug crops are the most paying cash crops of all. We call it a crime. The American Army have gone into Bolivia to suppress the production of drug crops; but besides being a crime, it is the purest of free competition.

Let us also consider the arms trade, taking Brazil as an example. For a long time now Brazil has been making military aircraft. It is now making cluster bombs for export to other third world countries. It has developed tactical ballistic missiles. Argentina is still well on the road towards obtaining an independent nuclear weapons capacity if it wishes to to do. Argentina is proliferating.

I dare say that the UN family of organisations and the World Bank and the IMF do not directly and knowingly finance the huge and virtiginously growing third world arms production, but they certainly do so indirectly. They take no precautions against liberating by their own loans and grants the capital resources in the recipient countries which can then go to build up these arms industries.

The constitutions of the World Bank and the IMF are often said to preclude any kind of control of what is done in the industries of the third world: for example, by precluding the making of grants, loans and transfers conditional on the adoption of certain industrial policies in the third world. I have combed through these constitutions. I find that that of the World Bank says that its operations must be based on economic considerations. All right, they are based on economic considerations and let them continue to be based on economic considerations. It does not say that they shall not also be based on political considerations or security considerations. Indeed, I submit that that which is not forbidden is permitted.

The articles of association of the IMF recite many positive aims. They do not say that anything shall not be done. I can find nothing restrictive in those articles either. If the IMF were to see fit to make their loans and transfers—in the context of the exchanges, balances and payments where they operate—conditional on the adoption of certain other aims besides economic ones, I cannot see that it would offend against their articles of association.

Is not the present situation parallel in two ways with what existed in the 19th century? In the industrialising countries in the Victorian age the wealthy preached virtue to the poor. They went to them with the Bible in one hand and cheap gin in the other hand, and made little attempt, beyond preaching, to prevent its consumption. In the third world now the wealthy countries proceed in the same manner. However, it is not gin now, but arms and drug production, to the great harm of the whole world.

In the 19th century in the industrialised countries the poor managed to get rich by joining together to withhold what the rich wanted of them: namely, their strong arms, their labour in trade union movements. In the 20th century the poor countries could get together and withhold the few things that the rich world wants from them—once again their strong arms for labour, but also their raw materials. They could do that in the interests of attaining power in world councils in the same way as the working classes attained power in national councils 150 years ago.

When we look at the world in that way I think we see that countries such as ours have not only the right but possibly also the duty to exert certain political and moral pressures on the third world for the good of all humanity.

Let us consider the question of Swiss banks. It is now well known that crooked rulers throughout the world can look forward with perfect equanimity to an ill-earned and luxurious repose by salting away in the Swiss banks a little of their gains as they go along. What influence is brought to bear on the Government of Switzerland to cease being a repository of hot and dirty money for the whole world? It does no credit to the Swiss people. It is hard to believe that they would withstand pressure for very long.

It seems therefore that what British, French, West German and other similar governments ought to do is to carve out a position of their own in these matters largely through the IMF, the World Bank, and the aid sector of the UN family of organisations. They ought to be a little bolder about using these potentially very beneficial mechanisms to get rid of some of the great evils which haunt the world at the moment. They ought to get rid of the matters which I have mentioned; not only third world arms production but the self-bankrupting of terribly poor economies by the purchase and making of arms. They ought to get rid of the drug crops and the dumping on the third world of pharmaceuticals which we now prohibit our own peoples from using because they are so unhealthy. They ought to get rid of the dumping on the third world of industrial processes which are too polluting to be any longer permitted in our own countries.

It is time for a concerted European move, perhaps concerted with Japan and with the more stable Arab governments, as we are inclined to call them, and other like-minded countries, to turn the world not into a Friedmanite/Bauerite paradise of uncontrolled competition and devil take the hindmost nation—devil take the hindmost people—but into a world where conscious effort is able to be applied to the cause of common improvement.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. When I decided to take part in it I wondered how to approach the subject. I finally decided to share with your Lordships my views on the world as I see it and this country's place in it and perhaps show where we have failed to measure up to our responsibilities.

As I see it, the world is not only divided between East and West, it is also divided between North and South, rich and poor, black and white. Those are all serious divisions. Overhanging us all is the threat of nuclear holocaust.

This country is well placed to make a good contribution to bridging these gaps. We are in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth has developed as a result of the British Empire. Therefore, we are in a position where we should have influence in what is nearly one-third of the United Nations.

The Commonwealth is a microcosm of the world in the sense that there are rich or fairly rich, nations; there are poor nations, very poor; there are nations in between in terms of their development. There are black nations and white nations. Therefore, it is a forum in which the issues I have raised could in fact be dealt with.

We also had an additional advantage because, having joined the European Community, we had another 11 important developed nations over which we could have some influence. We were and are a permanent member of the Security Council. We are a member of NATO; and we are closely allied to the United States of America which is the most powerful country in the Western world.

With these advantages this country ought to be able to have influence in all the fields that I have mentioned, but we have not. The reason why we have no such influence is that for the last few years we have elected merely to be the closest possible ally of the United States and have been prepared to play second fiddle to the United States in almost everything.

As a consequence of that we have not used the advantages we have had in the Commonwealth. They take second place to what the United States is interested in. We have not used our place in Europe. Even that takes second place to what the United States wants. Thus we have not been able to influence events.

Mention has been made already of the fact that this country, which ought to have the most influence in the Commonwealth, is in fact isolated in the Commonwealth. Nothing was more revealing to me of the isolation of this country than the vote in the United Nations on the Falklands. Argentina's claim is a colonialist claim and we ought to be able to rebut a colonialist claim within our Commonwealth.

When I put my anti-Argentina case to my Commonwealth friends they all understand it. We do not do that. We answer Argentina's colonialist claim with a colonialist claim of our own. Therefore, what our friends in the Commonwealth are presented with at the United Nations is a choice of two colonialist claims. It is not a choice of progress along the lines of self-determination and the friendships of people living in an area, which ought to be what we put forward. We are quite right to reject Argentina's claim. It is colonialist. We are not right merely to answer it with a colonialist claim of our own.

There is also the sad situation in South Africa, which is the touchstone. Within the Commonwealth we ought to have been able to develop a policy aimed at dealing with what was the biggest challenge to whether or not the world can live together—people of different races can live together in equality and friendship with respect for each other. It is the rejection of that by South Africa which ought to be understood by everyone and rejected by everyone.

We seem to have set ourselves a secondary role, not only that we should be subservient to the United States but that we should protect South Africa at all times. The consequence of setting ourselves these rules means that we have lost status all round. We ought never to have been in that position. We ought to have been in the position where our stand on these issues is respected by all, including those in South Africa who are thinking and recognising the position in which they stand. Therefore, I am hoping that when the Minister replies she will be able to tell me that the Government are beginning to rethink some of these policies.

This subservience to the United States has led us into supporting policies within the IMF which are not in the best interests of bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. They are policies which prolong and worsen the division between rich and poor. We have influence and votes there and should be able to use that influence to get policies geared to reducing the gap. We should not put nations in a position where all they can do is produce enough to pay part of the interest on a debt and are never to be able to repay the debt itself. They have to go on with their families, with their citizens, living at poverty or below poverty level in order to do that. These are the consequences of the policies that we are using internationally.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, that some of the Third World countries make it worse by the policies they themselves adopt. That is exactly what I meant when I said that within the Commonwealth we ought to have been able to work out policies which would deal with both issues, because we have poor nations as well as wealthy nations within the Commonwealth. Within that setting we ought to be able to work out real policies geared to bridging that gap. Then we rush because the United States has come out of UNESCO.

We began by saying we wanted to see some changes in UNESCO. Attempts were made to make changes. They may not have been fast enough. But is it not a better policy to try to get the changes we want in UNESCO through working there rather than just following the bad example of the United States and pulling out? These are the ways in which we have not just not used our position to advantage but have used it negatively.

I think now of our position in the EC. We dragged our feet the most in the EC as regards the grant to the Lomé territories. It is we more than anybody else who are responsible for the fact that the funds are so low. We ought never to be doing that. The majority of countries in Lomé are from the Commonwealth. Therefore, far from wanting grants to be lower we should be trying to maximise them. By doing so we should be using our position in Europe to get some of the other European countries to help in financing the development of these territories, which are—shall we say?—our cousins. They are territories which are part of our Commonwealth.

This is very sad. The way in which Lomé has been negotiated and agreed holds out a useful method of dealing with the problem of the rich and poor and bridging that gap. There are a lot of developments within the Lomé agreement that would help greatly in bridging that gap. But you cannot do that sort of thing if the funds are so limited.

Unless you are able to make the contributions that are required, you cannot get the objective that you have in mind. Therefore, it has been sad that this Government have been dragging their feet on Lomé and not encouraging the sort of contribution which would have enabled us to bridge that gap between the developing countries and the developed ones.

There is not the slightest doubt that one of the things that all these countries need most is assured markets at assured prices. That is one of the good things within the Lomé agreement. If the funds in Lomé were ever enough, I personally think that Lomé could make a real contribution towards bridging the gap between the APC countries and the European countries with which they are dealing.

This is one thing on which I hope the noble Baroness will tell me that the Government will have a rethink, because although the Lomé agreement is already made there is nothing to prevent an agreement to add more funds to it. Therefore I hope that this is an issue that the Government will be prepared to look at.

The Government have to try to repair certain damages. The damages are in the Commonwealth and in fact mainly in the Commonwealth. The Government need to repair those damages. If they can repair the damages in the Commonwealth they can use their newly-found position to change their status and position within the UN. Britain is best able to get the influence it needs in the UN through being almost a spokesman for the Commonwealth—I am not suggesting just as a spokesman for the Common- wealth, but by being such an accepted leader in the Commonwealth one should get the support in the UN for the policies that are required.

Therefore as I said at the beginning, I am pleased to have had this opportunity of sharing my thoughts, my worries and my fears with your Lordships. I hope that when the Minister replies she will be able to give me some reassuring answers.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Hatch has enabled us to debate a subject of importance and interest, and has also delivered a wide-ranging speech. Successive governments have affirmed and reaffirmed their commitment to the international institutions of which the United Kingdom is a member. Looking at the performance of other countries, I think I can say that this country on the whole has as good a record as any in the world in its continuing membership, and loyalty to principle, from the early days of the International Court of Justice and the League of Nations. I have some reservations, and I shall make these as I proceed, but that is my general view.

Today we are members of four international organisations: namely, the European Community; the Commonwealth; the United Nations, and NATO. I do not propose to deal with the latter in this debate. The House will recall the excellent debate initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on the 29th October 1985 when he examined our record as a member of the United Nations and its varied organisations on the 40th anniversary of that great institution. My noble friend Lord Ennals, the chairman of the United Kingdom Association of the United Nations, spoke in that debate, and has spoken again with his usual authority and knowledge today.

The general tendency in the debate initiated by the most reverend Primate was that the United Nations is a good institution but that it is less effective than it might be. Mr. Conor Cruise O'Brien, who is a world expert on the subject, has said: Hardly anyone has much time for the United Nations. But I hasten to add that Mr. O'Brien also said: The United Nations is the most important international institution that has ever existed and its survival is bound up with the survival of the human race. I hope that this is a sentiment that both President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev subscribe to.

I realise that in this debate we are more concerned with our own contribution, but we also know that the ultimate success of the United Nations depends on the constructive membership of the two great powers. We recall the cut in size of the Soviet Union's mission to the United Nations recently, and we can be relieved that the consequences of that were not as serious as might have been the case.

The United Nations is as important to the Soviet Union as it is to any other country. I also believe, as I have ventured to say here in other debates, that Mr. Gorbachev is a new man with new ideas. He is a communist, and a Russian patriot, but he also knows the consequences of war, and I think he wants to raise standards in his country. The United Nations provides Mr. Gorbachev with opportunities for co-operation with other countries in several fields. The General Assembly and the Security Council are both crucial forums for the reduction of tension.

My noble friend has referred to some of the agencies of the United Nations, and other noble Lords have followed him. The central worry here is that they are under-funded. This was made plain in the fourth report of the all-party Foreign Affairs Committee of another place which dealt with the ODA programme mentioned by my noble friend, and with the BBC external services and the British Council as well. The report underlines the most serious and progressive under-financing of these agencies.

If we turn to the United Nations agencies, which were dealt with by a number of noble Lords, here again we see the same unfortunate tendency. I do not propose to go into all of the details of the UNESCO affair tonight; but as the Motion in fact refers to Britain's influence in these matters, I think I should quote from the Foreign Affairs Committee of another place—and the Committee had a majority of Conservative Members—and they made some very relevant remarks. I hope the House will allow me to quote from page xxi, paragraph 63, where they say: We have concluded

  1. (i) that continued membership of UNESCO is an objective which should be pursued in the interests of British scientific, cultural and educational interests;
  2. (ii) that the withdrawal of UK membership of UNESCO is likely to have detrimental effects on the United Kingdom's relations with other friendly countries, particularly in the Commonwealth;
  3. (iii) that the withdrawal of UK membership of UNESCO is likely to advance Soviet-bloc interests in the Third World; and
  4. (iv) that a breach by the United Kingdom of the principle of universality in the United Nations and its Agencies could have long-term, and damaging, consequences for those organisations, and not merely for UNESCO alone.
That is an extremely serious comment on these affairs. So far as UNESCO is concerned, as I have said before, no member should leave a church if he does not like the incumbent minister. He should wait in the church until a new minister comes along. That is what the United Kingdom should have done in the case of UNESCO.

I am sure that the noble Baroness was as impressed as I was by the interesting remarks of the noble Lord, Lord McNair, on UNRWA and its financial problems. I feel sure the noble Baroness will wish to consider this again. I thought also that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, made some very important remarks about the IMF and the World Bank in relation to the build-up of armaments in the Third World. Here is something which the noble Baroness may think is worth reporting to her right honourable and learned friend, as a matter which might be taken up in the United Nations itself in due course.

Noble Lords have also referred to certain resolutions of the United Nations where the United Kingdom's reactions have seemed less than enthusiastic. One of these is Resolution 435 on Namibia, which was mentioned in the House yesterday. I am bound to say that the lack of progress here is frightening and we should be doing all in our power to achieve a settlement based on free elections.

It would also be helpful if the noble Baroness could comment briefly on the progress made by FAO on the Falklands fishing problems. The Government declared a unilateral zone and we had exchanges in the House about that; but she then said that any FAO recommendations would be very carefully considered by Her Majesty's Government. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can say what progress has been made, as we do not want to be seen to be acting against the FAO, which seems to me to be one of the most useful of all the United Nations agencies.

I should like also most warmly to support what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said about the significant contribution of the World Council of Churches and his tribute to Archbishop Tutu. The right reverend Prelate, together with my noble friend and my noble friend Lord Pitt, spoke about the Commonwealth. There is a tendency by some on occasion to belittle the Commonwealth and to say that it is of little consequence. That is a grave mistake.

The Commonwealth is a unique organisation, and it deserves to survive because it brings a diverse group of nations with an historic relationship together to discuss matters of common interest. I cannot conceive that it could do harm, but it certainly could do a lot of good. Twenty-nine Commonwealth countries have small or very small populations, but membership of the Commonwealth gives them an opportunity to put their case to the international community, and it also provides backing where necessary. Let me give one example in passing: there are others. Belize would probably not exist today if it were not for Commonwealth support in the United Nations and in other ways.

The Commonwealth provides an important international forum, support in the international community and technical assistance in education, health, science, agriculture, industry and public administration. The chief beneficiaries of all this assistance have been the smaller countries of the Commonwealth. My own view therefore is that it would be an immense mistake to undervalue the importance of the Commonwealth.

As my noble friend Lord Pitt in particular said, the Commonwealth went through a critical phase last summer and there were those who said it would not survive or indeed that it would not matter a great deal if it did not survive. That was a foolish and shortsighted attitude. Things were said by Commonwealth leaders which reflected the tension, due to the Government's attitude towards the South African crisis. But the remarkable thing is that the Commonwealth proved to be tougher and more cohesive than most people at the time thought possible. I am sorry to say that I think our own influence in fact diminished, at least temporarily, at that time, but the Commonwealth emerged stronger and more confident than ever before. The noble Baroness's department will no doubt be studying the full implications of this development and, I trust, drawing sensible conclusions from it.

Finally, our relatively short membership of the European Community, to which my noble friend Lord Ennals referred, is in some ways the most important of all, certainly in financial, commercial and industrial terms. Here again, as may be expected, there are periodic strains and stresses as exemplified by attitudes towards South Africa and towards the treatment of terrorism. We have noted, for example, the current tension between the United States and the European Community on the question of selected exports to the United States following the cessation of grain exports to Spain from the United States. The Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary has been talking to Mr. Shultz about this, and perhaps we can be told what is developing between the Community and America. The last thing we want is a trade war with the United States.

My noble friend Lord Pitt spoke movingly of the dangerous divisions in the world today. The fact is that all these organisations which have been mentioned in the debate provide opportunities for us to bridge divisions—opportunities which were unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago. It is for us and other countries, including the Soviet Union and Comecon countries, to use our membership of these organisations constructively and with the utmost goodwill. That should be the objective of our foreign policy.

7.17 p.m.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, for introducing the short debate today and I should like to say at once that I think we have had a quite extraordinarily wide-ranging discussion. I do not think that in the time available I shall be able to answer all the many and varied points that have arisen, but I shall try to concentrate on the most important of them and certainly study the report of the debate with interest when there is the opportunity to read Hansard tomorrow.

Today international organisations exist in profusion and few people realise how they affect our daily lives. For example, the Universal Postal Union has 168 member countries and works out the rules for international postal services, from which we all benefit. The International Telecommunications Satellite Organisation has enabled us to telephone friends and relatives overseas. The international institutions even impinge directly upon your Lordships' House. Extracts from your Lordships' debates are broadcast to all parts of the world by the World Service, under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union, another specialised United Nations agency with 160 members.

There are of course many other international organisations in which the United Kingdom plays an active if not a leading part; and of course there is the large United Nations family of organisations. But before turning to those organisations I should like to say a few words about some of the other international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member.

Since 1949 NATO, the alliance of 16 free and democratic Western nations has defended us and preserved peace in Europe. Membership of NATO is the cornerstone of our security policy. Our contribution to NATO is substantial, constructive and widely appreciated. We fully support the NATO policy, based on the twin approach of sound defence and efforts to reduce tension between East and West through the negotiations of balanced and verifiable arms control agreements. We are members of the European Community, which gives Western Europe a framework for progress, and prosperity that is historically unprecedented. I think it is generally accepted that we have had a successful six months in our office of President of the Council of Ministers. Then there is the Commonwealth—49 nations, rich and poor, who share a common heritage and choose to work together, usually far from the limelight, seeking solutions to a host of practical problems.

Your Lordships have also referred to the world's trading and financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which belong to the United Nations family. Then there is the GATT and the OECD. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, in a most interesting speech, referred to the international organisation of the World Council of Churches and the work that the churches do throughout the world.

These international organisations and institutions vary enormously. But their existence testifies to the respect that their members have for basic principles of co-operation and bargaining, rather than confrontation or unilateral gestures. They contribute security, predictability and good order to international affairs—all crucial for international law itself.

The United Kingdom is a nation which historically has worldwide trading and political interests, and so we are well placed to appreciate the value of international structures and we are experienced in their operation. Our basic attitude to international organisations comprises three simple and straightforward principles. We support them if we agree with their aims; we expect them to stick to those aims and carry them out effectively; and last, but not least, we expect them to be run impartially and efficiently. Most international bodies meet these criteria and continue with valuable work.

This evening I should like to concentrate on two important international bodies which we wholeheartedly support: one very complex institution, the United Nations, and that unique association of countries, the Commonwealth. The United Kingdom played a central part in setting up the UN. This was formally recognised by the fact that we have a veto: the charter cannot be amended without our consent. Thus we have a special responsibility towards the UN and its ideals and we have made an energetic contribution to it.

This is not a theoretical contribution. We pay our way. Our financial commitment to the UN system is some £140 million each year. What is more, we always pay in full and on time. I was interested in the point that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, made on that. We believe in the United Nations system and we work hard within it to get results.

Let me give some positive examples. We pull our weight in UN peacekeeping operations and work hard behind the scenes to help the UN Secretary-General's peacekeeping initiatives. I was disappointed to hear very little from your Lordships tonight on this. But we support UNIFIL's role in South Lebanon and favour the renewal of its mandate. We are a major financial contributor. We spent £5.5 million in 1985–86. We consider that UNICYP continues to play a vital role in Cyprus. Our commitment to UNICYP is demonstrated by the fact that ours is the largest contingent in the force.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asked about other areas. We have noted suggestions for an international peacekeeping force in Mozambique. Those concerned must discuss this further. But we are committed under Security Council Resolution 435 to the setting up of the UN transitional assistance group to supervise the establishment of a peacekeeping force in Namibia to bring about independence.

We press hard to enhance the UN machinery for countering abuses of human rights. We are actively involved in UN programmes to counter the international drugs menace. Indeed, we have just increased by 50 per cent. our unearmarked contribution to the UN fund for drug abuse control. We contribute to many specialised or less well-known UN agencies and programmes. Only last June we announced an increase in our voluntary contribution to the UN environmental programme. And we fully support the work of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. On that matter, during the current financial year we have spent £33 million, mostly channelled through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Of course, so far as Afghanistan is concerned, where 5 million people have now fled the country—that is, over 8,000 a month—since the beginning of the war we have contributed £40 million to the refugees since 1980.

The noble Lord, Lord Hatch, asked me why we felt unable to sign the Law of the Sea Convention. In part it is because it aimed to set up a most unattractive regime for deep sea mining, including an over-elaborate international seabed authority with excessive regulatory powers. This authority would be excessively large, bureaucratic and costly to maintain. What is more, some of its activities would harm the industry it was supposed to oversee. Indeed, it could stop that industry ever developing. In other words, our decision on the Law of the Sea Convention did not signify the start of a general retreat from fundamental notions of peaceful international co-operation. Rather we applied the three principles that I mentioned earlier.

I was glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, said in referring to what I thought was a most interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who spoke with such great personal knowledge of the work of UNRWA and, if I may say so, with very great sincerity. Thirty-six years have passed since the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees in the Near East began its work on behalf of Palestinian refugees. The agency has brought, and continues to bring, vital humanitarian assistance to those in its care, now numbering over 2 million. I am glad to pay tribute to UNRWA and its staff who work with limited resources often in dangerous circumstances.

UNRWA has long suffered from insufficient funding for its activities, and its funding base remains dangerously narrow. The noble Lord gave us some figures on that point. The United Kingdom remains one of the largest contributors to UNRWA. We make a bilateral contribution of £5 million each year and pay one-fifth of the European Community's contribution of £13.8 million. Others, particularly the United States, have given generously. But I hope that all who profess concern for the Palestinians will join us in contributing to UNRWA's work.

There is also an urgent need to improve the economic and social conditions of the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, not as a substitute for a political settlement but to complement the negotiations that we should like to see. The Community decided last October as a result of a British initiative to rationalise and increase its aid programme to the territories and to slash tariffs on imports from the territories. We announced last December a substantial increase in our own aid programme for the territories to £1 million a year, half of which will be disbursed via Jordanian institutions.

At the end of his speech, the noble Lord asked me a specific question but I am afraid that I shall have to write to him on that point. This central role in the UN's working is guaranteed by our retention of one of five permanent seats on the UN Security Council. This gives us a strong position of international influence. In short, the United Kingdom's record of commitment to the UN system has been good.

The noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, asked me a specific question about the Falkland Islands conservation zone and the FAO. I can assure him that the establishment of the FICZ does not undermine or detract from the value of the FAO's report on the South-West Atlantic fishery. It was essential to set up a FICZ, which, as the noble Lord will recall from when we debated this matter, is an interim measure to meet a conservation need which we must do for the fishing season which starts this February. The FAO report was not ready and the interim action that we have taken was the only sensible course open to us. But the FAO study will be an important document when it is issued. We continue to believe that a multilateral regime is the best way to manage the fishery, and we remain in close touch with the FAO.

If the United Nations is to make a worthwhile impact on global problems, it must be respected and it must make sure that its own house is in order. That is why the United Kingdom welcomed the outcome of recent negotiations on the UN's own budget. A combination of delayed payments, waste and inefficiency had been bringing the UN towards bankruptcy. Now member states will take an earlier and tighter grip on the UN's budget and its programme priorities. The fact that the UN Charter contains great ideals does not excuse the UN itself from an obligation to be a good housekeeper.

All this shows that international institutions are not endowed with magical properties. They can fall prey to wastefulness and mismanagement, sometimes even abandoning their aims and ideals. This is what we believe happened to UNESCO. That matter was referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn, Lord Ennals and Lord Hatch.

We were a founder member of that organisation and committed to the principle guiding its initial remit. It was clearly desirable to establish a multilateral forum to work in educational, scientific and cultural fields. For many years we worked with it. We tried hard, within the organisation, to eradicate the problems from which it suffered: the poor administration, wastefulness, lack of proper priorities and excessive and damaging politicisation. It was with considerable regret that we decided to withdraw. We decided that taxpayers' money could be better used in a wide range or areas such as scholarships and other fields for which UNESCO was responsible.

UNESCO is merely one well-known example of a worrying trend towards wrongly politicising international institutions. There are many international fora for arguing about, for example, the political problems of Southern Africa and the Middle East. But some nations try to carry these arguments over into specialist international bodies. This wastes time and money; and, much worse, it threatens the effectiveness of these bodies and so risks causing immense practical damage.

I repeat again that we value international institutions and we want them to work. International institutions which are working well and helping the international community must not be side-tracked or distorted. Political pressure to this end is unhelpful and damaging. We shall continue to resist such pressures strongly.

I turn now to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is a unique and free association of 49 independent countries representing one-quarter of the world's population. To read the press you would think that the Commonwealth consisted of nothing but periodic Heads of Government meetings. Therefore, perhaps it is not surprising that some people find it fashionable to argue that the Commonwealth is anachronistic, pointless or even harmful to Britain. This is not the Government's view.

I shall turn to consider a number of things which we have done within the Commonwealth. However, perhaps I may first answer the point that was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby and also the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, concerning the Eminent Persons Group. The Eminent Persons Group made a valiant contribution. The negotiating concept remains a valid basis for negotiations in the difficult situation in South Africa. The group showed the way towards achieving dialogue and a suspension of violence on all sides through the principle of matching commitments. We gave the Eminent Persons Group our full support and we deeply regret that it did not achieve a breakthrough. The refusal of the South African Government to respond positively is in our view shortsighted.

Perhaps it will be helpful if I quote in full what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in a speech to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in September of last year. She referred to our attitude to South Africa and the question of sanctions: As free and independent sovereign states we have a legitimate right to our own views, and the right too to hold those views without our motives being questioned. That is the essence of tolerance, so important to the Commonwealth. As one of our great parliamentarians said: 'Tolerance is good for all or it is good for none'". Within the Commonwealth there are many different federations and associations—over 200 in all—all dedicated to practical work and allowing thousands of ordinary citizens from Commonwealth countries to pool ideas, share experiences and strike up new friendships. The Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind sponsors the world's largest programme for restoring lost eyesight. The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation oversees a pioneer scheme for the interchange of much-needed technical experts between developing countries. The Commonwealth Foundation supports 32 different professional associations and promotes many research, training and exchange programmes.

We greatly value the practical work of the Commonwealth's different agencies in setting up development projects, educational exchanges, meetings of technicians and experts and conferences of lawyers and parliamentarians. Today we are the largest contributor to the budgets of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. We also give £2½ million per year to support the Commonwealth Institute in London.

All in all, last year we gave some £14 million to Commonwealth activities. In addition, in 1985 we gave around £60 million to support Commonwealth students. This represented 75 per cent. of our total scholarship budget. In 1985 we gave £443 million in aid to Commonwealth countries, or 65 per cent. of our total bilateral aid programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Pitt, in the course of his remarks about the Commonwealth and our commitment to it asked about the Lomé Convention and our contribution to it. Of the 66 countries benefiting from special aid and trade links under the convention, 35 are in the Commonwealth. In the period up to 1990 some £5.3 billion will be available from this source. Some £90 million is also available from the European Investment Bank. In practice, the financial benefits from the highly preferential trading arrangements are considerably greater than this. In 1984 (the latest figures which are available) some 38 per cent. of the United Kingdom's multilateral aid for developing countries—that is, £202.69 million—was spent in Commonwealth countries. The estimate for 1985 again gives 33.5 per cent. of the United Kingdom's multilateral aid to be spent in Commonwealth countries.

Therefore, I believe that we contribute fully to the Commonwealth and our close links with Commonwealth countries bring the United Kingdom very great benefits. Our exports to Commonwealth countries are running at about £9 billion per year. And it is not as well known as it should be that 40 per cent. of our total revenue from overseas investments come from Commonwealth countries.

In short, the Government believe that the Commonwealth is an effective, realistic and practical organisation and are fully committed to it. My right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs addressed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference last September. He emphasised the Government's commitment to effective international institutions: We of all countries are not in the business of a retreat from multilateralism. Quite the reverse. Almost 30 per cent, of expenditure for which I am responsible as Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, including aid, is directly related to multilateral organisations". That is the measure of our commitment. There is no question of retreating from it.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, I should like to thank everyone who has participated in this debate, and particularly the noble Baroness who has made such an extensive conclusion on behalf of the Government. Of course I do not agree with all she has said. I particularly disagree with her analysis of the decision to leave UNESCO, and I was interested to note that she did not take up the issue of Heritage, which has been mentioned several times tonight. That is an organisation which I believe received a congratulatory telegram from the Prime Minister in October 1983 on its tenth unniversay.

The noble Baroness would not expect me to agree with her analysis of the Government's view on sanctions. I strongly support what my noble friend Lord Pitt had to say about the damage that has been done within the Commonwealth by the British attitude ever since the Nassau meeting. On the other hand, I was encouraged by the earlier reference of the noble Baroness to at least considering the possibility of initiating or suggesting further United Nations peacekeeping forces, particularly in Mozambique. I hope she will pursue that idea.

Throughout the debate there has been one theme from all sides, though one has to say again that the Conservative Party has not been represented except by the Minister. That one theme has been that the influence of Britain is diminished by every action which weakens an international institution. We have spread ourselves widely among these international institutions. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, mentioned UNICEF. I remind the House that UNICEF's excellent work is also of benefit to this country. I understand that we receive in orders more from UNICEF than is contributed in capital to it.

I endorse entirely what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby had to say about our admiration for Bishop Desmond Tutu. I am sure he would add to that. Desmond Tutu's friends, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and their wives. I was glad, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned the United Nations Association. Those of us who believe in the United Nations have a duty not just to participate in the work of the United Nations Association but to bring young people into it at the earliest possible moment and to ensure that every school has an opportuntiy to listen to United Nations spokesmen and to join in the work at that stage. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord McNair, referred to UNRRA. He probably knows that I was also associated with its work for some time.

This whole debate can be summed up in the words written by John Paul Sartre in his introduction to the book The Wretched of the Earth. This is what Sartre wrote: And when one day our human kind becomes full grown, it will not define itself as the sum total of the whole world's inhabitants, but as the infinite unity of their mutual needs". I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.