HL Deb 16 July 1993 vol 548 cc419-22

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether in the light of recent experience in Bosnia they will now take action as a permanent member of the Security Council to make certain that the United Nations has at its disposal the means to ensure effective humanitarian relief and protection whenever they are deemed necessary.

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

My Lords, the UN General Assembly is soon to undertake a full review of the performance of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, including the ways and means of improving the delivery and protection of humanitarian relief through the most appropriate and cost-effective agencies. The UN General Assembly is also soon to review the overall funding of the UN.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does she not agree that the average ratio of UN peacekeeping costs to national military expenditure for member states is still only one US dollar to every 1,000 US dollars? Is it not in effect highly cynical to give the UN responsibilities for which it is not adequately resourced? As a permanent member of the Security Council, will the Government now pursue the priorities, first, of more UN capability for prevention rather than cure—for instance, early warning, pre-emptive diplomacy and conflict resolution—secondly, more resources for properly-trained UN peacekeeping forces, and, thirdly, sufficient means to ensure the delivery of humanitarian supplies to those in need?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I should have thought that from my Answer today, and certainly as a result of three previous Questions that the noble Lord has asked me, that he had taken that meaning. It is essential that the UN has adequate resources to meet growing demands for humanitarian relief and to protect those delivering the relief. But we must realise that where we can prevent, as I believe we have effectively done in Macedonia and other places, and where we can go in in advance—and there are many areas of the world where that is required—enormous long-term costs are involved. Nevertheless, that is still better than having to give the immense amount of aid, such as the £131 million we have given, to try to keep people alive in Bosnia.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, will my noble friend give an assurance that as a result of the natural feeling of horror in this country about what is happening, the Government will not be pushed into exposing British troops or British personnel generally to unnecessary additional risks?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords. I agree entirely with my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. That is one of the reasons why we have made it absolutely clear that if conditions worsen still further we must look at the situation facing not only the UNPROFOR and British troops but also our own aid workers in Bosnia.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, recently the Foreign Secretary said that perhaps it was about time to have another go at reviving the United Nations Military Committee, that saddest of all casualties of the cold war. Is that now a fixed objective of the Government and, if so, how are they pursuing it?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, it is one of a number of suggestions that has been put forward; it certainly is not a fixed objective. One of the greatest problems that we must face is the suddenness with which many situations arise. It is most important that the UN should have its disaster relief abilities at such a stage that it can move in very quickly. That is one of the objectives of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that besides the term "whenever" in the noble Lord's Question there should also be the word "wherever", which must range from the Pacific Rim, to Central Asia, to Africa, to the Middle East, to Europe and to Latin America —terrifying prospect?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, indeed, it is a terrifying prospect. If your Lordships saw some of the papers which come daily across our desks describing the assistance that is required they would realise how difficult it is to support all demands. We cannot respond to all the claims. It is necessary that more attention is paid to priorities of need and also to preventing need, as I said some moments ago.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the command structure of the United Nations forces, given the disturbing evidence coming out of Somalia and the reports in today's newspapers that. United Nations troops are selling fuel and weapons to people in Bosnia?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I know that there were troubles in Bosnia with some UN troops who are no longer there. But that is, I might say, an old story. It is important that where a commander is put in charge, as General Bir is in charge of military exercises under UNISOM in Somalia, all other commanders must follow that command. Unless that happens—and a lot needs to be done to make it so—there is no way in which one can prevent the deaths and the trouble.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one cannot deliver aid across a battlefield? Therefore, in Bosnia the priority must continue to be the seeking of a political settlement. In that connection, can my noble friend say anything about the meeting yesterday between her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and the German Foreign Minister?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I would be delighted to be able to give my noble friend Lord Beloff good news, but the discussions being carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and Mr. Stoltenberg are the crucial discussions. I am sure that Herr Kinkel was supportive of what the Foreign Secretary was saying yesterday.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, on the question of humanitarian aid, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that many of us who listened to her excellent broadcast at about 7.30 this morning will agree with her observations that there are shortcomings among some of the principal member states of the European Community in failing to put their money where their mouth is?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, in fact there are worse debtors than the member states of the European Community as regards UN subscriptions. The United Nations is owed more than 2 billion dollars in assessed regular budget and peacekeeping fees. That is an enormous sum, but I am told that we should have some good news from the main debtors before the end of this year. I hope that it comes very soon.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that we are giving a lead to the other countries in the world as regards Bosnia? Will she confirm, for example, that we have more troops on the ground trying to deliver humanitarian aid than any other country? Can she confirm further that the aid which we are giving is significant? Will she reiterate what she said in the broadcast, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, about the amount of additional aid which we are giving at this time?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I can confirm that we have 2,300 troops on the ground in Bosnia and around 120 aid workers. In the past 18 months we have spent £131 million there, including the commitment which I gave last week of £18.5 million, £6.5 million of which is for mining and power projects to restore and maintain electricity and the basic infrastructure. That electricity is obviously needed to pump clean water, which is essential.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, the main humanitarian aid is food. Are the Government satisfied that after 15 per cent. of the agricultural land in Europe has been taken out of production this year, there will be sufficient food to supply those areas where one sees thousands of children starving?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I believe that there will be sufficient food in Europe. That is not the problem. It is the storage and the transportation of the food to the people who need it which is the problem. When one looks at the wider world, much of the excess production in Europe is food which is unsuitable for the diets of people further afield.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the success or failure of the United Nations in introducing a new world order post-cold war will depend as much as anything on the professionalism and discipline of the armed forces which are used on behalf of the United Nations? Given the particular qualifications which the British Armed Forces have, will the Minister consider making an approach to the United Nations that Britain should have a very real and permanent role so that our Armed Forces are organised to make a substantial and permanent contribution to that aspect of world peace?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, what my noble friend Lord Marlesford says is very interesting. There is certainly no new world order yet; anything but. But it is the very professionalism and discipline of Western troops that is important. It may be that we can make a contribution in training other troops for that role.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, will the noble Baroness name the three top debtor countries to the United Nations?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there are problems for three countries in particular. One is Russia, which has a complex problem as regards paying its arrears. Another is the United States, but it has recently paid substantial amounts to UN peacekeeping. I am hopeful that it will continue to improve that peacekeeping payment record in the months ahead. Japan is considering what to do about its repayments. And the Ukraine, like Russia, has a problem.

Lord Judd

My Lords, the Minister referred to the harrowing cases which arrive on her desk. Will she agree that of the war casualties in the world at present, 90 per cent. are civilian and that there are likely to be 100 million refugees and displaced people by the year 2000? Against that background, is it right that we should be spending 1,000 times as much on preparing for war as we spend on peacekeeping? Do we have our priorities right?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, there is no way in which the United Kingdom alone can right that situation. The UN must discuss it at the General Assembly this autumn. I shall not speculate on the number of refugees. I say only that the numbers are already far too high. Their needs are very great indeed. We must take action to reduce the numbers of refugees.

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