HL Deb 27 May 1993 vol 546 cc502-38

6.43 p.m.

Lord Judd rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they consider that the UN system is adequate to meet the humanitarian demands increasingly being placed on it in Bosnia, Cambodia, The Horn, Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere, and whether they consider that the balance between preventive and relief operations is appropriate.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may say at the outset how much I—together with, I am sure, noble Lords on all sides of the House—am looking forward to and anticipating the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. She brings to this House a very special mixture of ability, experience and compassion—the last quality much needed in our materialist age. Whatever the differences which I am sad may have arisen tactically between us from time to time, I greatly look forward to working with her on some of the most important issues for humanity in the years ahead.

I tremble to think how history will judge us. Amidst our introspective preoccupation with domestic and Western European affairs, we have just about managed to find a few brief minutes, as everybody goes home for the Spring Bank Holiday, to debate the wider issues of humanity.

Millions in the world have died prematurely in recent years; millions more are currently at risk and many millions more will die in the years ahead unnecessarily and preventably because of the failure of will—of political will—to take effective action in time. Over and over again, not least in the priorities of Westminster and Whitehall, we see that, historically, tactics have become the enemy of strategy.

As the Secretary General of International Alert, with which I am glad to do some work, has recently argued in a challenging paper, even a cursory glance at the list of countries currently affected by massive refugee flows, developmental destruction or stagnation, and social and political instability, reveals that the vast majority of those states are victims of violent internal conflicts. It is also self-evident that even the "cleanest" of high technology wars is destructive of civilian lives, infrastructure, services, homes, crops and industrial plant —in fact, of all the basic elements of a decent society. In countries and regions where the high-tech revolution has not yet brought the benefits of Stealth bombers or laser-guided munitions, old-fashioned mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, landmines, Kalashnikovs and other derivations from the arsenals built up during the Cold War are wreaking immeasurable horrors on people, property, the environment and hopes for the future.

The Secretary General of International Alert has rightly underlined that no humanitarian aid worker in the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Liberia, Angola, Mozambique, Cambodia or dozens of other countries needs any lessons on the myriad of ways in which war cripples the delivery of humanitarian assistance or dilutes its impact, compounding and multiplying human suffering. Fieldworkers, he argues, are painfully aware that there are obvious lacunae between humanitarian action, human rights protection and promotion, development goals and conflict resolution. What has emerged most clearly from the horrors of recent and current conflicts is that a strategic concept is needed to unite humanitarian action, human rights promotion, development and conflict resolution in co-operation towards a single form of action—war prevention.

In 1991, the last year for which I have comprehensive statistics, the total number of major armed conflicts in which battle-related deaths exceeded 1,000 people was 35—God knows the number of consequential deaths. The indications are that this year there are more than 40 such conflicts, with new outbreaks in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and the South. The great paradox is that, while the international community has developed elaborate and extensive mechanisms for preventing or mitigating inter-state wars, it is internal conflicts which have become the predominant global security problem.

In the early 1960s, the UN proclaimed that there were no more refugees in Europe: the massive displacements caused by the Second World War had been absorbed. By contrast, this year, the UNHCR reports that there are 1 million refugees in Europe produced by war in the former Yugoslavia alone, and the number of people seeking asylum in Europe has risen from 70,000 in 1983 to 750,000 last year. But the grim reality is that the European figures represent only a fraction of the 18 million refugees worldwide and the further 15 million internally displaced people without even the status of refugee. Some well placed experts estimate that by the end of the next decade that total could more than triple. The relationship between internal conflict and refugees is starkly evident: Afghanistan, more than 6 million; Palestinians, 2.6 million; Mozambique, 1.5 million; Ethiopia/Eritrea, about half a million; Somalia close to 1 million—and so, disturbingly, on.

Those huge movements of people are not surprising when research shows that civilian populations make up the vast majority of the victims of these wars—more than 80 per cent of the casualties in most cases —and that women, children and the elderly are the principal victims. It is rare to find a conflict that does not involve a complex matrix of causes; for example, race, ethnicity, identity, ideology, governance and authority and competition for resources.

What acutely aggravates the nightmare is that increasingly lethal small arms are now readily available worldwide. Arms control agreements have focused on weapons of mass' destruction and on sophisticated weapons systems, but most of the casualties of current dirty, so-called little wars are coming from small arms, land-mines and mortars. In Cambodia alone there are believed to be 7 million land-mines, one for every inhabitant. An estimated 700 amputations per month are currently being performed on Cambodian land-mine victims.

The need effectively to curb the arms trade is arguably every bit as high a humanitarian priority, central to the task facing the noble Baroness opposite, as any mobilisation of relief supplies. I say that with passion because earlier this year one of my old dear colleagues at Oxfam, Llidio Candieiro, was killed by a mine in Mozambique while exploring a new route to deliver urgently needed relief.

The UN arms register, which first reported on 30th April, covers seven types of conventional weapons but none of the comparatively low-tech ones which cause most of that human suffering. Perhaps more than any other weapon type, land-mines have an indiscriminate effect upon civilians. They obstruct the return of refugees, block the delivery of relief supplies and hinder the rehabilitation of land for agriculture.

Why is it that the Government's record is so slow as regards effective action? During the past seven months the US and France have both announced moratoria on the export of land-mines. Why has Britain not done so? As I understand it, we have not yet even ratified the 1980 convention on inhumane weapons, the relevant international accord which at least seeks to restrict the use of mines against civilians. Why can the Government not see that that is directly relevant to the humanitarian endeavours of the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker?

The UN faces an unprecedented challenge in the scale of suffering caused by conflict. If it is not meeting that challenge with the effectiveness which the victims deserve and global security demands, the responsibility for failure lies inescapably with its member governments, not least our own. The UN has no existence other than the governments which comprise it.

This autumn the General Assembly of the UN will debate the future of the Security Council. The UK Government are determined to retain for the UK the privilege of permanent membership of the Security Council with the power of veto. Only five nations in the world enjoy that status. It places immense responsibilities for leadership on the UK Government. They must demonstrate by their commitment, vision and action that the UK justifies that status. We should be in the lead in rebuilding a UN which is both more effective and more clearly driven by universal humanitarian principles. We should be the first to recognise that the cost of humanitarian programmes would be nowhere near as great if the world community invested more energy and time in preventing conflict in the first place. Pre-emptive diplomacy and conflict resolution should constantly be at the top of its agenda.

In Bosnia we were too late to be proactive a long time ago. In other parts of the Balkans we may not be. The UN's first example of the preventive deployment of peace-keepers in Macedonia is most welcome and should be urgently expanded. In Somalia active UN diplomacy did not begin until 1992, whereas preventive diplomacy much earlier could well have prevented the scale of the conflict and famine which resulted.

Yet even before preventive diplomacy for deployment of peace-keepers can be pursued, any response depends upon timely and accurate early warning. Current resources devoted to early warning and prevention are minute in comparison with those allocated to the reactive measure of peacemaking or peace-keeping at the end of a conflict.

The United Kingdom Government should pursue vigorously the objective of enabling the United Nations to integrate all its early warning activities and to establish effective channels for the rapid communication of information on human rights and humanitarian crises. The vast knowledge of nongovernmental organisations and the UN specialised agencies should be effectively used by those responsible within the UN for political affairs, security and conflict prevention.

I said that resources for prevention are small compared with those for peacekeeping. That is glaringly true. But resources for peacekeeping expenditure are now 1.4 billion US dollars compared with the world's military expenditure of 922 billion US dollars. Despite the massive increase in UN peacekeeping since the beginning of 1992 the world chooses to spend 1.4 US dollars on peacekeeping for every 1,000 US dollars of military expenditure. And still in the foreign ministries of the world they rub their eyes and ask, "Why is there a world of increasing disorder?".

The beginning of the answer is depressing. Governments do not care enough to provide the resources to prevent it. I regret to say that the United Kingdom's unbalanced priorities are worse than the world average. For every one US dollar we spend on peacekeeping our military expenditure is 1,441 US dollars. This year for the first time the United States Congress has set aside a reserve fund for unexpected peacekeeping needs during 1993. Perhaps it would be helpful for the United Kingdom to do the same. All experts predict that the demands for peacekeeping will increase. Yet money is not enough, and it is true that it has not always been effectively used by the United Nations in the past. The current restructuring of the UN is therefore extremely welcome and must achieve a well-managed, cost-effective and accountable system which can inspire donor confidence. Too many UN relief operations have been plagued by lack of co-ordination between different parts of the UN system. As the operations have also taken on peacekeeping and political roles, more UN departments have become involved without always adequate integrated direction.

The people at risk, the innocent, deserve better. They need improvements in co-ordination between different agencies in New York and Geneva. In particular, one specifically appointed person accountable to the Secretary-General should be given personal responsibility for co-ordinating UN humanitarian, diplomatic and peacekeeping activities in each crisis. Without that, bureaucratic complexities between different parts of the system will inevitably undermine the operation.

The United Kingdom has an ideal opportunity to argue for this when the new UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs, established in April 1992, is reviewed by the UN's Economic and Social Council in a few weeks' time and by the General Assembly in the autumn. Another opportunity for the UK will be at the UN world conference on human rights in Vienna next month. It is time the world recognised unequivocally that human beings in distress have a right to relief. That is not clear in current international human rights law. The conference should affirm that and propose moves for it to become incorporated into international law.

The right to relief, like all human rights, needs mechanisms to enforce it. Moving towards that, it is now rightly recognised that international conflicts, and the humanitarian needs arising from them, can be a basis for the UN Security Council to authorise military intervention to protect relief and civilians if all other means have failed. It is vital that so-called humanitarian interventions should be implemented consistently and transparently, based upon clear humanitarian criteria alone and never upon the arbitrary priorities of key individual member states. At present this is not the reality. The United Kingdom could play a major role by helping to codify and establish such criteria to ensure that intervention takes place where and when needs arise.

The number of internal armed conflicts, their economic and social consequences, the death, bereavement and suffering which they cause, the floods of refugees and the proliferation of weapons of all kinds leave no room for illusions. Traditional methods of global governance are in chaos. They have failed. A new strategic vision is imperative if the world community is to learn how to prevent war. War machines within individual states and international crime syndicates have the capacity to generate violence on an exponential scale. By contrast, attempts at war prevention have been piecemeal, tardy and inadequate. They have proved impotent in the face of spiralling violence.

The optimism generated by the end of the cold war has withered painfully. George Bush was wrong. Our new world is in disorder, not order. But the much quoted Francis Fukuyama was also wrong. History has not come to an end; it has accelerated rapidly, seemingly out of control. We are locked together in a highly interdependent world. We cannot get off. Maastricht will quickly be seen as an irresponsible diversion unless, with it under our belt, we can focus on the major realities which threaten the future of humanity.

If the United Kingdom aspires to the world status implicit in permanent membership of the Security Council, we must be seen and felt to lead in building a system of global governance geared to the needs of the 21st century. We must be second to none in providing, and ensuring that others play their part in providing, the resources without which all the Foreign Secretary's Chatham House speeches will evaporate in the heat of conflict. Time is not on our side. We must speedily learn the lessons of the past four years and apply them without delay.

7 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps I may, first, thank your Lordships for the very warm welcome that I have received since I have been here. I have begun to learn that, if I can walk a little more slowly and think a little more deeply, I should be able to adapt myself reasonably well from another place.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for tabling the Motion and for having spoken with such eloquence and knowledge about it. As he said, it is a matter of extreme seriousness and there are few people in this House or in the other place who bring to it the same knowledge and experience as he does. Indeed, I am proud this evening to be sandwiched between two colleagues from the other place whom I respect as much as I do the noble Lord, Lord Judd and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. Both of them are peculiarly well qualified to speak this evening.

I am also very fortunate this evening in having drawn the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, as the Minister who is to respond to the debate. There are few people on the Government Front Bench who I respect more. I know of her concern for the matters that we are discussing; I know how hard she has worked in attempting to give a greater British contribution in all these matters; and I could not have chosen or asked for a Minister who I would be more pleased to have respond to the debate than the noble Baroness.

Perhaps I may begin my speech by saying that I echo much of what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is the agency of the United Nations about which I intend mainly to speak this evening in a short maiden speech. It could be said, as it is said in Handel's "Messiah" that the UNHCR has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out, every month that passes, that particular agency of the United Nations is called upon to do yet more than it has done before as one area after another in the world slides into chaos and the break-up of such order as it had. It is the UNHCR that is so frequently called upon to pick up the pieces.

Yet, in its humanitarian work—work, as the noble Lord said, which now extends to 18 million refugees worldwide and to 15 million displaced people; a figure that grows every day by many hundreds like a ratchet, for it moves always upwards and rarely downwards —the United Nations High Commission for Refugees finds itself increasingly without the resources to do its job. I have here the current estimate for 1993 for the one area to which I wish to address most of my remarks; namely, the former Yugoslavia. I refer to the most recent report last week of the UNHCR which shows a need for 420 million dollars to meet its estimated requirements for 1993 alone of which, so far at the end of May, it had 130 million dollars; that is to say, little more than one-third of the amount actually required. Of course a number of countries have contributed substantially to that figure. In the whole period since the UNHCR began working in the former Yugoslavia it has received 767 million dollars in all. The United Kingdom has contributed 43 million dollars, the Federal Republic of Germany 50 million dollars, the United States 73 million dollars and, true to their long tradition of distinguished international service, the relatively sparsely populated Scandinavian countries have contributed no less than 60 million dollars, and that is much the largest proportional contribution of any country.

Nevertheless the United Nations High Commission for Refugees is literally living from hand to mouth. In some cases it is unable to pay those who render it dedicated service. When I was recently in Bosnia and Croatia I came across some people who had not been paid for a couple of months because there appeared to be no money with which to pay them. Your Lordships will know, because there are harrowing stories in the newspapers, how desperate the situation is in some parts of Bosnia today. At the end of last month and early this month when I was in Sarajevo people could still obtain fresh bread every day. I read that last week the bakery stopped work because there was no fuel to feed it as the fuel had been stopped outside Sarajevo. It is difficult to describe what it is like to see children dodging down the streets—many of them marked by snipers from the hills surrounding Sarajevo—in a desperate attempt to get water, bread and other supplies for their families.

We know that the United Nations' allies are now moving towards a fresh policy for the former Yugoslavia and specifically for Bosnia. It is to that matter that I wish to address a few remarks, with your Lordships' indulgence, this evening. We have now heard of what are called safe havens. That is a strange term, for its reality is not what its name implies. It sounds as if it should result in a calm and soothing outcome but there are many questions about the safe havens policy and I wish to raise three of them this evening.

First, we do not yet know whether supplies of necessary food and other materials will get through to the safe havens because it is not yet clear what mandate the United Nations' forces will have in Bosnia to get them through. As one British soldier said to me at Sarajevo airport, "Any cowboy with a kalashnikov can turn back UN convoys of many lorries carrying necessary supplies". We still do not have the mandate that will enable us to get those convoys through.

My second question concerns the largest of the enclaves in terms of population. Some 700,000 men, women and children, many but not all of whom are Bosnian Moslems, are entrapped today in the enclave o Tuzla. There is a large military airport in Tuzla. It. has still not been opened and as of yesterday when I rang up the UNHCR for the latest information, I was told that there were still grave difficulties in getting Bosnian Serb agreement to opening Tuzla airport. I might point out that the Bosnian Serbs have no recognised sovereign country which would confer upon them legitimacy. But Tuzla Airport might constitute the one safe way to get supplies through.

The third question that I need to ask stems from the words of the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary who said in another place last month: The political process is not dead and sooner or later, for the reasons I have put before the House, the parties must, and will, come back to it ".—[Official Report, Commons, 29/4/93; col. 1172.] The right honourable gentleman, the Foreign Secretary, clearly views the safe enclaves policy as a way to negotiate for some return to a more sound and lasting political settlement. The right honourable gentleman also said in a letter that he sent me on 6th May: It is particularly important to contain the fighting and not precipitate its spread into other parts of the Balkans". The third question, therefore, concerns the placing of monitors on the Bosnian-Serb border, rejected by the president of the rump Yugoslavia, Mr. Costić, and questioned by Mr. Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, at a time when many reports indicate that arms supplies are still getting through Serbia towards the Bosnian Serbs. When the right honourable gentleman gave that very sound warning he did not know what we have learnt in the past days. The latest article which appeared in the International Herald Tribune by Mr. Butoski regarding the situation in Kosovo indicates that daily the number of artillery points, troop mobilisations and supplies are increasing, indicating the possibility of an attack once the present business in Bosnia is concluded.

I want to mention one other point before I end with a few questions for the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker. These relate to a wider issue raised by my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Judd. He mentioned that we are looking for a new form of order in the world following the end of the cold war and following the creation of a new enemy. The enemy is not the Soviet Union but the chaos and disorder which are beginning increasingly to sweep through the world. It is much harder to deal with chaos than with a certain and concrete enemy.

So far we have no answers, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, implied. We have the beginnings of a few answers: the work of the CSCE in the area of conflict resolution; the work done by some voluntary agencies on conciliation and arbitration and other answers to the conflicts in the world; and the gradual transformation of NATO, so powerfully underlined last week when Manfred Wormer, the Secretary-General, echoed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, saying that what is needed is political will, not military force.

We have one great asset in that respect, for the distinguished conduct of British forces in the former Bosnia indicates that, more than perhaps any other country in the world, not least because of the long drawn out and sometimes miserable experience of British troops in Northern Ireland, this country has almost a unique experience of police action in attempting to protect the lives of civilians in the face of brutal behaviour by terrorists, guerrillas and others.

What we need, therefore, are new departures in a number of areas. I shall refer to just one such departure. Looking back on the history of the Bosnian conflict many of us now recognise that it began with too precipitate a recognition first of Slovenia and then of Croatia. Given the history of Croatia, we should at least have insisted on safeguards for the minorities in that country and recognition of their rights.

I was pleased the other day to receive a letter from the Commissioner for External Affairs of the European Commission, Mr. Hans van den Broek, dated 10th May, stating: The failure to act in a timely fashion and to react energetically has disappointed American opinion and - even worse - European opinion. I agree with you on the importance for the EC to establish clear links between membership and treatment of minorities". I believe that that is an encouraging route down which to go.

I end, therefore, by asking the noble Baroness to comment on three questions which I wish to put to her. The first is whether Her Majesty's Government will be seeking the stronger mandate necessary to get convoys of humanitarian aid through to the pathetic enclaves now suffering from a lack of water, power and food and all the other necessary means of life. Have we at last the willingness to get those supplies through?

I ask, secondly, whether air strikes will only protect soldiers. For, important as that is, are we really going to say that, if the snipers' aim is good enough to pick out children but not soldiers, air strikes will never be called down upon those responsible for those snipers' bullets and those mortar shells?

I ask, finally, whether Her Majesty's Government will insist upon United Nations monitors being placed on the Serbia-Bosnia border to ensure that Serbia's word is kept and that, when she says "We are doing nothing to supply the Bosnian Serbs in the business of ethnic cleansing", it will have clear evidence that her words and her deeds are identical.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, it is my particular pleasure to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby—I find the title difficult to say—on a very thoughtful, compassionate and challenging maiden speech. I was glad that she concentrated on UNHCR because I believe that it has one of the most difficult tasks at the present time.

For those of us who have known the noble Baroness for many years—and there are many in this Chamber who have—it is an enormous pleasure to have her in this House with us. I shall never forget the first occasion on which I met her. She was only 21 —not long ago. I was then secretary of the Council for Education in World Citizenship. She applied for a job; and I would not appoint her because she was too good. I said, "I want someone who will stay for two years, and I know that within nine months someone else will pick her up, and quickly". I lost her to someone else's advantage.

Having worked with her in the Cabinet of the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, she will be an enormous asset to the House. I shall not go into any subsequent political difficulties. She is the heart and soul of any group she joins; and if she leaves a group she takes away a hunk of heart and soul too. To have the noble Baroness in the Chamber means that all of us will be enriched. Her speech today demonstrated that.

I want to thank, too, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for his very challenging, constructive, moving and passionate opening speech as regards this short debate. It is a short debate but it is concerned with two questions which certainly are not simple. Many problems arise within those questions. I shall not say anything about Bosnia. I agreed with everything said by the noble Baroness whom I have already congratulated. I cannot even refer to her as my noble friend, can I? I shall not refer to the Horn of Africa, Mozambique or Angola.

The UN system was set up in 1945. In that same year I was appointed to the staff of the United Nations Association. That was an exciting challenge. However, for most of the years in which we have worked with the UN it has been unable, because of a divided world or because of a veto, to accept the challenges that came before it. Now it is accepting those challenges, and all of a sudden they plunge upon us, huge and powerful. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, is right to ask the question: is the UN able to accept them? Is the structure right? We cannot answer those questions quickly.

Our commitment is very important. In a debate in another place on 23rd February, I was delighted that Dr. Jack Cunningham reminded that House that Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution—often debated—includes in Clause 4(7) the Labour Party's commitment to support for the United Nations. It is in our very constitution.

We had many bad years. We now see demands brought upon the United Nations which are so huge that in a sense it cannot cope because, as the noble Baroness and my noble friend have said, there is not the money. The bills are not being paid to allow the job to be done.

At the time of the debate on 23rd February, there were 13 operations up and running; 259 peacekeepers in Jerusalem, 1,120 deployed between Israel and Syria; 5,643 in the Lebanon; 353 in Kuwait, including 18 Britons; in the Western Sahara, 332 peacekeepers, including 15 Britons; in Angola, 221. In Somalia at that stage—though it is different now—a 28,000-strong unified task force was led by the Americans with their own 18,000 troops. In Cambodia, about which I shall say more in a moment, there are 15,549 peacekeepers, including 122 Britons. In Latin America, there are 227 peacekeepers in El Salvador; in Europe—in Cyprus—a force of 2,159, including 612 Britons. Then there are the two different forces in the former Yugoslavia with nearly 21,000 people, including 2,804 Britons. That is an enormous task, at a time when the UN must expect that it will get many other demands upon its services. I shall come back to that in a moment.

We may think that some of the tasks are being carried out without all that much success. We see the great tragedies in the former. Yugoslavia, tragedies which are not the fault of the United Nations, certainly not the fault of David Owen and not the fault of the negotiators. They are the fault of aggressive nationalists determined to hang on to their own territory.

As regards Cambodia, I find it exciting that what many of us might have thought three or four weeks ago would be in a sense another failure for the UN, looks as though it may turn out as a triumph. It is the biggest UN operation that there has ever been. I was delighted to see Cambodia set aside two decades of conflict and widespread fears of violence, when enthusiastic crowds turned out for the first day of voting in elections, disturbed more by rain than guerrillas or gunfire. That was the first day and it looks as though by the time the voting ends, which I believe is today, a higher proportion of the people of Cambodia will have voted under the care of the UN than voted in the United States in the last presidential election, and certainly far more than voted in our elections.

I believe that this is a triumph for the United Nations. I also saw a heading in the Guardian of 25th May: Unarmed Khmer Rouge soldiers turn out to vote", and when the soldiers went to cast their vote in free elections, it was the first time they had ever had that opportunity in their lives. That is the good news and I am one of the Martyn Lewis brigade who think that every now and again we should applaud the good news and tell the world about it.

I believe that there will be many more calls upon the United Nations in all kinds of ways and all parts of the world. There are conflicts in the former Soviet Union: in Azerbaijan, Tadjikistan, Abhazia, where I was recently. I think that there, as well as in places like Burma, to which I have no doubt my noble friend Lord Bottomley will refer, democracy seems to have disappeared. Opposition leaders elected to power are now restrained, restricted and unable to carry out their work. East Timor; Kurdistan, which I shall visit soon; and Tibet are all areas where it is quite legitimate to expect that there will be demands for UN assistance in one form or another in the days to come.

We have to ask, as my noble friend Lord Judd did: are we equipped? Have we got the money? Do we have the troops set aside and trained? It may be that our own British contingents will not be able to play their fair part if they are not properly trained and if they are tied down with other matters.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby —I shall always have trouble with her name—as Shirley said, for 20 years the UNHCR has been helping more than 28 million refugees. I have seen the work that it has done in many parts of the world, with great sympathy, understanding and often now in great danger. Between 1981 and 1992 the number of refugees—now, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, nearly 20 million—more than doubled, from 8 million to 18 million: another 20 million are displaced in their own lands.

The UNHCR has an enormous task to face. It is doing it well. I mentioned Cambodia. One of the good bits of news from Cambodia last month was that the United Nations High Commissioner, visited and officially closed the last camp for Cambodian refugees in Thailand, one year after it began a voluntary repatriation programme for some 375,000 Cambodians. More than 236,000 Cambodians have been resettled in the United States, Canada and Australia, from camps in Thailand and elsewhere.

But, when we look at the appalling financial situation, not just for UNHCR but for the whole of the UN, we see that it is heading for a time when it will simply have to say no to demands for further help. The latest figures, published a couple of months ago, show that contributions outstanding from the member states to the United Nations totalled 1,250,390,098 dollars. That is a huge sum, a very high proportion of which was due from the United States. The country that can afford to pay most is the most indebted. Britain's record is not bad. We pay on the dot. Let us give credit where credit is due. There is not much credit around, but let us give it when it is due.

The American situation is an appalling one. Will the UN be forced at some stage to say: "No, we cannot send in forces, observers and supplies; we simply do not have the money to pay for them?" I believe that we all have to take part in a great campaign to get the people to recognise that it is their organisation.

I was recently looking at an article by Erskine Childers. He was reminding us that the current cost of the totality of the UN systems—worldwide emergency, peace-keeping and humanitarian relief—is estimated at about 4 billion dollars, which is equal to the combined budgets of the police and fire departments of New York City. It is quite comparable to the budget of the city of Birmingham. Yet that is the entire budget of the UN for the whole of the world, giving service for 180 countries. There are now huge numbers of people working for the UN: 51,000 serving in some 180 countries. The demands are enormous. So I believe we have to tell the public where their responsibility lies.

I end by congratulating my friends in the United Nations Association who have put together a set of proposals on An Agenda for Peace to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in another place with a whole series of proposals which are very constructive and which emphasise, in the mood of the speech given by my noble friend in opening the debate, that priority must always be given to the prevention of conflict. Criteria to allow UN fact-finding and humanitarian assistance without state consent should be elaborated and agreed. I could continue if I had the time.

We must see that the UN has an opportunity of doing a great deal of preventive diplomacy; of stopping wars rather than having to deal with them when they occur. I am delighted that the Select Committee in another place is having a look at the sort of proposals that can go to Her Majesty's Government and I hope that Her Majesty's Government are studying this very important responsibility.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, I am pleased to follow my noble friend Lord Ennals, and in particular to join him in the tributes that he paid to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. I recall with pleasure that I spoke for her on her first adoption meeting as a candidate for Parliament. How worthily she performed those duties.

It was my privilege to be a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations in 1946, 1947 and 1949. The leader of the delegation was Ernest Bevin, then the Foreign Secretary. My responsibility was to represent Britain on the Trusteeship Committee, which was concerned with the colonies of the European Powers and the dependent territories in different parts of the world. Other members of the committee were Field Marshal Smuts, Foster Dulles of the United States and Gromyko of the Soviet Union. After the 1946 committee meeting, Field Marshal Smuts prevailed upon Clement Attlee, the Prime Minister, to send me on an official visit to South Africa.

Field Marshal Smuts was one of the most outstanding men I have ever met. He once told me that there could be no peace or security in southern Africa except on the basis of equality of the races. He said to me, "I know what you are going to say to me: 'Why don't you do something about it?' Well, I have, and that is why I want the help of my young revolutionary friend. I have provided for Indians to be represented in the South African Parliament." He said that it would not have been possible to have direct representation. But the Indians rejected the proposal and rioted. If they had accepted the principle of representation, it would eventually have led to the Africans making equal demands and in due course by evolutionary means it would have brought about a non-racial establishment. That in turn would have brought the Indians and the South Africans together. "But," he said, "I failed and following that I lost my parliamentary seats." In due course he lost power, the Afrikaners took over and apartheid followed. It is still in being, but fortunately it looks as though things are moving in such a direction that we shall soon see an end to it.

As my noble friend Lord Judd said, we must today meet the world's increasing humanitarian needs. Humanitarian agencies, such as Oxfam, face a major increase in human suffering as a result of conflicts within states. Fifty-four per cent of Oxfam expenditure is now devoted to the victims of those conflicts.

The United Nations, in its Charter written in July 1945, has traditionally seen threats to international peace as the only criterion for military intervention. From those conflicts there are 80 million refugees, including one million in Europe and 15 million persons displaced in their own countries. They represent an enormous humanitarian need and, while conflict prevents their return, a continuing demand on the resources of the donor countries.

Most of the casualties of the world's internal conflicts arise from small arms, landmines and mortars. Yet traditionally the United Nations has concentrated its disarmament efforts upon sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. Perhaps more than any other weapon type, landmines are having a disastrous effect on communities. The United States and France announced moratoria on the export of landmines in 1992. The United Kingdom has not yet ratified the current international legislation on the use of landmines contained in the 1980 United Nations Inhuman Weapons Convention.

In conclusion, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Judd on bringing this matter forward for debate, and compliment him enormously on the way in which he opened the discussion.

7.35 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, on her fascinating and fluent maiden speech. Unlike those who have spoken before me, I think I am one of the only hereditary Peers present this evening and it was a great pleasure indeed to hear her. I hope that we shall have many more valuable contributions from the noble Baroness in the foreseeable future.

When I decided to put my name down to speak in this evening's debate, I did so with the objective of expressing my reservations about the efficacy of the United Nations system in meeting the humanitarian demands placed upon it. However, that naturally begs the question as to why the United Nations is not able to cope adequately with meeting the humanitarian demands in such countries as Bosnia, Cambodia, The Horn, Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere. So what can be done to remedy the situation?

As I understand it, the United Nations charter's stated aims are to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations; and to help solve international problems, which includes humanitarian relief. However, the charter appears to be a document in the main about inter-state conflicts. The situation, as other noble Lords have mentioned today, has changed dramatically since the end of the cold war.

If one spans the problem areas of the world from the former Republics of Yugoslavia to China, from El Salvador to Somalia, communal violence and civil war are posing a major serious threat to world security. Clearly there has been more recognition of late of the role and powers of the United Nations in the debate over what action should be taken by the international community in endeavouring to subdue and quell the tragic wars in Bosnia and Somalia, and the consequential demands for humanitarian relief.

A running theme in the discussion of the role and efficacy of the United Nations is that member states are not giving the United Nations the resources, either financially or in terms of personnel, to do the job required of it. That point was elaborated by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

Since the Secretary General, Mr. Boutros Ghali, took over the reins at the United Nations just over a year ago, he has endeavoured to restructure and consolidate many of the activities in the larger departments. To that end he has focused UN resources in three main operational activities: Mr. Jan Eliasson, a Swedish diplomat, is responsible for humanitarian affairs; Mr. Marrack Goulding is responsible for the peacekeeping portfolio; and preventive diplomacy and peacemaking are shared on a regional basis between Mr. James Jonah of Sierra Leone, who deals with Africa and the Middle East, and Vladimar Petrovsky, who deals with Europe, Asia and the Americas.

In spite, however, of the Secretary General's endeavours to meet with greater efficacy the objectives of the United Nations, the humanitarian peacekeeping operations have of late endured fierce criticism in many of the problem areas as a result of their lack of visible success. Clearly, the adequacy of the United Nations system to meet the humanitarian demands placed on it, in such areas as Bosnia, Cambodia, The Horn, Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere is, as the Question today implies, to a large degree dependent on the efficacy of the peacekeeping role of the United Nations forces in those areas. If we look at the United Nations peacekeeping operations in Angola, Cambodia, Somalia and Bosnia, these have in the main failed or are in serious trouble not necessarily because of the technical failures of the peacekeepers but because of unresolved political problems in those countries.

A criticism which has been regularly levied against the United Nations is the lack of effective liaison between the main departments. In Bosnia and Somalia the United Nations objective has predominantly been defined as humanitarian, but as a result of the peacekeeping forces being involved in those countries, the main organisational load appears to have fallen on the shoulders of Mr. Goulding's department.

It is worth mentioning, however, that the introduction of peacekeeping forces to Somalia has to a certain degree assisted in ending the famine emergency in that country and the United Nations aid agencies have had to concentrate their activities on the daunting task of resettling 2.5 million Somalis displaced by the civil war. Of these, 1 million are sitting in refugee camps outside Somalia. Neither the military nor the humanitarian agencies of the United Nations have ever undertaken a logistical task of this size. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has already elaborated on the disturbing and tragic numbers of refugees escaping civil war worldwide and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has spoken of the work and challenges facing the UNHCR.

The recent events in Bosnia and Somalia have blurred the distinction between peacekeeping and enforcement and between humanitarian assistance arid military confrontation. The Secretary General has been overtly critical of the bureaucracy and, at times, the inefficacy of the United Nations. In his Agenda for Peace report, published in June last year, he recognised that there are many situations where traditional peacekeeping is not enough and suggested the creation of peace enforcement units more heavily armed than traditional peacekeepers and authorised in certain cases to use force.

Turning to the question whether a balance between preventive and relief agencies is appropriate, it would appear that with 13 United Nations relief operations currently in place, at an annual cost, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned, of more than 4 billion dollars, there is scope for more energy to be directed at preventive action. A trend that appears to have established itself recently in developing countries has been a massive increase in urbanisation from the rural areas to the main cities, placing an enormous burden on the urban infrastructures, not just in the provision of adequate education, health care and housing needs but also resulting in massive unemployment and a rise in civil unrest and crime.

I fully support Her Majesty's Government's policy of not providing development aid to countries which do not practice "good governance". But surely we ought to be focusing our attentions not just upon providing aid and encouraging the objectives and endeavours of the United Nations but also upon encouraging such issues as agricultural reform in developing countries and ensuring that funds allocated by such organisations as the World Bank to worthwhile developments in developing countries are spent on such projects rather than in many places being channelled in part to corrupt politicians' offshore banking accounts! The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, called for more international support in encouraging agricultural reform in Africa, following his recent visit there and quoted the success of agricultural reform in India.

So, in conclusion, clearly Mr. Boutros Ghali has an uphill battle on his hands. As he acknowledged in a recent interview; My role is becoming more difficult not because of the absence of co-operation between the five permanent members of the Security Council or the absence of political will, but because of the multiplication of problems in Yugoslavia, El Salvador, Cambodia, Somalia, Angola, South Africa and Mozambique. The UN have never before had to deal with six or seven problems at the same time". This reminds me of Napoleon's remark that all empires die of indigestion and poses the question whether the United Nations, like so many other empires before it, will die of indigestion as a result of its inadequacies in coping with the increasing humanitarian and peacekeeping burdens facing the world today.

Clearly the United Nations is overstretched in much that it does and does not do, in many of the crises of the post cold-war world. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, more UN peacekeeping operations have been set up in the past five years than in the preceding 42 years. If the United Nations system is to have a chance of more adequately meeting the humanitarian demands on it in Bosnia, Cambodia, The Horn, Mozambique, Angola and elsewhere, it will need not just greater and more reliable resources, more specifically regular contributions from all—I stress all—member states, but also a more radically restructured organisation and a clearer definition of its various tasks and how they relate to each other. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has raised this important debate this evening and for having had the opportunity to discuss this important matter. I certainly look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.

7.46 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I should like to join in offering my thanks to my noble friend Lord Judd for introducing this debate and indeed to echo his concern that it is placed as an epilogue at the end of a very important parliamentary Session. It seems to me regrettable that such an immensely important subject is not given more time.

I also join in the congratulations of other speakers to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and, in this evening of pleasant reminiscence, to recall that some years ago she personally introduced me to some important humanitarian aid work in Latin America. It is in that area of the world that I focus some special attention this evening.

I wish first to reinforce some of the points which my noble friend Lord Judd made in general terms. There has been a great deal of emphasis, both in this debate this evening and in response to the Question he asked about UN humanitarian aid earlier today, on the importance of financial resources and the concern about the fact that everybody is either a debtor to the UN or in some way relaxed in their attitude towards financial constraints on UN activity.

As well as financial resources, we must also concern ourselves and think about the resources of leadership, political morality and those of ethical authority. Perhaps they are old-fashioned and somewhat unfashionable concepts, but nonetheless they are extremely important in the context in which we speak tonight.

My noble friend referred to the fact that the UK has not yet ratified the convention on inhumane weapons. As I understand it, neither have we ratified the 1977 additional protocols to the Geneva convention which include protocols relating to the victims of civil war and outrages on personal dignity. I believe that, in particular, they include humiliating and degrading treatment such as rape, which we have seen so unfortunately in the former Yugoslavia and has been referred to by previous speakers.

It seems to me that it would not cost us anything in financial resources to ratify these international agreements, but it would give us much more credibility and authority in speaking out against the kind of outrages which we have heard described. I feel that it is very sad that we have not done that.

My noble friend also referred to the forthcoming UN conference in Vienna on human rights and also to the revision of the UN department of humanitarian affairs. I hope that the UK can take a leading role in both of those fora because it seems to me that if we establish moral authority and leadership in such areas we have just as much justification for remaining in our permanent membership of the Security Council as would be derived from any contribution of forces or, ultimately, any financial contribution that we could make. We could make, in the Secretary General's terms, a real contribution to his so-called "agenda for peace" which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ennals. As I said, we can give leadership and moral authority where financial resources are perhaps more lacking.

I know that we can all be cynical about the UN's ability to deliver practical help in particular areas but, as has often been said, when we criticise the UN, all that we really do is criticise ourselves. In that spirit, I should like to spend a few minutes on Latin America and to speak particularly about Guatemala, which I think falls into the category of "elsewhere" in my noble friend's Unstarred Question. It certainly is not one of the main countries to which he draws our special attention. I am afraid that Latin America and Central America are often "elsewhere" in this country's debates on such issues. In rereading the debate in another place on the UN's peacekeeping role, which has already been referred to, I was surprised to note that Latin America and Central America were not mentioned at all.

However, as noble Lords will have seen, there was a coup in Guatemala this Tuesday. The constitution has been suspended; Congress has been dissolved; the President of the Supreme Court and the national prosecutor on human rights have been put under house arrest. That has dealt a cruel blow to the struggles of the Guatemalan people which have been going on for many decades—struggles in which they have tried to achieve internal peace and democracy and to end decades of what has been a massive and systematic violation of their human rights. I see today that some commentators have described the present situation in Guatemala as a real threat to the whole system of fragile democracy throughout Latin America—and I do not feel that that is an exaggeration. Many government leaders—President Clinton among them—and international organisations have already spoken out strongly about the coup, but obviously considerable international pressure is required to put Guatemala back on any sort of path to genuine democracy and rule of law.

The UN is already working there on a humanitarian basis. It is supervising camps for displaced persons of the type that have been described. I urge the Government, through the UN, to take the strongest possible line that it can on Guatemala. I understand that tonight in the European Parliament one Member is tabling a resolution to ask the EC to withdraw co-operation with the Guatemalan Government until some change is made in the present very difficult situation there. It would be appropriate for the Government now to reconsider their recent decision about our troops in Belize.

The people of Guatemala do not get on to the front pages. They are not included in the news bulletins. Even the coup has been little reported. But they are precisely in the category of people who have suffered terrible repression and internal displacement. They are the victims of land-mines and torture and of many of the horrors to which many noble Lords have referred. It is interesting that the UN has a presence there because in a way things have been seen to be getting better. In a way, the UN presence there is one of the chinks of light that has appeared recently in Guatemala's really terrible political history.

The UNHCR is there, supervising returning political refugees who were expelled a decade ago during the high point of the civil war. It is supervising them in camps established by the government, albeit in rather unsatisfactory and depressingly unattractive parts of the jungle, as I saw on a recent visit. We should be trying to exploit that international presence there by trying to exert some kind of moral suasion over President Serano.

One of the reasons why I have focused attention tonight on Guatemala and Latin America, in the sense that Guatemala represents the general problem there, is because of a very personal interest which I hope your Lordships will not regard as sentimental. I have a daughter working as a human rights monitor in one of those refugee settlements in the Ixtlahuacan Province on the Guatemalan-Mexican border. My daughter and her colleagues who work there with her are similar to the many hundreds of people from the UK who work for humanitarian purposes and human rights in many parts of the world. They expect our Government—their Government —to be at the forefront of international efforts to extend humanitarian aid and to develop peacekeeping. I believe that we owe it to them and to the tradition of British international public service which they represent, as well as to all the people whom they are trying to help, to do everything we can to strengthen and expand the UN's role so that the agenda for peace, about which the Secretary General has spoken, becomes a practical global strategy and not just a pious hope.

7.56 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Judd for tabling this Question and for the very telling speech which he made to kick off the debate. Perhaps as a relative newcomer to the House, I may also extend my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, on an extremely important speech. I am sure that she will be listened to in the House with very great attention.

I shall take a slightly different tack from most noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Many people here are much better equipped than I am to produce facts and figures about the UN's activities in various parts of the world, the costs involved and so on. I wish to concentrate on the issue which a number of noble Lords have pointed to but have not made their main focus; that is, what is the moral authority of the UN in acting. That is crucial for mobilising the consent both of governments and ordinary citizens for the activities of the UN.

As a number of noble Lords have said, the UN is. composed of individual states and governments. The political will of those governments to support UN initiatives cannot be conjured out of thin air. It must be drawn from and strengthened by the attitudes and beliefs of ordinary citizens. The crucial question is: what kind of moral basis and rationale can be given for what are a large number of thorough-going initiatives by the United Nations? How can we mobilise consent, agreement and support for those initiatives within the countries which are members of the United Nations?

That is extremely important when we are talking about monetary resources and cash for the UN, whether it is material in terms of food and so on or whether it is calling upon our soldiers to risk their lives. In undertaking humanitarian efforts, we must be clear on what basis people are being asked to make such contributions to the UN effort.

We are heir to two radically different approaches to this which we have not worked through ourselves in our own minds in this country, never mind elsewhere. The first is what I might call the interest approach to international politics. That is probably best summed up by my noble friend Lord Healey some 40 years ago in his contribution to New Fabian Essays in which he said: Nation states are political entities, not moral entities—with interests and desires, not rights and duties". Therefore, for someone who takes that rather interest-based, realistic approach, the question of intervention is to be justified not by an appeal to what my noble friend Lord Judd spoke of as general, universal moral principles or human rights' ideals and so on but by what kind of interest we have at stake when we are called upon to contribute to a UN effort.

That idea, well articulated by my noble friend Lord Healey 40 years ago, has not disappeared. It was raised in another place quite recently by Nicholas Budgen in a question to the Foreign Secretary. He asked what is our interest in Bosnia. He asked what British interest is at stake in Bosnia as a justification for being involved there.

Of course, there is the argument that we can be involved and call upon people to make sacrifices whether financial, tax-based or in terms of the commitment to troops. We can call on the interest-based view only if it can be demonstrated that there is that kind of interest at stake. On this view it is redundant to invade the large-scale moral principles on the grounds that ordinary people will not be motivated by such concerns. In a sense, that is both the strength and the weakness of the interest view. It links in with the perceptions of ordinary people about politics. Most people are not driven by abstract and universal ethical conceptions whereas they have some sense of their own state, its interest and so forth.

On the other hand, my noble friend Lord Judd was right to say that if one takes that interest-based approach in a sense it runs against the necessity that we have for collective action on a world stage. The states which are contributing to that collective activity will fiddle around with it in order to ensure that their own interests are well protected. I believe he said that they would act in arbitrary manners in the context of collective action in order to protect their own interests. Therefore, it is difficult to see how collective action could be properly based on the interest-based approach. It seems that collective action is fundamentally necessary and yet that moral base—if that is what it is—cannot do justice to it.

The alternative view is that ideas about rights and universal human rights run directly contrary to the argument of my noble friend Lord Healey; that states have interests and not rights and duties. After all, if there are universal human rights they are not the concern just of the governments under which the right-holders happen to live; those rights are the concern of everyone. As was said by my noble friend Lord Ennals, rights without the means of enforcement are pretty feeble rights. Other states have to be concerned not only with the protection of rights in other societies, but with the means of the enforcement of those rights. In those circumstances, the kind-of-rights argument provides a contrary position to that of my noble friend Lord Healey: that states have desires and interests and not rights and duties—

Lord Ennals

My Lord, my noble friend's argument is so interesting that I wish to probe it a little furtner. The article to which he referred by my noble friend Lord Healey was written 40 years ago. It was written before many international legal obligations and legally-binding covenants which have been accepted by member states. Does my noble friend agree, therefore, that now some states have legal obligations as well as interests?

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend Lord Healey now would. I did not mean to imply that he would now hold these views but I believe that in his essay he was putting what one might call Left-wing international Utopianism under a very cold shower on the grounds that he thought that it was rather sentimental.

I believe that the alternative view—the rights-based approach—gives one state a sense of duty towards individuals in other states. That is the basis of much of the present intervention, in particular when it occurs without the consent of the state in which the intervention takes place. The difficulty with that is the mirror image of the interest approach.

As I said earlier, ordinary people are not much motivated by abstract political conceptions such as ideas of rights and so forth. Therefore, putting such ideas to people as the basis for intervention may well not have the kind of power that the appeal to a specific real interest in a particular form of intervention might have on the Healey arguments of 40 years ago.

The other danger of the human rights argument is twofold. First, we have to recognise that it actually constrains the idea of sovereignty, as many of the intervention actions that have gone forward in recent years clearly show. There is no point in beating about the bush about that: if we want to follow, as I do, the route taken by my noble friend Lord Judd, we must squarely face up to it and not try to get around it with all kinds of attempts to hedge the position.

The second danger is that there is the possibility —and I put it no higher than that—that we actually extend in a rather dramatic and, possibly, irrational way the sphere of our moral responsibility to other people. As John Stuart Mill once argued: we can be as responsible for our inaction which causes harm, as for our action. Trying to work out what the consequences of our inactions are in terms of the harm that they may do to other people, given that we think that we have duties to other people, is very difficult. I believe that that idea may lie behind the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, that the West was an accomplice to murder in Bosnia. If we have that kind of duty to protect people in Bosnia because they have a right to protection, then the failure to act was a kind of collusion with the position that they finally found themselves in.

Therefore, there is the danger that, if it is thought that we have a strict duty as regards aid and that people have a right to relief, as argued by my noble friend Lord Judd, then I believe that we extend enormously the sphere of human responsibility. While I think that that view is morally defensible, it is also one that requires a huge programme of education before it becomes a plausible basis for the moral under-pinning that I believe a much extended and more interventionist United Nations would actually need to ensure that the resources within member states are forthcoming to support that degree of intervention.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, one of the great pleasures of being in your Lordships' House is the delight of hearing some speeches which are so profound that one is left almost reeling at the end. Of course, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Judd for giving us the opportunity to discuss this matter. Indeed, we have heard some very good speeches, among which was the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. She too will find that the pleasure to which I referred is one of the best aspects of the House. It is as great a pleasure to listen as it is to speak. I was in fact referring especially to the contribution made by my noble friend Lord Plant. I did not expect him to make such a speech, so I am not quite able to work out the consequences that he mentioned. However, what I have to say somehow follows in the same vein. As fellow academics, my noble friend and I can indulge in abstract thinking—partly because we are no good at anything else and partly because that is, perhaps, what gives us great pleasure.

I wish to concentrate on an aspect mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd; namely, whether the UN system is adequate to meet the humanitarian demands increasingly being placed upon it. In my view, we should ask ourselves what we think of the system as such. I should like to follow my noble friend Lord Plant in the way I approach the matter. In fact, it is a pity that I cannot call him "noble and learned" because, although he is not a lawyer, he happens to be a very learned man. The problem with the UN system is that it does not actually comprise united nations; it is a union of nation states. There is a great conflict between the interests of nation states and the interests of nations as people.

We are finding out increasingly, especially in the field of humanitarian assistance, that the conflict between nation states and the people who inhabit the nation states is very often a great obstacle for the United Nations. I say that because, enshrined in Article 2 Section 7 of the UN charter is the principle of sovereignty. Unless the world actually rethinks the role and importance of sovereignty in the UN system, especially in the post-end of history of the world in which we live, there will be continual problems for the UN system as regards effectiveness in intervention. We are increasingly asking the UN to behave like a world government without the powers or resources that such a government needs, to say nothing of the moral authority that some governments have.

In many of the countries mentioned in the Unstarred Question crises have arisen because of the breakdown of the original sovereign state. Either civil war has then broken out—that is, the legitimacy of the nation state has been challenged—or there is statelessness. Somalia is a classic case of statelessness. In the case of Somalia, the UN could for the first time enter a country without an invitation, as there was no one to invite the UN to intervene, there being no state. I believe that this situation will occur more and more frequently in the future. Liberia came close to such a condition and there will be other instances of statelessness.

If there is enshrined in the United Nations a principle that the constituent members of the system are nation states rather than the people of those nation states, we shall have to redefine the terms of UN intervention. It may intervene if it considers that no state exists that has sufficient legitimacy to ensure the safety of those bodies who visit the state concerned to provide assistance. Those bodies could be nongovernmental organisations or UN bodies. When a condition of statelessness prevails and the UN intervenes, it not only has to provide humanitarian assistance but also military force.

The UN does not have its own army and has to rely on voluntary participants from its member states. As my noble friend Lord Plant said, only those nations who have vested interests in a particular conflict may wish to contribute personnel. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, covered the topic of Bosnia well. In Bosnia there is a lack of sufficient interest on the part of the great powers to intervene in the way many people believe they should. While all the legal niceties are being preserved, we are not solving the problem of Bosnia.

Intervention by the UN can often be held up because of an election in one country or a referendum in another. The UN has to seek a window of opportunity when no major power is disturbed by internal elections so leaders can concentrate on matters outside their own backyard. I believe the issue of sovereignty will continue to pose problems and that we shall have to reconsider the conditions under which the UN can intervene. The UN has intervened, especially in the case of Iraq, where it took the view that certain minorities within that state were suffering because the sovereign power was not guaranteeing the rights of its own citizens.

This is a rather touchy subject because many countries, especially those who have recently achieved sovereignty in what used to be called the third world, are jealous of their sovereignty and they are resentful of the argument that intervention can take place on the ground of human rights. They criticise human rights as being Eurocentric. My answer to that is, if they do not like what is Eurocentric, why do they buy Eurocentric guns and bombs? After all, guns and bombs too are Eurocentric. What those people really object to is the concept of human rights.

As I have said, the issue of sovereignty will cause conflict. That leads me to my next point, which concerns the provision of international public goods. One view is that a nation state provides certain public goods such as law and order. If the international system is to be a properly governed system it will have to provide certain international public goods. To do that, it will need money. As many noble Lords have pointed out, the way in which the UN system is financed is far too ad hoc and too much based on chance and local political jealousies to be reliable.

I do not know whether there will ever be a time when the UN system will be able to collect taxes on its own behalf, as many people have proposed. But we are far from that because nation states may not permit it. I should love to pay some of my taxes directly to the United Nations because they might be put to better use, but I am sure that that will not be allowed.

I now move slightly closer to the question of humanitarian assistance. I hope that noble Lords will permit me to mention some ideas from an excellent speech which the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata, made at a public lecture which she gave at the London School of Economics earlier this month. She pointed out that there are three major issues which any future system that is set up for humanitarian assistance has to face.

First, she pointed out that in addition to refugees there is also the problem of people who are displaced within a country and that in evolving the mandate for interaction we had to do something about the protection of displaced and other populations. Many of the problems are caused by civil wars in which people do not cross borders and do not technically become refugees. We may have to do something about that problem, and that is clearly in conflict with the doctrine of sovereignty.

The second problem which Mrs. Ogata mentioned was the fact that there are times when the mere presence of international bodies, especially international non-governmental organisations, can of itself help to protect the rights of minorities within countries. That is again a rather touchy issue for many governments, but the fact that Amnesty International or Oxfam may be present is a powerful force in protecting the rights of people within those countries. That is a matter on which we may have to evolve certain rules in the UN system in order to achieve a systematic presence of international bodies to help displaced persons.

Mrs. Ogata's third point, which I consider an important point, concerned the use of military force in the context of humanitarian assistance. That is a particular problem where there is statelessness and the local state has broken down or is challenged by rival powers. In providing humanitarian assistance in those circumstances we are asking people to risk their lives. It is difficult to ask people who are already doing tremendous voluntary work to give their lives merely because the local state cannot protect them. In that respect rules have to be evolved within the UN system for providing military assistance. Someone has to ride shotgun when food is being distributed because if they do not the food distributor will be shot. That raises its own important problem.

I believe that the present UN system is inadequate. That is not because of other problems which have rightly been pointed out by other noble Lords but because there are problems at the heart of the UN system. Those problems will have to be tackled very soon, either by an agglomeration of best practice or by a revision of the UN charter itself. Unless we face head on the problem of international governance, and local governance, we shall not be able to make the UN system as satisfactory as we should like it to be in providing the humanitarian assistance which is much needed.

8.20 p.m.

Lord Rea

My Lords, despite the number of conflicts all over the world, which have accelerated since the end of the cold war, as has been pointed out by many noble Lords, I should like to feel that there are hopeful signs. United Nations involvement, the increase of United Nations international peace keeping forces around the world, with forces coming from former cold war adversaries and now co-operating, is very gratifying. It is perhaps too early to crow as loudly as my noble friend did about the success in Cambodia, but at least it looks as though it may be a major triumph for the United Nations. Clearly problems are so great that, as many noble Lords have pointed out, the resources of the United Nations are grossly overstretched.

As my noble friend has clearly argued, prevention is better than cure. As in medicine, conflict prevention can be both primary, stopping the disease before it even starts, or secondary, snuffing it out when early signs first appear. Unfortunately, now we are mainly dealing with tertiary prevention. That means making the patient, or country, feel a bit less miserable in the face of established disease or disaster. Obviously primary prevention is the ideal aim, but that is still a somewhat Utopian hope—Left-wing universal Utopianism, to use the words of my noble friend Lord Plant. That all causes of conflict and disaster are foreseen before they occur is perhaps too much to hope for. Secondary prevention in all cases should be our aim. For that the United Nations would need a much better information, or early warning, system than it has at present, as my noble friend pointed out.

Nations would need to become more open and call for United Nations assistance at early stages of trouble. The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of nations—it has been a cornerstone of international relations ever since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648—needs to be modified, although—accept the cautionary words of my noble friends.

However, that concept has been suggested by such worthy people as Sr. Perez de Cuellar, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations. In his 1991 report he stated: The case for not impinging on the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of States…would only be weakened if it were to carry the implication that sovereignty…includes the right of mass slaughter or of launching systematic campaigns of decimation or forced exodus of civilian populations in the name of controlling civil strife or insurrection". Our own Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, stated: Recent international law recognises the right to intervene in the affairs of another state in cases of extreme humanitarian need". A long discourse on international law would be inappropriate at this stage. I agree with those two quotations. (This is to state the obvious—otherwise I would not have used them.) It is very important that any such interventions must have full United Nations backing and, if possible, United Nations Assembly backing, if possible not relying solely on the Security Council. I believe that the launching of a major military offensive is almost certainly in every case the wrong way to intervene, even though the alternative methods of sanctions and international political pressure may take an agonisingly long time to work.

The civilian population always loses out in a war, as has been pointed out by many noble Lords today. A particular example of that is the plight of the people of Iraq. I refer not only to the Kurds and the Shiites of the south, including the Marsh Arabs, but to almost the entire civilian population apart from a few wealthy people.

I talked yesterday to a recent visitor to Iraq, a young film producer who is the daughter of an old friend. She tells me that the population is in desperate straits, confirming the reports of Oxfam in 1991 and the Harvard studies which are ongoing, of 1992 and 1993. The government rations provide only two-thirds of the calorie requirements of the population and many thousands of people cannot make up the deficit. UNICEF estimates that between 80,000 and 100,000 children under the age of five will die this year unless sanctions are lifted. Those deaths will be from malnutrition and from illnesses which are normally self-limiting or easily treated but are far worse in malnourished subjects.

There is some evidence that there is a sharp increase in childhood leukaemias. That may be due to the spent cartridges or spent cores of armour-piercing shells which contain spent uranium. I am sure that the Pentagon has denied that the radioactivity reaches toxic levels, but a case has been mentioned to me of a German investigator who arrived back in his country and was immediately arrested because he was carrying the fragments of one of the shells. It was tested for radioactivity and was found to be a dangerous substance. He was taken into custody because of it.

Basic medical supplies are lacking. Even insulin for diabetics is hard to obtain. The £1 billion equivalent of oil exports that is allowed now by Iraq in order to purchase essential food and medical supplies is not enough to maintain even a subsistence standard of living for a large part of the population. There has been 1,000 per cent inflation and wage rates have hardly risen from their level two or three years ago. Many water purification and sewage treatment plants are still out of action following the war. That war has, therefore, created far more suffering than Saddam did when he annexed Kuwait. Is it right that Iraq's population should be held to ransom in that way?

I very much hope that the noble Baroness will ask her right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to try to find a way of allowing Iraq to sell more of its oil to alleviate the suffering. Creative diplomacy, I suggest, is urgently required.

Finally, I wish to join other noble Lords who have mentioned the particularly nasty problem of low intensity warfare with low-tech weapons such as anti-personnel land-mines. We are all familiar with the television pictures of rural people with amputated limbs. My noble friend mentioned the tragic case of his friend who was killed while distributing aid in Mozambique.

Perhaps I may add my voice to those asking whether this country is still exporting those weapons. The United States and France have ceased doing so and have agreed to a moratorium. Can we do the same? Also, there is the signing of the treaty known as "The Inhuman Weapons Convention", Protocol II, which places certain restrictions on the use of mines, booby traps and other devices. I wonder why we have not signed it. Surely because we have not signed it other countries must have been encouraged to ignore the convention, as they have done. I gather that it is being improved and reviewed. Can we participate in the process if we have not even signed it?

Before leaving this topic, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness what is being done to speed up de-mining operations in countries where they are still scattered profusely. Is the only way that the mines will be cleared to be by people stepping on them and getting killed?

In conclusion, I say how much I admire the way that the United Nations is attempting, with its scant resources, to tackle some of the worst problems in the world. We should support it fully, as well as the CSCE, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, as a peace-keeping, conflict resolution body. We should help the United Nations to improve its structures so that it becomes more efficient in tackling, or pre-empting, conflicts and disasters so that they become fewer and less severe.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, I apologise to the House for speaking in the gap. Colleagues may enjoy the irony that, as a keen student of the work of the Procedure Committee, I am probably the first person to be caught by the change of timing which it recently announced for giving in one's name to speak when the House was sitting at 11 o'clock. I will be extremely brief, as is the convention, but I should like to say how much I enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I often reflect happily on the days (like my noble friend Lord Ennals) when we worked together in another place. I am sure that she will be extremely useful in her contributions and I look forward to hearing her frequently.

I do not think that it is useful at the moment to criticise the United States as my noble friend Lord Ennals did. When one looks back over this century, the way in which the United States with its huge area, population and resources has resisted the temptation to go into an isolationist stance is quite remarkable. I think that its international effort should be recognised and that we should be very restrained in our remarks about that country, particularly at the moment, when its domestic situation is such that there is a reassessment of its attitude towards foreign and domestic balance in its output.

In the past I have spoken in this House about the Horn of Africa. That is mentioned in the Motion, so I shall say few words about it. I have also mentioned in particular the question of the problems in the Sudan.

This House has many advantages over the other place. But the other place has a procedural system of Early Day Motions, which are tabled by Members to register opinions about various events, which other Members sign if they support them. There are two Motions currently running in the other place regarding the Sudan. I mention that country particularly, not only because of my own interest, but because Dr. John Garang last week addressed an all-party meeting in the other place, which some noble Lords attended.

One of the Early Day Motions refers to human rights violations in Sudan. It attracted 92 signatures. I shall not weary noble Lords with the detail, as I have to he very brief. The second one refers to the United Nations and the Sudan, and to the appalling persecution against Christians and other religious and racial minorities there. It mentions the widespread suffering caused by its long-running civil war in the south, the famine and the indiscriminate bombings of civilians by government forces. It goes on to urge the United Nations Secretary-General to co-ordinate an international effort to bring peace to that country. It calls upon the British Government to raise these issues at the UN Security Council as a matter of priority and to encourage the Security Council to play a key role in ending Sudan's civil war and safeguarding the human rights of its religious and racial minorities. That has attracted 91 signatures. That is a very great number of signatures, and I am sure that it will go on collecting signatures. It is an expression of concern by ordinary Back-Bench Members of the other place which we should welcome. I am sure that if we had a similar procedural system here, noble Lords would contribute to it in just the same measure. So I say to my noble friend Lord Judd that there is very widespread concern in this House.

The fact that debates like this one take place later on in the day is not a bad thing. Basically, it is being held at this time because the subject is not contentious. When a matter is contentious, the Whips on both sides who keep our operations running like to hold the debate fairly early on in the day for reasons which will be obvious to noble Lords. Therefore I ask my noble friend Lord Judd to take heart. I thank him for initiating this debate, and say to him that there is far more concern over this matter than in his blacker moments he may feel that there is. I thank noble Lords for their indulgence for my oversight regarding the list. But I am sure that there will be a secret satisfaction among some noble Lords that the procedural pundit has slipped up.

8.35 p.m.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, perhaps I may say how very pleased I am that we have this debate just before my departure for New York to talk with the United Nations about many of the issues that noble Lords have raised tonight. I shall add to my baggage and take some extra copies of Hansard with me.

Secondly—but it is first in importance—perhaps I may say how much I enjoyed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. I thank her for the very kind things she said about me—quite unnecessary I assure her. It is a very long time since she made me feel very welcome in another place. Over the years we have certainly worked together on many issues. This will be no exception. She will bring to this House, as she showed tonight in an admirable maiden speech, that incisiveness, clear thinking and forward-looking mind for which she is so well known, not only in another place but also now on Merseyside.

The establishment of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, headed by Jan Eliasson, has meant that the UN is getting better at providing relief than in the past. But the demands for that humanitarian relief just grow and grow, particularly in the areas of civil strife. It is vital that member states should provide the resources necessary to enable the United Nations to meet those needs.

As Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council and a major contributor to the UN relief operations, I could not agree more that the UN must be equipped to respond rapidly and effectively to humanitarian emergencies.

I looked up something I said in a speech to the Oxford Union some time ago. It was in 1990, when I went to the refugee camps in Jordan in the no-man's land between Jordan and Iraq that I realised just how urgent it was to have some department within the UN which could bring together its different agencies. That was in September 1990. It was very difficult at that time to prompt the UN into action which was co-ordinated and which would allow those persons from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh who had been working for good wages in Kuwait and Iraq to get out after Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait.

That was the experience which led us, with our German colleagues and our EC partners, to take to the United Nations General Assembly in the following autumn the proposal which eventually led in April 1992 to the establishment of the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs. We continue to support fully Under-Secretary-General Eliasson in his very challenging role.

Perhaps I may point out to your Lordships that Britain was the first to contribute, with an initial 5 million US dollars, to the UN's new disaster relief fund. But we have kept up our record of contributions and in the past few months I have been able to second a senior British diplomat to Jan Eliasson's team to advise and help to sort out some of the problems of trying to co-ordinate humanitarian assistance in so many different areas of conflict simultaneously when there are enormous pressures on the UN.

We have contributed specifically to the running costs of that department's Geneva office. It is a revised version of the old UNDRO, but it has not been able to run as effectively as I know Under-Secretary-General Eliasson wishes.

We have been able to help them in the work of their special units in The Horn of Africa. We have helped them too with southern African drought, in Iraq and in the inter-agency working group which is based in Geneva, to try to knit together the disparate UN agencies which have not found it easy to work together, as I think your Lordships know only too well.

As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said in opening the debate—which we so much welcome—the review of humanitarian assistance now going on will be a major focus at this year's ECOSOC session in Geneva in July, as will the further review at the autumn's General Assembly. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others of your Lordships who raised the issue, that we have every intention of giving as much support as possible to sensible ideas of reform for better operations between the agencies, with the Department of Humanitarian Affairs having a co-ordinating, but not a dictating, role in trying to alleviate some of the most awful situations we have ever seen. The past three years of my life have been the most harrowing that I can remember.

When the noble Lord, Lord Judd, opened the debate he spoke of preventive diplomacy. I was much engaged by the line that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, took a few moments ago when he referred to primary prevention, secondary and now tertiary. I agree. There is too much tertiary prevention. We cannot inoculate against man's inhumanity to man, so inevitably there will be a majority of secondary prevention. But at least it should be that and not left to ameliorating a situation as the patient dies after many years of bad experience.

Prevention is better than relief. That is why the United Nations Secretary-General's report Agenda for Peace, published last June, is so important. Peacekeeping and peacemaking, where that can be done, are totally preferable to picking up the pieces afterwards. We need better early warning mechanisms, crisis monitoring, and preventive troop deployment. I am delighted that the United Kingdom had a lot to do with the UN deploying for the first time in the new Macedonia. These are all-important measures being developed, all too slowly. I understand the frustration. We face not only the difficulty of bringing together all those nation states, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, mentioned, but we also have the cost of doing it. I refer not only to cash but also to manpower.

As I have said to your Lordships before, I am amazed and delighted by the magnificent work that British troops and civilian aid workers carry out all over the world, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, and certainly at cost to their health. It is not just in Bosnia, marvellous though they are there, but also in Somalia, Cambodia and many other places through our first-class non-governmental organisations. Britain is at least doing its share to support the United Nations in preventing crises turning into disasters. But to succeed the UN also needs others to play their part. We are working on that steadily and firmly with other governments and, wherever we can, with each agency.

Many questions have been asked this evening and I cannot possibly answer all of them. I will do my best to respond to the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and others of importance. Because I believe so much in the whole question of prevention, perhaps I can say a few words in relation to the question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Rea, and others, regarding limitations on small arms sales. All defence equipment, including small arms, has to be export licensed in this country. The total embargo on arms sales to the former Yugoslavia is complete so far as we can see, but I very much agree that when we have an embargo on small arms, which create so much destruction in a civil war, it has to be complete. I shall look further to see that we are doing all that we possibly can in this regard. I believe that we are and that the questions raised tonight, while rightly raised, have a positive answer.

The noble Lords, Lord Judd, Lord Plant of Highfield and Lord Desai, spoke about the right of humanitarian intervention. The need for humanitarian assistance is greater now than it has ever been before. I do not need to list the many countries mainly mentioned in the debate and even some that have not been mentioned, like Rwanda. I could give a longer list if time allowed. Each emergency has unique causes and characteristics. Therefore, we have to examine each individually. Sometimes this is not done as fast as we would like. The decision as to whether the UN should intervene must be made after careful consideration of the particular circumstances. We would do no good in the world at large to rush in without that consideration. Obviously it is preferable that the UN agencies operate in countries with the agreement of the authorities in those countries. But in Somalia and other places it has not been possible. Where authorities deliberately deny relief to their people, as in Iraq, to which I shall return in a moment, the Security Council must act.

In cases of extreme humanitarian need, intervention without the consent of the government concerned can be justified. The principle of relief by the UN in these cases is becoming well established now but had hardly started four years ago. The UK has demonstrated its support for the principle by giving practical support to the UN operations not only by providing troops for protection duties, notably in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia, but by providing logistics experts to help make things happen. Many of those people are seconded to agencies like the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Where there is a need I think that I am almost the first person that some of the agency heads ring up to ask from where they can get a certain expert. We have never known a year like the last year and I am very grateful to all those who volunteered to go to work in those countries.

Having talked about needing to intervene sometimes by force, I do not think it would be right to have a set of rules, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, implied in his remarks. I do not think that it is possible to do it in that way. Indeed, if we set fixed parameters for international response there would always be some group within that country which would say that that was not the situation and that the assessment against which we had applied our fixed rules was the wrong assessment. I believe that that has dangers of its own.

The second aspect is that I do not want to see a situation where we inhibit decision making and limit the flexibility for action. If we had rules under which we intervened we would probably end up having rules on what we could do when we intervened. That is a very real danger. Instead, the response should match the problem. That is why in the former Yugoslavia and in Somalia the deployment of troops to protect relief operations was the right way to go about it. However, we very much hope that in Mozambique the UN agencies will continue to operate without military protection and be able to get the food through and get on with many of the other aspects of the work that they need to carry out to bring peace and improvement to the people.

So, in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, I do believe that, whether it be in Bosnia or anywhere else, if we need a stronger mandate to get humanitarian aid through, that will have to be considered by the Security Council. I shall come to her point on Tuzla in a moment. I do not believe that we can easily fight that aid through, although with the establishment of safe areas, which are going to be somewhat different from the safe havens of Northern Iraq, I believe that we shall then have an easier manner of deciding how we operate in order to facilitate the passage of the humanitarian aid past those who sometimes, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, will with a single Kalashnikov impede a whole aid convoy. I believe that we saw one such situation on television earlier this week.

We are indeed proceeding to find out how we can best deploy UN monitors in relative safety on the Serbian-Bosnian border, but those discussions have not yet been concluded. As regards Tuzla, when I was in the area in January, we looked at the possibility of opening the airport there and then. The runway was in a bad state then and it is in an even worse state now. But it is a matter which is very much under consideration. If the establishment of the safe areas can go ahead with Tuzla being the one which is most likely to be protected by British UNPROFOR troops, then that would be a real possibility and one that we have sincerely examined before. We did not find it possible then and I hope that the UN will find it possible in the near future.

A number of your Lordships asked me about the resources of the UN. That of course is at the heart of the problem which we face. At the end of March 1993, 30 countries out of 178 that pay to the regular budget had paid their contributions in full. A total of 1.2 billion dollars was outstanding. The UK and other European partners and Canada all have a good track record in making payments on time and in full. We urge others to do the same. There has been a series of EC demarches to the United States, which over recent years has been catching up on arrears and is now making its new payments on time. But there is still some way to go in that.

The UK will always endeavour to pay its assessed contributions promptly and that is one of the matters we have been concentrating on in looking at the flow of financial resources for UN operations of late. In the financial year to 31st March last, the United Kingdom contributed over £250 million to the total budgets of the United Nations. I sincerely hope that the Americans will be able to meet their stated objective of clearing a number of their debts by the end of this year. If they do so, Russia will become the largest single debtor to the organisation. I am interested, as I am sure your Lordships will be, in the recent Ford Foundation study which is suggesting various ways to improve the financing of the United Nations. I sincerely hope that a number of the recommendations in that study will be approved at the forthcoming General Assembly.

There are many aspects of UN reform which need to be achieved to give us the better ability to respond. The UK has been a major proponent of the reform and the Secretary-General has made some good progress in his tenure so far in restructuring and rationalising the Secretariat to make it reflect modern realities. But there is a real problem, which I discuss frequently, about how to get the agencies to work together and to co-ordinate—and to co-ordinate between Geneva and New York, let alone in the country of operation. I can assure your Lordships that I shall leave no stone unturned to help to ensure that that co-ordination will happen in the future. It is certainly something that the UN Under-Secretary-General Eliasson is determined to do too.

The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, put the spotlight on Sudan. Our efforts are intensifying all the time in this respect. I had a very good discussion with the new Sudanese ambassador at the beginning of April, and our officials met Dr. Garang last week. We have made clear our deep concern about the situation between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and different factions. Two Members of Parliament, Tony Worthington and Robert Banks, made a successful visit there last month and more visits are planned but, above all, we are seeking to get action on the ground to the people who are dying of starvation and because of lack of medicine and who have been denied access to it for so long. We are helping the UN and other agencies, particularly the NGOs, to get on with the job which they are courageously determined to undertake.

To discuss Somalia only at the end of this short debate would not do it justice, but it might interest your Lordships to know that in the UNOSOM II organisation, Admiral Howe, who is leading it on behalf of the UN, specifically asked us for a member of staff who knew the situation there to assist him. A middle-ranking officer of my department is with him in Mogadishu. We have also recently sent out a specialist assessment team to Hargeisa up in the north-west. We shall be doing our best to ensure that we bring that programme together because one of the problems in Somalia has been to co-ordinate the many different needs since the United States forces, accompanied by Australians, Belgians and many others, did such an excellent job there.

One of the hardest things to get started when one of these terrible civil conflicts finishes is the de-mining about which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, spoke, as have many others in recent weeks. We recognise the urgent need for the expansion of mine clearance programmes. We have made sure that the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan has a major role in this regard in that country, but we have not stopped there. We have sought to help with mine clearance in Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique and many other countries. There are numerous ways of doing this. We have recommended to the UN many of the mine clearing teams which we have used successfully from ODA funds because, frankly, unless mines can be cleared at the cessation of these conflicts, no proper agricultural planting can take place and people cannot return to the land and their former lives. It is almost one of the most important actions at the end of a conflict. So we are well aware of it and are seeking to help. Indeed, where we can go, we shall do such work.

One place where we cannot go is Iraq, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred. There are many things that one could say about that country and its poor people, but there is absolutely no doubt that the humanitarian relief that is so urgently needed not only by the Kurds, the Shi'as and the Marsh Arabs, but by the population as a whole, can and should be funded by the Iraqi Government. They may sell their oil through UN Security Council Resolutions 706 and 712. The imposition of sanctions on Iraq, renewed only this week by the UN Secretary-General, is the direct result of Iraq's refusal to comply with the Security Council resolutions.

Perhaps I may say that those resolutions which cover sanctions have never applied to food and medicine. That cannot be repeated too loudly, because many people seem to be unaware of that basic fact. From the very beginning we sought to make sure that the sanctions would not apply to food and medicine. Therefore, I can only say that those who abandon their own citizens, as the Iraqi Government have done, cause the rest of us enormous additional problems. I do not believe that the rest of the world will be as willing to respond to the UN's new appeal for Iraq unless the Iraqi Government too respond to the needs of their own people, which, indeed, they can do.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the Minister say a few words about the way in which Kurds are not able to exploit their own oil within Iraq for Kurdish purposes?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I am well aware of the great difficulty for the Kurdish people. They do not have the right equipment within the Kurdish area to exploit their oil. That matter is being looked at by the United Nations at this very moment, because there is no way in which one can properly supply what is needed to exploit that oil without breaking present sanctions. However, that is being studied and Mr. Barzani and Mr. Talabani have talked to me recently about that because it would help the Kurdish people at least to become self-sufficient so that they could create their own cement to rebuild their own places. I am well aware of the problem which that causes.

This has been an interesting debate—

Lord Judd

My Lords, just before the noble Baroness leaves that point, perhaps I may say that she has put us in a very difficult position because I believe that all noble Lords on this side of the House recognise her sincerity in all that she has said about the hazards which mines present. Therefore, we address our strictures not to her but to the Government as a whole. Will she make representations to her colleagues that we wish to see some specific action taken to curb the traffic in the weaponry to which she has referred and that a lead could be given if we were to accede to the international measures which are being introduced in that respect?

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey

My Lords, I assure your Lordships and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the Prime Minister has been the first to say that we should take all action possible to stop that arms trade. I remind the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that the Prime Minister proposed the UN register of arms. It is he who has said so often that if the whole world were to stop supplying arms, we should not have so much hurt to cure.

Sometimes in this House and in other places the UN has received undeserved bad press but sometimes it has been well deserved. When it is well deserved, I am, and I shall continue to be, critical. There are several disappointments in what has taken place in the UN over the past year but we must not forget the extreme difficulty of the conditions under which we ask the UN and its people to act.

Secondly, there is a growing burden of expectation. Every time there is fighting and trouble the cry goes up, "Something must be done". In this country that is directed at the Government but when it is worldwide, it is usually directed at the UN. In humanitarian situations, there is simply no room to say no. If an emergency arises, however stretched the UN may be, it must respond.

Fourthly, the majority of UN work goes unnoticed. I have mentioned examples of cases where the UN has intervened successfully to save hundreds of thousands of lives over a long period of time. It rarely makes the newspapers. When we do something preventive it is usually seen by newspapers—such as the Daily Express today—as unnecessary and therefore they criticise what one does. I intend to continue to seek to help the UN in facing a humanitarian challenge which seems ever to be of greater size and complexity.

As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said tonight, we need the UN perhaps now more than ever. It is up to us, the member states, to continue to push it in the right direction, to encourage it and occasionally to criticise it. We must encourage the Secretary-General in his efforts to improve the efficiency of the way in which the UN system operates. I must say that the jobs being done by those in both the UNHCR and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs are absolutely crucial. We seek to help them as the people really at the forefront. But not just them—we want to help all those in the UN agencies who deliver well the job that needs to be done to relieve humanitarian suffering. All donors and developing countries should be working with these agencies. All donors should be paying up on time. If that were done I believe that we should see over time a much better situation. I can assure your Lordships that the British Government will continue to support the United Nations efforts and to make them as successful as we possibly can.

House adjourned for the Whitsun Recess at six minutes past nine o'clock until Monday, 7th June.