HL Deb 19 December 1996 vol 576 cc1611-3

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

What discussions they have had with fellow members of the UN Security Council on the humanitarian tasks facing the UN during the tenure of the next Secretary-General.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Lord Inglewood)

My Lords, we are in regular consultations with members of the Security Council and others about how the United Nations might best respond to complex humanitarian emergencies.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the arrangements for the selection of the Secretary-General—the most demanding chief executive post in the world—have been a disturbing example of obfuscation and horse-trading? Does the Minister nevertheless accept that on this side of the House we have immense respect for Kofi Annan, who has come through this appalling procedure with such dignity, and that we wish him every success in the huge tasks ahead?

Further, where do the Government stand on the rationalisation and streamlining of the UN system as a whole; on the need for prompt payment of dues; on the need for a crisis prevention centre to provide good analysis to the Security Council with recommendations for action; and on the availability of earmarked standby forces for rapid deployment by the Security Council?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, we believe that Mr. Annan is very well qualified to do the job for which he has been selected. His previous appointments as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping and as special representative to Bosnia have meant that he has had considerable exposure to the problems of providing humanitarian assistance during complex emergencies. His task is difficult. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed to a number of problems facing the United Nations, but we have every confidence in Kofi Annan to take matters forward in a constructive manner.

Lord Renton

My Lords, while I endorse the welcome which has been given to the new Secretary-General, could it be pointed out to him that the greatest humanitarian problem that the world faces is the excessive numbers of the human race? That over-population causes hunger, poverty, excessive urbanisation and damages the world environment.

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is quite right about the problems posed by the population explosion on this earth. Nonetheless, the problem should be addressed in an ethical manner.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, has the Secretary-General designate determined his priorities? If so, what are they?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to tell your Lordships what are the Secretary-General's priorities at this point.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government seek the establishment of a small permanent planning staff within the United Nations so that it is much better prepared to cope with disasters and situations that follow from armed conflict?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the establishment in the United Nations of the Department of Humanitarian Affairs, which owes a considerable amount to British initiative, will, inter alia, include an inter-agency standing committee which is intended to co-ordinate matters to address the kind of problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred.

Lord Hayhoe

My Lords, can the Minister confirm press reports that the United States has now agreed to pay the substantial amount of money outstanding that it owes to the United Nations?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to confirm the press report to which my noble friend referred. However, I am aware of it.

Lord Rea

My Lords, will the Minister turn to the most pressing humanitarian crisis at the moment, that is of the Great Lakes region of central Africa? The inter-departmental committee was set up by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 27th November to investigate allegations of the involvement of a UK company in exporting equipment to the Rwandan Hutu forces. That inter-departmental committee was due to report by 19th December—today. Can the Minister give any preliminary findings of that inter-departmental committee?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, once again I am afraid that I am not in a position to give a concrete answer. However, it is necessary in such circumstances to carry out the investigations fully and thoroughly before coming to any conclusion.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the Minister agree with his noble friend, who has on several occasions made it absolutely clear to this House that the UN is in the end no stronger than the commitment of its member states? Does he further agree that, if we are to fulfil not only the letter but the spirit of our responsibilities as one of only five Permanent Members of the Security Council, we shall have to be seen to be giving as much attention and courage and as much of a lead in putting the UN right to meet the challenges ahead as we are currently giving to our European preoccupations?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is right. The only way in which the United Nations will deliver the aspirations of the Charter and the wishes of those who have supported it throughout its life is by giving wholehearted commitment to bringing about the ends that we all desire.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the United Nations is not well equipped to deal with humanitarian emergencies which arise from internal armed conflicts because of the limitations in the Charter? Will the Government consult with members of the Security Council about a review of peacekeeping operations undertaken by the United Nations so far to see what lessons can be learnt from them and whether any changes in the Charter might be desirable?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, the point made by the noble Lord is one which in humanitarian terms shows a serious lacuna in the overall way in which these matters are approached on earth. As he will know well, there are implications in the kind of involvement that he advocates. These kinds of matters are always under consideration.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, will the Minister join me in paying tribute today to the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross following the appalling murder in cold blood of six of its health workers this week in Grozny, Chechnya, and to the work of all humanitarian agencies which have to put up with that kind of situation?

Lord Inglewood

My Lords, of course I endorse the remarks of the noble Earl about the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the sadness with which we all heard the news of the six deaths in Chechnya. Those who give their time to do such work, do so knowing the very great risks that they run. Looking back at the record of involvement of that kind, it is sadly a history of people losing their lives, as we in our country know from our involvement in Bosnia.

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