HL Deb 16 December 1999 vol 608 cc306-7

11.21 a.m.

Lord Marlesford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to retain the United Kingdom's veto seat on the United Nations Security Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, we are opposed to any change to the current veto rights of permanent members of the UN Security Council. But the UK has long argued that the veto should be used with restraint and in a manner consistent with the principles of the Charter. We have been true to our word. It has been almost 10 years since the UK last cast a blocking vote.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that robust Answer. I recognise, as it clearly does, that Britain's role as a veto power in the Security Council is part of our position as a pivotal power in the world. What plans do the Government view as possible for the enlargement of the Security Council permanent membership, and does that inevitably mean that additional permanent members would be veto members? Will it be possible to constrain the number who would be admitted to make the council continue to be workable as it has begun to be since the end of the Cold War?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, no decision has been made in relation to whether any of the countries who may be invited to figure in enlargement should have vetoes extended to them. That matter will have to be discussed in due course. We do not believe that expansion only in the non-permanent membership would restore confidence in the council, nor would it accurately reflect the realities of the modern world. We are hopeful that things will move forward to enable enlargement to take place.

Lord Stewartby

My Lords, I also welcome the noble Baroness's robust first reply to my noble friend. Does she agree that the United Kingdom is in an unusual position in having no pretensions to be a super power but nevertheless possessing an effective military capability? It has a long history of respectable participation in international affairs and a distinguished record in peacekeeping and other security matters. It is therefore not only in the United Kingdom's interest that we should retain this position; it is in the interests of the wider international community as well.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I respectfully agree.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, can the Minister tell us how further development of a European common foreign and security policy affects the position of both Britain and France as permanent members of the UN Security Council as well as the third elected seat normally occupied by a member of the European Union?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, there will be no significant change in relation to the permanent membership. The rules of course will be looked at in terms of enlargement, but there will be no significant change.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the view that intra-state conflict increasingly poses as much of a threat to international stability as inter-state conflict and that as a result the United Nations has been much more actively engaged in peacekeeping roles in its very recent history than possibly in the whole of its previous history put together? At the same time the cases of Kosovo and Iraq have demonstrated that the more frequent use of military force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter increasingly poses a threat to Security Council unanimity and the consensus-based nature of UN politics. In that context, can the Minister outline the ways in which the Government intend to take a fresh lead in rethinking the UN's role in contemporary world politics?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I agree that we are faced with a new challenge in terms of intra-state conflict as opposed to inter-state conflict. We are firmly of the view that Security Council enlargement would assist in terms of developing a new way forward. Your Lordships will know that the humanitarian aspect has been incredibly important. That is something that we intend to continue to pursue with the Security Council to enhance consensus and improve the way forward.