HL Deb 20 October 1999 vol 605 cc1091-2

2.50 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

In the event of a difference of view between NATO, the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations, which body is the supreme authority, and on what basis Her Majesty's Government would make a decision as to military action.

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

My Lords, NATO and the United Nations are not competing organisations; nor are they part of an international hierarchy. Within the United Nations, the Security Council has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and resolutions of the council, taken under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, can have legally binding effect. Any decision to take military action will be based on an objective assessment of the factual circumstances at the time.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she agree that in recent experience there has been some confusion on that point? One wonders whether the question of where the particular responsibilities lie should not be more closely defined. Does my noble friend agree that a result of that confusion was that NATO took a leading role in the recent intervention in Yugoslavia, which will increasingly be perceived as mistaken, and ultimately shameful?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot agree with my noble friend. It has been said in this House on a number of occasions that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men and women to remain silent. Her Majesty's Government were not silent; neither were the 18 democratic countries which joined with us to address the tragedy happening in Kosovo.

Lord Moynihan

My Lords, I appreciate that this is not an easy question to answer, so I have given the Minister notice of it. During our debate on Friday, the Minister told the House that, The old ways of settling conflicts without resolving the underlying causes are no longer tenable".—[ official Report, 15/10/99; col. 731.] She also spoke of the need for a new model to settle conflicts in our increasingly interdependent world. Will she take the opportunity today to define the Government's vision for that new model in the specific context of the authority of NATO, the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as I said on Friday, the world is faced with a new challenge: with intra-state conflict more than inter-state conflict. To that end, there is now a vigorous debate at the UN to try to decide how best to address that issue in terms of humanitarian intervention. I can give the noble Lord only a very general answer, but I shall be happy to write to him more specifically if and when there are greater details than I am able to reveal now.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, with all those considerations in mind, can the Government give the House an assurance that the position of the United Kingdom in the Security Council will remain undisturbed?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can.