HL Deb 27 March 2000 vol 611 cc491-3
Lord Archer of Sandwell

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to ensure the success of the forthcoming United Nations Millennium NGO Forum.

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

My Lords, the Government believe that the millennium forum should make an important contribution to the deliberations of the United Nations' role in the 21st century. We have offered the forum financial assistance and have contributed to the United Kingdom preparatory event. We also support plans for the forum to be represented at the intergovernmental millennium summit in September.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, as ever, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer and in particular for the reference to financial assistance. Will she confirm that the Government have taken a commendable lead in encouraging the United Nations to summon the millennium assembly and the millennium summit to discuss its future role in promoting peace, security and development?

But does she agree that unless the bones are to remain dry, it is essential to involve civil society in those discussions and that that is the purpose of the forum? Given that it is due to take place in May of this year and that many delegates from less privileged areas are relying on financial assistance to pay their fares, how much money are the Government proposing to contribute; when is it likely to be available; and who else has made any contribution?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, first, I say straightaway that I endorse wholeheartedly what my noble and learned friend said in relation to the importance of the summit. The Government strongly support the idea of the millennium forum. It is a unique occasion for global civil society to consider the challenges facing the United Nations in the 21st century and to propose initiatives to tackle them.

The Government are to make a contribution. We have, in principle, offered to contribute towards the costs of securing developing country representation at the forum to ensure that it is truly representative of the global civil society. We also provided £15,000 to the United Kingdom United Nations Association to help fund the national preparatory event in February which sought to frame the national civil society input to the forum. Unfortunately, I cannot tell my noble and learned friend the precise nature of the further contribution but we are hopeful that it will be substantial.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House where the forum is to be held? I was involved in the World Conference of Women and I remember clearly the NGO forum there. Will the Minister tell me also whether the NGOs will be adequately housed in one huge area? In the past, the problem has always been that there has not been adequate space for all the representatives to be together. Their value is greatly diminished if they have to be separated.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that the forum is to be held in New York. I cannot give her the precise location in New York but I am sure that I can write to her with that information if that is what she requires. We believe that the forum will be extremely important and that accommodation will be available for those who attend. I hope that that is a full answer to the noble Baroness's question. I can certainly take forward those matters and if I am able to cull further details from the information available, I shall write to the noble Baroness in relation to it and make available a copy of that letter to other Members of the House.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that since the UN Charter refers to "We, the peoples" of the United Nations and not "We, the governments", and since this country has one of the largest proportions of NGOs among the UN members, it is entirely appropriate that this Government should give a lead in supporting the forum?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I respectfully agree with my noble friend. It is extremely important that civil society plays its full part in that regard. We are most encouraged that the forum is to take place and are very hopeful that there will be a full and frank exchange and that there will be opportunity at the summit for the results of the deliberations to be communicated more broadly.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that this is an ideal opportunity for this Government to pledge greater financial and other support, beyond that which the Minister mentioned, to our two outstanding British export successes—the BBC World Service and the British Council—both of which could and would make a major contribution to ensuring the success of that NGO forum?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, we already give extensive support to both the British Council and the BBC World Service. They have worked extremely hard and well with Her Majesty's Government, as they have with previous governments. We shall certainly continue to be supportive in the links that we have and in the partnerships and working together which we believe will evolve over a period of time.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend has welcomed the universal support that the project has received in the House. Will she give the House some idea of the extent to which other countries are participating?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, other countries are participating in the event. We are hoping that our partners in Europe also will make a contribution. I am not able to tell noble Lords the precise nature of their contribution, but I am aware that they are deliberating as to financial and other participation. The forum is being welcomed by a number of our partners.