HL Deb 21 January 2004 vol 657 cc1021-3

2.46 p.m.

Lord Ahmed asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will support the modernisation of the United Nations Security Council.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the Security Council is at the heart of the international system, having the primary responsibility for dealing with threats to international peace and security. The Government believe that it performs that function well. There is scope, however, to improve the composition and functioning of the council. In particular, the Government are a long-standing supporter of enlargement of the council, in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership, in order to ensure that it better represents the modern world.

Lord Ahmed

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. Can she confirm that Her Majesty's Government would not support the membership of any country that had an unacceptable human rights record, had no respect for the United Nations and did not implement UN resolutions? Can she also tell us whether Her Majesty's Government will support democracy, accountability and the rule of law at the United Nations Security Council?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. We judge all candidates for Security Council membership against the criterion laid down in the UN charter—the contribution that a country makes to the maintenance of international peace and security and the other purposes of the UN. I should also like to make it clear that implementation of the obligations under Security Council resolutions and respect for the fundamental principles of the charter, such as human rights, obviously forms a key part of the judgment. We would urge all countries to fulfil the obligations under the charter and under the relevant Security Council resolutions. That continues to form part of our bilateral dialogue.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the UN Secretary-General, who said, in his very impressive speech in September, that the great priority is to fit the Security Council to deal with the threats and challenges of the 21st century, which it has unfortunately been somewhat frustrated in doing in recent years, and that it is to that aspect of the Security Council's work that priority must be given?

Baroness Crawley

Yes, my Lords; I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, in the way that he sets out the challenges that the Secretary-General put forward last year. I am delighted to take this opportunity to say that the noble Lord is a member of the Secretary-General's new high-level panel on reform. I agree with him. Noble Lords might be asking themselves, "What does an effective UN system look like?" It is a system that can tackle the full range of insecurities faced by its members: poverty; disease; environmental change; abuse of human rights; and more recently, terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, do the Government consider that changes are needed in the size and composition of the Security Council and in its method of working, which was largely laid down in the United Nations Charter? My interest is that I was a member of the United Kingdom permanent delegation in its early days: 1948 to 1952.

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to answer the noble Lord's question in the context of his great experience at the United Nations. The UK has put forward a model of Security Council enlargement that would increase overall membership from 15 to 24 additional permanent members and four additional non-permanent members. We support Japan and Germany as candidates for permanent seats, in recognition of their major contribution to the work of the UN. We have suggested that three further permanent seats should go to representatives of the developing world from Africa, Asia and the Latin American countries, so that the UN reflects the modern world and its needs.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in any reform of the Security Council it is to become more representative of the world of the 21st century, as distinct from 1945? There are anxieties to be addressed about the attitude of the rest of the world to European representation. At the moment, there are two permanent Security Council members from Europe. It is suggested that Germany might well become a member, and some people are advocating that the European Union should also have a seat on the Security Council. What is the Government's position towards resolving this issue?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, the charter states that only member nations should become members of the Security Council. The charter would have to be amended to include the EU as a composite member. Even if the charter was amended to allow that, it would not be in the interests of either the EU or the UK to replace current representation on the Security Council with a single EU seat. The European Union currently has four of the 15 members of the Council, and a fifth member, Romania, usually aligns itself with positions agreed under the common foreign and security policy.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, I remind the Minister that Romania is not yet a member of the European Union. Will the Minister recognise that many of us, on these Benches at least, support a stronger authority for the United Nations and are deeply sorry to see how much its authority has been damaged in the past two years? Will the Government take on board that when the high-level panel to which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, belongs, reports to the Secretary-General, many of us would like to see a British Government response and have the opportunity to debate that response in this Chamber?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, yes, I am aware that Romania is not a member of the EU. That is why I said that it also agrees with EU members. I spent much of the weekend reading the noble Lord's thinking on UN reform in the publication The World Today. It was a rainy weekend. He urges European governments to combine their weight in global institutions to grapple with the agenda on UN reform. I agree with him. I hope to reassure him that the United Kingdom Government support the high-level panel, are looking forward to working closely with it, and will eventually enjoy reading its report when it arrives.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, would the Minister approve of additional members of the Security Council having a veto?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, this is a tricky one. At the moment, we do not take a firm position. While it is obviously not attractive to create two classes of permanent membership, it also seems unlikely that an extension of the veto to new members will be acceptable to the majority of UN members. The status quo is therefore the most likely outcome.

Lord Desai

My Lords, would it not be better if we replaced the veto with the qualified majority voting system?

Baroness Crawley

My Lords, I will certainly think about that.