§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Caplin.]2.30 pm
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Denis MacShane)
I cannot think of a more appropriate time to discuss the role of the United Nations: we have only to think of the conflicts around the world and the UN's achievements during the 50-plus years since its founding.
The debate was initiated by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign Secretary feels strongly that parliamentary time should be given to such important foreign affairs matters. It was requested also by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) who, with other hon. Members, visited the United Nations last year; she has been involved in many interesting discussions on the subject, and I look forward to hearing their contributions to the debate. I promise that copies of the debate will be forwarded to our excellent diplomatic mission in New York and the UN's other missions around the world, so that they will know what British Members of Parliament think of it.
History has been made this week. My fellow Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), has just returned from East Timor, where he attended the independence celebrations earlier this week. As soon as East Timor became independent, it immediately announced that it wanted to be the next member of the United Nations. With Switzerland voting to join only a few months ago, the UN will soon have 191 members. East Timor chose to join as soon as it became an independent state, but Switzerland spent more than 50 years thinking about it. Switzerland saw a remarkable campaign of public diplomacy. A distinguished former ambassador to Britain, Mr. Francois Nordman, made an important contribution; his speeches and writing on the subject helped to persuade the Swiss to break with their tradition of non-involvement in the UN and other international organisations. The UN continues to be central to the identity of those two countries.
East Timor owes its existence to the UN. Without the commitment of UN peacekeepers and administrators over the past two and a half years, there would be no East Timor. The UN has helped to build a nation out of nothing. The UN will stay in East Timor in order to help it develop. It is not simply a matter of sending troops to monitor security, important though that is; it is an exercise to bring together international expertise and resources to create a new administration, a new judiciary and a new police force. That is the sort of challenge that faces the UN; too many countries have for too long been the victims of neglect and conflict.
§ Angus Robertson (Moray)
I am pleased that the Government share the view of the Scottish National 140WH party and Plaid Cymru that countries small and large should take their place in the international community as normal, independent member states. Will the Minister outline what steps the Government will be taking to help the newest member of the United Nations over the months and years to come?
§ Mr. MacShane
This debate is broadly on the United Nations, not East Timor. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me, I will list in encyclopaedic detail the contribution that Britain has made, is making and will make to East Timor.
A huge challenge is posed by Afghanistan, where the UN is at the centre of efforts to rebuild the country. Under the Bonn agreement, the UN is working with the interim Administration on an immediate transitional assistance programme for the Afghan people. The programme contains UN and non-governmental organisation projects focused on urgent humanitarian needs, immediate recovery projects and longer-term reconstruction and governance support.
Let us segue to Kosovo, where the UN has effectively provided the key functions of government since 1999. It is responsible for police, justice and civil administration, as well as other major services. We want the Kosovan people—the Albanians and the Serbs—to take responsibility for their own nation, but in the interim the UN is doing a good job.
Sierra Leone is a similar example. Only two years ago, the rebel forces appeared to be closing in on Freetown, and everyone was appalled at their brutal behaviour. However, last week, for the first time since 1996, Sierra Leone held free elections in which its people could vote without fear. That would not have been possible without the UN and the decisive military support of the United Kingdom. In partnership, the UK and the UN played a key role in creating a secure environment in which elections could take place peacefully. The UN's work in peacekeeping and rebuilding states, and in restoring and maintaining international peace and security is crucial, but that focus tells only part of the UN story.
The UN is also concerned with improving the lives of people wherever they live. We should not ignore the work of UN specialised agencies such as the International Labour Organisation, which enables trade unions, employers and Governments to meet and discuss the key improvements that the ILO makes to international labour standards. The World Health Organisation set a target of eradicating smallpox and polio. It has made giant strides with regard to smallpox and is on the way to eradicating polio. The work of the International Civil Aviation Organisation is important as well. As we fly around the globe, it is vital to know that a UN agency links the civil aviation organisations from different countries and ensures that air safety is maintained throughout the world.
The General Assembly carries on its work each September in New York and plays an important role in setting standards for social and economic policy worldwide. One example is the adoption of the millennium development goals at the millennium summit. I would like those goals to be put up in every school classroom. They include halving poverty by 2015, achieving universal primary education and reducing by two thirds the mortality rate for children under five.
141WH Once announced and declared at the conference, those goals must be put into practice. Each year, the UN secretariat must produce a snapshot of where we are and how much further there is to go. I hope that those millennium development goals will be at the heart of international policy making until 2015.
More than 50 years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted the universal declaration of human rights as a bulwark against oppression and discrimination. That declaration was a landmark achievement. It represented the first international recognition that human rights and fundamental freedoms applied to every person. I worked in South Africa and communist Poland and Czechoslovakia, and I remember how much that declaration meant to people there struggling for their freedom. In many parts of the world, we would still find that it counted as the standard by which Governments should be judged on the organisation of the governance of their people.
§ Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)
As my hon. Friend has made that point, does he agree that the recent decision by the Israeli Government to refuse admission to a UN-sponsored commission of inquiry into allegations of human rights abuses in Jenin has fundamentally undermined the authority of the Secretary-General of the UN and the institution itself?
§ Mr. MacShane
No, because Governments do not weaken the UN or the Secretary-General every time they refuse to comply with a UN resolution. In the eyes of the international community, such a refusal simply diminishes the right of a Government to claim that they are speaking and acting according to the highest international standards. However, I shall develop some further points on Jenin later, if my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) will be patient.
I move from political rights, enshrined in the universal declaration of human rights, to material rights. A person with an empty stomach does not have the time to worry about the finer points of constitutional democracy. The recent UN conference on financing for development was an important landmark and generated an additional £12 billion a year in development aid from 2006. Ministers are working hard to ensure that the forthcoming world summit on sustainable development agrees to an action plan for the productive use of these funds through tackling the millennium development goals.
Achieving our objectives is not easy. In an organisation that now consists of 191 members it is inevitable that we will not reach consensus. Often after weeks of late night negotiations, the outcome does not match our ambitions.
§ Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton)
Some people believe that the UN work to which the Minister refers is often duplicated by organisations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Do the Government have a view on that?
§ Mr. MacShane
Organisationitis is not unknown to this Government and this country. There are times when 142WH duplication means reinforcement and times when it means making two speeches when one will do. Discussion and analysis of the international financial architecture are on the international agenda.
With 191 members, it is difficult to reach agreement on every issue. The recent UN General Assembly special session on children was an important opportunity to address the rights and needs of the world's children and adolescents. Its objectives were to review the progress made since the world summit on children in 1990 and to make a renewed commitment and pledge to specific actions for the coming decade by developing a plan of action. I pay tribute to the United Kingdom negotiators, politicians and diplomats who fought hard to secure positive language on child rights, child labour, reproductive health and the death penalty.
We worked with key non-governmental organisations and sponsored two young people to attend the session as part of a United Kingdom delegation. However, the negotiations were difficult. There were bitter fights, particularly over reproductive health and the death penalty. The language agreed was satisfactory, but not what we would have liked ideally. However, negotiation involves compromise, which should not be considered as a defeat. Getting 191 countries to the same point is no mean achievement, and on that basis we can take the argument forward.
The other criticism sometimes levelled at the UN, which has been mentioned already in the debate, is that it is powerless. The United Nations does not consist of a group of Harry Potters taking on one single Lord Voldemort. It does not have a magic wand, but that does not mean that it has failed. These issues were brought into focus when we examined the UN's role in the middle east. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley suggested, the Israeli refusal to accept a UN fact-finding mission to investigate what happened in Jenin seemed to underline the organisation's irrelevance. The Government have made their position clear, and hon. Members have heard the Foreign Secretary's statements in the House. We share the serious humanitarian concerns about Israeli actions and about allegations of violations of international law. We have confidence in Kofi Annan, and believe that a fact-finding mission would have been balanced and could have provided the answers. We look forward to the Secretary-General producing a thorough and balanced report in due course from the available evidence. We hope that the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority will cooperate with him, and we will press them to do so.
The Jenin incident does not mean that the UN is irrelevant to the conflict. After all, the essential framework for a settlement in the middle east is enshrined in UN Security Council resolutions, which express the clear will of the international community for a two-state solution. That vision was recently reaffirmed in three important resolutions, all of which were, crucially, adopted with United States support. How many of us, over the years, have seen vetoes from one side or another prevent resolutions from being adopted? Today's resolutions speak of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in secure and recognised borders. They also call for an Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian cities, and for a ceasefire. That will remain the framework for future attempts to resolve the conflict.
143WH As we look with concern at the conflict that is looming on the horizon in Kashmir, where two nuclear-armed powers are facing off against each other, the need for a body such as the United Nations becomes ever clearer. I am sure that the whole House wishes my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary all the best as he goes to New Delhi and Islamabad. Even if, as I expect, the UN has to become involved in finding a solution to the Kashmir conflict, we should not forget the words that Dag Hammarskjold wrote more than 40 years ago:The legislative process of the United Nations is not a substitute for diplomacy. It serves its purpose only when it helps diplomacy to arrive at agreements between the national states concerned.Diplomacy, not speeches or votes, will continue to have the last word in peacemaking. I hope that the diplomatic efforts of our Foreign Secretary, as well as those of American and European officials, can help the Governments of India and Pakistan to find a solution to their dispute before it is too late.
I want briefly to look to the UN's future. What more would we like it to do? We want a modern UN, and a Security Council that reflects the contemporary world. We want a structure that provides an efficient service that is appropriate to its important tasks. In short, we want modernisation, reform and a new UN. Many have said as much, but few have delivered, and there is now an opportunity to do so. For a start, Kofi Annan is committed to reform. As a former UN budget director, he is more aware than most of the need for reform, and his reform programme, which has been in place since 1997, has taken the UN a long way.
One problem, however, is that we keep asking the UN to do more; we must therefore focus on rationalising our priorities. The UN is at last engaged in a major reform initiative in that regard. The aim is to make the most of the funds at its disposal by cutting waste and duplication, which my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love) mentioned. We are contributing to that exercise, along with our EU partners, because it provides an excellent opportunity to ensure the longterm viability of the UN and the achievement of the objectives that the international community has set it. We must, however, go further. We must link resources and objectives. The UN must ask itself why it needs a printing press in Manhattan. Why are the specialised agencies in Geneva incapable of pooling their administrative burdens? Why is each a little empire unto itself?
We have pushed hard for reform in the areas of peacekeeping, with good results. The Brahimi report, which was issued in August 2000, has been a catalyst for a range of peacekeeping reforms, which the Government and the Prime Minister in particular have played an active part in driving forward. We want focused and realistic mandates for peacekeeping missions, we want to improve the capacity of the UN to deal with the administration, management and strategy on current and future peacekeeping operations, and we want more consistent standards for the training and equipping of countries that contribute troops.
We also need to consider the reform of the Security Council to make it more representative of the modern world and to ensure that it reflects today's world, not that of 1945.
§ Norman Lamb
The Minister referred to the importance of reforming the Security Council, which has been talked about for a long time. Clear commitments were made to reform in 2000, but nothing has actually happened. What confidence does the Minister have that reform will actually take place to make the council more representative of the modern world?
§ Mr. MacShane
May I respond to the intervention of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) as well? I was going to cover that matter later in my remarks, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for North Norfolk jumped in on top of me just as I was about to open my mouth.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)
Order. The Minister cannot presume to know what the next intervention will be, so I suggest that he take them one at a time.
§ Mr. Duncan
Perhaps as the Minister reaches the appropriate point in his remarks he will tell the House whether he ever envisages a reformed Security Council including representation for the EU as a bloc.
§ Mr. MacShane
That is not on the agenda in this country or, to my knowledge, anywhere else in the world. There might be some obscure broom cupboard in Brussels where those matters are considered to be highly important.
We believe that a small increase in the size of the Security Council would be an acceptable price to pay for the big increase in its credibility that would result from a more representative membership. In the industrialised world, Germany and Japan make increasingly valuable contributions to maintaining international peace and security. They have proved themselves eligible, and worthy of permanent seats. However, to be truly representative of the modern world, developing countries must have better representation on the Security Council, too. We would like there to be new permanent seats for Africa, Asia and Latin America.
To answer the intervention of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton, there is no agreement among the UN membership on the size and shape of a reformed Security Council. Regional rivalries and the legitimate claims of different large countries to be the automatic candidate have made it difficult to make progress. That is no reason to give up trying, and Britain will continue to be at the forefront of that important debate.
§ Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion)
I am a little disappointed that the Minister's only reference to sustainable development and the environment so far has been a tangential reference to the world summit in Johannesburg. Does he accept that encouraging sustainable development is a new task that the UN has 145WH taken on board during the past 10 years, although it is not referred to in article 1 of the UN's constitution? The UN has huge influence in moving the world towards sustainable development. In that context, does the Minister agree that international co-operation is essential, and that the decision of the United States Government not to involve themselves in the Kyoto protocol in particular is undermining the UN's work in that respect?
§ Mr. MacShane
The hon. Gentleman clearly did not listen to the part of my speech in which I referred to the millennium development goals, which are the best benchmarking process for sustainable development, the movement towards which he rightly identified as an important task for the UN.
The Kyoto protocol is not a UN process as such. The Government have clearly and repeatedly stated that they would have preferred the United States to embrace the protocol and sign up for the International Criminal Court and the whole panoply of international law that has been gently put in place. At some stage in the future, the United States, a country based on rule of law, not rule of men, will come to understand that the rule of law must apply internationally, as well as within national borders. Looking to the future, Savimbi's death in Angola presents an important opportunity. The UN Secretary-General has visited Angola to assess the situation, and we want to see if the UN can finally bring a definitive peace to that troubled part of Africa.
Last week on Iraq, a new UN Security Council resolution was adopted, based on a British initiative, which significantly changes the arrangements for UN sanctions in Iraq. It maintains a tight control on military goods but lifts controls on civilian-only humanitarian goods. It removes Saddam's spurious excuses for the suffering that he inflicts on the Iraqi people and puts more pressure on the regime. It will also bring a significant reduction in UN bureaucracy to allow swifter delivery of goods to Iraq under the Oil for Food programme, and it will underline, once again, that the Security Council has only ever had a problem with the Iraqi regime, not the Iraqi people. We remain under no illusions that Iraq continues to pose a threat to the international community. The goods review list will maintain strict controls on items that might be used in Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programme or other military programmes.
On terrorism, one of the UN Security Council's recent achievements was the adoption of a resolution obliging all members to take measures to stop the financing of terrorist groups and to deny safe haven to terrorists. The actions that states are taking to fulfil their obligations are being closely scrutinised by the Security Council's counter-terrorism committee, chaired by our ambassador there, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and I pay tribute to his leadership and the work of our mission and diplomatic team in New York.
§ Norman Lamb
On the work of that committee, the UN website indicates that about 45 countries still have not responded to the initiatives to counter terrorism, although they were supposed to have done so by the end of December. Is that a concern, and what steps are being taken to address it?
§ Mr. MacShane
Of course it is a concern. Whenever visit countries that are part of my portfolio and have not signed up, I make it clear to Heads of Government and my opposite numbers that the whole point of the measures is to protect their citizens from the scourge of terrorism.
Last year, Kofi Annan was awarded the Nobel peace prize, a magnificent tribute to the man and his organisation's achievements. There are many other unsung achievements. The international atomic energy inspections have reduced the risk of nuclear war. The UN has led international efforts to clear land mines worldwide, and the World Metereological Organisation's early-warning system has spared millions from the calamitous effects of natural disasters. The International Telecommunication Union has co-ordinated the use of the radio spectrum and the positioning of stationary satellites and has set standards for international communications so that there is an unfettered flow of information around the globe.
We live in an interdependent world. Issues such as development, the environment, HIV/AIDS and smallpox can only be tackled together. There will be issues on which we have differences, and issues of peace and security on which we need to work together. There will be continued pressure for us to move together, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, to set new standards of decent behaviour. For all those aims, although it is not Tennyson's parliament of the world and it is not perfect, the UN still remains our best hope on earth.
§ Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)
Hon Members will be grateful to the Minister for calling this debate today. We should not forget the importance of organisations such as the UN in our ever more interconnected world, where dialogue and discussion between countries are vital if we are to achieve stability and peaceful relations in the 21st century. It is right that we should debate the changing role of the UN in a fast-changing world.
Since its foundation in 1945, in the aftermath of world turmoil, the UN has proved to be an important forum for dialogue, communication and, most importantly, for international consensus and conflict resolution. The tragic events of 11 September proved a wake-up call to the world. Gone were the old, cold war certainties of two super-powers and attendant blocs balancing one another. Instead, we are faced with a new fluidity; threats come not from established states in an age-old pattern but from ruthless terrorists, from rogue states with weapons of mass destruction, from poverty, disease and a lack of education in some countries and—perhaps most importantly—from a lack of understanding and tolerance between nations and people.
147WH The UN charter encompasses in its aspirations the wish to tackle those ills. It aspires to save people from the scourge of war, to establish conditions under which justice, human rights and respect for international obligations can be maintained, topromote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom",and to encourage people to practise tolerance and to live together as good neighbours.
Those are worthy objectives. They are still worthy today, over 50 years after they were written. We must ensure that they are effectively translated into modern action and international consensus in the decades ahead. Britain, with its permanent seat on the Security Council and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, has a responsibility and a central role to play in defining the UN's role in the coming decades and ensuring that it is effective in fulfilling it. It is important for us to be active in that role, recognising that, with our permanence on the Security Council—which we see no reason to alter—we must take a long-term view of what the UN needs in order to function better.
In any consideration of the UN's role, we must be clear that it and other international organisations can never replace the sovereign nation state as the main building block of international affairs and governance. However, the UN has an important role as a scrutineer and arbiter of actions and international disputes.
The UN is seen by many, on a moral level, as above the day-to-day diplomatic wrangles of states, and its humanitarian work justifiably enjoys the respect and support of millions across the globe. Figures such as Mary Robinson and Kofi Annan rightly enjoy the respect of the world as people untainted by national self-interest. However, despite this record of success, there are also failures. As with any organisation, there is much room for improvement and adaptation to changing circumstances.
I would like to highlight some areas in which the UN functions effectively and others that could, perhaps, benefit from reforms. A consistent picture will emerge. When the UN has full international backing, as in Afghanistan, it can be a most effective organisation. When it is ignored, undermined or sidestepped by key international players, its ability to do what those who formed it intended is dramatically reduced. In short, the UN can operate only by the consent of its member countries; its success and legitimacy rest on that international consent and recognition.
In Afghanistan, we have seen the centripetal role that the UN can play in ensuring peace and security in the most difficult circumstances. Not only has the UN given international credibility to the international coalition in the war on terrorism, it has proved instrumental in providing a road map for future security in the region, and in helping to co-ordinate the vital life-saving, humanitarian aid effort since the fall of the Taliban. We have seen the UN working at its best, forging international consensus, helping to deliver aid and to rebuild a smashed country, and, with Mr. Brahimi's work in Bonn, helping to forge agreements for the interim Government, and taking a lead on future conflict prevention.
148WH Similarly, the UN has played a strong role in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Angola, and should be commended in an unqualified way for that. That work can prevent future costly and bloody conflicts.
Peacekeeping is another of the most visible aspects of the UN's role. There is an increasingly important debate about where the line should be drawn between peacekeeping and peacemaking. It is not an easy question to tackle. The recent report by Lakhdar Brahimi addresses the peacekeeping aspect of the UN's role, and makes important recommendations with the intention of improving the UN's ability to fulfil its peacekeeping obligations effectively.
I am not suggesting that we address today all the points made by Mr. Brahimi, or that we should accept them without further consideration. However, I want to make a few observations on some of the points raised by the report, which the Minister mentioned in his opening remarks. He makes the important point that there is a growing need for more closely defined mandates in UN operations, with clear statements of what is required within a realistic time scale. Another suggestion is that there should be a far shorter delay between the authorisation of UN operations at a political level and implementation at a military level, at least on the ground. Such delays allow situations to deteriorate and further complicate any mission that is defined.
Money, staffing and organisational capacity are always central to UN operations. I am pleased that the United States paid its contribution to the UN, importantly before 11 September. Member states must always bear in mind the fact that the success of the UN depends on the political and financial support of the United States. I hope that the British Government will note these recommendations in the report, and give it their most serious consideration.
I welcome the report's justified praise of the UN for its peacekeeping work, and the staff involved. We should be prepared to examine the recommendations in detail. However, I want to sound a brief note of caution. When we consider the Brahimi report and peacekeeping in general, we must always be wary of the worrying precedent of nation building that some people have advanced. It is important that we help nations to rebuild themselves rather than impose models, which is where the UN can successfully prevent conflict. It can assist and guide nations in taking the necessary steps to rebuild themselves, rather than imposing a one-size-fitsall model or some western template that we believe is better but may not suit them.
§ Mr. Duncan
That is happening already. The UN is bound to be drawn into messy conflicts in the dispute between Rwanda and Burundi. There is no hard and fast rule. The golden rule in foreign policy and international relations is that situations are never easy to define: there is no black and white or right and wrong. There is always a difficult moral choice between different shades of grey, and that is true of countries that are abusing 149WH human rights and where there are conflicts over boundaries and competing areas. We must be careful not to be simplistic when we draw up rules about how we should behave. Every case deserves analysis on its own merits.
I touched on the UN's role in the war on terrorism. That role is far from over. In conflicts that have been widely cited as central to that war—for example, in the middle east and Iraq—UN resolutions set an important yardstick against which we can judge the conduct of nations. I recently went to Jenin, as did the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who beat me to it and saw what is happening there a week before I did. She provided graphic reports of what she witnessed, which I subsequently saw, and it will be interesting to hear her analysis. What I saw was more of a mess and an impending humanitarian crisis than a massacre. As the Minister said, it is a shame that international UN observers could not enter promptly. Much idle and unhelpful speculation could have been avoided if the facts had been ascertained earlier. That was damaging to the UN's role. If democratic nations show such hostility to its work, it sets a precedent that damages the ability of the international community to make national Governments accountable. Empty commitments to United Nations' resolutions add to that damage. In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, undermining the United Nations has serious consequences for peace. The Palestinian Authority's failure to clamp down on violence and Israel's continued development of settlements and unacceptable interlinking of highways directly contravene commitments given under UN resolutions 242 and 338 which, if only they could see it, hold a road map to peace.
Elsewhere in the globe, the recent increase in tension and violence in Kashmir is deeply worrying. I do not presume to offer a detailed prescription to end the dispute to the satisfaction of all—any such solution must emerge from talks between the two parties—but the UN can play an important facilitating role in helping to bring the two sides together. Once again, there must be a commitment to the acceptance of any UN resolutions, and in return the UN must be careful to craft resolutions in such a way as to make them credible and realistic, so that they have an optimum chance of effective implementation.
The more that countries turn a blind eye to UN resolutions, the less chance there is of a bright future for the people caught up in these conflicts. It is the job of the international community to make both sides realise that, and to press for a political settlement. That goes to the crux of the issue.
UN resolutions rest on consensus and on the will of the international community, but to be effective they must be abided by, and the flouting of UN resolutions can be seen all too clearly in Iraq. UN resolutions gave legitimacy to the action of the international community against the repression of the Kurds and the invasion of Kuwait. Later, in resolution 687, the international community ordered that Iraqi weapons of mass 150WH destruction should be inspected and destroyed. Those weapons of mass destruction are still a threat, yet on 4 May The New York Times reported:The United Nations and Iraq ended three days of talks on disarmament with an agreement to meet again, but no breakthrough on the return of weapons inspectors to Baghdad".No date has yet been set for the next round, which is very worrying. Furthermore, any concession by Saddam Hussein to allow weapons inspectors into Iraq amounts to little if it merely pays lip service to the will of the international community and is unmatched by a genuine desire to abide by the resolutions, rather than to qualify them subsequently or to wriggle out of them. That highlights once more the problem of unmet UN resolutions, and how to enforce them. We have yet to develop an effective solution to that problem.
Although the UN has a major role to play in securing stability in regions of the world, it has an equally important role in promoting human rights and in its humanitarian work, which the hon. Member for Cynon Valley and I and many others in the Chamber have seen.
It is timely and appropriate to mention the work of the UN in Burma. Credit for the manner and timing of Aung San Suu Kyi's release goes squarely to Razali Ismail, the UN special envoy to Burma. I pay enormous tribute to him, and to so many other UN staff, who have done such useful broking and negotiating work. It is no coincidence that America and the European Union have robust policy positions on Burma and are starving the regime of the hard currency that it needs. The combination of Mr. Ismail's UN role, his Malaysian nationality and his regional links make him a highly effective interlocutor. It seems that when the UN has widespread backing from national Governments, it can play a much more effective role than it could ever play on its own. Sadly, when countries try to manipulate its processes, the UN can be constrained and its ability to scrutinise human rights severely reduced. The recent meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights suggested that if the UN is to remain an effective body in this area it may need to undergo some structural and procedural reform, and that Governments must engage constructively, actively and promptly in that process.
The US and the major European players must be involved if the commission is to hold to account countries such as Zimbabwe and Burma, which must show a real commitment to human rights. The process has not been helped by the fact that the Government have apparently contracted out large elements of their human rights policy to the EU. I invite the Minister to defend his position. On Zimbabwe, we watched and pressed to no avail as the Foreign Secretary talked of one EU initiative after another. In reality, he did nothing to stop human rights abuses by Mugabe and his henchmen.
Humanitarian aid, health programmes and the building of effective education systems are all vital if we are to tackle the long-term causes of poverty and conflict. Dealing with humanitarian crises when they occur, helping refugees and feeding a starving people are all deeply important aspects of the UN's work, but it goes deeper than that to a longer-term commitment to improving social conditions and tackling root causes.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
I agree with much of the hon. Gentleman's speech, but I am disappointed with his comments on Zimbabwe. Does he not recognise that, given the possibility of Britain being accused of acting like a former colonial power, it was important to get the broadest possible international agreement to put pressure on Mugabe?
§ Mr. Duncan
I would argue that, none the less, the Government were too quiet in their condemnation of what was happening in Zimbabwe. The EU did a lot, but the Americans were far ahead of us, and many actions could have been taken. Sadly, I saw no evidence of work going on behind the scenes to persuade others to take the action that we were urging. The absence of that has done intolerable harm to the people of Zimbabwe who, while the world's press is looking elsewhere, are suffering miserably from the consequences of Mugabe's supposed re-election as president.
When I went to Jenin, I saw at first hand the UN's work with refugees. While I was there, I met by chance the long-time aid worker Larry Hollingsworth. He is an unmistakably recognisable figure, and with his generosity of spirit, his dedication to helping people and his refusal to take sides, he is symbolic of all that is best about the UN: its people. The UN employs many like him in some of the most difficult parts of the world. From its aid workers at the sharp end through to statesmen such as Kofi Annan, these people refuse to give up or despair about the situations that they face. They keep working for peace and to help people who are vulnerable and suffering. I pay tribute to those people, and I am sure other Members will join me in praising the work, especially the humanitarian work, carried out under the auspices of the UN.
It is a pity that time constrains what we can say today. There are so many facets to the UN's work that we can but touch on them. They include its peacekeeping role, conflict resolution work, the implications of the Brahimi report and its human rights and humanitarian work. Each of those could fill a debate on its own. However, the UN needs international support and consensus if it is to be effective. As the Minister said, that may require changes, including reform of the structure and procedures of the Commission on Human Rights. I do not presume to be able to come up with a detailed programme of reform in the short time that we have today, but it is vital that the question is addressed.
If countries such as those in Africa are committed to development, or are showing a commitment in that direction in initiatives such as the New Partnership for Africa's Development, they must be committed to good governance. The best way to express and further that is by active partnership with the UN and other member countries. Similarly, if we want effective security mechanisms through the UN, Security Council resolutions must be abided by no matter how large or small the nation in question. Turning a blind eye, applying unequal standards or attempting to suggest that resolutions do not apply to certain countries will only further stir disenchantment and make peace and international stability an even more distant objective.
There are those who would seek to devise ever more complex mechanisms to coerce and cajole countries into obeying UN resolutions. In this world of sovereign nation states, consensus and good will remain the 152WH bedrocks of the UN, and I do not see that changing. I hope that the 21st century will see a renewed era—of which we had a foretaste after 11 September—of co-operation, good will and dialogue, and I see no better forum for achieving such an end than the United Nations. It forges consensus without forcing unthinking conformity or a loss of national independence, and strives for peace, not conflict, and for prosperity in defiance of poverty. I applaud it for all its work.
§ Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)
If memory serves me, there is a plaque on the Methodist central hall, just across Parliament square in Westminster, commemorating the first meeting of the United Nations, which took place in that building. The fact of that meeting always causes my spirits to rise, given the world situation that prevailed immediately after the second world war. Even then, in the face of the most terrible destruction, there was a clear commitment to a better way for the nations of the world to settle their differences and to a future for all the people of the world based on a statement of defined human rights.
I pay tribute to the United Nations and to all the nations that have kept faith with its founding principles. I also pay tribute to the even larger group of individuals, to whom we have not yet referred, including many in my constituency, who firmly believe in the basic principle that the United Nations demonstrates in all its activities that there is a better way for nation states to solve their differences other than by going to war. That principle has spread into care and concern for the education of children, tackling the problem of the lack of health care, the creation of proper education systems, concern for the future, and the examination of such questions as whether science is a benefit or a bane—I could go on listing the areas in which the UN has interested itself over the past 50 years. The UN could not have dedicated itself to all those activities if only nation states were responsible for them; the overwhelming approval of the citizens of those nation states for those activities has ensured the progress of the UN over the past 50 years.
I say "progress" advisedly. In Westminster Hall there is a fascinating exhibition of the cartoons of Low, one of the greatest 20th-century cartoonists. When I went round that exhibition, it came as a shock to see how pertinent and contemporary—indeed, up-to-the-minute—so many of his cartoons are. What Low lampooned still exists: there are still dictatorships, ferocious differences based on race, religion and perceived imbalances of power, and gross inequities in the distribution of the world's goods and benefits. However, I do not say that to criticise the United Nations. I say it simply to highlight the fact that the world's needs are constantly changing, and that the UN principles to which nation states are committed have by no means outlived their sell-by date. They are as vital to the world today as they were when that group of dedicated and innovative people sat down to draft the beginnings of the United Nations.
However, it is of concern to me—I do not exclude the Government from the criticism—that, although nation states have of late been willing to use the UN and its resolutions and mandates when it has served their interests to do so, when they are in a difficult position or do not believe that their interests are endorsed by UN 153WH principles, they use the UN in the worst of all ways. That is brought most clearly to mind by the continuing pronouncements from the Government about the perceived danger from the axis of evil nations defined by the President of the United States.
Obviously, the most pertinent nation in this instance is Iraq. I hold no brief whatever for the regime in Iraq. Indeed, I entirely support what the UN has imposed on that state, and I agree that the way forward is for it to allow in weapons inspectors. I am somewhat concerned, however, that the flouting of UN resolutions is being used as a reason for one nation state or a combination of nation states to enter into what could be an extremely dangerous war without first obtaining a mandate from the UN. The UN cannot be used at our particular national behest, however worthy the desired outcome.
Iraq is not the only example. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) referred to the flouting of UN resolutions with regard to Israel and Palestine. My hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) referred to what she perceived as an insult to the UN—I paraphrase—of Israel's refusal to allow in UN observers to check whether there has been excessive use of military power. I agree with the Minister that that in no way demeans the UN. However, it causes the nation state that chooses to ignore resolutions to lose value—I put it no higher than that—in the eyes of the international community.
That concerns me a great deal with regard to the British Government's pronouncements on possible military action against Iraq. Without the most cogent and close examination, and genuine validation of any such action—not a rubber stamp from the UN—the standing of this nation and the US would diminish in the eyes of the world.
I pay tribute to the remarkable history of ambassadors to the UN from this country and their secretariats, who have been extraordinarily gifted and capable people. We have been extremely fortunate with many of our ambassadors, and the world, too, has benefited from their undoubted commitment to the basic principles of the UN and their knowledge of the changes that had to take place within the UN.
In my view, further changes will have to take place. I firmly believe that we should examine in detail the constituent parts of the Security Council. I have also argued for a considerable time that, given the changes in the world, the UN should consider whether there could be sub-stations of the UN in various parts of the globe.
The value that every emerging nation state places on membership of the UN speaks volumes not only for the work that the UN has done, but for the work that remains to be done. However, that work will be invalidated and will have no purpose if it is not acknowledged that balances of power throughout the world are shifting and that those shifts will continue. We hope that the balance of power will be more equitable than it has been in the past, but no one can rest on their laurels.
I keep talking about the UN as if it were something separate and private unto itself, but we all know that tackling the world's problems, halting conflict and advancing the principles of basic human rights depend 154WH on the commitment of the world's nation states to supporting the UN. I am not talking about exclusively financial support, although that has been a great stumbling block to the UN achieving much that the world has wished it to achieve. There must also be a clear political and moral commitment to what the UN represents and, indeed, can achieve.
I do not for one moment pretend that that is easy. If it were easy we would be living in an entirely different world. There are always national interests and fundamental and often deeply held differences between nation states, and there may be deeply held, truthfully held, differences within those nation states, but the UN is our last, best hope as an international forum for tackling those curses that have lain upon the world for centuries. The UN has never been totally successful, but it has achieved more than any other attempt by the world to bring all those nation states together to sit around a table and discuss.
I pay tribute to everyone who brought the United Nations into being, who have maintained it over the past 50 years and who will ensure that it continues. I strongly endorse the view that the failure to maintain UN resolutions does not damage the United Nations, but it damages the countries that flout them. Our Government should give precise and deep consideration to that before they enter into any pre-emptive strike against any nation.
§ Norman Lamb (North Norfolk)
I, too, congratulate the Government, the Minister and the Foreign Secretary on making this debate possible. The extent of consensus across the parties about the vital role of the United Nations in the past and, I hope, in the future has been encouraging. The UN charter begins:We the peoples of the United Nations are determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind.It was drafted in 1945 in the aftermath of the second world war and signed initially by 51 nations. Even if, in the intervening years, the world community has failed to live up to the challenge of that ambition, it is as relevant and important today as it was then.
As we debate the role of the UN today, the world seems to be a more dangerous and unstable place than it has been for a long time, as shown by the horror of 11 September, the threat posed by terrorism, the tinderbox of the middle east and the frightening heightened tension between India and Pakistan, not to mention the continuing conflicts that blight so much of Africa. That instability cries out for an effective UN. To be effective and relevant it must achieve reform, but the progress so far has been depressingly slow. Fine words and aspirations from the lead nations have not yet turned sufficiently into action.
Reform is so important because in the 57 years since the UN's creation the world has self-evidently changed dramatically, yet the institution remains essentially as it was in 1945. If it is to have a central role in this new century it must be able to respond to new challenges. The nature of conflict has shifted significantly in those years. Just in the last 10 years, 5 million people were killed in intrastate conflicts. The threat of terrorism has increased, as has the impact that terrorists can have with the weapons that may now be at their disposal.
155WH The Secretary-General, in his report "We the peoples" to the millennium summit back in 2000, referred to the threats and challenges of the new globalised world. He referred in particular to crime, narcotics, terrorism, pollution, disease, weapons, refugees and migrants. Those all present enormous challenges. Added to them, as has already been mentioned, is the imperative to tackle sustainable development and the environmental crisis that faces the globe. That also provides a central role for the United Nations.
I should like to deal specifically with the UN's peacekeeping role. Although not mentioned in the charter, that role became a central thrust of the organisation. For the first four and a half decades, the blue berets of the UN's peacekeeping forces became synonymous with everything positive about the UN. Yet in the last decade of the 20th century, the UN's reputation for peacekeeping became badly tarnished.
The report commissioned by the Secretary-General and produced by the panel headed by Mr. Brahimi gave impressive recognition of how badly things had gone wrong with peacekeeping. It referred to the challenge of saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war, but acknowledged:The U.N. has repeatedly failed to meet this challenge—and it can do no better today. Without renewed commitment on the part of Member States, significant institutional change and increased financial support, the U.N. will not be capable of executing the critical peacekeeping and peacebuilding tasks that the Member States assign to it.Those who support the UN having a central role in the future must face up to the criticisms of its performance and find ways of improving matters.
The UN's failures in the 1990s were particularly stark—in Rwanda, Bosnia and Somalia. Brahimi referred to the consequences for those countries of the failure to distinguish between victim and aggressor, treating both equally. The result was at best ineffectiveness, but in the worst casemay amount to complicity in evil.That clearly was the case in Rwanda and it inevitably had a devastating effect on the credibility and the standing of UN peacekeeping.
Reports in 2000 also highlighted the appalling corruption in the UN peacekeeping forces deployed in Sierra Leone. We have heard about the UN's positive role there, but the Nigerian contingent was guilty of involvement in illegal trading of diamonds, drug smuggling and other serious criminal activities.
Brahimi's report was deeply critical of much of the culture of the UN. It referred to wide disparities in staff quality. We heard earlier about the many people who devoted their lives to the UN, but Brahimi averred that that was not always the case, and he pleaded for the UN to become a genuine meritocracy. Excellence had to be rewarded but incompetence had to be rooted out. He warned that, unless that happened, additional resources would be wasted and lasting reform would become impossible.
That was the picture back in 2000. As we entered the new millennium, there seemed to be widespread recognition of the need for reform and the organisation's acceptance of past failures. What 156WH remains depressing is that decisive change has failed to take place. The danger is that without reform the UN will fail to meet the substantial challenges ahead.
§ Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)
I am following the hon. Gentleman's argument with great interest. On a recent visit to the UN, I spent some time talking about how its role in peacekeeping had developed. The change in leadership to Kofi Annan and change in approach to peacekeeping were seen as the important element of reform rather than reform of the institutions. There was a general feeling that spending a lot of time in reforming institutions would mean taking the UN's eye off the real problems of the world. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?
§ Norman Lamb
I can see the risk of deflecting attention away from how best to cope with each challenge. However, the real concern is that, as presently constructed, the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, does not properly reflect the modern world. It can no longer be sustained with countries that were essentially the victors of the second world war playing the prominent, central roles. That must change, as many people recognise.
On the eve of the millennium summit in September 2000, the Liberal Democrats and the Government published a joint paper on the case for reform. It was an impressive document, the work of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell) and the then Foreign Secretary. Much of it is as valid now as it was then.
§ Norman Lamb
We signed up to the paper and supported it. There will be debate in any party about certain aspects of official policy, but the paper clearly stated our position and I stand by that. It made the powerful point that the UN remains the only truly global institution, with universal membership and universal norms that bestow on it a unique legitimacy. As Kofi Annan put it, the UN's influence derives not from power but from what it represents—its role in helping to set and sustain global norms, its ability to stimulate global concern and action and the trust inspired by its practical work through so many of its agencies to improve people's lives.
The millennium targets that were set in 2000 to be achieved by 2015 are an excellent example of the UN taking a lead. They are based on some core values that the world community is asked to follow; that is why it is so important to rebuild confidence and credibility. If the UN is to have a central role in the future, structural reform must be achieved. I have already mentioned the need for reform of the Security Council. There is a powerful case for Germany and Japan to have a place on it and there must be additional places for Latin America, Africa and Asia if the UN is properly to reflect the modern world.
157WH It is also important to address the use of the veto. Although it has not often been used since the inception of the UN, the threat of its use can be destructive. The Security Council must be more capable of responding effectively and without delay to the threats and challenges ahead. There also needs to be an audit of outstanding Security Council resolutions. Too often, they are fine words that gather dust without being translated into action.
I want to discuss when intervention in other countries is appropriate. In April 1999, the Prime Minister initiated a debate on the circumstances in which we should get involved in "other people's conflicts", as he put it. Kofi Annan joined the debate by stating:No legal principle—not even sovereignty—can shield crimes against humanity.There needs to be a framework for intervention, the criteria and principles to be followed in determining when and if it is appropriate.
What has happened since the millennium summit in September 2000, and since Brahimi's analysis of the UN's peacekeeping role? Policy continues to be developed, and in December 2001 the Secretary-General reported on progress in the implementation of the recommendations of Brahimi's panel. Things are happening slowly, but the UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding role is at least temporarily diminished.
Events since 11 September do not necessarily paint too gloomy a picture of the UN's central role of peacekeeping and peacebuilding. After all, it was the Secretary-General's special representative for Afghanistan, Mr. Brahimi, who instigated consultations on the future governance of Afghanistan, which led to the Bonn talks under the auspices of the UN. The outcome of those talks was widely acknowledged as a triumph, and the UN is continuing to play a central role in the creation of a new constitution and stable governance for that troubled country. When it came to establishing a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, it was again Brahimi who advised against a UN force; instead, learning from the lessons of the previous decade, the international security and assistance force was under the auspices the UN but was not a UN force.
The trend increasingly seems to be for peacekeeping forces to be provided by coalitions of willing nations. Indeed, the United Kingdom performed an admirable and impressive role in Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. A new model may be emerging, with the UN doing what it does best and individual countries providing peacekeeping forces because of their expertise, yet still being accountable to the UN. If what seems to be emerging is the shape of things to come, the cost of those operations must be properly shared.
I turn to the role of the United Nations in the so-called war on terrorism. Resolution 1373, passed on 28 September 2001, set out a range of legally binding measures to be taken against terrorism. As we heard, a counter-terrorism committee was established to pursue that agenda, chaired by Sir Jeremy Greenstock, who said that its task was to upgrade the world's capability for tackling terrorism and establish a network for information sharing and co-operative executive action. I have already said that all member states were supposed to have provided details of what measures they were 158WH taking by the end of December but that 45 countries failed to respond. I would be interested to know what is being done to encourage those recalcitrant countries to respond.
There is no doubt that a globalised world needs a strong United Nations; it also needs many of the UN agencies, which are engaged in vital work. I have recently seen the work of the United Nations population fund in China, which is addressing the massive challenge of population growth in that country. I am also aware of the work of the United Nations mine action service in trying to clear mines. However, many UN agencies need to be challenged on their use of funds and on the effectiveness of their work. I was appalled to hear that UNMAS spends about 30 per cent. of its budget on central costs in New York. That must be challenged so that the money is used effectively on the ground.
It is clear that the will is strong to ensure that the United Nations again becomes an effective, central player in a dangerous and unstable world, but the fine rhetoric must be translated into action to ensure that we achieve not only structural reform but reform of the way in which it carries out its work. We need to make certain that it is effective.
§ Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead)
Reform of the United Nations is necessary, because membership of the Security Council encourages nuclear proliferation. If a country has nuclear weapons it gets a seat at the top table; the likelihood of a seat for India is the latest example of that. The problem must be addressed. It is a perverse incentive.
§ Mr. Savidge
As the Liberal spokesman said, countries were on the Security Council because they happened to win world war 2, not because they had nuclear weapons. It is important to stress that, because some people think that countries can get on to the Security Council by that means.
§ Harry Cohen
I note my hon. Friend's comments, but I think that there is still a perverse incentive, which must be dealt with.
§ Mr. Love
As a member of an association of friends of India, I should say that there are many reasons why we should consider sympathetically India's claim to a place on the Security Council, not least because there are more than 1 billion people in the country, and its population is growing rapidly.
§ Harry Cohen
I hear that point, and I am not unsympathetic to such reasons, but India's case started to be taken seriously only when it got nuclear weapons. That provides a perverse incentive, which must be dealt with.
It may not be popular to say so here, but it would also make obvious sense to convert the Security Council seats of the United Kingdom and France into a European Union seat. There is an obvious case for doing that, and it will come about in due course. If it does not, the Security Council will become unwieldy. Indeed, it will end up becoming the General Assembly if 159WH the reforms that have been mentioned come about. We should consider an EU seat as part of any reform process.
Reform should also encompass paying dues on time. The United States position has been a scandal, and its dues were paid only recently—by Ted Turner of CNN, not by the Administration. Paying up should be a necessary prerequisite for a country's nationals to hold positions in the UN.
I want to talk about an aspect of the UN charter. Whenever the House debates the arms trade, the Government—whichever party is in power—response is that all countries have the right of self-defence, which is enshrined in article 51. That has become the basic justification for arms sales, but the charter did not intend that. It simply stated the obvious fact that a nation's sovereignty should not be attacked by others, but arms buyers and sellers now use that to justify their arms dealing.
I would like the charter to be amended. Why should countries with appalling human rights records be allowed to use it to legitimise a dubious right to import arms? It should be made explicit that the right to import arms exists only in countries that recognise the responsibilities of good governance.
There is an irony in the present situation, in that the UN imposes arms embargoes in contradiction of its own charter. The European Union, NATO, the UK and others similarly impose embargoes in contradiction of the charter and of the right to self-defence. It could be argued that Iraq has the right of self-defence under the charter, whatever the policies of its regime. I suspect that other countries would argue the same for themselves, and I think that they would win their case if it ever came to trial under international law. The charter should therefore be made more specific, and the authorisation for arms deals should be qualified.
§ Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)
Is there not an even wider issue? It is undoubtedly true that the mere presence of arms fuels conflict in many areas, and that is as valid for small arms as it is for larger ones. Is there not a role for the UN in trying to get countries such as Britain to be serious about defence diversification and about using their talented engineers and scientists in more productive employment, thus decreasing the availability of arms in the world?
§ Harry Cohen
I agree with both those points. I have argued for much more effective defence diversification for many years. There should be control on small arms, and I am deeply disappointed that the USA put a stop to a progressive proposal that was backed by the Government. I praise the Government for their support. It is a shame that the Bush Administration have put a block on an important proposal that would have stopped much of the killing around the world.
The UN charter should not be used to authorise unjustified arms sales, which result in turmoil. The Government should raise the issue in all relevant discussions, internationally and in the UN. I admit that such an amendment is unlikely to be passed, as there are too many regimes that want the right to buy arms without accepting proper democratic and human rights standards. However, such a move from the Government might provoke a debate about which countries should be prevented from or restricted in importing arms.
160WH Human rights abuses bring untold misery to countries, but there are more serious international implications. A country that is willing to inflict pain and suffering on its own population is less likely to feel morally restricted about killing people outside its borders. If a dictator is aggressive towards his own people, he may well be aggressive against his neighbours. I do not like the UN charter being used as a cover for aggression, and I urge that the matter be debated at the UN and that reform be considered.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
I welcome the debate, as the House does not consider frequently enough the work and role of the UN.
I have two points. First, we must consider how the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the near east, which is one of the UN's oldest agencies, can be wound up while offering a secure future to Palestinian refugees. Secondly, I wish to promote the introduction of a parliamentary dimension into the work of the UN.
During the debate on the middle east that took place on 16 April on the Floor of the House, I said in response to the moving comments made by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) that the devastation of the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin should encourage the international community to consider how the work of UNRWA can be brought to an end. Whatever the justification for what Israel did at Jenin in pursuit of Palestinian terrorists, it must be clear that such camps are and will continue to be a prime source of terrorism against Israel and the international community for as long as they remain.
There are 49 refugee camps, located in the host countries of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, as well as in Gaza and the partially reoccupied west bank. Today they house nearly 1.25 million of the 3.5 million refugees who are registered with the UN. They originated from the 1948 independence war for Israel and were added to by those who were further displaced in the 1967 war. The camps are overcrowded and squalid and offer the most rudimentary facilities. Their occupants are stateless and homeless, living in increasing poverty and their hopes for a secured and settled future are dashed as every peace process fails. It is no wonder that they are a breeding ground for young terrorists influenced by Islamic fundamentalism.
Despite those conditions, UNRWA continues to produce miracles in providing basic services. Many of its schools are organised on a double shift system, so that they are, in effect, two schools in one. The teachers produce outstanding results despite those conditions, as do the medical staff in the health centres and hospitals, not least in treating patients traumatised by the violence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) was right to pay tribute to the work of United Nations staff in such situations. However, UNRWA's ability to provide such services has deteriorated dramatically in the past decade, with a 30 per cent. reduction in spending per registered refugee as donations have been reduced and the registered refugee population has increased by more than 30 per cent. There can be no doubt that the most recent interventions in the camps in Gaza and the west bank by Israeli forces will have damaged still further UNRWA's ability to deliver those services.
161WH In response to the situation, the international community, through the United Nations, should now consider how those 3.5 million registered Palestinian refugees can be provided with a permanent settlement and offered a secure future after 50 years. Such a plan, including the funding for it, should be clear for all to see in preparation for the moment when, eventually and inevitably, the refugee final status issue is addressed by the two parties to the negotiations. Its aim should be to enable the camps to be ended and the work of UNRWA to be seamlessly transferred to the Ministries concerned.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe endorsed a carefully worked-out plan in its resolution 1156, which was the subject of my Adjournment debate in the House on 28 April 1998. It accepts the reality, as do a growing number of Palestinians and Arab states, that there can be no right of return to Israel, even though Israel will be expected, and has offered, to accept some refugees in order to reunify families. The options include citizenship in the host country, resettlement and citizenship in other donor countries or citizenship in a viable state of Palestine. The Assembly also proposed the establishment of a new UN Palestine refugee and displaced persons final status fund to finance the permanent settlement of the refugees. That funding would represent the compensation that is promised in UN resolutions 198 and 242 as the implied alternative to the right of return.
It is now in the interests of all of us to press for such a plan. Spain, currently the holder of the EU presidency, and the country that launched the Oslo accords in 1990, should be encouraged to take such an initiative. The United Kingdom, which is the largest donor to UNRWA, considered such a plan when it last held the EU presidency in 1998. At that time it co-sponsored the Warwick conference on Palestine refugees, which was addressed by the late Derek Fatchett, then the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for middle east affairs. Without such a plan, I do not have any hope for the refugees or for an end to the terrorism that each new generation is tempted to pursue.
I shall conclude my remarks by making the case for the introduction of a parliamentary dimension into the work of the United Nations. Many Members serve or have served in the four Parliamentary Assemblies where we are represented by a national delegation—the Council of Europe, the Western European Union, the North Atlantic Assembly and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. I am sure that all who share that experience will vouch for the fact that, as practical parliamentarians regularly seeking re-election to continue to do our work here, we can and have proposed solutions to problems that have eluded Governments.
During its existence for more than half a century, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has contributed to almost 200 conventions, which in countless ways based on common standards and best practices today influence the lives of the citizens of its 44 member states. We have also proposed solutions to long-standing disputes and conflicts by dialogue with fellow parliamentarians when diplomacy and Governments have failed.
162WH It was the introduction of such a parliamentary dimension in the work of the UN, based on the undoubted success of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that the millennium conference of presiding officers of national Parliaments—Speakers, in effect—called for in its final declaration at the UN headquarters in New York on 1 September 2000. That idea has been promoted for several years by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which continues to encourage parliamentarians to be included in the national delegations to the annual UN General Assembly. It was a great privilege for me to address the General Assembly on behalf of the British delegation in October 2000. I was told that that was the first time that a British Back-Bench Member of Parliament had done so. I was grateful to the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who approved that when he was Foreign Secretary.
For parliamentarians to be included in national delegations to the UN General Assembly is no substitute for the UN having its own parliamentary assembly, such as that of the Council of Europe. Although it is for the IPU to pursue its proposal for such an assembly, I hope that the Government will endorse the concept and in so doing encourage those of us who believe that it would make a valuable contribution to the work and success of the UN in future.
§ 4.6 pm
§ Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon)
I am grateful to have an opportunity to contribute, and would like to spend most of my time discussing the role of UN development. Before I do so, I want to register my huge concern, and that of my constituents, about the situation between India and Pakistan, and about the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. Those matters have to be priorities for the UN, as they affect everyone.
When the Minister opened the debate, he referred, rightly, to the millennium development goals. In September 2000, the UN declaration on them suggested that by 2015 we should halve the proportion of the world's population who live on less than a dollar a day, suffer from hunger or are unable to reach or afford fresh drinking water.
The next goals were to ensure primary education for all, promote gender equality and reduce maternal and child mortality. UNICEF is doing some excellent work on the last issue. It hopes that by 2005 we will be able to eliminate maternal and neonatal tetanus, which currently kills 30,000 women and 200,000 babies each year, for the want of an incredibly cheap vaccine and some basic hygiene methods. I hope that the Government will continue to support that important programme.
The other three millennium development goals were to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases, to ensure environmental sustainability, and to develop a global partnership for development, based on open trading and a financial system with clear rules that is committed to good governance and poverty reduction.
I hope that everyone in the House supports the UN goals, as the real challenge is to achieve them. It is not impossible. Korea, Malaysia and Morocco halved the proportion of their people who lived in poverty in less 163WH than a generation, as did the Indian states of Haryana, Kerala and the Punjab. Another dozen countries, including Botswana and Mauritius, reduced poverty by a quarter or more in a generation. Other countries can learn much from those well documented lessons. If such work has been done before, we can do it again.
The UN, having drawn up the goals, now has a duty to oversee their implementation. The millennium declaration stateswe will spare no effort to make the United Nations a more effective instrument for pursuing all of these priorities".Delivering on the goals involves aid and major changes in trade organisation. Also, a key part in their delivery must be to oversee a swift and fair cancellation of third-world debt.
The world's poorest countries currently owe the richest an estimated $213 billion and pay us £21.5 billion a year. In return, they receive £49.5 billion in official development assistance. More than half the assistance is given straight back, which is ridiculous when we consider the wide discrepancy in power and poverty between the richest and poorest countries.
The UN is producing a lot of fine words, but the measures that are currently in place to deal with poor countries' debts are insufficient. The heavily indebted poor countries process, known as HIPC, managed and run by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, is not living up to the UN's worthy principles. The UN states thatglobal challenges must be managed in a way that distributes the costs and burdens fairly in accordance with basic principles of equity and social justice".However, it is not socially just or equitable that Zambia, for example, spends 13 per cent. of its GDP on debt servicing and only 3.6 per cent. on health and 2.2 per cent. on education, when 85 per cent. of the population live below the poverty line and 45 per cent. are undernourished. Nor is there an equal say for debtor and creditor countries in the HIPC process. There should be a fair arbitration procedure for all poor countries that want bad loans to be assessed. Such a procedure should include investigating whether the lending countries were knowingly giving a bad loan or a loan to a corrupt dictator, Government, politician or official, and if so, the loan should be written off accordingly. All debts should be assessed to see whether they are consistent with the millennium development goals, which will only halve the number of people who live in poverty, not get rid of poverty altogether.
If we are to lift millions of people out of poverty, it will be crucial to speed up debt relief and expand help to those countries not even currently considered in the HIPC process. The UN could play a key role in setting up such an arbitration process, which already has some firm foundations. The Jubilee research organisation has undertaken several thorough studies of the HIPC initiative and found it to be seriously wanting. It suggests an arbitration system for overseeing and implementing debt relief, based on chapter 9 of the United States legal code. Jubilee proposes that the Secretary-General of the United Nations should oversee the appointment of panels to carry out the arbitration. In addition, the IMF has recently been considering the idea of arbitration panels for middle-income countries. We are not giving debtor countries the means to shake 164WH off any responsibility for their debts, but the UN can play a central role in the process to ensure that both sides are fairly heard.
As with most issues of debt relief, the details are complex and technical, but it seems an obvious role for the UN to fulfil. It is time for joined-up thinking on development. With the two big summits this year, which will highlight the links between development and international financing, the environment and the urgent need for poverty reduction, the central problem of debt in relation to the millennium development goals must be tackled seriously so that poor countries can be made sustainable, both in economic and environmental terms.
The United Kingdom is well ahead of other countries in advocating and implementing joined up pro-poor policies in development and debt relief.
§ Norman Lamb
Does the hon. Lady agree that the sale of the £28 million air traffic control system to Tanzania shows an absolutely hopeless failure to deliver joined-up government, as the Department for International Development opposed the project, but the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister supported it?
§ Ms Drown
There are serious questions surrounding that. There is an obvious defence that the decision is up to the Government of Tanzania and we should not interfere, but given the extreme poverty in Tanzania, there are serious questions about how much it is reasonable to spend on such a system when there are cheaper and better alternatives.
More needs to be done on debt relief, both by this country and others. The UN can play a central role in getting other developed countries to follow Britain's lead and genuinely address the needs of developing countries. The Zedillo report for the Monterrey financing for development summit estimated that an extra $50 billion of aid a year would be needed to meet those development goals. After debt relief, at its current level, the world's poorest countries will still need $30 billion a year just to achieve the first goal. To achieve all seven will require an awful lot more.
§ Mr. Love
While accepting almost everything that my hon. Friend says, does she not accord more importance to the role of trade? For example, in China and India, two countries with large numbers of very poor people, trade has been a salvation. It has brought many people out of poverty, yet she does not see it. Does she also accept that if the European Union could be opened up to third-world countries, it would do more than almost anything else to raise the people in those countries out of poverty?
§ Ms Drown
I accept those points and I have mentioned trade at least twice already. It is a central issue, part of the seventh millennium development goal, but we are not doing nearly enough. Developing countries have to cross barriers the size of mountains to send goods to us and in return we require them to reduce the barriers to our goods. Trade, debt relief and aid support need to be joined up.
I call on the Government to work with the United Nations on a co-ordinated approach to development, to speed up debt relief, to tackle the trade issues and to 165WH ensure that enough action is taken not only to achieve the millennium development goals but to reach even higher.
§ Mr. Andrew Rosindell (Romford)
Since the cold war ended, especially in the post-11 September world, there has been an urgent need to re-examine those international organisations that exist to uphold the peace and to maintain global stability. The foremost and principal organisation in that effort is the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Equally, however, there is no doubt that the United Nations has enormous international significance, and I am pleased that we can debate its modern role today.
I applaud the UN's many achievements and welcome many of the comments made by the Minister and other hon. Members. I would welcome new members such as East Timor and Switzerland joining the United Nations, but its culture needs to change a little. There should be less consensus and more expansion of liberty. The UN must become a more democratic and open organisation, with serious reforms cutting out the institutional waste and bureaucracy that have characterised it in recent years.
The first step to shaping the sort of United Nations that can actually be of use to its members must be an acceptance that it needs a clearly defined role, distinct from other organisations such as NATO, and one that it can deliver in an effective and meaningful manner. As the sixth largest contributor to the United Nations, it is in the United Kingdom's interest to ensure that the direction of the UN is focused and serves a useful purpose in all its initiatives. There is no excuse for spending taxpayers' money on an organisation that fails to deliver and seems only to perpetuate bureaucracy while standing on the toes of other organisations and nations. NATO, for example, has a specific security focus, yet the United Nations currently tries to be all-encompassing, acting as a focal point for all attempts to co-ordinate international action on global issues, be it peacekeeping, humanitarian aid or in attempting to lay the foundations for stability in Afghanistan.
Let us take, for example, the somewhat excessive level of discussions, documents, treaties and proposed actions that regularly come out of the United Nations. They are all based on the perceived rights of people around the world to everything from clean water to education. Yet declaring these rights—
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that there should be no right for a human being to have clean water, a roof over their head and enough food in their belly, especially bearing in mind that today 30,000 children will die in the developing nations, as they do every day? What is the hon. Gentleman's solution to those deaths?
§ Mr. Rosindell
The hon. Gentleman misunderstands me. What I am saying is that we need to achieve these things, but not to perpetuate a bureaucracy in which there is talk about achieving such laudable aims, but a 166WH failure to do so. In a recent document produced by the US Heritage Foundation, Brett Schaefer wrote that the UNhas not purified any water or educated any children, and UN target dates for accomplishing its goals are rarely, if ever, met.I cannot believe that any hon. Member would want to defend an organisation that fails in such crucial areas of policy.
§ Ms Munn
The hon. Gentleman seems to be suggesting that no progress is being made. Does he not accept that 63 countries over the past 12 years achieved the world summit's 1990 goal by reducing the death rate of children under five by a third, while more than 100 countries reduced the death rate by a fifth? Of course, that is not enough, but is it not an achievement for all those children who would not have been alive if fewer countries had come together under the UN's auspices?
§ Mr. Rosindell
Yes, that is a magnificent achievement, and I seek to ensure that the UN and other international organisations improve on that work and the progress that they have made. It is a question not of criticising achievements, but of building on them.
§ Mr. Savidge
I attended a Heritage Foundation seminar at which representatives said that it was terrible that they were being accused of being unilateralist because of their opposition to arms control treaties and the UN. I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman is using the most reliable source to build his definition of caring Conservatism.
§ Mr. Rosindell
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his opinion and to consult and take briefings from whichever organisation he chooses. I also have that right. I believe that the Heritage Foundation produces some excellent material, which I am pleased to use today.
What the UN will achieve is a debasement of the definition of rights, the expansion of the authority of international law, and the use of organisations and administrators to impose arbitrary rights as obligations on sovereign Governments. It also hosts periodic large-scale conferences that attempt to go well beyond what they could ever achieve, and cost an excessive sum of money.
§ Mr. Rosindell
Not at the moment.
The social summit in the mid-1990s proclaimed an ability to develop a global strategy on creating jobs and building solidarity. That is quite a feat for a one-time gathering of national and international bureaucrats. Surely, the cornerstone of Britain's approach to international organisations, especially the UN and, for that matter, the European Union, should be based on a policy of creating an international system that is based on, and accountable to, sovereign nations, and is realistic about what it can achieve. It should not attempt 167WH to encroach on areas that are rightly the business of its own member nation states. I will now give way to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love).
§ Mr. Rosindell
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is saying that I have missed the point, or that he has.
§ Mr. Love
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way belatedly. I am talking about his point on international conferences. Whenever I read anything in the media about the UN and international conferences, the words that always attach to them are "lobster" and "champagne". Such superficial criticism of the UN does not take us forward. If we did not have a UN, we would need to invent one. The sooner the Heritage Foundation and those Conservative Back Benchers realise that, the better off this Parliament will be.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I do not think that the Conservative party or any Opposition Members are suggesting that the United Nations should not exist. The UN has a crucial role to play in today's world, and no one is saying otherwise. I am arguing for a more efficient way of spending money and a United Nations that achieves the goals that we want it to achieve. We want less lobster and champagne and more achievements for the people and nations of the world that need the most help.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I am trying to do that throughout my speech. I have already made it clear that the UN appears to be all-encompassing on a range of subjects, rather than focusing on clearly defined roles. Today's debate is to assess the importance of the United Nations while trying to ensure that it, and Governments who are represented in it, push for it to act effectively and cost-efficiently. We all want it to be a worthwhile organisation that we can support.
In its current form, the UN seems to strive for some sort of international consensus. However, I challenge where that can lead us. I appeal to the common sense of hon. Members to accept that such a concept, while idealistic, is floating somewhere significantly north of cloud cuckoo land. There are many things on which nations can agree, but always trying to reach international consensus on all issues is simply unrealistic.
§ Ms Munn
I remain somewhat puzzled by what the hon. Gentleman is saying. My understanding is that the United Nations is exactly the organisation that he described. It is an organisation of nation states, which means that there are few things on which the General Assembly can achieve a consensus, and there is a lot of negotiation about those issues. It is unlike the European Union, at which we sometimes have to argue about the subjects on which we give up a veto, and precisely like the organisation that he wants.
§ Mr. Rosindell
I do not entirely agree. The United Nations, like many international organisations, strives 168WH for what it sees as a consensus. The problem with the idea of consensus is that it leaves us always veering towards the common ground rather than necessarily towards what is right. As I said at the beginning, I would prefer the UN to fight for the expansion of liberty and freedom rather than continuously seek a consensus.
For example, where will an international consensus be found in a territorial dispute such as Gibraltar? Britain and Spain are both members of the UN. Both countries can agree on many topics, but so long as our Government do not betray the British people of Gibraltar, the two countries will never agree, whatever the United Nations chooses to do. Indeed, Gibraltar illustrates one key area in which the UN attempts good work, but fails. The 1960 UN resolution on the independence of colonial countries and peoples gives the people of such territories the right to remain as they are or integrate with their motherland. However, bilateral talks between Britain and Spain have taken place on Gibraltar, ignoring the declaration and rendering good intentions useless.
Equally, where will a consensus-seeking organisation place itself on the situation in the middle east? That has been mentioned by hon. Members already this afternoon. Some international input can be helpful in both matters, but action is conducted often on a bilateral, rather than multilateral basis. That is why the role of the UN should not be so prescriptive. It should more flexible and responsive to bilateral relationships between nation states. We should not have a UN where the bureaucracy runs wild, obsessed with countless conferences, documents and treaties attempting to be the world government. We should have a UN where nations can come together when need be just as the coalition against terror was formed last September.
One of the most prominent activities of the UN over the past decade has been that of an ever expanding peacekeeping role, at an unsurprisingly significant cost. That is especially the case when we consider the recent missions in Kosovo, East Timor and Sierra Leone, all of which took the budget for peacekeeping operations as a whole from $800 million in 1998–99 to $1.8 billion in 2000–01, without even mentioning the possible expenditure in connection with the war on terrorism.
Nevertheless, the effectiveness of the UN at such peacekeeping can legitimately be called into question when consideration is given to the correlation between the immense cost and the failures such as Somalia and Bosnia. Therefore, certain questions must be asked. Does the UN have the necessary military knowledge to conduct such actions? Does it carry the authority and respect that a NATO or a national taskforce would carry? Is the real purpose of many deployments peacekeeping or peace-enforcing? The period after the cold war has brought many more wars of ethnicity and nationalism, bringing a greater need for peace enforcement rather than simple peacekeeping.
The question we must now ask is whether the UN is equipped to deal with such scenarios, or whether other, more tactical and security focused forces would be better. Perhaps the UN is better used for properly co-ordinated humanitarian relief efforts, leaving military action to specific military organisations. Any decision that is made on the future role of the UN must be made on the basis that the world still exists as a body of independent nation states. The answers will not be 169WH found in Westminster Hall this afternoon, but a thorough investigation must be made of the effectiveness of what the UN does now, how it can do it better and what it is based on. Some of the ideas that I have outlined today may seem to many to be anti-UN, but that is not the case. The UN has done a great deal of good work on a humanitarian and peacekeeping level over many years. The world has changed, however, and the bureaucracy needs to be challenged and its role needs to be defined. That is the real challenge.
§ Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North)
Last March I had the privilege of speaking at an inter-parliamentary conference in New Delhi in the Parliament buildings on United Nations Brahimi peacekeeping operations. I started my comments by saying that 11 September had brought home to us that horrors we had previously thought might be purely in the realm of fiction could happen in dreadful reality. I then read out the following passage:The magnificent architectural buildings of Indian democracy were destroyed within seconds of the blast; India Gate, the Parliament Building, the national Archives, the Supreme Court, then further out with temperatures still almost a million degrees, the path of destruction hitting Connaught Place, Janpath and other landmarks of Indian heritage…then, like in Bombay, the firestorms reached the flimsier structures, the more densely crowded parts of the city where people died in their tens of thousands.I said that whether one believed that scenario from "Dragon Fire", a carefully researched novel by BBC Asia correspondent Humphrey Hawksley, was credible, the possibility of conflict between India and Pakistan ending in nuclear war was all too terribly and dreadfully believable. That is even more true today. I am pleased to say that Sonia Gandhi, who was leader of the Indian opposition at the time, raised the same points in her message to the conference.
I said at that conference that I was not trying to be patronising or colonial—asserting that some countries could be trusted with nuclear weapons but others could not. I thought that I could defend myself against that accusation because I said that just two days earlier it had been revealed that Nixon had discussed with Kissinger the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Vietnam. I will also never forget Cuba. In 1993, I was at a big dinner at the Mansion house in honour of Mikhail Gorbachev. It was attended by several politicians—mostly senior Conservatives, including Margaret Thatcher. One of the speakers was David Mellor, who said that he believed Gorbachev had removed the threat of nuclear conflict. He spoke movingly about how, as a child, he had left his mother to go to school in the morning, wondering whether he would come home because we were in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. As Kennedy said—he must have known—the possibility of nuclear disaster rose to somewhere between one in three and one in five because America had lost control of the situation.
Speaking in Westminster Hall at the start of the millennium, I said that I feared that we had missed many of the opportunities afforded by the ending of the cold war for reducing the terrible risks posed by weapons of 170WH mass destruction. I suspect that all hon. Members present would feel that the way in which events have gone since the beginning of the millennium has, if anything, increased the fears that something terrible could go wrong.
The comment made by President Truman in 1945 on the signing of the UN charter applies more than ever. He said:We did much more than draft an international agreement among 50 nations. We set down on paper the only principles that will enable civilised human life to continue to survive on this globe.The UN is not just our best hope of survival. It is an essential component of a safer world. The UN has many faults and legitimate complaints can be made about its bureaucracy and other problems, although I do not echo the comments of the Member for north cloud cuckoo land. As the hon. Gentleman's speech showed, attacks on the UN have often been grossly unjust. One thinks, for example, of the occasions on which NATO operates on UN command; if things go wrong, the failure is blamed on the UN and if things go right, NATO is credited with the success. The UN is often blamed in situations where the real fault has been member nations blocking an initiative.
One also thinks of how often the fact that the cold war never became a nuclear or a world war is credited to various factors, such as nuclear deterrence, and how rarely the contribution made by the UN is acknowledged. Hon. Members have referred to various UN activities: its success with decolonisation, refugees, famine relief, health, education, the environment, peacemaking, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, as well as the vital role it plays in combating terrorism and, of course, in arms control and disarmament. The UN is the fundamental basis of creating a peaceful, just and stable world.
I wish to concentrate on the UN's crucial role of opposing war and its causes. As the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) said, it will have an increasing role in halting civil wars. To be effective, it must be properly resourced and the forces must be properly integrated. The European rapid reaction force could provide a useful model. We must also work on policing and the sort of nation-building exercises that we have seen in Afghanistan.
I want to focus specifically on the three main world problem areas. The first is India and Pakistan, to which the Minister and others referred, where the risk of a conflict going nuclear is serious and the fatalities could run into millions. Even if no other countries were involved—heaven help us if China joins in—the consequences could be horrific. If just India and Pakistan became entangled in nuclear conflict, the fatalities would spread way beyond their borders as a result of the radiation, and even if a nuclear winter did not break out, climate change could occur in countries where many of the inhabitants are already living on subsistence levels.
The Prime Minister's judicious response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar) yesterday has the overwhelming support of both sides of the House. My own early-day motion 633, urging the Government to seek a peaceful resolution and reduce the risks of nuclear 171WH conflict has already found the support of 315 Back Benchers from across the political and religious spectrum, including the most prominent supporters of both countries. Unanimity exists not just in Parliament, but throughout the country, in support of the Foreign Secretary's peace mission next week. The UN has a vital role to play in resolving the problem.
Iraq is another major problem. Of course we must deal with Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, although I am somewhat wary of that phrase, which diminishes the difference between nuclear weapons on the one hand and biological and chemical weapons on the other.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
§ Mr. Savidge
I begin with an apology. I referred to the Member for north cloud cuckoo land when I should have said the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell). My knowledge of Essex geography is a little limited; is that some way beyond Barking?
I was speaking about Iraq. Obviously, the problem of Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction must be dealt with, but inspections and sanctions must be decided under the United Nations. Any consideration of any other type of action against Iraq or any other state that is of concern must also take place under the UN. I reject the phrase "rogue state", because it is simplistic and I do not see why we should accept the language of the extreme right in the United States.
To quote the impressive speech made earlier by the Conservative spokesman, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), if the UN is "ignored, undermined or sidestepped" in this respect, as in any other, it will be diminished, and the possibility of other countries feeling that they have a right to take unilateral action will be increased. I also associate myself completely with the excellent and impressive speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson).
On Israel and Palestine, I take it as read that Israel has a right to exist within its borders in security, but I also take it as read that Palestine has a right to exist within its borders in security. I have grave fears about the implications if the Sharon Government continue to resist a proper inquiry into events in Jenin, to occupy territories where they have no right to be and to assume a licence to kill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate referred to Sir David Low's exhibition in Westminster Hall, which includes two very telling cartoons. One is about Japan and Manchuria, and the other relates to Italy and Abyssinia. He was forecasting that the failure of the League of Nations to take suitable action in those respects would lead to disaster, and we all know that it led eventually to world war.
I shall draw another historical parallel, which David Low also illustrated amply. I am pleased that there is discussion of peace talks this summer involving the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN. 172WH It is important that a number of parties that are not seen to be partisan towards Israel should be part of those talks, but I have one fear at the back of my mind. We must not allow the situation to be like that involving Czechoslovakia in 1938, with the settlements being treated like those of the Sudeten Germans, and the weaker side—Palestine—being humiliated, as Czechoslovakia was, and forced to accept Bantustan status. That would be a recipe for disaster.
One of the crucial things in the failure of the League of Nations was its relationship with the United States. The United States played a wonderful role in setting up the League in the first place, but then unfortunately the isolationists took over. There are concerns in the rest of the world about the relationship of the United States to the United Nations. There are concerns about the sort of extremists to whom I have referred already, who treat the United Nations with hostility. I find it worrying that a popular film could be made that suggested that there could be a war between the United States as the goodies and the United Nations as the baddies.
Apart from those sorts of extremists, the Heritage Foundation and other isolationists, there are other concerns. There is concern felt in a number of parts of the world that some countries use the United Nations when it is convenient, and ignore it when it is not. There is another concern that I have heard expressed in several countries that the United Nations is dominated by the Security Council, the Security Council is dominated by the permanent five and the permanent five are dominated by the United States. To be fair, there is a concern in the United States that I think should be recognised by the rest of the world. The United States feels that we are happy to use its dollars and military resources when it suits us, but to blame it when it does not. I think that the balance of both concerns is covered very well in something that was said by John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1961:We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent nor omniscient—that we are only 6 per cent. of the population, that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 per cent. of mankind—that we cannot right every wrong or reverse every adversity—and that therefore there cannot be an American solution to every problem.Clearly, part of the resolution of the difficulties between the United States and the United Nations, and other difficulties related to the UN, must lie in reform of the organisation. The General Assembly quite rightly represents countries, but that is without any relation to their size. The Security Council is supposed to balance that, but as we have said, the permanent five are there largely as a result of history. Of course, the role that we played in the second world war deserves to be recognised, but we have to recognise also that it would be unacceptable for our role during the first world war or the Napoleonic wars to give us a right to a permanent place on the Security Council. We will have to recognise that, at some point in the future, Britain will not necessarily be one of just five privileged states.
I would look for further reform. Ultimately, there needs to be an elected Parliament as part of the organisation. Until that time, one could look at whether there should be more involvement of parliamentarians. I think that the earlier comments of the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) were warmly applauded by everyone. I would hope that there will be 173WH a possibility when China becomes a democracy—as I hope it may—of moving towards a further democratisation of the United Nations.
Personally, I look to the ambition of a world Government, continental Governments and national Governments, with power devolved to the lowest levels, right down to community councils. I realise that that might be a distant vision, but I think that Churchill's oft quoted dictum thatdemocracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms of government that have been tried from time to timebears a lot of repetition.
Humanity has devised the means of encompassing its own destruction before it has evolved a system for avoiding conflict and war. That is the greatest challenge facing us all, and the United Nations must be vital to our hopes of meeting that challenge.
§ 5.4 pm
§ Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham)
I wish to declare an interest. I am member of the United Nations Association and I would urge all hon. Members who have not already done so to join that worthwhile organisation, which campaigns educates and raises funds to help turn the ideals of the United Nations into reality.
Much fun was had at the expense of the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) earlier, but I have to admire him for having the courage of his convictions, and the fact that he genuinely believed what he said. He probably spoke for much of the Conservative party when he talked about wanting to reduce some of the bureaucracy and making the UN a better organisation. I agree with him on those subjects, but he simply did not get the whole point of the United Nations. I should like to put on record part of the preamble to the UN charter. It states:to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small".As someone said, if we did not have a UN, with all its faults, we would have to invent it.
I agree with the Minister's ideas and suggestions for reforming some of the structures of the UN, and for creating extra permanent places for other worthy nations. However, I disagree with his utter complacency, which he expressed by not demonstrating how we will solve some of the most horrendous problems that face the globe.
The UN has carried out an awful lot of important and successful work. Just to remind those hon. Members who do not think that it has been successful, I shall run through one or two examples. United Nations' peacekeeping is a vital instrument for peace. It currently has some 37,500 military and civilian personnel, provided by 89 countries engaged in 15 operations around the world. The UN environmental conventions have helped to reduce acid rain, cut marine pollution and phase out harmful gases that are destroying the earth's ozone layer.
174WH The World Food Programme provides about one third of the world's total food aid a year. Through the UN, smallpox has been eradicated from the world; polio has been eliminated from the Americas and is on course to being eradicated globally. UN agencies are hoping to aid and protect more than 25 million refugees and displaced persons throughout the world. However, the UN has never enjoyed the full, unequivocal backing of the US Government and other rich western countries, including Britain, that it needs and deserves in order to fulfil its charter. As a result, it has had to make financial ends meet. It has had to fudge and compromise and kneel to the world's superpowers.
When I visited Pakistan on the Afghan border in November I saw for myself the enormous struggle, ingenuity and determination of UN aid agency workers as they helped to provide food, shelter and medical supplies to those fleeing the bombing in Afghanistan. I salute each and every one of them for what they are trying to do. However, I also saw a huge bureaucracy in operation, in which those workers were caught up, between the UN and Governments, and internally between a multitude of UN departments.
There has been an attempt to draw a UN family tree. The result is 22 funding programmes, 17 offices of the secretariat, 15 commissions, 14 specialised agencies and an absolute plethora of committees, entities, institutes, ad hoc bodies and tribunals. I truly think that there is a better way to fulfil the UN charter than the current mish-mash.
When I visited the Chaman border in south-west Pakistan I saw how the operations worked in practice. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees was putting up the tents; the World Food Programme was trying to distribute the food and the United Nations Children's Fund was trying to care for the children together with various other non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam and Islamic Relief. There were, apparently, strict demarcation lines, and one body could not cross over to the other. The result was that, although the people were fed and shelters were set up, it was incredibly inefficient and caused all sorts of friction.
That brought home to me the human level of the problem. We can talk about the people who are dying and the children who are starving, but I remember walking around that refugee camp. It was designed to accommodate 250 families, but at that time it contained 650 families. In recent weeks that figure has risen to 3,000 families—although some of them are now returning home.
I was shown around the camp by the UN and the tribal elders. We came across a group of children who were laughing, joking, and playing peek-a-boo behind the tents while watching all the strangers who were walking around. They seemed to be happy. They were not too badly off; they had some clothes. However, I will always remember one image. There was a little girl with beautiful brown eyes and dark matted hair who was covered in dust from head to foot. She had been fed that day, and she was playing with the other children, but her feet were cut to ribbons because she was running around on the sharp razor stones on the desert floor. Yet she did not care.
It is for the sake of that little girl that I am making this speech, and for the sake of all the other similar children around the world. As I mentioned to the hon. Member 175WH for Romford—30,000 children will die tonight, as they will tomorrow, and next week. Every single day we lose those children.
I echo what has been said about the words of President Kennedy. If the people of the United States make up 6 per cent. of the world's population, Britain has only 1 per cent. However, a third of the people on this planet live in poverty, and a sixth—over one billion—live in abject poverty that takes countless lives. Annually, around £35 billion of aid is donated, and international aid agencies in Britain have said that that needs to double if there is to be any chance of meeting the millennium pledges to halve that extreme poverty by 2015.
When it is put in context, the US Government's recent U-turn about pledging extra aid pales into insignificance. The US Government and other military powers spend about $800 billion every year on military equipment and arms. The UN helps to control a budget of $6 billion for spending on the world's poor. The increase in the US defence budget for next year is roughly equivalent to the total aid donated across the entire globe. It is utter madness, and a criminal act, that we allow so much money to be spent on creating arms that might be used to kill—or may never be used—while we allow those people to die.
It would cost about £17 billion to save 2.9 million people who die annually from vaccine-preventable diseases. That is a lot of money. This country is rightly engrossed in discussions about how we will deliver the public services that we need. We rightly want better hospitals and schools, more police, a more integrated transport system, and so on, and we can make those services world class. However, 3 million people are dying simply because they cannot get a jab in the arm. We do not appreciate how lucky and wealthy we are in this country.
After five years, the Labour Government are barely halfway to achieving the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent. of gross national income. I welcome the efforts of the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development. They have shown a genuine commitment to raising more money, reducing debts, and so on. However, so far, they have been unable to do what I think they should have been able to do.
The Liberal Democrats have demanded that we reach that 0.7 per cent. target by 2010. I think that we can achieve it before then. People are dying out there. Many people have a miserable existence, and we should be able to find the money.
Every day, 30,000 innocent children are dying of starvation, TB, cholera and diarrhoea, and all the while we have a UN that is dedicated to deliver them to salvation. About a year ago, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, wrote:The world has fallen short of achieving most of the goals of the World Summit for Children, not because they were too ambitious or technically beyond reach…It has fallen short largely because of insufficient investment".The Secretary-General's report, "We The Children", contains alarming statistics. Out of every 100 children born today, the births of 40 will not be registered—who knows what will happen to them? Twenty-six will not be immunised against any disease and 19 will have no access to clean drinking water. One in three will suffer from malnutrition during their first five years and 17 will never go to school.
176WH There can be no doubt in any rational mind that from within the ranks of the 1.2 billion people who live on less than 60p a day, terrorists will find fertile and receptive ground for new recruits, training camps and hiding places. The President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, Mr. Han Seung-Soo, said:In the wake of 11 September, we will forcefully demand that development, peace and security are inseparable".He described the poorest regions asa breeding ground for violence and despair".Kofi Annan has noted thatin an increasingly globalised world, rich nations depend on the stability of poor ones more than ever…We live in one world, not two…No one in this world can feel comfortable, or safe, while so many are suffering and deprived.Even the World Trade Organisation director general, Mike Moore, has called povertya time bomb lodged against the heart of liberty".How true.
King Abdullah of Jordan, who is a friend of America, has called poor nationsbreeding grounds for conflictbetweenWestern haves and worldwide have-nots.He said that the weapons for a victory over terror must include increased financial aid from rich nations.
The United Nations recently had to agree to £47 million cuts from its General Assembly budget. At the same time—post-11 September—there is a great outpouring about how we must begin to address the massive inequality that exists. Although the UN could provide solutions, it must incur cuts. That is partly because it must provide £36 million for increased security. The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said that the United States has paid off its UN arrears, but it has not. The House of Commons Library confirmed today that, despite the uproar over the arrears, there is a still $290 million outstanding, which has accumulated over the years. The effect of the arrears contributes to the cuts.
Poverty is endemic throughout our world, and the UN agencies, which I salute, are heavily involved in trying to help people throughout the world. In the past few weeks, the United Nations website has shown the problems that people face: drought in Kenya; problems faced by refugees in Liberia and Guinea; floods in Ecuador; the earthquake in the Philippines; the ongoing conflict between Palestine and Israel and, obviously, the conflict in Kashmir.
There is a shortage of funding in Afghanistan. The internal displacement programme to return people to where they came from has faced massive problems. The International Organisation for Migration warned last week that it needed an extra $10 million to continue its operations. Unless that additional funding is pledged, the IOM will be obliged to suspend all internal transportation network operations in Afghanistan within the next fortnight for financial reasons.
The question is not whether the money will be found but how we reached that situation. Chairman Karzei is constantly reassured that the money will be found after the Tokyo conference. That demonstrates the ineptness, 177WH unfairness and total complacency of the Governments of rich western nations, including the US Government and this Government.
People in southern Africa face a terrible drought. In Malawi, 45,000 children are starving. More than 600 have died in the latest cholera outbreaks. In Angola, which has seen a constant series of wars, 60 per cent. of children cannot even attend school. The World Health Organisation has estimated that 50 million children born last year have iodine deficiencies. The list goes on, but the question is what do we do.
We need a radical plan and, above all else, a reaffirmation of countries to the UN charter and its principles. There must be a greater focus on world interests, not just national interests, and an emphasis on proactive deployment. That does not mean that there will be carte blanche to start bombing Iraq. It will mean the opposite: using the rule of law and going through the UN General Assembly and Security Council, which must be reformed, to ensure that the international will prevails. A new commitment is required to find peaceful and diplomatic solutions to conflicts, and aid budgets should be trebled and increased in line with rich nations' average gross national income each year. There must be a continuation of strong, visionary and dynamic leadership. I salute Kofi Annan in all that he has tried to do, but he seems to be working with his arms tied behind his back. For that reason, contrary again to what the Conservatives maintain, I believe that the UN's own budget is small. Having £1.3 billion to run a worldwide set-up is small beer compared with the budgets of similar organisations.
There must be a genuine commitment to international law by member states. The UK and US Governments simply threw it out of the window over Afghanistan, but they should follow clear protocols for international criminal tribunals.
§ Mr. Marsden
The hon. Gentleman was right to point out the failure of how the Security Council works, but I would like him to show me where resolutions 1368 and 1372 say that we can start bombing Afghanistan. If I can, I shall go on to say how I believe that the Security Council should be reformed. There are vested interests and the permanent members of the UN Security Council have too a strong influence over the other member states in deciding what to do. With their automatic veto over anything that criticises them, they will not pass anything that condemns their actions. We should end the Security Council's permanent members' vetoes. One member should be elected by free vote among member states from each continent—north America, south America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia. They should serve for five years, with another 12 members elected to serve for one year on a rota.
We must ensure that all future military operations are conducted under article 47 of the UN charter, which would mean the establishment of a military staff 178WH committee. That would then mean that forces required to take military action do so under the auspices of the UN, not through the unilateral military action that continues to prevail, whether it is by the United States, Britain or any other state. We must establish a rapid reaction force with a remit that includes peacekeeping, peacemaking, peacebuilding, the enforcement of human rights, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and collective security enforcement led by the blue berets and their administrative support. They must have a greater freedom to operate.
We should be enforcing UN resolutions by all diplomatic, military and financial means, which we do not do now. We must improve the flexible interdepartmental working in the UN, to which I alluded before, and the evaluation and feedback processes so that we can assess whether we are getting value for money and whether we can improve projects on the ground through best practice. We must establish a people's assembly, which includes the nongovernmental organisations, religious groups and interested political groups to work alongside the General Assembly. We need a closer working relationship with the international financial institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, and trade organisations such as the WTO. We should aim to cancel all unsustainable debts, and to bring the arms trade under control. We must also have fair trade to allow the third world access. We must build peace and save lives. I ask the Minister where the urgency is to start saving those poor people. At the moment it is simply not there. My United Nations Association membership card states:The more voices we have, the more we are heard. Be angry, be sad, be passionate, but don't be silent.
§ Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley)
It is a pity that the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell) was not here for most of that speech, because he asked for less consensus, which the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) provided.
I thank the Minister for having requested this three-hour debate. Last November, I was privileged to be part of a group of Members of different parties who visited the UN in New York. The delegation, ably led by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), went to find out more about the UN. Like many people in this country, I had a general awareness of the UN and its work, but had no great appreciation of its history or development, or of the range and complexity of the issues that it tries to tackle. Some of those issues have a higher profile than others. It is perhaps no surprise that we have heard largely about the more high profile issues. We need to appreciate that the UN does many other things: the fact that we can get on airplanes reasonably safely and fly around the sky makes our increasingly complex world work.
The construction of the UN is imperfect. An organisation that started off with a little more than 50 member countries will shortly have 191. It is bound to be different and not work as it would if we set out to design it that way. We were not told on our visit that there was no case for reform. There is certainly a case for reform of the Security Council, and a consensus may be developing on how it might look. However, the people 179WH who work at the level below Kofi Annan told us that there is a real danger that if we enter into long discussions about how the UN can be reformed, the difficulties facing the world will not be tackled. As a result, more people will die, and more will continue to live in poverty. There has to be a balance between reform and allowing the UN to get on and do the task it needs to do.
I want to concentrate on one aspect of the UN, as it is impossible to cover its whole range of activities. I want to talk about children, whose voices we rarely hear. The UN is making a real difference to children's lives. I can inform the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham that people in New York constantly told us that the work that is being done by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for International Development is excellent. They are leading the way in improving aid and support for children.
I also want to pay tribute to the work of three organisations—there are many more—who are involved in that work. UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision International have provided me with information. They have done a great deal of work over the years.
The 1990 world summit for children was, at that time, the largest gathering of world leaders in history. It declared that there could be no task nobler than giving every child a better future. Those leaders signed up to a far-reaching principle that children should have first call on all resources. Those proposals and agreements have been systematically followed up and monitored. We have heard a one-sided view of that. It was a catalyst for political commitment to the convention on the rights of the child, which had been agreed the year before and which is the world's most widely embraced human rights instrument. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations said:There is no task more important than building a world in which all of our children can grow up to realise their full potential in health, peace and dignity.A mixed picture of the past 12 years emerges, but real and significant progress has been made in a number of areas. There have been more gains against child poverty in the past 50 years than in the previous 500. As I said earlier, many children are no longer dying, because countries have achieved the goal of reducing the deaths of children under five. The high levels of child immunisation reached in the late 1980s in most regions of the world have been sustained. The life-sustaining practice of breast-feeding increased during the 1990s.
Worldwide, there are more children in school than ever before. Non-governmental organisations and the media are increasingly drawing attention to protection issues such as child labour, trafficking, sexual abuse, the exploitation of children and the impact of armed conflict. The United Nations General Assembly has addressed children's issues, and the Security Council has formally acknowledged the centrality of rights and the well-being of children and women in the pursuit of international peace and security.
However, there are also unfulfilled commitments. Almost 11 million children still die every year before their fifth birthday, often from readily preventable causes. There are an estimated 150 million malnourished children in the world. Almost 120 million children are still out of school, 53 per cent. of whom are girls.
180WH New obstacles have appeared over the past decade, which prevent countries from progressing as fast as they need to. The HIV/AIDS pandemic has reached catastrophic proportions. Millions of children have been orphaned and the disease is killing teachers, health workers and other professionals who maintain and operate the vital infrastructure of society. Chronic poverty remains the greatest obstacle to fulfilling children's rights. When humanity has more resources at its disposal than ever before, some 3 billion people subsist on less than $2 a day, with 1.2 billion, half of them children, suffering absolute poverty and struggling to survive on less than $1 a day.
However, there are grounds for cautious optimism. There is now the opportunity to reach the remaining world summit goals, and to mobilise the global alliance that will achieve a breakthrough in human development based on actions for children. Compared with what the world spends on armaments and luxury consumer items, the resources needed to provide the basic needs of children are modest. The cost of universal access to health, education, water and sanitation was estimated by the United Nations and the World Bank at 1995 prices to be between $70 billion and $80 billion a year. To secure that future, political will is necessary to bring about a decisive shift to make investment in the well-being of children our overarching goal.
Two weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting that took place at the United Nations General Assembly special session on children. It was very interesting because, as well as bringing parliamentarians together, it gave children and young people a voice.
A 14-year-old girl from Gambia seemed to have none of the usual nerves when addressing the large room full of parliamentarians from more than 100 countries—she had a clear message to deliver. She was chosen by the young people attending the special session to read out the children's forum message. A group of young people from all over the world had met and had put together their views in a presentation to parliamentarians. Among their demands were respect for the rights of the child, an end to exploitation, abuse and violence, an end to war, the provision of health care and education and the eradication of HIV/AIDS. They want the environment to be protected and an end to the vicious cycle of poverty. Speaking clearly to an attentive room, she told us that children are not the source of problems in the world.
A young man from Guatemala said:Think about us, listen to us, let us participate in the politics of our country.A young woman from Albania told us that children in that country are part of the children's rights commission, but that time and effort are needed to help young people to get involved. A young man from Kenya spoke forcefully, stating that promises had not been kept, age should not be an issue and young people should be respected.
The special session ultimately produced an outcome document entitled "A World Fit for Children", signed by Governments at the end of the session. Governments accepted their primary responsibility for ensuring the rights of children and agreed to do more to protect children. The outcome document goals are steps 181WH towards protecting children around the world, but they need to be developed into action. The United Kingdom Government can do much to get us towards those goals. As parliamentarians, we could ask for more emphasis on children and young people. For example, we should perhaps have a Select Committee on children's issues, ask for child impact reports on all new legislation or have an annual debate on young people and children's issues.
I have focused heavily on children and young people's issues and the UN role in improving children's lives, but I could have discussed many other areas. The UN is now a backdrop to all our lives, and with proper commitment from Governments and parliamentarians together we could achieve so much more.
The voices of the children and young people at the United Nations General Assembly special session will stay with me for a long time. Their natural frustration with broken promises, excuses and delays rang loud and clear. I urge everyone to read their message in full. Loud and clear, they told us:We are not expenses; we are investments. We are not just young people; we are people and citizens of this world.As the young girl from Gambia said,a world fit for children is a world fit for all of us.
§ Ian Lucas (Wrexham)
Thank you, Mr. Amess, for affording me the time to contribute to the debate, if only briefly. I shall make only one point, which has not been raised in the debate, about the public perception of the UN.
Most people think of the UN as a force for good, which may be reflected in the debate, but most closely identify it with its high-profile peacekeeping roles, some of which have been successful and some less successful. When I went to New York last November as part of the delegation with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), that was my primary view of the UN, but I discovered that the truth was far more interesting. The Afghanistan crisis dominated the political agenda, but people in the UN were following a parallel agenda, considering world poverty, AIDS, climate change and globalisation.
I was hugely impressed by the officials from the UN whom I met and with whom I discussed those issues. What struck me was that they used the same language about issues such as globalisation as those who write to me in my constituency, who feel that they are disengaged from politics. It seemed ironic that the UN, which was created by Governments, contains people who are committed to addressing and attacking world poverty and issues of globalization—the very issues that people who are disengaged from politics say Governments are not addressing. We, as parliamentarians, should recognise that we have a responsibility, because the public do not regard the UN as addressing those issues.
I was a political animal before I visited the UN, and thought that I had a clear understanding of what it did. I confess that I did not really know what it did, and young people in particular lack a clear conception of what a tremendous vehicle for progress the UN is. UN 182WH organisations seem to contain idealists who look back to the time when the organisation was founded, and are strongly committed to the organisation and the ideals that set it up.
With one or two exceptions, there has been great consensus today. In the new century, we as parliamentarians need to make our constituents much more aware of what a force for good the UN is in a difficult time. We must tell them that it addresses their concerns. If we develop that message with our constituents, the UN will attract more support from them. We will be recognised as individuals who try to address the issues that the Churches, young people and non-governmental organisations put so much pressure on us to tackle, and that the UN now tackles.
§ Mr. MacShane
This has been one of the most enjoyable debates that I have had the pleasure of listening to and participating in since I became a Member of Parliament. The best of nations are the most internationalist of nations. When Britain engages in great international issues and causes, that always shows the country at its best. I warmly endorse the tribute paid by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson) for the leadership that Britain showed in 1944 and 1945 in the creation of the United Nations.
We have a permanent seat on the Security Council as a result not of an historic anomaly, but of 50 years of taking the institution extremely seriously. It might be more a duty and responsibility to hold one of those seats than a privilege. That is why we want to extend the permanent membership of the Security Council in a practical way, to reflect the new realities of the modern economy.
There must be a debate on the global pattern of countries, but in Britain's view we need a stronger UN, because we set high ambitions and high hopes for it. The organisation has delivered on many of them, as hon. Members have said. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn) listed some of its achievements, and I welcomed her reflections. It is right that the UN not only tries to handle the problems of international security, but reflects on the causes of terrorism and poverty. The UN has to debate the great economic and social questions that concern us all.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon (Ms Drown) talked of the importance of debt relief. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Mr. Marsden) made some disobliging remarks, but the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development has been welcomed and recognised around the world. I am proud that, until a few months ago, we were the only major G7 or European Union country to increase its share of gross domestic product spent on overseas aid by as much as 45 per cent. That is not far enough or fast enough, but—if I may be party political—my goodness it was good to be a Labour MP in those five years. How sad is the carping criticism from those who have left the Labour cause, and others in opposition.
183WH We discussed the need to wind up certain UN institutions. I would like sunset clauses to be built into UN activities, and have asked officials to consider that. The hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) made the sensible suggestion of a UN parliamentary assembly, which I welcome. However, if 191 member states each sent 20 or 30 MPs to such an assembly, a big football stadium would be needed to hold them all. On behalf of the Foreign Office, I guarantee that it will continue to work with hon. Members from all parties, and to ask them to attend and participate in UN work.
184WH I will finish by making a plea. Hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell), referred to the League of Nations, which was very weak. Other hon. Members willed the establishment of democracy and the end of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but baulked at the means. The UN is a mirror. If we hold it up and do not like what we see, we should not blame the mirror. It is for us to make it better.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Six o'clock.