HC Deb 20 March 1997 vol 292 cc776-7W
Mr. Whittingdale

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the future of the United Nations; and what discussions he had during his recent visit to Washington. [21646]

Mr. Rifkind

The United Kingdom is fully committed to a strong and effective United Nations in pursuit of the objectives set out in the charter. The United Nations plays a vital role in helping maintain international peace and security, and in promoting democracy, human rights, international law and economic and social progress around the world. As we approach the 21st century, we shall want to use the United Nations increasingly to help to achieve that partnership for sustainable human development about which I addressed the general assembly last September. The new global challenges such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and threats to the environment and to natural resources because of population pressures on present patterns of production and consumption, will require the international community to agree policies and to work out practical solutions through international co-operation. The United Nations has some unique advantages for this.

We welcome the commitment of the new United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in setting the United Nations on the path of reform, so that it can better measure up to these challenges. When he visited London last month the Prime Minister and I were impressed by his determination to give reform a high priority. We support him in his plans to secure tighter budgeting, greater management efficiency and the elimination of overlap between different UN bodies.

But to succeed the United Nations needs not only to reform, but to be able to rely on the financial resources which member states have voted to it. I raised with a number of US Congressmen during my visit to Washington on 9 and 10 March our concerns on this score. At the end of 1996 the United States owed the United Nations some US $1.3 billion, which is approximately two thirds of total arrears due. This backlog of unpaid obligatory financial contributions is severely disabling the United Nations from working properly and from carrying out the policies voted by the member states. It also means that countries contributing to UN peacekeeping operations such as India, Bangladesh and the United Kingdom, which is currently owed £40 million, do not get their debts paid. I made it clear in Washington that this failure to honour financial obligations under the UN charter does the cause of UN reform no good and causes resentment among friends and allies. I know that President Clinton is committed to solving this problem. We need a new and fairer system of UN financing based more closely on the principle of capacity to pay and on the assurances that all member states will in future pay in full, unconditionally and on time. Once the problem of arrears has been dealt with, the British Government hope that it will be possible speedily to complete the process of UN reform and thus to relaunch the United Nations on its urgent new agenda.