UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change

– in the House of Lords at 3:13 pm on 27 June 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat 3:13, 27 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will publish their response to the recommendations in the report of the United Nations High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, we welcomed the High-level Panel report on Threats, Challenges and Change in December 2004 as an ambitious blueprint for tackling the challenges facing the international community. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs presented the report to the other place in February. I have placed copies of his introduction to the document in the Library of the House. The report was a major contribution to the preparations for September's millennium review summit.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Crosby Baroness Williams of Crosby Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer, but he will recall that in its report in another place the Foreign Affairs Select Committee said:

"We recommend that, in its response to this Report, the Government set out its policy position on the implementation of the Panel's recommendations".

We are about to become the president of the European Union and of the G8 in a very few days. The Minister will be aware that the United Nations, which is an indispensable international organisation, is coming under organised and unremitting criticism from a certain section in particular of the US Congress. Therefore, it is important for the United Kingdom Government to make plain their support for the United Nations and for reforms—which are certainly needed—to the United Nations.

Will the Minister promise the House that this will receive urgent attention from the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister so that it can be done while the United Kingdom is in this powerful and uniquely influential position?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I completely accept the proposition that the United Nations is vital to our interests. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel reassured that we have made explicit our priorities during our presidency in relation to reform of the United Nations. They will be for more and better aid achieved through faster progress towards the MDGs, environmental sustainability and tackling climate change, the establishment of a peace-building commission to assist states emerging from conflict, comprehensive counter-terrorism policy, agreement on a responsibility to protect, improvement of the UN's response to humanitarian crises, and reform of the human rights machinery. Also, there should be significant administrative changes to streamline the Secretariat and enlarge the Security Council. All those are explicit priorities to which the Government are committed, and for which we will use our presidency of both the EU and, with the support of the EU, the G8.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, will the Government give their full support to the criteria or principles for the use of force, which were set out both in the high-level panel report and in the Secretary-General's report, In Larger Freedom? They will be on the table in September. I did not notice any reference to them in the list that the Minister rattled off, after having given a somewhat general reply to the Question, if I may say so.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the whole issue about the criteria advanced by Kofi Annan is one with which there is a good deal of sympathy. However, there is also felt to be a need for further and detailed discussion about it. The United Nations has not always been successful in peacekeeping missions, preventing human rights abuses, or protecting those who need the greatest protection—those who are often most vulnerable. A good deal of detailed work is required to make sure that, when the United Nations puts blue berets or helmets on people, it knows exactly what it is doing and what purpose it has in mind.

Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Spokespersons In the Lords, Foreign Affairs, Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, the report was extremely valuable; the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, among others, made a notable contribution to it. However, has the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, not reminded us of what is happening in the US Congress? Has the Minister noted that the US Congress is delaying the whole business of American contributions to the UN, which is a serious matter as America is by far its biggest funder and financier? Congress is doing that because it is particularly concerned about the way in which human rights commissions and committees are set up by the UN, with a chairman or chair country often from or being a country that abuses human rights. Do we share that concern?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the issues in front of the United States Senate, including the appointment of an ambassador to the United Nations, are matters for the United States. However, we certainly share the view that the various agencies and bodies under the auspices of the United Nations that undertake its principal responsibilities and duties must all act in a co-ordinated way. They must not duplicate each other's functions; that is wasteful and does not achieve the results that everyone wants. They must all work to the same sets of priorities. Kofi Annan has been pretty explicit in sharpening up those priorities, which should be of great benefit not only to the UN but to all the interlinking agencies.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, as the Minister will know, the UN has been involved in some active peacekeeping operations with mixed consequences in the past few years. The Brahimi report recommended strengthening the peacekeeping operations department, and adding to the number of staff available to it. How much more do the British Government think needs to be done to strengthen the Secretariat in that important work, if we are to push the agenda on the responsibility to protect?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, as I said, that is one of the fundamental issues that needs to be resolved before the final documentation is agreed for the September conference. However, lessons are being learnt about some of the less successful operations, as well as about some of the more successful ones. It is easy to forget that some of the operations have been rather successful, with a significant contribution from a number of nations that do not always get credit for it. Where there has been a failure—where people who need to be protected have not been protected—it seems critical to go in a forensic way through what has gone wrong, and make sure that it is corrected, understood, and part of the outcome of the September report.