It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. The request for this Adjournment debate arose from the visit a number of hon. Members made in January to the United Nations headquarters in New York. I thank the Minister and his officials for arranging that visit and supporting us so effectively. The purpose of the visit was to learn more about the UN and to consider the challenges that it is facing. It was also aimed at increasing our knowledge of the importance of UN reform and how the process of reform is developing.
At the outset, it is worth saying that the visit was extremely useful. The group decided on our return to do what we could to raise the profile of UN reform with our fellow MPs; hence today's debate. It is always important for MPs to learn more about the UN, but the timing seemed particularly acute because of the proposals for reform agreed at the world summit in September 2005—an important year for the UN as it saw its 60th anniversary. Obviously, that gave added impetus to the process of reform.
In broad terms, the summit agreed that reform should happen across a number of fronts simultaneously. The first tranche covered institutional innovations, such as establishing the Peacebuilding Commission and reforming the Security Council. There was then a second tranche about management and secretariat reform, such as reviewing existing financial and human resource rules, and budgetary review. A third tranche concerned policy co-ordination.
The wide-ranging reform package is intended to make the organisation more fit for purpose for 21st century needs. The role of the UN is a changing one, and has been changing especially in recent years. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General, has summarised the changes thus:
"In the 16 years since the cold war ended, the Organization has taken on more than twice as many new peacekeeping missions as in the previous 44 years . . . Over half of its . . . civilian staff now serve in the field—not only in peacekeeping, but also in humanitarian relief, criminal justice, human rights monitoring and capacity-building".
That is the background, but there are other reasons for the need for reform. We look to the UN to prevent conflicts, broker solutions to disputes, lead the fight against world poverty, disease and malnutrition, and tackle environmental issues, especially climate change. There are also concerns about the UN's past failure to respond effectively to crises such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur, not to mention the thorny issue of Iraq.
In order to respond to these issues and challenges, the Secretary-General put together a high-level panel to consider reform, which published a report in December 2004. The reforms were outlined at the world summit, and they largely followed the report but with some changes. We can conclude that the expectations of the role that the UN can and should play have never been higher. The reform programme is essentially about trying to deliver a UN that can meet current and future expectations.
Opinion about whether the reform programme goes far enough is varied, with probably about 191 versions—one or more for each member state. The Secretary-General has expressed his unhappiness that it has not gone far enough, especially in tackling the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. That is pertinent at present, given the situation with Iran.
In general, there seems to be a degree of agreement that with so many different—and often competing—agendas at the UN, it is perhaps surprising that reform has got this far and that it is so wide-ranging. There is even a website that documents the process of UN reform. Our Library has put together an excellent briefing, which I am drawing heavily on in today's debate. I am also relying on the report put together by my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker on behalf of the group who attended the UN in July.
Where are we now with the reforms? I hope that the Minister will ultimately answer that question, but I have a few issues to throw out for consideration. First, I want to centre on the tranche of work on institutional innovations. That sounds as though it could be quite a minor task, but it is absolutely huge. It includes putting together the Peacebuilding Commission, the human rights council and the central emergency response fund and tackling Security Council reforms, the mandate review and the General Assembly review.
I will turn first to the Peacebuilding Commission, which was created in December 2005, just before our visit. It aims to fill a gap in bringing together relevant actors and resources to advise on and propose integrated strategies for post-conflict peace building and recovery. That is an enormous task. Negotiations are continuing about representation on that, and I would appreciate an update from the Minister. It is fair to say that the group saw the establishment of the commission as an important step forward for the UN. We were a little surprised to find that 18 peacekeeping missions are taking place.
In the many meetings on the topic that we attended, there was complete agreement that security and development needed to go together hand in hand. It was hoped that by co-ordinating post-conflict work more effectively in a country through the Peacebuilding Commission, some of the issues underlying conflict might be addressed, which might reduce the likelihood of conflict erupting again.
It is worth looking at Sierra Leone as an example of a country that the UN is due to leave in the near future and where the Peacebuilding Commission may have a role. We discovered when we were at the UN that there was some uncertainty about what the UN's leaving would mean for Sierra Leone. The ambassador was unsure not only of the possible consequences, but of the time scale. A ministerial update would be helpful, in particular a comment about how the Peacebuilding Commission could help.
Most importantly, the Peacebuilding Commission is seen as a vehicle for reconstruction post-conflict, to co-ordinate the multiplicity of institutions that can become involved in reconstruction. It would be interesting to know whether other agencies, including non-governmental organisations, are willing to co-operate with the Peacebuilding Commission's activities.
I move on to the human rights council. When we visited New York, one of the issues that was causing greatest concern was the establishment—or rather, the lack of it, at that stage—of the human rights council to replace the largely discredited UN Commission on Human Rights. The issue was raised by a number of countries, and it was clearly divisive. The establishment of the council was eventually agreed on
The human rights council's membership is still being debated. Notably, the United States opposed its formation because members will be elected by simple majority rather than the two-thirds favoured by America. Elections are scheduled for
I hope that the hon. Lady and other colleagues concur that it is welcome indeed that the original muted suggestion of automatic, universal council membership has been abandoned. Would she also agree that it is important that neither geography nor the principle of Buggins's turn should determine the chairmanship, which should be determined at least in part by the behaviour of the state involved?
I absolutely agree and I shall come to some of those points when I discuss the appointment of the new Secretary-General.
The idea for the central emergency response fund was very much pushed by the United Kingdom Government. Incidentally, the group got the impression at the UN that the UK Government were very highly regarded because of their efforts to push forward not only the central emergency response fund, but the reform agenda more generally. The aim of the fund is to improve the UN's ability to respond rapidly to humanitarian crises by ensuring that critical funding is available immediately, and I am sure that all hon. Members would welcome that. The fund was officially launched on
As we saw during our visit, the issue of the new human rights council led to heated debate, but that pales into insignificance beside the debates and competing views about Security Council reform. Indeed, so many different views were expressed that I hardly know where to start summarising them. None the less, I shall try, and the Minister and others can add to, correct or amend what I say, as necessary. There seemed to be little consensus about the number of new permanent members and who they should be, whether new permanent members should have a veto, whether current permanent members should maintain their veto, what the number of permanent members should be, whether there should be new non-permanent members, and if so, how many. The list went on and on; there was very much a lack of consensus, with many competing and contested views. Currently, about six different draft resolutions for increasing the number of permanent and non-permanent members are on the table for discussion, and we shall have to see how the international debate on them plays out. Again, the Minister may be able to give us an update.
One positive point to arise from reform of the Security Council is the extension of the mandate to include a responsibility to protect. Establishing such a responsibility addresses the anti-genocide clause in the world summit report of September 2005 and recognises the need for the international community to act if states fail to protect their populations from war crimes, mass abuse of human rights, genocide and other crimes against humanity, such as ethnic cleansing. It is also intended to respond to some of the UN's previous perceived failures in handling crises in Bosnia and Rwanda. Again, it is very much to be welcomed.
On mandate review—
Before my hon. Friend moves on, let me say that I am particularly interested in that aspect of the visit undertaken by her and her colleagues. Did she sense that there had been any movement on the debate about the appropriate moment for the UN to act when it perceives that the population is not being properly protected or is being abused?
We had some discussions about that, but the view at this stage is that it is important to put in place the principle and the recognition that the UN must be able to intervene in countries before there is mass starvation or ethnic cleansing. To my recollection, however, we did not discuss the exact trigger for that intervention, although other hon. Members might correct me on that.
On the mandate review—
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because the Minister has raised perhaps one of the key points about the issue of UN reform. Our group discussed the responsibility to protect, which features in our report, but the whole matter was encapsulated in our discussions with the Kenyan permanent representative to the UN. Leading him on, I asked, "Should we have intervened sooner in Darfur?" and he said, "Yes." I asked, "Should we be intervening in the possible dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea?" and he said, "Yes." I then asked, "Should we have intervened earlier in the Zimbabwe situation?" and I got a great deal of waffle. In the middle of it, however, was the word "solidarity", and that is the problem with the UN organisation: there are too many vested interests, so it is difficult to achieve agreement between 191 nations.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, particularly because I must go to a planning inquiry in my constituency and cannot stay to the end of the debate. Does she agree that the difficult cases that my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown rightly mentioned should not prevent us from trying to agree internationally about what should have happened in cases where the international community clearly failed? We could then start to make significant progress more often in more places, and such action would be necessary on fewer occasions.
I absolutely agree. The group concluded that the duty to protect was an important step forward for the UN. It is important that there is continued discussion about how best to intervene and that there is dialogue with some of the countries that are affected so that we can find a way forward.
I shall not dwell too much on mandate review. It is a bureaucratic task, but we came to see it as increasingly essential in terms of reform. The remit is that all mandates that are older than five years should be reviewed.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, because I know that she wants to make progress, but can I press her a little on the responsibility to protect in relation to Darfur? Does she believe that there is now a challenge to show whether the responsibility to protect is a serious attempt to prevent genocide or simply a rather vacuous exercise in moral posturing? Surely, the purpose of intervention should be not to minimise casualties, but to stop violence and, where necessary, to enforce peace.
I absolutely agree. Again, the group's view was that the responsibility to protect was an important step forward for the UN. Our collective view was that it will not get us anywhere if is just words; it must be backed by action, and that means taking some tough decisions. Indeed, our view of the whole reform process was that it should enable tough decisions to be taken more quickly and readily.
I know that mandate review is boring, but perhaps I can return to it for just a moment. Not only does the UN have too many mandates, but those mandates do not have time scales, and they are continually added to—or are not removed. In a sense, they clutter the UN agenda. In his preliminary report, the Secretary-General said that the reporting mechanisms were burdensome, that there was too much overlap and an unwieldy and duplicated architecture for implementation, and that there were gaps between mandates and resources.
Straightforward as the task may appear—it would seem to be a bureaucratic tidying up—we were again surprised at the suspicion that the process engendered in some member states. I understand that some progress is now being made, but we were genuinely shocked at how even that fairly bureaucratic process was being contested.
The second main problem is with the overhaul, oversight and audit arrangements. Almost every element of that aspect of reform produced suspicion in some quarters. For instance, we might think that forming an ethics office would be fairly straightforward. We would be wrong. It was as much bound up in conspiracy theory as major reforms, such as that of the Security Council.
Nevertheless, and despite the tensions, an ethics office has been established and a whistle-blower policy has been agreed, as have policies on preventing fraud and corruption and so on. There will also be a review of existing financial and human resources, although as a recent review in The Daily Telegraph by Francis Harris demonstrated, there is still some way to go. Staff reacted angrily to Kofi Annan's proposals to overhaul the secretariat, and an update on that from the Minister would be useful.
The last main area is policy co-ordination. In February, the Secretary-General put together a high-level panel to tackle the problem, so it was very much the topic of conversation while we were there. It will lay the groundwork for a fundamental restructuring of UN operational work. The panel is expected to complete its work in the summer—it is good to have such a short time scale—and its recommendations will go before the General Assembly in September. It is a 15 member panel, and the UK is ably represented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I turn briefly to development. Undoubtedly a great deal of reform was geared towards delivering on the millennium development goals. However, getting development agencies such as UNICEF, the World Food Programme and the UNDP to work together more closely seemed to be fraught with difficulty. Again, I hope that the Minister can update us on that. We were pleased to see so much emphasis being placed on delivering on the millennium development goals. Andrew Selous, who was with the delegation, pushed strongly on climate change, and I am sure that he will want to say something about that.
An important challenge will be the appointment of the new Secretary-General. The dilemmas facing the UN in that respect were excellently summarised in a recent article in the Financial Times by Lord Hannay of Chiswick, who stressed the need for transparency, the need to get the best person for the job regardless of region and the need for that person to have a policy platform. One innovative idea was that the Secretary-General should serve one seven-year term rather than two terms, so that he did not have to pander to the needs of particular sections or blocs to get re-elected. Some of those ideas are worth discussing.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way so generously, especially as she initiated the debate.
It seems to us that reform is fraught with controversy because of vested interests—for instance, Brazil being blocked by Venezuela. Does the hon. Lady agree that, when we come to budgetary talks, there is a great need for more nations to contribute to the UN? How can they be expected to contribute more to the UN if they are not allowed to participate in greater numbers at the Security Council?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. It underpinned our discussions with a number of countries that feel left out of that core group, and the reform process will have to address that point.
I turn to our overall conclusions. At times, we saw the process as being very much like a huge tanker with ships attached to it trying to turn around against a gale force wind. That might be an exaggeration, but progress seemed at times to be frustratingly slow.
We also felt that bloc prejudices got in the way of rational discussion. I know that it is politics, and that one should not let the facts get in the way of a good argument. However, it seemed to us that such prejudices were preventing important discussion on key issues. We certainly witnessed the playing out of the starkly based divisions on north-south and east-west lines. That was evidenced in our discussions on such matters as ethics, human rights reform, peace building, Security Council form and mandate review.
Amid all the suspicion and contestation, progress has taken place. That leads me to wonder whether, underneath the posturing and rhetoric, there is a deep understanding that if the reform progress were to fail and the UN failed with it, it would be not only a missed opportunity but a catastrophe for humankind's ability to tackle global issues and concerns such as climate change.
Time and again, we heard that if the UN failed it would have to be reinvented. However, it seemed that the precious nature and fragility of the institution was not always fully appreciated, and with that comes the recognition that the UN needs to change if it is to survive. That will doubtless mean that the various blocs and factions will need to change.
I do not want to end on a negative note. We saw much in our visit to inspire, and dialogue is at least taking place. Improvements are happening, albeit slowly, and in the current climate that must count as progress. We saw a number of ambassadors during our visit, and I thank them. I also thank everyone who contributed to our discussions and information-gathering tasks, particularly Tony Kay of the Foreign Office and Emyr Parry Jones, our ambassador to the UN, for his effective support.
It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate. The debate is long overdue, and I hope that I am not alone in thinking that it should be an annual fixture, and held more properly on the Floor of the House. Every year, we debate our relations with European Union, and it is right and proper that we should do so. It is an important international organisation, and we are part of it.
As a permanent member of the Security Council, and with the United Nations taking such incredibly important decisions, I would certainly welcome an annual debate on the UN on the Floor of the House. Judging from the nods that I see from all sides of the Chamber, I think that we might seek that through the powers that be. We could ask the Leader of the House whether that can be brought about, because it would spread an interest in and a greater knowledge of the UN among all Members. That would help bring pressure on the Government of the day to ensure that the UN moves forward, as it must. Reform is being examined closely across the organisation. It is absolutely right and proper, so that the UN can focus on what it needs to do and to do it as well as it can.
A one-page sheet of all the different UN organisations was helpfully given to those of us who visited the UN earlier this year. There are quite a number of them, many of which, I suspect, most of us have never heard. For example, there are regional commissions that report to the Economic and Social Council. Were Members present aware that there is a UN Economic Commission for Europe, which is known as the ECE? I wonder whether it has ever come into the consciousness of anyone present from a news report of something that it has said or because of any useful contribution that it has made to debate on economic affairs in this continent of ours. I confess that the first I heard of it was when I looked down the sub-divisions of the regional commissions, of which there are four across the world, with a budget of $50 million or so. We need to question the value of such parts of the UN organisation, and whether that money would be far better spent on the front line of development or peacekeeping work, where it is really needed and would really make a difference. I hope that every part of the UN structure is considered in the reform.
I intervene before my hon. Friend moves on from the subject of regional commissions, as I had hoped that he might mention the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which is based in Damascus. It has a budget of $50 million per annum and the tallest building in that city, but has never, to my knowledge, produced a single report. That is an example of where the UN is in desperate need of reform.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He adds further evidence to my point. I think that the commission's headquarters may be in Beirut, rather than Damascus, but his point is absolutely right none the less. There is a sense that such organisations exist just to give jobs to senior UN diplomats, or to reward certain countries which believe that it is their turn, or right, to have an important international post. It is right and proper that there should be international parliamentary scrutiny of such organisations, so that we can get rid of them if they are not justified. If they are justified, let us see what they are doing and make use of their reports, but if they are not worth the considerable sums that go into their budgets, they should properly be got rid of.
The UN gets a bad press from time to time because of issues of malfeasance and financial irregularity, on which it is right that there should be a spotlight. I understand that the financial reporting limit for gifts to UN staff members is $10,000, which seems extraordinarily high. Certainly, for this country and many others around the world, that is a considerable sum. The UN should focus on small points such as the need to clean up its act and make sure that it is properly immune from charges of acting in an irregular manner. I hope that the current review will look into that.
I am intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's point. Is $10,000 the limit on the value of a gift, or the point at which the UN representative must notify Kofi Annan that he has received the gift, in which case it could be much more expensive?
The Minister is right to press me; unfortunately, I cannot give him further detail. The five of us who visited the UN were given that figure by the assistant United States ambassador to the UN. Feeling quite moral and upright, I replied that the limit in the UK Parliament is only £250 per gift, but I had the ground cut from under me when the American deputy ambassador replied that it is only $250 for American politicians—so, in America, they have even higher standards than us. I am sure that the Minister can find out further details through his officials and our excellent mission to the UN in New York, and ensure that the UK lobbies on that point as part of our reform negotiations.
I shall address the three areas on which the UN concentrates. On the first page of the UN charter, its purposes are helpfully laid out, the first of which is peacekeeping—or maintaining "international peace and security", as the charter puts it. For all the criticism that comes the UN's way, it is not well known that it has 85,000 personnel—troops and military support staff—deployed across the world, keeping the peace in 18 different operations. By any yardstick, that is a formidable achievement, which the UN would do well to speak of more. If people knew that it has that level of commitment across the world, they would be extremely impressed.
Will the Minister tell us, in his reply, whether the UN has ever, to his knowledge, been short of either the number of troops that it needed on the ground, or of specific types of troops to mount peacekeeping or other UN operations? It has occurred to me from time to time that it is a slightly chaotic system, given that despite the UN's significant military presence in many countries, it does not have the ability to call, in some systematic way, on military support. Will the Minister tell us whether that has caused difficulties for the UN and is an issue? Does he think that there should be a formal mechanism to ensure that it has under its command the troops that it needs to mount such operations, or at least at its disposal the ability to call on them in a fairly ready and easy manner?
Does my hon. Friend agree that a particularly apposite example of an inadequate force, in terms of both mandate and numbers for the task that needed to be fulfilled, was that in Rwanda in the early 1990s? That was an indictment beyond expression of the world as a whole. If he has not yet read "Shake Hands With the Devil" by Lieutenant-General, Roméo Dallaire—I rather suspect that he has—I tell him that it is a very good and searing read.
My hon. Friend is more than generous, as always, and credits me with having read a book that I am ashamed to confess that I have not yet read. It will have to be summer reading, as it has obviously escaped my Easter reading pile. Hopefully, there will be time to make up for that.
My hon. Friend again makes an important and serious point. What happened in Rwanda is a scar on the conscience of the whole world, and is something that we must never allow to happen again. I know that the horror of what happened there motivates my hon. Friend and many others in keeping a beady and watchful eye on what is happening in Darfur. Indeed, I am interested to know whether he thinks that the UN has all the necessary troops on the ground in Darfur to ensure that things run there. He indicates that he does not think that it has, which, perhaps, makes my point. I am, of course, aware that there are political considerations: the UN might be able or want to put more troops in, but might be prevented by the political situation on the ground or arguments within the African Union.
The second main purpose or pillar of the UN is human rights. That was achieved only by the considerable efforts of a very doughty lady—Eleanor Roosevelt—in the late 1940s and 1950s. She fought passionately to ensure that the promotion and safeguarding of human rights across the world was a fundamental and principal part of the UN's remit. It is surprising that the money spent on human rights has only just gone past 1 per cent. of the UN's total budget. Last year's summit brought about the responsibility to protect, which is a step forward in philosophical and political terms. It puts an obligation on Governments across the world to prevent genocide and to look after their own people rather than abuse them. The question is how to enforce it on the ground.
One of the most disappointing meetings that we had in New York was with a senior official of Mrs. Arbour, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. When we pressed him about how the responsibility to protect would be enforced on the ground the response was vague. I, like most Members present, did not come away from that meeting with any confidence that there were real teeth to this measure, that it could be enforced and would mean something, and that there were mechanisms in place. We were unsure whether a ratchet effect would occur if a Government ignored the responsibility to protect. My hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown, who accompanied us on the trip, put his finger on that in his intervention on Dr. Blackman-Woods. There was talk about a sense of solidarity, particularly among some African countries.
It is high time that we started to name and shame some of the countries in the United Nations who are voting against resolutions on human rights issues. The European Union has done good work trying to raise several such issues at the United Nations; it has recently done so on Iran, Burma, North Korea and Uzbekistan. The United Kingdom played an important part in getting the issue of the house clearances in Zimbabwe raised at the United Nations not so long ago. All credit to the Government and to our staff in New York for bringing that about. I understand that nine countries voted for in respect of that in the Security Council. None the less, five—Russia, China, Algeria, Benin and Tanzania—voted against. In addition, Brazil abstained, even though it would like to be a permanent member of the Security Council.
It is high time that the actions of countries in the United Nations such as those are well known and well publicised. Every time a delegation of parliamentarians, sports people or business people from those countries comes to this country it should be asked why its Government have voted against protecting the human rights of some of the most downtrodden peoples in the world.
Things can change, albeit slowly. Governments are not immune from pressure from their own people. We must get the facts more out in the open. They need to be much better known, so that we can bring pressure to bear on such Governments. It is high time that that was done. I hope that our Government can do their part to publicise how some countries are acting in the United Nations.
The third pillar of the United Nations is humanitarian development. The start of the charter of the United Nations talks about its purposes and puts this in rather roundabout terms. It talks about "international problems" whose nature is
"economic, social, cultural or humanitarian".
International development rightly falls within that phrase. The United Nations properly devotes a considerable amount of its resources—for example, its personnel and management time—to development work.
It seemed to us all that there is a proliferation of UN organisations. It is not necessary to have a massive cull of them, because there are small or specialist organisations that it is right to keep. One such example would be the World Health Organisation. Such organisations are internationally respected and do an extremely good job. However, the case for some form of rationalisation and for some form of proper reporting structure at least is clearly overwhelming.
There are currently 12 different UN agencies working in Tanzania—to name but one country—all of which have different reporting lines and so on. If one talks to UN staff at headquarters in New York about the development work that they are doing, one finds that they sometimes despair about the separate fiefdoms that the UN maintains. One former UN Secretary-General referred to the heads of the main UN agencies as being barons in respect of the power that they exercised over their organisations. There is no doubt that the UN's work would be better focused if there were better co-ordination and clearer reporting lines. Less developed countries should have a clear head of all UN operations within the country accountable to the Government as a whole. I hope that our Government will press for that.
I shall discuss climate change in relation to the purposes of the UN and the reform programme that is occurring. It should come as no surprise to any of us that climate change does not feature at all in the UN charter, because it was not an issue when the UN was being founded in San Francisco in 1946, shortly after the second world war. The UN is the only organisation in the world with the international scope and moral authority to take all countries to task on the issue. We asked senior UN officials about it when we were there.
The UN, to some extent, has a role in tackling climate change; the recent Montreal meeting was known as the 11th conference of the parties to the UN framework convention on climate change. However, no one would pretend that tackling climate change is a central core purpose. There is a principal thrust to what I want to say. The UN currently has three pillars: international peace and security, human rights and development. They should be in place, but the case is overwhelming for adding a fourth pillar and making tackling climate change and safeguarding the future of our planet a principal and primary purpose of the UN.
No other organisation will have the moral authority in that area. The G8, and the Kyoto protocol and other international agreements, have some merit in this respect, but the UN has an unparalleled and incredibly privileged position to speak with amazing authority to every country. It can monitor what is going on, rank how countries are performing in this area, encourage the development of technologies, and name and shame countries that are emitting carbon way above limits agreed on on an international basis.
Among the many UN organisations is the World Meteorological Organisation, which is based in Geneva. I was alerted to its existence by someone who is shortly to move into my constituency. He is something of a climate expert and he suggested that that organisation should be given greater prominence and should take the lead as the key UN body to take us forward on the issue of climate change. I hope that the Minister will give us some comfort that the Government are seized of the importance of this issue.
I shall be brief, as I arrived late, for which I apologise to my hon. Friend Dr. Blackman-Woods. I congratulate her on securing this debate.
I shall begin my brief contribution by referring to some words of one of the first Secretaries-General of the United Nations, taken from his spiritual treatise "Markings":
"Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step. Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road."
However, it is important that we also look at the steps in front of us, and the reform process that my hon. Friend was outlining as I entered the Chamber is absolutely to do with that.
I was particularly taken with my hon. Friend's reports on her recent visit to the UN. I visited it in 2000; I was similarly struck by how it had grown like Topsy, and there seems to have been no pruning in the intervening years. However, I admire the work of Kofi Annan and the high-level panel. Members have been a little critical in this debate, but appendix 1 of part E of the very good Library briefing lists various areas of reform: "Institutional Innovations", "Secretariat/Management Reform/Oversight" and "Greater Policy Co-ordination". Therefore, a range of things has been achieved in short order compared with how things have historically happened in the UN, so we should not be too down-hearted about the progress that has been made.
I wish to make one key point about the Peacebuilding Commission, which I hope will provide much of the framework for ensuring that the UN's reform process delivers on the ground. Now that it has been established, will the Minister tell us what he thinks are the prospects for it doing robust work in this area? It will set out benchmarks and help things to happen over time in a way that, perhaps, has not been built into the work of the UN before. In the past, when a crisis has emerged and the response has been made, many parts of the UN have kept tabs on what has been going on, but not in a coherent way, and not at the top level. I hope that the Peacebuilding Commission will help us to do that. We can commend the direction of travel that has been identified and mapped out.
Harking back to the contribution of Andrew Selous, I agree that many aspects of what the UN currently addresses, such as the environment, are to do with scientific matters that were not envisaged at the time when the UN was set up. That is particularly the case in respect of the way in which the environment can impact on poverty and development across the piece. Can the Minister tell us what we are doing to ensure that good advice is available when and where it is needed? I understand that the Department for International Development has appointed a scientific adviser, and that the UN agencies, the World Health Organisation and UNESCO are now doing a bit better in this regard.
I shall now conclude, because I know that at least one other Member wishes to make a contribution.
I am surprised at your choice of the order of speakers, Mrs. Dean, as I was present from the start, and I have been left with little time to say what I want to say about this delegation to the United Nations, of which I was a member.
I thank my hon. Friend Mr. Coaker for organising the trip. It was an eye-opener for me. I had taken considerable interest in the UN, but I had not seen it at first hand, and I count it as a privilege to have been a part of the delegation, which visited it in January.
As I must truncate my remarks, I will first refer to the work done on our behalf by the ambassador, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, and Mr. Tony Kay of the Foreign Office. They put together a fabulous programme. I might be corrected on this, but I think that we had 14 meetings in four days—which was a very light and moderate programme. If anybody wants to go to a restaurant in mid-Manhattan I recommend Positano—a rather economical restaurant, where the prices might even surprise Mr. Clifton-Brown.
While we were there, we managed to meet three and a half permanent members of the Security Council: Sir Emyr Jones Parry, Mr. Denisov, the Russian ambassador, the Chinese ambassador, and the deputy ambassador of the United States. The only people we did not get to meet were the French. I do not know whether that says something about our relations with France.
Our meeting with the ambassador for China was the most unbelievable meeting I have ever attended. It was led by the leader of our delegation, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. The ambassador referred all his remarks to us via him. We were interested to know what the UN was going to do on reform of human rights, because that is an important issue. One of the basic human rights is the right to self-determination, which is, of course, denied to the people of Tibet. That is a pressing issue. I asked the ambassador for China about his views on extending democracy to Tibet, and he told me that it already had it, which was a surprise to me, because I did not think that the Tibetans had self-determination. The recent decision to erect a massive statue of Chairman Mao in Tibet is also, perhaps, an affront to the Tibetan people.
We did not get a chance to address the issue of Burma. The UN has a great deal of work to do on human rights in that country. That is a serious matter, and I know that our Government have made great efforts to take it forward.
I have three remaining minutes, and I wish to press the Minister. I know that the UN charter was drawn up 60 years go, but even in its reformed state following the crisis where it failed to follow up UN Security Council resolution 1441 on Iraq and subsequent developments in the 21st century, I do not think that the UN is a panacea for all the global problems that we currently face. It has been mentioned that there are 18 zones of conflict, with 80,000-plus UN military and civilian personnel active across the world. Ten years ago, $9 billion was spent; now, $18 billion is being spent, primarily on trying to involve them in conflict resolution. What we need is a proactive—rather than a reactive—organisation that gets into countries and regions where there are crises.
It is in that regard that the African Union must deliver, by playing its part in attempts to resolve conflicts in Africa, where we face huge problems to do with AIDS, the lack of education and the achievement of the millennium goals. I have been extremely disappointed in the role South Africa has played in trying to resolve the conflicts in that continent. It should have done much more over Zimbabwe, and it could certainly be more active now in respect of Kenya.
In the middle east, Hamas made ridiculous statements yesterday welcoming the Tel Aviv suicide bombers. We have a new Israeli Government who will try to determine their borders without negotiation, which is a backward step. We have real problems with Syria and Lebanon. We have problems to do with Iran and North Korea, in terms of their attempts to establish a nuclear energy policy or a nuclear weapons policy. We also have UN representatives in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have problems in Chechnya, too, and we have had problems in Niger. We face serious issues, some of which the African Union needs to address. It ought to try to exploit the activities of the Egyptian Government—a secular Government of a Muslim country that has good relationships with both sides in the middle east. It can speak to Iran about its actions in respect of nuclear weapons; that is how it could help to take this agenda forward. We need to redefine the UN—to state what its proactive role is in its global activities.
I will finish on climate change. We arrived in New York on a sunny spring day; the day after, there were sub-Siberian weather conditions. After that, there were hurricanes and monsoons, and then it returned to being quite nice weather. There are those changing conditions in the United States; there are floods in the Balkans; and there is drought in Africa. If the United Nations does not think that climate change should be on the agenda, it really ought to think again.
This has been an important and impressive debate. Like others, I pay tribute to Dr. Blackman-Woods for securing the debate and setting out the issues so comprehensively at the outset. I extend that tribute to those who went on what was clearly a worthwhile visit to the United Nations. I echo the comments made about the value of going to the UN to see for oneself its range of activities and its complexities. I certainly gained enormous benefit from going there myself a few years ago. In common with others, I pay tribute to British diplomats and officials in the UN for the excellent work that they do, day in, day out. The fact that Britain punches above its weight is in large part due to the skills, expertise and approach of our diplomats in important places such as the UN.
I shall pick up on a point made by Andrew Selous about the prospect of an annual debate on the UN. I have recently returned to the foreign affairs brief, but I recall that just over a year ago the current Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning pledged that there would be such a debate—and, indeed, for two years we have managed to secure one, albeit usually in Westminster Hall on a Thursday afternoon. Nevertheless, that is important, and I hope that today the Minister will confirm that it is still the practice and the intention of the Government to provide such debates.
The United Nations matters more than ever because of the uncertain nature of our world; collective security is vital to us all. It also matters because, as contributors have said, there is still the huge issue of the lack of human rights and democracy across the globe; that remains an absolute disgrace. The inequalities of wealth and opportunity in different continents is, to borrow a phrase already used once this morning, a scar on the conscience of us all.
The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire was slightly critical of the prosaic language in the UN charter about the different pillars of the organisation. I refer him back to the preamble, in which the lofty ideals of the representatives in San Francisco are set out in slightly better language, which says,
"to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . . to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights . . . and . . . to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom".
Those ideals are still relevant today, across the world. Recent debates about reform of the UN have brought them into even sharper focus.
In a recent speech to the British Council, Mark Malloch Brown—the new deputy Secretary-General of the organisation—stressed the centrality of security, development and human rights to the reform programme that is now under way, following the world summit last autumn. He emphasised that reforms had to be underpinned by radical change in the organisation and in the management of the UN itself—a strong theme in our debate this morning.
The oil-for-food scandal undoubtedly rocked the UN, and it lapped uncomfortably close to the Secretary-General himself. To his immense credit, he has not shied away from facing the weaknesses and rot that were exposed by that scandal and others referred to this morning. He will need strong support from Governments such as ours if he is to carry out the painful processes that he has outlined and now seeks to implement.
It is always pretty easy to set out a list of the failures of the UN, or the differences between its high-blown rhetoric and the often grubby reality. On security, there have been failures in Rwanda, the Balkans, the Congo and now Darfur; on human rights, there is the embarrassment and disgrace of the old commission's having Zimbabwe and Libya as members; on development, there is the horrible reality that we are barely on track to meet the millennium development goals—the basic targets set in a flurry of good intentions five years ago—by 2015. Also, as contributors to the debate have stressed, there is a worrying lack of attention to perhaps the most important challenge for all of us, climate change, which we need to tackle with great urgency.
The attempts at reform are well documented. The high-level panel and the world summit last year got that process firmly under way. The world summit was a mixed bag, perhaps reflecting the mixed motives of the participants. However, we should recognise the achievements, not least of which is the fact that a debate was started on intervention for humanitarian purposes—the so-called "responsibility to protect". Also, a peace-building commission was set up, and—not at the time, but subsequently—there was agreement on the human rights council. Also, a new emergency development fund was created; the UK has led the way in terms of its contributions to it. I pay tribute to the Minister and the Government for that.
Alongside those strengths of the summit, there was a worrying failure to tackle the issue of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, or to make any mention of disarmament. Even the Secretary-General himself branded that "a real disgrace". Also, the issue of pre-emptive strikes—which have undermined the United Nations since the war in Iraq started some three years ago—was not referred to. Although there was unqualified condemnation of terrorism, there is as yet no working definition of it. Those are serious disappointments, but it is not time to give up. It has been said that we get the United Nations that we deserve. Sometimes there is a risk of our treating the UN as if it were a fully autonomous and independent organisation. The reality, of course, is that the UN is very much a creature of its individual member states.
The UN is not beyond meaningful reform or irredeemably damaged, as long as there is the political will to sort it out. It is unlikely that we will have a "San Francisco Moment" in which to put it all right, but effective and deep reform is possible if a coalition of democracies, the United States placed centrally among them, perseveres in the development of an effective United Nations. That means that we need a more open approach to the UN from the United States. Its ambassador, John Bolton, has characterised his approach as "muscular diplomacy", but was recently rebuked by the International Herald Tribune, which said that there have been plenty of illustrations of the muscle, but not many of the diplomacy. We need to rebalance that approach. Britain has an important role in persuading the Americans of that.
As others said, we need to recognise the realities of the 21st century, and not only the post-war realities of 1945. We need to consider seriously Security Council reform to bring others such as Brazil, Germany, India, Japan and a representative from Africa into the Security Council, if they meet the high standards that we should all expect of them. It is in nobody's interests for the impetus for United Nations reform to fail. The world needs a strong UN to face the complex challenges of the 21st century. However damaged it is, and however marginalised it has been in recent times, no other organisation can compete with it as a source of global legitimacy. At a time of worrying developments in Iran and the middle east, and of catastrophe in Darfur, the world needs a United Nations that works.
It is delightful to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. I congratulate Dr. Blackman-Woods on securing this debate and on her excellent contribution to it. She is obviously a fast learner; I have no doubt that she will go far in her party.
Much has been said about the importance of UN reform. Excellent speeches have been made not only by the hon. Lady, but by my hon. Friend Andrew Selous and Linda Gilroy. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her courtesy in cutting short her speech so that Mr. Hall could make his contribution, which was particularly about human rights but also ran the gamut of world problems. His contribution was valuable and it would have been a pity to have missed it.
As has been mentioned, Mr. Coaker led an excellent delegation, which included Members present today, to the United Nations in January. However, we missed the presence of any Liberal Democrat Member; that party would have benefited greatly had it been able to send one.
The members of the delegation learned a huge amount, and the hon. Gentleman, aided by contributions from other members, has produced an excellent document that summarises the totality of UN reform as encompassed by the summit, and particularly by the fifth committee and the budget reforms that led right up to
Members have referred to the fact that in 1941 it was Churchill and Roosevelt's vision that led to the founding of the United Nations as we know it today. After the catastrophe of the second world war, that was an important vision. However, the weakness of the League of Nations was one of the contributory factors that led to the second world war, and we have to grasp the nettle of that same spirit of Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire came out with one of the most apt phrases that I have heard in a long time. He said that the UN had the international scope and moral authority to take nations to task, and that was precisely what Churchill and Roosevelt had in mind in 1941.
Unless we take the opportunity to reform the United Nations so that it becomes competent, we shall see more global catastrophes and problems. In my view, the UN failed on Iraq. Diplomacy is always preferable to war. With the
The UK Government are now the second largest contributor to the UN; the USA is by far the largest contributor. If the largest and second largest contributors cannot effectively push this reform, particularly given their special relationship, I do not know what will be able to. The Prime Minister has a special relationship with President Bush; we hear that they speak for half an hour every week. Let us hope that some of those conversations can be directed towards achieving some real and positive UN reform.
Mention has been made of a number of reforms; perhaps the most important is the budgetary reform, to which I referred in my opening remarks. On
The contribution of the United States is massive at $24.2 billion and it therefore has a right to have a say in how the UN should be reformed. We need to pay great heed to Ambassador Bolton's words. I hope that there will be reform on the budget and the other areas that I am going to talk about.
Budgetary reform is vital and has been highlighted by the oil-for-food programme scandal. During the seven-odd years of that programme's existence it dealt with $64 billion-worth of potential aid for food. When we think that Saddam Hussein skimmed off up to $10 billion of that, we see the scale of the scandal. We must never allow that extent of fraud to happen again. Such things require proper safeguards and external audit.
I turn to the issue of Security Council participation. We cannot expect nations to contribute more to the UN unless there is some enlargement of the Security Council. The issue of the G4 group is fearfully controversial; Venezuela does not want Brazil in it, Pakistan does not want India in it and other African countries do not want South Africa in it. It is difficult, but we have to try to make progress on Security Council reform, especially given that Japan is the second largest contributor to the core budget and one of the major aspirants to becoming a member of the Security Council. It is perhaps the most deserving of them all.
Time is limited and I shall skate over much of what I was going to say. The UN needs to concentrate more than anything on two areas: first, the transformation from the Human Rights Commission to a human rights council. We have to make sure that the human rights council is more effective; the commission failed too often in the past. In 2003, it was under the chairmanship of Syria; other nations with poor human rights records such as Zimbabwe, Cuba and Sudan have been members of that three-nation commission. Any nation that fails in implementing at least basic human rights should not be a member of the council, and certainly should not be able to influence its role.
Peace building and whether there should be pre-emptive action has been mentioned. That issue is important and the UN needs to address it. I quote Ambassador Bolton:
"Some member states are attempting to engage in 'mission creep' by redefining the scope of the Peacebuilding Commission and attempting to involve it in pre-conflict situations or long-term development. We do not believe this should fall under the purview of the Peacebuilding Commission, which needs to have a clearly defined and specific mission and mandate in order to maximise its effectiveness."
The issue of whether the United Nations should have a more pre-emptive role is difficult. Currently, there is a potential conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Whether the UN should intervene to stop those nations, among the poorest in the world, going to war is a big question.
I have almost come to the end of my time. We face some difficult world threats. Terrorism is on a scale that we have never known before. If we fail on United Nations reform, the world will suffer—we will all suffer. Today, one nation's problem can well have consequences for another nation on the other side of the world. Environmental reform has been mentioned; a lady using hair spray in Australia will affect global warming in America. It is no good the Americans standing aside on the environmental issues of the day. We need to bind them in to what is happening in the international community and the world today, not only on the environment but on peacemaking, peace building, conflict resolution, terrorism resolution, human rights and all the other ways in which the UN gives assistance.
I learned the other day that in Uganda between 2001 and 2004, the figure for poverty—the number of people living on less than $1 a day—rose from 30 to 40 per cent., yet millions of pounds-worth of aid were poured into Uganda in that time. The world needs to wake up when it comes to how it helps poor countries. It needs to link aid with better government and a move towards democracy.
I conclude with this phrase, which is what the issue is all about. It comes from Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He says that the reform is a
"once-in-a-generation opportunity for the world to come together and take action on grave global threats that require bold global solutions. It is also a chance to revitalise the United Nations itself. It is in short, an opportunity for all humankind."
If we fail, the world will suffer.
I reiterate the comments of Mr. Clifton-Brown by saying what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. I thank my hon. Friend Dr. Blackman-Woods for initiating the debate and for her comments. I welcome the interest that Members of both Houses take in the United Nations and in the crucial reforms that that organisation faces. What a pleasure it is to follow such fine contributions from the hon. Members for Cotswold, for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Mr. Moore) and for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous), and my hon. Friends the Members for Weaver Vale (Mr. Hall) and for Plymouth, Sutton (Linda Gilroy).
The Government are a strong supporter of the United Nations. We have been a staunch ally of the Secretary-General in his reform efforts. We want those efforts to result in a more effective and efficient UN, better able to meet the interlinked challenges of development, security and human rights. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham drew us a vivid picture when she said that reforming the UN was like trying to turn around a huge tanker with several ships attached to it. As someone who once had a shot, unwisely, at using a ship simulator and managed to sink a 100,000-tonne coal carrier, wreck the navigation pier at Avonmouth, block the Severn navigation channel and cause a major pollution hazard, I know exactly what she means. We need to communicate vividly the importance of reform, and the hon. Member for Cotswold explained its importance very clearly.
We continue to work hard to achieve the objective of reform. I am pleased that several colleagues present at the debate were able to see for themselves, when they visited New York in January, the challenges that the UN faces and the energy that we are devoting to help it to meet those challenges. I agree with the assessment of our team working in New York. Sir Emyr Jones Parry has a superb team and is one of our best diplomats. No doubt hon. Members can play a role in furthering the good work in which they are engaged on the reform agenda. Debates such as this are welcome and important. With regard to the comments of the hon. Members for South-West Bedfordshire and for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, I will take that valid message to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The issue is hugely important and I believe that this needs to be a regular debate.
The reform debate of the past few years culminated in the 2005 UN world summit last September, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attended along with 152 other Heads of Government. Some people expressed disappointment at the outcome of the summit, but it was a significant step forward for the UN and delivered an essential package of reforms and commitments by the international community. We have heard about those this morning. We must try to channel that energy and enthusiasm so that our representatives and those of the EU and other progressive forces in the UN can take the reform agenda forward.
The UK, when it had the presidency of the EU, played a crucial role in the negotiations leading up to the summit. The Government intend to lay before Parliament a Command Paper on the United Nations shortly. That will include our assessment of the progress made on implementing the reforms agreed at the summit and on the outstanding issues to be addressed. Hon. Members might welcome a brief assessment of where things stand on the implementation process.
The agreements reached in New York on development and climate change—I was glad to hear hon. Members mention those issues—reflected several important Gleneagles and EU commitments. Those included the need to accelerate progress towards the millennium development goals, to address the special needs of Africa and to create, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, a new central emergency relief fund to strengthen the UN's ability to mobilise quickly and effectively resources to tackle humanitarian crises.
The challenge now is to ensure that those commitments are fulfilled. We continue to lead by example, as shown by our recent commitment to spend at least £8.5 billion on aid for education over the next 10 years. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire mention the discussions that have been held on the role that the UN should play in seeking to fulfil environmental commitments. At the world summit, there was an agreement to explore the possibility of a more coherent UN institutional framework, including a more integrated structure built on existing institutions and instruments. I was glad to hear the hon. Gentleman point out something that we do not think about enough, which is that no other organisation in the world has the ability to speak to all nations as the UN does. We are pleased with the raised profile that the General Assembly president, Jan Eliasson, has given the issue. I shall consider carefully the interesting examples of possible intervention by the UN that the hon. Gentleman suggested.
We hope to make progress on the EU's goal of transforming the UN Environment Programme into a specialised agency with a revised and strengthened mandate and improved financing. That will enable the UN's environmental pillar to tackle better developing countries' needs, to strengthen the scientific basis of decision making, to focus on emerging priorities such as the environment and security, to improve co-ordination at policy and operational level and to ensure sustained delivery in respect of environmental priorities.
The world summit invited Kofi Annan to launch further work to consider how all the UN operations that we have talked about this morning could be managed more tightly around three pillars: development, humanitarian assistance and the environment. The development, humanitarian and environmental efforts of the UN have become increasingly fragmented, with multiple agencies competing for donor funds, different agencies occupying the same policy space, and overlap and duplication at both headquarters and country level. As many hon. Members pointed out, that is inhibiting the UN from making as significant a contribution as it could make to the achievement of internationally agreed development goals.
The Secretary-General's panel on system-wide coherence in the areas of humanitarian assistance, the environment and development is therefore crucial. It heartened me to hear many hon. Members mention that. I am proud of the contribution that the UK made to the world summit's success and of the continuing efforts—