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.