United Nations Reform

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:39 am on 18th April 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:39 am, 18th April 2006

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 23 December 2005 and were a great tribute to all the nations that participated. That had to be done by consensus. It is fitting to pay tribute to our permanent ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Emyr Jones Parry, and Tony Kaye, whom I see here today and did so much organisation during our visit.

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 28 April deadline set for Iran, we now have the next low-water mark for the UN. If we fail on that as well, we are heading for deep trouble. Reform is particularly important today, and I hope that the Minister will take that message back to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister, and that the British Government will use their special relationship with the UN.

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 23 December, the fifth committee decided that each tranche of the half-yearly budget would be released only if progress on reform was made. During my meeting with him, John Bolton was adamant that the United States would not sanction the next half-year's budget unless progress towards reform was made. I hope that the British Government will support the United States on that, because only through budgetary discipline will reform be forced through. Given that a nation as small as the Tuvalu islands has the same vote on the General Assembly as the United States, it is difficult to get reforms through.

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.