Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Second Report




SEC(02) 152

Draft Council Decision authorising the Commission to negotiate a convention between the EC and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) concerning the Community contribution to the budget of UNRWA for 2002­2005.

Legal base:Articles 181 and 300 EC; qualified majority voting
Document originated:13 February 2002
Forwarded to the Council:14 February 2002
Deposited in Parliament:7 March 2002
Department:International Development
Basis of consideration:EM and Minister's letter of 14 March 2002
Previous Committee Report:None
Discussed in Council:18 March 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared

  22.1  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is responsible for providing basic health, education, and social services to 3.9 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

  22.2  The Commission notes that the continuing violence and the strict restrictions applied by the Israeli authorities to the movement of Palestinian people and goods in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continue to have a severe impact on the Palestinian economy, and on the income of many people. This is causing great hardship, with the poorest communities, often those in refugee camps, the hardest hit. UNRWA's limited resources are under extreme pressure as it seeks to continue to provide essential relief services, as well as maintain its regular programme. The latter, financed under the General Fund, includes UNRWA's regular programmes covering education, health, and relief and social services.

  22.3  Since 1972, the EC and UNRWA have signed ten conventions. The new Convention will cover a four-year period and will be implemented by two agreements of two years each, with annual negotiations for the contribution to the food aid budget. For 2002, UNRWA has requested a contribution to its General Fund of _55 million and a subsequent increase of 5 % in each of the following years. This amounts to _55 million in 2002, _57.8 million in 2003, _60.6 million in 2004, and _63.7 million in 2005. These figures are based on the contributions agreed in the tenth Convention, with the increase added in response to population growth, inflation, and the need to provide additional services to meet long-term demands as a result of the continuing crisis.

  22.4  The Commission comments:

"The last few years have witnessed growing concern among the refugee community and in the region generally over the decline in UNRWA services (US$ 200 per capita in the 1970s compared to US$70 in the 1990s). Successive funding shortages and subsequent austerity measures and cost reductions have prevented programmes from expanding at a rate commensurate with the growth in the refugee population, necessitated curtailments in ongoing programme activities, and precluded certain actions which normally would be part of UNRWA's regular programme of work. Most seriously, these measures have led to increased class sizes in UNRWA schools, rising patient/staff ratios in the health services, and higher caseloads for social workers dealing with the poorest refugees.

"The ability of the Agency to provide its services is entirely dependent on sufficient voluntary contributions made available annually. The Convention, therefore, aims to assist UNRWA to secure its financial basis to operate on a sustainable and cost-effective basis, without recourse to austerity or other ad hoc cost reduction measures, and to safeguard the quality and level of services provided to the refugees. The present minimal level of service provision must not be allowed to further deteriorate in the interest of stability in the region".

  22.5  Under the Education Programme, UNRWA provides education to over 475,000 pupils, an increase of more than 30,000 since the tenth Convention came into force. It also provides educational services to over 6,000 trainees at the eight vocational training centres and the three science faculties in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.

  22.6  The Health Programme is community-based, with the emphasis placed on primary healthcare and with very selective use of hospital services. Two thirds of the refugee population consists of women of reproductive age and children under 15 years of age, making mother and child care, including family planning services, a priority area. Staff/population ratios are far below the current ratios in all host countries and the territory of the Palestinian Authority.

  22.7  The Relief and Social Services aim to ensure a minimum standard of nutrition and shelter. This programme also facilitates longer-term social and economic development for refugees and their communities. The Social Services encourage self-reliance.

The Government's view

  22.8  The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short) says that a key issue this year will be to seek ways to address the perennial funding gap between UNRWA's agreed General Fund budget and voluntary contributions. Although the gap in 2001 was the lowest for ten years, there is still some way to go to give UNRWA improved financial planning security. She comments:

"The ability of UNRWA to provide its services is entirely dependent on sufficient contributions made annually. The proposed Convention aims to assist UNRWA to secure its financial basis to operate on a sustainable and cost-effective basis, without implementation of ad-hoc cost reduction measures, and to safeguard the quality and level of services provided to the refugees. This fully complements UK policy. We aim to build on our positively received lobbying exercise at the end of last year, which focussed on better financial planning security, and explore further with UNRWA and like-minded donors how we can consolidate these gains, in order to avoid future funding gaps."

  22.9  She adds:

"UNRWA has continued its on-going reform initiatives across the broad spectrum of its operations with donor support. Measures to confirm support would strengthen the international community's partnership with UNRWA, and demonstrate that, as they continue the process to deliver services more effectively and efficiently, we are prepared to support them."

The Minister's letter

  22.10  In a letter accompanying her Explanatory Memorandum, the Secretary of State apologises that the Government decided to support the adoption of this Council Decision before we had had an opportunity to scrutinise it and explains the circumstances. She says:

"The document, scheduled for approval at the 11 March General Affairs Council, only reached the relevant department on 8 March. We informed the Presidency and Commission that we would not be able to allow the Council to adopt the decision on 11 March as we wanted to be able to present the proposal first to Parliament. However, we accepted that agreement on the document was urgent in order to allow rapid conclusion of the funding agreement with UNRWA and the Government has decided that we should allow the Council to adopt this Decision on 18 March.

"The Explanatory Memorandum explains that this Council Decision is not contentious for three reasons. First it is for approval of a negotiating mandate, not for the agreement itself. Second it is entirely in line with existing policy and is in fact for the eleventh in a series of conventions. And third, the Committee will of course have an opportunity to carry out Parliamentary scrutiny on the draft Convention itself as soon as it becomes available. We expect this to be within the next few weeks.

"I do apologise for the delay in bringing this to the Committee's attention. It was caused by a bureaucratic error, which we are taking measures to ensure does not happen again, exacerbated by the Presidency unexpectedly accelerating their timetable. We will ensure early submission of an Explanatory Memorandum on the draft convention itself as soon as it is available.

"I am writing separately regarding your questions on document 14773/01."[44]


  22.11  The document to which the Secretary of State refers above, in the last sentence quoted from her letter, was a proposal that the EC should make an additional contribution of _15 million towards a deficit in UNRWA's 2001 budget. When we considered that document, we asked her to clarify what had happened and to tell us what steps could be taken to try to ensure that the budget deficit of UNRWA does not remain a perennial problem. We continue to hold that document under scrutiny, although the proposal was adopted on 19 December, weeks before the document was deposited. The Secretary of State apologised for that failure as well.

  22.12  On this occasion, the Secretary of State says that the Department is taking measures to ensure that the bureaucratic failure, which resulted in this document also being deposited late, does not happen again. We intend to raise with the Cabinet Office the problem for effective scrutiny caused by the late deposit of documents, which happens all too frequently.

  22.13  We thank the Secretary of State for her explanation and look forward to receiving her further letter on UNRWA's budget deficit.

  22.14  We now clear this document.

44  (23049) 14773/01; see HC 152-xix (2001-02), paragraph 9 (13 February 2002). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 28 March 2002