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United Nations

2 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): I welcome the    Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), and I am delighted to have secured the debate on this day, as it is my birthday. My interests are declared in the Register of Members' Interests, and I remind Members that I am parliamentary adviser to the human rights charity, Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

Some people, notably political isolationists and extreme nationalists, might think that the United Nations is a threat to national sovereignty, but I do not. I shall put my cards on the table. I speak as an internationalist, I do not accept the law of the jungle, I have no desire to turn a blind eye to the conflict and injustice in the world and I think that the multilateral machinery for addressing inter-state and intra-state conflict and for tackling the abuse of human rights is far from perfect, but that it is better than nothing.

The UN stands at the apex of that multilateral machinery. Set up in 1945 as the chief agent of collective security, it was described only four years ago in the UN millennium declaration as

However, today it is mired in controversy: corruption in the oil for food programme, administrative incompetence, rampant cronyism, and sexual harassment of staff are among the welter of accusations it faces.

Freedom lovers might accept a plea in mitigation for all the other sins of the organisation if it at least acted to protect the oppressed; sadly, it does not. The grim record speaks for itself. In the 1990s, the UN was a craven bystander in Angola, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. More recently, its troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been slated as poorly equipped, badly trained and lacking in commitment. UN soldiers are accused of abusing vulnerable refugees, and 1,000 people are still dying every day. To cap it all, with regard to Darfur in western Sudan, the UN has imposed no sanctions on the Government of Sudan and sent no troops, even though the former UN humanitarian affairs co-ordinator for the region has described the situation there as

Equally disgracefully, the UN Security Council has never made an agenda item of Burma, whose brutal military junta savagely violates human rights every day.

In 2003, in the aftermath of the Iraq war, Kofi Annan, conscious of the crisis of confidence in the UN, appointed a high-level panel to consider the UN's future in the face of threats, challenges and change. Its report covers a vast terrain. I intend to focus narrowly on three issues: the UN Commission on Human Rights; the criteria for humanitarian intervention; and the scope for a peace-building commission.

The UN Commission on Human Rights was set up by the UN Economic and Social Council in February 1946. It first met in 1947. It meets annually for six weeks in March and April in Geneva. It can make statements, adopt resolutions and appoint special rapporteurs, but it cannot directly refer abuses to the Security Council.
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Instead, its resolutions can go to ECOSOC, which is a main organ of the UN. If it adopts them, they can go to the General Assembly. If the General Assembly adopts the resolutions, they can go forward to the Security Council for consideration. The words cumbersome and circuitous spring to mind as descriptions of that protracted process. At its best, the commission can shine a light on abuses; at its worst, it is an organised hypocrisy for tyrannies to shield themselves from scrutiny.

The essential problem lies in the three Cs; composition, chairmanship and credibility. Seats are allocated according to regional grouping; there are 15 for Africa, 12 for Asia, 11 for Latin America and the Caribbean, 10 for western Europe and others, and five for eastern Europe. At present, there are 53 members, including China, the Congo, Cuba, Eritrea, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Zimbabwe, to name but 10 states that are not renowned for their commitment to pluralism or respect for human rights. Yet, on 10 December 1948 when the United Nations universal declaration on human rights was issued, reference was made to the pursuit of a

in terms of respect for, and observance of, human rights.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I have attended many sessions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that one of the deepening flaws in the process is the reduction in status of non-governmental organisations? This is their one voice in many cases; they arrive at a UN forum and voice serious detailed criticisms, often of their Governments or other Governments. Those criticisms have been systematically curtailed at the behest of a strange coalition of world powers.

Mr. Bercow : Yes, I agree. The commission would not shut out those organisations if it were committed to pluralism; a big "if", as the hon. Gentleman will concur. If its members have nothing to hide, they should not be resistant to independent voices offering their view of the behaviour of a range of Governments, including those of their own countries.

I remind the Chamber that article 4 of the charter describes the proper behaviour to be expected of peace-loving peoples. Article 6 says that, if a state persistently violates the terms of the charter, it can, in certain circumstances, be expelled from the General Assembly. Not only has none of those 10 countries been removed from the General Assembly, all are members of the Commission on Human Rights. By convention, the chairmanship of the commission has rotated by region. That has produced some shocking results. In 2000, Nepal held the chairmanship despite well-documented abuses of human rights highlighted regularly by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, including extra-judicial killings. In 2003, Libya was in the chair even though it has been regularly exposed for its denial of human rights. This year, it is the turn of Indonesia.

That is a bizarre irony, given that several UN special rapporteurs have had their requests to visit Indonesia denied by its Government. Those include the special representative of the Secretary-General on human rights
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defenders; the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the special rapporteur on freedom of religious belief; and the special rapporteur on torture. The country has neither the humility nor the confidence to allow UN inspection of its own record on human rights, but the self-same country chairs the UN's body on the subject, thereby pontificating on the behaviour of others. In terms of stomach-churning hypocrisy, that is a gold-medal-winning performance.

What is the high-level panel's assessment of such a chronic state of affairs? It states:

Referring to the commission's responsibility to uphold and promote human rights, the panel states that its capacity to do so

Worse, it adds:

What a sound verdict that is.

Yet, from that conclusion and alongside some reasonable recommendations about the need to use prominent human rights figures in its work, the benefit to be gained from an advisory council, the merits of an annual report on human rights worldwide and the imperative of regular reports to the Security Council by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the panel report drops its bombshell:

Extending it in that way would admit a further 138 countries, including such noted champions of human rights as Uzbekistan, North Korea, Burma, Iran and Uganda. It is hard to see what more cowardly counsel the panel could offer. It does no service in abandoning any attempt at value judgment, plumping instead for the soft option of universal access.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that there should be a pure human rights organisation that excludes large numbers of states? The whole basis of the United Nations is that every single state in the world can be represented in international forums. The logic of the hon. Gentleman's position is that the international organisation that we have established over the past 60 years should be destroyed. I am not sure that that would be helpful.

Mr. Bercow : My response to the hon. Gentleman's intervention is as follows; I am not arguing for purity, nor do I have any expectation of it. However, states that palpably fail to respect human rights, do not acknowledge the fact of their transgressions and show no interest in or commitment to improving their record cannot credibly sit on the UN Commission on Human Rights if that body, which is bigger than any individual state and the sum of its members, is to retain credibility.
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The notion of allowing universal membership is so transparently absurd as to deserve no further discussion. Yet the status quo is plainly unsatisfactory. The root cause of that unsatisfactory situation is the geographical basis for membership and the Buggins's turn criterion for chairmanship. If the UN is serious about wanting the commission to regain respectability—let alone legitimacy—I suggest that it should stipulate that membership of the commission should depend on states' respecting the human rights of their citizens. What is the Government's view?

I now turn to humanitarian intervention, the case for which needs to be made on two grounds; legal and moral. A tension exists between those who seek to uphold the principles of non-intervention and sovereignty and those who claim that the international community has a responsibility to protect fellow human beings from extreme abuse wherever that occurs. That second group has emerged as the forerunner in the debate. The Canadian Government established the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which reported in 2001. It built on the "just war" tradition developed by academics such as Michael Walzer, who stated that the use of force was legitimate

When a state is visiting horrors on its people, as is the case in Darfur, such notions of self-determination are meaningless. Interventions to prevent such violations of human rights do not violate the rules of sovereignty, as their purpose is to

This argument that human rights are at least the equal of the principle of sovereignty is central to the case supporting humanitarian intervention.

The commission's principal findings were that sovereignty implies responsibility and that the principle of non-intervention yields to the international responsibility to protect, establishing the just-cause threshold. Force would be justified in certain cases; first, large-scale loss of life, actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which was the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect, or inability to act, or a failed state situation. The second case would be large-scale ethnic cleansing, actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror or rape.

The findings stressed the precautionary principles of right intention, last resort, proportional means and the reasonable prospects of success. The report stated that the Security Council was the appropriate body to give authority to such missions, but warned that where it failed to discharge its responsibility to protect in conscience-shocking situations crying out for action, concerned states may not rule out other means to meet the gravity and urgency of that situation.

The high-level panel report drew on the work of the Canadian commission, establishing five criteria to judge the merits of humanitarian intervention: seriousness of threat; proper purpose; last resort; proportional means; and balance of consequences. Moreover, it ruled unequivocally that the rights of individuals—this is of
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the essence in the debate—take precedence over the rights of states. The international community not only has the right to override state sovereignty in cases of major breaches of humanitarian law, such as genocide in Rwanda or ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, but has the responsibility to protect the human rights of the victims.

That said, in practice, the panel believes that genocide should be tolerated unless the Security Council authorises the use of force to stop it—[Interruption.] Does the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) wish to intervene?

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD) indicated dissent.

Mr. Bercow : He merely raised his finger innocently.

I may have described a misguided modus operandi, yet if it is to be the working assumption of the UN, it follows that the working of the Security Council must be improved. The panel's failure in its report to make any concrete recommendations to that end is surely a damning indictment of its work.

Let me propose to the Government one such positive recommendation, which was made by the Canadian commission. Permanent members of the Security Council should pledge not to use their veto to prevent action against genocide, massacres or other crimes against humanity unless their vital national interests are at stake. What is the Government's view?

Finally, I turn to the important topic of the prospect of a peacebuilding commission. The high-level panel recommended the establishment of such a commission. Its task would be to identify countries under stress and at risk of sliding towards state collapse, to organise proactive assistance to prevent the process developing further, to assist in planning for post-conflict transition and to marshal the efforts of the international community in post-conflict peacebuilding for the necessary period. It would be a small body assisted by a support office and an inter-agency advisory board.

That is sensible. The problem of failed states and state collapse will vex the international community for the foreseeable future. The commission would be vital in providing the information and analysis to enable the UN to act to prevent state collapse and the inevitable suffering that follows. It would also play a crucial role in the delicate post-conflict transition stage. It is a travesty that states tend to fall off the radar of the international community when the peacekeepers leave. That is precisely when they need the most assistance.

Peacebuilding missions must be developed so as to ensure that countries do not slide back into failure and conflict. Essential work that the commission could co-ordinate and oversee includes the demobilisation of combatants, the funding of the reintegration and rehabilitation of former combatants, the building of effective public institutions and the support of civil society to establish a framework for governing within the rule of law. While I favour such a commission, far more needs to be done to improve the practice of peacekeeping. That is a crucial prerequisite of the rebuilding of states and societies.
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A powerful argument against peacekeeping operations is that they simply do not work. A quick survey of recent media reports on the activities of UN peacekeepers in the Congo would seem to support that. In addition to the disturbing accusations that UN troops sexually exploited the vulnerable refugees whom they were supposed to protect, the cold truth is that they have failed to keep the peace. Conflict and skirmishes between factions continue to kill and displace civilians and prevent the difficult transition to peace.

The faults of the peacekeeping structure were highlighted by Madeleine Albright, who wrote, in 2003,

The panel noted that

The operational principles and rules of engagement of peacekeeping need to be developed. Troops must be made aware of the need to respect human rights and minimise the destructive impact of their actions upon civilians. Resources are fundamental. The UN needs troops, intelligence and logistical support. It needs a dependable capacity and standby arrangements so that it can deploy well-trained troops to conflict zones.

It is unfortunate that the countries that contribute significant forces—including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Uruguay and Nigeria—are often lured by the cash and military hardware they receive just for turning up. The major powers need to agree to deploy their troops. Unless they do so, the UN will be a hapless horseman riding for another fall. This is evident in Darfur, where the Security Council is relying upon the inexperienced, under-resourced African Union to enforce a fragile peace. The omens are not encouraging. One possibility might be to establish peace-enforcement missions where the Security Council would depute an appropriate major power to organise a coalition and enforce the world's collective will. This worked well in Haiti in 1994, East Timor in 1999 and Sierra Leone in 2000. What is the Government's view?

The UN has a noble mission—to provide collective security, uphold human rights and execute humanitarian missions—yet it cannot rest on its laurels, thinking that its successes in the past, or the principles of its charter, are an effective riposte to those who criticise its failures in the present. On the Commission for Human Rights, the basis of humanitarian intervention to underpin civilised values and the tools of effective peacekeeping, there is a need for reform. That reform should be bold and principled; that reform should be now.

2.23 pm

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I welcome this debate and congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on securing it. It is timely indeed; the UN needs examining and we need to think
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seriously about that. However, we should also remember why the United Nations was founded in 1945, the guiding principles behind it and how important it is that we show serious respect for, recognition of, and support for, it. That is crucial.

I shall concentrate my short contribution on two aspects; the Human Rights Commission and the non-proliferation treaty review conference that will be held in May. I know that other colleagues want to speak. As I indicated in my intervention, my experience of the UN Human Rights Commission goes back a few years. I have represented a British-based group called Liberation, in my role as chair, at the UN Human Rights Commission and at the sub-commission meetings, and short they are not. The commission lasts for six weeks, but the sub-commission—with a show of respect for people's needs and the pressures on their lives—lasts a mere three weeks. I do not pretend that I have been to all of any of the sessions—I could not possibly stay that long anywhere—but they are interesting and informative.

I concur to some extent with what the hon. Member for Buckingham said about structure. The establishment of the UN Commission on Human Rights was recognition that, since 1945, there has been a role for the world body in examining in detail allegations of human rights abuses around the world.

The UN is permanently, irrevocably and indefinitely bedevilled with the problem of being inevitably representative of national Governments around the world. Those Governments may or may not be representative of their peoples, be in control of what is happening in their own societies or be repressive of people in their own societies. The UN charter recognises all that, and includes a very special and important provision allowing non-governmental organisations to be represented. The UN Human Rights Commission is an example of that.

The pressures placed on the staff and directors of the UN Human Rights Commission are enormous. I had a great deal of time, support and respect for Mary Robinson when she was the director of the commission. She was bluntly and unceremoniously dumped because she asked too many questions, raised too many difficult issues and fell out of favour with too many Governments. We should be careful to remember the good contribution that she tried to make to the commission.

I have been to the commission as a representative of NGOs. Governments used to get 10 or 15 minutes to introduce their topic or resolution, and a plethora of NGOs could then apply to take part in the debate on the topic at the appropriate time. However, I have noticed that, gradually, the opportunities and the time allowed to NGOs, and the seriousness with which they are taken, has reduced further and further, so that we are now down to two and three-minute contributions. To say that one can adequately describe human rights abuses in Colombia in three minutes is frankly ludicrous.

We should remember that NGOs are not at the commission on a freebie; they are there, often at enormous cost to themselves, because they care passionately about human rights abuses in one part of the world or another. Unless they are given a voice,
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space and opportunities, Governments will simply club together and shut them up; that is exactly what is happening now at the commission.

When the Under-Secretary replies to this very important debate, I hope that he will assure me on a couple of issues. First, I mean no disrespect to those who have attended the commission over the years. As officials, they have been diligent and helpful, and I have no individual complaint against any of them—indeed, some have been extremely helpful, providing bits and pieces of advice when I or others have sought it—but the reality is that we should have a much higher level delegation there. It should certainly include Ministers, at least for the opening and closing sessions. Obviously, they would not be expected to stay for the whole six weeks, unless they wanted six weeks in Geneva every year; a very pleasant place it is, too, but six weeks is a bit long. However, they should at least be there at times.

Also, we should not continually hide behind a common EU position. Doing so often means that when issues come up, not all Governments have a position on them. Therefore, the EU delegation does not take a position, and nothing is said. We need a re-examination of that.

Also, more pressure has to be applied to give far more time, space and opportunity to NGO representatives from around the world who want to take part in the commission. I go back to the example of Colombia. There is much debate about human rights abuses there, but everyone here would agree that there are such abuses. Whether we believe that Uribe and the Government of Colombia are adequately or effectively dealing with those abuses would be an item for debate, but we would all recognise that it is legitimate for Colombian people to be represented at the commission and to put their case adequately. Remember, many of the people who attend are putting themselves at great personal risk in order to make their voice heard. The UN in its very basic charter recognised all that, and therefore gave them that voice. I think that we should recognise that too, and do our best to support them. That is very important.

Secondly, in May this year, the non-proliferation treaty review conference will take place in New York. Ironically, this comes on the 60th anniversary of the first ever use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I quote briefly from the founding charter of the United Nations:

This year's conference takes place five years after the non-proliferation treaty review conference in 2000. The UK and the other declared nuclear states took part in the conference and were asked to take a number of steps forward. These included to sign and ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty without delay, to honour a moratorium on nuclear weapons testing pending entry into the force of the comprehensive
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treaty, immediately to commence negotiations on a fissile material cut-off treaty, immediately establish in the Conference on Disarmament a body with a mandate to deal with nuclear disarmament, to honour the principle of irreversibility in relation to nuclear disarmament, to

and facilitate—

ensuring the completion and implementation of the tri-lateral initiative between the US, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Inspectorate.

The reason I quote that is because this year's conference takes place at a time when we are in danger of not going forward to a process of long-term nuclear disarmament, but quite the opposite; we are starting a process of nuclear armament around the world. At present, there are five declared nuclear weapon states, which, happily for them and utterly logically, are the five permanent members of the Security Council; Russia, France, Britain, China and the United States.

The undeclared nuclear weapons states—Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea—are there, and of two others, Iran is in negotiations for the removal of possibility of constructing nuclear weapons. The only other state that has ever had nuclear weapons and unilaterally got rid of them is South Africa, and I think we should pay enormous credit to Nelson Mandela and the government of the ANC who did that to bring about a nuclear-free continent of Africa.

I hope this treaty review takes place and, optimistically, I hope that India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel will all attend, own up to having nuclear weapons, say they are going to get rid of them, and fully sign up to a disarmament process. I also hope that the five declared states will do the same; it would be wonderful. My concern is that the opposite will happen. Israel will simply refuse to take part or to say anything other than that it has got its nuclear weapons. I have just returned from Palestine where I spent many hours in the company Mordechai Vanunu who spent 18 years in Israeli prisons for telling the world about Israel's nuclear weapons.

India and Pakistan are both countries with enormous social problems and needs. They cannot afford nuclear weapons and should not have them. The idea that a nuclear weapon could be some kind of defence for either Delhi or Islamabad is ludicrous. It would not take long for a rocket to get from Delhi to Islamabad. If either side bombed the other, the effect would be on their own countries. I recognise that things have moved on from the threats of a year ago and that negotiations are taking place, and I hope that that will lead to a common disarmament position.

However, those who heard President Musharraf of Pakistan when he spoke in Committee Room 14 were not very encouraged that that would be the case. In fact, we left with the opposite impression; he seemed rather proud of the fact that Pakistan had nuclear weapons, and he saw the development of the nuclear capability and its delivery systems as something of which to be proud.
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I hope that the Government's contribution to the NPT review conference will be to set out in advance a statement on how to bring about worldwide nuclear disarmament; secondly, that we will not be developing a new range of nuclear weapons, nor will we be buying a new generation of nuclear weapons from someone else. As Trident reaches the end of its what some would call its useful life—others would be less complimentary—we should become a non-nuclear power.

Surely to God, nothing that has happened in the world, including the increasing gap between the richest and the poorest and the needs of the poorest, is aided by nuclear weapons. For all the nuclear weapons and all the power that the United States has, it was not much good to them on 11 September 2001. The only way to bring about peace and justice throughout the world is to examine the causes of injustice, and the poverty that goes with it. I look to the United Nations as the body to achieve that.

All hon. Members experienced the build-up to the war in Iraq. We saw how the UN was used and abused in the build-up to that war. As well as what I would call the misuse of the UN charter by those who were keen to go to war—I believe that the continuation of the inspection programme might have brought about a different result—we saw the development of the legal pre-emptive strike by President Bush and later by the Prime Minister, and subsequently by President Putin. That is a dangerous departure. We possess the power to go to war, and the ability to destroy an awful lot of the planet, but we would be better off if we concentrated on strengthening the only world organisation that can provide a forum for peace and the opportunity to bring about justice.

I have before me an interesting book, written by Linda Melvern and called "The Ultimate Crime: Who Betrayed the UN and Why". It is interesting, thought-provoking and, in some places, upsetting for those who believe passionately and strongly in the United Nations. We have to consider why the UN has often been so undermined and why it has been so weak when it should have been strong, and we must put our efforts into strengthening and supporting it. That would be a good way forward.

This year the UN has a great opportunity, but not as a remote body. All the Governments that make up the UN, including ours, should show, through the non-proliferation treaty review, that the UN can mean something, and that it can bring about disarmament around the world. We should put those precious resources to peaceful use, rather to the creation of weapons of mass destruction; we are all supposed to be dedicated to their removal.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Roger Gale (in the Chair): Order. Four hon. Gentlemen seek to catch my eye. I propose to call the first of the three Front-Bench speakers at 3 o'clock. I mention that in case hon. Members wish to accommodate each other.

2.38 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): The contribution of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) may have seemed a trifle long for the
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amount of time available, Mr. Gale, but I am sure that, compared with those speeches that he was telling us about that he had heard in various United Nations bodies, it was short. I shall endeavour to do even better.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's observation that the nuclear deterrent was not much good to the United States on 11 September, I would point out that the nuclear deterrent was certainly a lot of good to the US and the rest of the free world during the 50 years of the cold war. It is a question of horses for courses. During the cold war, the hon. Gentleman argued with complete consistency that we should unilaterally abandon nuclear weapons. I would not expect him to change that position now that the cold war has ended.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's views, but this is not meant to be a debate about the efficacy or otherwise of nuclear deterrence. It is meant to be a debate about the need to reform the United Nations. In that respect, surprisingly enough, I share a lot of common ground with the hon. Gentleman.

The UN was certainly set up with the mistakes of its predecessor, the League of Nations, firmly in mind; it was set up with a limited and pragmatic mandate. During the years of the cold war confrontation, I remember people saying, "You know what's wrong with the UN? The big powers have a veto on the Security Council." That is not what was wrong with the UN, but what was right with it. It was designed to reflect the reality that big-power capabilities could keep the peace or destroy it, and recognised that it had to come to terms with the realities of the world if it was to make a contribution to peace and tranquillity. In short, the UN is a handmaid to, not a substitute for, action by the Governments of sovereign states; it is a reflection of, and a facilitator for, the states that make it up, enabling them to act where they have got the will to do so. We must not over-invest it with a sanctity that it does not possess.

As has been said, the UN is not a democracy; it is not made up, depending on one's definition of the term, of a majority of democracies. Therefore, it is not, and it should not be regarded as, a world Government or the fount of international wisdom and morality. One thing that concerned me in the run-up to the war in Iraq was the degree to which responsibilities were shuffled from Governments to the UN. Governments were trying to say, "We will do this, but only if we get a vote in the Security Council." The reality is that the UN is comprehensive; as the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) rightly said, it includes everybody. As such, it cannot be expected to represent the best practices of nations around the world, although it does enable them to work together when they have a mind to do so, without having to set up ad hoc machinery.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that many of the pungent criticisms voiced by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) carry such weight. It is true that we can have a totally inappropriate country chairing a human rights body at the UN. I do not share the view that that should be ruled out, because it gives us an opportunity to use that country's record to embarrass it in the eyes of the world. I do not know that it did Libyan legitimacy a lot of good to be stuck in the chair, where it was subject to greater scrutiny than it would have been had it been excluded.
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I am gratified to see the hon. Member for Ilford, South nodding in assent, but there is another side to the coin. If we recognise that the UN is a universal structure, designed to incorporate the mad, the bad, the dishonest and the murderous, just as much as the peaceful, saintly and democratic ideal, we must also recognise the limitations on the legitimacy of its pronouncements. That is why the case that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham is making is worth pushing forward, despite all the organisation's in-built limitations. By its existence, the UN enables those who wish to work together to do so, but it also allows those who wish to get away with misbehaviour or atrocious and inhumane behaviour in the dark to be dragged into the spotlight and forced to justify that behaviour.

Let us not kid ourselves that the United Nations will    ever be a substitute for the responsibility of Governments. There are two forms of club. There is the form of club that is made up of members who think and act alike and believe in the same codes of conduct. That is not what the United Nations is about. There is also the form of club that everyone belongs to, but which cannot then expect a spotless reputation. That is what the United Nations consists of. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham is absolutely right to bring the matter forward and to shine the piercing intellect for which he is renowned on the abuses by member states of the United Nations.

Although my hon. Friend has not over-exaggerated the role or the legitimacy of the body concerned and his admiration for it, he has been able to use the lip service that everyone at the United Nations tries to give to certain principles to show up the hypocrisy of nations that fall short of adherence to those principles. I know from the cold war years that there were many times when the stench of hypocrisy, particularly over arms control, rose to high heaven from the United Nations, its sub-committees and subordinate organisations. I also know that the work done there to link up baskets of human rights, for example, with disarmament initiatives for the east-west confrontation was extremely valuable. All of us would agree that, had the organisation not existed, when the time came for change in the totalitarian societies of the USSR and eastern Europe it would have been much harder to bring that about and formalise it.

Let us go forward with hope in the utility of the United Nations. Let us not exaggerate it for its ability to do the impossible and let us always remember that the United Nations is as good, but no better, than the members who make it up.

2.47 pm

Mr. Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): For some, especially the so-called neo-conservatives in the United States, the United Nations is a moribund talking shop. It is said that it is wasteful, corrupt or unwilling or unable to take action. It is said that it is a friend of dictators, an unwelcome restraint on the United States. To be honest, some of the criticism that such people make is unfair or overstated. Other criticisms are not. It is significant that in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, the United States of America has recognised that it needs
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the United Nations. After the tsunami of 26 December, there is widespread recognition throughout the world that the United Nations, in some form or other, is desperately needed.

If the United Nations is not the sort of organisation that it should be, the question inevitably is: how should we change for the better? That is the view of the high-level panel mentioned by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow). The panel is extremely distinguished; the United Kingdom is represented on it by Sir David Hannay, former United Kingdom representative to the UN. Just before Christmas, it came forward with a report, which is modest, it is true. However, because of that it is realistic and realisable.

The report has 101 recommendations in its close to 100 pages. Briefly, I want to focus on one or two of them. First, it identifies new ground rules for members of the United Nations to resort to force. Significantly, the Security Council is urged to consider early authorisation of action against certain types of urgent but non-imminent threats. The threat of terrorism across the globe is one that springs to mind. Terrorism is identified as a new threat, and is accurately defined as "any politically motivated violence against innocent individuals". That, the panel would argue, has tremendous significance for the future of the UN if the report is adopted.

Moreover, the report talks about the principle of humanitarian action and urges that that principle be adopted. Again, that is of tremendous significance. Without going into the debates we had in this House in the run-up to the war in Iraq, many Members, myself included, said that there was a moral justification for the intervention in Iraq for humanitarian reasons. It is significant that the report echoes what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister argued as long as five years ago in Chicago.

Fourthly, a reform of the Security Council is proposed, an issue that has tended to hit the headlines. Two options are put forward. Both involve increasing the size of the Security Council to 24. I understand that the favoured option talks about six new permanent members of the Council. The so-called aspiring four are Germany, Japan, Brazil and India, but also two African states—one from the north of the continent, one from the south. However, the implications of a possible extension of the veto are not considered. I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about that delicate but important issue.

When I was in the United States, in New York, just before Christmas, I happened to be there when the high-level panel report was leaked and then published. Generally speaking, it had a reasonable response. Certainly it was welcomed by our Government and most other Governments across the world. However, at that time, the United States of America had very little to say about it. We all must acknowledge that the response of the United States is crucial to how the UN develops and whether this report is welcomed and received positively. I very much hope that the United States will step back from ritually assaulting the United Nations, and Kofi Annan in particular, and recognise that the world, including the United States of America, needs the UN.
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The report is of tremendous significance—the most important report that has been published since the United Nations was formed. I hope that Members will not say that the report does not go far enough and that we would ideally like to see this, that or the other happening. The report offers a road map to the future that is, as I said at the start, realistic and realisable. We would also do well to recognise the words of one former US representative to the United Nations, who said some years ago that this organisation, the UN, was created to prevent us from going to hell, not to take anyone to heaven. If we think about that, we will be realistic and take the United Nations forward to help create a better world.

2.53 pm

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr.   Bercow) on a constructive and—whether one agreed with all his points or not—thought-provoking presentation.

I start with a paraphrase of the same quote. I think that it was Henry Cabot Lodge who said that the United Nations was not a vehicle to transport us to paradise, but a means of saving us from hell. It is important to stress that when some of the criticisms made by the hon. Gentleman are valid. Some of the faults though are those of the member states. We need to reform and not to condemn.

Some of us were disturbed to see at the Republican convention, in response to a renegade Democrat senator and to Vice-President Cheney, people almost baying in hatred of the United Nations. I do not think that that is too strong a term. That there is an element of that hatred within the Bush Administration is worrying. That is why, as my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) suggested, a reversal of that attitude was welcome, when it was recognised that the UN should take the lead over the tsunami.

The UN is the only hope for the major issues that the high-level panel was dealing with—war, internal conflict, poverty, nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and trans-national crime. Those are interrelated issues. Indeed, the underlying issue is development and the need to tackle poverty, which has such a root effect on all the other problems. The British Government are right to say that we want to use our presidency of the G8 and the European Union to press that issue.

Preventing wars and trying to deal with civil wars are controversial subjects. I must rush through my remarks, so let me just say that what happened in Sierra Leone was an admirable example of that being done at its best, with regional and UN support.

Terrorism and criminality is an important subject, and it has been regarded as even more important with the concern about weapons of mass destruction. We should never forget that the greatest fear of all is the combination of war and nuclear weapons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty will be vital. We wish the Minister well in the negotiations on that. The UK played a positive role last time, but we must prove that the states with nuclear weapons are prepared to fulfil their own parts of the agreed positions. Peacekeeping and a peace-building commission are also important matters.
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On human rights, we need to work out a balance because realpolitik is involved in that. If we are to talk about countries respecting not only their own citizens but those of other countries, people could refer to Guantanamo Bay. We have difficulties with a number of large countries about their human rights records.

We need to strengthen the post of UN Secretary-General. We need also to rebalance the Security Council. It cannot simply reflect what happened at the end of the second world war forever; it is right to think about expanding it. There needs to be a new balance in it, because the General Assembly does not reflect population. That rebalance could involve some form of weighted voting. However, I want to stress that the UN is our only hope, and therefore we must improve and reform it.

2.57 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): The United Nations was never established as a world Government or a democracy, and if it did not exist we would have to establish something like it. Some of the criticisms made of it are justified, but it is important to recognise that when there are allegations of troops committing rape, theft or looting, those involved are not UN troops; they are national troops of member states of the UN that happen to be operating under a UN mandate.

The UN does not have a standing army. Perhaps we should return to the recommendations of the Boutros Boutros-Ghali document, "An Agenda for Peace" of 1992, and consider how we might have an effective international intervention force of a sort that can move quickly, so that we do not have to wait for weeks and months. The UN has problems with the deployment of forces to a number of areas around the world. It is not the only organisation that has difficulties in that regard; NATO has similar problems in getting adequate forces into Afghanistan, where it currently has responsibility.

There are issues about the structure and organisation of the UN that need to be addressed. The Security Council must contain India, but it needs also to include a large and preferably democratic Muslim state. In the world in which we live, it is vital that Islam and Islamic countries do not feel that others are ganging up against them. I hope that that matter will be taken seriously, and be addressed.

I turn to the big problem. During the cold war, the UN could not be effective in places such as Angola because that could have led to a third world war. However, since the end of the Soviet Union, the United States has become what the French call a hyperpower, and if we now want intervention on a global level, the US must be involved. I hope that Condoleezza Rice's remarks of yesterday show that the US will move towards a more multilateral approach than in the past. Four years ago, when Dr. Rice was in Russia just before her appointment as National Security Adviser, she is reported to have said that there are three positions in American politics: the left, which was internationalist; the right, which was isolationist; and the realistic position to be followed by the Bush Administration, which was unilateralist. Things have moved on since then; in many respects, the US Administration has not been unilateralist. I hope that there will be a fourth position to be put forward by Condoleezza Rice as
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Secretary of State, on realistic engagement and co-operation with allies through the UN system and with partners in Europe.

3 pm

Mr. Michael Moore (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) (LD): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), with whom I am happy to serve on the board of governors of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. His was the last in a range of thoughtful and challenging contributions.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who secured the debate. He has been on something of a political odyssey in recent years. Who knows where it might take him next? It is our great good fortune that it has brought him at this time to focus on the United Nations as a key issue. In doing so he has done us a great service.

The debate is very timely. It is not long, as other hon. Members have said, since the report of the UN Secretary-General's high-level panel on threats, challenges and change. That comes in the same week in which the UN millennium project's report, "Investing in Development", has been published, under the direction of Professor Jeffrey Sachs. It is not long since our last debate on the UN. We focused then on the White Paper. I appeal to the Minister that today's debate should not be the House's last word in debating the UN. Perhaps now that these serious reports are available, we shall have time seriously to consider them on the Floor of the House.

I take issue slightly with the hon. Member for Buckingham. I know that he would have said more had he had more time, but I felt that on balance some of his criticisms of the high-level panel report would have left the impression that he was highly critical of it. For all its limitations, it is a serious piece of work, which has rightly focused our attention on the shortcomings of the institution and the need to reform it properly. In this year of the UK's presidency of both the G8 and the European Union, the Government have a special responsibility to ensure that the reports are recognised in the international agenda, and taken forward.

The preamble to the UN charter sets out the lofty ambition

It asserts the need

and, among many other things,

Those bold ideas gave rise to the UN. Whatever difficulties it may now face, they remain as relevant today as they ever did.

The world is of course very different from 1945, and the panel has set that out carefully in its report. Threats are based not only on states attacking one another. They arise from diverse sources such as poverty, the spread and possible use of weapons of mass destruction by non-state actors as well as countries, trans-national organised crime and international terrorism. It is not only states that are the problem and it is not only state security that is now at issue. Along with the panel, we
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must recognise that in the modern world the threats do not recognise national boundaries. No state, however powerful, can protect itself on its own. Nor can we assume that every state will be able or willing to meet its responsibilities towards its own people, or not to harm its neighbours.

Achieving consensus may be relatively straightforward in the Chamber, but the panel is right to highlight the difficulty of reaching an international consensus. For some, HIV-AIDS is a horrible disease but not a security threat; for others, poverty is a development issue but hardly one to make us concerned about security. For me, it is pretty simple: poverty creates instability, which leads to conflict, which deepens poverty.

Such recognition is not always present, and one of our most serious tasks—it has been implicit and sometimes explicit in the comments of other hon. Members—is to ensure that the UN, although it needs to reflect the realities of modern power, is not simply a rich man's club or a rich man's Christian club. Without that new consensus and mutual recognition of threats, there is little prospect of any new security consensus, and therefore little prospect of reforming the UN to enable it to tackle the threats that we face. Only with consensus can we adapt the tools of collective security that we surely need now more than ever.

The panel rightly focused on prevention. The adage that prevention is better than cure is as true at an international level as it is in the home. The panel properly identifies that as a key requirement of our new collective security, so that threats that are distant do not become imminent, and those that are imminent do not become destructive. Action, as the panel says, is key. It needs to be taken early, decisively and collectively.

The panel is also right to focus on the importance of development, which is essential to any framework that is to be taken seriously. In a year in which we will focus on the achievement, or lack of achievement, of the millennium development goals, the panel's report may, like others, be an impetus for further efforts.

Too often, efforts to prevent conflict fail. When we should allow force is the big question that dogs current international relations and may be the most fundamental question of all. There are critical situations in which we are likely to see conflict. The high-level panel has said that it believes that article 51 and chapter VII are sufficient for the modern threats and challenges that we face. Perhaps we will have more time to debate that in future. I certainly agree that the Security Council should be the principal source of international authority. We must surely take cognisance of the panel's criteria, which the Member for Buckingham set out carefully, for judging whether or not force is allowable.

There are so many aspects to the UN that we need to tackle, and many hon. Members have focused properly on the need for institutional reform. As the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) made clear, however, none of the institutional reforms will be of any relevance if the member states have no political will to implement proper reform or to put leadership at the forefront of their activities in the UN.
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Like the hon. Member for Buckingham, I consider myself an internationalist. I am aware of the difficulties facing the UN and its shortcomings, but 60 years after its foundation, surely we can get the political impetus to get it right and to get it ready for the 21st century.

3.7 pm

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on what has been a very worthwhile debate, and on his birthday. He spoke with his customary clarity and eloquence, perhaps even more so on this special occasion. Perhaps we can look forward to this becoming an annual occasion on which to revisit these important events.

I have not been a political oddity, but I am happy to agree with much that the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore), said. I especially agree about the importance of us having a full debate on the Floor of the House on this very important and very large issue. We have the high-level panel report to consider and we are moving towards taking decisions at the special summit in September, so it is right that the House of Commons should have a proper opportunity to consider it.

Time is short, and the Minister has a great deal of ground to cover, so I shall endeavour to be as helpful as I can in allowing him the time and the opportunity to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham rightly stressed particular aspects of the reform of the UN, as well as the importance of the UN as an institution and the importance of getting it right and improving it to make it an effective international body. He also dwelt appropriately on some of the problems and difficulties that the UN has had. As he said, it seems sometimes to be mired in controversy; he referred to problems of fraud, corruption, and perhaps worst of all, inactivity in the face of massive humanitarian crises, such as Darfur, as well as the failure even to discuss the fate of Burma and the abuses involving peacekeeping troops in the Congo.

My hon. Friend also focused on the UN Commission on Human Rights and its cumbersome processes, and considered some of the other important aspects of the criteria under which humanitarian interventions can be appropriate. One strength of the high-level panel report is that it attempts to address the appropriate circumstances in which intervention should take place, especially on humanitarian grounds. The report considered what it calls an emerging norm, namely, that there is a collective international responsibility to offer protection, which is exercisable by the Security Council, and to authorise military intervention as a last resort. The report goes on to discuss genocide and so forth.

Given the shortage of time, this debate has inevitably only skated over some of the big issues raised in the high-level panel report on threats, challenges and change. The report shows an understanding of some of the ways in which the UN has failed to live up to some of the challenges of the past, but also attempts to apply the principles of the UN, which we share in all parts of the House, to a changing world. Much of the report is aspirational and much in it would be difficult for us to disagree with. The report sets a real challenge for the
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UN and the countries that form it, particularly those on the Security Council, to try to establish effective principles so that we can co-operate as nation states.

The report sets out five criteria for the appropriate use of force. They have been examined in some detail so I will not repeat them. Importantly, the report attempts to clarify the appropriate roles of prevention and pre-emption. I hope that the Minister will deal with that, as much as he is able, in the short time that we have. The report recognises some of the weaknesses in the structure and the practice of the Security Council and suggests greater clarity about the circumstances in which prevention and pre-emption may take place.

There has been relatively little mention of the oil-for-food scandal. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson), who has been able to join us belatedly, has taken a close interest in the scandal and the vast sums that Saddam's regime skimmed off. That episode emphasises the importance of improvements in both the secretariat of the UN and in control and audit, and of proper financial control.

I return briefly to some of the questions that have been asked. I hope that the Minister will answer the three questions that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham asked, about the appropriate membership of the UN Commission on Human Rights, the possibility of a presumption against a Security Council veto on humanitarian intervention and the proposal that the Security Council might depute a major power to organise a coalition to take action where appropriate. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) asked a further important question regarding the Government's attitude to the expansion of the Security Council and the danger of paralysis.

I promised to be brief. The UN is one of the most important issues facing the Foreign Office, Ministers and, indeed, the country. Now is a critical time for us to deal properly with the recommendations and discussions that have emerged from the high-level panel. I look forward to the Minister's response.

3.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Bill Rammell) : We have had an exceedingly good and well-informed debate. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) on his birthday. He is at an age when birthdays are still a celebration and I wish him many happy returns. He demonstrated conviction and a commitment to multilateralism and to the UN. In that respect, I share his agenda.

Reform of the United Nations is fundamental for anyone who believes genuinely in the organisation. When the Secretary-General launched the reform debate, particularly the setting of the high-level panel in 2003, he summed up the necessity for reform more succinctly than anyone else has done. He said:

That is the fundamental key to the whole reform debate.

The British Government, from the Prime Minister down, have very much welcomed the high-level panel report. Of course, it contains various elements that
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people might want more or less of, but it sets out a challenging and constructive agenda for change. The principal reason why it is an essential force for good is that it faces squarely the three key challenges that we face as an international community: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and global poverty. To paraphrase what Kofi Annan said, unless we can demonstrate that collectively we have the capacity to face those challenges, then, to put it bluntly, the UN and all of us will not endure such circumstances.

As well as the high-level panel report, it is important to remember that 2005 will see another significant milestone in UN reform: the millennium review summit. It will not only discuss the high-level panel report, but measure what progress we have made against the millennium development goals. It is no secret to suggest that, when the review takes place, we will be facing a situation in which we are acknowledging that sufficient progress has not been made, if we are to meet the targets that have been set for 2015 with the millennium development goals. It is a fundamentally important year.

The panel report and the summit are part of the same process. The high-level panel is based on the important core premise that security and development are interlinked and go hand in hand. Neither is possible without the other. That is the high-level panel's view and I strongly endorse it. I had the opportunity at the UN conference to meet the Secretary-General last week and we discussed UN reform in some detail. Between the Secretary-General and the Government is a shared agenda about the importance of the year ahead.

Kofi Annan will be publishing his own report on the implementation of the high-level panel report in March. We are intending to work with him and seize the opportunity that exists for the international community. The United Kingdom is uniquely placed, especially this year, to be able to do that, given our dual presidencies of the European Union and the G8.

I turn now to the oil-for-food crisis and scandal to which several hon. Members have referred. In recent months, there has been a great deal of criticism of the UN over the programme and, most recently, about the allegations of widespread sexual exploitation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by members of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—the MONUC peacekeeping mission. The Secretary-General has acted through the appointment of an independent inquiry into oil for food, a series of investigations into the MONUC allegations and the appointment of Prince Zeid of Jordan as a special adviser on sexual exploitation, with the task of making recommendations throughout the peacekeeping system to tackle such appalling behaviour. We certainly support him.

We want to see UN action on such issues and we should not shy away from the lessons that should be learned. Nevertheless, the Government continue to support fully the Secretary-General, which is an important point to make. His leadership has been important and we must continue to register that fact. We will fully support him, along with those with whom we work closely and who share our vision for the future of the UN. Undoubtedly, while problems deserve our attention, 2005 has also seen the best of the UN.
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Following the tragedy in the Indian ocean with the tsunami, the UN is playing a leading role in co-ordinating the huge and essential relief effort. A challenge for the UN will be sustaining that work beyond the initial relief to help a long-term recovery, and we are certainly willing to work with the UN on that.

I am pleased that the high-level panel has dealt with the United Kingdom Government's major priorities. It sets out an ambitious agenda for a UN that is much more proactive; deals comprehensively with threats to peace and security by recognising the importance of conflict prevention and peace building after a conflict; responds to the threats of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; explores the circumstances in which the UN should authorise military action to prevent a threat from materialising or to deal with a humanitarian catastrophe; acknowledges the need to address the link between poverty and conflict; and recognises that environmental degradation, particularly climate change, is a threat to be tackled like any other. That is an enormously substantive agenda, and one that we positively welcome. The other recommendation that is particularly welcome is that for a peacebuilding commission. I shall come on to that.

I shall address some of the points that have been made during the debate. I started with the hon. Member for Buckingham, who made a powerful and coherent speech. However, he voiced some significant criticisms of the UN as well. I believe that he said that there are too many occasions on which the UN does not act to protect the oppressed. One can undoubtedly adduce evidence in support of that statement, but I would not take it as a criticism of the UN as an institution—the UN is no more than the sum of its parts. A criticism of the UN is a criticism of the whole international community, and what happened with regard to Rwanda is probably the best example that we can think of. It was a lamentable failure on the part of the UN that not enough was done in Rwanda in 1994, but more importantly it was a failure on the part of the international community. We must criticise ourselves, not just the institution. People do that too often, without recognising our responsibilities.

The hon. Member for Buckingham also spoke of the horrifying events in Darfur, and argued for sanctions. In such a complex situation, any sanctions must be designed to have the desired, coercive effect, with the minimum risk of negative side-effects. For example, we must not undermine the recently signed peace deal in southern Sudan. However, one of the difficulties, and it will always persist, is to get Security Council agreement on the right framework for sanctions. It is no secret that some major powers, members of the permanent five, have significant reservations about the use of sanctions. I am not referring to the United States of America. That needs to be taken into account. Our stance is that if the commission of inquiry that has been established concludes that genocide has occurred in Darfur, and urges reference to the International Criminal Court, we will strongly support that and would urge other states to do likewise.
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Mr. Bercow : The Minister is addressing the issues comprehensively and I much appreciate his kind remarks. He is right; I would have favoured sanctions. However, I put it to him that the debate has moved on. A great many people have been slaughtered, and it is probably too late to talk about sanctions. Unless a sizeable international peacekeeping force is sent soon, it will be too late.

Mr. Rammell : The hon. Gentleman underestimates the importance of the African Union taking a lead in that regard. The recent signing of the peace deal for the whole of Sudan offers the best hope for everyone within Sudan, particularly those in Darfur. I do not rule out that at some stage an international force might be necessary, but that is not what we are advocating at the moment, and it is not the best way forward in the present circumstances.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. That is, without doubt, a troubling and problematic body, which is the sum of its parts. He referred to the regional blocs, which form the current mechanism for election. If we respect the integrity of the process, and allow regional blocs to put forward their candidates, countries will sometimes emerge that—to say the least—have questionable records. We could address the issue—I think that the hon. Gentleman touched on this—by agreeing a set of criteria to which a state that wanted to join the commission would have to adhere. The problem with that is that all the members of the commission would have to agree to it and, to use the parlance, turkeys tend not to vote for Christmas.

The hon. Gentleman also referred to the case for humanitarian intervention, which we strongly support. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister first articulated that notion in Chicago in 1999; he put forward the powerful case, as we have done consistently, that the world has moved on since the 1940s, when state sovereignty was supreme, and that the notion that a state can do whatever it likes to its people as long as it happens within the confines of its boundaries—and that the international community has no right or responsibility to intervene—is no longer acceptable. The high-level panel has put forward some useful criteria that we need to debate.

The hon. Gentleman also asked whether the use of the veto should be reformed, restricted or abolished, particularly in cases of genocide. The failures of the League of Nations demonstrate the dangers of an organisation that does not give due weight to the major powers; the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred to that. We continue to believe that the existence of the veto is a factor in ensuring that major powers work through the UN in dealing with threats to international peace and security. However, although we would not support formal restrictions on the use of the veto, we believe that it should be used with restraint and in accordance with the principle of the charter. We are practising what we preach: we have not used our veto since 1989.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the importance of the peacebuilding commission and of using that mechanism to ensure that when states have failed, been recaptured and recovered, they do not fall back into chaos and conflict. That is one of the key challenges.
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My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) made a powerful contribution, as he usually does on issues such as these. He said that non-governmental organisations should have more time and space at the UN Commission on Human Rights. My hon. Friend knows that we have supported that argument; the UK Government have always been at the forefront of making that case. He also said that the UK delegation should be widened to include greater representation from human rights and non-governmental organisations. I will consider that case; if my hon. Friend wishes to put further detailed arguments to me, I shall consider them as we construct our delegation, which will go to Geneva this March.

The hon. Member for New Forest, East made a succinct and profound point in saying that the veto was needed, or very powerful states would walk away from the UN. We need to learn the lessons from the disintegration of the League of Nations; that is sometimes forgotten in this debate. The hon. Gentleman got it absolutely right when he said—I paraphrase—that we should move away from some of the dewy-eyed views of the UN and recognise that, at its core, it is an organisation that enables states to act when they have a will to do so. It is no more and no less than that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. David) made some important points. He said that the United States has recognised that it needs the UN, but that similarly—this is a key part of this debate—all of us need to recognise that the UN needs the United States if it is to be a credible organisation. That should be a key thrust of our arguments. My hon. Friend referred also to the case for the reform of the Security Council. We are on record as positively supporting the expansion of the permanent and non-permanent membership. However, although the case for enlargement is important, it is not the only key issue that the United Nations is considering at the moment. There is a real danger that the whole of this debate will get subsumed into the jockeying positions of various countries that want to get on to the Security Council, and that those other important points will be missed and lost.

The hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) said that the hon. Member for Buckingham was on a political voyage. Many criticisms can be made of the hon. Member for Buckingham; being a Liberal Democrat is not one of them.

This has been an important debate. The responsibility to protect criteria for humanitarian intervention is a debate whose time has come. We need further progress on the millennium development goals and we need a peacebuilding commission. Finally, this is such an important issue and debate that we will hold a seminar at the Foreign Office in the coming weeks on this very issue. The Secretary-General has agreed to come; that is an important indication of his leadership and the importance we attach to this debate.

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