Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. He may like to know that the United Nations Association is organising widely throughout the country a series of mock United Nations General Assemblies, the conclusion of which will take the form of an assembly in Central Hall, Westminster, where it is hoped that the Secretary General will speak. So children will be brought into participation nationwide in the important anniversary celebrations.

Lord Shepherd: My Lords, that is indeed great news. It fills a particular gap which some of us, I suspect, of my age, are becoming more conscious of with the passing of the years.

I come back to the point, made by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, and to which I referred earlier, of the United States being tired of carrying the burden. We really should be looking at ways and means by which we of the European Union, not necessarily national governments, try to relieve the United States of some of that burden. Perhaps that would have an influence on the general public perception of the United Nations.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1246

I believe that after 50 years the structures of the United Nations require some consideration and perhaps change. That will require great determination and leadership. I believe that it would be of great benefit to the member states if one were able to say that we are looking at it not only internally but through national governments. We could develop a greater understanding within our own country, especially among youngsters. So little is said about the United Nations other than in snide and depreciatory terms. I suspect that not enough is done—and that is the value of today's debate—to draw the attention of the House and the country to the remarkable successes of the United Nations. There have been mistakes, but I suspect that overall the United Nations has achieved something well beyond what the founding fathers expected.

My noble friend has done a great service to the House and, I hope, to Parliament by expounding this universal feeling within the House of the importance of the United Nations and the great necessity that we should sustain and seek ways to invigorate it. I thank my noble friend.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Greenhill of Harrow: My Lords, at this stage of the debate a great deal of ground has been covered. I shall try not to go over what has already been said. I can therefore be very brief. I believe that I will be a good deal more pessimistic than speakers who have already held the Floor. It is indeed an appropriate time to consider the long-term fate of the United Nations organisation, not because it is the 50th anniversary, but because its future in its present form is, in my opinion, clearly at stake. There is in this country and in others a widespread and justifiable dissatisfaction about its failure to achieve its intended purpose and its ineffectiveness in present international situations. It is generally agreed that it is in financial difficulty. That is not the fault of the organisation, but of the members. It is over-staffed and engaged expensively in many superfluous activities. Of course, it is not without achievements, but it is failing in its main purposes.

First, it is not improbable—and indeed likely—that the Serbians will win the Bosnian war despite their appalling cruelty, treachery and deceit. The impact of such an event will appall world opinion and greatly discredit the United Nations itself. Previously, advantage was not fully taken of the victory in the Gulf War and a great opportunity was missed. Since then the United Nations has suffered a humiliating collapse in Somalia and in Africa—in Rwanda, Angola and elsewhere—and in parts of the Far East. Such progress that has been made in the Middle East has been made largely at the initiative of others outside the machinery of the United Nations.

Before suggesting a way to strengthen the United Nations, I believe it is reasonable to put on record the performance of the United Kingdom in the organisation itself. On the whole, I believe that our own country has put up a good show since the organisation was created. In its formulation we played a major part for which our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, deserves the

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1247

greatest credit. Since 1945 our representatives, political and official, have been of very high calibre and in my view performed outstandingly well.

Names have already been mentioned. Their performance in the face of a good deal of hostility has been admirable. One has only to recall the verbal contests of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, with the Soviet Vyshinsky in New York. I remember in Washington at that time, when television sets were rare, meeting an American lawyer's wife, who asked whether I had seen "That man Jebb. I rang up my husband at the office and told him to drop everything and come home to see how the Russians should be dealt with".

Another name which has not been mentioned is that of Lord Caradon who carried his letter of resignation in his pocket all the time, but never used it. He played a very important part. Other performers were Sir Patrick Dean, Sir Anthony Parsons and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who is here with us this afternoon. In recent months on the television we have been able to see the admirable performance by Sir David Hanney, our representative on the Security Council.

I do not believe that the UN is capable of reforming itself. Its past performance needs reviewing, and problems of the future need anticipating. What do I think needs to be done? Could not a modest sized, but highly talented, commission—international and independent—be set up? It could, in a way, reflect the system that was used when the Marshall Plan was being worked out after the war. The purpose of such a commission would be to think again, in the light of the world of today, and to plan how best to function. Of course, the members would not agree about everything, and could not run the organisation, but in the course of its debates new ideas could be considered and some at least be adopted.

The European Union could be represented on such a commission, and thus find an outlet for its common foreign and defence policy. In any case, the UK could bring an experience of more than 50 years to the discussions. I believe that the idea of such a commission has already begun to be thought out by some people. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that suggestion in replying to the debate.

4.42 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I join those who have congratulated my noble friend Lord Cledwyn on having made the debate possible. It is not just significant that the debate is being supported so strongly, but what became clear during his speech is that he retains undiminished his commitment, his vision and his leadership. I also support what he said in his introduction: it is very sad that my noble friend Lord Ennals cannot be with us today because of ill health. I cannot think of anyone who has devoted his life more tirelessly to the issues which concern us than has my noble friend.

At the outset I must declare an interest. Much of my professional life has been, and remains, with NGOs whose activities are directly and indirectly relevant to

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1248

the debate. I am privileged to be a member of the Commission on Global Government whose report will, we hope, be a useful contribution to the wider debate surrounding the 50th anniversary. It is a report upon which I shall obviously draw in my remarks.

The first reality of existence, let alone politics, is total, global interdependence. That is true of finance, commerce, trade, information technology, the environment, the airways, shipping lines, fishing, health, military security, the arms trade, international terrorism, its potential brought home horrifically in Japan this week, fundamentalism, migration, and, indeed, the media. The list is overwhelming. It is impossible to look to our own well-being and that of our children and grandchildren within national boundaries alone.

It is not a matter of whether or not we have global governance, but of what kind of global governance we have. To say that is not to envisage some authoritarian, centralised world government; not at all. A complex matrix is obviously what will be required, and in many ways that is precisely what the UN system has become. If it did not exist, something very like it would have to be invented.

But were the UN being formed today, with five Permanent Members of the Security Council, it is unlikely that we would be one. That is a highly significant role we have inherited from history. We have to work hard to justify it. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, has just argued in his penetrating observations, none of us would, I suspect, advocate relinquishing it. We must therefore shoulder the responsibilities for the global stewardship it entails. If we were ever not prepared to do that, if we were ever to become myopically preoccupied with our own little insular concerns, we should do far better to move over and make way for someone else. What we must all remember is that it is very much our United Nations.

Clearly, the UN system is under stress and in need of reinvigoration. Parts of the system have passed their sell-by date and should be laid to rest. By cynical neglect, the Economic and Social Council has long since become an expensive and ineffective bore; the functions of UNCTAD could well be absorbed by the new world trade organisation and by the UNDP. Similarly, UNIDO could be integrated into the UNDP. However, other parts of the system—the good housekeeping utilities as they have been described—the International Postal Union, the World Meteorological Office, IATA, and their like, perform very well an indispensable co-ordinating role, but at the same time other major elements in the system are in urgent need of strengthening.

First, there is security. Recent history has amply demonstrated the challenge. An anthropological mission from another galaxy would find it impossible to give a rational explanation of human behaviour. Still we spend 250 times as much—or more—on arms than we do on peace-keeping; and still we spend only a fraction of what we spend on peacekeeping on conflict resolution and pre-emptive diplomacy. We agonise about how we will find the resources to cope with the next wave of refugees or displaced people, but what do we spend on preventing that next wave?

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1249

Surely there is a case for considering within the UN system the establishment of a council for petition; a respected, credible body to hear petitions from threatened minorities or groups; a body which could produce an authoritative report to be directed towards those in a position to take action. That would at least be a step towards positive, as distinct from reactive, policy.

Surely at the same time we need to give far more authority to the Secretary General and the Security Council to gather intelligence; to mount missions—perhaps like the influential Eminent Persons Group which the Commonwealth dispatched to South Africa—and to appoint conciliators. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, suggested, surely we need to look at the case for a volunteer rapid deployment force to move into hot situations before they escalate. And we should also consider the earmarking of standby forces in member states, ready to be mobilised for peace enforcement, peace-keeping, and the protection of humanitarian operations.

All operations must have clear mandates—of late, so badly lacking. They should always be undertaken in the context of a thorough political analysis and clearly defined political objectives. Disastrously, those were conspicuous by their absence in Somalia. It is imperative to put in place a proper chiefs of staff committee with adequate support.

In parallel, disarmament and control of the conventional arms trade—that monster which fuels bloodshed, chaos and genocide—must certainly remain priorities. The extension of the non-proliferation treaty and closely related comprehensive test ban treaty is essential. To deal with conventional arms, the UN arms register is a start, but a far more comprehensive code of conduct for the trade could do much to promote the transparency which is vital. But every bit as vital are funds for industrial and research diversification and substitution. Whole communities—thousands of people—are dependent for their livelihood upon the production of arms.

In Africa alone, if we are serious about conflict prevention, now is the time to be acting firmly on Burundi, and to be concentrating on the action necessary to divert disaster in Algeria, Nigeria, Kenya and Zaire. If we are serious about conflict resolution we should be preoccupied with the ugly and contagious troubles of Liberia and Sierra Leone.

As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, pointed out, all that raises the issue of sovereignty. I believe that that nettle must be grasped. Where nation states collapse, where rulers with no democratic or popular legitimacy tyrannise their subjects, we cannot pass by on the other side. There is a humanitarian obligation to intervene. To stand cynically by while the innocent are slaughtered before us on our television screens would do incalculable damage to the moral fabric of our own society.

In any case, of late it has not been a matter of whether the international community will intervene but of when. And too often it has been too late and at maximum expense when least can be achieved. Intervention has repeatedly been arbitrary, when media hype, because the cameras were there, became irresistible.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1250

There is a desperate need for consistent criteria and for well-designed methodology for intervention. For those who fear lest the UN has become a subcontractor or, indeed, a figleaf for the will of the powerful—for those who foresee in effect a pax-Americana—the answer is clear. The international community must get its act together to ensure effective international policy-making and action.

As was rightly stressed by my noble friend Lord Cledwyn, we must beware of traditional limited concepts of security. For many millions, the security that they seek first is the security of a home, a job, clean water, enough food and good health. Lasting security, as he argued, entails economic, environmental and social stability and justice. It entails the rule of law with universal access and consistent application of that law. It means the force of law and not the law of force. The role of the International Court of Justice must therefore, it seems to me, be enhanced and its writ must be made to run. An international criminal court may well be overdue but it must not become a tool of the mighty alone.

It is easy to favour sustainable development. But sustainable development raises vast issues of access to resources, distribution and equity. That is why the notion of the Trusteeship Council taking responsibility for the global commons should not be dismissed, and why we should be prepared at least to begin examining the feasibility of charging for the use of global resources such as flight lanes, sea lanes, space and fishing areas. That could be one way too, perhaps, of financing essential international services and the UN system.

After a great deal of internal debate, the Commission on Global Governance came down firmly in favour of a high-powered United Nations body that is more representative than the G7 or the Bretton Woods institutions and more credible in that respect than the UN system as it presently exists. It should deliberate on how macro-economic, social and environmental policy can best be related to the market system. It should not directly run—God forbid—the IMF and the World Bank but provide a forum in which both the bank and the fund would have to give account of themselves and take account of the wider social and security implications of their policies, ranging from the consequences of the debt burden to the human casualties of structural adjustment which too often keep the burden of such adjustment on the poor, as when, for example, increasing fees for education and health are introduced.

We may lament the undeniable inadequacies of the UN, but all over the world there is a growing crisis of confidence in the national and regional political systems of which we in this House are very much a part. Politicians are perceived to be mesmerised by tactics to the exclusion of strategy. The public sense that the big issues pass us by. They look for vision and leadership. As a nation determined to retain our membership of the Security Council, we in the United Kingdom above all must help to provide exactly that vision and leadership.

4.54 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, in rising to contribute to this welcome debate, I wish to turn to a

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1251

subject that was touched on by the noble Lords, Lord Thomson and Lord Judd, and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. We must ask ourselves who in this world are the real powers. The past few years have seen the growth of the transnational corporations in size and power. Today, many of them have budgets greater than many sovereign nations and they transcend national and, indeed, regional boundaries. Furthermore, they transcend national and regional control.

Among the causes of that growth have been the revolution in communications technology and the growth of free trade with the consequent diminution of controls on such corporations. Indeed, if one wants to measure the power of the TNCs, one has only to compare the success of the Uruguay Round, leading to a GATT which essentially serves their purposes, with the failure of the efforts to liberalise the transfer of intellectual rights, which would not have served their purposes.

That growth of power, with its tool of the worldwide transfer of capital to any place which may combine certain workers' skills with a lack of protection for wages, workers' rights and environmental protection, is extremely alarming and a menace to the well-being of both rich and poor countries. Nations have lost control or, worse, are suborned into not wanting to exercise it. The only wholehearted opposition to those evils comes from the equally international efforts of various non-governmental organisations, in particular those which fight on behalf of the poor such as Oxfam and CAFOD, many of which have religious motivations.

But those bodies are puny compared with the might of the TNCs. I believe that there is a fair comparison between the present international situation and that which existed in America towards the end of the last century when the industrial barons—including, I regret to say, my ancestors—rode roughshod over the unions.

It is clear that if nations cannot or will not exercise control—and I hasten to say that it is primarily the former: that they cannot—regional and global bodies must step in to do so. Ultimately, only world bodies can be really effective while complete global freedom of capital allows TNCs to shift their funds about to where standards are the lowest. Therefore, there is a most important role for the United Nations to play.

What we need now is United Nations regulation, not so much of nations as of TNCs, above all to allow developing countries to pursue more self-reliant growth strategies in which they reduce their dependence on northern markets where demand is sustained (in so far as it is sustained) by unsustainable consumption patterns. It cannot too often be pointed out that the state of affairs that I have described is entirely incompatible with the sustainable development to which we are all pledged after Rio.

Among the ends that we must attain is the ability and the right of every country to feed itself. That means a situation in which in this country, for example, we do not have to choose between the courses of over-farming and not farming at all, in which we find ourselves.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1252

Although there are some existing organs of the UN which can be employed in those tasks—and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, touched on the issue—it is possible that a new organ is needed especially for this purpose. But we could start with the World Trade Organisation as the UN's special agency, incorporating the International Labour Organisation, to enforce minimum standards such as the rights of trade unions and the prohibition of any form of slave labour.

It could also recognise the rights of governments to protect their environment and to take such steps as are necessary to prevent the exploitation of non-renewable resources. An additional and very important task would be to guarantee the owners of intellectual rights only a fair return for their efforts but otherwise to see that knowledge flow freely for the good of all. Incidentally, that has been an aim of western civilisation ever since the Enlightenment. That involves, among other things, a strict control of patent rights.

When my noble friend Lord Gladwyn was first Acting Secretary of the United Nations, it started on a tricky role as a peace-keeper in a world which had seen two world wars and seemed quite likely to see another. During its history it has had many failures, but it is clear to most of us that it has been been worthwhile. The time has now come for it to take on a new role by seeing to the preservation not just of the peace of the planet but of the planet itself. Only if it is able to help us fulfil the pledges which we all made at Rio will it incidentally be able to help the global revolution which will lead to the adoption of ecological economics and which will, by no means incidentally, also lead the diminution of violence in the world. It has been pointed out several times in the debate that there is a growing amount of violence within nations which stems from great divergence between rich and poor. That violence is so often caused by a power system which worships Mammon rather than those things which are both human and divine.

In that area, the challenge to the United Nations will be vast. The transnational corporations may be far more difficult to control than have been the nations. But the nations themselves can and should be harnessed to help. I pray that our nation and western Europe as a whole will be in the lead.

5.1 p.m.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, so far this has been a really interesting debate. Everything that has been said has been constructive and most of the contributions have sprung from the very best thoughts of those noble Lords who have spoken. It would be strange and terrible if it were otherwise, because if the United Nations does not bring out the best in us and our best thoughts, what will?

Perhaps I may start by dealing with two concrete subjects which touch this nation. The first is our membership of the Security Council. Indeed, it is an historical accident that we are there. We did not get there because we were a nuclear power, but it has been a justification for remaining there: we are one of the five nuclear powers which are also the five veto-holding permanent members. Change must be expected in time. It would be dangerous to resist it. It would be unfair to

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1253

the fabric and development of the United Nations to do so. I should be all for our continuing as a permanent member if that could be reconciled in some way with the arrival of the European Union as an institutional permanent member on the Security Council. But it is hard to see how that could be reconciled. No doubt the Germans would have an opinion about it.

Secondly, I wish to speak about UNESCO and the need for us to rejoin. The House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, for reading aloud the correspondence he had with the Prime Minister about when that could be achieved. I can tell your Lordships from personal experience that there is absolutely no doubt that the membership and secretariat of UNESCO would be overjoyed to see us back. That is largely for our own sakes, but also because it might herald the return of the United States to where it belongs.

As regards United Nations funding, which has been lightly touched on, it is clear, (is it not?) that no country can be a true member of the United Nations and have the right to exercise the weight even of other members unless it pays on the nail. There has been some mention in the press of an initiative being prepared within the European Union to devise a system of penalties, or some form of disadvantage, for UN members who do not pay on the nail. It has been reported in the press that this country is taking a leading part in that European Union initiative. I should be interested to hear the comments of the noble Baroness when she replies to the debate. That is something that we should be doing.

Many noble Lords have reminisced. What was I doing in the spring of 1945 when the UN was being set up? I was recovering, partly in hospital, from an unpleasant illness brought about by my involvement in what we should now call a manned weapons platform. In short, it was a very small wooden-built motorboat carrying a lot of machine guns that could proceed at 45 knots but could not sink anything. I contracted TB and it took me some time to recover. But that gave me a sense of weapons and what they are, from both ends, which has never left me throughout my life.

In the rest of my speech I wish to talk about one of the great world scourges, horrors, which can be dealt with only by the United Nations; that is, the arms trade. Let us pause for a moment and think about what is a weapon. It is something unique among all the products of human ingenuity. If we consider it physically, it is something which will inflict death on another human being. It has no other purpose, except to cause another to act in accordance with our will in order to avoid being killed. It is morally unique in that it is a physical machine designed to augment the effects of ill will. If we desire to kill somebody, we have our fists and then a knife and so on up to the H-bomb. Much ingenuity and wealth go into the deliberate and considered magnification of the ability of individual evil to inflict itself more and more widely.

If we consider it economically, the situation is more complicated. It is very seldom considered down to its roots. Weapons are unique in that they are useless if they are not used; that is, they do no good if they are not used. They are extremely expensive to maintain and

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1254

require vast forces of highly skilled, dedicated and educated people. If they are used, they destroy wealth on an almost unimaginable scale. There is no other product of which that is true. Most of the other things that we make in our industrial society are either neutral—they do neither good nor harm—or they are positively beneficial in that they keep people alive, give them pleasure, or create wealth with which more useful things can be made, and more people can be removed from starvation and disease.

The world is only just at the beginning of the task of understanding the national arms trade. It has such infinite ramifications for ill. Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example which is happening now but which is not discussed very much. Our Government are proud to have achieved second place in the world after the United States as an exporter of arms. They have maintained that position for reasons which are very good in another context; namely, that they create employment. We suffer from unemployment. That is not due entirely to government policy. It is due also to the development of technology and the fact that people are being put out of work by the electronics revolution and so on. Making arms is a way in which to take up unemployment.

But it makes us anxious to find buyers. The Government and industry lay on great fairs. One is taking place at the moment for the Gulf states. We press them to buy our most modern weapons in the very largest numbers at the best prices that we can command. We succeed, and we shall continue to succeed, but if the United States and ourselves continue to succeed in persuading the Gulf states to pay us for major operations, as they did in the Gulf and again, in the past year, within Iraq, the Gulf princes will become poorer and poorer. As they become poorer and poorer and have more and more of our weapons, so their peoples will become more and more agitated as the wonderful consumer life which they lead is gradually withdrawn from them. The populations of the Gulf states are at the moment the greatest dependency culture in the world. If that decreases and the princes become broke and are overthrown, which is far from impossible, such has been the trend of British policy, that would be the very last thing we would want. We back them, but, I submit, are tending to overthrow them by our actions in pressing weapons down their throats. That is just one example. There are countless others where countries are the victims or the victimisers, or are morally innocent, or blinkered. But they just carry on the same.

As my noble friend Lord Judd mentioned, the trade could only be controlled by the United Nations. It is not in the nature of regional blocs to do anything on a world scale to control the circulation of arms—both new and second-hand arms. It is in the nature of the United Nations to do so, and members of the UN are beginning to understand that with the register. I am sure that in 100 years' time people will look back on the articles in the United Nations Charter which guarantee the right of a member state to act in its own self-defence and which preclude the United Nations from interfering in its internal affairs with surprise, understanding and perhaps even pity. Rather in the way that we look back now on the world of Shakespeare's histories where all barons and above—all Members of this House—were entitled to act

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1255

in their own self-defence and no one, but no one, not even the king, had the right to intervene in their internal affairs. What England was in the 15th century, the world is now. What this Parliament is now, the United Nations must be in a 100 years' time.

5.12 p.m.

Lord Finsberg: My Lords, the authors of 1066 and All That—Sellar and Yeatman—would have said, "United Nations, a good thing". I believe that that has come through in almost all the speeches that we have heard today. I add my gratitude to that already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—who, outside the Chamber, I am happy to call a noble friend —for his initiative in raising the subject and giving us the opportunity to debate it. I only quarrel with the noble Lord in one instance: I wish that the Americans would pay more attention to St. George rather than St. Patrick or St. David; or, even, St. Andrew. However, one never knows.

Many speakers mentioned the plaque on Central Hall commemorating the first meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations. I very much hope that that particular anniversary will be celebrated because it was unique and it might, perhaps, have given a different history to the UN if the permanent seat had in fact been in London. I believe that we would have been more pragmatic; but, alas, time has moved on.

My hero is Anthony Eden. I took the trouble to look up one of his speeches which was made on the 22nd August 1945 during a debate upon the United Nations Charter. He compared the failure, and the reasons for it, of the League of Nations with the prospects for the success of the United Nations. He made two points:

    "The conception of democracy in international affairs led people to think—falsely, as I believe—that the League was constituted so that every nation must be regarded as exactly equal and there was no relation between power and responsibility. It was a case of one nation, one vote, with the result that Liberia was as important as the Soviet Union, and, if you like, Costa Rica as the United Kingdom. That was not a sound basis on which to found an international organisation, because it was not a basis of truth. Law and order, whether national or international, must be founded on truth, and, if it is not founded on truth, it pays the penalty eventually and is impotent when the crisis arises. It seems to me that we have embodied these lessons in the new world organisation, because, there, our membership is universal".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/8/45; cols. 674-5.]

Mr. Eden was, of course, picking up the point that the failure of the United States to support the League of Nations very clearly led to its downfall.

So, where are we now? What reforms do we need to consider to try to push the United Nations ahead for the next half century? As has already been said, its costs need to be examined; it is wasteful and bureaucratic. Talking to British representatives who sit as staff of the UN, their comment is that if only a Treasury Civil Service team could examine the methods of operation and know that its recommendations would be put into effect, millions of pounds could be saved. All the initiatives so far taken by successive Secretaries General have foundered upon the self-interest of many of the people who work within the organisation and no one has had the ability to push things forward.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1256

Just over three weeks ago I was in Washington as the vice-chairman of the political committee of the Western European Union. It was very clear from talks on the Hill and with research organisations that the new Republican majority, as has already been said, is highly critical of the United Nations. The Republicans want to reduce the American contribution to its expenditure. They do not want to pull out of the United Nations; indeed, they all made that perfectly clear. However, they believe that it is wasteful and that it is not carrying out the sort of task that the United States thinks it should be. I should like to add one comment to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I had very firm indications from almost the highest source within the Senate that the new Republican majority is even more supportive of NATO than the last Congress. That fact was confirmed in many conversations that I had in Washington.

One theme that has come through many of today's speeches is: should the Security Council have extra permanent members? My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy spoke about Korea and the Gulf. We only had the success of the United Nations operation in Korea because the Soviets were not there to veto it. Therefore, if in fact we are talking about enlarging the membership of the Security Council we must remember that it would give more opportunity for vetoing and that it would also make it more difficult to obtain the sort of consensus that we have been getting since the disappearance of the Soviet empire. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will say very firmly that Her Majesty's Government will have no truck with the idea of merging the British and French seats and giving a seat to the European Union. I believe that most of us in this country would find that wholly repugnant and unacceptable.

Should the United Nations indulge in peacekeeping or peacemaking? More and more it is becoming fairly obvious that it cannot go on the way that it is going at present. One has spoken of the failures of the United Nations. People are asking: how can we reform it to make it more useful? I should remind noble Lords that the world set up the new organisation, the OCSE, which had great hopes some four years ago and which laid down in its Charter in Paris that no one who acquired territory by force from another country would have those borders recognised. How quickly those noble sentiments have been dispersed and how ignominious have been the attempts of those people who signed that document to justify what had happened, for example, in Bosnia-Herzegovina. What should the United Nations be doing? I looked at the proceedings which culminated in the Moscow declaration of 1943. That was fascinating. I am talking of a time at the height of the war when we had not even had D-Day. Two things were said by the participants at the proceedings:

    "they will take all measures deemed by them to be necessary to provide against any violation of the terms imposed on the enemy".

That is fine; that recognises the position. The declaration continued that,

    "they recognise the necessity of establishing at the earliest practicable date a general international organisation, based on the principle of the sovereign equality of all peace-loving States and open to membership by all such States, large or small, for the maintenance of international peace and security".

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1257

What they did not do—nor was it done even at a later stage—was to decide exactly how that should be done. Various ideas were floated. Anthony Eden floated the idea of a permanent force that might be under the control of the Secretary General, but that did not get off the ground. There is a problem, of course, in that. I prefer the idea of the voluntary agreement of many countries to have forces available if the Security Council asks them to intervene. But that will cost money and of course it will not be able to operate speedily enough.

I believe that peacemaking is therefore the only way forward but it needs political will which is not always there. Its operation, clearly, will interact with many of the other ideas that the United Nations has had. We have seen how that interaction has not worked with the UN and NATO as regards the bombing of one anti-aircraft site in Bosnia. That was no way in which it should operate. I am glad to see here at least two of my colleagues in the Council of Europe and the Western European Union who more than two-and-a-half years ago advocated much tougher action—along with me—against the Serbs, which might have saved tens of thousands of lives. But, alas, no one listened to us.

Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, the UN is the best thing we have got until we can find something better. Perhaps the old convention that the Secretary General should not come from one of the great five ought to be re-examined. After all, why should the five biggest contributors in terms of forces to peacekeeping, and in terms of contributions, be discriminated against when a new Secretary General is considered? Surely we want the best available Secretary General, irrespective of sex or nationality.

I end with one thought. How is the United Nations going to deal with the innumerable tactical nuclear weapons that have disappeared from the former Soviet Union and are in the hands of who knows who—Libya, Iran, Iraq? What will the United Nations do against international terrorism of the kind we have seen this week in Japan? Nothing in the set up of the United Nations was designed to cope with things like that. That is where I believe the United Nations needs to do some thinking. I hope it has an answer. If not, I have to say to the noble Lord who spoke earlier that his great-grandchildren will not see a future in a hundred years' time.

5.24 p.m.

Lord Kirkhill: My Lords, I believe that there is merit in being brief at this stage in a debate of this nature, but before I make what will be a few remarks I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, who is not in the Chamber at the moment, for the thought of introducing this debate to your Lordships' House this afternoon, and for the lucid and comprehensive manner in which he made his remarks. Before I say anything further, perhaps I should just say that if the Government Front Bench is not freewheeling at the moment, it should do so because I do not intend to put any question to the Minister who might feel that at a later stage she had to say something to me. Anyway I see she has been sensible and has gone off to have a cup of tea or something.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1258

I wish to place a viewpoint before your Lordships at this time of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations which, were I a journalist—as my noble friend Lady White said she was many years ago—would probably get my copy scored through with the famous blue pencil and nothing very much would be left. I say that because the media in this country—largely, in my view, going through an iconoclastic phase in its history, for reasons best known to its proprietors and probably its editors—simply loves "knocking" all and sundry, and in this regard the United Nations is no exception.

However, I want to put to noble Lords—incidentally, I have to say there have been few this afternoon, who have made comment along these lines, but many outwith this Chamber make such comment—that the United Nations is more than an expensive and worthless talking shop. I wish to pose a series of straightforward questions. For example, without the United Nations, would we have declared warfare illegal? That is, of course, a proposition which I freely acknowledge is usually ignored in extreme difficulty. But it is there as an outline and theoretically at least it is the means of settling disputes.

Would we ever have promulgated the universal declaration of human rights? Would peace-keeping, or some attempt at peace-keeping, ever have been invented? Would smallpox have been eradicated from the face of the earth and polio from the Americas? Would all those arms control and disarmament agreements regarding nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction—and the arms register—ever have been brought to fruition? Without the United Nations would the people of Namibia and Cambodia be better or worse off? Would the international struggle against apartheid in South Africa have been so persistently executed? Would decolonisation have happened so relatively smoothly? Would the great body of international human rights law which now exists ever have seen the light of day? Would the struggle to eradicate the very worst of global poverty and adequately to protect our environment have made any headway at all?

I answer my own questions by saying that I believe that progress in each or some of those areas would have occurred to some extent or another without any United Nations lead. Governments have their own agendas of conciliation, and other international and continental quasi-governmental bodies usually seek to confirm their status as being both beneficial in influence and indispensable in action, often identifying, for example, a social or a physical need at the point of need, and then bringing in the appropriate NGO where some action can take place. I also quite understand that in geo-political terms it has been an international agreement hammered out time and again against the background of difficult concessions and complicated negotiation by the countries concerned which has sustained the United Nations in its worldwide mandate.

In addition, in my view it is foolish to believe that, because a UN initiative is ignored or exploited, we should encourage the major powers to do likewise. On the contrary, continued adherence by those countries whose fiscal and political commitment is now being

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1259

questioned should, more than ever, be encouraged. However, I posed those earlier questions in a serious manner. They are difficult to answer other than in the rather general way that I attempted.

I conclude, confirming my earlier comment that I intended to be brief, by saying that I accept as much as anyone the need to restructure key areas of the United Nations, to root out corruption wherever it exists and to tighten the administrative efficiency of the overall body. Nevertheless (a good Scots word), I believe that the United Nations deserves our thanks and praise far more than we often appear willing to admit. I should like that to be remembered in this debate.

5.30 p.m.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I rise with trepidation in the presence of such distinguished company. I hope that your Lordships will accept graciously my humble contribution. I shall be brief.

The United Nations is at a crossroads. Contradictory assessments of its past performance and usefulness and divergent views concerning its future roles have given rise to political controversy. The South Commission report recently concluded that the dilemma in reforming the United Nations is that it is an institution with an unequal and diverse membership operating in a global economy system. Many would like to see changes while others are determined to maintain the status quo.

The United Nations of the future must be based on the universal values which inspired its creation 50 years ago. It can act as an agent of progress and change, but must not be expected to solve all the problems of the international community. Properly equipped, however, it can play an effective and leading role in improving the economic and social situation of the inhabitants of all the world's nations, not merely the fortunate few. The system could deal with the growing number of complex international challenges involving development, peace and security by providing leadership and vision. It can offer alternatives to the dominant policies and relationships which generate inequality and sow seeds of turmoil and conflict throughout the world.

Those who express views which tarnish the United Nation's image often do so, I regret, for political interest. The reality is that the failing of the United Nations is that it has not been allowed to do more of what it was established to do. We must rationalise the organisation, modernise the management, cut costs, reduce waste, adapt to the changing world, and in so doing strengthen the structure. We must dispel the dominant public image of the United Nations as a highly bureaucratised structure which is mismanaged, inefficient and corrupt, with low quality staff.

As has been mentioned, the organisation has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy by the deliberate withholding of legally obligated dues in an attempt to force the United Nations to accept given political and administrative preferences. New and stable sources of finance are urgently required, together with the creation of mechanisms to ensure the payment of dues.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1260

The United Nations exists for all mankind, not just for a handful of member states representing a small minority of the world's population. Javier Perez de Cuellar was clear:

    "It is mainly up to Governments to decide if they wish to co-operate in building on this foundation a useful, coherent, effective institution, or whether they choose the alternative that may sometimes seem easier in the short run, each taking their own short-sighted and self-interested course".

This is not a time for despair but for determined efforts to rekindle the original inspirations and inject a new sense of purposeful direction, such that a strengthened United Nations will be able to fulfil the aspirations of many peoples around the world.

Fundamental issues have to be tackled, involving major reform. This 50th anniversary is an appropriate time to begin the process of debate leading to decisions.

5.35 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I follow my noble friend Lord Kirkhill in an appreciation of the United Nations rather than criticism of it. It is not that criticism is not possible, but on this occasion appreciation is more appropriate. On the whole, the United Nations is short on appreciation and this is a good opportunity for us to amend that. To that extent I also follow the noble Viscount who has just sat down.

Indeed, I go further. I hazard the view that if during the past 50 years there had been no United Nations, it is more than possible that by now we would no longer exist. During that period there were one or two very narrow shaves and a different course from the one that was taken might have been disastrous, in the fullest possible sense of that word.

It is generally agreed that the agencies created by the United Nations are among its greatest achievements—the World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the UN High Commission for Refugees, and even UNESCO. I join with those who have expressed the hope that we are about to rejoin that organisation, which seems to a large degree to have dealt with the problems which caused us to depart from it. I hope that we shall return.

In addition, there are the conventions and treaties, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is an imperfect arrangement and not very efficient, but imagine what the situation would be now without it and if no attempt had been made to prevent the vast proliferation that could have taken place had there been no international determination to try to keep it at least at a minimum. Therefore, there are reasons to be grateful for the existence of the United Nations.

The conventions prohibiting biological and chemical warfare are no mean achievements. Either of those methods of warfare, had they been allowed to develop without any degree of control, had within them the same possibility of mass destruction, of both people and buildings, as, in a more frightening way, the nuclear weapon itself. To the extent that the United Nations has acted as a deterrent to the development of weapons of mass destruction, we have to be grateful for its existence.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1261

The non-proliferation treaty will come up for reconsideration in a month or two and we have to decide whether to advocate its permanent extension or its extension for a specified period. We might determine that consideration by asking ourselves, "What do we want to follow that treaty?" I wish to add my voice to those who say that the treaty should be developed into a convention so that the nuclear weapon could be outlawed, as are biological and chemical weapons. There is no reason that that should not be achieved and every reason that it should be. If we cannot take that step immediately, when considering extending the treaty, whether permanently or for a term, we should examine the possibility that over a period of time the convention should have the same value as the conventions relating to biological and chemical weapons. We could then eliminate, to whatever degree possible, the threat of mass destruction which has hung over the head of mankind for all these years.

That is all I wish to say. I began by saying that if there had been no United Nations for the past 50 years we might no longer exist. I venture to suggest that, if there were no United Nations over the next 50 years, our successors would be in even greater peril than we have been. It is up to us not only to praise and sustain the United Nations where we can, and to change it where necessary, but also to recognise that in the perilous time in which we live the fact that the superpowers no longer exist has not removed the dangers one iota. At present there is the possibility that development of nuclear weapons is spreading out from governments into the hands of criminals and gangs. There is an unhealthy and somewhat frightening development of nuclear material passing from country to country.

Having survived the past 50 years, it is not impossible that we may survive the next 50, provided that we are careful and clever. It is on that fraught note that I conclude. It is not a note of doom and gloom, but a warning that the possibility of survival is within our own hands and we must grasp it.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Vivian: My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, for bringing the debate to our attention, and how appropriate to do so on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.

I should like to address two slightly different specific points concerning the United Nations. The first is the development of a better understanding between UN military forces and humanitarian groups. The second is to bring to your Lordships' attention some aspects relating to the Cyprus problem.

I shall start with UN military forces and humanitarian organisations, which are rather like chalk and cheese. However, they both have a job to do and a successful mission is unlikely to be achieved without the support of both those organisations when deployed.

If a UN operation is to be successful, it is essential that both the military and humanitarian organisations work in the closest harmony, learning to trust each other implicitly. How can that be achieved? I suggest that

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1262

much more joint training and liaison should take place in countries, including the United Kingdom, where those organisations live side by side. The military should invite those non-governmental organisations to their study days and training for possible UN deployments, and the humanitarian organisations should do the same and invite the military to their seminars to take part in their discussions.

Currently, military forces are welcomed initially to stabilise potential flashpoints and to control areas by patrolling and observation to prevent atrocities from taking place. However, soon after the arrival of the military, NGOs tend to distance themselves from them as the warring parties lose confidence in NGOs if they are seeking to side with the military, losing their unbiased status.

Your Lordships may well recall that in a debate a year ago I proposed that there should be two peacekeeping colleges, one for senior personnel in New York run by headquarters United Nations, and the other run on a privatised basis in the United Kingdom to train students from NGOs and the military at around the level of lieutenant colonel and below. No further action has been taken at this stage in respect of those two training colleges, but the proposal is not dead. I am glad to be able to say to your Lordships that my noble friend Lady Chalker has been most helpful and we are some months down the road with an important study looking into the social impact and intergroup relations of humanitarian protection and peacekeeping operations for the training of UN military forces in the future.

I now turn to Cyprus and the United Nations force which has been there for just over 30 years since 1964. I have had the privilege of serving in that United Nations force, known as UNFICYP, shortly after Turkey intervened with her army in 1974, and some years ago I had overall responsibility while serving in headquarters land forces in the sovereign base area for the logistic support and general assistance to that force.

At this point I should like to remind your Lordships that the military part of this force has been a model for achieving the UN's mission to provide a stable environment in which negotiations can take place between the political leaders of the two opposing sides in Cyprus. It is to the immense credit of the UN that, with the exception of the Turkish intervention, UNFICYP has provided a stable platform for political negotiations. It is not the fault of UNFICYP peacekeeping troops that time and again the talks between the two sides have broken down. That is the fault of the political advisers and negotiators.

I do not agree that the existence of UNFICYP has prevented both sides from reaching an agreement; and I do not think that just because UN resources are so stressed and strained worldwide UNFICYP should be withdrawn in an attempt to pressurise the two leaders into accepting proposed solutions. Anyone who believes in that approach does not understand the Cyprus situation and the depth of the present mistrust between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. In my opinion, to withdraw the UN force would create a return to genocide and no responsible government should vote for that line of action.

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1263

At this point I wish to pay tribute to the UN for the way in which UNFICYP has been organised and controlled and for its perseverance to try and achieve a political settlement. The main mission of peacekeeping troops is to preserve the status quo and relieve human suffering. They do not actively find a settlement—that is for political advisers, negotiators and the leaders of a troubled country like Cyprus.

I should like also to pay a large tribute and extend our deep gratitude to the British Army and Royal Air Force, who have been the backbone in UNFICYP and who have faced many serious difficulties over 30 years. It is the leadership, dedication and high professionalism that is found in British regiments which has set the standards and provided the example of how a United Nations force should be run. We should all be grateful that we have such professional and highly skilled Armed Forces that never fail this country.

I served in Cyprus first in 1967 and in those days appalling and shocking atrocities occurred frequently, with the most barbarous and most cruel murder of men, women and children. In 1974, Turkey intervened with its army which advanced from the northern coast of Cyprus to Nicosia causing some 160,000 Greek Cypriots to flee to the south of Cyprus. A line of demarcation running east to west through Nicosia, between the Turkish Cypriots in the north and the Greek Cypriots in the south, was established and became known as the Attila line. Since the establishment of that line, patrolled, policed and observed by UNFICYP, there have been only minor encroachments which have all been successfully dealt with by the UN force. Soon after the Attila line came into being, 45,000 Turkish Cypriots were removed from their homes and escorted to the northern part of Cyprus for security reasons. Many of the villagers were evacuated from mixed villages where Turkish and Greek Cypriots were living happily side by side. The Turkish Cypriot evacuation, which took place at around four o'clock on three successive mornings, may have been a highly successful UN security operation, but to me it was a most harrowing occasion vented with emotion, with sights of distraught and disturbed Turkish Cypriots handing over their houses and livestock to their Greek Cypriot friends for care and safe custody. Then they were bundled into the backs of lorries and old buses, with their few and scant personal belongings packed in old cardboard boxes and wrapped inside sheets. That is an appalling and sorrowful memory for me.

In practice, the military role of UNFICYP then changed from the protection of safe havens dotted throughout Cyprus to observing and patrolling a buffer zone in order to separate former belligerents. However, I hear on occasions that pressure should be brought to bear on the leaders of a divided Cyprus to bring about a political settlement. Those pressures, apart from a possible withdrawal of UNFICYP—and I have already informed your Lordships that I am in complete disagreement with that—seem to take the form, first, of proposals for demilitarisation of both sides. Secondly, it

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1264

would give the Republic of Cyprus—the Greek Cypriot community—membership of the European Union some time after 1996.

I cannot agree with either of those two proposals for the following reasons. I do not believe that pressures such as demilitarisation and a subsequent withdrawal of UNFICYP as we know it now would be in any way helpful. In my view, it would be disastrous and highly irresponsible for any government to adopt such a course, as it would lead to a return of genocide, with a never-ending number of revenge killings to atone for the past. In some way, rather like the Cold War, the armies of Turkey in the north and the national guard in the south, separated by the thin blue line of the United Nations in the middle, provide the stable platform for political negotiation. To remove all three would without any doubt be a disaster.

I believe it would be a regrettable and unwise step to allow the Greek Cypriots membership of the European Union at this time. It is a provocative step which Mr. Clerides welcomes. He argues that accession of the Greek Cypriots would force Turkey and Mr. Denktas to think seriously of the Cyprus political problems. Mr. Denktas argues that accession by the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union will secure the full integration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with Turkey. The Prime Minister of Turkey has concurred with that statement. To bring in the European dimension at this stage can only be damaging and set back any political agreements which may have been in the offing.

What is the way ahead? First, I believe that it is to urge political advisers to make even greater efforts with the cause of a settlement to the Cyprus problem. To that end, maximum support should be given to the confidence-building measures of opening Varosha and Nicosia airports to all Cypriots. Mr. Clerides and Mr. Denktas accepted these measures in principle in February 1994, only a year ago. But neither side was able to agree the detailed drafting. It should be possible to redraft those details to make them acceptable to both sides. The agreement and acceptance of confidence-building measures would be a major stepping stone in the eventual reunification of Cyprus.

Secondly, a recent European Court ruling preventing the export of goods and merchandise from Northern Cyprus to Europe should be reviewed. If agreement can be accepted for the proposed confidence-building measures, the ruling should be overturned. Thirdly, it should be clearly stated that there will be no consideration of any application to the European Union until such time as a lasting political settlement is agreed between the two sides in Cyprus.

In conclusion, there are a considerable number of Cypriots on both sides who have experienced 20 years of sleeping peacefully in their beds at night, which they welcome more than anything else. Many of them tell me that they have forgotten about their properties, either north or south of the line. They are content and happy with their new peaceful way of life. However, with the daily increasing threat of fundamentalism in Turkey and throughout the Middle East, it would be easy for Cyprus to become once more a flashpoint in the eastern Mediterranean, possibly leading to a shattering of the

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1265

south-east flank of NATO. The western powers should act now with great urgency to ensure a political settlement to the Cyprus problem, before further disturbances break out in the eastern Mediterranean area.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, first I wish to express my appreciation for the excellent speeches from my noble friend Lord Cledwyn and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I was also interested in the part of the debate that involved the patron saints. Various people argued the good points of the different patron saints and it reminded me of the wisdom of my Welsh mother. She sent us to a little church on Kilvey Hill called "All Saints, Kilvey". She could not go wrong and nor could we.

All world organisations today continue to search for some measure to prevent wars and overcome diseases. They should also be aware that folly is often more cruel than malice can be in the intent.

I wish to mention the League of Nations, which was created when I was a young man. Those of us who were in South Wales knew the dangers not of war but of working in a pit and either having what we called "the dust" which later had the posh name of pneumoconiosis; or having the fear of a fall in the pits, with the agony of trying to dig through to the men before they could be released. That was no world war, but for those of us in the valleys of South Wales every disaster was disgraceful and should never have happened.

In those days the League of Nations was the first international organisation whose task was to preserve peace and security. We were proud that we in the United Kingdom, together with the USA, were the major people who helped to do that. We must not forget that it was the League of Nations that first tackled drugs, slavery and many other vicious evils. In many ways it was sad that the organisation was dissolved, but now we have the United Nations, which succeeded it. We have seen the world summit of the UN calling for social development, attacking poverty, unemployment and social disintegration.

The Secretary-General, Mr. Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called for an international summit at global level to enhance social development. I believe that that is vital for all mankind. Some degree of social development is required in almost every country and we must do our best to ensure that poverty is eradicated. By that means we shall provide a wealthier and better United Nations.

The United Nations also achieved something remarkable in that it created International Women's Day. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, will mention it in her reply and it has shown that women have every right to be in all the professions.

Attempting to find solutions to problems in various parts of the world is a tremendous task. How do we resolve situations in Angola, Croatia, Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Georgia, Mozambique and Guatemala? Then there are the terrible events and threats in Africa. I believe that the Security Council needs and deserves world support. I am sure that our country will give a

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1266

lead in that. We need international partnerships in the hope that world environments will improve. Once again the UK has given a lead in debt relief for the poorest. We can be proud of the endeavours of our Government and our country. In these sorts of matters the parties are united in doing the civilised, decent things.

The United Nations is far from perfect, but it is the only organisation that we have on which to build in order to achieve world security. Through the United Nations all mankind can contribute to the day when mankind will be proud and free. I believe that that can be achieved in due course if we give the United Nations the full support which it so richly deserves.

6 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham: My Lords, this House may remember that on 5th December I asked an Unstarred Question about the conflict in the Western Sahara and what action the UK Government were taking, as a member of the UN Security Council, about it. In the short debate that followed, and indeed in his excellent speech today, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, rightly stressed the central role that the United Kingdom plays in the United Nations as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council. He said that if the Security Council were being formed today it is almost inconceivable that the United Kingdom would be offered permanent membership. The noble Lord added:

    "However, permanent membership is what we have inherited based on the world as it was in 1945. If we want to retain that permanent place we must justify it. In our post-imperial, post-colonial era, the way in which we can best look to our interests is to be second to none in our commitment to international institutions, which are vital for effective global governance".—[Official Report, 5/12/94; col. 812.]

Noble Lords do not need me to tell them that the noble Lord was right.

However, perhaps I do need to tell the House, and particularly the noble Baroness the Minister, for whom I have the very highest regard, that the reputation of the UN—and therefore, by implication, of the United Kingdom—now stands at zero in the refugee camps of the Western Sahara from where I have just returned. The Minister herself said in the debate on the Queen's Speech last November that there is no United Nations other than its member states. Yet I had it openly said to me by the present Foreign Office Minister in his office that there was no reason why the United Kingdom should go out of its way to support the UN peace plan for the Western Sahara when there was nothing in it for us by doing so.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also touched on this unacceptably cynical and selfish attitude as being totally inappropriate to a nation that wishes to retain its permanent membership of the Security Council. Again, the noble Lord is right. Noble Lords could be forgiven if they rapidly reach the conclusion that I am about to use the opportunity of this debate on the United Nations and its first 50 years for a "second go" on the situation in the Western Sahara and the UN role in that sad and long-standing dispute. And why not? I make no bones about it; and I give fair warning that I intend to pursue the topic at every opportunity. I think I owe it to people

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1267

who have been forced out of their homes and country at gunpoint, who have been subjected to tons of high explosives, napalm, phosphorous and cluster-bombs being dropped on them, and who have been forced to exist in exile in the most barren region of the Sahara desert for the past 20 years while the world looked the other way.

I do not propose to go into the long list of complaints and accusations which the Saharawi people, in their prolonged agony, level against the UN as I intend to produce a report on my recent visit to their camps which will include those in some detail. I shall forward that report to the noble Baroness the Minister at her request. However, I can state here and now, without any doubt and with no reservation, that the long-suffering people out there have just about had enough. They have very nearly reached the end of their tether. If something is not done very soon by the UN to halt the constant Moroccan violations of the cease-fire and the cynical manipulations of the peace plan by the Moroccan authorities that take place on a massive scale, then hostilities will inevitably recommence. No doubt if that happens the Saharawis will carry the blame for it and will be labelled as warmongers.

As I said in my speech on 5th December, the very least that this country must do, as one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, is to take a much more robust role in supporting peace processes wherever they occur, including the Western Sahara. To be selective as to where we protect people's rights is unacceptable and unsustainable. By doing so, we demean ourselves.

I should like to quote from Oxfam briefing paper No. 8, dated 13th January 1995, which was produced for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. On the back page it states:

    "What upholds rights, however, is law and the means to enforce it. What governments have not succeeded in doing in the UN's first half-century is to create an accepted and enforceable international rule of law. Too many governments seem to believe that law can be broken in one part of the world, but upheld in another. But it is not sustainable to protect people's rights in Kuwait, but not in Goma"—

or for that matter in the Western Sahara—

    "any more than it would be sustainable to prosecute someone for murder in London, but not in Liverpool. As the UN moves into its second half-century, its credibility and that of the Security Council, and its member states, will increasingly depend on how consistently and effectively the international rule of law is applied".

I take great comfort from the Secretary General's agenda for peace in which he places prime importance on preventive diplomacy. Prevention has always been preferable to cure. Perhaps this is the way into the future. But it will not be much comfort to the millions of people who have already paid for the murderous sins of others with their lives, or to those who have suffered losses to their families and friends or who have been forced to leave their homeland and all their possessions and go into exile. What do we tell them? How do we explain to them our failure to protect their rights and, worse, our inability or lack of earnest desire to do anything to assist them to regain all that is rightfully theirs?

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1268

All this talk about preventive diplomacy and deployments, fast-track standby arrangements and improved UN bureaucracy is just so much hot air to Somalians, Bosnians, Rwandans, even Turkish Cypriots, Kurds, the people of East Timor and the Saharawis, to name but a few. The UN is our only real hope. Therefore, we must see that it is well funded and impartial, that it is not afraid to speak up and censor members for wrongdoings, and that it is incorruptible. Sadly, on all these counts, it is guilty, and therefore it is hardly surprising that people like the Saharawis have lost any faith that they may once have had in it.

6.8 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I speak with some reticence in this debate since I do not have the wealth of experience in international affairs that is possessed by many noble Lords. I decided, however, to speak since, like the United Nations, I am in my 50th year; and like one or two other 50 year-olds in this House I was asked by the United Nations Association to do what I can to draw attention to the anniversary of the UN and to promote discussion about the UN's role in the post-Cold War world. I therefore thank my noble friend Lord Cledwyn for providing me with this opportunity.

I want to concentrate on just one matter; namely, the role of the UN in relation to human rights. For most of its history, the role of the UN in protecting human rights has been hampered by Cold War rivalries played out in the Security Council. However, with the ending of the Cold War, many have seen the opportunity for the international community, acting through the UN, to play a more vigorous role in the protection of human rights throughout the world. This is indeed an opportunity, but it is one which in my view is fraught with danger, and I should like to explain why. In a sense, my speech will be something of a counterpoint to that of my noble friend Lord Judd. I do not think that we disagree, but the problems weigh a little more heavily with me than do the opportunities.

We need perhaps to go into the history a little to elucidate why there may be dangers in taking a more active role in pursuing human rights. Ever since the conclusion of the Thirty Years War by the peace of Westphalia in 1648, there has been a recognition of the sovereignty and legal equality of states. The Treaty of Westphalia implicitly established the principle that there was to be no transnational moral order such as that derived from Christendom, in terms of which the morality of states could be judged and used as a moral basis for one state or a collection of states to intervene in the affairs of another. Sovereignty was not to be constrained by morality. State sovereignty was to be the basis of international relations and if there was any guiding ethical principle to govern relations between states, it was to be the norm of non-intervention. Since there was no transnational moral framework to regulate states and to be represented in law, then intervention could not be justified except in terms of self-defence.

That in turn led to another basic principle in this understanding of international relations; namely, that states will act out of a conception of their own interests

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1269

rather than out of a concern to protect what on this view is a non-existent set of moral values rooted in a sense of common humanity. As my noble friend, Lord Healey of Riddlesden, put the point in New Fabian Essays in 1951:

    "nation states are political entities, not moral entities; with interests and desires, not rights and duties".

On that view we should have a norm of non-intervention because intervention threatens the harmony of a society of sovereign states able to pursue in their own way what they see as their domestic and international interests in ways which do not interfere with the ability of other states to do the same. If we look at the forms of intervention which took place before the end of the Cold War—for example, the Tanzania intervention in Uganda in 1978-79—the claim to intervention was based on those same principles. The Tanzanian Government argued not that they were seeking to preserve human rights in Uganda, but rather intervening because Ugandan forces had invaded the Kegera Salient which was claimed to be part of Tanzanian territory. The United States justified its invasion of Grenada on the basis of a claim to be protecting US citizens. The argument of intervention was not that of upholding human rights, but self-defence—or vicarious self-defence in the case of Grenada.

However, with the end of the Cold War I believe that we may be in the process of transition in international affairs in which there will be growing pressure to intervene in the affairs of states based upon the notion which was rejected in 1648; namely, a transnational moral and political order which in our day is defined in terms of the set of human rights identified in the UN declaration.

In many ways that is a very beguiling picture and it was painted particularly so by my noble friend Lord Judd. If there are basic human rights which all people share on the basis of their common humanity, it may be argued that we all have some responsibility for their protection and that the UN should develop both the collective will to secure those rights and the collective power to do so, a theme which came into the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, a few moments ago.

However, there is a case to be met which suggests that such an approach is fraught with danger, despite its obvious humanitarian appeal. There are five reasons why that may be so and those who favour the human rights/intervention approach need to meet this case. First, it can be argued that there is in fact no agreed moral basis for a more interventionist approach. While there may be a commitment to human rights, what those rights require for their protection will be a matter of legitimate political dispute and there may be catastrophic differences in interpreting what may be sanctioned under general principles.

Secondly, large and powerful states would be immune from such intervention, despite their human rights record. That would undermine the view that intervention was being justified in terms of common human rights. Thirdly, intervention would infringe the equality of sovereign states because any such intervention, for the

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1270

reasons I suggested, would have hugely differential effects between rich and poor, powerful and less powerful states.

Fourthly, if we look at the history of intervention, the outcome is likely to be as bad as the circumstance which the intervention was originally designed to overcome. Fifthly, if states act out of concern for general principles such as human rights, rather than their own palpable interests, they may run the danger of not carrying the support of their people with them. While we may wish it were not so, ordinary people, particularly those whose sons and so forth may be asked to serve in the armed forces, will want to know why we are doing it. There must be some link between serving a general principle and what ordinary people believe national interests might be.

Many of us feel torn over this matter. On the one hand many are attracted by the words of the last Secretary General, Mr. Pérez de Cuellar, who argued in 1991,

    "It is now increasingly felt that the principle of non-interference with the essential domestic jurisdiction of States cannot be regarded as a protective barrier behind which human rights could be massively and systematically violated with impunity".

As I said, that is a beguiling view. Equally, intervention based on general principles such as rights, can lead us to make major mistakes. As the American philosopher, Michael Walzer, once said,

    "Foreigners ... don't know enough about ... [a state's] history, and they have no direct experience and can form no concrete judgments of the conflicts and harmonies, the historical choices and cultural affinities, the loyalties and resentments, that underlie it".

This is not just a theoretical problem, as the UN Vienna conference on rights two years ago showed. There was fundamental disagreement between the western states, the Islamic states and China about what a commitment to rights required and what "rights" actually meant in specific circumstances. Responding to those historical and cultural differences the US Secretary of State, Mr. Christopher, argued in Vienna that,

    "we cannot let cultural relativism become the refuge of repression".

In other words, because we differ culturally in what we think "rights" may mean, we cannot leave the question of intervention to be governed by that kind of consideration; the implication being that a set of rights can become the basis for collective responsibility and action by the international community.

My conclusion is rather bland and reflects my own uncertainties. We have to be concerned about human rights. But that concern cannot become in itself a categorical basis for a new moral order in international affairs. We must be careful to weigh the costs and benefits of intervention and to ensure that national and regional interests are linked with any case for intervention on the defence of human rights; otherwise, domestic populations are unlikely to support governments risking lives in the service of what may be seen as important but nevertheless rather abstract principles. If human rights are to become the basis of a new world order and collective action by the international community, it is essential that they are seen

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1271

as being linked to security and our own interests in that security. We should count the costs and weigh the consequences carefully.

6.19 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, it is difficult to say anything new when one is batting No. 20 on the list. However, I want to say a few words about what a privilege it is for us to join in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. This is not really a debate. Of course there have been useful contributions making criticisms of this or that aspect of the United Nations. But it is not really a debate. There is a consensus in the House today that the United Nations is essential for our survival.

Inevitably, when one is celebrating 50 years one looks back to the beginning. That has been the case with many of the speakers today. I too should like to look back to the beginning. I had the privilege to have an interview with H.G. Wells. It must have been about 1944 because he died in 1946. He was the great guru of my generation. He had forecast the war of the worlds. He had warned about the dangers of the destructive instruments which we now had at our disposal. I made my way up to his flat in Regent's Park. All around it houses were bombed and devastated. He sat there quietly and I asked him two questions. I was a young man at the time. First, I asked, "What am I to do with my life?" Secondly, I asked, "What is the future of mankind?" I shall not weary the House with the answer to the first question because it is not the subject of today's debate but I have tried to accept his guidance in my life subsequently. Looking at the future of mankind, he said, "I am a biologist and any species that does not adapt to its environment inevitably perishes. That is the history of the science of biology. Today in the world we have conquered communications. We can fly in a few hours to all parts of the world. We can lift the telephone and talk to each other in Australia or California. We are living in an environment where mankind has been brought closer together and where our interdependence should be recognised. If you do not create the political instruments that recognise that fact, then mankind will perish". I believe that to be true, and in so far as we have succeeded in creating one of the instruments for human survival, we are just likely to survive.

I was a conscientious objector during the war and joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in order to play some part in the reconstruction of the devastated European continent. I was fortunate to have that opportunity. For me, the United Nations was not about glamorous conferences which are so prevalent nowadays. I notice that the Minister does not think that the conferences are all that glamorous. They look glamorous on television and they provide a platform for important statesmen to make important statements. I commend to the House an

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1272

extract from the Economist in which it is said that perhaps the United Nations is becoming over-conferenced. It says:

    "On the 50th birthday we may have over conferenced. After the environment in 1992, human rights in 1993, population in 1994 and with women as well as social development coming in 1995 the world is suffering a little from conference fatigue. Rich summiteers will be much keener to put their names to distant objectives rather than to accept the immediate needs of the horribly poor in Africa and Asia".

We are in danger in international relations of holding summit conferences and making generalised statements with which everyone can agree and taking our minds off the day-to-day activity which is necessary to make the United Nations a reality in relieving suffering, helping the poor and bringing comfort to refugees. We are in danger of generalisation. I always remember the words of William Blake, who said, "I have little time for people who do good in general. They are hypocrites. Give me the men and women who do good in the particular".

I worked for the United Nations and I have my UN passport to prove it. I worked in trying to rebuild Europe following the destruction that took place. It was a wonderful thing to do. Millions of people were wandering about the continent. They were refugees, with no homes and few prospects. They had nothing to offer but their labour. We handled 1.5 million refugees in Europe. We had displaced persons' camps. They were small cities in their own right. We brought some kind of relief to the suffering people at that time. Not only did we bring them immediate relief, which was a case of supplying food, clothing and so on, but the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was engaged in rehabilitation; in helping people to help themselves, not as recipients of charity but through being able to do things to lift themselves out of the despair in which they found themselves.

The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was succeeded by new agencies. The work of refugees is now in the hands of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It does a tremendous job in the name of the United Nations. Last year I visited Yugoslavia and went to refugee camps. I saw the same sad faces I had seen in Germany in 1945 and 1946. There were children who had lost their parents, their homes and any real purpose in life. They were gathered around television sets in refugee camps watching American cowboy films. That was the extent of their excitement in life. I felt that I was back again at the end of the war. Nowadays the United Nations is doing a tremendous job through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with a very small staff and very few resources. We have to look at all these contributions. There is the contribution of UNICEF for the relieving of the suffering of children. It builds playgroups and homes and brings education to people. Those are the kinds of positive things that are important in establishing the United Nations' reputation.

Today we are celebrating the 50th anniversary. We have celebrated the good work and we have recognised some of the weaknesses that inevitably exist in large

22 Mar 1995 : Column 1273

international organisations. But at least we can be thankful for the positive contribution that has been made by the UN.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page