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House of Lords

Tuesday, 15th December 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.

Lord Trevor--Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.

United Nations: Funding

Lord Renton of Mount Harry asked Her Majesty's Government:

    By what measures they intend to pursue reform of the United Nations and an early resolution to its funding crisis.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, as the Prime Minister told the General Assembly in September, all parts of the United Nations need proper accountability to go with secure funding, better management and more co-ordination in their activities. We continue to support the United Nations Secretary-General's package of reforms aimed at making the United Nations more modern and effective, and to press the European Union's proposals to put United Nations finances on a sound and equitable basis.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. However, I find its contents extremely disappointing. I remind the Minister that the words of my Question that the Government should,

    "pursue reform of the United Nations and an early resolution to its funding crisis",
are precisely lifted from the gracious Speech. What measures do the Government have in mind to achieve that? Will they be able to persuade the United States to pay up any part of the 1.6 billion dollar deficit that the United States owes the United Nations? Surely, unless the Government come forward now with constructive proposals, they will be guilty of circulating diplomatic hot air--rhetoric, but no substance.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that Her Majesty's Government have been extremely assiduous in pressing the question. It was raised with the United States and other parties to the G8 meeting which took place earlier this year in Birmingham. It was raised three times under our presidency of the EU and most recently by the Austrian Foreign Minister as president of the European Union in a letter to Mrs. Albright on 17th November 1998 on behalf of the EU. That letter urgently pressed on the United States the necessity of paying its arrears. The European Union is also taking an active role in discussions in New York on tougher

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disincentives for member states with outstanding dues. Her Majesty's Government are pursuing the matter at all levels, both bilaterally--as I have had occasion to tell the House before--and through other means available to us such as the G8 and the EU.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, can my noble friend say how long the United States has been in arrears with payments to the United Nations? What steps did the previous government take to try to remedy the default on payments?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend is right. This is hardly a new problem. I cannot give the exact date of when the problem began, but it has existed for a considerable period. As I have told the House previously, the United States has not moved so far into arrears to attract the sanctions under Article 19. That would mean that the United States had moved two years into arrears. However, the United States is now responsible for 60 per cent. of the total arrears. The matter is urgent. It is being pressed by Her Majesty's Government wherever we can and through other organisations as well.

Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, in view of the considerable personal warmth that exists between the head of our Government and the head of the United States Government, would it not be productive, in addition to the official channels, to make sure that the next time there is a cosy dinner this item ought to be on the agenda between two of the courses?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I was able to tell the House a few moments ago, the matter was raised at the G8 earlier this year. It was also raised by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in a speech he made to the General Assembly in September this year.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that it is not just a question--

Lord Judd: My Lords--

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I believe it is the turn of this side. I am sure there will be plenty of time for the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in a moment.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I certainly wish to hear the noble Lord, Lord Peyton. Does my noble friend agree that in the context of the Government's commitment to an effective United Nations--for which adequate financing is obviously essential--it is disturbing to read what the Secretary-General said in his recent speech to the National Assembly in France? He is reported as having said that he was concerned by the trend towards regional action without UN authorisation which seemed to indicate a return to spheres of influence rather than

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shared global responsibility. He suggested that all such action should be authorised by the Security Council. Can the Government reassure us on the point?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made the UK's position perfectly clear when he spoke in September of this year at the General Assembly. He urged proper accountability upon the United Nations, secure funding, better management and more effective co-ordination. I believe that proper accountability and effective co-ordination adequately reflect Her Majesty's Government's position on the whole of the United Nations acting co-operatively together.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that the Question is far too important simply to clock up speakers and letters sent. It is disgraceful and very disappointing that 50 years and more after the last war the United Nations is still in the palsied state that it is. If another letter is to go to the American Government, perhaps they can be reminded of the enthusiasm with which their elders and betters established the United Nations so many years ago.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. It is an extraordinarily serious position. The European Union tried to address it in the proposals put forward in 1996 which comprehended a more stringent application of the Article 19 provisions for those falling into arrears. It is important to remember that the problem is not solely focused upon the United States. Because the United States is such a large contributor to the United Nations, in overall terms the United States owes a huge amount of money--indeed, more than 60 per cent. of the arrears. But the fact is that currently 140 states are in areas with their United Nations dues. It is a serious problem across the board which has to be addressed. Her Majesty's Government are doing their best to do so.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, while reform of the United Nations is being discussed, is the relationship between the General Assembly and the Security Council under consideration? Is the Minister aware, for example, that the two main parties are in total opposition to each other on the elimination of nuclear weapons? The General Assembly is heartily in favour of the elimination of nuclear weapons; the Security Council, with this Government's support, is not in favour, despite the manifesto commitment.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we believe that the General Assembly should be more focused in its agenda. I do not believe that that will necessarily be an easy task, but it is something the Government would like to see. We should also like to see enlargement of the permanent and non-permanent parts of the Security Council. We support permanent

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seats for developing countries in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa as well as for Germany and Japan.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what allowances, if any, will the Government make for the views of the new United States Congress? What indications, if any, do they have that the new Congress may take a different view?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, that is an important question in the debate on how to take forward the issue with the United States. Unfortunately, we have not seen sufficient commitment from either part of the American Parliament, if I may put it that way. It is too early to say whether the new Congress will make any real difference. However, we believe it important that Her Majesty's Government, through every means possible, such as the G8 and acting with our colleagues in the European Union, encourage the new Congress, together with the Administration, to work together more constructively in order to make real progress on this important issue.

Prisoners: Educational Provision

2.46 p.m.

Lord Quirk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the provision of education in prisons and young offender institutions.

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