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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the Government believe it right to move towards a lower threshold on a gradual basis. We want to take employers with us rather than leaving them worried and concerned about these kinds of changes. I wish to try to convince my noble friend that that is the right approach. The Government accept that it is important to try to bring more disabled employees within the protection of the Act. However, the right way to do that is in stages.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, at the end of 1998, the United Nations was owed over 2 billion dollars by member states. The United States was responsible for over 60 per cent. of that total. Under Article 19 of the United Nations Charter, member states with arrears greater than the total of their previous two years' dues may lose their vote in the General Assembly.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. However, at a time when it is becoming clear that, were the United Nations not to exist it would be necessary to invent something precious like it, does my noble friend agree that it is sad that the United States, as a permanent member of the Security Council, is not demonstrating its full commitment to the United Nations system? Can she assure the House that there is no danger that the failure to pay reflects a hidden policy within the United States; namely, to take attention away from the UN and to put it increasingly in the hands of NATO?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that it is lamentable that the United States has fallen so far into arrears, and in particular on the peacekeeping element of its budget. At the end of last year, the United States was some 976 million dollars in arrears on that aspect of the budget. It is worth pointing out that the United States administration's intention to address these problems was recently re-stated by President Clinton in his State of the Union address on 19th January. President Clinton has now presented his 2000 Budget for the fiscal year
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, does the Minister recall that in the gracious Speech the Government promised to give high priority to improving the finances of the United Nations? What specifically did they have in mind when they made that statement? Was it just pie in the sky, or are they actually achieving anything?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Yes, my Lords, I believe we are achieving on a number of issues. The European Union tabled a number of reform proposals before the election, in January 1996. Those have been vigorously pursued by Her Majesty's Government. We have seen the appointment of Miss Louise Frechette as Deputy Secretary-General in the United Nations. She has particular responsibility for examining these matters.
It is extremely important that we all attempt to raise these issues at whatever point we can with the United States--certainly with the administration, but also at the level of Congress Members. I recently raised it with the United States Speaker, Mr. Hastert, on 1st April this year. He was leading a cadre of Congressmen to this country. The Foreign Secretary has also raised the issue with Mrs. Albright. It is important that wherever we can, and that includes Members of this House, we make the point forcefully to our friends in the United States that they must pay their arrears.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, there has been some progress as regards reform. It is important that we do not paint an entirely black picture on the reform front in the United Nations. I mentioned Miss Frechette; and there have been improvements where the Secretary-General has had the ability to force those improvements through, notably greater co-ordination between different parts of the system in the United Nations and an improved top level management structure. Problems arise where there is a need for intergovernmental agreement as to how to move forward, and where some countries may perceive that their national interest is being compromised. It is in those areas that we find the major stumbling blocks.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, is it not correct that the trouble probably lies in Congress rather than in the United States administration? With that in mind, and the realisation that there is a strong body of opinion in the United States that NATO is an effective body and the United Nations is not--whether or not that opinion is correct is another matter--this is a difficult matter to overcome. If it is not overcome, it suggests that the future of the United Nations might be in jeopardy.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we must recognise that there are a number of different elements at work in the United States Congress. I have no doubt that the noble Lord is right and that some in Congress are indeed doubtful about the importance of the United Nations in terms of the United States' national interest. However, there are others who give priority to the abortion issue, which we must not lose sight of when considering the difficulties of the United States in paying the arrears. Those two points have come together in the United States Congress. The key problem is that those two groups, having united, have also presented conditions to the United States administration which the administration found impossible to see through in last year's budget. It is important that we recognise where the problems really lie and that we all take the opportunity to talk to Congressmen as well as to the United States administration and the Government about the position in which they are putting themselves, as well as the United States and the United Nations, in not paying their arrears.
Lord Carter: My Lords, after the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on the Second Reading of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on Kosovo.
Lord Archer of Weston-Super-Mare: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to devolve to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales power to set time zones and Summer Time in Scotland and Wales respectively. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Thursday next to allow the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Williams of Mostyn to be taken first after the Chairman of Committees' business.--(Lord Carter.)
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I wonder whether the Chief Whip, as always, is trying to be helpful. The Motion that we are asked to approve asks that the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn be taken first after the Chairman of Committees' business next Thursday. Yet, when I look at the business for next Thursday, that is exactly what it is: the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn immediately follows the Motion of the Chairman of Committees. I wonder whether the Chief Whip can help us.
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend. The purpose of the Motion is to arrange the order of business for Thursday to reflect the agreement of the usual channels that the Motion in the name of my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn should be taken before any affirmative instruments tabled for that day. Without this business Motion, the effect of standing orders of the House would be that the debate to be introduced by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn would come on later in the day. That is not what is wanted.
There are three affirmative orders on the Order Paper for Thursday, on traffic areas in Wales and on the Carriage by Air Acts. They will be moved by my noble friend Lady Farrington of Ribbleton. It has again been agreed through the usual channels that it would be appropriate for those three items of business to be taken after the debate on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. All those expecting to take part in the debate are aware of this arrangement, which has the full support of the usual channels.
Your Lordships will also recall that Thursday's Order Paper contains an Unstarred Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. This appears, in the normal way, as the last item of business on the day. Standing Order 38(8) provides that Unstarred Questions shall be taken last.
The purpose of today's business Motion, which I am moving on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who is preparing for the important Statement on Kosovo this afternoon, is to allow the Motion in the name of my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House, Lord Williams of Mostyn, to be taken as the principal business on Thursday. Although the Order Paper has already been printed in the order in which it is anticipated that the business will be taken if today's business Motion is agreed to, that Order Paper is, as always, provisional. Should your Lordships, uncharacteristically, object to today's Motion, the order of business for Thursday will be altered.
The Motion which I am moving on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House specifically provides for the business of the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees to be taken first on Thursday. This is important. The Motion which the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees intends to move on Thursday is to appoint my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris as a member of the House of Lords' Offices Committee in place of Lord Dean of Beswick, who, sadly, died before the Easter Recess.
It is, as your Lordships will recall, a custom of the House that business in the name of the Chairman of Committees comes first, and it is particularly important that that custom is observed on this occasion. The business Motion which I move today therefore incorporates a specific exclusion to allow the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees to move his Motion on Thursday before we start the main business. I am sure that the whole House will miss the contributions made by Lord Dean of Beswick to the work of the Offices Committee. I am also sure that the House will benefit greatly from the wisdom and experience which my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris will bring to the committee.
I hope that this explanation makes clear to noble Lords, and to my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton in particular--I am surprised that, as a former Chief Whip, he even asked the question--why this
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