That this House pays tribute to the work of the United Nations and its agencies ; congratulates the Government on the success of the Summit Meeting of the Security Council on 31st January ; welcomes the Report of the Secretary-General Dr. Boutros Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, that flowed from it ; considers that a speedy return by the United Kingdom to UNESCO is in the national interest ; and seeks further action from the Government to improve the ability of the United Nations to secure justice and human rights and to maintain international peace and security.
I believe that this is the first time that the House has had an opportunity to debate the United Nations for many a year. By chance, we have chosen a particularly topical occasion. We heard with relief this morning the news of the release of the three British service men serving with the United Nations force in Cambodia. We learnt of the resolution of the Security Council in New York to authorise the dispatch of 28,000 American service men to that troubled, blighted country of Somalia. I hope that it will be not a one-nation force but multinational and will come under the full command and control of the United Nations.
Rather more disconcertingly, we heard from Serbia that British soldiers have been attacked from both sides. I hope that I will have a chance to say more about the former Yugoslavia in due course. I will not speak too long. A former Speaker once said that speeches, to be immortal, do not need to be eternal. That is wise advice for us practitioners on the Back Benches, particularly as I spoke after a 53-minute speech by a Labour Member last week.
I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is on the Government Front Bench. He and I have already had two chews at this subject. I was lucky enough last Thursday to initiate an Adjournment debate on UN peacekeeping. Last Friday we debated the middle east, on a motion moved by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who has come to have a second bite today.
My right hon. and hon. Friends will not be surprised if I take out one or two hobby horses and ride them around the paddock. For heaven's sake, if, after 18 years' membership of the House, one secures the first motion for debate on a Friday, one is a fool if one does not do so.
The background to the United Nations is the failure of the League of Nations to stand up to the aggression that broke out in Europe in the 1930s and which led to the second world war. We must never forget that failure to resist aggression. It was very much in my mind when we debated what to do about Kuwait and whether we should take on the military might of that ruthless dictator Saddam
Column 500Hussein. The United Nations was conceived during the war. It was set up to take account of the political situation in the world in 1945.
I approach the subject of the United Nations with considerable humility. Recently I became chairman of the United Nations parliamentary group. Members of that group have spent much of their lives seeking to improve the performance and practices of the United Nations. When Lord Gladwyn sent me his £2 subscription the other day, I looked him up and found that, when I had a satchel on my back and was wearing shorts, he was acting Secretary-General of the United Nations. He then went on to be a very distinguished ambassador in New York.
I have placed on the Order Paper the words
"congratulates the Government on the success of the Summit Meeting of the Security Council on 31st January".
My advice to Back Benchers is that we should all resist congratulating Governments. If there is one thing worse than an obstreperous and bullying Whip--we do not have one here today--it is a smug Whip who is being congratulated. Members on both sides of the House should be able to unite on that point. "Congratulates" seemed to me, however, to be the appropriate word to use.
I believe that the United Kingdom is in a special and privileged position within the United Nations. Therefore, it behoves us to give a lead to that body. There was no better way of doing that than calling the special summit. The Prime Minister reported back to us on 3 February of this year and told us :
"I called the meeting in New York during our chairmanship of the Security Council so that the Council could meet at the highest level to reaffirm and develop its commitment to peacekeeping and peacemaking. The timing was particularly apt following the appointment of a new Secretary-General and with Russia taking the seat in the Security Council formerly held by the Soviet Union. The meeting was successful This was the first time in the 47 years of its history that the UN had met at the top level. For the first time ever, the Heads of State and Government of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain sat around the same table and pledged themselves, with the other members of the Council, to collective security, to international law and to our commitments under the United Nations charter." --[ Official Report, 3 February 1992 ; Vol. 203, c. 21.]
The new Secretary-General's report "An Agenda for Peace" flowed from that meeting.
I understand that the British Government did not initially support the election of Dr. Boutros Boutros Ghali--perhaps for good reasons--but I believe that he will be a very capable and interesting Secretary-General. He has had great diplomatic and ministerial experience in Egypt. He is a Coptic Christian. His wife is Jewish. He played a big part in the peace talks between Egypt and Israel. I warmly welcome "An Agenda for Peace"--I know that it is the bedside reading of my colleagues on these Benches. In 50 pages it makes, in very readable language, a number of sensible proposals. The Secretary-General not only produced this admirable report ; he has also carried out a considerable measure of reform within the United Nations. There have been new appointments and a slimming down of the bureaucracy, which every hon. Member will welcome.
From this distance I am not sure whether I know enough about what more should be done in New York, but I am advised by those who know something about it that there are still too many committees, still too much international bureaucracy, and still too much waste. We have to accept that 166 individual sovereign countries, will
Column 501rightly, ask that some of their diplomats should serve in New York, but when it comes to selection for promotion I should like greater emphasis to be placed on merit. That should be the key factor. The bureaucracy in New York has to deal on a day-to-day basis with the sophistication of the British Foreign Office, or the Quai d'Orsay, or the German equivalent. The United Nations bureaucracy is not yet up to the required standard.
The Secretary-General also drew attention to a major problem : the mismatch between the aims and wishes of the Security Council--and, I believe, of the General Assembly--and the financial reality. An unplumbed, salt-estranging sea lies between the two. The situation is frightening. The Secretary- General wrote recently :
"As of September 1992"--
only a few weeks ago--
"only 52 Member States had paid in full their dues to the regular budget of the United Nations. Unpaid assessed contributions total $908.5 million. Unpaid contributions towards peace-keeping operations stood at $844.4 million. At the end of August 1992, I was able to pay the salaries of the regular staff of this Organization only through borrowing from peace- keeping funds with available cash."
I am delighted to be able to tell the House that the Government have a superb record in paying their membership dues on time.
Mr. Townsend : The hon. Gentleman leads me into my next point. I am ashamed to find that a number of allies have not yet paid their dues. In July of this year, the United States of America owed the peacekeeping budget $277 milllion, Russia $202 million, Germany $73 million, Japan-- recently I welcomed the Japanese contribution to the peacekeeping force in Cambodia--$48 million and France $47 million. When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the ambassadors of those countries, in particular Ambassador Ray Sykes, who is a great success in London, I hope that he will have a private word with them about countries that demand more peacekeeping by the United Nations but cannot get round to signing and posting a cheque.
Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : I do not argue with the general thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument ; I agree entirely with him. Simply for the record, however, may I say that the information that has been given to me is that the United States is by far the largest defaulter, as he said. It owes about $295 million to the United Nations regular budget and $145 million to the separate peacekeeping account. That amounts to $440 million, rather than the figure that the hon. Gentleman quoted. They are only figures, and I am absolutely sure that the principle is right, but my figure is almost double that which the hon. Gentleman gave.
Mr. Townsend : I shall leave it to my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State to deal with that point. I am clutching a paper that the General Assembly produced in July 1992, which shows that at that stage the United States owed $277 million.
There was, naturally, some talk at the special summit about who should be permanent members of the Security Council. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it perfectly clear that he feels that such a discussion
Column 502is a distraction, that there is plenty of work to be done, and that the Security Council is working well. Those are admirable sentiments and there is much foundation to them, but the House should be aware that countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil, India and Egypt think that they should have, if not a place in the sun, then a seat on the Security Council. It will not be easy for the United Kingdom permanently to defend the fact that, because the United Nations was set up at the end of the war, the United Kingdom, which has a comparatively low per capita income compared with that of other countries and a comparatively small defence force, should still maintain a permanent seat. At the end of the war the Royal Navy had about 600 surface ships but now has about 40 destroyers and frigates.
I hope that the Government will continue to do all they can to maintain our seat on the Security Council--they would be foolish not to--but we must be aware of which way the wind is blowing. We must justify our position with considerable activity.
I want to turn to an issue that is to the fore of the work of the United Nations--the sovereignty argument. In the hot summer of 1990, I had the pleasure of attending a conference in the beautiful surroundings of Ditchley park. The subject was the United Nations and its future. There was a long and excellent debate on the sovereignty question. I saw, in full array, the formidable legal might of the Foreign Office defending the unique concept of sovereignty. The advice of those learned gentlemen was that, once one moves that basic principle, one is in dangerous uncharted seas. When I said that perhaps there was something to be said for a change, they said, "No wonder this chap is still a Back Bencher. Has not he thought of Northern Ireland? What happens if the General Assembly reacts to a development in Northern Ireland and wants to send a peacekeeping force there?" The overwhelming view was that we should not change the status quo.
I remember arguing in 1990 the specific case of a United Nations convoy that had been trying to get food to a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon but was held up by a bloody-minded militia group. I remember thinking at the time, when women and children were starving in the mud, despair and squalor of those Palestinian camps, "Surely to God the United Nations, in the name of humanity, can force its way through that militia road block."
When the plight of the Kurds first broke on our television screens, the Government thought that nothing should be done. That was an understandable attitude. Public pressure mounted and, as we know, a successful operation was carried out--against, I believe, the wishes of the Secretary-General at that time and of many members of the General Assembly. It was a watershed and the situation has changed notably since then. I welcome that, but we should be cautious. I attach to that what I call the United Nations imperial role. I am afraid that I must criticise the Foreign Secretary rather severely for using the word "Imperial" in a key speech on this subject which got the debate off on the wrong foot. The concept that the Foreign Secretary advanced, however, is extremely important, and I support it.
In a few weeks' time, the military position in Somalia will be transformed. Any baron who stands up to a force of United States Marines rather than bury his weapon in
Column 503the sand needs his head examined. Peace will prevail in Somalia before long, but the problem is that government has broken down. The schools do not function, the sewage plants have been damaged, and there is no health service, no work and no jobs. The country needs government. A new team of civil service must be trained. The schools must start working again, teachers must be imported, and the infrastructure must be rebuilt. I unhesitatingly say that that role must be performed by the United Nations. We must establish a new system of trusteeship, and I understand that we shall have to give it another name. We shall not have district commissioners or district officers, but my colleagues will agree that the principle is important : the United Nations should have the capacity to run, for perhaps five or 10 years, an independent sovereign country and bring it back to such a state that it can become independent, sovereign and have its own elected Parliament.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : I accept my hon. Friend's general proposition that there can be no lasting solution to Somalia's problems without the restoration of a proper administration, but that does not mean that one must go down precisely the detailed road that he suggests. Under the effective system of protectorates, a nation would take on actitivies that he suggests on the United Nation's behalf.
Mr. Towsend : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There are a number of ways of proceeding. He and I agree that the United Nations should be given powers to take over the administration of an independent country and bring it back to such a state that it can stand on its own feet and be independent and sovereign.
Mr. Rogers : Surely the hon. Gentleman will refute the proposition that we should return to the old concept of protectorates, with certain countries having economic and political control over particular areas. That was one of the disastrous measures taken betwen the two world wars which has led to so many problems since.
I want to come to the need for Britain to rejoin UNESCO, about which I have taken up much of the House's time in Adjournment debates. I have a sore head on it, and I do not mind telling my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister that I believe that we have behaved disgracefully and that the sooner we rejoin the better. Ronald Reagan and the Heritage Foundation issued a lot of highly misleading propaganda about UNESCO. I am not an idealist about UNESCO. Many years ago, I had an Adjournment debate on the famous world information order, which has been disastrous ; the organisation has been a shambles for many years. But if we wish to remain on the Security Council, the universality rule is fundamental. In its 1985 report, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs concluded : "A breach by the United Kingdom of the principle of universality in the UN and its Agencies could have long-term, and damaging, consequences for those organisations, and not merely for UNESCO alone."
When we were a member of UNESCO, we did better than most from it. We were one of the founder members and the conference that established it was held across Parliament square at the Institution of Civil Engineers. From the outset, Britain was on the inside track getting the
Column 504goodies. British publishing houses and British consultants did well out of UNESCO. Since we left UNESCO, France has very sensibly been pushing the French language at our expense and at that of the English language. Our English-speaking friends in the Commonwealth do not understand why we do not stand up for British interests and for their interests. In any one year we earned more money from UNESCO than we put into it.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State and I have been around this course already. He will say that we cannot afford the £9 million which is at stake, but I can happily name some aspects of Government expenditure on which we should not be spending £9 million but on which we are spending that sum. If it comes to the crunch, I should deny a famous cavalry regiment of the Rhine Army--or what is left of it-- two tanks so that we could get back into UNESCO and also help our balance of payments. I believe that the so-called cultural establishment is overwhelmingly in favour of our return. We are missing a trick.
The other day I wrote to one of my right hon. and learned Friend's colleagues in the Foreign Office. It got my goat when I had it explained to me that we could best influence the important reforms that have been taking place in UNESCO by standing back and scolding from the touchlines. You know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, how, with regard to the European Community, I and colleagues argue that we need to be on the field representing Britain and putting forward a British view instead of being told what to do. However, when it comes to UNESCO, we are told how much better we shall do by not having a shirt on our back and not being on the field. That is nonsense, and I should welcome our return. We left UNESCO on Ronald Reagan's coat tails, and it would be a shame if we returned on Clinton's coat tails. Let us go in with him, or before him.
Time is running out, but I wish to alight briefly on one or two trouble spots and the first must be Bosnia. My right hon. and learned Friend knows that I am extremely cautious, although some of my colleagues will argue in the opposite vein. I read that the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has said that there is danger in going in half-cocked ; he wants a far greater commitment from us and the United Nations. I am on the opposite side of the argument. There have been civil wars, disputes and feuds in that part of the world for hundreds of years. There is a possible analogy with Ireland. The problems are deep seated, and my advice to the Government and, indeed, to the United Nations is to understand the strict limits and not to become party to a dispute. If we start bombing the Serbian artillery positions--and, God knows, the Serbs have behaved badly enough--we will put at risk the lives of the 3,000 British service men in that country and will have to withdraw the humanitarian aid on which we are concentrating. It should be a United Nations operation. We should concentrate on the humanitarian work and recognise the limits of the United Nations activity in this day and age. I know that some colleagues will have a different view, but I did not welcome the dispatch of the Cheshires. It is a famous, down-to-earth, professional regiment, conducting itself with great ability and having considerable success. However, it has been placed in a very dangerous position and given an almost impossible task. It is sitting in white boxes, without artillery support or air cover, and we learn from the newspapers today that it has come under
Column 505fire from both sides. I look forward to the day when my right hon. and learned Friend will tell us that the Cheshires have been withdrawn and that we are supporting the United Nations in that bitterly divided country with signallers, medical orderlies and truck drivers but without deploying a British infantry battalion. It will be no surprise to the House if I deal now with the middle east, which was the subject of the debate initiated last Friday by the hon. Member for Linlithgow. I pay tribute to President Bush and Secretary of State Baker for getting the peace talks going. They have lasted a year. The problem is not a matter only for the American Administration under Bush or Clinton. There are vital United Nations resolutions on the books and the point of the Kuwaiti operation was to pay respect to those resolutions--we cannot pick and choose dishes from the menu. The United Nations passed resolution 242--a British-sponsored resolution--which deals with land for peace. It is essential that at some stage--I am not saying now--the United Nations becomes involved in the peacemaking process in the middle east. The phrase "self-determination" is in the United Nations charter, which is a splendid document. I ask my colleagues please not to say, "What does that matter in such a situation?" When the
self-determination of 1,800 Falkland Islanders who had decided to live 8,000 miles away was at stake, we took military action and lost about 250 lives in the process. We thought that the Falkland Islanders were entitled to self-determination and not to be ruled by the Argentine army but to choose their own political leaders. I say without hesitation that the Palestinians are also entitled not to be ruled by an army of occupation and a brigadier but, in due course, to elect their own leaders.
I deal briefly with Cyprus. My colleagues know that over the years I have taken up a great deal of the House's time in talking about Cyprus. I started my life there as a young soldier and guarded the last colonial governor of Cyprus. I was very nearly killed by EOKA, so I have no illusions about that tragic and bitterly divided island. As I recently told my right hon. and learned Friend, the watering down of the British contingent to the United Nations' peacekeeping force there was an error of judgment and was ill received in the south. It gives an unhappy example which others will follow. I want to deal with the peace process rather than the peace force in Cyprus. To all intents and purposes, the talks have broken down and a good early-day motion deals with that. In this case, the Secretary-General has allocated blame to an unusual extent Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth) indicated dissent.
The Berlin wall has come down ; other walls have come down in Europe. It is intolerable that a Commonwealth country--a European country--is divided down the middle by a so-called green line. I do not believe that the United Kingdom, as a guarantor power, can sit idly by and wash its hands, saying that it is all too difficult and leaving it to the United States or someone else.
Column 506Finally, I deal with the Atlantic coast of the Arab world--the western Sahara. The leader of the Polisario met many of us in London only a few days ago. The Secretary-General of the United Nations faces the appallingly difficult issue of who should vote in the forthcoming referendum. The Polisario says that the register should be confined to the census produced by the Spanish authorities, but, since then, Morocco has come up with a much longer list of names. In deciding who should vote, the Secretary-General largely decides the outcome of the referendum. I am waiting to hear the Government's view and what we can do to help.
Mr. Corbyn : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a serious problem in that, while the United Nations representative was preparing for the referendum, the Moroccan army moved large numbers of people into the area to inflate the register and that that caused last year's referendum to be postponed ?
Mr. Townsend : I do not think that the Moroccan Government have clean hands in the matter. But, having criticised the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), for speaking for too long last week, I must bring my brief thoughts rapidly to a conclusion.
I mentioned the fact that I guarded Sir Hugh Foot in Cyprus. In his book "A Start in Freedom", Sir Hugh wrote some appropriate words about the United Nations :
"I have always believed that the forces of conciliation are potentially stronger than those of conflict. The trouble is that the forces of hatred and conflict are so well organised and well led while the forces of conciliation are ill organised or ill led, or not organised or led at all. Now in the United Nations we have a permanent organisation for promoting international understanding and co-operation. It is this new initiative which gives us new hope in a divided world."
When the cold war ended, there was a great wave of optimism. There was a new spirit at the United Nations. President Bush made his speech about the new world order that would unfold before us like a map. Then disillusion set in. As we read our newspapers today, watch television and hear of the ruin and misery, death and destruction in Bosnia, where European civilisation is clearly withdrawing rather than advancing, we share that sentiment.
Inevitably, we must look to the United Nations to organise and prepare itself, and to adopt better procedures for setting up peacekeeping forces to deal with the new world in which we live towards the end of the century. It has been said that the United Nations was created not to take mankind to heaven but to stop it from descending into hell. I believe that there is a real danger that we shall go the wrong way unless the United Nations can assume a greater importance in world affairs. Of course, I look to the British Government to give a lead to the United Nations, and I hope that mankind will move onwards to new sunlit uplands.
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend)--although he sits on the other side of the House, he is my hon. Friend on this issue--on securing the debate and on getting it off to such an informed, useful and helpful start. There was almost nothing in the hon. Gentleman's speech with which I disagreed-- except that I differ slightly, in detail rather than in principle, on his perception of how to resolve the Somalian problem.
Column 507I welcome the opportunity that the debate gives the Opposition to discuss the United Nations, and I am sure that when my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) manages to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he will agree with much of what the hon. Member for Bexleyheath said, and will flesh out some of what we should like to see as part of the role of the United Nations.
It is specifically written into the Labour party's constitution that we not only support the formation, the work and the activities of the United Nations, but we are committed to its expansion and support. In a personal capacity, I am the chairman of the Labour council on the middle east--just as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath is chairman of the Conservative council on the middle east. Item 2 of the Labour council's constitution is the aim to resolve the conflict in the middle east through the resolutions and the work of the United Nations, so I welcome the opportunity to speak on that subject. Following the collapse of the old war--the conflict between the two great powerful nation states, the United States and the Soviet Union-- many people had hoped that a new world order might emerge. However, although we played a major part in establishing the United Nations 47 years ago, we seem to have said little about how we believe that that organisation should move forward in the new world order.
Many of us were worried about a range of issues throughout the world, especially in the middle east. We were faced with the dilemma caused by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and the question whether we should stop and consider all the other major breaches of international law taking place in that area. We all agreed that it would not help international law or the processes of the United Nations if we did not immediately condemn the Iraqi invasion and, as part of those processes, see whether a force could be assembled that might relieve Kuwait and ensure that a new world order could emerge out of the old power structures that had supported the various dictators and repressive regimes that had existed hitherto. Everyone in the House knows that many of the problems with which the United Nations has had to grapple over the years, some of which the hon. Member for Bexleyheath mentioned--Cyprus, for example--could have been resolved many years ago had it not been for the determination of the United States to keep a base in Turkey from which it could continue to threaten the Soviet Union. Unless we admit that, we shall not be able to convince the parts of the world that have suffered either directly or indirectly from dictatorship that we are determined to create a new world order. There is no doubt that had Turkey not been on the borders of the Soviet Union, and therefore not been suitable for use by the United States as a base for its forward ballistic missiles, the people of the north and the south of Cyprus might well have been convinced that their future lay together.
It also has to be said at the outset that although we in this country have not considered the new world order in any depth, many countries in what is called the underdeveloped world, or the south, have been concerned about how that new order might emerge. When I was talking about the United Nations during the emergency debate on 25 September, I said that I had been to a conference in Tunis, organised by the Tunisian Government, on that very subject. I was invited to attend the conference on behalf of the parliamentary Labour party, and I thought that it would be quite easy to find
Column 508material--I could ring up Walworth road, our party headquarters, and ask the people there to supply me with the most recent Labour party statement on the new world order. But when I phoned I discovered that we had not said very much--in fact, I must be honest and admit that, although many statements had been made which we could use as part of our vision of the United Nations role in the new world order, the Labour party had said nothing specific on the subject.
I then said, "The Government must have said something. After all, the whole thrust of the debate here over many months was that the end of the cold war and the way in which we dealt with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was to be the basis of a new world order." I went to the excellent Library and asked the staff to give me all the most recent Government statements--statements by any Minister would do--on the new world order and how Britain saw it developing. I told them that the only problem was that I was going to the conference the following week, so I would need the material in three or four days--and I waited to see what I would be given. Three days later, the Library said, "Sorry, there is nothing that we can give you. The British Government have said nothing about a new world order either here or in the United Nations." I asked whether the Library had anything at all. The best that it could come up with was an article in The Economist and an article by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) in New Statesman and Society. With those articles in my hand, I wondered what I should be able to say.
The foreign affairs section of the Library looked at what had been said in the build-up to the Iran-Iraq war and subsequently. With their usual ability, Library staff trawled through various documents from various countries and came up with something that I was able to use.
At the conference in Tunisia, I was able to speak with almost total abandon and lack of concern, knowing that no one in the British Government had said anything about the new world order. The conference was an enlightening experience. I discovered that I was almost the only representative from the European Community. There were some experts from the United States who were there in an advisory capacity rather than as speakers on behalf of their Government. The concept of the new world order has not been dealt with in any shape or form, so I welcome the motion of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath. It gives us the opportunity to discover how the Government perceive the new world order.
Like the hon. Member for Bexleyheath, I am a firm supporter of the United Nations. I was especially pleased by the appointment of Dr. Boutros Ghali to the secretary-generalship of the United Nations. I welcome his initiative to try to streamline the organisation. As the hon. Member for Bexleyheath said, the United Nations has constantly been impeded by the determination of each nation state to ensure that it has a diplomat or a representative sitting on each body of the United Nations, sometimes for no reason other than to ensure that the particular body does nothing. That may seem strange, but there is clear evidence for anyone who cares to study the workings of the United Nations and its committees that specific placements have been made, especially by the more powerful western Governments, at various levels of the United Nations with the sole purpose
Column 509of ensuring that the committee either functions less efficiently or, in some cases, does not function at all. That happens when a particular Government do not agree with an aim or objective of an area of work of the United Nations.
I welcome the Heads of Government meeting on 31 January. If nothing else comes out of the British presidency of the Community, the Prime Minister can fall back on that meeting and, in Edinburgh, he may claim it as one of his successes.
The Secretary-General has brought forward "An Agenda for Peace" which I am sure all hon. Members welcome. The agenda fleshes out a new role for the United Nations and it gives specific definitions. Those of us who work with the United Nations have to deal with its resolutions and agendas. We know that the most important aspect of the work of the United Nations is not the resolutions themselves, but their implications and the language in which they are expressed. I was impressed by the way in which the Secretary- General sought to spell out in language that was easily understood what the new agenda would mean and what the problems were. As a result, we can see how the United Nations will deal with problems and how it will move forward.
One important aim is that the UN will seek to identify at the earliest stage situations that may produce conflict. It can then try to use diplomacy to remove the source of danger before violence results. There are five aims in all, written in easily understood language. There will be less ambiguity in United Nations documentation, as long as Governments do not seek to change the language of the agenda.
As the hon. Member for Bexleyheath knows, we have had 40 years of deciding whether resolution 242 should contain the word "the" before the words "occupied territories". The French believe that the word "the" should be included, whereas the British interpretation is different. The argument over whether the word "the" should be included has been an excuse for many Governments who have failed to move forward with that resolution.
Like the hon. Member for Bexleyheath, I am a little concerned that in the multilateral talks, resolution 242 and resolution 338 are being regarded as background noise rather than as the basis on which the middle east conflict will be resolved. I hope that the Minister will clarify where the Government stand on the issue.
I read an interesting speech made recently by the Foreign Secretary to the Board of Deputies of British Jews. He had fun with his audience on the question whether the word "the" should be included when referring to the occupied territories. It is important that a message goes out today from this Chamber to those who are participating in the multilateral part of the middle east peace process that Parliament is committed to ensuring that the middle east peace process is resolved on the basis of resolution 242 and resolution 338, which refer to land for peace.
I very much welcome the Security Council resolution on Somalia. In our debate on Somalia a few weeks ago, I made the point that I saw Somalia as an area in which a UN peacekeeping force with effective military power could make a difference. There is an absolute difference between
Column 510Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The aid agencies on the ground must be concerned that if more military firepower arrives in the area, their activities may be curtailed. In Somalia, many people have guns, but do not have the training or ability to use them other than menacingly. A professional army with a clear direction can make a substantial difference to aid. I welcome the Security Council's unanimous decision to accept the initiative by the United States Government and to dispatch a far more powerful military force to Somalia to establish a secure relief effort.
I also welcome the fact that the operation, on a day-to-day basis, will be under the direct control of the United States. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath spoke about the failure of the United States to make its financial contributions to the UN. It seems that rather than making contributions in terms of dollars, the United States, as a quid pro quo, is committing manpower and equipment to the many conflicts in which the UN is involved. It is using that to offset the imbalance in its financial contribution to the organisation and to the peacekeeping operation. I welcome the fact that the force in Somalia will be the main responsibility of the United States. The Minister made clear our support yesterday for the Security Council resolution. I hope that he will say today that, if necessary, there will be an input from the British Government to the peacekeeping effort in Somalia.
If a professional force entered Somalia, it would quickly convince the warlords, gangs and thugs that it would not tolerate the kind of activity that we have seen so far, where humanitarian aid has been pilfered at road blocks and, in some cases, has been stolen from the supply stores in the dockyards.
Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey and Waterside) : With regard to our involvement with the military force in Somalia, the hon. Gentleman is no doubt aware that there is already talk of the Government sending troops to provide logistic support. Does he share the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House about the fact that we are sending logistic support simply because we are incapable of sending infantry battalions because of the overstretch resulting from "Options for Change"?
Mr. Ross : I do not want to delay the debate, because other hon. Members wish to speak and there are other motions on the Order Paper. However, I assume that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda will deal with that point later.
Rather than keeping our Trident submarines, it would clearly be preferable to have the men and women and the military equipment on the ground to assist the United Nations peacekeeping forces. No matter how many Trident submarines we threaten Somalia with, the Somalis probably would not understand what we are talking about. However, an infantry battalion, logistic support or military air power would certainly impress the people in Somalia.
With regard to Somalia, I disagree with the hon. Member for Bexleyheath on only one point. Peace can be established very quickly in Somalia. Somalia is run on the clan system and many of the elders are still in the country. When the Soviet Union and the United States were competing super-powers, they gave weapons to different clans. Many other countries were also involved, but the
Column 511Soviet Union and the United States were the main protagonists. They were fighting over the bases and the other facilities in that country.
The old family clan tradition in Somalia broke down very quickly because if one group in a clan had more firepower, it was able to challenge the leader. I do not suggest that the elders or leaders are the most capable people, but at least they are the basis upon which, once peace has been re- established, we could begin to deal with the horrendous medical problems and the starvation and so rebuild the infrastructure.
I am not as pessimistic as the hon. Member for Bexleyheath about the length of time that we will have to be in Somalia. It may be possible to rebuild Somalia reasonably quickly if we can use the elders and leaders, many of whom are still in Somalia.
Mr. Corbyn : Does my hon. Friend accept that the United Nations and western Europe did not recognise the serious food problems in Somalia, and the country descended into the present chaos where gun law rules because of the lack of support much earlier on?
Mr. Ross : My hon. Friend is correct. I went to Ethiopia in 1981 with the former Member for Oldham, Central and Royton, Mr. James Lamond, and my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett). It was obvious to us that feeding that country was a massive problem and we realised that there would be drought and starvation in the next few years. When we returned, my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish wrote some first-class articles, one of which appeared in The Guardian, stating that Ethiopia was liable to sink into despair very quickly. Little or no attention was paid to that warning.
The reason for that lack of response was easy to understand. At that time, Ethiopia was considered to be under the power and influence of the Soviet Union. It was, therefore, much more important to bring down the Government, to attack the infrastructure and to support the various factions in Ethiopia that argued against the Government of Mengistu. Whether or not it was right to support democracy, it was not right to bring Ethiopia to the point that we needed Bob Geldof to rescue that country in later years.
That is the lesson to which my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is drawing our attention. We must be honest with ourselves. If we are to convince the third world that there will really be a new world order, we must admit that we have been actively involved in supporting oppressive regimes for all the wrong reasons. Even at a casual glance, it is clear that the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for control of Somalia. They did not care too much about who they were affecting and the long-term problems that they were going to create for that country.
As I have said, I have only a minor difference with the hon. Member for Bexleyheath in respect of Somalia. A military force could quickly establish peace and ensure that the aid is released, start to rebuild the infrastructure and then use the system of clan elders in the area to rebuild democracy and some form of government in the country. Like the hon. Member for Bexleyheath, I welcome the determination of western Governments and the United Nations to declare an air exclusion zone in the north of Iraq. Many Opposition Members, including my hon.
Column 512Friend the Member for Islington, North, disagreed with the attitude of many hon. Members in respect of the invasion of Iraq. As I have said, if we are to build a new world order, it must be built on the basis of international law. When international law is broken, we cannot say that we will not deal with that breach of international law because someone else is breaking international law at the same time. That is unacceptable.
I have spent much time supporting many organisations, particularly the Palestinians, and I know that many of my colleagues were surprised when I supported so forcefully United Nations intervention against Iraq. However, I did that on a simple concept. Iraq broke international law when it invaded Kuwait. It does not matter about the rights or wrongs of any other international conflict elsewhere in the world. That was not important. Iraq's breach of international law was a threat to international law and it had to be dealt with. As I have argued that international law should be the basis on which to resolve conflicts through the United Nations, I was pleased that on that occasion, the world was prepared to do something meaningful. We all supported that. However, once that action was concluded, there were on-going responsibilities and many people had not thought about those responsibilities. The responsibilities were not only to the Kurds in the north but to the Shias in the south. The air exclusion zone in the north of Iraq was set up speedily, but we assured Iraq that we did not seek to break up the country and that we would recognise it as a country once democracy was restored--whenever that is. It is for the Iraqi people to decide on the internal arrangements between the Sunni Muslims, the Shias and the Kurds. We were not prepared to allow one group to cleanse ethnically a part of the country of another group. The air exclusion zone has proved to be a success and is another building block, showing our determination to move towards a new world order. The air exclusion zone in the south came rather late. It is difficult to know why some things become obvious and acceptable earlier than others. To those of us who knew anything about Saddam Hussein, it seemed obvious that unless force was shown to him, and in some cases used against him, he would continue to attack the Shias in the south, just as he had attacked the Kurds in the north and people in other parts of Iraq not covered by air exclusion zones. I welcome both zones.
I hope that all hon. Members will encourage the Iraqi opposition groups and members of the Iraqi Kurdish Parliament who will be in London during the next few weeks to meet the Foreign Office. I also hope that they will encourage all the other people who are concerned about democracy in Iraq and will assure them of our support. The hon. Member for Bexleyheath mentioned Bosnia, which is a more difficult problem. The House has debated the subject many times, so I shall not stay on it too long. Our approach to Bosnia has been correct and has been one of moving forward slowly.
Almost every male adult in the former Yugoslavia has been trained to carry weapons more professionally than the people of Somalia, who have just had guns stuck in their hands and been told that they are in one gang or another. As part of the Yugoslavs' determination not to be invaded by the Soviet Union they had a patchwork of
Column 513resistance organisations and weapons throughout the country and all males were trained to use the weapons in time of need.
People who suggest that we could simply go in and quickly quell the various factions in any part of the former Yugoslavia are being taught one or two lessons. The Serbs have demonstrated that they can look after themselves and the Croats have also demonstrated that, even with less military hardware and firepower than the Serbs, they can put up stiff resistance in support of their local communities. Clearly, Bosnia is a different proposition from Somalia, but, as has been said time and again, there are things that we could have done but have not. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda will remind us that the agreed sanctions should be enforced more powerfully. The exclusion zone is being broken regularly. We must make it clear to the Government in Belgrade and to the Bosnian Serbs that that will not be tolerated. If they refuse to listen to us, we shall have to consider what actions to take to ensure that the air exclusion zone works. More than anything, we must ensure that sanctions work and become more effective, as that is the best hope for peace in the area.
Also, we must never miss the opportunity to restate our determination to ensure that the various groups in Bosnia have a right to a say in the final determination of the Bosnia Herzegovina problem, and must encourage the Muslim community to realise that we are just as concerned about its right to a say in the future of the country.
The decision taken by the Heads of Government of 50 Muslim states in Jeddah yesterday was helpful. It is one more weapon in the armoury of those who are committed to peace in Bosnia, to remind the Serbs that those 50 Governments gave us until 15 January 1993 to do something more effective to protect the Muslims and to ensure that the attacks on them cease. We can use that weapon to show the Serbian Government we are determined and it gives us a time scale within which we can tell the various forces in Bosnia Herzegovina that we are determined to bring the conflict to a peaceful conclusion. The debate has been useful, if only to allow us to tell the United Nations that we are committed to the proposals in the
Secretary-General's agenda for change. We understand that some of those proposals mean that we might have to give up some powers. On occasion, we may well be outvoted, as other countries may disagree with our view of how to resolve a problem. We may have to accept that, although we think that we have the answer, the collective wisdom of the General Assembly may decide otherwise. We shall have to accept the decisions taken in that body and learn to live with them. I know that that is difficult, especially at this period in Parliament's history when we are having to deal with sharing power with another organisation just across the channel. It is difficult for the House to accept decisions made elsewhere, but, if there is to be a new world order, the more powerful nations must accept that they will not always win. If we are to share power and influence, on occasion we shall have to listen more closely to other parts of the continent or the United Nations. We might be called on to commit a larger financial contribution, or to provide