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Unrwa: Financial Crises

Volume 417: debated on Tuesday 10 February 1981

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2.43 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what they have done or are doing in the Council of Ministers of the EEC to translate the views expressed by Lord Trefgarne on 14th January ( Official Report, cols. 164–167) into effective Community action to prevent the collapse of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for the Palestinian Refugees.

My Lords, we shall take the earliest opportunity to discuss UNRWA's financial crisis with our partners in European political co-operation. As a first step we are raising the matter at the meeting of the Political Committee in the Hague which starts today.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Will he make every effort to induce his colleagues to be more forthcoming in the matter of supporting UNRWA?

My Lords, if the noble Lord is suggesting that the United Kingdom should do more—as I think he is—then I should tell him that our record is a very good one. We have pledged £5 million for 1981, which is in itself a 10 per cent. increase over 1980. We also contribute through our one-fifth share of the European Communities' contribution which in 1980 stood at £11·39 million. We are thus the second largest contributor over the 30-year period of UNRWA's existence.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, in the short, sharp and very informed debate that we had on this matter the other day, we all agreed that Her Majesty's Government were doing quite well in this matter, and indeed had increased their contribution to this year over last year? Does he further recall that information was given to the House—at least from this side—that very many, if not most, of our partners in the EEC were falling short of last year's performance rather than improving upon it?

Yes, indeed, my Lords. We acknowledge that some of our European partners contribute less than the United Kingdom. We hope they will respond sympathetically to the Commissioner-General's appeal for funds. But we think, of course, that prime responsibility rests with the Arabs.

My Lords, can my noble friend say what contribution the Soviet Union makes to this fund?

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind at the Hague that a sum of only 13 million dollars would enable UNWRA to keep the schools open in the occupied territories, and a further 5 million dollars would take in the Lebanon, as well? May I suggest to the Government that this should be the minimum target at which Western Europe should aim?

My information is that rather more money than that is required—certainly if the sub-stantial closures foreshadowed by the Commissioner-General are to be avoided. We shall certainly do our best to persuade our colleagues at the committee to which I referred to take this matter very seriously.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord this? Would it be true to say that over the century the PLO have received more than many organisations and more than a great many refugees have received over the years? Usually we do not recognise that. They have received more help than a great many people who are in need of help.

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Baroness is necessarily wrong in the figures to which she has referred; but I cannot hide from your Lordships the gravity with which we face this problem.