Skip to main content

UN: Security Council Composition

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 24 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have made for the future composition of the United Nations Security Council and for the appointment of future Secretaries-General.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has made clear the UK’s support for Security Council reform, most recently on 17 November in his speech on Britain’s foreign policy at Georgetown University, when he emphasised:

“We are ardent advocates of … the reform of international institutions, including a more representative UN Security Council”.

On the appointment of Secretaries-General, the UN charter is explicit that the General Assembly appoints a Secretary-General on the Security Council’s recommendation.

I thank the noble Lord for that reply, but does he not agree that now is the time to put in place convincing arrangements for the appointment of the next Secretary-General? Is it not absolutely crucial that we have a system which is robust and transparent and which sets out to find the best-qualified person in the world to do the job, as distinct from what is an acceptable compromise between people in committee rooms? Does he not also agree that, if we are to reform the Security Council, we also need to look at its remit to ensure that it is not simply about military security, as economic, environmental, migration and related issues are central to the remit of peace and stability in the world?

On the noble Lord’s second point, of course I agree totally. That is indeed the central requirement and concern. With regard to the selection of Secretaries-General, the noble Lord probably knows better than I do that this is a Security Council-dominated process. We believe that the Secretary-General should have the broadest possible support from the UN membership, which of course includes support from the Security Council and the five permanent members. The matter is not entirely in our gift and hands; nevertheless, the noble Lord’s points are very valid and we will bear them very much in mind in this process.

My Lords, will the Minister elaborate slightly on what the Foreign Secretary said at Georgetown? Are the British Government prepared to contemplate an interim step towards reform of the Security Council by having a longer-term category of members who are not yet permanent members—that would make the Security Council more representative—rather than trying endlessly to solve the Rubik’s Cube of new permanent members?

That is a possibility. The noble Lord was a member of the high-level panel—a very eminent member of a very eminent panel—which put forward various models. We would like to go forward with reform but, as he knows, first, there is resistance from some existing permanent members, who do not want any change at all, and, secondly, there is resistance from another group of members, who are not on the Security Council but who are opposed to any change for other reasons. It is therefore difficult to advance even to the interim arrangements that he so expertly described. Anything that can unblock the system and move forward to a modern and—dare I say?—fit-for-purpose United Nations structure, rather than the one that we inherited from the 1940s, would be a great improvement.

My Lords, the British and French Governments declared in 2008 that they would jointly move towards the intermediate arrangements of which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke, but the Foreign Secretary’s speech made no reference to that. I wonder whether the official position of Her Majesty’s Government is that they have abandoned that as a means of moving forward. I am sure that the noble Lord would agree with me that for us to say that Brazil should come in and for the United States to say that India should come in would hardly be a means to getting consensus, as we cherry-pick certain countries.

No, we have not abandoned that position. We continue to work very closely with the French. We are completely committed to enlarging the Security Council and including India, Brazil, Germany and Japan as permanent members. However, in the absence of agreement, which it would be nice to see, together with France we have suggested the intermediate model, which has already been referred to.

I have listened to the noble Lord talking about enlargement of the Security Council and having four new permanent members. Is the Government’s position that the veto privilege should go with that membership?

Yes, certainly—the question is very simple. The Government are suggesting that there should be four new members of the Security Council. Will they have the right of veto?

The problem is that there is more than one idea around, including the two from the high-level panel of which the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was a part. One, indeed, was that the new members should have the right of veto, with, I think, six non-permanent members added. Another proposition is that the whole structure should be altered and the right of veto should be developed in different ways, with some vetoes on some issues. The noble Lord has been deeply involved in the United Nations—indeed, he was our representative there—and knows the difficulty of getting agreement on any of these patterns. One possibility is that the veto should be offered to new permanent members, of which the four are the front-runners, but it is only a possibility and I cannot put it higher than that.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the coalition Government will maintain the pressure on the UN to implement all the reforms in the 2006 report Delivering as One, which would have an impact on the appointment of the Secretary-General and several other senior appointments, among other things?

Yes, we think that those are very valid ideas. We would not back every detail of every idea, but many of them are certainly worth backing and supporting.

My Lords, the noble Lord has my sympathy: I remember being asked a very similar question, quite possibly by my noble friend Lord Judd, in 1997, and, I am bound to say, giving a very similar answer. The noble Lord has listed four countries and they are indeed the same four countries as I think I listed way back then. There is, however, the question of Africa. What the noble Lord has proposed as the British Government’s position does not envisage any direct African representation. This is not a question of individual countries; it is a question of a whole continent. I wonder whether he would reflect on that.

The noble Baroness is almost certainly right about the similarity of the answer—we have not made much progress in the past year or two. She is also right to open the question of African representation. We have argued—as I think the previous Government of whom she was a distinguished member argued—that, as well as the four countries, there should be African representation. If she then presses me to say which countries, I would have to say that it is a little difficult to decide. However, the general proposition that there should be African representation as well is part of our policy and fully taken on board.