My Lords, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom is in a privileged position to play an active role in maintaining international peace and security. We use this position to work hard towards constructive solutions to international crises, to promote British values and to confront threats to UK security. This gives us a positive impact on stability overseas, which directly affects the security and prosperity of the people of the UK.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Clearly membership is of use and value to our nation. In that case, and in the context of the national security strategy, have we looked in detail at what capabilities and attributes we need as a permanent member, bearing in mind that many countries feel they ought to be there? Does the Minister feel that the 14% cut in our defence budget since 2010 and the cut to our diplomatic capability enable us to continue in that position? Having mentioned the military, I am sure all of us want to express our admiration for the bravery and sense of duty of our men and women who have just finished 13 and a half years in Afghanistan.
My Lords, I gladly add my words to that sentiment for our serving personnel now and in the past and, indeed, for the United Nations peacekeepers who come from around the world to carry out such difficult tasks. With regard to matters of defence spending and the calculation of how a contribution may be made, in looking at our participation in United Nations matters we take into account overall plans with regard to security at home, in NATO and overseas more broadly. That is part of the work that is done. On the second limb of his question regarding defence spending, we are committed to allocating 2% of GDP to defence and that will continue at least until the general election. After that, of course, there is another spending review.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the privileged status that permanent membership brings also carries a responsibility to have a leadership role among other nations and organisations? In the light of that, have Her Majesty’s Government carried out an assessment of what might happen to Britain’s privileged status if it were to withdraw from the European Union?
My Lords, it is clear that at the formation of the United Nations, after the problems with the League of Nations, we were one of the major five states and therefore part of the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council. We remain there and our position is strong. I do not see any future in discussing our removal. Indeed, the discussion in the United Nations area is about enlarging the Security Council. There is no threat to our membership that I can foresee now or in the future.
My Lords, will the Minister, in the same sense in which she has just replied, confirm that there is no possibility that Britain could lose its place as a permanent member of the Security Council unless it developed suicidal tendencies? The charter makes it perfectly clear that you would have to change the wording to remove one member, and that could be done only if all five permanent members then ratified it. It is, therefore, up to us. As far as the qualifications for permanent membership are concerned, it might be useful to look at the report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, which set out a long list of criteria which it believed any new permanent member ought to be able to fulfil before being accepted.
I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who has great experience of these matters not only in the diplomatic field but because of his role in the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the United Nations. I was very glad last week to be invited to stand alongside the United Nations Association to celebrate its 69th birthday. He is right with regard to membership, and our position there is secure.
My Lords, the costs of UN membership are charged proportionately according to the size of a country’s population and national income. Will the Government make an equally strong song and dance about UN membership if fees go up, as they have done with the EU? Will we see members of the Minister’s party advocate withdrawal from the UN if they do?
My Lords, our position on the United Nations is something of which we are proud. We are proud that it works for peace and we are proud that we are part of the multicultural approach to resolving the world’s crises and the humanitarian efforts. We are going to stay there.
Does my noble friend agree that if we are looking for benefits for the British people from international institutions we might invest more time and effort in developing our links with the Commonwealth, which contains 2.3 billion people who use English as their working language and most of the big growth markets of the future?
I entirely agree with my noble friend about the importance of the Commonwealth. The main objectives of the Foreign Office are always to look at policy through the prism of security and prosperity. The Commonwealth is a crucial aspect of that.