HC Deb 22 November 1985 vol 87 cc517-85

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lang.]

9.35 am
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Timothy Raison)

It is exactly a year to the day since my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary informed the House of the decision of the Government to submit formal notice of withdrawal from UNESCO. This will take effect, unless rescinded, on 31 December 1985. This decision followed a careful review of the background, and in particular of what had already been achieved in respect of reform of UNESCO during 1984.

UNESCO has been beset with problems of inefficiency, over-politicisation and obscure programming for a great many years. We have in particular been worried by a slow-moving, over-centralised, top-heavy administration, with outdated procedures and poor delegation of authority. Morale in the organisation has been notoriously bad. UNESCO had also become increasingly used as a forum for the propagation of ideas repugnant to the people of this country. The so-called new world information and communication order, an idea which arose from the work of a UNESCO-sponsored commission chaired by Sean MacBride, posed a threat to the freedom of the press because it could be used to justify rigid Government controls in the name of producing a balanced flow of information.

UNESCO activities have too often been used as a medium for Communist rhetoric—largely, but not exclusively, over such issues as peace, disarmament and human rights. An example of this is the working document prepared for the world congress on youth held in Barcelona early this year. Material sometimes comes through the secretariat which is thoroughly biased.

UNESCO has also, we believe, spent too much money in Paris on too many meetings and too many studies, often of doubtful value. Let me give two examples from UNESCO's current programmes. We really find it hard to believe in the value of studies on the social and cultural dimensions of world problems or on the relationship between access and participation in the interest of the democratisation of communication —an apparently harmless phrase which can be used to justify activities which are far from democratic.

That is not, of course, to say that everything UNESCO does is harmful or of little value. The constitution remains in most respects as valid today as it was 40 years ago. There is certainly a foundation of practical activity on which to build. For natural sciences UNESCO has provided research and training services in mathematics, physics, chemistry and life sciences, and perhaps particularly in geology, hydrology and oceanography. In education, the major regional programmes for literacy and primary education in Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean are developing soundly. Handbooks for teachers and other teaching materials are produced in various scientific and technical subjects. In culture, UNESCO has a long-standing reputation in promoting the preservation of monuments and the development of museums.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Does the Minister agree that that part of UNESCO's programme which he is now praising constitutes about 98 per cent. of its expenditure, and that the part that he criticised earlier constitutes about 2 per cent.?

Mr. Raison

No, I do not agree. There is a core of good, solid work, but there are other aspects which give great cause for concern, not only to the Government, but to many others outside Parliament. Overall we were not satisfied that UNESCO represented good value for money either for us or for other member states, particularly the developing countries, and, contrary to what has sometimes been suggested, the sums involved are not so small as to be ignored. If we were to stay in UNESCO, our financial contribution for 1986 would be just under $9 million, or £6.4 million at current rates of exchange. The question that we have to ask is whether this money could be put to better use if it were to be devoted to other activities in education, science and culture within our overall aid programme.

British and other delegations had raised these issues at many previous sessions of the general conference, but until the last two years no comprehensive attempt to set the organisation to rights had been made. Following a review of our policy during 1983, we decided that if the results of the general conference held in that year were seriously damaging to British interests in some way, withdrawal should be seriously considered. The outcome of that conference was somewhat better than expected. The Americans nevertheless put in their notice to withdraw at the end of 1983, to take effect at the end of 1984. We decided that we should stay in the organisation, at least for 1984, and fight for reform from within, but that we should seriously consider withdrawal again if significant progress had not been made by the end of the year.

On 2 April 1984 I wrote to the director-general, Mr. M'Bow, to tell him that we thought radical changes were necessary and to spell out in broad terms those areas of UNESCO's programmes and management in which we sought improvements. We did not believe that it was necessary to propose in immense detail the means by which improvements might be gained. However, I made specific proposals in my letter. These have, where appropiate, been amplified. Indeed, I can reasonably claim that the proposals contained in my letter have largely set the agenda for reform of UNESCO.

In the wake of my letter and the pressures arising from the threatened United States withdrawal, various steps were taken by the director-general and by the executive board towards reform. In particular, the board set up the temporary committee of 13 members, including the United Kingdom. This met during the summer of 1984 and produced a series of detailed proposals for reform which were endorsed by the full board in the autumn of 1984. At the same time, the board adopted a decision setting out the guidelines for the preparation of the next programme and budget covering the calendar years 1986 and 1987.

We reviewed the situation carefully towards the end of 1984 and acknowledged that some progress had been made towards reform. However, we concluded that much remained to be done. Certainly, at that time, we could not be confident that adequate reform to justify continued British membership would be achieved by the end of 1985. We therefore submitted our notice of withdrawal. At the same time, we said that a further review of British policy would be held after the general conference in 1985. Meanwhile, we would continue to work for reform, in co-operation with other countries, as vigorously as in 1984.

The Government's overriding interest in 1985, as in 1984, has been to bring about reform in UNESCO. I assure the House that British representatives in Paris and elsewhere have indeed vigorously pursued our aims throughout this period. I shall describe what has happened, and, inevitably, some of the details are complicated.

At its spring session this year, the executive board endorsed a timetable for the implementation of reforms already agreed which had been recommended by the temporary committee. It also adopted a series of detailed recommendations on the draft programme and budget for 1986–87.

The draft programme contained a number of useful innovations, notably, for the first time, an element of priority rating. This was forced on the secretariat by the United States withdrawal and the consequent loss of 25 per cent. of the budget. It took the form of dividing all activities into categories of first and second priority, the second priority activities amounting to approximately 25 per cent. of the whole. They will not be implemented unless additional funds are made available. Though crude, the setting of priorities was a useful step forward. As part of its recommendations to the general conference, the board suggested a number of changes to the priority ratings, the main thrust of which was to preserve the scientific programmes to a greater extent than originally envisaged by the secretariat.

The main event of the year was the general conference, which took place in Sofia from 8 October to 9 November. The principal role of the conference is to approve the programme and budget for the next biennium, but it considers a large number of other issues. However, it does not have the main responsibility for determining management issues or reforms; these are mainly within the constitutional responsibility of the director-general or the board.

Following the spring session of the board, we had carefully reviewed progress. In the light of this, a statement of key United Kingdom objectives for the conference was drawn up and circulated widely in Paris and in other capitals through our diplomatic missions before the conference. We were looking for further improvements in politically contentious programmes, more effective and concentrated programmes, decisions on financial issues which respected the board's recommendations concerning zero real growth and the principle of no extra cost to members arising from the United States withdrawal and confirmation of the management reforms which had already been agreed.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

Will my right hon. Friend comment on the reasons given by the comptroller general to the House of Representatives and say whether they influenced our decision? Will they be taken into consideration, as they were extremely critical?

Mr. Raison

The American General Audit conducted a review of UNESCO, as my hon. Friend points out, as a result of which many critical points were made. On the other hand, it is fair to say that it was critical, not of what one might call the probity of the organisation, but of many of its operations. Those reports were not discussed directly by the executive board in Paris, because the United States had left the organisation. We made sure, however, that the substance of them was discussed during the proceedings in the last year or so.

To pursue the objectives which I described, the British delegation submitted a number of formal draft resolutions to the conference. Among the more important of these was a text proposing changes to priority gradings amounting to some $3.7 million across almost all major programmes, and detailed proposals concerning major programmes III and XIII, which deal respectively with communication issues and peace, disarmament and human rights. These are the two major programmes that give rise to most political problems for us.

I attended the Sofia conference for a few days near the beginning to make the main British plenary speech and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs took part in the discussions in the commission on major programme XIII towards the end of the conference.

In my speech I outlined what we hoped to achieve at the conference. I went on to suggest, however, that practical reforms were not everything and that we were looking for a return to the spirit which inspired the founding conference in 1945. I concluded by saying:

It is this concern for freedom and the rights of the individual, taken together with our own belief that UNESCO is nowhere near sufficiently focused on the practical development of education, science and culture, which lie at the heart of the serious and carefully-considered steps we have taken. They are why we insist on thoroughgoing and comprehensive reform. Without it, our intention to withdraw will be confirmed". During the visits of my hon. Friend and myself, we met many other delegations, formally and informally. It was clear to both of us that some were doubtful about our intentions but even those who believed, wrongly, that an irrevocable decision to withdraw had already been taken seemed anxious to keep us in or, at least, not give us an easy pretext to withdraw. We were impressed by the efforts made to produce a common line with other Western delegations.

On the positive side, the conference confirmed the important recommendations concerning zero real growth and no extra costs arising from the United States withdrawal. It confirmed the recommendation of the board to delete an international future-oriented study as a separate element in the programme. That aspect had concerned us. We held the line on communications issues, in spite of strong eastern European pressure and a recent decision in New York which endangered the UNESCO consensus language which had evolved concerning a new world information and communication order. Secretariat pressure for a number of new international legal instruments was successfully withstood. These included one particularly dangerous idea—the international regulation of the use of works which have passed out of copyright protection. In a low-key conference there was less overt politicisation than before. For the first time the resolutions adopted on middle east issues within the competence of UNESCO were acceptable to us and to our Community partners. For the first time too the conference turned against a number of highly politicised and irrelevant draft resolutions produced by the eastern Europeans.

There were, however, significant disappointments. We had hoped to obtain changes in the priority ratings of specific activities which would preserve to the greatest extent possible key elements of the programme concerned with education, science and culture at the expense of less useful activities. Some changes were made, but the overall effect was disappointing.

In particular, we were unable to peg major programme XIII—the one concerned with peace, disarmament and human rights—to anything near the average overall reduction of 25 per cent. This was due partly to procedural problems, but mainly to an unwillingness on the part of most delegates to reopen issues which they regarded as having been dealt with by the executive board. There also remained points of concern about independent evaluation, which has been a key element in our reform programme.

Overall, the outcome on major programme XIII was mixed. The resolution that was adopted did not go as far as we had hoped in limiting UNESCO's role in relation to disarmament issues, but we were successful in preventing UNESCO, in its proposed activities for 1986–87, from endangering the supremacy of individual human rights as defined in the three universally recognised instruments. It was made clear that the in some ways questionable concept of people's rights had a different status from human rights and required further clarification.

We regret that the general conference as a whole showed little interest in looking for new ways of working, particularly in the programme commissions. This contrasts with the positive attitude towards procedural reform shown by the board.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

What does the Minister mean by saying that the concept of people's rights is questionable? Surely basic concepts such as the right to self-determination have long been recognised in international law.

Mr. Raison

The questionable element in the concept of people's rights is the point at which they are held to override individual rights. As I have said, there are international conventions which give a supremacy to individual human rights which we have always regarded as being of very great importance. People's rights, if they are abused, can be a way of determining that the collective power of the Government should override the rights of individuals. That is the area which concerns us.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

This is an important question. Will the Minister accept that the individual rights of citizens should be given equal consideration in the government of the country in which they live? That is the fundamental principle on which the American constitution is formed. Due process of law became the basis on which every American, black and white, had the right to vote. Is the present Government's view that human rights are denied in every country where there is not an absolutely equal franchise in respect of the election of the Government? That is what people's rights are about.

Mr. Raison

We believe that in a democracy every citizen should have the right to participate in government. The equal right to participate is the target towards which democracy must and should move. The fear about the doctrine of people's rights is that it can be used in a way to allow the power of the state to override the rights of the individual. That is our concern, and I should be surprised if even the right hon. Gentleman did not share that view.

Mr. Benn

With great respect, the use of people's rights in this House to take away the rights of the citizens of London by the abolition of the Greater London council is a perfect example of the way in which the Government have used their national majority to destroy the rights of individuals in this country.

Mr. Raison

It is wholly extraneous political considerations that mar the work of UNESCO, in the way that the right hon. Gentleman has just illustrated.

I now turn to the important report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, which appeared shortly before the general conference and which we have studied with great care. This debate is a response to one of the recommendations of the report—that this House should have a chance to give its view before a final decision is taken.

The House will not expect me to give a yes or no answer to the Select Committee's view that, subject to certain provisos, we should not implement our notice of withdrawal. What would be the point of consulting the House if I were to give the answer now? However, I should like to say a few words about four of the main issues dealt with in the report. These are the tactics of submitting formal notice of withdrawal, the financial balance sheet, the concept of universality, and the international consequences of withdrawal.

As regards tactics, I was pleased to see that the report seemed on balance to find that the effect on reform of our giving notice was beneficial. I note the conclusion that

it seems inconceivable that a reform programme of the kind now under way within UNESCO could have been undertaken without the stimulus provided by the United Kingdom Government". What of the financial balance sheet? The report suggests that the figures provided by my officials suggest that the United Kingdom receipts from UNESCO's budget are substantially in excess of our direct budgetary contribution, but there are two important factors to bear in mind. First, the receipt figures include a very substantial element funded from sources other than the regular UNESCO programme, and to many of which—for example, the United Nations development programme—Britain makes a separate voluntary contribution. There is no certainty that there would be any loss of contracts for activities funded in this way. Indeed, it is possible that not all contracts under the regular programme would be lost. Furthermore, the purchase of goods and services in the United Kingdom for 1984 was $5.2 million and for 1985 $2.8 million. Of the remaining $10 million per annum referred to in the report, which represents payment of salaries to British employees of UNESCO in Paris or in the field, only a little would accrue to the United Kingdom balance of payments. So there are modifications which have to be made to the argument put forward in that respect.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear to the House that it is his view, having studied the figures, that it is of direct financial benefit to the United Kingdom to remain within UNESCO? Secondly, will he make it clear that, if we should come out, there is no guarantee whatever that the money saved will go to, for example, the BBC external services or to the British Council?

Mr. Raison

It is very difficult to say what the financial benefits are. I have explained some of the qualifying factors. There are others which have to be taken into account.

With regard to the important question of what we would do with the money if we were to leave UNESCO, I hope—indeed, I believe—that it would be retained within the British aid programme. Obviously, within the British aid programme a very strong candidate for its use would be activities related to education and science, which might be funded through the agency of the British Council. We have to bear in mind that there is potentially an alternative use for the money which could serve very much the same purposes as UNESCO serves.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Minister admit that the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs received strong evidence from scientific bodies in the United Kingdom that it is not possible for the British Council to undertake most of the programmes that would be lost by our withdrawal from UNESCO, and that it is only UNESCO and similar multilateral organisations that can carry out these programmes?

Mr. Raison

We could continue to take part in some of the international scientific programmes, but possibly in some of the others we could not. My point is that if the money were to be switched out of UNESCO into my general budget, it could perfectly well be used on activities relating to education, science and culture in the Third world. We might well use the British Council to bring that about. Any loss to international scientific activities deriving from our withdrawal could be balanced by increased activity on our behalf. There is no doubt about that.

Mr. Foulkes

The Opposition agree that there can be switches in the budget, just as huge chunks of the Minister's budget are now being improperly used in the Falkland Islands.

Mr. Raison

We have returned to politicisation of a rather irrelevant kind. I know that this is a political House, but my budget for the Falkland Islands is used for developmental work there.

The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs also dealt with universality. I can confirm that it is the Government's view that universality means the right to belong to, and participate freely in, the work of the United Nations and its associated bodies, rather than implying any obligation to be a member of all of them.

The international consequences of withdrawal is a complicated matter. There are two main aspects: the effect of possible United Kingdom withdrawal on our relations with our partners and friends, particularly in the Community and the Commonwealth, and the danger that such a withdrawal would leave the door open to mischief-making in UNESCO from other quarters. Our current assessment is similar to that of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is that there would be little likelihood of others submitting notice of withdrawal before the end of the year. However, if we decide to leave, it would not be difficult to explain to other countries the reasons which underlay our decision.

Dealing with increased Communist influence would depend upon a number of imponderable factors. To suggest that, in the absence of the United States of America, only the United Kingdom can counter Soviet advances is far from complimentary to many of our closest allies and underestimates the good sense of our Commonwealth and other friends.

Before I leave the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs' report, I should refer briefly to the two specific proposals for further reform that it contains. These are, first, that the term of office of the director-general should be restricted in future to a single tour of six years, and, secondly, that an executive body of more manageable size than the current executive board of 51 members should be set up.

I find both those ideas well worth considering. They both relate to one of our major areas of concern—the relationship between the governing bodies and the secretariat. We believe that it has swung too far in favour of the latter and we cannot ignore the management weaknesses. I doubt whether it can be healthy for any international organisation to have had only two directors-general in 23 years, which is the case with UNESCO.

I have to warn the House that I can see some practical problems in pressing for these reforms. Both would require constitutional amendment. So far, we have avoided reform proposals which would require amendment to the constitution, for two reasons. First, constitutional amendments take time, since only the general conference can change the constitution. But we have also been very reluctant to pursue such proposals since, in doing so, we might encourage others to submit amendments to what we still see as a basically satisfactory document.

Clearly all this needs very serious thought. There could be other ways of achieving the same aims without formal constitutional amendment. For example, the board has now charged a renewed special committee of 18 members to follow the reform process, a function which it has taken over from the temporary committee.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, we committed ourselves to a final review of our decision to leave after the recent general conference. That is now being carried out. Our starting point must be an assessment of the outcome of two years' work by Ministers and officials in seeking to reform the complex organism which UNESCO has become. Other Governments will no doubt wish to make their views known to us.

Obviously there have been improvements. The main problem now will be to form a judgment on whether those measures are enough to meet the very serious needs, whether they will be properly implemented and how effective they will be. That depends on forming a view on whether the majority of member states and the director-general have wholeheartedly embraced the idea that reform is necessary and urgent, or whether they have, reluctantly, gone along with as much as they believed to be necessary to stop Britain and others leaving.

Sir Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

At the Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg Mr. M'Bow arrogantly refused to answer almost 50 per cent. of the questions put to him, and his answers to the remainder were entirely unsatisfactory. I believe that the full opinion of the Council of Europe, with Members of Parliament from 21 nations present, was that no reformation and progress—which I should like to see for UNESCO—could take place while Mr. M'Bow was still director-general.

Mr. Raison

I shall consider my hon. Friend's point in the context of today's debate.

Mr. Foulkes

This debate is not about whether we are in favour of Mr. M'Bow. It is on the much more important matter of whether we are in favour of UNESCO. That organisation is much more important than any man.

Mr. Raison

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the debate is about whether we should remain in UNESCO. There are many factors to consider on that score, and I am discussing them in my speech.

I cannot forecast the outcome of our review, but we will take account of the many and various factors involved before reaching a firm conclusion. I shall, of course, listen carefully to the views of the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO when it meets next Friday. We aim to announce our decision before the House rises for the Christmas recess. I assure the House that the decision on whether we should remain in UNESCO will not be taken lightly and that the Government will take note of the views expressed in the debate.

10.7 am

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

The Opposition greatly welcome the debate as an opportunity for the Government to consult the House and we congratulate the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs and my old sparring partner the hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw), the Chairman of the Select Committee, on the excellent report that was produced.

This is a crucial debate not just for British membership and the future of UNESCO, but for other United Nations agencies and for the United Nations as a whole. The debate is a political issue and test of the United Kingdom's commitment to the Third world and to the multilateral organisations that are so vital to Third-world development.

It is important to remember that the impetus for the creation of UNESCO came from the United Kingdom. The first director-general of UNESCO was the distinguished British scientist, Sir Julian Huxley. Its external auditor is our Comptroller and Auditor General, and any new country joining UNESCO must deposit its instruments of adhesion with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I do not know what will happen if we maintain our decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

UNESCO has carried out important work over the past few years. Many hon. Members will have had representations about that work. Between 1979 and 1983, more than 1,000 operational programmes have been carried out in 100 states. That is vital work. The organisation has been involved in educational planning in developing countries and the construction of oceanographic research vessels, it has spent £31 million a year on scientific programmes, its campaigns have brought literacy to over 15 million adults and young people not attending schools, and it has also helped in the training of nearly 30,000 teachers. As the Minister will know better than most people, UNESCO has helped to provide water supplies in drought-ridden areas of Africa and elsewhere. In short, it has provided vital science and technology programmes for the Third world.

There can be no doubt in the House about the value of that work. As I said in an intervention, it represents the major part of UNESCO's work. The activities that the Government are challenging and questioning are a very small proportion of the work undertaken. The Government have a right and, I would argue, a duty to ensure that the organisation is working efficiently and effectively. The Opposition do not quarrel with that, and other countries would share the Government's view. However, the Opposition, together with the Select Committee, question the Government's tactics and threats, and our European partners who share our desire for reform also share the Opposition's concern.

It is important for us to recall that, as the Minister admitted, the process of reform had begun before the United Kingdom issued its notice of withdrawal. We give credit to the Minister for playing a part in setting the agenda, but, as he admitted, five working groups within UNESCO had been set up and, on their initiative, the temporary committee had accepted 117 administrative reforms, including the establishment of a central evaluation unit, before the United Kingdom issued its threat to withdraw.

Understandably, many people suspect that the United Kingdom's list of demands is a pretext and that the threat to withdraw is a political decision, made under pressure from the United States. It is suspected that there is a hidden agenda behind the Government's proposal.

We know that the American withdrawal had nothing to do with a desire for reform. Indeed, the United States permanent delegate spilled the beans when he said: If all the management, personnel and budgetary reforms were agreed to, if UNESCO suddenly became the perfect model of administrative efficiency, management effectiveness and staff productivity, that still would not be enough. The United States decision to withdraw was political. Not wishing to be isolated in the world, the Americans decided to take the United Kingdom along with them. They put intense pressure, overt and covert, on the British Government. Having publicly declared that America would exert no pressure, Secretary of State Shultz later publicly urged the United Kingdom to leave, as we read in The Guardian on 30 October. We heard again today that the Foreign Secretary has been discussing the matter with Mr. Shultz who, no doubt, has been turning the screw even further.

Mr. Raison

There is one basic rule, which is not to believe everything that The Guardian says. It is arguable that one should not believe anything that The Guardian says. My right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary saw Mr. Shultz yesterday. This matter was not discussed and there has been no pressure from the United States Government on us about this decision.

Mr. Foulkes

On this issue, I prefer to believe what I read in The Guardian than what I read in some other newspapers. I shall develop that aspect later.

Thanks to Gough Whitlam, the Australian ambassador to UNESCO, and The Guardian—the Minister may have doubts, but I have no doubts about what I have read—we know about the covert pressure co-ordinated by the Right-wing Heritage Foundation. That pressure has involved the former Australian ambassador to UNESCO, Owen Herries, the United States ambassador, Jean Gerard, and some hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker). We know about the meetings that took place at the Garrick club to co-ordinate the plot to get Britain to issue the notice of withdrawal. If the plot did not exist and the plans were not made, I ask the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South and the Minister to deny the claims.

Hon. Members should not imagine that the Heritage Foundation plans to stop with UNESCO.

Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

I was comparing notes with my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Sir P. Hawkins) when the hon. Gentleman referred to me a moment ago. Will he repeat what he said about me?

Mr. Foulkes

I said that the right hon. Gentleman and others, including the former Australian ambassador to UNESCO, Owen Herries, and the United States ambassador, Jean Gerard, were involved in discussions to put pressure on the Government to issue a withdrawal notice and to issue the ultimatum to UNESCO. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to deny that, I shall be interested to hear what he has to say.

Sir Peter Blaker

I deny that instantly. I have met Mr. Owen Herries, whom I found extremely interesting in relation to UNESCO. He had direct experience there. I have never met Gerard.

Mr. Foulkes

My information is that meetings took place. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted meeting Owen Herries. All this was co-ordinated by the Heritage Foundation—a United States trust. The hon. Gentleman may wish to deny it publicly, but my information is that he was part of meetings organised by the Heritage Foundation which were designed to put pressure on the Government to withdraw from UNESCO. The right hon. Gentleman does not deny it.

Sir Peter Blaker

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do deny it.

Mr. Foulkes

We can check up on another occasion. My information is that the right hon. Gentleman was part of it.

Hon. Members should not imagine that the Heritage Foundation plans to stop with UNESCO. That is only the first of many. Last year, the foundation published an anthology entitled "A World without the United Nations", which suggested that the United States would be better off if it came out of other United Nations bodies, including the World Health Organisation and UNICEF. It even suggested withdrawing from the General Assembly. No doubt the British Government would be expected to follow obediently behind.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that many of the arguments against UNESCO, in terms of its administrative top-heaviness and the views expressed within the organisation, could be applied with equal force to other agencies, each of which, like UNESCO, is justified by the value of the work that it does and the general value of internationalism?

Mr. Foulkes

I accept that fact. No doubt there will be complaints about other agencies in the future. As I said earlier, the Government's proposal is important not only for UNESCO, but for other United Nations organisations.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the United States has already shown its general policy towards the United Nations by virtually withdrawing from the United Nations fund for population activities? It was a major contributor to the budget, but the Right wing in the United States—the new moral majority—because of its opposition to abortion and family planning, has forced the United States to leave.

Mr. Foulkes

My hon. Friend is right. I am sure that he agrees that all this is inconsistent with the new spirit of detente that we saw in Geneva yesterday. Instead of our being encouraged to come out of UNESCO, we should be encouraging the United States to rejoin. That would be in the spirit of Geneva.

Let us examine the Government's demands and take them at face value. The Foreign Secretary's letter of 5 December last year is the key document. He wrote:

If we were satisfied that substantial progress had by then been made in carrying through the reform programme … we would be willing to reconsider our decision to withdraw by the end of 1985. The Opposition argue that substantial progress has been made, and I detected that even the Minister was conceding that great progress—perhaps not substantial progress—had been made. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics.

The Foreign Secretary demanded that there should be an identification of priorities within budgets. I think that the Minister admitted that the new budget adopted at Sofia has established priorities for the first time and that the emphasis is on practical programmes with a multiplier effect.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

Has the hon. Gentleman seen the draft budget for 1986? Do the Opposition approve of the grant under major programme II of about $3,591,000 to such projects as the granting of fellowships to the Palestine Liberation Organisation?

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman asks whether the Opposition approve. The budget was adopted unanimously at Sofia, and we must assume that the Government approve of such grants, because they voted for the adoption of the budget.

Since the budget was approved, the new board has set up a timetable for the adoption of the targets and objectives set out by the Government and by the Sofia congress. The Minister admitted, and I was told yesterday by Mr. Ivo Margan, the much respected new chairman of the executive board, that a special committee of 18 had been set up to ensure that the budget is adhered to and that the targets are achieved. That seems to be a major step towards what the Government have been seeking.

The Government also asked for fewer studies and more action-oriented projects of direct benefit to developing countries. Between September last year and April this year, there was a 70 per cent. increase in the number of operational programmes undertaken by regional offices spending money directly on projects in member states. The Government's second objective has been achieved.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) intervened effectively when the Minister mentioned the Government's third objective, which is that a lower priority should be given to major programme III—communications in the service of man. The Minister repeated the disinformation that we have had previously from the Heritage Foundation and from The Times which, on this issue, is fast being turned from a newspaper into a lobby sheet. Contrary to reports in The Times, not one resolution has been passed or application of funds made to any activity which could be seen as an attempt to restrict or censor the press. That was confirmed by the International Organisation of Journalists in Sofia.

The Minister made a speech at UNESCO in which he said:

What we cannot accept, because it is fundamentally incompatible with the very nature of our society, is any implication that states have an obligation, or even a right, to prescribe to their media what should or should not be broadcast or written". I do not know whether it was because of the Minister's overseas trip, but at about that time the Home Secretary was drafting the infamous letter to the BBC telling it what it should and should not show. We are accusing UNESCO of doing what the British Government are doing.

Mr. Raison

That is a travesty of what happened. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the Government did not order the BBC to do anything.

Mr. Foulkes

That is not what the BBC, the public and most of the people who know think.

Let us come to what was described by the Minister and others as the single most important point—major programme XIII. Paragraphs (iv) and (v) of the Foreign Secretary's letter state that the Government hoped that there would he no duplication of work with other United Nations agencies, that areas of politically irreconcilable difficulties should be avoided and there should be nothing done to downgrade human rights. Major programme XIII, which was agreed in Sofia, contains no reference to any limitation of human rights. It includes firm measures to avoid duplication. I know that the Minister does not believe The Guardian, but I do and I think most of the Members in the House and people beyond agree with it. On 16 November The Guardian stated that Western Governments consider the United Kingdom

obtained 'a great deal', and would be surprised if this particular programme could be used as an excuse for pulling out. I have good reason to believe that that confidential American report, described in The Guardian report of 16 November, is correct.

The sixth item in the Foreign Secretary's list states that the budget should be reduced to take account of the shortfall resulting from changes in membership. Again, as I think the Minister conceded, at Sofia the budget was reduced to take account of the American withdrawal. After taking account of that withdrawal, the budget represents zero growth. I am sure that the Government would like to achieve that in their own spending programmes.

The Foreign Secretary's seventh demand was to avoid overlap with other UN bodies. Again, account was taken of that in Sofia.

The Minister referred to increased efficiency. The Foreign Secretary's letter talks about the appointment of management consultants, greater efficiency and greater economy. UNESCO's accounts are regularly checked by two outside bodies—the UN joint inspection unit and, over and above that, our Comptroller and Auditor General. Any hon. Members who have served on the Public Accounts Committee will know how efficient and effective the Comptroller and Auditor General is. In his July report—I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Deakins) will accept this—while finding a great deal to worry about in relation to the common agricultural policy, he had no such criticism of UNESCO. The Government are not using his criticism of the common agricultural policy to suggest that we should withdraw from UNESCO.

Paragraph (ix) of the Foreign Secretary's letter talks about a shift of resources away from headquarters. Again, at Sofia decisions on the budget decentralised activities on human sciences, communications, culture, science and education. Action has been taken on all nine points set out in the Foreign Secretary's letter. We should argue that substantial action has been taken. That confidential United States report to Washington stated that the United Kingdom had "achieved significant improvements," and concluded:

The final version of the programme left the British delegation 'generally satisfied' … Overall results … could enable the British Government to argue the case for continued membership—or, alternatively, require it to advance other reasons for a decision to withdraw. The criticism has been met. If withdrawal is not rescinded by the Government, we can only conclude—and I think the vast majority of interested people can only conclude—that there must be some other reasons.

Let us come to the harmful and disastrous effects that will occur if the Government do not rescind their decision. First, it will seriously damage our relations with the developing countries and, in particular, the Commonwealth. The Minister said that we should respect the good sense of the Commonwealth and friends. The Commonwealth countries are unanimous in wanting us to stay in UNESCO. In an unprecedented approach, all 49 Commonwealth high commissioners last year went to see the Foreign Secretary and said, "Stay in." They have backed that request with another letter, which says:

We are aware that your Government will soon be considering its position with regard to UNESCO and, in the context of your expressed wish to consult with Commonwealth Countries, we consider it appropriate to restate the value which we collectively place in Britain's membership of UNESCO If we respect the good sense of the Commonwealth and other friends, we should take some account of that letter. In Nassau, the Commonwealth Heads of Government said: We recognise that the United Nations and its institutions are not without imperfections"— of course not— but are convinced that the solution lies not in their rejection but in their rejuvenation. Using the system effectively is as important as changing it. That was signed by the Prime Minister. We assume that she knew to what she was putting her signature.

Not just the Commonwealth, but other friends, as described by the Minister, are interested. Every one of our EEC partners is expressing dismay. The Dutch and the French have been especially scathing. The press release from the French embassy on 27 November 1984—one expects embassies to be somewhat diplomatic—states that France deplores that decision particularly deeply since fruitful co-operation has been established between the member States and, thanks to certain joint initiatives by the two countries"— Britain and France— we had succeeded in obtaining not inconsiderable improvements to the organisation's operation. … France hopes that Great Britain … will be able to reconsider her intention and remain inside the organisation. Those are the views of our other friends.

On 29 April, the Foreign Ministers Council said:

The Ministers of the Ten reaffirm their commitment to multilateral international co-operation and to the principles and purposes of UNESCO". Again, presumably, the Foreign Secretary put his name to that. There were then a number of requirements which have been fully met by the Sofia conference.

The first reason for our not withdrawing is that it would be damaging. Secondly, as the Foreign Affairs Committee correctly said, it would be a breach of the principle of universality. Whereas the Minister shrugged that off slightly, I believe that it is important that we should participate in all the United Nations agencies.

The third reason is that withdrawal now would prevent consolidation of the process of reform which we have started. If any Western Government makes any more suggestions for reform, particularly if they are accompanied by any hint of withdrawal, they will be ignored if we withdraw. The United Kingdom representatives at Sofia said that continued British membership could ensure the success of the reforms.

Fourthly, many respected voices within the United Kingdom, apart from the distinguished members of the Foreign Affairs Committee who agreed the report unanimously, have been warning and counselling against withdrawal. The Royal Society, the Library Association and many others have pointed out—I say this because the Minister mentioned the British Council and I mentioned it in an intervention—that much of the work carried out by UNESCO could not be carried out by the British Council or any other national organisation, because it can be carried out only by international organisations.

Fifthly, for those who are interested in the balance sheet—the Minister was paring away at the positive balance that comes to Britain from membership of UNESCO and there may be some doubt about the amount—it is true that in terms of finance Britain is a net beneficiary of about $6 million. UNESCO does not cost us money; we make money. We receive more than we pay by being members of UNESCO.

It is naive to assume that there would be no loss of contracts to Britain if we were to withdraw. It is naive to assume that Canada, Australia and New Zealand could not provide English language books and other services that are necessary for UNESCO. Britain is favourably treated. Nearly 9 per cent. of UNESCO's staff are British, although we contribute only 4.5 per cent. of the budget.

At a time when North and South are increasingly realising their mutual interdependence—the survival of the rich North depends on the well-being of those in the poor South—and when East and West are beginning to get together positively in Geneva, it is madness to withdraw from an organisation as highly valued as UNESCO. It would be an isolationist step merely to appease American pressure. It has no objective justification whatsoever. The choice must be made now. I hope that the Minister will not contemplate postponing it for another year, suggesting another year's notice or any other form of compromise.

The Government must show whether they are genuinely interested in the reform that they started and whether they genuinely support multilateral co-operation. They must show whether they support the advice of the Commonwealth, of our EEC partners and of influential opinion within the United Kingdom to stay in UNESCO, or whether they wish to appease the United States of America and withdraw.

The Opposition are in no doubt. We believe, unequivocally, that the Government must rescind their decision to withdraw and that they should continue to play their full part in UNESCO.

10.32 am
Mr. Edward Heath (Old Bexley and Sidcup)

The debate gives me the opportunity to say that if the Government persist in their notice of withdrawal from UNESCO they will be making a grave error that will have dangerous consequences. The decision will be one that many people inside the House and millions outside will inevitably regret.

The Government's argument is the need for reform. There is nothing new about that, nor does it apply only to UNESCO. In the first report of the Brandt commission there was a proposal for the reform of all United Nations institutions so that we could remove overlapping, reduce the bureaucracy and use the funds to better effect on the ground rather than at headquarters. I believe that that is still necessary, and that that it is the right approach.

My right hon. Friend the Minister said what has often been quoted, that the secretariat in UNESCO has too much power. Many of us believe that the problem of the United Nations now is that the secretariat has too little power. When the Secretary-General was a man of great substance and influence, the United Nations was able to achieve considerable results in international affairs. As we have reached the stage where the main purpose of the Security Council is to appoint somebody who has no influence or power, we have seen a grave fall in the achievements of the United Nations as a whole. My name on the Brandt commission report confirms that I support the reform of these institutions. That is a process that we go through in our own institutions, however laggardly we may be, as the debate two nights ago showed.

I would have expected my right hon. Friend to congratulate himself on the reforms that have been achieved. They have been remarkable, in such a short period. When we compare what has been done in UNESCO to deal with the criticisms with the time that it takes in our own governmental machine to bring about changes, we realise that my right hon. Friend should rightly be praised, and I hope that his colleagues will recognise that. Since he took office he has done a great deal to restore confidence, which had been completely lost, in the British Government's attitude towards developing countries and towards investment in the developing world.

There are points of individual criticism of UNESCO. My right hon. Friend said that he wants UNESCO to return to what it was at its foundation, when British had so much influence, and, as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, when we had a large percentage of personnel. We shall not return to that tradition, because at the time of UNESCO's formation most of the developing countries did not exist. Today they do, and they want to exert their influence. Our purpose must be to understand their outlook, and it is here that we come to the subject of a world order for communications.

Most of the developing world wants a world order in everything that it can think of, for the simple reason that it believes that it gets a rough deal. Many of the international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, were founded by the United States and Britain after we had won the second world war. The developing world had no part in that, and today it has only minute representation compared with what many of the countries are entitled to.

The developing world also wants a world order in the economic sphere. It does not want charity or aid, which my right hon. Friend fully realises. It wants the establishment of an international order that will give it a fair deal with the developed world. It is understandable that the developing countries should ask for a world order of communications. The danger, as my right hon. Friend said, is that many of them will require some form of control over the press and media. That is alien to our views, and we are opposed to it.

That problem might develop, because they do not feel that they get a fair deal from the press in the developed world of the North. The emphasis is constantly on maladministration, corruption and all the failings and weaknesses that correspondents point to in the life of a developing country. Those who live there feel strongly about that. The answer is not to have control of the media, but if we want to use our influence against that, we must be inside the organisation, not outside.

My right hon. Friend referred to the wishes of our friends, but there is no justification for taking any notice of the position of the United States in the matter. Those of us who know the United States intimately, and have done for a long time, know that it is passing through a time of intense and distasteful nationalism. It believes that it walks high and that the rest of the world has to do what it demands. It will get through that in time. It is an unpleasant reaction to the defeat in Vietnam. Perhaps we should try to understand that more.

At the end of the 1970s the United States pulled out of the International Labour Organisation, but it had to go back to it because it realised that being out of it damaged its own interests too much. The same thing will happen to Britain if we pull out of UNESCO. Every member of the Commonwealth has requested that we stay in that organisation. Are they to be ignored completely? If we ignore them, it will make a farce of everything that was said at the recent Commonwealth conference, and what is constantly echoed by Government spokesmen, from the Prime Minister downwards.

Similarly, our colleagues in the European Community want us to stay in UNESCO. Will we ignore them as well? If we do, it will again make a farce of everything that we say about a European point of view and working together with our colleagues in the Community. With the whole of the Commonwealth and the European Community demanding that Britain stays in, where is the international support for us to leave? It does not exist.

Most people to whom I have spoken have been full of praise for my right hon. Friend and his colleagues for what they have achieved in the change in UNESCO. There is "politicisation," to use a word as bad as "privatisation", but we ourselves politicise. Of course, we do. Whenever we take an attitude towards human rights, we politicise. Politicisation exists because representation in UNESCO is by Governments, not by individuals or by representatives of learned societies. If it were, it would not be politicisation, but would merely be a repetiton of the arguments in senior common rooms up and down the country, which are far more bitter and unpleasant. Therefore, I cannot accept that politicisation is an argument for withdrawal from UNESCO. It has been going on the whole time. We ourselves carry it on because of the views that we express. Therefore, I do not see any justification for withdrawing, and every loss to us through abandoning such influence as we have in UNESCO. We still have considerable influence, and that was shown by the record that my right hon. Friend gave us.

Above all, I ask my right hon. Friend to look at what has happened over the past six years and beg him not to make another mistake in the same direction. It may be that he has no intention of making a mistake, but some of his colleagues might persuade him into it.

We saw the change in grants for overseas students. That has proved disastrous. It has meant that we have lost thousands of students who want to come to this country to learn about our plant and machinery, understand our technology and speak our language. We shall never get those students back, because our friends and competitive rivals have provided for them elsewhere. What is more, they have done so on advantageous financial terms. The change that we made was a disastrous mistake.

The failure to give the British Council sufficient resources to meet the needs all over the world of people who want to speak English is another disastrous and continuing mistake. We should put the money into teaching English to the extent that everybody requires across the world. That spreads our culture and, with it, our trade and business.

The cut in overseas broadcasting was another disastrous decision. As my right hon. Friend knows, I travel considerably. Wherever I go in the world, I hear every other power pumping out its information on the radio throughout the day and night. In so many places one has the utmost difficulty finding out what is going on in one's own country through an overseas broadcast.

Those are all mistakes that have done us great harm. They have lost us influence and, what is more, they have damaged us economically. When so much of the Government's emphasis is on economics, either internally or externally, surely they must realise that economics is a question not just of economic equations, but of all the other aspects of life that affect our trade and economy at home. That is why those were grievous mistakes. If we pursue that thinking, we shall carry on the same line of mistakes, but I hope that we have learnt the lessons of the troubles that we have brought upon ourselves.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Will my right hon. Friend put on his little list our failure to sign the law of the sea convention, which does us immense harm as a great maritime power?

Mr. Heath

I agree with my hon. Friend. That drives one to ask what the reason is for that approach. I regret to come to the conclusions that I have reached. Some of my hon. Friends on the Back Benches will express themselves more eloquently than I can. I refer to the growth of a nasty, narrow-minded nationalism, which believes that we can survive without the rest of the world and, in its more arrogant form, believes that we can just tell the rest of the world what it should do. In a way, that lies behind the UNESCO decision. We think that we can tell the rest of the world, "Do what we say, or else we go", implying that our loss is so great that they are bound to do what we say. In the modern world nothing could be further from the truth, but I regret to say that that is the motivating spirit underlying some of these decisions.

There are always those who dislike UNESCO because it does great international work. I have seen much of it myself. It is carrying on that work today, for example in the People's Republic of China. Look at its tremendous achievements outside Xian, where it is excavating monuments. How many of us in our time have helped to contribute to the protection, when the second Aswan dam was being built, of the great monuments south of the dam? All those things are well worth while. One man put against them irritating things, such as an attempt to get a world order on communications, or the fact that UNESCO is apparently trying to educate the Palestine Liberation Organisation, but I thought that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary had started that process. UNESCO is only following in our footsteps. There is nothing to blame it for in that.

Mr. Leigh

What about the money?

Mr. Heath

We could support UNESCO for 10 years on what we lost over the De Lorean scandal. Why can we not get the matter into proportion? Why should money not be spent on educating people to be more sensible than they are at the moment? I am strongly in favour of that—[Interruption.] I am not suggesting my hon. Friend. These things must not be taken personally,

We should learn from the lessons of the students, the British Council and overseas broadcasts, and accept that we have responsibilities, but above all that we get benefits and that we can have influence. Today, it is influence that we need. It is a question not just of doing it for the sake of it, but of doing it in the interests of our own country as well as those of the developing countries.

I therefore hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will be successful during Cabinet discussions in maintaining our membership of UNESCO, and that he will persevere in the reforms—he has already achieved a great deal—which should not be limited to UNESCO. They are required in other spheres that I have described. If my right hon. Friend can do that, he will achieve a purpose which many of us wholeheartedly support.

10.45 am
Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) has revealed, by the breadth and international commitment of his remarks, what a narrow view now seems to prevail in some quarters of the Government. I agree with him on every one of the decisions that he listed. He illustrated the narrow nationalism that seems to have taken over the Government. I hope that it has not taken over entirely and that today we can see some evidence of that.

In the first couple of paragraphs of his speech, the Minister sounded like a founder member of a golf club complaining about the newer members having standards of dress and conversation that made it impossible for him to remain a member. There was a patronising paternalism about the tone that has characterised many of the Government's remarks on the international scene. I do not say that his entire speech was like that because he proceeded to a systematic analysis of the problems and the steps that the Government had taken to try to put them right, as well as the progress made. He carefully left open at the end of the day what decision had been made. I wonder why he felt it necessary to have that purple passage at the beginning and to whom he was deferring in using that piece of paternalistic rhetoric. It is the kind of thing which we have seen elsewhere, in the leader columns of The Times, the output of the Heritage Foundation, and various other places.

Could it have been imagined by people such as Gilbert Murray, R. A. Butler and Julian Huxley, who were involved in the establishment of UNESCO, that, 40 years later, Britain would ever think of withdrawing from it when it was a large, active and flourishing body? The work that those people and many others did in setting up UNESCO was moulded by the experience of the war. That rings out in the constitution, which says: the great and terrible war which has now ended was a war made possible by the denial of the democratic principles of the dignity, equality and mutual respect of men, and by the propagation, in their place, through ignorance and prejudice, of the doctrine of the inequality of men and races. It is interesting that both individuals' and people's rights find their place, even in that document. As a Liberal, I am as stern a critic as anybody of occasions when people's rights overtake individuals' rights, but the issue comes up in the affairs of every nation. What else were we discussing when talking about fluoridation of the water supply than whether there are circumstances where the claims of the people have to be set against those of individuals? On almost every occasion, including that one, I tend to incline towards the individual. But let us recognise that both those issues arise.

In its founding statement, UNESCO sought to create a new order. It was seeking the establishment of a new world order at the end of the war, in which the dissemination of knowledge and education would militate against the prejudices that had given rise to the horrors of Nazi Germany, which unleashed the great war.

These founder members could not have conceived that at this stage we would be seeking to take Britain out of UNESCO. The organisation's problem is simply that it has grown. It is not the organisation that those men established. It has many more countries in its membership, its administration is enormously larger as a result, and that immediately poses problems, as in any large international organisation. Membership has widened. It includes Governments who do not share or practise the values of the founders. They practise those values even less than we do. Who is to say that we, in every respect and action of government, abide faithfully by what the founders set out?

What should be our response to the fact that many of UNESCO's members do not share the values that the founders sought to propagate? It must be to fight on to ensure that the values are embodied in the work of the organisation. We should not say that the principal vehicle by which those values can be spread should be abandoned by the nation that was instrumental in establishing it.

Even if we are having difficulties in winning the way for those values in some debates and on some issues, we have also to set in the balance sheet the tremendous and continuing achievements of the organisation. Its projects have brought literacy to millions of people. It has done international work to safeguard historic monuments and sites.

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup mentioned the work in the People's Republic of China and the Aswan dam. I am particularly aware of UNESCO's work in Venice, with which I have been involved, and of the tremendous efforts that it has made there. It has done work at the Acropolis, in Sri Lanka and all round the world on sites which, without international interest for both financial and political reasons, might not have been saved. It has done work on international scientific programmes, on the training of teachers, on the building of schools and on scientific and agricultural development projects. As hon. Members have said, alongside that are direct benefits to British publishers, to the makers and sellers of British equipment, to UNESCO scholarship holders from Britain, and to those whose professional training has been assisted by UNESCO. There are many ways in which Britain is a direct beneficiary of UNESCO's work.

Reasonable criticisms can be made of the way in which UNESCO has developed, and Liberals are not strangers to some of the issues. My noble Friend Lord Grimond was a vigorous critic of the United Nations relief and rehabilitation organisation for which he once worked. He experienced the inevitable mushrooming of administration that takes place in an international organisation made up of and with staff drawn from many member states. There are all the problems of translation to solve and pay for and the problems that go with particular states feeling that they must have office holders at different levels in the organisation. These serious difficulties, which damage and weaken international organisations of all kinds, have to be tackled constantly.

However, we might as well recognise now that such problems are inherent in international work, and then get on with the job instead of assuming that we can abandon such international organisations. If we leave UNESCO on this account, we shall have grounds for leaving the United Nations itself and just about every other international framework in which we are involved. I can think of only one body in which the Government might feel able to remain—the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation, which so far has only two staff and is based in Edinburgh. However, we should have to leave just about every other organisation because of the top-heavy administration that tends to grow.

There are problems in the internal power structure of UNESCO, on which attention has been focused in the dispute. Such problems have arisen before, and they cast a doubt on the future of Mr. M' Bow as secretary-general. I believe that the time has come for new leadership. One of the moves that would help not just on the issues about which Britain cares but on others, and would help to infuse a new spirit into the organisation, would be a change of leadership. However, as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, we cannot determine the fate of an organisation on the basis of our views about the period of office of one incumbent and any shortcomings that he might have.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if we remain a member of UNESCO, and a member of the administrative board, we could determine who Mr. M'Bow's successor should be, which would be important?

Mr. Beith

Yes, I agree, and that opportunity would come relatively soon.

There are more specific criticisms about the programmes, their direction, the proliferation of studies at the expense of field programmes and of items in specific programmes or documents. In some cases, the Minister's criticisms were of documents produced for conferences rather than the decisions or resolutions of such conferences.

Those problems did not start yesterday—they have grown over the years. In its excellent report, the Select Committee made this point:

It is our impression that, in their acceptance of certain consensus decisions in recent years, both the United States and the United Kingdom Governments (and other Western Governments) have fallen victim to a decision-making system which discourages the exercise of their votes in UNESCO's governing bodies, and thus tends to conceal real differences between member states on both administrative and policy questions. Over the years, we have gone along with many of the things that we now criticise. The Government's motives in doing so may have been perfectly honourable. They may have felt, as is true in many situations, that it is better to reach a consensus between many countries or many people than to stick out and vote against a resolution on one account. However, as a result of pursuing that policy, problems have developed over the years, and we therefore cannot treat them as if they arose yesterday and represent a new attack on the value that we hold dear.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman mentioned when the British Government, no doubt unwillingly, went along with decisions. He may be recalling the occasion in 1970, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) was Prime Minister, when Great Britain acquiesced in the decision of the executive board to celebrate the centenary of that great humanitarian, Lenin.

Mr. Beith

One can uncover fascinating facts from looking at past minutes of bodies. That example has not been drawn to my attention before. If that is so, it makes my point for me. We have gone along with consensus over many years and allowed problems to develop. Perhaps a stand should have been taken earlier.

As the Minister said, there has been a significant and wide-ranging response to many criticisms—from he establishment of the working groups to analyse the programme and the agreement that the budget wi11 not increase in real terms during 1985 and 1986 to the 117 administrative reforms carried out and the tone and outcome of the Sofia conference.

It would be hard to assess the Sofia conference in any other way than that there was a real response to the criticisms. I cannot imagine that all the press comments about British attitudes at the conference and all the reading of British attitudes by American and other observers is wholly misguided. If it had been, it would have been more vigorously corrected by now. I do not share the uncritical view of The Guardian held by Opposition Front Bench Members. The Guardian is often incorrect, and sometimes misguided, but it cannot have been far out in suggesting that British delegates were "guardedly satisfied" with what happened at Sofia. The American observers also thought that the British delegates were significantly satisfied with what took place.

The British delegates made strong efforts to get their way at Sofia, which suggests that they were genuinely trying to produce a satisfactory result. There were late-night telephone calls for fresh instructions and detailed work was going on, which does not suggest that people went to Sofia with instructions from the Government to let the worst go through and thereby have the best possible excuse to leave. That would be the cynical view of what Britain was doing if our delegates had gone to Sofia seeking the worst possible outcome, going through the motions of resisting and then using the decisions as an excuse to leave. That is not how our delegation behaved. It clearly took a close and careful part in the proceedings and, having achieved considerable success, removed from the Government any excuse presented by those factors for leaving UNESCO.

In the meantime, a number of other things have happened. The Select Committee's report was a powerful criticism of the Government's posture, and, contingent upon a reasonable outcome at Sofia, argued strongly for Britain remaining in UNESCO. The Commonwealth Heads of Government conference recognised in its communiqué, which the Prime Minister signed, that the solution to the problems of United Nations institutions lies

not in their rejection but in their rejuvenation". There was an appeal from the Commonwealth high commissioners for Britain to decide firmly to remain in UNESCO. In the face of all that, I do not see how the British Government can do other than make clear their intention to remain in UNESCO. If they do not, they will stand accused of retreating into narrow nationalism to which the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup referred.

On the American scene there is a determined retreat from internationalism inspired by the Heritage Foundation. That is illustrated by the United States attitude to the International Court. It has British echoes, too, in the attitudes of some people to various international issues. Some have argued that we should withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. I have no wish to see the same narrow nationalism sweeping this country.

The rhetoric of the Minister at the beginning of his speech encourages the development of that type of attitude, but I do not think that is true to him because the bulk of his speech illustrated a more careful analysis of what is happening in UNESCO. His speech provided the basis for the only decision that can reasonably be taken—that UNESCO is a body to which Britain should belong. Genuine attempts are going on to find solutions to its problems. It is an institution which Britain played a powerful part in creating. The constitution of UNESCO declares:

the state parties to this Constitution, believing in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth, and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, are agreed and determined to develop and to increase the means of communication between their peoples and to employ these means for the purposes of mutual understanding and a truer and more perfect knowledge of each other's lives". That is the spirit of Geneva and the discussions held there. In that spirit we can only remain in an organisation which we did so much to create and which does so much good.

11.1 am

Sir Anthony Kershaw (Stroud)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for coming to the debate for which the Foreign Affairs Committee asked on the decision about UNESCO. It is gratifying that he has come to ask us what we think.

Those who will speak today are likely to be in favour of staying in UNESCO, because the enthusiasts will come to the House, and those who do not feel strongly about it will stay away. However, my right hon. Friend will bear in mind the conclusion of the Foreign Affairs Committee—after considerable deliberation, and having taken all the evidence that we thought would be useful—that we ought to stay in.

It is easy to understand the disappointment that is felt by a number of people over UNESCO. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that it was founded with only 25 members. Today, there are 160 members. As a Western power we have lost our majority opinion in UNESCO and, naturally, those who come to it new have slightly different interests from those of the West. They are interested in aspects of science and education, which are of direct benefit to themselves. Sometimes they go further and are interested in themes which might be hostile to the interests of the West. It is natural that they should choose new interests, and I do not think we should complain about that.

We do not like the proposal for a "New World Information and Communications Order". We believe that this will inevitably restrict press freedom, which is against our principles. I do not like the switch from human rights to people's rights. It is contrary to the United Nations charter and the Helsinki agreement. The question of human rights is the basis of the argument with the Soviet Union, which believes that the rights of groups of people are more important than the rights of the individual. UNESCO's proposed interference in the transnational companies, which are Western in origin, is also hostile to the interests of the West, and we are entitled to do what we can to prevent it.

Apart from those matters, there is a great deal of practical work which is good and which we support. Scientific work, the teaching of literacy, and cultural matters are of great importance.

The administrative efficiency of UNESCO is a fair target for the critics. I would urge, as others have, that we must accept a lower standard of efficiency from an international organisation which has a great number of members. There are problems with translation. UNESCO works in six languages, and this is slower and more expensive than working in one language. It is difficult to find the people to fill all the posts. It may be surprising that a number of people in UNESCO are related to the secretary-general, but I do not think that that is a matter of great importance. No doubt it is difficult to find people suitably educated for this type of work, and it may be that those who have connections with the organisation are in fact suitable.

It is generally recognised that a lot could be done to improve UNESCO. When the Foreign Affairs Committee visited Moscow, the Minister for Cultural Affairs agreed with this view. I applaud the tactic of threatening withdrawal. The tactic of the Government in threatening to withdraw did concentrate the mind of UNESCO. The sincere work of the British representatives during the year has convinced people that we had not made up our mind to withdraw and that we were working to reform the situation.

I do not see why people are upset by the various lobbies—the Foreign Affairs Committee is full of lobbies. We did not have one from the Heritage Foundation, but I do not see why it should not lobby. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was quite indignant about The Times leader, and we were quite indignant about The Guardian—one always ought to be indignant about The Guardian. I do not see why The Times should not write what it pleases. I am sure that the Government will not be influenced by the United States in studying this matter.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

The Minister criticised the article in The Times because of its inaccuracies. I share the Minister's view that a campaign should be based on truth.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

The Times may campaign if it wishes. The Guardian may campaign if it wishes, and I do not wish to stop the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley from campaigning if he wishes. I do not think he is a stinker because he does so.

Mr. Foulkes

The Times leader was full of inaccuracies, and at times was bordering upon lies about UNESCO. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that that is not worthy of a newspaper with a history such as that of The Times.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

If we said that no credence should be paid to any newspaper that gets its facts wrong, we should have to give up reading newspapers. That might not be such a bad thing.

We want to know whether the conference at Sofia took a grip on the situation. It could not get down to detail, but the decisions that it was entitled to take were taken. It was a satisfactory conference. The new executive committee, with Dr. Margan, a distinguished Yugoslav and former vice-president of his country, as its permanent head, is just what we want. It has executive power and is not too unwieldy. It has only 18 members, rather than the 51 of the general committee. I believe that it will do the necessary supervisory work to ensure that we do not fall back into bad habits.

What will he the consequences of withdrawal? There will be a loss of British influence. Irrespective of whether we like it, there will be a loss of British cultural influence, which is more necessary now than ever before, even though we will remain part of some organisations, such as the Oceanographic Survey. We will disappoint the Commonwealth, which unanimously wants us to stay in. It would not appreciate being left on its own by the oldest member of the Commonwealth. We have a duty to refer to its opinion, which has been expressed forcefully and unanimously.

My right hon. Friend the Minister said that it is not too clear whether we shall gain or lose money. The cost is £6.4 million, but the difficulty is exactly the same as with student grants. If there is a loss, it will fall on my right hon. Friend's Department, but the benefits will be spread throughout the country to scientists and in various other ways. The cash for student grants came from the Department of Education and Science, but the benefits were out of all proportion to the money involved, as they were distributed throughout the country, to landladies, halls of residence and places of entertainment—the expenditure incurred by students living in Britain. They would have spent far more than the grant cost. That was a deplorable decision that will stay with us long into the future.

If we pull out of UNESCO, my right hon. Friend the Minister will be left with some cash. I was encouraged to hear his favourable reaction to the suggestion that the British Council or other cultural organisations would be able to pick up some extra activity. The British Council needs money desperately, as its funding has been cut repeatedly in the past few years. Such cuts are not in our interests. However, I hope that this money does not emerge to the British Council because I want us to remain in UNESCO.

Another of the consequences of withdrawal is that it would be a blow to the idea of universality. That concept is more important for the Third world than for us, but, as our material strength declines, we ought to have regard to the esteem in which we are held. We should therefore support rather than weaken institutions which represent the idea of universality.

Enough has been done about administrative reform. There is a new awareness in UNESCO that continuous reform is necessary for efficiency. The new committee of 18 is what is needed to supervise such reform. Perhaps the director-general has been there too long, but I am sure that that is not a fundamentally important matter. The programme, however, is less satisfactory. Nevertheless, I am convinced that we should stay on and try to improve it rather than leave and let it continue in what we believe are bad ways. We should listen to the pleas of the Commonwealth and our allies in Europe. I believe that the country's interests would be served best by our continuing to be members of UNESCO.

11.14 am
Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

It is significant that, so far, every hon. Member who has spoken has favoured our remaining in UNESCO, although we know that the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) is hoping to catch the eye of the Chair and take an opposite view. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] If I am wrong, no doubt the right hon. Gentleman will correct me.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

The right hon. Gentleman is usually wrong.

Mr. Benn

I have no idea of the Minister's personal views on this matter, but it has been suggested that he is a bit uneasy. I suggest that he looks to his Foreign Office speech writers a little more carefully, because, candidly, the arguments that he used were not credible and, if they were credible, they were frightening.

The right hon. Gentleman talked of centralisation. I do not wish to enter into domestic controversy, because we all hope to influence the Government, but we have the most centralised Government ever, who are wiping out local authorities. The Government have conveyed to Washington the power to fire cruise missiles from our territory—another example of centralisation. The right hon. Gentleman also based his argument on the size of bureaucracy, but if every bureaucracy in Paris were wound up we should not be members of the EEC or NATO. The right hon. Gentleman's argument that the threat of withdrawal is the only way in which to get change could be applied widely.

The most tragic argument, because it is an incredible example of what is sometimes called British hypocrisy, is to argue that Governments should not have control over the media. We have a most tightly controlled media in Britain. Every major appointment in the BBC is cleared with MI5. That information has come out since I worked for the BBC. I was cleared at one stage. I have always held that up as a handy reference. The only link that I have with MI5 now is through my telephone. I hope that it listens to what I say.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) talked about family relationships in UNESCO, but there is a relationship between the chairman of the BBC and a senior Cabinet Minister. Such connections are not confined to international bureaucracy. I read today that, although the BBC will lift the MI5 veto on members of the domestic services, it will continue for members of the external services.

I hope that nobody abroad thinks that we believe what the Minister said—that it is the basic principle of the British Government that they do not interfere with the media. During the Falklands war, for example, the Government's news management was phenomenal. I was in the House with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) during the Suez war. The Government then established the Sharq Al Adna radio station in Cyprus to control the news. We should not mislead the Third world into believing that British media are entirely without Government control.

Mr. Beith

Is the right hon. Gentleman doing a great disservice to the BBC overseas service, which much of the rest of the world regards as providing more objective news reporting than anything else that it can get? Would it not be a disservice if he left the impression that those who work for the BBC overseas service are anything other than objective?

Mr. Benn

I am torn, because the hon. Gentleman tempts me to mislead the rest of the world into believing that what they hear on the BBC does not come as a Foreign Office directive. I know a little about the overseas service, as I started my life there. I must tell the House what the world now knows, that the Foreign Office pays a grant for the overseas service—it is not done by licence. The Foreign Office appoints people and vets them. I would be misleasing the rest of the world, in so far as the rest of the world will read Hansard, if I were to give the impression that I, as a former BBC employee, thought that the BBC was as independent as the Government would like the world to think it is.

The Minister's most amazing reason why the Government do not like UNESCO is that some of its decisions are unacceptable to the Government. What is politics, except a discussion and a decision? I could use the same argument and say that I did not much care for the House of Commons because some of its decisions were unacceptable to me. The theory of non-political politics is peculiar to the Conservative party. On one occasion when I was canvassing, a lady came to the door and said, "We are all non-political here. We vote Conservative." That is an old joke, but it is true. The Minister and, perhaps, the Foreign Office think that if an international body passes a resolution that is unacceptable to the Conservative party, that is political, and if it is acceptable, it is non-political. That is part of the theory.

What I have loved best about the debate has been the sudden resuscitation of the quaint old idea that The Times is fair. I thought that the idea that readers of The Times expected higher standards died years ago. How can people think that when Rupert Murdoch runs it—the man who owns The Sun, and who insulted the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup in a vicious full page article entitled "Heath on the Couch" the other day? I sympathise with him, because the newspaper published an article "Benn on the Couch" on polling day at Chesterfield. Do hon. Members believe that Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, including The Times, are other than scurrilous sheets reflecting the views of their proprietor? I hope that I do not have to say that that is true to persuade the rest of the world to read The Times.

Then there is the theory of personal rights against collective rights. By "personal rights" the Minister means Rupert Murdoch's right to dominate the media of the Third world, and not the right of the people there to have their own network of communication. It is the right of the rich to dominate the media of the poor. That is what the United Nations is about. It is a new world political order to give the poor some equal political rights with the rich. That is what the Chartists were about—the right of people without property to have a voice alongside the people with property. The United Nations was established to provide that, and nowhere is it more important than in the area of information.

I do not want to use the argument about value for money, because if one reduces everything to monetarism one could creep along to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a last-minute calculation and it would be fitted into his calculation. The UN is one of the best investments in the survival of humanity, and UNESCO is, in a way, the most important because, as its charter states, it recognises:

Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. I am of the generation that remembers the spirit in which the UN was founded. I remember its first preparatory meeting in Central Hall in London, at which Gladwyn Jebb was the first acting secretary-general, and the commitment of Julian Huxley, and people like Ronald Adams, who was one of the founders and, indeed, one of the first directors of the British Council. I remember the commitment at the end of the war after the Nazi brainwashing of people, based on the idea that one race was superior to another. UNESCO was to be the response of decent people to that. Now we are told that because it has introduced resolutions about people's rights, and because its offices are in Paris and it is too centralised, Britain, which was its inspiration, should withdraw.

It is said that the British Council will fulfil UNESCO's role better, but the British Council has been cut. If the British Council could do it better, we may then be told that we do not have to be in any international organisation because we have British ambassadors. Before we know where we are, the narrow nationalism about which the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup spoke will have affected us and not just the Americans. Ex-empires are always dangerous. We were dangerous at Suez. Because we lost our power, we wanted to prove our virility at Suez and, more recently, in the Falklands, and the Americans are the same. I do not wish to talk about the conspiracy theory, because I have never believed much in it, but we should consider the real reason why the Americans want to leave.

I acquit the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South of being in any conspiracy. Nothing that he has ever done in his life has confirmed a suspicion that he works with others. For many years he has spoken for what I think of as the Right wing of the security services. That is how I have interpreted his speeches. The Right wing of the security services believes that we cannot stay in UNESCO because it is a Communist organisation—it is a sort of Armageddon theory—and that somehow we will have to fight the Communists in the end and, therefore, we had better not sit down with them between now and then in case they influence us.

There is also a Left wing of the security services, which thinks that we should remain in UNESCO because if we leave the Communists will run it anyway. The idea that the whole of British policy should be balanced as to whether one supports the Right wing, like Chapman Pincher and the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South, or the Left wing, which is represented by the intelligent wing of the Central Intelligence Agency, is absurd. That is where all the pressure has come from. The other pressure comes from the big private owners of the media.

I made a laughing reference to The Times, which must be taken in that spirit, but the people threatened by the new world economic order are the media moguls. Miss Rosemary Righter has been writing stuff about UNESCO which is a disgrace to the profession of journalism, of which I have long been a member. Those articles have been designed to spread misinformation and falsehoods about an organisation which has a part to play in ensuring that my children and grandchildren are not destroyed by a nuclear war. The combination of the Right wing of the security services, which thinks that we will end up with Armageddon, and the people who run the big multinational media has driven part of the American Government to withdraw.

I come to the argument of the Prime Minister—I say that more in hope that in accuracy—the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup. It is not the whole of the United States that wants to withdraw. He knows as well as anybody that America does not take a common view. At one minute Reagan can be reading a speech written for him by one part of the Defence Department, and at the next he will be holding a fireside summit in Geneva. The United States is ambivalent about the matter. I do not know whether President Reagan even realises the contradiction between his tough Armageddon speeches and the cosy, folksy chat that he had with Mr. Gorbachev.

Although we have the bomb, we were not invited to Geneva. The only place where Britain can now have any influence on the educational, scientific and cultural matters which Reagan and Gorbachev, thank God, agreed should be developed is at the UN. The Prime Minister had to go to Brussels to hear what Mr. Reagan said about the summit. We are excluded from the top table, and when there is a common table, where we can all discuss those matters, we say that we do not want to be there. What sort of policy is that?

My fear is that in so far as this policy has any meaning, it is with a view to undermining the United Nations. The Minister did not produce a single argument that could not be used against the United Nations, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said. I am sure that that cannot reflect the Minister's view, and he should be more careful about what he allows himself to be asked to say. One could argue that UNESCO has special problems, but one should not produce generalised arguments.

We need a real economic order, which is what the Brandt report was about, and we need an information order that is fair. Has anybody ever read anything about Ethiopia other than about the famine? Does any hon. Member know anything about the Ethiopian Government? I am not the spokesman for them. The world media have decided to project only the tragedy of the starving child in relation to Ethiopia. I challenge any hon. Member who has not been there to tell me where on the BBC or in our media he has ever heard or read about their inheritance of problems or what the Ethiopian Government decided to do. I have read nothing of it. The Western media cast the Third world like a casting director casts an actor in a play—either as extremists, failures, incompetents or bureaucrats. It never lets us know the truth. That applies even to the BBC, to which I contribute through my licence fee. The Third world should have its own information system.

A similar issue arose on Monday when the Government decided that even an elected council in a local authority should not spread any record of what it is doing in its area. The Local Government Bill is designed to black out any view other than the Government's. Withdrawal would blank out any opportunity for Third world countries to communicate with each other and the rest of us about what they are doing.

I hope that the House has persuaded the Minister against withdrawal. One point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) did not make, although I am sure that he would not dissent from it, is that if Britain withdraws from UNESCO under this Government, it will rejoin it under the next.

11.30 am
Sir Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

More years ago than the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) or I would care to mention, we had neighbouring rooms in the same college at Oxford. At that time, our political views were rather closer than they are now, but I seem to remember that from time to time I had to put him right on his facts. If I were to put the right hon. Gentleman right on the errors of fact in his speech today, I would take so long that others would be unable to contribute.

I recommend that the right hon. Gentleman study the draft resolutions on the new world information order that were before UNESCO at the 1980 conference, when I led the British delegation and when we began the free world's fight against that order. Under the proposals for the licensing of journalists, it would be doubtful whether the right hon. Gentleman, in his profession as a journalist, would receive a licence from many Governments, because he is so radical.

I, too, have been studying the constitution of UNESCO. One is struck at once by that ringing phrase: Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed. However, one must consider how the founders proposed that that objective should be achieved. After reading article 1, headed "Purposes and functions", it becomes immediately apparent that the founders intended that the defences of peace should be constructed by practical means and practical developments in education, science and culture; not through flatulent resolutions and confrontation, but through co-operation; and not through resolutions that emphasise people's rights—by which I understand states' rights—at the expense of individual rights.

UNESCO has gone wrong by emphasising too little its practical work, some of which has been creditable, and indulging too much in words.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Will the right hon. Gentleman redefine what he has just said? He implied that people's rights are synonymous with states' rights. If he reads again the relevant UNESCO material, he will realise that that is inaccurate.

Sir Peter Blaker

I do not suggest that they are identical, but it is too easy to make the transition from people's rights to states' rights.

Mr. Benn

Would the right hon. Gentleman endorse the people's rights laid down in the constitution of the United States?

Sir Peter Blaker

I would need to refresh my memory about the United States constitution, but I believe that the emphasis is on the rights of the individual. The rights of the individual are worth emphasising more than the rights of the state.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) rightly pointed out that since UNESCO was founded, many states have joined and the composition of the body is entirely different. That should make no difference to UNESCO's purpose. The fact that so many of its members are from among the developing countries makes it more important to concentrate on practical help in education, science and culture for the developing world. UNESCO has done an excellent job in literacy, by projects relevant to the work of the Natural Environment Research Council, by the preservation of monuments, and so on.

I wish to return to the new world information order, with which I had a personal involvement in 1980. When Mr. M'Bow spoke a few days ago in the Grand Committee Room, I asked him what his position was on the new world information order. He replied that no one could be keener than he on freedom of information. However, he did not explain the division of opinion about the order between the free world and those who supported the proposals. Those who proposed the resolutions had in mind freedom of information for states, not for the individual. Those resolutions could easily have been used to justify state control of the media in the developing countries and in the countries of eastern Europe.

Many developing countries have serious deficiencies in information matters. They need more technical training of journalists and more equipment. UNESCO should devote itself to that type of matter. It does so to some extent, but, in my view, too little.

One can go further than that when discussing the practical things that UNESCO can do. UNESCO should concentrate on a limited number of projects—one or two in education, one or two in science and one or two in culture. It should not spread itself over too wide an area.

It would be useful if UNESCO studied what the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation are doing. For example, the FAO puts much of its practical efforts into remedying losses after harvest, such as losses of grain, which can amount to about 30 per cent. of production. UNESCO could copy that example.

When Mr. M'Bow spoke the other day, I asked him what percentage of staff employed by or on contract to UNESCO are employed in Paris and what percentage are employed outside Paris. He said that he did not know. That is an extraordinary reply from a man who has been director-general of UNESCO for 10 years. I should have thought that would be a major factor in his mind, given the purposes of UNESCO as set out in the constitution. If he did not know, that betrays monumental ignorance. Perhaps he did not want to tell us. If not, the implication is that he did not wish to reveal the percentage. Perhaps when my right hon. Friend the Minister replies he can give us what information he has on the matter. What is the percentage of those employed or under contract to UNESCO who work in Paris and what is the percentage of workers in the field? I understand that more than 75 per cent. of the UNESCO budget is spent in Paris.

When Mr. M'Bow's term of office expires, we must find a new director-general—soneone who will take a much better grip on the organisation and divert its energies into the proper channels. There is a difficult structural problem, in that the size of the executive board at 50 members is much too big. I welcome the fact that a new committee of 18 has been set up, and I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) said about what that implies. I also endorse the Select Committee's recommendation on that subject.

What should the Government do? It is clear beyond doubt that the action of the United States Government, in giving notice that they would quit and then quitting, and the actions of the British Government in giving notice, were the principal factors in producing the changes that have occurred during the past 18 months. I pay tribute especially to the actions of my right hon. Friend the Minister and the Government in securing a momentum for change. The House should understand that we carry weight in UNESCO which is much greater than our contribution to the budget should warrant.

Mr. Foulkes


Sir Peter Blaker

Because of our experience and knowledge of international affairs. We have not achieved as much change as I would have wished, but we have had some results.

The Government face a difficult decision. If we leave, we shall be told that we are churlish and that we are letting down those who have supported us—many countries and individuals have supported our efforts enthusiastically—and gone along with our pressure for reform. It is said that if we leave, we shall no longer influence the organisation. That is not necessarily true. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup quoted the example of the United States leaving the International Labour Organisation and then, as he said, being obliged to return. That is a misreading of what happened. The fact that the United States left the ILO had a beneficial effect on that organisation. It rapidly induced desirable changes, and the United States felt able to return.

However, if we simply announce that we shall stay in UNESCO, there may be a danger that those who were content with the old position will sit back and say, "The British are staying, so we need not press on with the reforms." We must bear in mind that the time that has elapsed since we started our campaign for reform in earnest at the beginning of 1984 has been relatively short. To secure adequate reforms in an organisation as large and as cumbersome as UNESCO requires a longer period than has elapsed. Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister: should we consider extending our period of notice? Would that not help us to secure a satisfactory successor to Mr. M'Bow and to maintain the pressure for reform?

11.42 am
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

We have heard several helpful speeches during this interesting debate. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said that every speaker before him had made the case for remaining in UNESCO. Having heard the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker), I could say exactly the same. The right hon. Gentleman's speech did not contain a shred of evidence for saying that Britain should make the profound decision to pull out of UNESCO—quite the reverse. All the arguments that we have heard, not just in this debate but in the wider international debate, suggest that the Government have made a grave mistake. Worse than that: in the light of the Geneva discussions, the Americans may decide to rejoin, and what will our position be then?

The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in a logical speech, as one would expect, observed that the vote on televising our proceedings the other evening may be some sign of the way in which people are thinking. I can only hope that, since the Prime Minister changed her mind so often on that issue, she will do the same on UNESCO. It would be helpful.

Mr. Foulkes

Does my hon. Friend also hope that, since it is reported that the Prime Minister always does the opposite of that recommended by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), on this occasion she will be rather bigger than that and will make the right decision, irrespective of what the right hon. Gentleman says?

Mr. Clarke

I am sure that the House understands my hon. Friend's point.

We have heard several lectures—if not in today's debate, certainly elsewhere—about the alleged incompetence of UNESCO. That is surprising. The truth is that, whatever decision the Government eventually take, few people would say other than that their approach has been hamfisted in the extreme. The summary of events at the conference in Bulgaria reported by The Observer reads more like a comic opera than a serious discussion on a serious issue. It summarised the contribution of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by saying: If the object of diplomacy is to clarify a state's position, Mr. Eggar's appearance on the international diplomatic stage must be accounted a failure, since his interventions have left everyone totally confused. The Minister's speech this morning seemed to imply that confusion was the Foreign Office's policy.

Mr. Leigh

The hon. Gentleman accused the Government of being hamfisted and said that they had made a grave mistake. I thought that it was commonly accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House that the threat of withdrawal has resulted in reforms. If Britain were unilaterally to rescind that threat, the organisation might return to its old ways and we could never again threaten to withdraw. Was that not the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker)?

Mr. Clarke

There is little evidence for that. In any case, if we continually threaten to withdraw from all the organisations associated with the United Nations, people will not take seriously our commitment to the United Nations.

There have been several references in the debate to The Guardian and The Times. I refer especially to an excellent letter from Professor Holister in The Guardian today, which makes some important points. Professor Holister has made an immense contribution as the director of the division of technology. Here is someone from the United Kingdom reminding us that Britain has made a contribution to UNESCO and is capable of continuing to do so and even expanding it. He reminded us—the Minister did not deny it in his opening speech—about the money that we get back and about the services that we obtain in return for our contribution.

I do not believe that any of us are convinced that the argument ought to be confined to finance. It is a much wider issue. What about Britain's influence and its impact upon the Third world? This country could make an intellectual contribution to UNESCO. Why should we be afraid of the battle of ideas? The Government appear to be afraid of it. The Minister for Overseas Development referred to Communist rhetoric. If President Reagan had thought that he should go nowhere near Communist rhetoric, he would never have gone to Geneva.

The English language has made a great contribution to UNESCO's work, and long may it continue. If Britain is absent from UNESCO, there can be no certainty about the volume of that contribution. These are important issues.

Apart from the Government's hamfistedness, many people are entitled to say that there is an element of hypocrisy in the Government's approach, and their view is justified.

The right hon. Member for Blackpool, South referred to the changes that had taken place, but that was because Britain called for and obtained reform in 1984–85. Despite that reform, we have not said that we are prepared to reciprocate and show good will. We have not demonstrated that we are not nit-picking and that vie are profoundly committed to UNESCO's work and principles. In the absence of good will, many will conclude that Britain is looking for an excuse to leave UNESCO and that it is ignoring the progress that has been made. By doing so, Britain is following in America's footsteps prior to Geneva—an attitude which represents intellectual isolation.

The Government appear to he putting their relationship with the United States on a far higher plane than they are the demands of the Third world. We live in an imperfect world, and an international organisation like UNESCO is bound to reflect that imperfection. That does not give the Government the right to say that Britain is not prepared to make a major contribution to UNESCO in an effort, not just to improve it, but to increase its effectiveness within the United Nations. The United Nations would be immeasurably weakened if we decided to withdraw from UNESCO.

The self-imposed isolation that the Government appear to be considering for Britain is in stark contrast to the decision of every other European Community country. Are we to ignore the European Community and the Commonwealth? Are we so arrogant that we are saying that every Commonwealth country has got it wrong and that Britain has got it right? Are we so ignorant that we are prepared to ignore the views of the Canadian Government? They say that we have taken a wrong decision.

In his excellent speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) referred to Gough Whitlam's views. I heard Mr. Whitlam's views when he visited this country a few months ago. There is no doubt in my mind, having heard them, that the opposition to UNESCO has been contrived in a completely negative and unhelpful manner. It is not just its presentation which appals hon. Members, but the fact that this campaign has been conducted in a manner which completely ignores the facts that have been presented by every Commonwealth country, by the United Nations and by those who want this country to continue to make a contribution to education, science and culture. They feel that there is very little merit, not just in the ignoble presentation of the case against UNESCO, but in the case against UNESCO itself.

If Britain withdraws from UNESCO, it will mean that of the 160 member states of UNESCO left after the withdrawal of America, we shall be the only country that has decided that it can no longer even attempt to change those things which it believes ought to be changed. As for the unspoken comments about Mr. M'Bow, this organisation is bigger than he or anybody else. One cannot judge the United Nations on the quality of its Secretary-General, high though that quality has almost always been. If we were to judge the Overseas Development Administration by the quality of the Minister who is in charge at a particular time, what problems there would be for those in this country who want forward-looking policies to be pursued.

For those reasons, the Heritage Foundation has done a great disservice to the progress of humanity, education, science and culture and to those hon. Members in the House who are interested in international progress, and particularly progress in the Third world. The arguments against withdrawal from UNESCO are overwhelming, and I plead with the Government to end the agony of this discussion. It is internationally unhelpful and unproductive.

If the Government will not heed the overwhelming views of the international community, but insist on going ahead with this lunacy, we must welcome the declaration that a future Labour Government will ensure that we return to UNESCO and that sanity may be restored in these international matters.

11.56 am
Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

Much has been said in the debate about the media—The Guardian, The Times and many other forms of communication—which shows that our Select Committee system is well justified. That applies particularly to the fifth report of the Foreign Affairs Committee on UNESCO in trying to achieve an independent assessment of the situation.

None of us went into that inquiry with a pre-set idea of how it would turn out, and both here and in the United States that report has carried much—and hopefully will carry even more—weight. I have been in correspondence with an American Congressman, Jim Leach, who informs me that portions of our report were inserted in the Congressional Record for 6 November. He tells me in a letter:

The report itself is very interesting and reaches conclusions which I believe to be as relevant to the United States as to the United Kingdom. The timing of this debate is interesting, for the background to the issue has now changed. The original pressure on UNESCO began in the United States in the pre-Geneva period, and the rhetoric of 1983 and 1984—detailed in our report—concerned, among other things, the shooting down of the Korean airliner and the situation in Grenada. There is clear evidence to show that that rhetoric caused the United States Government to make their decision.

That decision was made without the support of many people in America, and certainly not with the support of the people from whom we took evidence. For example, Dr. James Holderman, president of the University of South Carolina and chairman of the US National Commission for UNESCO, said: The Commission is convinced that the best means of serving US interests in UNESCO is to press for reform from within. When giving evidence to Congress on 2 May, Dr. Holderman said that after submitting the results of the survey to Assistant Secretary Newell, Mr. Newell called me to ask if there weren't some negatives that we could add to our report, to give it what he termed 'credibility'. He concluded:

It is difficult to escape the impression that the Administration chose for ideological reasons to ignore perspectives which did not match its preselected policy option. It is simply a myth to assume that outside a few political appointees in the Administration there is much institutional support for the US withdrawal from UNESCO. That was the background to the pre-Geneva period. Now we are in the post-Geneva period, and it is a very welcome change. I wonder whether some of the people who let the UNESCO decision go through the United States Congress and Senate, and who gave President Reagan a deserved standing ovation yesterday, would take the same view now. It seems strange, when we are talking about fresh starts and new starts and signing—properly, helpfully and supportively—a cultural and educational treaty with the Soviet Union, before the eyes of the world at Geneva, that we should now be debating whether we should leave UNESCO. That is the first and major point to be considered today.

If Secretary of State Shultz talks to his opposite number, the Foreign Secretary, I wonder whether he will argue that it would be helpful if Britain not only stayed in UNESCO but provided an avenue for the United States to rejoin. That would be much more in line with the post-Geneva policy of that great country than with its pre-Geneva policy.

With regard to the political pressure within UNESCO, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) said, UNESCO is in no way different from any other United Nations agency, so it is hard to see why we should have to make a judgment on that aspect.

We know that the countries of the developing world have influenced and changed UNESCO, and we have to respond to that debate. Many hon. Members have spoken eloquently about whether we should support the United States decision or support our Commonwealth and many other friends among the 160 nations in UNESCO who want us to stay. I hope that I have established that that choice is not quite as dramatic as it might have appeared initially.

I support the major recommendation of the Select Committee that it would be damaging to our interests and to our friends if we left UNESCO and lost the contact and support of our many friends there.

Is quitting the British way? I suspect that it is not. The British way is to stand our corner, use our influence, and try to ensure that UNESCO responds to its highest ideals, in concert with our colleagues.

With regard to finance, two matters are clear. First, the money that we give to UNESCO is not a financial burden. Secondly, whatever the amount, it is clear that Britain gets back more than it puts in.

Some people suggest that we could make better use of the money in a bilateral way by giving it to the British Council. There can be few greater supporters than myself of the British Council. Some of us have frequently given great support to increasing its budget, but that is not what we are discussing today. The question is whether £5 million invested in UNESCO does far more good than £5 million added to the £72 million that we give to the British Council.

Professor Fage, who knows what he is talking about, said in evidence to the Select Committee: Conversely. UNESCO is important to the United Kingdom. Much of UNESCO's and the world's business is done in our English language. In part for this reason, UNESCO looks to the United Kingdom for substantial numbers of the advisers, consultants and instructors it needs to send out to the Third World and other countries. This inevitably creates more business for UK manufacturers, supplies, publishers, television companies, et cetera. Our language,' our ideals, our influence all spread as a result. I do not think that we should lightly shut ourselves off from this established international mechanism for winning friends and advancing our interests. That shows that we could use the money more effectively through aid agencies than by adding it to the already valuable and important work of the British Council, which many hon. Members would like to see extended.

As my right hon. Friend's opening remarks revealed, the nub of the case is that we want to reform UNESCO because in certain areas it is ineffective and wasteful. All hon. Members would agree with that. My hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Sir A. Kershaw) said that, when this matter was raised with the Soviet Union in Sofia, not only did the Russians wish us to remain in UNESCO, but they accepted that it needed reform.

All hon. Members accept the need for reform and we have all paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for his efforts in trying to achieve reform. All the reports from Sofia suggest that all the movements have been in the direction that we have been seeking and are in conformity with the guidelines we set down. We now know that a special committee of 18 members has been established to continue the work of the temporary committee. The special committee has not been a flash in the pan. People will not be able to sit back and say, "Well, we have persuaded Britain to stay in UNESCO, so we can now return to our bad old ways." A sense of reform has been established and it has wide support. Without us, it might lose momentum because we led and gave it direction.

There are two options. First, we can remain a member and be seen to be playing our traditional role, furthering the needed reforms and providing an avenue for the United States to return to the organisation. I believe in the principle of universality in the sense that the major powers should be involved in every United Nations organisation, because without them the organisations lose their credibility. We want to see UNESCO continuing to perform a worthwhile job and improving upon its work under the influence of the major powers.

The second option is to leave UNESCO, but that would be seen as a rather empty gesture. We would be seen to be turning our backs on our own concept which established UNESCO and its purpose, and would lose status with our friends. Above all, we would be giving people a sense that we were no longer able to make a rational and fair decision.

We set down in reasonable terms the reasons why we wanted reforms in UNESCO, and we have received reasonable responses. If we then find additional reasons—which are not revealed in the report and have not been revealed so far in the debate—for leaving UNESCO, we shall be seen to be acting in a shameful way.

12.3 pm

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

I do not know whether the Minister has changed his speech writer since the speech he made on the 14 October in Sofia. I remind him of the preamble to that speech and of its peroration. In the preamble, he said that he had studied carefully the constitution of UNESCO and was impressed by the feeling that UNESCO was about people rather than Governments". The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that he was struck most forcefully by

the success with which the draftsmen had blended the high idealism of such famous phrases as the one in the preamble about wars beginning in the minds of man, with the strictly practical concerns for education, science, culture and communication expressed in article 1". The Minister ended his speech with a challenge about the tide of reform running in UNESCO, which he said should not be stemmed. He stressed that it was necessary to safeguard the worthy future of UNESCO and ensure that future generations could look back upon the Sofia general conference as a real victory for UNESCO.

I hope that we will be able to look back at this debate in response to Sofia as a victory for UNESCO. We have already had a technical victory, as there has not been one speech completely committed to hard-line withdrawal from UNESCO, although some Conservative Members may alter that balance when they speak.

In stressing the combination of idealism and practicality, which is the essence of UNESCO, the Minister was echoing what the director-general told the Select Committee. He said that UNESCO is the only international agency with a constitutional mandate to promote intellectual co-operation". The director-general quoted the executive board's decision on the need for

a suitable balance between activities relating to study and reflection and those of an operational character". I suspect that much of the criticism of UNESCO from outside the House is based on a failure to understand the role of the organisation. It is not a practical development agency. It is a multilateral agency devoted to intellectual co-operation. Perhaps one reason why the Government have been so unhappy about UNESCO is that they are basically unhappy about intellectual co-operation. They have a problem with the discussion of ideas. Perhaps the recent efforts of some Ministers to promote ideas in home affairs demonstrate the poverty of those ideas.

It is important to get the balance right. We should stress the content of the UNESCO work programme and the balance between its intellectual or idealistic view in its future approach to problems and the practicalities with which it concerns itself.

The organisation has programmes for dealing with world problems, education for all, communication, the application of education policies, training, sciences and their application to development, information systems and access to knowledge, the principles and methodologies of development, science and technology and its relation to society, the human environment and terrestial and marine resources, culture and the future, the elimination of prejudice, intolerance, racism and apartheid, peace and international understanding, human rights and the rights of peoples and the status of women.

I have itemised those 14 major programmes because it is important for us not to get embroiled in the minutiae of programmes which seem to worry people outside. In the 1984 budget, 37 per cent. of spending was on education, 30 per cent. on the sciences, 12 per cent. on development and related matters, 11 per cent. on culture, 7 per cent. on communication and only 3 per cent. on human rights, racism, apartheid and peace programmes.

I shall concentrate on the education programme, because I am interested in education policy. It is important to stress UNESCO's work on illiteracy and its success in reducing the rate of illiteracy in the world from 32.9 to 28.9 per cent. during the 1970s. However, the number of illiterate people increased from 760 million in 1970 to 814 million in 1980. If we set those figures against the UNESCO programme to bring literacy to 15 million adults, we see the size of the problem confronting us.

There is also an emphasis in the UNESCO programme on the need to bring education and literacy to underprivileged groups, inhabitants of rural areas, women, the handicapped and cultural minorities. The programme is all about equality in the provision of education. The education-for-all programme emphasises the need for primary education for all children. Emphasis is also placed on the need for democracy in access to education, irrespective of the race, sex or class background of those seeking educational opportunities.

That work emphasises internationally the way in which an agency can identify worldwide education problems and seek to combat them by a combination of an approach based on an intellectual assessment of the best strategy and practical programmes, such as those in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. The programme focuses particularly on illiteracy among women, because sexual inequality in our society is mirrored strikingly worldwide. The agency's education programme provides its main work, and yet we have heard little from the opponents of UNESCO of the effectiveness and importance of that work.

I shall not go into detail about the agency's work on the basic sciences, because I never was and never will be a basic scientist. The issue was well documented in the Select Committee's report. The evidence from the Natural Environment Research Council is the most direct evidence of the disadvantage to the United Kingdom if there were to be a withdrawal. UNESCO is the only organisation within the United Nations system which has an explicit responsibility for social and human sciences. That is a form of international collaboration which we should be promoting rather than reducing.

The other subject which is of interest to me as a representative of a minority culture is UNESCO's role in that area. It is not just the essential and much publicised work of promoting cultural monuments, but its promotional activity in relation to cultural identities that is important. UNESCO has done a great deal of work in encouraging national and regional languages, preparing histories of different cultures in its massive translation programme, from which British publishers have benefited, and its work on minority languages and the translation of works from minority cultures.

I should declare an interest as someone who spoke with UNESCO support at a conference earlier this year on publishing in minority languages. That work is not as publicised or controversial as some of the work that has received attention from the media and the House. However, it is an important part of international collaboration among peoples of minority cultures as well as of majority cultures. It is international recognition of the diversity of human kind. That is why I agree with the Minister when he says that UNESCO is an organisation whose emphasis is on people, rather than on the work of Governments.

Much of the argument about UNESCO's future has concentrated on the MacBride report published as "Many Voices One World" and on the "New World Information and Communication Order". We must set the arguments about a new information order in the context, as I said, of UNESCO's work and, as the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) said, in the context of the nature of the international media system as it is at present organised and the domination of the capitalist information system in the world system. Developing countries have 70 per cent. of the world's population, but these people possess only a small proportion of the means of communication—20 per cent. of the books, 17 per cent. of newspapers, 9 per cent. of newsprint consumption, 27 per cent. of radio transmitters, 18 per cent. of radio receivers, 5 per cent. of television transmitters and 12 per cent. of receivers. There is an imbalance in the present disorder of world communications. Discussions should be about how we improve access to the communications media, and not about the last-ditch stand of the Western news agencies and their owners. UNESCO's work on a pan-African news agency, a Latin American special information services agency, the Arab project for communication and the Asia-Pacific news network is a realistic attempt to achieve a balance in the present imbalance of the disinformation order worldwide.

I stressed that UNESCO is not a development agency, but it has done a great deal of work in promoting international collaboration and understanding on all forms of development. It has stressed the need to change attitudes towards development, to see it not in terms merely of economic growth, but in terms of the cultural adaptation which is necessary for development and of the development strategies which include the participation of the people who are essentially part of the development process and who are supposed to benefit from it. It places an emphasis on training, and that is why all the talk about giving fellowships to the PLO must be put in context. By 1989 UNESCO will have provided 15,000 fellowships. It is the emphasis on training, including people within the development process, that is an essential part of UNESCO.

Disarmament and the role of UNESCO in peace negotiations is precisely the sort of work, as we have heard, that should arise out of the Geneva agreement. Such work involves developing the understanding of peace and the need for disarmament, and should lead to an understanding of the psychological blocks to disarmament. That is where UNESCO does its work.

I want to discuss the issue of the rights of peoples, as compared to the rights of individuals. It is time that we got over that sterile argument. Rights belong to individuals, and they also belong to individuals as members of particular groups. Rights belong to women as members of that gender, and to black people. They belong to people as part of the production process, and they should ensure that people have access to education and the social services. How a group is organised within society affects the human rights of individuals. UNESCO's work on racism and apartheid is important, because we must think in terms of the rights of peoples. The United Nations charter begins by saying:

We the peoples of the United Nations". The concept of people's rights is essential to a concept of human rights. One cannot think of human rights in terms of individual rights without seeing those individuals as part of collectives. We can think of collectives without falling into the trap of believing that only collective rights are human rights. It is important that we consider the argument and understand it in terms of equal priority for peoples attaining those rights, whether they are economic, social or cultural.

I am arguing as a Welsh internationalist for continuing membership of the British state within UNESCO. I am arguing that because of the distinguished contribution by people from Wales to the work of UNESCO, and because the internationalism that I believe in is represented by that organisation. I hope that we have seen signs of a conversion from the Government.

12.21 pm
Mr. Cyril D. Townsend (Bexleyheath)

As a London Member, I find frequently that on Fridays when I attend debates in the Chamber they have as much peck as a headless chicken. This is one of the happy occasions when we have had a lively debate. We have ranged much wider than UNESCO. We have talked about Britain's role within a quickly changing and complex world. I welcome the individual contributions that have been made. They have been thoughtful, and I include the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas) in that context.

I say to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I am well aware that there are different views within the Government about whether we should stay in UNESCO. We have been in the Chamber for three hours and we have not yet heard anyone who has had the courage—[Interruption.]—to bring sensible arguments to the glare of debate and publicity, but no doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) is about to enlighten the House and turn the tide.

After this debate it would be quirky if the Government, in their wisdom, decided that we should come out of UNESCO after all. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) that we are now in a different international climate following that cosy fireside chat in Geneva. The forces that initiated and set up the operation to withdraw from UNESCO have, in many ways, dissipated in that new climate. I have no illusions about the management of UNESCO in past years. I initiated an Adjournment debate some years ago about some of the wilder aspects of the new world information order, as it was then called. It is a moving target that constantly changes its nomenclature. I agree with the Select Committee report, that it is "inconceivable" that UNESCO would have carried out the reform programme that it has carried out if Britain had not taken the courageous line that it did.

Changing the course of an international organisation with 160 members is not a matter of spinning a rowing boat round on a pond. A better analogy would be trying to get a giant tanker to alter course. Of course, reform will take more than 18 months. It would be foolish for any one of those 160 countries to expect all the points on their shopping list to be met by that world body. That would be arrogant.

I strongly support the Select Committee report. I commend it to the House, and congratulate the Committee on its work. Back Benchers should be guided more by the work that is done in the all-party Select Committees. Unless there are new, overwhelming and compelling arguments against the unanimous conclusion, the average Back Bencher who seeks guidance can do no better than follow the line of the Select Committee's report.

The Select Committee put forward four main arguments as to why we should stay in UNESCO. The first, which has not been sufficiently touched on in our debate, is that staying in is to the benefit of Britain's scientific, educational and cultural institutions. One is entitled to say that that is just what we are talking about—how best to look after those institutions.

On cost grounds, the case is overwhelming for staying in. I welcome my right hon. Friend the Minister back to the Front Bench. I hope that in winding up the debate he will have the courage to say, with all the authority of a Minister, and all the backing of his civil servants, that the Government have done a cost-benefit analysis and believe that it is financially in Britain's interests to stay in. That is the conclusion of everyone who has spoken today. Surely my right hon. Friend can now summon up the courage, with a good lunch inside him, to say those few words.

The Select Committee's second point, which has been a main item in our discussion, is that the Commonwealth and the European Community have been unanimously backing our reform programme inside UNESCO and want us to stay in to reach a satisfactory conclusion. Surely it would be fundamentally wrong to let down both the Commonwealth and the European Community, as well as the reform programme, by taking the easy option and backing out.

The third argument is that the Soviet Union would be able to extend its influence in the Third world if Britain were not there trying to put forward the views of the Western world in the absence of the United States. That is a strong argument. My right hon. Friend said that that might be unfair to other countries that are perfectly capable of putting forward a rational argument. I would have a higher regard for Britain's prestige and influence. We are in a special position through our membership of the Security Council and we have the BBC external services. I could give 1,001 other arguments why Britain is in a special position to lead for the Western world in trying to combat evil influences in the Third world.

Finally, the Select Committee is absolutely right to pick up the word "universality". One of the happy by-products of our debate is that we have had a good dig at Mr. Murdoch. I am well aware that "Auntie Times" will not like the scolding that she has had this morning. I appreciate that "universality" does not appear in The Sun editorials, but it seems to be the key word in the debate. There has been bipartisan agreement since the founding of the United Nations that every individual country, however big or small and whatever Government it espouses, should be entitled to take part in the United Nations.

One remembers the rows a few years ago about China. The Americans said that as it was a Communist regime and they did not like it, it must be kept out of the United Nations. This country, under Governments of both parties, always said no to this because China represents a large part of the globe and it should be party to the discussions at world level at the United Nations headquarters.

We shall be embarking on a dangerous course if we start picking and choosing as to which particular United Nations body we shall belong to. If we do a little balance sheet for each one and say that this one is being a bit beastly to us at the moment and perhaps we should come out of it, or that another has not accepted our line on a certain issue and is no good, other countries will follow our example and will pick and choose the United Nations agencies to which they wish to belong. We can all appreciate that if that happens, in due course—we may be talking about a 20-year period—individual sovereign nations might opt out of the United Nations.

If any of my hon. Friends thinks that there is a cosy alternative in a regional group, he would be completely misguided. There is a need for a world body. The world is looking smaller than ever before because of the advances in science. If, at a time when there has been a cosy, fireside chat between the leaders of East and West, we turn our backs on the principle of international organisations, we shall be setting a thoroughly bad example to the world.

The way forward for Britain is not to push nationalism over the edge, or to seek to deny, to thwart, to frustrate and then to opt out, but to participate, to co-operate and to use our special talents for diplomacy inside the framework of a world organisation. In doing so, we shall be helping our cause and at the same time sending ripples throughout the world.

12.32 pm
Mr. Guy Barnett (Greenwich)

I have great pleasure in following the speech of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). He referred to himself as a London Member of Parliament, and I am another one. I can only confirm what he said about the quality of this debate compared with some others that have taken place on Fridays. I have greatly appreciated the many speeches made on both sides of the House, the commitment expressed in them and the quality of information that we have learnt from them.

I shall take up the last conclusion of the Select Committee, to which the hon. Member for Bexleyheath referred—the principle of universality. I begin by underlining the point that he made about the danger of Britain withdrawing from UNESCO because of the effects that it would or could have, whatever the Minister may think. He suggested that our example would not be followed this year by many other resignations from UNESCO. However, it would be a mortal blow to some of the United Nations agencies if it became the practice of nations to come in or go out of such agencies according to whether they happened to like the policies that the agencies or organisations were pursuing at the time.

I underline this point because it is important for us to understand what some of us may have forgotten, which is that 40 years ago we played a major part in the foundation of the United Nations and its agencies and, as has already been noted, in the foundation of UNESCO. For that reason, anybody who has anything to do with United Nations agencies or with the United Nations itself will know that our reputation there, and the importance of what we do there, is far greater than our economic or political influence on the world stage. It is because of the influence that we had on the foundation of UNESCO and other agencies that we are listened to today, and to a greater degree than might have been the case if we were judged solely in terms of our political and economic importance during the 1980s.

The fourth conclusion which the Select Committee identified, the universality of the United Nations, could be seriously undermined as a consequence of a decision to withdraw because we happen to dislike certain actions that go on within UNESCO or because we are critical of the way in which it is administered.

The United Nations organisations and agencies are quite different bodies from the ones which were originally set up, because of the massive increase in the membership of those organisations and agencies. When the United Nations was set up, I suppose one could describe it as a relatively simple job in view of the small number of nations, of which many were concentrated in the West. There are many more member countries today. This has had an important impact on UNESCO, on its ideas, its intellectual content and the differences that can arise as a consequence of the exchange of ideas, theories and the ways of looking at human affairs.

What Mr. M'Bow, the director-general of UNESCO, said at the general conference in Belgrade in 1980 clearly illustrates UNESCO's purpose and its greater importance today than may have been thought possible in the late 1940s when it was founded. He said: UNESCO has to face essentially different challenges all at the same time and must try to combine them all in a view of things in which the unity of man is inseparable from his diversity. It has to bring about co-operation between people who have neither the same historical background nor the same daily concerns. It has to try to make all parties receptive to ways of thinking differing from their own in respect of their cultural, religious or philosophical foundations, while ensuring that none becomes established to the detriment of the others". This is an important statement; more important in the 1980s with the diversity of membership in the United Nations than perhaps in the 1940s when UNESCO was formed.

The question that should be asked when considering whether an organisation should be abolished or whether we should continue membership of it is: if it did not exist, or if its purposes were not being served, would we need to invent it? It is far more important now than in the 1940s to have an organisation that is devoted to the purposes for which UNESCO was founded.

The most depressing speech in the debate today was that of the Minister, because he dwelt upon criticisms of the way in which UNESCO operates. He failed to understand the purpose of UNESCO, which is to bring about a clash of ideas, a clash of philosophies, and he failed to recognise the vaue of that type of contact.

There are criticisms of UNESCO's administration. It has been argued, rightly, that international organisations are often not as efficient or as free from criticism as some national ones. The reason is simple—international organisations must employ staff from all of the participating countries, so they tend to be more bureaucratic, move slowly and make decisions with which some countries do not agree.

Plenty of evidence showing the value of UNESCO has been adduced today. I especially appreciated the powerful speech made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Thomas). One aspect of UNESCO's work relates closely to my quotation of Mr. M'Bow—its vital contribution to developing cultural identity throughout the world and an exchange of ideas.

In 1979, I was privileged to make a ministerial visit to Egypt, where I saw the museums in Cairo and Aswan and the temple of Abu Simnel. The important contribution made by UNESCO to those projects was made clear. What horrified me was how desperately difficult it was for a country such as Egypt, which is relatively poor, to preserve its massive heritage, which belongs rightly to mankind. I was struck by the problem of providing resources to enable a relatively poor country to preserve its cultural heritage and to express its cultural identity.

It is precisely that type of work which UNESCO can do and which the British Council cannot. I found it almost offensive that the Minister should suggest that we give the £6 million or £7 million to the British Council, on the ground that it would be much more organised—that from a Government who have pared down the British Council's budget to the point at which its work is curtailed. The British Council has an important role to play, and I respect its work, but it is quite different from UNESCO. UNESCO can facilitate the development of cultural identity and preserve what might be lost through lack of money.

I am not worried about whether we make a profit out of UNESCO. We should support it in its own right. We will never be completely happy with its decisions—how could we be with an organisation with more than 150 members? The talk, philosophies and ideas with which the Minister disagrees cost only about 3 per cent. of UNESCO's budget, and they will continue anyway. If we withdraw, all that will suffer—all the work that I have described, as well as the scientific, educational and cultural work. The things that the Minister considers damaging would be unaffected.

I am impressed by the great support that has been given to our continued membership of UNESCO. I pray that the Government will take full account of this debate and decide that we should remain in it and exert our influence there. I congratulate the Minister on the progress made by Britain in persuading UNESCO to run itself more efficiently. I hope that he will decide that we should continue to exert that influence, as UNESCO has an important part to play in world affairs.

12.45 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I echo the congratulations and comments made by hon. Members on both sides on the work of my right hon. Friend the Minister during the past year. He has had a rough year regarding many international issues, and the dedication with which he has approached those tasks has won admiration on all sides.

Although the debate is about the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report, which I wholeheartedly support, I wish to broaden it a little. Many people and organisations have had a great deal to say, and they are not the types who are easily led or misled, who make off-the-cuff judgments, or who are likely to be easily prejudiced, and they are certainly not ignorant about the subject.

I have the honour to be the only hon. Member who is a member of the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO. Apart from me, it is a body of distinguished people from all walks of life. They have allowed me to learn about the broader impact of UNESCO's work on our scientific and cultural community. The body has had some constitutional problems because, unlike most national commissions—every member of UNESCO has a national commission—our chairman is the Minister responsible for Government policy on UNESCO. However, that has not stopped the commission from making a lively contribution to discussions and from having a lively dialogue with my right hon. Friend. The national commission will have other opportunities to talk directly to my right hon. Friend, as he said in his speech.

As a member of the Select Committee on Education Science and Arts, I know that during the past year hardly a witness has appeared before us who has not been questioned, where at all relevant, about his or her attitude, or the attitude of the body he or she represents, to Britain's possible withdrawal from UNESCO. They have included university vice chancellors, people from polytechnics, leading scientists and members of research councils, and they have been unanimous in their support for our continued membership, even if it would not make much difference to their particular subject. They have their finger on the pulse of our scientific and cultural community.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) and I have the honour to be co-chairmen of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. He will agree that at every meeting considerable support has been expressed for our continued membership of UNESCO. The members of that committee include high commissions, university vice chancellors, the Department of Education and Science and many others from all over the world, and there is no doubt about their support for our continued membership.

Today we have heard of the Royal Society's support for continued membership, and of the cri de coeur from the British Council that we should remain in UNESCO. During the past few years the British Council has suffered greatly, but it continues to expand on a highly cost-efficient basis wherever it can conceivably do so, and in some unlikely coalitions,—for example, even with Suntory whisky in Japan. That way it expands its English language teaching there.

At present it is popular to be rude about the United Nations. Last month, when I was at the United Nations in New York, I talked to a large cross-section of people from many of the agencies. There is no doubt about their regard for Britain, its status and influence in international affairs. On my visit I learnt a great deal. I learnt that Britain's crucial role in the United Nations is that of interlocutor between the group of 77—now a far larger group—that represents the less developed countries, and the rich OECD countries. Those who fail to appreciate that role fundamentally misunderstand our function in the United Nations. We are the bridge for those who wish to change the world to their advantage but who cannot do so without the rich members of the OECD. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) referred to this in his eloquent speech. Often, it falls to Britain to maintain the difficult balance and consensus that is necessary if we are to catch the spirit of the trend towards constructive dialogue between the great nations, as we saw in Geneva this week.

I pay tribute to the "Keep Britain in UNESCO" campaign. Those campaigners are not normally quick to form political pressure groups. They have come together out of deep conviction, because they found the ignorance and prejudice in the UNESCO debate unacceptable. They have done much to educate a wide cross-section of people, not least hon. Members who have their briefing material, which answers many of the questions that have been raised.

There is no doubt that mismanagement has occurred. That has been discussed in depth. However, if mismanagement has been such a strong feature of our criticism of UNESCO, why did Britain vote to give Mr. M'Bow a second term of six years? We did not criticise him then for any of the failures for which we criticise him now.

Sir Anthony Kershaw

Part of the difficulty of voting in UNESCO arises from its consensus and composition. If we had voted against Mr. M'Bow on that occasion, we would have mustered about six votes and the rest would have been in favour. We would have looked rather stupid.

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend is correct about consensus, but our withdrawal from UNESCO would surely mean that we would have no influence on the choice of Mr. M'Bow's successor.

Much comment has been made about the centralisation in Paris. There has been a considerable move towards the decentralisation of UNESCO, especially towards the Pacific and Asia. I must also point out that 83 per cent. of the money is now spent outside Paris.

Of all the major countries that are members of UNESCO, why is Britain alone not represented at ambassadorial level? Britain has a highly efficient, proficient and hard-working staff, but it is strange that we should criticise UNESCO and expect it to achieve so much at our behest when we do not have ambassadorial representation in Paris.

I shall not comment at length on the financial arguments, but I am unconvinced that we would lose financially if we withdrew. I suspect that the arguments are inconclusive, but if we withdraw we cannot expect future contracts to come our way.

The political consequences of withdrawal are far more important. We have heard arguments from several hon. Members that suggest that when the pendulum swings too far in a political debate, we should jump off. That is a completely new philosophy of pendulum-swinging in our political lives. We talk about pendulums swinging back, but the notion that we should jump off when the pendulum reaches the far point is new. Does it imply that we should have abandoned the coal industry when it swung so far in a way that the Government found undesirable? Does the new philosophy suggest that we should abandon the city of Liverpool because it has swung so far in one political direction, and we should forget that it is there? I reject that concept.

We should also remember that Britain has a high stature in UNESCO, as it does in the United Nations. We should not belittle or forget that. If we left, we could never rejoin on the same terms or with the same status and influence as we have now. Furthermore, no under-developed country will pull out of UNESCO if we do. Let us not kid ourselves about that. If we pull out, it will be a unilateral gesture which will undoubtedly result in a considerable increase in the influence of the Soviet Union, which will step in to fill the vacuum left by the departure of Britain and the United States.

We are talking about a battle for hearts and minds. The Minister said that some mischief-230making might be involved, but I do not believe that we should leave UNESCO because of mischief-making. Furthermore, there is nothing imponderable in this, as was suggested earlier. I remind my right hon. Friend the Minister, who talked about the good sense of the Commonwealth, that the Commonwealth believes unanimously that Britain should stay in.

I was a little alarmed to hear some hon. Members say that if we pull out of UNESCO more money might be available for the British Council and for the overseas service of the BBC. That would be nice, but I hope that argument does not go to its logical conclusion—that the BBC and the British Council can expect no more funds unless we leave UNESCO. That is the dangerous extension of the argument.

It would be unprecedented for the United Kingdom to leave an international organisation, such as UNESCO, on grounds of objection to one official and his faults, or because we are not getting our way in sufficiently great measure. I echo the recurring theme of the debate: where is our internationalism at a time when we have a new climate in world affairs? The North-South dialogue has improved to a position we have never before seen, as has the East-West dialogue.

The ideal of UNESCO is still alive, and I beg the Government to continue Britain's role as a physician, not as an undertaker.

12.57 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

It is remarkable that in a debate about Britain's possible withdrawal from UNESCO, so far—unfortunately, I missed the opening speeches—no hon. Member has seriously called for Britain to withdraw from UNESCO or from any other United Nations organisation. That of itself is significant, but what is also significant is that, despite the regular denigration of UNESCO and other United Nation's organisations in the British popular press, and by successive Ministers during the past few years, there is enormous support for the principle of staying in UNESCO. Many of those who have spoken about it to me realise that if we withdrew it would be the beginning of our withdrawal from many other international organisations. We would be saying, "Stop the world, we want to get off".

The basis of the debate is not the finances or the administrative arrangements of UNESCO, but the power of the far Right in the United States, which wishes to return to the isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s. Those who tried to destroy the League of Nations are now applying similar pressure in the United States. Some people in America are worried that its withdrawal from UNESCO is a signal to withdraw from other international organisations and agencies.

With other hon. Members, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the constitution of UNESCO as agreed in London in 1945. I do not quarrel with it except for its continual references to the "affairs of men", "mankind", and "the dignity of men". Nowhere does it mention the inequality of women. I hope that when the Minister replies he will tell us that he proposes to table amendments to the language used in UNESCO's constitution and publications.

The constitution of UNESCO, which was issued just after the end of the second world war, contains two important statements. It says:

That a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind. For these reasons the States Parties to this Constitution, believing in full and equal opportunities for education for all, in the unrestricted pursuit of objective truth and in the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, are agreed and determined to develop and to increase the means of communication between their peoples and to employ these means for the purposes of mutual understanding and a truer and more perfect knowledge of each other's lives. In the letter which the Minister for Overseas Development wrote to the director-general of UNESCO on 2 April 1984 he said: At the same time, within this perspective"— the Minister is referring to the perspective of British membership of UNESCO— we believe firmly that these basic ideas and principles are as valid today as they were when they were drawn up here nearly 40 years ago. In response to the Government's proposals for changes in UNESCO, Mr. M'Bow recommended that Britain should become a member of the budget committee.

Is it the UNESCO budget that is worrying the Government, or is this a political decision? I have studied the very interesting report on United Kingdom membership of UNESCO by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. Britain's contribution to UNESCO is tiny. It is less than the total expenditure of an average sized district council. Table II of the Select Committee's report shows that Britain has made a profit out of membership of UNESCO. I take no pride whatsoever in that fact. As one of the top 10 wealthiest countries in the world, we should contribute more, not less, to UNESCO's work, particularly towards its literacy programme.

There have been many unfortunate statements. It is said that the problem with UNESCO is Mr. M'Bow's character, that debates are conducted by the poorest and most downtrodden people in the world, and that all of the money is being spent in Paris on high living and fast cars. I suggest that hon. Members should consider how NATO treats its senior staff and how much they are paid.

A recent UNESCO study showed that

during the first eighteen months of 1984–85 period … the total expenditure incurred—82.6 per cent.—was used to finance activities carried out away from headquarters. 42.5 per cent. was accounted for by programme appropriations managed by, and consequently disbursed from Headquarters, but earmarked for activities carried out in the field. 27.7 per cent. was accounted for by activities carried out by regional offices and centres. That has to be set alongside disgraceful newspaper articles about the way in which UNESCO manages its affairs and spends its money. For the most part, its money is spent on literacy and other similar programmes.

Many people prefer not to recognise that 15 million people have learnt to read and write because of UNESCO's work and that they now come within the orbit of normal communications. They disregard also the 30,000 teachers who were trained in one year, the monuments that have been saved, the establishment of educational programmes, the development of cultural institutes and the preservation of many cultures that were under threat from tourism and Western domination. Instead, they choose to criticise UNESCO for doing what it is supposed to do.

UNESCO was set up in 1945 with a relatively small membership, drawn largely from the wealthier, white Western nations. The majority of UNESCO's membership now represents a world population that is neither white nor wealthy. It is black and poor. This is considered to be a reason for Britain withdrawing from UNESCO.

What are the different expectations of those who go to UNESCO's negotiating tables and debating chambers? Many of those national representatives represent desperately poor countries formed of many terribly unhealthy people. They harbour the hope that together, internationally, people can conquer illiteracy and disease and overcome the ignorance that brings about those tragedies in the first place. Should we withdraw from an organisation that is trying to overcome illiteracy and promote scientific research? From among all the documents, one remark that stuck in my mind was that which pointed out that the incidence of earthquakes is no respecter of international boundaries. That is why, internationally, we must do everything possible to avoid the horrors of earthquakes.

Many of those who are opposed to UNESCO hold their view because of statements that have been made about the consequences of colonialism or neo-colonialism and about the way in which the world's information systems are dominated by a small number of people. It remains true that it is easier to fly from one part of Africa to another via London or Paris than it is to fly direct. Many of the world's information systems are dominated by Western news agencies.

Is it so wrong that UNESCO should point out the way in which international news reporting continually denigrates the Third world and poorer countries? Consider the media coverage of the major elections that have taken place in the world in recent years, and I am not referring to the Brecon and Radnor by-election. The election for the President of the United States received saturation coverage from the beginning of the first insignificant straw poll of six farmers in Iowa for the Democratic nomination, right through to the final result, although that was reasonably predictable because the media had been telling the voters for many months beforehand how to vote.

Compare that detailed reporting of the political scene in America with the lack of detail in reporting the elections in a much larger country. I refer to the perhaps more significant campaign in India last year. There are more BBC correspondents in the United States than there are in India, and more BBC interests in America than in the whole of Africa.

That is the information domination about which UNESCO complained. There are more agents working for UPI, Reuter, the Press Association and other news outlets in America than in many Third world countries. That information imbalance was the subject of the UNESCO proposals.

Let us not forget that UNESCO's work extends into many other spheres, including libraries and systems for extending knowledge. I recently received a report of a Third world conference in Penang, in Malaysia, which was held in November of last year, as a result of which a book has been published. That publication states in its proposals on communications and the mass media: The right of people to obtain information, especially information relating to the crucial aspects of their livelihood and basic requirements, should be recognised by governments as part of the right of expression. Governments should ensure that adequate and accurate information is available. … The overwhelming control of the international news media by a few agencies in the industrialised countries should be reduced and critical coverage of development issues increased. The basic principles of the New International Information Order should therefore be supported. Many of those who criticise the information order say that it is a form of censorship by the Third world of the First world. I suggest that the First world has nothing to worry about, considering the overwhelming power that already exists in that sector.

It is significant that the International Organisation of Journalists at the Sofia conference declared that that organisation did not believe in any sense in trying to impose censorship; rather, that it believed the opposite and was trying to promote the free flow of information around the world.

I hope that the Government will think again and will not proceed to withdraw from UNESCO. If they do, it is unlikely that the Conservatives will take us back in, although we can be certain that the next Labour Government will re-establish our membership at the earliest opportunity.

If we were to withdraw, we should be turning our backs on two-thirds of the world's population and on an organisation that is endeavouring to overcome the poverty and illiteracy that exist in the world. That is what gets up the nose of the far Right in the United States and, unfortunately, the puppets that it has in this country in the media, and on some of the Conservative Benches, although they have not so far voiced their feelings.

I represent an area of London that has people from almost every country in the world, from all sorts of diverse backgrounds. They believe in internationalism, as I do, and they view the possibility of Britain withdrawing from UNESCO with some degree of horror. They would see it as the British Government turning their back on a very important organisation. I hope that the Government will not go ahead with this foolish move, will reaffirm our membership of UNESCO, and will also consider increasing our contribution.

1.10 pm
Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

I have learnt several lessons from being in this House. One is that the best speeches and debates are often on Fridays when the House is fairly empty. Another is that whenever the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) hurries back into the Chamber to listen to a colleague, that speaker is likely to be an extreme Left-winger who will attack the United States and everyone who takes a different view from himself as being a Right-wing puppet of some Fascist regime; who will attack NATO, the EEC and every other international organisation which is contrary to the internationalism of the far Left; and who will defend the indefensible. As I agree with the practical conclusion of the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), that places me in a position of great embarrassment.

I have also learnt that the number of advocates for a cause in a debate on Friday is not necessarily representative of the true number of advocates for that cause in the House at large on a day when more hon. Members can be present. So far, every hon. Member has spoken in favour of remaining in UNESCO. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) takes a different view. But there is a substantial amount of feeling in the country—it has been reflected in leading articles in the responsible national newspapers—for getting out and staying out of UNESCO.

Mr. Foulkes

Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman will concede that it was open to any of the 650 hon. Members of the House to come here today and express that point of view strongly. Therefore, the debate should be taken as representative, because it represents those with knowledge and interest who are prepared to argue the case. That applies equally to Monday to Thursday as to Friday.

Mr. Lawrence

The hon. Gentleman speaks at the head of the serried ranks of empty Labour Benches representing those who favour staying in UNESCO. He knows as well as I do that constituency activities are traditionally reserved for Friday, and that many of those who would speak most strongly on one side or the other cannot be here. There are members of the Select Committee who feel very strongly, and who took part in intensive deliberations on the question, but cannot be here. That is a fact of life. Therefore, one should not conclude that the House is overwhelmingly in favour of staying in UNESCO, and that only a handful of pitiful voices would dare to raise themselves against the overwhelming mass. I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, his voice will be far from pitiful, even though it may be a lone voice.

I have also learnt some lessons that are particularly relevant to the subject of UNESCO. First, there are very few black and white issues in the world that concern us as politicians; most of them are grey. UNESCO is neither all good nor all bad. Secondly, institutions for good are far easier to destroy than to create. It would be far easier to destroy UNESCO, which has done more good than harm, than to create a better alternative. Staying in UNESCO is one option for the money we spend. Those resources could perhaps go to other institutions and organisations which could benefit international society just as much.

Another lesson is that it is often better to stay with institutions which are predominantly for good but which are going wrong to try to improve them rather than, in a fit of anger, to stamp out and help destroy them. I agree with my colleagues on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that we should stay in UNESCO, at least to give it time to see whether the reforms can be brought to fulfilment.

I shall not weary the House with a repeat of the list of the scientific and cultural good works carried out by UNESCO. Nor shall I repeat the reasons why we should stay in that organisation, because those reasons have been well explained in the debate. Perhaps the best speech deploying those reasons—if I may say so without offending those hon. Members still present—was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who spoke with great authority on a matter which concerns him deeply. If there was one speech today that ought to be heard and read by the public it was that of my right hon. Friend.

An account of the achievements of and reasons for remaining in UNESCO can be found also in the excellent report of the Select Committee, in which I played a small part. Reports are now circulating about the results of the Sofia meeting and the proposed 117 reforms—principally the control promised for the budget. But we should not necessarily be carried away by a commitment to reforms until those reforms are made operative. It is difficult for UNESCO to guarantee that any of the conclusions reached in Sofia will be effective. If they are not effective, I hope that hon. Members who favour staying in UNESCO, at least for the time being, will be prepared to speak up for our withdrawal, because there is often a gap between what is promised and what is fulfilled.

Mr. Lester

I have listened to my hon. and learned Friend's remarks with great care and applaud all that he said, in particular his remarks about the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the formation of a special committee with 18 members, carrying on from the temporary committee which was initially set up to examine the reforms, is a statement of faith that the rest of UNESCO's members agree that reforms are needed and are prepared to continue to work to ensure that reforms take place?

Mr. Lawrence

I am in favour of good intentions, but we must look for the fulfilment of those intentions. We expect UNESCO to honour its commitments and to see that they are fulfilled. If UNESCO does not do that, it will suffer. That must be the position of hon. Members and we should support the line taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister.

I have several serious worries about UNESCO. Everyone today has said how good and wonderful UNESCO is, how splendid its purposes are and how ill-advised anybody would be to dwell upon its criticisms. There has been scant reference to the drawbacks of UNESCO from Britain's point of view.

I should like those in high places in UNESCO to know that some of us are not much impressed by the Sofia reforms, however much may be promised administratively or procedurally. Some—perhaps many—of us are far from certain that it can be in Britain's interest to support and subsidise an organisation which gets most of its money from the Soviet Union, which had 12 employees expelled from France in 1983 because they were KGB operators and which has never raised a finger to help the cultural and religious rights and freedoms of Jews in the Soviet Union.

Mr. Foulkes

Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that the only reason why the Soviet Union pays the largest contribution is because the previous largest contributor, the United States, has withdrawn. If the United States rejoins, it will again be the largest contributor.

Mr. Lawrence

The United States will not necessarily rejoin because we decide to leave or stay. The Soviet Union provides the money that pays the piper and, therefore, it is likely to call the tune.

Even when the United States was a member, there was still Soviet bias in the organisation. As I said, 12 UNESCO employees were expelled from France in 1983 because they were KGB operators. Those who work in UNESCO know how many Marxist sympathisers there are in important positions in the organisation. If the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is not impressed by such matters, I hope that he will read the Select Committee's report. More than once I put to embarrassed officials the point that, although the organisation's articles make it clear that it exists for cultural and educative freedom, it had never lifted a finger to ensure that the Soviet Union, one of its principal paymasters, did anything about the repression of the educational and cultural rights of its people who did not share its atheism. It is an embarrasing matter for UNESCO officials and supporters and the answers were always embarrassing. It is a good example of the effect of the Soviet Union's power on UNESCO.

The UNESCO officials who read the report of our debate should not think that we are all uncritical of a hopelessly inefficient—if not corrupt, but I do not press the corruption—management of UNESCO's financial affairs. We are worried that an overwhelmingly high proportion of resources are spent on the organisation's Paris headquarters, that there are clear indications of the past misuse of funds, of evidence of intimidation of critics, of patronage being used for political purposes and of power being concentrated in the hands of one man who it is difficult to remove. In addition to all that, UNESCO has not even followed its own rules on employment and cultural freedom.

We have to ask whether such an organisation should be supported by the British taxpayer. The Select Committee was not stupid. It realised that nearly all the witnesses who appeared before it had an interest in our staying in UNESCO. Even those who might have been tempted to be more critical than they were had an interest, because if Britain does not pull out they have to stay there and live with the organisation and try to improve it. They cannot guarantee that that will happen if they are seen publicly to stand up, criticise and attack.

Our recommendation was that the decision whether to stay in should be dependent upon what was achieved at Sofia, so we can look at some of those Sofia achievements and take a harder look at UNESCO to see whether we are yet satisfied that it is a completely desirable organisation.

To start with, is it not wholly undesirable that money should be given to nationalist and terrorist organisations? My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, in a passage of breathtaking naivity, seemed to believe that the money would be used to educate the PLO into the democratic anti-terrorist principles that we follow in the West. It is not intended for that purpose, or, even if it were, it would not be used for that purpose. It would be used, would it not, to educate the less terrorist into becoming more terrorist and the less democratic into becoming even less democratic, because that is the way of the world? The trouble with giving money to terrorist organisations is that the money may be used to help, not hinder, the killing process. That is why any organisation, even when it is warned that it should not do so, which gives money to such bodies is heaping upon itself a massive amount of criticism from right-thinking members of Western society.

It was unacceptable that press freedom should be restricted by the new world information and communication order which licensed journalists and stopped them from criticising Communists and Third world Governments. I am not sure how dead that order is. The fact that it was an important part of UNESCO's policy gives me no reason to be convinced that such an activity is never likely to happen in future. I hope that it will not, but it is one of the matters that we shall be watching closely.

It is unacceptable that the Soviet view of human rights should be advanced by UNESCO while Western principles of individual freedom should be diminished. The Soviet Union has no comprehension of individual freedom, because the philosophy of the state is that the state is all powerful and the individual must be subject to it. There is never a meeting of minds between us and the USSR on this. I have been actively engaged on this matter for the past two or three years. There never seems to be a meeting of minds or an understanding about what is meant by human rights between us and the Soviets. To the Soviets, human rights are a fantasy of the bourgeois West. It is a meaningless concept. Individual freedom is irrelevant. Any organisation which continues to push that view of individual freedom and human rights will not follow a policy which is acceptable to the West.

It is unacceptable that money should be spent on so-called peace and disarmament programmes by an educational and cultural organisation. Certainly, if peace means what everyone in the West means by peace, then it would be a jolly good idea if some organisations found more money for it, but we know, do we not, that the Soviet view of peace and of disarmament programmes is not shared by us in the West? That is another ground for people in this country thinking that giving money to UNESCO is completely unjustified. Money should be given for religious and cultural freedom, but not for peace and disarmament programmes.

People in high places in UNESCO may read today's proceedings and be impressed by the support being given to UNESCO. They should not be under any illusion that we are all happy with the organisation, that we all admire the skills of the director-general and that we are all delighted with the reforms that have been achieved at Sofia. They should not be misled into believing that UNESCO can continue in its old way of kicking the West, democracy, the rule of law, civil liberties and human rights and attacking our interests indefinitely, because we shall not put up with that for much longer.

Many people in Britain are asking why we should continue as a member of UNESCO, whether subsidising it or not. As a member of the Select Committee, I was persuaded that we have more to gain financially by being a member than we have to lose. But that is not the only consideration. We should not go on supporting an organisation which, by its political activities, is no friend of Britain and the West. That is a serious and important point of view. It will require a response from us, as the representatives of the people, to the people's wishes. Pressure will be put upon us to withdraw and to support our best friends, not our worst friends. It will be said that we should spend our resources and contributions in ways that will advance, not diminish, the interests of the West.

We should warn those who run UNESCO that the threads that bind Britain to UNESCO are very thin and are not growing thicker. There is a limit to the extent to which we can go on arguing that British influence that is not manifestly successful is more important than British influence that may be more successful if directed elsewhere. If those in positions of power in UNESCO have any other ideas, they should remember that our money can be spent elsewhere and that British influence can be well directed elsewhere. The Commonwealth unanimously wants Britain to stay in because withdrawal might precipitate the collapse of UNESCO and others would follow our example. British cultural and scientific brains can find a far more welcoming and responsive home in other parts of the world and in other international activities any time they wish to go.

I should like those who are in positions of responsibility and power in UNESCO to remember that many of us do not like the idea that Britain is still a member. We are giving UNESCO one more chance to pull its socks up and show a better and more friendly face to those of us in the West who care deeply about the development of the Third world.

1.33 pm
Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)

I feel rather like a coxswain sitting in front of a rowing eight, outnumbered and daunted by the sheer size of the oarsmen and therefore respectful of their brawn. However, I am confident that being the only one looking in the right direction, I may steer them in the way that I shall attempt to go in my speech.

It is with great sadness that I speak in favour of withdrawal from UNESCO, not with anger. Over many years, before coming to the House, I worked closely with international lending agencies and United Nations organisations, and on many occasions have visited the International Labour Office and the United Nations Development Programme and worked alongside some of the programmes emanating from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation. I am, therefore, instinctively and strongly supportive of the United Nations family. I am equally conscious of the importance of multilateral organisations and—not nationalistically inspired, as has been said of those who are opposed to our future membership—I am conscious of the importance of bilateral programmes. However, I recognise the importance of multilateral programmes. Equally, I have the highest respect for both the competence of many of the staff and the effectiveness of the organisations sustained by many of the United Nations bodies with which I have worked.

However, I do not find it satisfactory to hear from many hon. Members that opposition by people such as myself is based specifically on some Right-wing ideology or political principle. That is not so. It would be absurd if it were. After all, in many United Nations bodies there are policies, indeed programmes, with which one may strongly disagree ideologically. I am not arguing for a minute that we should leave all United Nations organisations. I happen not to like many of the policies that are being implemented by UNESCO in its programmes, but that is not the major reason why I advocate that we should terminate our membership.

I happen to dislike much of what the Labour party offers, but that does not mean that I wish to see the end of constitutional democracy or to run away from this country. Remarkably, there are even some things that I quite like about the Labour party, not least the ability of some of the general management committees to send to the House eloquent speakers, many of whom we have heard speaking from the heart on this subject, and from the position that I share—being a firm protagonist of the need for strong British representation overseas and support for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in all aspects of its vote, not just the diplomatic service but the vital BBC overseas service, the British Council and our aid programme.

I had no difference with Labour Members when last year we voted on the FCO budget. I abstained with other colleagues because I felt strongly that it was important to see an increase in real terms for our representation overseas. Equally, I do not believe that it would be right to pay too much attention to those who argue that people who oppose our continued membership of UNESCO do so on the basis of one official—Mr. M'Bow.

I do not for a minute believe that I have been in any way influenced—I say that in all sincerity—in my views on future membership of UNESCO by Mr. M'Bow. He is an eloquent individual and spoke at length on Monday to hon. Members who took the opportunity to go and listen to him. Although I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) that Mr. M'Bow's knowledge of the details of UNESCO was sadly lacking, it would be wrong, foolish and blind to decide a matter of this importance purely on the basis of the character of one individual, even if he is the director-general of that organisation. That is all the more relevant when one remembers that he has only one and a half years left in office. It is sad and in some ways shocking, giving due regard to the intellectual level that one hopes to hear from hon. Members when they resort to such an argument, that they use the political Right-wing or personality arguments.

My concerns are much more fundamental about the reforms. Everyone argues—and I agree—that if one does not like the look of an organisation, one tries to reform it from within. That must be the right step to take. As much effort, time and support should go into internal reforms and at the end of the day the result should be changes that work in the interests of the organisation and therefore our continued membership. When the issue was raised in the House on 12 November last year, I asked the Minister:

does my right hon. Friend agree that the criterion for UNESCO aid disbursements should be effective distribution to recipients and that conditions for improved performance should be tied to a declared intention to withdraw, to be implemented if, and only if, such improvements are not forthcoming by the end of next year?—[Official Report, 12 November 1984; Vol. 67, c. 412.] The problems that UNESCO faced this time last year, which led to reforms and to the withdrawal of the United States, were clearly set out by the United States general accounting office audits. I am not quoting a Heritage Foundation assessment, be it objective or subjective. I am looking at the reasons that led to the American withdrawal and the response that we initiated as a result to see whether that response has been effective. If it has not been, is it possible that the money could go elsewhere and be equally well, or better, spent or not spent? This is at the heart of today's debate. The debate is not about the principle of the need to belong to international bodies. What has been said today may lead us to think that universality is the only principle at stake. To me, the critical issue is whether the reforms have been implemented to such an extent and are heading in the right direction, to give me the confidence to believe that we should remain a member of UNESCO.

Mr. Lester

Does my hon. Friend agree, although it might not be paramount in his mind, that if we left UNESCO, it would break the principle of universality which we have maintained since the end of the war? We have always been members of all the major international authorities in which we have been able to exert an influence.

Mr. Moynihan

I agree that such a withdrawal would break the principle of universality with the United Nations and its organisation. However, I do not believe that the principle of universality should provide carte blanche as a cover under which any other reforms or desires for change can be hidden. I am singularly against that.

In other words, there is no divine right about universality. There is a great deal of importance behind it, and it is of relevance to our relations with the Commonwealth, other Western countries and other members of the United Nations, However, universality is not a divine right, and people are in danger of using it too easily as a blanket cover under which to hide the more fundamental points of whether our money and presence in the organisation are valuable, or whether there are better ways to pursue the important and fundamental objectives that UNESCO aims to achieve.

I support those fundamental objectives, and I am delighted that as objectives they are echoed by the British Council which, as hon. Members will no doubt recall, was established purely to promote cultural, educational and technical co-operation between Britain and other countries. Its objectives do not just run in parallel with, but overlap some of, the programmes of work undertakesn by UNESCO. The British Council undertakes some sub-contractual work on behalf of UNESCO.

I return to the point that was at the centre of the debate this time last year. We knew from the American general accounting office audit that the concentration in the Paris headquarters was not just a matter of fact that we were criticising, but was a growing problem. Many people were moving from the field to the headquarters. Ten years ago, UNESCO staff were split evenly between headquarters and the field, but today over 70 per cent. are in headquarters—the proportion of people working in Third world countries has declined considerably.

There was a comparative decline in professional staff, and we have often heard about the importance of UNESCO as an intellectual body for discussing matters, and not just as a development organisation. Ten years before American withdrawal, the UNESCO staff were divided 50:50 between professional staff and support staff—in other words, general service personnel. Today, the ratio is 40:60, and is therefore moving in the opposite direction to that which we should like to see.

There has also been an increasing preference for short, fixed-term but renewable contracts over permanent employment. By last year, 90 per cent. of the professional staff were on contracts running between two to three years. I am a firm believer that in an organisation such as this, just as in research in higher education here, we too often look to the short-term posts that nothing like adequately fill the need for long-term research.

With this method of recruiting staff, UNESCO has established a second, informal system which enables the director-general to bypass the regulations concerning qualifications and procedures. This involves the extensive hiring of temporary or casual employees. UNESCO rules state that such appointments should be made only exceptionally, and should not exceed three months for professionals and one month for general service personnel. As the audit identified, the provisions are routinely circumvented to the disadvantage of UNESCO. Some 2,363 temporary employees who work the equivalent of 695 staff years were identified.

This is a problem of inter-personnel management which we must sort out to ensure that the operation of a budget the size of a university's is effective. There were long delays in filling vacant posts. In December 1983—before the audit was written—226 regular professional posts had been vacant for an average of 18 months. In other United Nations agencies, it is a rule that if a post is left unfilled for a long period, it is assumed that it is no longer needed and hence should be abolished. I am painting a picture of a personnel system which is unacceptable and which requires radical reform and radical restructuring. Such reforms were taken on board in some of the proposal forms made by the Government at the beginning of this year.

There is no more important function in the United Nations than that of programme planning—the evaluation and co-ordination of planning. Project evaluation is important to any international lending agency. One of the problems that we face with the World Bank is that the project cycle is taking progressively longer to implement. We must have reforms to implement and appraise projects.

In UNESCO programme planning, evaluation and co-ordination is of vital importance. Yet it is still the case that, 40 years on, UNESCO has just begun to consider an effective system of evaluation. The effectiveness of its programme activities will require co-ordination to avoid the duplication that has marred UNESCO's history. We are not talking about five or 10 duplicated projects out of every 100. When the appraisal was done, there were 186 major programmes. I am talking not about small desk office jobs but about major programmes. Of those 186 programmes, 57 duplicated activities. That is a large proportion of the programmes which UNESCO implements.

UNESCO programme planning routinely fails to indentify what the organisation will provide when it completes its activity and who will benefit. It is vital that a project should not just be laid aside the moment that the project period is over. The continuing work in so much of these activities is vital. This continuing work was highlighted by the all-party group on overseas development with regard to agricultural projects in Africa. There is no point implementing a project and then leaving it. These projects are of long-term relevance to Third world development, specifically on the scientific side.

We also hear, and quite rightly, about the importance of monitoring. The follow-up work is important, but monitoring is lax within UNESCO. There is no systematic control over programme development. I have had an opportunity, as have other hon. Members, to speak to some eminent members of UNESCO who I understand are with us today, although I cannot see them. As they are with us and have taken the time to be with us this week, it is interesting that they have failed to answer the point about UNESCO still being a long way from a system that evaluates programme activity effectively.

Mr. Lester

I have listened carefully to my hon. Friend's thesis. I accept the validity of what he has said, but he is not arguing the key point, which is whether the United States's departure and our possible departure from UNESCO is likely to reverse the trend that he has described. The essence of my hon. Friend's case is that UNESCO is going the wrong way. It has just started to go the right way, so this must be the worst possible time to leave. My hon. Friend and I want the same thing but disagree about the means of achieving it.

Mr. Moynihan

It will come as no surprise to my hon. Friend that the thrust of my argument is about to be developed. Several hon. Members are smiling because I have already taken some time. Many others feel as strongly as I do that we should leave UNESCO but they cannot be with us because of constituency commitments.

I do not believe that the thrust behind the reforms so far can be carried on with or without us. I disagree with the assessment of the temporary committee advanced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South. It is regrettable that the temporary committee has been disbanded in favour of the special committee, as it had far more teeth and was much closer to the initial reforms and monitored them effectively. It disagreed with many, reviewed others and accepted some. Moreover, it put a timetable on reforms and identified the people who would be responsible for implementing them. UNESCO had a body to implement reforms, but out it went and in came the special committtee with completely different personnel and without responsibility to set out how reforms should be effected.

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) who argued that the change is beneficial. I contend that it is regressive. A comparison can be drawn between those committees and aid for Africa. We will experience aid fatigue, although the problems in Africa will be as great next year as they are this year. We are getting reform fatigue. People close to UNESCO, not least the Australians, are getting tired of us whingeing poms, as we are indelicately described. If we hang the noose around UNESCO's neck for another year, we shall not get the same positive response as we got this year. We shall get only dissatisfaction.

Mr. Foulkes

May I confirm what the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) said? Far from the committee of 18 being less powerful, it is more powerful. The hon. Gentleman should admit that his information is out of date. Following Sofia, a timetable with specific implementation targets has been adopted. It includes decentralisation, evaluation, programme implementation and financial and budgetary measures. All of that has been taken account of. The hon. Gentleman's brief must be out of date.

Mr. Moynihan

My brief is far from out of date. It was collated as recently as yesterday evening from experts, whom the hon. Gentleman also met, and was written up this morning. It could not be more up to date than that.

Many of the reforms, to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded, tend to be mostly procedural. I regret that many hon. Members have not criticised the nature of the procedural reforms. Now, there are dates for the implementation of marking UNESCO programmes "urgent" or "not so urgent". Along with The Economist, I consider that to be a rough and ready device which is unlikely to bring UNESCO's sprawling activities under the control that its big financial contributors should demand.

My argument is based on cost-benefit analysis, not cost analysis. We should look to what our membership can achieve, and whether the right sort of programmes are implemented in the right direction for the limited money dispersed through an organisation such as UNESCO. I believe strongly that we are not getting value for money. I would not advocate my case as vociferously and strongly as I have unless I felt that there was a better way of spending the £5 million or of ensuring that many of the valuable programmes and principles of UNESCO continue through other bodies. From what I have heard this morning, I know that some hon. Members will scream at my suggestion.

The Minister's comments were remarkably heartening. He alluded specifically to the money going to the British Council, and said that, even within the overall aid budget, there was considerable opportunity for the money. That is obviously crucial to the final position. Having heard all the speeches this morning, I do not believe that the £5 million will go back to the Treasury. It will be deeply regretted if it does, and time will tell. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) may well smile, but I am certain that he is wrong. I am confident from the Minister's words that the hon. Member is definitely wrong.

I should like to see two particular programmes developed. Major spin-offs are available to the technical co-operation training programme. Professor Fage's evidence to the Select Committee has already been quoted, but it can equally well be quoted for the outstanding importance of the British Council's work relating to UNESCO activities. He said:

Our language, our ideals, our influence all spread as a result. I do not think that we should lightly shut ourselves off from this established international mechanism for winning friends and advancing our interests. I have travelled the world seeing British Council offices, and exactly the same applies to the work that it does so effectively around the world. The British Council not only works effectively but spends far less of our limited budget on administering the programmes. Even the figures quoted by the friends of UNESCO are nowhere near the efficiency of the British Council.

Mr. Tom Clarke


Mr. Moynihan

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way. Another hon. Member wishes to speak in about two minutes, and I am coming to the end of my speech.

The British Council spends only 9 per cent. of every £100 on administering the United Nations programme. That covers much the same work that is being done and must be done to effect its outstanding work on the technical co-operation training programme. The work includes the selection of candidates overseas to ODA criteria, placing them in British institutions, briefing them, providing welfare and support to candidates throughout, and reporting back to the ODA. That is a great deal of work, and the British Council can do it for well under the percentage that is required to bolster a large bureaucracy in Paris.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Moynihan

The Opposition Front Bench must note that UNESCO is based in Paris, not Brussels.

The network of 15 regional offices in the United Kingdom is critical to the work of the British Council. The concept of the British Council is to keep a small decentralised head office. The World Health Organisation has achieved that. During its 30 years, in recognition of those needs, it has adapted from a large headquarters during its initial period of development. Yet the opposite has been happening at UNESCO.

If the Government decide in favour of withdrawal, it should be part of their strategy to limit the effect of withdrawal on Commonwealth and developing countries. I was pleased to hear the Minister's remarks about the £5 million and to hear that if UNESCO should move on without us next year, that money will not be clawed back but will continue to be used to promote educational, cultural and scientific work overseas. The British Council is the national body charged with that task. In the event of British withdrawal from UNESCO, our annual spending of about £5 million should be diverted to the council, which can be relied upon to spend the money efficiently. I urge the Government to follow that course of action.

2 pm

Mr. Keith Best (Ynys Môn)

If my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) has curtailed his remarks to enable me to make a brief contribution, I am grateful. However, I do not believe that the House will consider it a worthwhile gesture on his part, because I cannot emulate his depth of knowledge on these matters. His understanding of the subject, as shown by his remarks, is well known throughout the House.

I agree with many of the criticisms that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East and other hon. Members have advanced during the debate. One advantage of speaking late in a debate is that most of the arguments, if not all, have been deployed and articulated to their full. One can top up those arguments or try to put a new dimension on them, but I am not optimistic that I can do so. Therefore, I shall speak in broad terms.

Many of the criticisms have been well founded. However, I do not criticise the Government for announcing their intention to withdraw, because it had a distinct and beneficial effect upon UNESCO. I shall say more later about tactics and how they could be deployed to advantage in the future, but to say that an organisation has erred does not imply that we must leave it. A phrase that has been quoted by several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East, is that we should lead from within rather than without.

When we consider in historical terms the overall concept of the United Nations and its organisations, such as UNESCO, we realise that this century has been unique. The concept that world problems need global solutions has been institutionalised for the first time since the Roman Catholic Church held spiritual, and some temporal, sway over most of the known world many centuries before the birth of the nation state.

The enshrinement of the belief that global solutions are needed for some of our problems was very much the motivation behind the founding fathers of the League of Nations, and behind the creation of the United Nations and the universal declaration of human rights.

Only in the last decade have we seen an acknowledgement by the majority of countries that other countries have an interest in the scrutiny of the internal matters of individual nation states. I sometimes wonder whether the Soviet Union realised what it was doing when it signed the Helsinki accord, bearing in mind that it was an acknowledgement, for the first time, that the Soviet Union would invite international scrutiny of its internal affairs, especially on human rights. That is a welcome trend, but it is part of the overall belief that some matters are beyond the scope of individual nation states, and that some matters are beyond the scope even of nation states that have come together in regional groupings. Some matters need international backing, which comes from the United Nations.

I shall not dwell on the Select Committee's report, because it has been mentioned many times. I welcome its in-depth study of the position, and I agree with many of its conclusions. However, it would be foolish to say that, because a Select Committee recommends a course of action, the House should follow suit automatically and recommend that action to the Government. I do not pretend that the Select Committee's report is anything other than persuasive and cogent evidence. It is not conclusive.

Nor shall I dwell on the Sofia reforms. No doubt cold water has been poured on them, because many regard them as insubstantial reforms. However, not only were the plans for each of UNESCO's 14 major programmes adopted by consensus, but the operational budget was adopted by acclamation. I am reading from the press notice, which has no doubt been quoted by many hon. Members. It showed a zero growth rate, as well as a 25 per cent. cut in budget to take account of American withdrawal. All the proposals in Sofia were agreed by the participating nations.

The economic argument has been fully articulated. Does the United Kingdom receive back almost twice as much as its annual contribution to UNESCO? That is an important matter, and a material factor if one considers the position in purely nationalistic terms.

The House should consider Britain's influence on the rest of the world. For many years we have been in the happy position—it has been enhanced under this Government—of other nations looking to Britain to take the lead in some areas. We are still regarded as a people capable of achieving compromise and a sensible resolution of conflict, and our diplomats are welcome everywhere in the world. That is why other nations wait for us to take the lead in many international organisations. I am worried by the fact that, after the threat by Britain and the United States to withdraw, there has been little movement from other countries to withdraw from UNESCO. I should be worried if Britain took a stance that identified it completely with the United States in this matter. Although I appreciate that the Government will take an individual view, there is always the danger that we shall be lumped together with the United States, which is not always helpful. However, I acknowledge and welcome the fact that the United States is our closest ally. I often tell my friends in America that the only other country in which I would find it comfortable to live is the United States. One cannot pay a greater tribute to another country.

I am worried that the Soviet bloc influence in UNESCO will increase if Britain withdraws, and I suspect that that, more than many other factors, will influence the Government's consideration of the matter.

We live in a delicately balanced world. That balance is sometimes upset. We shall not improve that balance if we hand over control of UNESCO to countries in a particular part of the world. Our threat to withdraw from UNESCO has concentrated opinion, and it will probably lead to further reform. However, our threat to withdraw can have a beneficial effect only if that threat can be exercised. If Britain withdraws from UNESCO, the threat can no longer be exercised.

I hope hon. Members do not believe that I am being unduly simplistic. What I have said is so axiomatic as not to need reiteration, but it is necessary to place it on record. If we relinquish our bargaining factor by withdrawing from UNESCO, no longer shall we be able to exercise influence over its development. UNESCO will not be destroyed, but we shall have lost the opportunity to influence what goes on there. That would cause me very grave concern. If, as happens frequently, we disagree with United Nations decisions, we do not say that we shall withdraw. It is the same principle.

UNESCO has a valuable role to play in scientific and cultural developments. At the fireside summit, as it will probably be called, agreement was reached to increase cultural exchanges. There is a time-honoured phrase, "knowledge dispels fear." One of the greatest problems confronting mankind is to ensure that there is greater mutual understanding. If we do not achieve that aim, fear will be generated. Fear breeds mistrust, and mistrust breeds conflict. Therefore, I urge the Government not to withdraw from UNESCO. We must continue to apply pressure, and we must ensure that that pressure has a beneficial effect. Withdrawal from UNESCO would mean that Britain was relinquishing a solemn duty that it owes to the rest of the world.

2.12 pm
Mr. Foulkes

The overwhelming view of hon. Members is that Britain should not withdraw from UNESCO. However, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) perpetuates some completely out-of-date and discredited myths. On the question of decentralisation, he ought to know that, according to the study, 82.6 per cent. of the appropriations for the major programmes and for programme support was used to finance activities that are carried out away from headquarters. Further decentralisation was agreed in Sofia, and implementation of the decentralisation programme has now been agreed. Action has been taken but the hon. Gentleman has not acknowledged it. He is a little naive if he believes in the generosity of the Treasury. It will not hand back money to the Department from which it clawed it back.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) said that UNESCO had not complained about the abuse of human rights in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc. The hon. and learned Gentleman ought to know that UNESCO is the only agency which has a procedure by which an individual from any state can file a complaint against a Government who it considers is violating human rights. The majority of human rights cases have been brought against the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc countries, who wanted to abolish this right. It was because the United Kingdom and other countries opposed its abolition that it was decided at Sofia not to proceed with abolition. UNESCO's determination to defend those rights would be weakened if the United Kingdom withdrew.

It was suggested that because the overwhelming view in this debate was against withdrawal the Government should take no notice of it because this is a Friday. It was outrageous of the hon. and learned Member for Burton to say that. Perfectly adequate notice was given to every hon. Member that this debate would take place. Indeed, we had more notice of it than we get on many other occasions. The Government set the date, and I see behind me hon. Members from Scotland and Wales, and it is more difficult for hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies to be here on a Friday than it is for other hon. Members.

If consulting the House of Commons is to mean anything, account must be taken of the views that have been expressed today. The view expressed against withdrawal has been, if not unanimous, overwhelming. That view has been expressed from the Labour party, the Conservative party, the alliance and the nationalists. It was expressed by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) on behalf of the alliance and by myself on behalf of the official Opposition. There was only one small voice against, that of the hon. Member for Lewisham, East. Can we set the opinion of Lewisham against the rest of the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, the European Community and many others?

I underline a point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), who informed me that he might not be present for the final speeches, and by my hon. Friends the Members for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn). They asked whether, should the Government take us out of UNESCO, the next Labour Government would take us back in. The only reason why I did not deal with that in my introductory remarks was that I fervently hoped that the Government would take account of the views of the Commonwealth, of the Community, of this House and of the overwhelming majority of people and stay in UNESCO. I still fervently hope that. However, I put it on record on behalf of the official Opposition that when we are in government, if we are no longer members, we will take Britain back into our rightful place as members of UNESCO.

2.17 pm
Mr. Raison

With the leave of the House, I shall reply to what has been an interesting debate. I shall not plead that Friday afternoon debates do not matter. I accept that Friday is a full day for the House and that hon. Members have expressed their views in today's debate.

I said at the outset that I would listen carefully to the views of Members. There is no point in having debates if views are not taken into account. I shall, therefore, consider carefully all that has been said, although we have heard some far-fetched arguments.

In the background has been the useful report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, and it is right that we should have debated that. I discussed a number of the ingredients in my opening speech, and I shall not go over that ground again.

I thought that there was one moment in the debate when we would take off into a cloud of conspiracy theories of a ludicrous kind. Various versions of that conspiracy theory were placed before us. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) talked about a Garrick club plot. That had rings of the 17th century, except that Garrick was an 18th century figure. The idea that people had sat down in that convivial atmosphere—I am always delighted to be asked there—and worked out a subtle plot with which to undermine UNESCO was absurd.

We had a characteristic variant of the conspiracy theory from the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—who has disappeared, I presume, in a cloud of smoke, though I accept that he informed the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley that he might not be present at this stage—who advanced the proposition that the question of leaving UNESCO derived from an unholy and mysterious combination of the security services and a threatened media mogul. Has anyone heard anything more ridiculous than that?

It was also suggested that it was pressure from the United States Government that led us to give our notice a year ago. That is complete nonsense. It is true, of course, that the United States gave notice, and has indeed left UNESCO, but the whole approach of the United States Government has been very different from ours. They gave notice, after which they played only a rather spasmodic part in the reform process. When we gave notice a year ago we said—and we have stuck to it—that we would continue to operate actively in trying to bring about reform.

I assure the House categorically that the Americans made up their own mind. They did not try to persuade other people to go along with them. We have been under no pressure from the American Government to follow their course of action. The decisions that we have taken have been our decisions.

Mr. Foulkes

Does the Minister really expect us to believe that? It is stretching the credibility of the House too far to suggest that it is a coincidence that we followed immediately behind the Americans.

Will the Minister admit that there have been contacts between the British Government and the American Government on the question, that there has been pressure, and that the former United States ambassador to UNESCO, now the ambassador to Luxembourg, has been involved in that pressure? I have information to that effect, and I should be surprised if the Minister does not have it.

Mr. Raison

The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. Of course we have talked to the Americans. We have also talked to the Europeans, to the Commonwealth and to the Japanese. I have talked to Nordics, to Malaysians and to Brazilians. I have talked to practically everybody under the sun about the matter. It is simply not the case that we have been subjected to pressure by the Americans to take any particular course of action. I say that categorically, and it is absolutely true. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept it.

It was also suggested that in some ways the Government are involved in an attack on internationalism. The point was raised by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) and also, in a sense, by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and others. It is not an attack on internationalism, and in no sense are we out to destroy the United Nations system. That is far from the truth. But our belief is that it does no service to the United Nations system to tolerate within it organisations which are badly failing to fulfil their duties. That is what the argument has been about. We have said that, if the campaign to get reform does not succeed, we shall implement the notice that we gave a year ago.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed drew some kind of comparison with an alleged threat to the European Convention on Human Rights, but it was only on 24 October that the Home Secretary announced to the House that the United Kingdom was renewing for a further five years the right of individual petition to the European Commission of Human Rights and was accepting for the next five years the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. That is significant evidence that the idea that we are trying to undermine internationalism is far from the truth.

I acknowledge that in the Commonwealth there is a genuine desire for us to stay in UNESCO. I acknowledge also that representations have been made to that effect. When I was in Sofia recently I had a meeting with Commonwealth representatives and that was the tenor of their argument, but one has to pause and think about the strength and intensity of that feeling.

Although at the Heads of Government meeting at Nassau there was a passing reference to the United Nations institutions, the Commonwealth representatives completely failed to take the opportunity of that meeting to raise the question of UNESCO.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Raison

That is true. They were very busy with South Africa, but they talked about other things, and there was an opportunity to talk about UNESCO. If it had been a question of paramount importance to the Commonwealth countries, they had a chance to raise it, but they did not take it.

Mr. Foulkes

Can the Minister tell me whether 49 Commonwealth high commissioners have got together on any other issue and twice asked to see the Foreign Secretary to press a point? That has happened on this issue. Have they done it on any other issue? It demonstrates their strength of feeling on this matter.

Mr. Raison

I cannot off the cuff give a factual answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. I have already acknowledged that the Commonwealth Governments have expressed that view. I believe that the evidence at Nassau bears out the fact that, as far as the Commonwealth and Europe are concerned, we have not had pressure of the kind that would indicate that they have given this very high priority.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley quoted a report from the United States which appeared in The Guardian, which claimed that the British delegation in Sofia had expressed satisfaction with the results. In my opening speech I made it clear what I thought about many of the reports that appear in The Guardian. In this and other matters they often stray far from accuracy. The hon. Gentleman quoted a secondhand account from a secondhand and completely unconfirmed report. The British delegation at Sofia was careful to pass no overall judgments about what was or was not achieved. It did, however, make certain formal statements expressing the Government's disappointment on certain specific points.

The House will agree that the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) was both thoughtful and knowledgeable. He stressed the difficulties of the decision, and I understand that and accept that the arguments must be weighed very carefully.

My right hon. Friend said that we should extend our period of notice. That would be possible, as other hon. Members have said, but I think that there are certain difficulties about that course. Would it really make sense to prolong what would inevitably be a period of uncertainty? If my right hon. Friend has in mind a one-year extension—I am not sure whether that is his view, but others have asked for a one-year extension—we must recognise that that would take us to a point halfway in the biennial cycle, that is halfway between one general conference and another. The general conference really gives us the best opportunity to review what progress has been made. I do not dismiss the points made by my right hon. Friend, but I think that there are practical difficulties about them.

My right hon. Friend also raised the specific points of decentralisation from Paris and the proportion of work done there. On 1 July 1985, 25.6 per cent. of all UNESCO's staff in post were employed away from the Paris headquarters. It is true that some slight movement away from Paris is taking place, and that is certainly one of the things for which we have been pressing. There is similarly a slight movement away from Paris in the actual implementation of the programmes. Much of the work performed in Paris has results elsewhere. For example, the UNESCO scholarship scheme is run from Paris, but the scholarships are, of course, awarded to people in other places.

The figures may be argued about and interpreted in different ways. It is true, however, that UNESCO has been an over-centralised organisation, not only in terms of the volume of work done in Paris, but in terms of the power within the management. One of the points that we made strongly about the management of UNESCO was its failure to delegate decisions, which had a consequent damaging effect.

Another important point to arise during the debate was what would happen if we decided to leave UNESCO. I have already set out the Government's view about what would happen to the money that would be released. I made it clear that we would be able to find other uses for the money, within the aid programme, perhaps through the British Council, in education, science and culture programmes—issues with which UNESCO is concerned. I repeat that it is possible to find other ways of supporting education and science in the Third world. Indeed, my Department already does so, to good effect. That will certainly continue.

As for the international scientific organisations, it is possible in a number of cases—

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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