HL Deb 07 November 1996 vol 575 cc721-3

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, in view of the importance of education, science and culture to sustained economic and social development in the developing countries, they will now rejoin UNESCO.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we have no immediate plans to rejoin UNESCO. This issue is being kept under review in the light of progress with reform in the organisation and other financial priorities.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he agree that, with a lot of hard work, much has been done to put right what was certainly badly wrong with UNESCO? Does he further agree that, with 18 per cent. of our bilateral aid budget being spent on education, it is essential to be there ensuring that UNESCO is working for the things that we believe to be important and not in any way working against them? If we want the status of being one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, do we not have to take the responsibilities that flow from that? Therefore, should we not be giving a lead in getting the UN system right?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. We have publicly acknowledged that good progress has been made by the organisation in putting its house in order since the United Kingdom withdrew in 1985. We believe that there is still scope for further reform in more decentralisation and improved programme focus. As the noble Lord mentioned, the United Kingdom continues to fund UNESCO-type activities, such as educational assistance, through our bilateral aid programme. We believe that bilateral aid provides better value for money for both donor and recipient. It allows us to exercise tight control over the use of funds. As regards the UN Security Council, the noble Lord will be well aware that the United States is also not a member of UNESCO and is not showing any indication of rejoining.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that those of us who remember UNESCO recall that it had nothing whatever to do with education, science or culture? May I urge my noble friend that the Government should not waste any money by rejoining this absurd body?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I take note of what my noble friend has said.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, do the Government agree that the discussion which will take place next year on the adoption of a declaration about the human genome at the General Assembly of UNESCO will be an added reason for us to hurry up and rejoin, but if not, why not?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I believe that I made it clear in my first Answer that there is a question of priorities as regards finance. Finance may be better placed through our bilateral programme than through UNESCO. The assessed contribution to UNESCO would be about £11 million per annum. If we believe that those funds are better spent through our bilateral programme, we shall do so.

Lord Clark of Kempston

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the aims of UNESCO and those of the ODA are very similar? As regards the ODA, is my noble friend aware that that body is closely monitored by the National Audit Commission? Would it not be folly to put some of the money that now goes into the ODA into UNESCO until that body has monitoring of its expenditure similar to that which we have through the National Audit Commission?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I agree very considerably with what my noble friend has said. However, it is something that we shall keep under review. When further reform has taken place, we shall review the situation again. It is not counted out, but it is not counted in.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that, although we followed the United States out of UNESCO, we are not waiting to follow the United States back in? A committee of the other place investigated the British refusal to stay in UNESCO and I recall that it concluded that the US Heritage Foundation had lobbied both the Reagan Administration and the British Government to take a decision which in many ways was not in our national interest. Is the decision to be taken on our own or shall we simply follow the American lead?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, as in all areas, it is a decision that we shall take on our own.

Lord Rea

My Lords, as the noble Lord said that UNESCO is putting its house in order, would not that process be speeded up and a better job done if we were inside UNESCO rather than outside it? Would not the considerable amount more than £11 million that UNESCO spends be better spent if we were there to introduce the monitoring system about which the noble Lord, Lord Clark, has just spoken?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I am sure that we would be happy to give advice; but advice can be given without us being part of UNESCO. We have given a very good lead to the world with the ODA about the way to control funds and expenditure. If UNESCO wants any advice, I am certain that we shall be happy to give it.

Lord Judd

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that it is not a very convincing position to say that we are there to offer advice but are not prepared to join and to play our part? If we really are not only concerned about what UNESCO might do wrong, but about its potential to do right, would it not be much better to be in there leading in the right direction? Has the noble Lord studied the remarks of the Secretary of State for National Heritage, who has referred in another place to the stringent criteria laid down by UNESCO and to the national and international prestige which would flow from Greenwich being recognised as a UNESCO national heritage site? Is not that facing both ways at once? Either we respect the organisation or we do not. If we do, should we not be playing our leading part within it?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, that is slightly off the track of the original Question. However, I have stated and I reiterate that we are continuing to keep this issue under review and when we feel it is appropriate and when we believe that financial priorities allow us to do so, we shall certainly reconsider the position. Indeed, we are continuing to keep the matter under consideration.

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