HC Deb 12 November 1984 vol 67 cc411-3
71. Dr. Twinn

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the outcome of the recent meeting of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation executive board.

73. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with the improvement in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation since the Minister for Overseas Development wrote to the secretary general six months ago.

77. Mr. Hayes

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made towards achieving reforms in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

78. Mr. Moynihan

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he will make a statement on the Government's intentions regarding the United Kingdom's continuing membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Timothy Raison)

Some progress has been made, but much remains to be done. The executive board approved various reforms which, if properly implemented, would improve UNESCO. I am now considering with my colleagues the question of the United Kingdom's continuing membership.

Dr. Twinn

Given the growing disquiet about UNESCO, does my right hon. Friend feel that that organisation is now making sufficient progress towards producing programmes that are of real, practical benefit to member states rather than of a purely party political nature? Does he agree that if such progress does not occur the case for withdrawal will become unanswerable?

Mr. Raison

Some progress has been made with programmes, but there has not been nearly enough so far. We need to see something very solid. That is one of the important considerations in our review of UNESCO.

Mr. Jessel

Why should one more penny of British taxpayers' money go to a bloated international bureaucracy, which is incompetent and highly political, wastes a great deal of money and is hostile to the West in general and to Britain in particular? Cannot some way be found to give the money to Ethiopia instead?

Mr. Raison

We are considering very carefully the many criticisms that have been made of UNESCO. We are getting on with that. We shall come to a view and we shall inform the House of that view.

Mr. Moynihan

While I am strongly of the view that the Government should be working towards, rather than away from, the United Nations 0.7 per cent. target for aid and that any cuts in the overseas budget would cause widespread concern in the House, 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?

Mr. Raison

In all our considerations of UNESCO we attach very high priority to effectiveness and we do not have very much regard for some of the words spoken under its auspices.

Mr. Johnston

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm from his own party experience that an organisation is more easily changed from within?

Mr. Raison

In coming to a view as to whether or not it is right to give notice it is important to consider whether reform can most effectively be achieved from within. If we gave a year's notice, however, we could continue with the reform process, at any rate until our membership was terminated.

Dame Judith Hart

As UNESCO is one of the major United Nations development institutions, does the Minister agree that it is his duty not just to inform the House of any decision that he makes but to consult the House before any final decision is made? Will he undertake to do that?

Mr. Raison

Hon. Members can put their views to me as strongly as they wish. There is no difficulty about that. I should point out to the right hon. Lady, however, that UNESCO itself and its director-general like to stress that it should not be regarded simply as a development organisation.

Mr. Barnett

While we accept that the Minister is investigating the issue carefully and that there are grave reservations about the way in which UNESCO is being run, does he recognise that Britain's withdrawal, along with that of the United States, would cause grave dismay in the Third world? What assistance is he seeking from Third world countries to solve the problem?

Mr. Raison

Obviously some people would be worried if we withdrew. Others would say that to give notice of withdrawal would be an effective way of keeping up pressure.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

To what extent will the Minister take note of the decision of the national commission of UNESCO last week that it wanted the United Kingdom to remain part of the organisation?

Mr. Raison

As I presided over that meeting, I am in a good position to know what the commission said and to consider it carefully.

Mr. Tom Clarke

In addition to taking account of the views of the national commission, does the Minister recall that 25 human rights organisations took the same view? Does he agree that we should remain a member, bearing in mind those views and the views of non-aligned nations, rather than appear to hang on to American coat tails?

Mr. Raison

I am as aware as anybody of the many opinions being expressed on the matter, which arise from two different points of view. We shall consider with the utmost care the various representations and points of view in reaching our decision.

Sir Peter Blaker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when I led the British Government delegation to the UNESCO general conference in Belgrade a few years ago it became clear to me that the organisation was inefficient, grossly overstaffed at its Paris headquarters at the expense of it activities in the field and, contrary to the intentions of its founders, that it often indulged in political measures at the expense of the free world? Will he consider seriously the suggestion put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan), that we should give notice of withdrawal now, thus keeping the position open at the end of next year?

Mr. Raison

My right hon. Friend has great experience in this matter. We are considering with great care his views and the views of those who think as he does.