HC Deb 22 February 1993 vol 219 cc665-6
5. Mr. Dowd

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what assessment he has made of the effect of the United Kingdom's withdrawal from UNESCO on the work of his Department; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Key

The United Kingdom's withdrawal from UNESCO in 1985 has not significantly affected the work of my Department. The question of rejoining UNESCO is primarily a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who continues to follow closely developments in that organisation, but has not so far taken any decision on resumption of membership.

Mr. Dowd

The Secretary of State will be aware that the overwhelming majority of informed opinion in the arts and sciences and cultural circles believe that the simple submission to the former President of the United States in pulling out of UNESCO has done immeasurable damage to this country and to the organisation. Will he prevail on the Foreign Office to reconsider the issue before, by force majeure, the new Administration in the United States makes it compulsory for us to rejoin, and to do so at the earliest opportunity, thus avoiding the embarrassment which would follow such a train of events, and repairing some of the damage done to this country and its influence overseas by the earlier decision?

Mr. Key

I do not know where the hon. Gentleman was in 1985. At that time, I was the last British national commissioner for UNESCO. I was, therefore, very familiar with the arguments then. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there was not total and unswerving support for the objectives of the UNESCO administration. However, UNESCO has many important functions to which we still subscribe and in which we are actively involved—even this very week.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has not come to a decision. Whether he comes to a decision before or after the United States has done so is entirely up to him. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that the whole question of membership of UNESCO is kept under consideration.

Mr. Maclennan

Is the Minister aware that the new President of the United States has spoken most warmly to Dr. Mayor, the director-general of UNESCO? Any benefit that may have been experienced by that universal organisation as a result of our withdrawal because of its bad administration will be dissipated by our remaining out of it. There is a great deal to be said in terms of this country's interests for our rejoining that universal organisation and for ensuring that our cultural achievements are shared and are carried through in its work abroad.

Mr. Key

I am aware of that point and I am also aware that many British nationals provide expertise for UNESCO, either because they are directly employed by that organisation or because they are employed on a consultancy basis. I have no doubt that some parts of UNESCO's work are valuable to this country, whereas other parts may be more beneficial to other countries than to Britain.