HC Deb 12 June 1996 vol 279 cc308-10
21. Mr. MacShane

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans the Government have to rejoin UNESCO. [30864]

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

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.

Mr. MacShane

Everybody will agree that, in the 1980s, UNESCO was a ratbag, financially corrupt organisation run by an authoritarian megalomaniac—a bit like the Conservative party. Now it is run by a lean, mean executive called Major—Señor Major—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he has to put a question and I have not yet heard a question from him.

Mr. MacShane

May I ask the Minister, given that UNESCO today is run by a lean, mean executive called Major, who works with the private sector and does excellent work, whether Britain will abandon its petty, petulant refusal to play a part and rejoin UNESCO now?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I shall resist being tempted down that unfortunate path. We keep our rejoining UNESCO under constant review, but at the moment we are not satisfied that the management and administration of that organisation is good value for money for those who fund it. Nor are we satisfied that our membership would be good value for money, given that it would cost £11 million out of a limited budget, which is already fully pressed.

Mr. Cyril D. Townsend

Is my hon. Friend aware that, when we were a member of UNESCO, we gained more money each year than we paid in? The sum that he mentioned should be seen in that context. Is he also aware that it is hard to find an educational or cultural institution in this country that does not think it is a gross mistake not to be a member of UNESCO? Will my hon. Friend please ensure that he does nothing to erect further fences that would prevent our speedy return?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

If my hon. Friend can give me figures that will assure me that we would get more than £11 million back if we put it in, I shall review the position. I think that it is unlikely.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

If there was a logic to the original decision to withdraw from UNESCO, surely the decision not to rejoin smacks of pettiness. Does the Minister understand that there is wide respect now for UNESCO's work and the way in which it conducts its affairs? Will he also recognise the increasing concern among other United Nations agencies that British withdrawal from UNESCO may parallel withdrawal from other organisations in the future? Will the Minister take the opportunity now to ensure that the world understands that there will be no withdrawals from other agencies?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

The world is probably more concerned about the fact that the United States does not back UNESCO than the fact that the United Kingdom does not. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that we have no plans to withdraw from other organisations. However, we are keeping a close eye on, and conducting a review of, the efficiency and value of some operations of the United Nations. I cannot, as yet, give the hon. Gentleman any details of the results that might arise from that examination.

Mr. Jessel

Is my hon. Friend aware that, at UNESCO's palatial headquarters in Paris, where 2,000 people work, most of the experienced middle management were sacked and replaced by a lot of left-wing trendies, and long-haired men and short-haired women who wore sandals in the office? [Interruption.] There were too many of them in the office and not enough out in the field. Is my hon. Friend also aware that in matters of cultural relations overseas, many of us would much rather support the Government's policy of continuing to fund the excellent work of the British Council and the BBC's overseas service?

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His description of those who work at UNESCO matches our view of the Opposition.

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