HC Deb 29 April 1998 vol 311 cc313-5
4. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

What assessment she has made of the total cost to the United Kingdom of the United Nations development programme. [39061]

The Secretary of State for International Development (Clare Short)

The UK core contribution to UNDP in 1998 is £30 million. Additional funding may be provided for a range of specific UNDP project activities. As the hon. Gentleman will know, UNDP has a key role to play in promoting sustainable development and poverty eradication and in pulling the whole UN effort together in individual countries. The Government strongly back Kofi Annan' s programme to increase the effectiveness of the UN system and are pleased that UNDP is working to implement those reforms. That is why we have increased our contribution to UNDP this year.

Mr. Robathan

I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for that response. She knows that many of us are concerned about what seems to be the bureaucratic and expensive structure of the UN and UNDP. She knows of the high salaries of international civil servants, which do not always seem to promote efficient and effective UN action. Will she ensure that the UK is at the forefront of moves—which she has mentioned—to reform the UN structure so that we get a much more effective organisation? Does she recall telling the International Development Committee that the UN costs less than the New York fire brigade? Will she now acknowledge that the UN spends $3 billion a year, which is about three times the cost of that fire brigade? We hope that the UN will be many, many times more effective?

Clare Short

No. I shall check the figure; I have certainly read it repeatedly. The political right has a long-standing record—I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman of being part of it—of trying to knock, damage and undermine the UN, which is wrong and a regrettable tradition in United States politics, as the hon. Gentleman will know. The UN's expenses are often wildly exaggerated as part of that debate. That is unfortunate because, given the state of globalisation, the whole world community needs a much stronger UN; but I strongly agree that the UN system needs reform and to be more effective.

As we have made clear, we are not interested in savings from the UN; we think that any savings should go back into promoting and strengthening its capacity and development. Kofi Annan is leading a powerful reform programme that is having serious effect. We are increasing our contributions to those agencies and parts of the system that are going with the reform programme; UNDP is a leading agency in that.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Under both Tory and Labour Administrations, the UK has always paid its UN dues promptly. Does my right hon. Friend agree that matters would be much improved, particularly in terms of reform and the funding of development programmes, if countries that are in arrears with their subscriptions were compelled to pay up? The chief transgressor is the United States of America. That is surely a disgraceful state of affairs.

Clare Short

I agree with my hon. Friend; all countries that are represented in the UN should pay their dues, just as we should all pay our dues to any organisation in which we seek to be represented. As he will know, President Clinton has undertaken to pay off the United States' arrears. It is deeply regrettable that the consequential legislation, which has just passed through Congress, had some ridiculous attachments that prevent the United States from supporting reproductive health care programmes throughout the world. The President has therefore found it necessary to veto the legislation. That is deeply regrettable. I agree with President Clinton that it is entirely desirable that the United States should pay its dues. It is regrettable that some elements in Congress and the Senate do not agree with that.

Mr. John D. Taylor (Strangford)

As the United Nations development programme assists African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, which already receive support from the European development programme, is there not a danger of duplication by those two separate agencies? Has not the time arrived when the United Kingdom should consider concentrating solely upon the United Nations development programme?

Clare Short

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the fractured nature of development assistance is a serious problem. There are so many bilateral programmes and international agencies that many poor countries have thousands of development projects and must negotiate with and account to hundreds of countries—thereby fracturing their development effort, rather than uniting it in promoting sustainable development.

The answer is not so much to try to abolish agencies or to work with only one agency as to pull together the international effort. We are therefore strongly backing the international poverty eradication strategy, which sets targets for each country and asks each country to formulate its own programme to meet its targets. Under the strategy, donors can work in collaboration with a country's Government, thereby pulling together and enabling measurement of real progress in each country.

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