HL Deb 16 March 1978 vol 389 cc1548-57

6.34 p.m.

Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what support, financial and otherwise, they propose giving to the United Nations University. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the idea of a United Nations University was first mooted by Dr. U Thant in 1969, and in 1973 it received its Charter. This makes it a very young infant in the United Nations field. Since then the University has progressed quite fast, and thanks to very generous help indeed from the Japanese Government a headquarters has been set up in Tokyo. I say "a headquarters" because it is not the kind of university which has a campus. The whole of the globe is its campus.

The University has as its object the harnessing of scholarship to global problems in order to fill a gap which I think it is necessary to fill and in order to link up the work which is being done on global problems in different parts of the world. Its projects are concerned with identifying these problems, and for these projects it has advisers all over the world. It attempts to fill the gaps in the knowledge that we have of the various problems of the world, in particular of the underdeveloped world, and it stimulates research in developing countries. To that extent it may be considered to be a kind of reverse brain-drain that enables academic research to be continued in places from which it might otherwise be attracted away.

The University disseminates its results in two ways. First, it disseminates them through the academic world. It keeps people who are working in the same field, and also those in different and complex fields, in touch with each other so that they know what is going on. Possibly even more usefully, the University exists to pass on in a usable form the information which it obtains from its research to people who can use it for the good of developing countries and for solving problems thoughout the world. Above all, it is an institution which is devoted to solving some of the most difficult and vital problems that the world has to face. Its three particular priorities are world hunger, natural resources—what they consist of and how they can best be used and not wasted—and the development of man and society, with particular reference to the underdeveloped or the developing world.

This University is worthy of support. It faces financial danger at the moment, as a result of which it may not flourish, and may not even continue to exist. One of its virtues is that it is one of the very few United Nations organisations which is not inter-governmental. It is separate; it has its own Charter and it is not dependent upon Governments for the day-to-day running of its affairs. Nor can the University be influenced by Governments. The University works within the true traditions of the academic world. But the corollary is that Governments are not so interested in helping to support it, and this may be one of the reasons why there are financial problems.

A number of nations have contributed towards the University, some of them extremely generously. I have already mentioned Japan. Obviously what is needed is a major contribution from the United States of America. However, the USA are getting a little tired of the fact that everybody seems to want them always to take the lead in matters of this kind, a lead which other nations will then follow. Congressmen and Senators have been heard to say that it is time other people, particularly in Europe, took the lead.

This country does not have a bad record, although it is not so good as it might be, on these questions of aid and help to the developing world. We are associated with the University. The noble Lord, Lord Briggs, is on its council — and he is very sorry that he is unable to be here today to address your Lordships. At least one of our institutes is taking part in the work of the University; namely, the Tropical Products Institute. I acknowledge the help which that institute has given to the University.

I believe that thin University is infinitely worth while. It is the right kind of project; it is pump-priming; it is seed growing. This is not a question of giving out to developing countries money which might or might not be wasted. It is not the spending of money on a once-and-forall basis. The money is being invested in that most precious of all commodities—knowledge and the spreading of knowledge throughout the world on a number of very vital topics.

It is my earnest hope—and, I think, the hope of a number of noble Lords and Members of another place—that, now that there is somewhat more money available than there was a year or so ago, the field of aid, particularly, would be an area where it would be absolutely right if Her Majesty's Government could see their way to giving a significant grant to the endowment fund, or in some other way helping this university which is doing such good work. I hope that the noble Lord who speaks for the Government will be able to give such good news, so that we can help in that way in the very near future.

6.41 p.m.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, I am sure all noble Lords would wish me to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for raising the question of the United Nations University, an organisation or institution which does not get very much attention either in your Lordships' House or elsewhere in the world, as indeed the noble Lord pointed out. I am sure the Minister will listen with sympathy to the remarks and requests made by the noble Lord.

I have some personal memories of the United Nations University, because I was the United Kingdom delegate at the United Nations in 1972, when the resolution was passed in the General Assembly, in the Third Committee, to which I was a delegate, relating to the setting up of the University and the future adoption of its charter. So I have taken an interest in its initiation and the continuation of its work. The charter was adopted in 1973, and the United Kingdom voted in favour of the United Nations University, with 117 other Member States.

At that time the Secretary-General agreed that there was a need for an endowment fund so that the University should have stable conditions, and this must be one of the essentials of an institution of this kind. Obviously, it operates, as the noble Lord has described, in a different way from an ordinary university; but it is quite clear that, in order to get the academic excellence which would be demanded of an institution of that kind, funds must be available, and they must be guaranteed for at least a minimum period. No professor or senior academic would be able to leave his position in any university for any length of time without some guarantee of financial reward; that is clear.

Nevertheless, my own view of the United Nations University, certainly when it was debated in 1972, was that it was not so much to be undertaking research work but to be a meeting place for the youth of the world. It was with that ideal in view that the resolution went forward from the General Assembly which I attended. But I have seen no evidence in the programme or in the activities of the University as it has been conducted so far which in any way attempts to realise those ideals which I thought were quite excellent. This would be one of the only areas in the world where youth from all quarters of the globe, from all groups of society, of every nation, could meet to undertake some form of joint effort in the development of culture and science. There is no evidence at all that the United Nations University, as it now is proceeding in its activities, is in any way making a contribution in this way.

The last amount allocated to the University, so far as I have been able to find, was the sum of 790,000 dollars. Admittedly, it is not very much in world terms; but, when you look at what it is being spent on, you see that 200,000 of those comparatively few dollars are being spent on regional meetings. Before one volunteers that the United Kingdom should be contributing more funds, I think one ought to inquire what kinds of regional meetings are these and who attends them, because very often they just become joy rides for people who are on the inner circuit, as we know very well. Another 190,000 dollars are going for world hunger purposes. Nobody in your Lordships' House would deny that world hunger is one of the major subjects which should be studied, but there is already an expert organisation, the FAO, to say nothing of the new World Food Fund which has been set up, which have financial resources to make these kinds of studies. I wonder, therefore, whether the sums which have been allocated to the United Nations University are being spent wisely or with the purposes in view for which the University was originally set up.

This is in no way to decry the excellent work and the opportunities that the University may hold for youth in the world today. I would ask the Minister whether any proposals have been made by the Government at the last General Assembly—presumably particularly in the Third Committee—with regard to the future programme of the United Nations University, and as to the way the money that is available to the University has been spent and is going to be spent. I should also like to know whether the Government have, through their delegate at the United Nations, made any proposals as to the kind of programmes on which perhaps the University could be better spending its time—or, at any rate, the persons employed by the University—making a greater contribution to world resources.

Perhaps I may say that I am very sorry the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, is not here tonight; no doubt she had a pressing engagement. Undoubtedly she would have taken an interest in the activities of the University when she was a delegate at the last General Assembly in New York. I would conclude by saying that I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having raised this matter. I think it is a matter not only of principle—as to how far and how much the Government are prepared to co-operate in such United Nations institutions as this University—but it also raises prospects which could hold out a great contribution for peace if the Governments and Member States of the United Nations are prepared to co-operate in this great venture.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure we all appreciate the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked this Question this evening, and thereby drew attention to an important matter which, I would agree with him and with the noble Baroness, has not received the amount of public attention in this country and perhaps elsewhere that it really deserves. If I may respond immediately to the queries of the noble Baroness, so far as I am aware, we have not directly put forward proposals in the United Nations fora, but, as I shall describe in due course, we have been actively engaged in discussions about the University's programme in various consultative conferences.

Since the creation of the United Nations University was approved, in the United Nations General Assembly resolution which was adopted without opposition in 1972, Her Majesty's Government have been watching its progress with interest and with sympathy. Ministers have indicated on more than one occasion that the United Nations University has the support of Her Majesty's Government, that British academic and intellectual resources are there to be drawn on by the University, and that Her Majesty's Government will do all they can to maximise co-operation with the University.

The resolution which approved the creation of the University provided that it should take the form of an administrative and co-ordinating centre to which existing academic institutions in various countries would be affiliated, and that it would be funded by voluntary contributions. The function of the University was not closely defined, but the general intention was that it should initiate and co-ordinate research into world problems.

A charter for the United Nations University was drafted by a committee of experts and, as the noble Baroness pointed out, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at the end of 1973. The Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Director General of UNESCO then invited 24 eminent persons to serve on the council of the University. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, informed your Lordships, we are glad that the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, of Worcester College, Oxford, was among those. Dr. James Hester of New York University was appointed the first Rector of the United Nations University in November 1974.

I understand that during the first year of the University's activities—that is, 1975 to I 976—its first programmes were planned, its first associations were explored and contributions to its Endowment Fund were solicited. Its headquarters opened fully in September 1975 and are, at the invitation of the Government of Japan, in Tokyo. The programme of work of the University is being defined by a series of consultative meetings of experts in various fields. In October 1976, the then Minister for Overseas Development opened such a meeting held at the Royal Society in London. About 100 academics, scientists and officials, not all from the United Kingdom, attended that meeting. There were similar consultations in Paris, Bonn, Stockholm and Kuala Lumpur in 1977. Altogether some 480 participants drawn from 30 countries have participated in these meetings. Plans have been made for further consultative meetings to be held in various parts of the world during this year.

The concept that has now emerged is centred on the basic premise of the University that global interdependence is a fact. The United Nations University recognises that it is different from other universities in that it has no campus, no degree students of its own and no teaching faculty in the familiar sense. It sees its special role as increasing the understanding and alleviation of major world problems without duplicating or competing with existing institutions. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, urged us to approach this matter with some interrogation and caution, and I think that another cautionary note that one needs to strike is to watch that there is not unnecessary competition with already existing facilities.

The role that I have described lies in the combination of five closely related functions—in the first instance identifying pressing global problems; co-ordinating international research and advanced training; strengthening research and advanced training resources in developing countries; disseminating research results, and encouraging problem-oriented multidisciplinary research and advanced training.

During this initial phase of the University's development its council has agreed that activities and associations should be focused on three broad programme areas, each of which deals with aspects of the human condition. While the University is seeking to maximise intereactions among these programmes, each has a distinctive emphasis. The World Hunger Programme is directed towards the need to provide adequate nourishment for all human beings; the Human and Social Development Programme towards strengthening such development throughout the world; and the Programme on the Use and Management of Natural Resources is concentrated on the physical conditions in which we live and the natural resources available to us to improve life.

To finance the operations of the University and to guarantee the University's stability and objectivity an endowment fund has been set up. The University is aiming at a target of 500 million U.S. dollars by 1981 to provide an annual income which, depending of course upon interest rates, could range between 25 million and 40 million U.S. dollars. The income from 1981 would be used for headquarters operations which would be some 12 per cent. and for programme activities in the field which would be some 88 per cent. A second source of financial support is derived from contributions by Governments and non-governmental sources for the support of specific projects and programme activities.

The University has reported that, at the end of 1977, a total of 126 million US dollars had been pledged or contributed by 16 Governments. The Government of Japan had pledged 100 million US dollars of this, over a 5-year period and had paid 60 million US dollars out of some 64 million US dollars which have actually been contributed. So we see the very leading part that Japan has played in instituting this University.

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are currently considering a request from the University that a contribution to the endowment fund should be made. Other than the moral support to which I referred earlier, the University has so far not received from Her Majesty's Government any support, either financial or in kind, beyond that which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, which has already been made available through the Tropical Products Institute which is an out-station of the Ministry of Overseas Development. The Tropical Products Institute has agreed to accept a number of United Nations University study fellows for studies concerning food loss and food conservation. The agreements have recently been signed and exchanged.

As part of its desire to co-operate with the University, Her Majesty's Government have arranged a series of detailed discussions between the Ministry of Overseas Development and officers of the University. To date, such discussions have been held with Dr. Kwapong, the Vice-Rector for Planning and Development and Dr. Manshard, Vice-Rector for the Use and Management of Natural Resources Programme. The results of these meetings have encouraged those concerned to complete the series by arranging discussions with Dr. Mushakoji, Vice-Rector for the Human and Social Development Programme and Dr. Scrimshaw, Senior Adviser to the Rector on the World Hunger Programme. It is hoped that these further meetings will take place within the next few weeks.

During this round of contacts it has been learned that the University's endowment fund has been divided into two parts: the income from one part will be used to finance the general work of the University and the income from the other part will he used to finance only work connected with developing countries, with which, understandably, the initial programmes of the University are overwhelmingly concerned.

It is the belief of Her Majesty's Government that the discussions with University officers and the details of the revised financial structure of the endowment fund will provide the effective and up-to-date information which is needed before any decisions can be taken regarding support for the United Nations University by Her Majesty's Government and what form that support might take.

In conclusion, I again express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having raised this subject and given me an opportunity to put before the House information which I feel will be broadly appreciated.