Unesco

Oral Answers to Questions — Overseas Development – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 22nd May 1995.

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Mr. Alan W. Williams:

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if the Government will review their policy towards membership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. [23921]

Mr. Williams:

Will the Minister remind us why Britain withdrew from UNESCO? I remember that at the time it was an extremely controversial decision and deeply disappointing to all the aid and third world agencies. As the United Nations is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, would it not be an appropriate time to review and rejoin?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is helpful to remember that we left UNESCO because of its bureaucracy, overspending, mismanagement, inefficiency and political bias. Since we left 10 years ago, there has been some progress, but not enough. It is fair to say that UNESCO is not an aid programme, but a bureaucracy as 75 per cent. of all UNESCO staff are employed in Paris and only 25 per cent. are actually out in the field. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that only 6.6 per cent. of spending by UNESCO can be considered as development aid to developing countries.

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

May I remind the Minister, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) did, that it is the 50th anniversary of the United Nations? The Government say with many fine words that they are committed to the United Nations and they are joining the celebrations, but in reality they do the opposite. They recently reduced the contribution to UNICEF and I detect a harder line on UNESCO than previously, when they said that some progress had been made. There is enormous pressure from both sides of the House for Britain to rejoin UNESCO. It is not a party political matter. If the Minister wants to express real support for the United Nations in this anniversary year, he should now cut out all the red tape and announce that we shall rejoin UNESCO at the earliest possible moment.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We need no lectures on support for the United Nations. The United Kingdom fully supports the UN and its agencies. We pay in full and promptly, and we support 26 UN agencies, as well as other UN bodies, with funds and programmes. In addition, we are one of the main donors to UN peacekeeping. Recently, we increased our grant to UNICEF and gave it an extra £3.4 million in supplementary funding mostly in response to emergency appeals. The hon. Lady should consider whether it makes any sense at all, in the name of development policies, to give money to an organisation when 75 per cent. of its staff are locked up in Paris and only 6.6 per cent. of its total budget is spent on development aid to developing countries.