United Nations Secretary-General

– in the House of Lords at 11:16 am on 14th July 2005.

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Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 11:16 am, 14th July 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What criteria and methodology they will be advocating within the United Nations for the appointment of the next Secretary-General.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the Secretary-General is chosen in two steps. The Security Council first nominates a candidate whom the General Assembly must then approve by general vote. We do not advocate any change to that methodology. On criteria, the Government want to see the best person appointed, someone who will provide effective leadership of the UN as it addresses the interlinked challenges of development, security and human rights that face the modern world.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that overall we have been well served by Secretaries-General of the United Nations but that, every day, global events underline the crucial significance of the appointment? The high level report on the future of the United Nations has emphasised that. Would the Minister not therefore agree that now is the time to seek political agreement—as widespread as possible—on the criteria and character of the person for whom we are looking? That is so that, next time, we can have a strong, effective Secretary-General and not be subjected to a political compromise cobbled together at the last moment.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, the Secretaries-General of the United Nations have been a distinguished group of international servants. They have served us well, and the refinement of criteria will be an extremely important factor, when a selection comes along. However, Kofi Annan's term of office runs to the end of 2006, and he has not announced that he will not run for a third term. We do not prejudge the issue of whether he will in any way. It would not be proper to do so, as he is doing an exceptional job. No doubt, when the choice comes to be made, the criteria must serve all the functions that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has described to the House.

Photo of Lord Hannay of Chiswick Lord Hannay of Chiswick Crossbench

My Lords, would the Minister agree that, now that Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa have all held the office for considerable periods, the next appointment—if it is not to be a continuation of Kofi Annan's term—should not be based on a pre-determined regional origin? It is possible to break out of that now.

Would he not also agree that, sticking to the present procedure that he outlined for appointment, there could be major improvements in the transparency of the process? For example, if the Security Council were to appoint a search committee, candidates could be asked to put forward their views on how the organisation should be run and directed in the period ahead. If that could be introduced, it would be a huge improvement over the smoke-filled room procedures that have prevailed up to now.

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I am certainly never going to advocate selection by procedures in smoke-filled rooms; I cannot stand cigarette smoke.

It is our wish to see the appointment of the best person who meets the criteria, not simply the serving of some sort of geographical term, as that would not necessarily produce that result. The one thing that I would say about the selection process is that it is inevitable, if we are candid about it, that the person selected will need to be able to work with the major powers. That is just a reality. The process should be as transparent as possible, and it is bound to be the case that everyone will want to see candidates—and then a candidate—emerging with that capability.

Photo of Lord Wallace of Saltaire Lord Wallace of Saltaire Deputy Leader, House of Lords, Spokesperson in the Lords, Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs

My Lords, would it not be appropriate for a Government who, I trust, support stronger global institutions to launch an initiative on a reconsideration of how the Secretaries-General of not just the United Nations but of a number of other international agencies are appointed? The way in which the IMF and the World Bank appointments were made seems to have followed outdated bargains struck between the Europeans and the Americans rather too long ago. We have had difficulties appointing the Secretary-General of the World Trade Organisation. Would it not be helpful if the British Government made proposals on how we might improve the process of selecting the leaders of global institutions?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, perhaps I may, with the greatest respect, restrict my answer to the United Nations. It would take a long and significant debate to deal with the Bretton Woods financial institutions because of the particular functions that they serve.

It is my understanding that the members of the United Nations in general are confident about the Security Council process for arriving at the nomination of a candidate, followed by the election of that person by the United Nations as a whole. It would benefit from greater transparency, as would all the processes, but it would be unwise to shake loose something on which the international community has agreed as a process. In general, getting that kind of agreement is pretty hard.

Photo of Lord Davies of Coity Lord Davies of Coity Labour

My Lords, I recognise that we all want to see the best person possible become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, but does my noble friend feel that, in view of the fact that leaders of the G8 countries recently met to address major issues of global warming and making poverty history in Africa and in order to secure the best possible strength and influence in a Secretary-General, he or she should come from one of the G8 countries?

Photo of Lord Triesman Lord Triesman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

My Lords, I do not reach that conclusion. Kofi Annan does not come from that background. I saw at first hand the extraordinary impact that he had on the discussions at Gleneagles. He was one of the great forces for making progress in the areas of deep concern to the United Kingdom. So, it is possible to do it, with respect to my noble friend, without being a member of the G8. Whoever it is, he or she needs to have the confidence of the Security Council, the G8 and others, which is why there is bound to be some discussion in the run-up. I do not think that it has to be a G8 member.