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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16th February 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.


Lord Judd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they have taken to maximise the benefits both for UNESCO and the United Kingdom of the United Kingdom's renewed membership of the organisation.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government rejoined UNESCO in order to support the organisation's purpose of advancing international peace through intellectual co-operation and to work with UNESCO to contribute to the international goals for poverty elimination. To that end we have maintained an active dialogue with UNESCO. We have recently put forward proposals to engage British civil society through a UK commission for UNESCO. These will be discussed at a consultation meeting on 25th February.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Does she accept that the decision to rejoin was widely welcomed, not least by those of us who belong to the UNESCO forum? Does she also accept that when I attended a recent conference of UNESCO in Paris, it was good to hear senior officials speaking so positively about British participation and co-operation since we rejoined?

However, does my noble friend agree that the purpose of belonging is to enable those in the front line of education, culture and science to benefit from, participate in, and contribute towards the programmes of UNESCO? Does she therefore agree that it is most important for the new national commission to be seen to be fully representative of those communities in Britain? How will that be achieved?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments about the importance of our rejoining UNESCO. Since rejoining, we have taken a place on the executive board. We have a strong commitment to establishing a national commission but we want to get it right. We are consulting across government and with civil society. We want a commission which is cost effective and which taps into existing civil society structures. We envisage a commission which has representation from interested civil society groups, social sciences, the exact and natural sciences, environmental sciences, industry and commerce, culture and communications, and education and youth.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, is the Minister aware that over a year ago I asked her noble friend the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when we could

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expect the United Kingdom to ratify the 1970 UNESCO convention on the illicit traffic in cultural property? The noble Lord indicated that he hoped to reply rapidly. Can the noble Baroness tell us when that rapid reply will become available?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I could say to the noble Lord, "rapidly"! However, I undertake to give the noble Lord as exact a reply as I can.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, will the Government use their influence in UNESCO to ensure that more is done to fulfil its educational mission? I understand that at present the organisation interprets education as being at university level and above and does not make the contribution it might to improving the literacy of the poorest countries in the world to which the noble Baroness referred in her first reply.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I should like to reassure the noble Lord that education is one of the key areas in which we anticipate working closely with UNESCO, in particular as a core area of our White Paper is the elimination of world poverty. We want to look at universal primary education and the education of women and girls. We shall work with UNESCO not only in terms of higher education but also primary education.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, taking into account that Hadrian's Wall is a UNESCO world heritage site, are the Government considering spending a great deal more on archaeological surveys of the wall and on preserving it from the ravages of tourism and neglect? A number of the outposts north of Hadrian's Wall are on the English Heritage at-risk register at present.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the United Kingdom is seeking a place on the world heritage committee which, as the noble Lord states, does valuable work in assessing which sites should be on the world heritage list. The committee has also taken important steps to achieve a more balanced list by encouraging representation of sites in areas of the world which are poorly represented. Rejoining the committee would be a positive affirmation of our manifesto commitment to play a fuller part in UNESCO's activities. If I can give the noble Lord further information, I shall write to him.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, will the Minister explain why the Government are prepared to contribute around £11 million a year to UNESCO, yet--despite the noble Baroness's answer to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the answer of the Secretary of State on 10th November saying that it would occur "shortly"--there are still no plans to finalise the funding of the national commission secretariat?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I return to the original Answer to my noble friend Lord Judd in which I said clearly that there is a commitment to establishing the commission. However, we want to get it right. We want to have a commission which is cost effective. We have

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consulted across government. We have also consulted with interested organisations and have received from them various indications of the kind of commission they would like to see. At the end of January this year, we wrote to a number of organisations, including the UK UNESCO forum, setting out our proposals with respect to the establishment of a commission. We intend to have a meeting on 25th February which will take us further. There have been no delays; we are interested in getting this right.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this country has probably the richest network of non-governmental organisations in the world? Will the national commission be structured to take advantage of that? In particular, will it play a part in channelling this country's participation in the United Nations Culture of Peace programme in the year 2000?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I can confirm to my noble and learned friend that it is our intention to tap into our existing NGO networks. That is a key part of the proposals contained in our document relating to the establishment of a national commission. We hope to establish a small commission which will have task groups investigating important issues. Linked to the commission will be a separate education committee, given that we focus so much on education.

As regards the Culture of Peace programme, clearly, conflict resolution and the development of peace processes form a core part of our agenda. We want the national commission involved in those issues too.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of widespread suspicion that the long delay in this matter is not so much to do with a desire to get it right as to do with a lack of enthusiasm? Given what she has said today, can one firmly reject those suspicions?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I hope that I have made clear that the Government are committed to UNESCO. We rejoined UNESCO within six weeks of coming into power and the delay, if there has been a delay, has been in order to ensure that we consult as widely as possible and get it right.

Nuclear Test Ban Treaty: India and Pakistan

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations are being made to the governments of India and Pakistan to sign the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we continue to encourage both India and Pakistan to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty as it stands and

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without delay. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary reiterated our concerns last month to both the Indian national security adviser, Barjesh Mishra, on 20th January and to the Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh, on 4th February. My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Derek Fatchett, restated the same concern to the Pakistani Minister of State, Siddique Kanju, in Islamabad on 8th February.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. I understand that the Indian Foreign Secretary has indicated that India would not wish to hold up the coming into force of the treaty. In view of the fact that neither Russia nor the United States has so far ratified the treaty, and neither India nor Pakistan has so far signed it, does the Minister believe that the treaty is likely to come into force before time runs out in September?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, we continue to urge all states to ratify the treaty, in particular those 44 named states which have a nuclear capability and whose ratification is essential for the treaty to enter into force. Fifteen of the 44 have ratified so far and 26 have signed. Three have not even signed: they are India, Pakistan and North Korea. The UK and France were the first of the nuclear weapon states to ratify in April 1998.

The noble Baroness referred to September 1999. As provided for in the treaty, a conference will be held in September 1999 to consider how to expedite entry into force. It was always envisaged that that conference would be to review and to see how the treaty could be pushed forward.

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