Question for Short Debate
My Lords, in this short debate we are looking at the work of the UK with other nations of the world through the specialised agencies of the United Nations in order to deal with the most serious issues facing peoples and countries today and in the future. I declare a family interest in that my grandfather, Maxwell Garnett, was Secretary of the League of Nations Association in the 1930s. He often used to fly the United Nations flag. For five years in the 1990s I was privileged to be the UK representative at the World Meteorological Organisation, a UN specialised agency. I also declare an interest as a director of an environmental consulting company.
Many of the agencies—such as those for health, the environment, economics and human rights—originated in the 19th century, particularly those dealing with meteorology, health and communications. They were voluntary bodies then, and much less governmental than they are today, a point that I want to return to later. They were an important element in the formation of the League of Nations Union following the First World War and then became important bodies in the United Nations when that was formed after the Second World War. Indeed, the person who wrote many of the documents for both of them has a statue in Parliament Square—namely Jan Christiaan Smuts. One of the features of the United Nations compared with the League of Nations was that there was a much stronger element of the international body commenting on, helping, interfering with and almost intervening in nations in the interests of adhering to the principles of civilised society and for the benefit of populations. Governments were strongly pushed by regulations to avoid torture, not to starve their people and to respect human rights. The influence also extended into areas that are very important to science, such as requiring member states to provide their people with information important to their safety and well-being, and for economic development, an area which United Nations bodies still find extremely difficult.
However, I believe that these agencies have made many great achievements. Examples are the reduction of disease through the World Health Organisation, the provision of humanitarian assistance, and providing advance warning of disasters. A nice example of this was that in the 1990s the area of uncertainty about where a tropical storm in the form of a hurricane or cyclone would hit 24 hours ahead was around 220 kilometres. Within a few years, research brought that down to around 130 kilometres. The area of uncertainty was greatly reduced and that led all the countries of the world to use much more accurate methods. In the area of culture, we have all benefited from the World Heritage Sites listed by UNESCO, one of which we are in today, of course. Last year, the United Kingdom’s nomination of Charles Darwin’s Down House was accepted; and for the information of noble Lords, this year China is putting forward Kubla Khan’s Xanadu, which is mainly a grass field, by the way.
One of the other very important features of the UN system is that it provides standards for business, science and medicine for the whole world. My aim in tabling this debate is to point out that, in my experience and that of many people who have both written and spoken to me, these agencies could achieve much more. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office takes the lead in our involvement with the United Nations. I am informed that the UN department at the FCO is staffed by around eight people, so it would be impossible for them to deal with the 50-odd agencies of the UN, and therefore the government departments take the lead on these issues. However, we could do much more to involve Parliament and interested organisations and to build our contribution. A number of suggestions have been made.
First, the United Kingdom should provide a report to Parliament about the key objectives of the United Nations agencies and how the UK is contributing to those. There are many important multiagency themes on which the UK has been pressing, such as climate change, food and water, as well as technical issues such as data. One of the frustrations for a scientist in the governmental world is occasionally hearing a civil servant asking, “What have data got to do with policy?”. It is a slightly puzzling statement, but the attitude is quite widely held. The role of data is changing all the time and it is no longer just provided by government bodies, it is provided by all sorts of organisations. The United Nations’ bodies are in fact being rather restrictive in the way that they handle and think about their involvement with data. The United States is introducing data exchange centres where you can bring data together from many different sources. It is important that UN bodies move in that more open direction. That is an example of themes which such an annual or biannual report could tell us about in future.
The reports should also tell us about where agencies need to change. The United Kingdom is always very good at telling UN agencies to be more efficient economically and to spend less money, but they are not very good at producing broader, non-financial goals which are, after all, why these bodies are there in the first place. It is important that such a report should describe the areas where there should be changes, though hopefully in a constructive spirit. I fear that there have been some reports by British government departments on UN agencies which widely displease our fellow nations in the UN because they are done in such an unconstructive spirit.
Even experts have no idea about the emerging issues that such reports could communicate. For example, you probably do not know that there is a UN agency just the other side of the river, the International Maritime Organisation, which regulates and defines the rules for dealing with geo-engineering, which is the study of how we can control climate change. The experiments being planned to put iron particles in the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide are, of course, a very radical idea which must be regulated. Even the Royal Society was unaware, when it was talking about geo-engineering, that this discussion was actually going on here. These big, new and important issues need to be publicised. These reports should also give information on the significant decisions and achievements of these agencies as well as their problems.
I also want to emphasise the importance of stakeholders being much more involved when there are significant meetings of these United Nations agencies. There is currently some circulation within Whitehall in advance of such meetings, and sometimes to the technical agencies, but there is very little real consultation. I read about how these United Nations agencies started in the 1920s, so when I was head of the Met Office I made sure that we had very wide consultation with many industries and stakeholders. However, this does not always happen. Nowadays, when IT allows these ideas to be circulated, there is much more possibility of that happening.
My second point is that UK delegates at meetings of these significant United Nations agencies—although they are very responsible and sometimes have other government departments present—hardly communicate back to London at all, unlike those from the United States. They certainly do not communicate with stakeholders online. This is now perfectly possible, because there are many public sessions of UN agencies which could be reported. They are in fact being reported online. I can see many meetings, such as a recent one on biodiversity, as they happen on my BlackBerry. This is not courtesy of the United Nations or any Government; it is courtesy of the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Canada. I can see what is happening in many parts of the United Nations on my BlackBerry, which is extremely helpful. I can then send e-mails to somebody to say, “Why don’t you do this, that or the other?”. This is clearly the new world that we are in. I am sorry to say, however, that when I spoke to a colleague in the Foreign Office, she said that she did not have a BlackBerry and therefore would not know what I was talking about.
I know from personal experience that reports are sent to the Foreign and Commonwealth after meetings. Most of these are not secret but they are nevertheless classified as such, so if you want to read what happened you have to wait 30 years. It would in fact be perfectly possible to have these reports done openly. I wrote a report after the WMO congress in 1995 at which we talked about developments in meteorology and how it should be applied to this, that and the other thing. It is now in a file somewhere and you can read it in 2025. This is not how we should be dealing, and it is moving on very slowly, I am afraid.
One of the puzzling features about the UK’s involvement in these agencies is that it is not at all clear why certain government departments are in the lead and how they participate with the other lead departments. For example, I have had considerable concern expressed to me by scientific bodies about the fact that UNESCO, which has a wide range of interests—cultural, scientific, educational and so on—is responsible for important programmes in oceanography and hydrology, as well as culture. The government department in the lead for UNESCO is DfID, which is of course a very responsible and well known department. However, while it is pretty good on economics and development, it is not so hot on those other areas. It is not at all clear that communication on these matters is taking place.
There has to be more effective collaboration, not only between government departments but between industry, NGOs and scientific institutions. Some research councils, whose scientific work I admire, employ the United Kingdom technical representatives at certain UN agencies, but their significant role is poorly understood by the senior management—I shall not name names. Most of the senior management either do not know or do not meet the UK representatives and do not regard it as important. I believe that representing the United Kingdom at a United Nations agency is a very important and responsible role, and it is absolutely essential for senior managers to know who is doing it and to make sure that they report to them and that there is some dissemination afterwards.
This brings me to another of my points. I believe that the Foreign Office—
My Lords, it is my pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, in this wide-ranging review of the UN agencies and I congratulate him on securing this short debate.
In the 60 years since the formation of the UN, we have come a long way, going much further than the original conception of forming an organisation for maintaining peace and security through mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. The specialised agencies, numerous as they are, have come about as Governments have realised that some of the most pressing problems of the world are not capable of resolution through the exercise of bilateral co-operation alone.
Winston Churchill saw that in his advocacy of concentric circles, which included the countries of empire, the alliances of Europe and the strategic north Atlantic interest that the UK was dependent upon after the war. So pooling sovereignty to the extent that we have in multilateral organisations is not something new. Yet in the UK, a founding member of the UN, it is becoming increasingly fashionable to knock the UN and its agencies except when we need them. At that point, the same people lament their inability to do whatever we want them to do at that particular time.
I welcomed the Government’s multilateral aid review earlier this year as an extremely useful exercise in evaluating our relationship with the UN specialised agencies and in taking forward a new approach. I want to make just three broad points in relation to these bodies.
The first is that while an individual member Government can do well to review the effectiveness of an international organisation—and I want to put it on the record that I think the multilateral aid review did an excellent job—it nevertheless brings to that exercise a narrow prism of sight, hence the review was commissioned to assess the value for money of UK aid funding for those organisations. I accept that the criteria related to strong behaviours which are capable of measurement—in this case, organisational strengths and contributions to UK development objectives—are entirely worth while. Any keen observer of UN agencies will not have been surprised to see that the list contained few surprises, and those that performed poorly or were merely adequate were those that had had a poor track record for some time. It was also not particularly surprising to see that they shared some similarities in weaknesses: a lack of a sharp focus on their mandate; an overly bureaucratic administration, which caused delays; inefficiencies built into the system; poor cost controls; and references to poor leadership and thereby, implicitly, to poor governance.
They are all areas which, were they to be found in corporate life or indeed in government, could be resolved through process and management change. However, the very essence of multilateralism—of being beholden to multiple stakeholders—makes consensus on change an extremely challenging task. Most countries can agree on what they think is wrong, but it is far more difficult to agree on what they think they want from that organisation going forward.
I refer back to my own experience at the Commonwealth Secretariat where we were constantly being pushed in one direction by a particular group of countries, and in another direction by another group. I think it is fair to say that when one thinks of the failure of the Commonwealth to resolve the political situation in Zimbabwe, it was not a failing on the part of the organisation but the lack of consensus on the part of its key members to be able to see a way forward which prevented effective action at the time. I use this example to suggest to our Government that achieving change in the direction we seek will be more easily delivered if we work across the other groups of stakeholders in a diplomatic and consensus-building fashion—sotto voce rather than megaphone diplomacy.
My second point is related and concerns the more practical aspects of cost controls and building efficient and transparent systems. There is a crying need for reorganisation of the governance of these bodies if they are to carry out their mandates. Some have overly cumbersome executive boards, overstaffed senior levels that have been in post too long, and a general risk aversion, which makes new learning more difficult. While we want lean and efficient structures, we the member countries do not accept that a quota system of recruitment actually works against the most high-calibre candidates.
If one is to take leadership changes at the IMF or World Bank, it is not an edifying spectacle in a global economic crisis to see a jockeying for position for the top job, not on the basis of merit but on the basis of whose turn it is. It also leaves the population of countries that do not “win” that post with the impression that the officeholder will from now on be partisan. This cannot possibly encourage confidence in those bodies. On the board, Buggins’s turn results in compositions that may not be fit for purpose. At executive level, the need for geographical balance may well deliver a less than optimal workforce. I urge like-minded countries to work with the Secretary-General and director-general to streamline board and human resource practices to reflect a stronger emphasis on merit, to the exclusion, if need be, of the requirement for geographical balance if the case is strong enough.
A further point is about the location and mandate of UN agencies. A good example of a body stifled from birth is that of UNEP. By basing it in Nairobi, it was hampered from the outset by the fact that it was cut off from the rest of the UN system geographically, and it struggled to recruit the highest calibre staff. In keeping with a somewhat lower status as a UN programme, it has had one of the smallest budgets within the system. Given that it is expected to look after a range of environmental issues, from climate change to biodiversity, water and ozone depletion, it is overstretched and underresourced. Given those constraints, it does a remarkably good job.
Let me turn now to one of the priority areas identified by the MAR—that of programmes supporting the empowerment of women and girls. Last year saw the creation of UN Women. Its full title is the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. The reason it is an entity, we are told, is because its mandate is cross-cutting across other UN bodies to cover all themes related to women. It has strong leadership in the appointment of its first head, Michelle Bachelet. Its mandate is wide-reaching, so it was a little surprising to see that Saudi Arabia, that leading example of gender equality and empowerment, was voted on to the executive board. It came in in an obscure category of,
“developing country not on the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD”.
It stretches the imagination to think of Saudi Arabia in the context of gender equality but it also stretches the imagination to see it as a developing country. I wonder why it is in the G20 in that case.
I know that my noble friend will be prevented from commenting on this aspect of less than good governance because of diplomatic protocol, but I raise it to illustrate how we the member countries need to build smart alliances with other like-minded players to prevent perverse outcomes which simply heap ridicule on bodies which have important roles.
The UN agencies operate in challenging environments and perhaps our expectations of them are too high. However, as the multilateral aid review points out, it is our obligation to secure the best possible outcome for UK taxpayers and we must continue to press for our reform priorities if we are to maintain public confidence in the UN system, which it benefits us to do.
My Lords, while I congratulate my noble friend on his initiative in securing this timely debate, I must also thank UNA-UK for the very helpful briefing material that it has provided.
In our now completely interdependent global community, the value of effective international co-operation cannot be overstated. It is essential to generate a real sense of community and of shared challenges and shared objectives in meeting those challenges. We must be ready to learn from each other and avoid counterproductive dangers of competition for influence and power as part of which we may be tempted to misuse our aid programme. That is why the UN agencies, with their representative global membership, are so important. However, I am certain that to fulfil their potential it is essential to improve their integration and co-ordination.
I will concentrate in this debate on three vital agencies facing actual and potential shortfalls in funding. These are agencies that would particularly benefit from strong UK support, financial and political. The UK is on the governing board of all these three agencies.
The first is UNESCO. UNESCO is currently facing a shortfall of at least $65 million and has been forced to temporarily halt some activities as a result of the sad US decision to withhold dues following the acceptance of Palestine as a UNESCO member. Two US laws enacted in the 1990s prohibit the funding of any bodies that admit Palestine as a member. Therefore, the US is not paying the dues that it owes for this year of $65 million and has suspended future funding. The US normally contributes 22 per cent of UNESCO's budget. Israel has also frozen its contributions and Canada has indicated that, while it will continue to pay its regular dues, it will not provide any additional funding.
I warmly congratulate the Government, who have just been elected to UNESCO's executive board, on having indicated that they will not cease funding. The UK could play a significant role in supporting UNESCO during this period. I know that the agency scored poorly in the March 2011 DfID multilateral aid review, but its funding was not cut because the review confirmed its unique contribution to education, development, science, culture and heritage. The agency has since undergone a reform process that has seen, among other things, a stronger focus on girls’ education. The UK should work closely with other executive board members to ensure that UNESCO improves its performance and to encourage other states to plug the funding gap.
The UN Population Fund, which is the UN's lead agency for population matters, reproductive rights and family planning, is also coming under fire in the US. Pro-life Republican representatives have blocked the Senate Appropriations Bill, which contains the US voluntary contribution to the agency. The fund categorically states that it does not promote abortion and nor does it espouse coercive policies such as China’s one-child policy, a claim made by the agency’s critics in the Senate. The agency of course had its funding frozen during the George W Bush era, even though a 2002 State Department investigation absolved it of these charges. President Obama reversed the decision in 2009. Over 90 per cent of the agency’s funding is voluntary.
This year, the global population breached 7 billion people. An estimated 215 million women who wanted to delay or avoid pregnancy were unable to afford or access contraception, and half a million women and girls died from childbirth-related complications. The fund’s work to support family planning and safe motherhood, and to provide essential information on population trends, has never been needed more. Given the UK’s strong focus on women’s and girls’ health, it is imperative that it does all it can to support the fund’s work, both financially and politically. As with UNESCO, the UK is in a key position as a member of the agency’s executive board.
UN Women, the new UN agency for gender equality and women’s empowerment, began work this year. In the past, the four main UN bodies working on gender issues lacked the cash, clout and co-ordination effectively to champion equality and empowerment. UN Women consolidates these bodies, absorbing their mandates and acting as a voice and focal point for gender issues within and outside the UN system. In 2010, the UN General Assembly agreed a budget of $500 million for the new agency—far short of UNICEF’s $3 billion, but significantly more than the combined budgets of the four previous gender entities, one of which of course was UNIFEM. However, the agency has faced a severe shortfall in funding from the outset—just 1.4 per cent of UN Women’s budget comes from the UN’s regular budget, and, six months into operation, it had received a little more than a fifth from member state contributions.
The UK’s decision to provide UN Women with £10 million a year for the next two years is to be warmly welcomed; but it is essential that the UK—which is on its executive board—reviews whether there is more it can do, both financially and politically, to support this new agency. UN Women is not only a vital tool to further the UK’s gender and development priorities but a flag bearer for improved UN co-ordination and reform.
The current world situation, of which the Arab spring is a telling example, means that the ILO is potentially a particularly relevant player in global affairs. I am therefore glad that the UK Government will remain a member and that our basic dues will continue to be paid. However, I am deeply concerned that DfID is no longer to provide additional voluntary funding. This averaged £6.6 million from 2006 to 2010. I fervently hope that it is not an inflexible position, and that DfID will indeed continue to contribute funding for specific in-country projects on a case-by-case basis.
There is room for some concern, lest the criteria used for the multilateral aid review might not always have reflected the remit and mandate of some of the UN agencies under scrutiny. For instance, the criteria appeared to be weighted towards shorter-term interventions in the poorest and most fragile states. Those are utterly worthy and proper objectives in themselves. However, many of the agencies—for example, the FAO—place more emphasis on medium to long-term development. Others have also had wide-ranging programmes that cannot be classified as aid and mandates to operate in developed as well as developing countries. That has always been their purpose. Are we really changing our basic attitude towards organisations that we helped to found?
As I said in my introductory remarks, international co-operation is absolutely essential to our future. The Government seem to be taking a positive and responsible position. If we can spur them on to put even more muscle into the international dimension of policy, particularly as the economic situation recovers—we hope—the better it will be and the more it will deserve support from all parts of the House.
My Lords, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, for initiating this debate in this rather late dinner break. It has provided us with food for thought, even if we will not get much real food later as a result of it.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us what a visionary concept the United Nations was, coming out of the Second World War, and how it saw the problems of the world in terms not of a narrow diplomacy of interstate relations but of global issues that needed to be tackled collectively. That logic has grown more powerful, not less, over time, given the collective action deficits in areas such as climate change with which we now have to grapple. Therefore, the logic of UN agencies is very strong. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, reminded us, there are many achievements. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminded us, those agencies tackle many difficult issues of central concern such as population and the rights of women.
Britain should strongly support this kind of multilateralism because we should aim to maximise our impact in the world through a pooling of efforts. Multilateralism through the UN has a special legitimacy. I am sorry if this sounds like a political point in a partisan debate, but given the Foreign Secretary’s talk of restoring traditional diplomacy is there not a risk that we are devaluing the importance of multilateralism and the good that it can do? I speak particularly of the United Nations in that context. Britain has always believed that it can punch above its weight in the world. We can and we do, but all the time, as economic power is shifting away from Europe towards the East and other parts of the world, that weight is declining and punching above it is less effective.
It is a mistake to prioritise traditional bilateral diplomacy at precisely this time when what we need is more multilateralism, so we should strongly support the UN agencies. It is easy to criticise some of the aspects of their management. I welcome the multilateral aid review that DfID has carried out. DFID, of course, approaches these issues from its own distinctive development perspective. There are arguments for agencies that concern not just international development, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out. For instance, the work of the ILO in promoting decent labour standards is absolutely fundamental if we are going to maintain a world of free and fair trade. It needs to be developed. It does not often deal with the problems of the very poorest countries, but it does deal with issues that are vital if the legitimacy of the world trading system is to be maintained.
Let us not knock the UN and its agencies, and let us not apply too narrow criteria in assessing their work. The UN, for all its imperfections, is something on which we need to build. Of course we should have a credible policy for reform, but I do not think that we can lecture the rest of the world about the need to reform the UN agencies when we take such a negative view of reform when it comes to the management of economic institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. It gives us no credibility to call for reform in other areas.
We will not get very far simply by lecturing people from the outside. We have to work on a reform agenda with people who share our concerns. In particular, we have to try to identify the best people for top management positions, and we should offer to support those people on merit and not on nationality, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has said.
My noble friend Lord Hunt emphasised that we should press for greater transparency. His key recommendation was that we should have regular reports to Parliament on the work of the agencies, and that documents to do with the agencies should not be secret but should be publicly available. I would welcome the Minister’s views on these topics tonight. Are the Government looking into providing greater transparency? We should certainly be pushing for clearer objectives for measures of success in for accountability for spending and all those things. However, let us first carry that out in practice domestically, as my noble friend Lord Hunt has recommended.
We have had an interesting debate here. The UN agencies fulfil a vital role, and while pressing for reform we should be strong supporters of them as well.
My Lords, I was not entirely sure what to expect from this debate. There are a great many agencies, boards and programmes in the world. I remembered when I started to read the briefings beforehand that I used to teach a course on international organisations at the London School of Economics. As I discovered, the students were hoping that this course would help them to get good jobs in international organisations. It evolved over the years into a course that, as I told them in the first lecture, was intended to dissuade them from joining an international organisation.
I did my best to explain the structural problems that all international agencies unavoidably suffer from, and the necessarily good work that they do in some rather difficult circumstances. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, functional agencies long pre-dated the UN. Some of them were 19th century agencies such as the Universal Postal Union and some riparian bodies. The International Labour Organisation was founded just after the First World War. Then the United Nations sponsored and provided a degree of accountability for a whole generation of new bodies. There are now a great many. Unfortunately, some duplicate each other’s activities and there is some overlap.
That is part of the problem of assessing how valuable they all are. I recall that the FAO, the World Health Organisation and UNESCO had enormous problems in their secretariats and in their effectiveness 30 or 40 years ago. All agencies have suffered from American ambivalence. The Americans wanted agencies to serve the global good, as the United States saw it, which meant, in those days, opposing the Soviet Union; and Russian, Chinese and Saudi ambivalence has been a problem for many years. Agencies are unavoidably imperfect, even more imperfect than national Governments. Recruitment and appointment is part of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said that we should find the best people on merit, not on nationality. He knows very well from his time in the European Commission that that does not apply even in the European Union. It is much harder to apply in organisations that have well over 100 state members and in which the Finance Minister of a particular country wants to get his nephew into a really good job, or the President wants to get his son into a really good job. Those are the problems with which we have to deal.
There are also perverse outcomes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, has pointed out, not just in UN Women but on the Human Rights Council, with which, in this imperfect world, we have to deal. I can recall taking part in a conference associated with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in which I dared to crack a joke about the Iraqi approach to a number of matters, whereupon I was immediately denounced by the Iraqi delegate at this informal conference and an official apology was asked for. One has to be very careful how one behaves in international bodies.
The United Kingdom is an active and major player in this complex world. We provide between 6 and 7 per cent of contributions to these various agencies and our contributions are rising. The United Kingdom is now the largest contributor to international agencies in Europe. As the United States becomes a more ambivalent player, in a number of ways we are becoming more important; we are an engaged player. I hope noble Lords agree that the multilateral aid review was a very constructive assessment of the limited effectiveness of a range of different bodies. It was extremely complimentary about the effectiveness of some and constructively critical of a number of others.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, whom I think I remember first meeting at a UN association meeting a very long time ago—
—when I was young. The noble Lord talked about the problems of a number of agencies, in particular UNESCO, with the loss of US funding and with the United Kingdom having just been elected to the executive board. UNESCO continues to have a number of problems with effectiveness. This new blow will be an additional one, but we also recognise that UNESCO carries out a number of functions that are not provided by other international agencies, and it is in all our interests that those functions continue to be effectively provided.
I should perhaps admit to a very small personal interest; I was rather upset that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, did not point out that Saltaire is also a world heritage site. I hope that he will visit it soon.
The UN Population Fund is also under fire from the American right, but that is not a new story. Agencies have been under fire from the American right for as long as I can remember. The Cold War had even more attacks of that sort. The UK is again playing a constructive role on the executive board. UN Women, a reorganised body, is too young for us to be able to see how effective it will be, but we are giving it our full support.
The International Labour Organisation, on which the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, commented, has a number of problems. Only 40 per cent of its staff are currently working in the developed world. The International Labour Organisation, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, will know, has negotiated and agreed a very large number of conventions on aspects of labour, many of which still lack enough national ratifications to be carried into practice. There is a limit to how useful it is to design things on child labour, and other such things, which are not then carried through to ratification and implementation by the majority of the members of the organisation.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, thinks that we are a little too critical of the Food and Agriculture Organisation. I would suggest that we remain constructively critical of an organisation which has been in deep trouble in the past, and is now improving but has some way to go.
Noble Lords asked about the British approach, and how far Britain should press on its own for improvement. Of course we should work with others, and we do. One of the pleasures of my work in government, as someone who goes to regular Foreign Office ministerial meetings, is to hear how frequently the Foreign Secretary says, “Well, the most important thing in this is that we must work with our European partners to maximise our influence in X, Y or Z”. Of course we do that. We work with all of the partners we can do—European and Commonwealth—through as many networks as we can. However, we often discover that the Western caucus within these organisations has to be careful not to upset what is still seen as the G77 caucus and that tensions within these agencies about who tells whom what to do remains a source of problems. The question of who pays and who does not pay is a rather different thing. The multilateral aid review, as a national contribution, was a constructive contribution. It provides a basis from which we can talk to other Governments about what needs to be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about reports to Parliament and parliamentary oversight. He may recall that there have been suggestions in this House in the past four or five years that we might experiment with an ad hoc committee on international organisations which might look at the how Britain relates to international agencies and which ones provide us with the best value for money. That suggestion might again, if he wishes, be raised with the Liaison Committee.
It is right that the British Government should be asking, since we are a major contributor, what value for money we receive from these bodies. Since we are on a rising curve in our international aid budget, and in our contributions to these organisations, we have to have some concern about public acceptability. Perhaps not every noble Lord in this Chamber reads the Daily Mail with as much attention as I do every day, but the Daily Mail is not an enthusiast for rising British contributions to international agencies. It is not enormously enthusiastic about international agencies as such, be they the European Union, the FAO or the UN Population Fund.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, talked about the balance between the FCO and other departments. These are functional agencies and it is therefore proper that the functional departments should provide the lead. A lot of the work, particularly that of some of the environmental and meteorological agencies, is highly technical and expert and there is an expert community, particularly in the climate change world, which works with the Government and with their counterparts in other countries to progress the work that is under way. The FCO does not attempt to duplicate that work. It has a small department which co-ordinates what others are doing and works with them through our representatives and our delegates in those various agencies when they meet. Engagement with outside experts and lobbies is high. At the UN conference on climate change, the number of British lobbies represented has been astonishingly high. It is not something that takes place behind the scenes.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that I do not see the contradiction he suggested between prioritising bilateralism and downgrading multilateralism. We are doing both and it seems to me that the stronger one’s bilateral relations, the stronger one’s multilateral relations can also be. We are working with others to try to improve these organisations. Building coalitions within organisations such as the European Union, the Commonwealth and many other global organisations seems to be the way forward.
I end where I started. These agencies will never be perfect. As we all know, internationalism suffers from structural problems. We have our own ideas about how the world should be organised and how agencies should be organised, which are not always shared by the Governments of all other countries, so we have to work with them.
I will gladly commit to considering that. The British Government, here as elsewhere, are very concerned about transparency. I apologise: I should have taken up the point that the noble Lord made about transparency of data. Data are extremely important in many of these areas. We are doing our best to provide better data. In the multilateral aid review, a great deal of emphasis was placed on how much data are available about the effectiveness of work on the ground, in-country, by particular agencies. That is very much part of the way forward.
I promise to write to the noble Lord on that. I have now extended my time. In spite of the fact that we are running a little short, I should probably draw my remarks to a close. Again, I thank the noble Lord for raising this issue. We ought to spend more time looking at how international agencies work. They play a very important part in holding the world together and I agree with him that we pay much too little attention to the work that they do and to assessing its quality and how it might be improved.