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United Nations Secretary-General: Selection

Volume 758: debated on Thursday 22 January 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the selection procedure for the next United Nations Secretary-General.

My Lords, the United Nations Secretary-General must command the greatest possible support from the international community, and the authority to carry out the role effectively. The current system of selection, whereby the Security Council nominates a single candidate to the General Assembly, ensures that the candidate receives maximum support. This process has produced good consensus candidates in the past, and we would not want to see it significantly changed.

My Lords, my noble friend will know that last time the decision was effectively made by Bush, Putin and Hu Jintao—not great men of peace. And with eastern Europe in the frame now, it is likely to be just the US and Russia. What discussions are the Government having with all l5 members of the Security Council to ensure that at least two names go forward to the General Assembly—from my perspective, preferably those of two women—and, if there is a veto, to ensure that the appointment is then for a single term only, so that proper reform can be put in place by 2020?

My Lords, there are quite a few questions there, but important ones, which I shall answer as briefly as I can. The veto is within the format of the constitution—the rules of the game—so there would have to be a change in the rules for the veto to be abandoned. My noble friend refers to the method of selection last time. Last time, of course, Ban Ki-moon was unopposed for a second term, and it is clear that when he was selected at that stage, China had made it known that it would not accept anybody other than an Asian candidate. The method of selection was across the membership, but clearly the P5 have a crucial role to play. My noble friend is right to point out that it is important for women to be considered, too—and with a woman Leader of this House, a woman Leader of the Opposition and a woman on the Woolsack, who would dare think anything else?

My Lords, is it not the case that there are two admirable women in the frame—Helen Clark and Gro Harlem Brundtland? They would not be secretaries; they would be generals.

I always listen with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. He enables me to answer another of the several questions that my noble friend Lady Falkner asked with regard to candidates. Names are, indeed, beginning to be floated. If I may change my analogy, it is almost like a susurration—but, as with all susurrations, the names change as well. The noble Lord may have the latest names; there is quite a little list, I think. We do, indeed, need not only secretaries but generals, too.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that one change which could greatly improve the process and improve its transparency would be if all candidates were asked to set out their ideas for strengthening an organisation which desperately needs strengthening? Will the Government lend their support to that sort of approach, which is a good deal less ambitious than some of the other ideas around but could bring real benefits?

The noble Lord makes a very practical and important proposal. Although, of course, as just one member of the P5, we cannot force and insist on a change in the way that processes go forward, it is clear that from our point of view it would be a great advantage if we were given details by the candidates of how they intended to carry out their leadership skills and, as he indicates, how they would enable the United Nations in these difficult times to get beyond its 70th year, which it celebrates this year, and to go on for another 70. I find his suggestion very helpful indeed.

Will the British Government support and encourage whoever becomes the next Secretary-General to modernise the Security Council arrangements and deal with two disputes that have raged for far too long—50 years and more: namely, Cyprus, where too many people still hark back to the past rather than think about the future; and Israel-Palestine, where the United States has constantly allowed Israel to disobey international law via a succession of vetoes?

My Lords, with regard to United Nations Security Council reform, I was in New York just before the new year and met various actors at the United Nations. I made it clear that we support administrative and efficiency reforms but also reforms of the Security Council itself and its membership, and that in a changing world since the United Nations was founded 70 years ago, it is right that we should now look at membership for countries such as Brazil, Germany, India, Japan and, indeed, at African representation —although it would be for the African group to decide how it approached that. It is important that the United Nations Security Council as a whole works unanimously to resolve some of the most difficult and complex disagreements around the world.

My Lords, I am disappointed with the Minister’s answer. No British employer operating an equal opportunities policy would be allowed to get away with the shambolic approach that the United Nations takes to these leading posts. Surely, what we need is something that is not a travesty of an appointments system but that actually ensures that the person who gets the job is the best and most suitable person to do it.

The noble Lord is right to say that the procedure must enable the best person to be appointed. At the FCO, we approach appointments on the basis that women should always on a shortlist. That is the principle at the FCO. I hope that others hear that.