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United Nations: Secretary-General

Volume 762: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the candidates and process for appointing the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

My Lords, while the United Kingdom is aware of prospective candidates, we have a policy of not revealing voting intentions in the Secretary-General selection process. We believe that the process would benefit from greater structure and transparency. The UK is therefore supporting moves to set clear deadlines for candidates to declare themselves and for the selection to take place, to encourage greater public scrutiny of candidates and to promote more applications from women.

My Lords, I congratulate the UK Government on having moved somewhat in a progressive direction, certainly more than France has, in terms of Matthew Rycroft’s moves in this regard. However, does she agree that a selection process needs to be set up, that we need to do away with regional assignments for the role of Secretary-General and, most importantly, that more than one candidate should go forward to the General Assembly for selection? Does she also agree that after 70 years of male domination, it is time for a female candidate to be put to the General Assembly because international peace and security is far too important to be left to only half the human race?

My Lords, I agree with that last statement. Certainly, if a job represents the interests of the world, people cannot exclude half the population. It is high time for a woman to lead the United Nations but of course we need credible candidates and it has to be an appointment on merit as well. With regard to having more than one candidate, a General Assembly resolution in 1946 established that it would be desirable for the Security Council to nominate only one candidate. We are at the start of a process where we look for allies around the United Nations to ensure that the next process is transparent and fair.

My Lords, the Minister, whom we welcome back, has set out an admirable list of objectives. We hope that perhaps FIFA, when it comes to its choice, will have a similar list of objectives. Can she tell us whether the other countries are ready to support those objectives, or will they continue in the old mode of regional rotation?

I did not take up the noble Baroness’s reference to regional rotation because of the requirement to give just two answers but we are not in support of regional rotation as a matter of course. It may be that a region has been underrepresented for some time and therefore it is appropriate to look at the candidate for that region but the appointment must be on merit. With regard to the next process, we are already seeking to win over support and it is clear that there should be the opportunity for civil society and NGOs to take part in some of the early process.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the position as described by the Minister this afternoon, which would represent an enormous way forward from the present system. Would she apply that principle to other senior posts at the United Nations, not just to the Secretary-General?

My Lords, good practice is good practice and one should seek to spread it wherever one can. There is certainly a way in which one should subject other senior appointments to scrutiny as well. We are undertaking work—I am being very careful in how I phrase this—on United Nations reform, on which I am having a meeting later this afternoon. I know that I have a tough road ahead but I have certainly got the right boots on and I am going to walk it.

My Lords, the United Kingdom has access to two very useful networks at the United Nations: the European Union and the Commonwealth. Can we be assured that it is working very closely with its partners in both those networks, to make sure that there are concerted views, and that the need for effective diplomatic leadership from the new candidate is one of the clear criteria which we push?

My Lords, have the Government given any thought to the possibility of introducing a longer single term for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, to relieve the new incumbent from the pressure of re-election?

My Lords, it is always difficult for an unelected House to talk about trying to extend the elected terms of others, so at the moment we want to concentrate on providing a process that is transparent and fair while encouraging women to feel that they should come forward. However, I should say that our process of policy-making on this was given a very good helping hand by the views put forward in this House earlier this year, and we should take credit for that.

My Lords, since there is still a second, can I press the Minister to say whether she believes that the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand in the western European bloc—in other words in the category of western Europe—is appropriate, given that apparently one of the strong female contenders is from New Zealand?

My Lords, the United Nations has its own way of defining regions but I come back to my earlier point that regional rotation is not of itself the first port of call. Naturally, I would never seek to comment on particular candidates.