Letter: Support for Unesco is in UK's interests

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Sir: This week in Paris, Unesco is deciding how it will tackle an dollars 80m deficit, largely attributable to the failure of the Commonwealth of Independent States and Brazil to pay their dues. Britain is not unable, but unwilling, to contribute. The government withdrew from Unesco in 1984, arguing that it was too political, badly run, and ineffective. This was not untrue.

Since then, however, comprehensive reforms by the Directer General, Dr Federico Mayor, have answered all such objections. Indeed, Douglas Hogg acknowledged this in May. 'I accept that there have been genuine improvements,' he said, adding, 'We approach the question with a genuinely open mind.' But he also remarked, 'We are in the business of trying to determine where pounds 9m is best spent.'

I have no doubt that membership would make us money. Even on the sidelines we have profited from Unesco: pounds 9m last year, selling everything from hammers to management consultancy. But this is less than for 1984. It is clear that the balance sheet would not be in the red if we rejoined.

The value of Unesco cannot be determined in the counting house alone. It is the leading agency in the fight against world illiteracy. It inspires, co-ordinates and finds money for programmes as diverse as flood forecasting, travelling schools for nomads, libraries and community radio.

'Since wars begin in the minds of men,' the Unesco constitution reads, 'it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.' The development of other cultures, and of their mutual understanding, is in every nation's interest. We know from Europe's history in the 20th century that deformed and underdeveloped cultures have contributed to instability, the denial of democracy and the retardation of progress. It is Unesco's role to diminish these threats, and it is in Britain's interest to support it from within.

Yours faithfully,


MP for Caithness and Sutherland (Lib Dem)

House of Commons

London, SW1

29 October

The writer is Liberal Democrat spokesman on National Heritage.