Former National Party leader Jim McLay will be New Zealand's next Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Foreign Minister Murray McCully announced today.

Mr McLay was attorney-general and justice minister from 1978 to 1984 and deputy prime minister in 1984.

He succeeded Sir Robert Muldoon as leader of the National Party in 1985 but lost that position to Jim Bolger.

Mr McCully said Mr McLay would bring "a wealth of experience" to an important position.

"At this time of widespread global economic downturn, we need the United Nations to be focused and practical," he said.

"The UN, and its institutions, can help chart the way through these difficult times and its members must work collectively together to that end."

Mr McLay was New Zealand's representative on the International Whaling Commission from 1994 to 2002 and also established a successful business career.

Mr McCully said Mr McLay would be resigning from all his current commercial and related positions to take up the appointment in July, replacing Rosemary Banks who is returning to Wellington.