My Lords, I begin by saying that 54 countries and 2 billion people spanning all the continents, amounting to 30 per cent of the world’s population and one-quarter of the global economy, make up the Commonwealth today. It is truly a unique international organisation, which has growing relevance in strengthening democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law, human rights and sustainable development in an increasingly uncertain world.
As it celebrates the 60th year of its inception, the Commonwealth has never been more important to its citizens in adapting to the challenges facing the developed and developing worlds. I welcome the progress made at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago in reaching agreements on youth development, climate change and healthcare.
I acknowledge the role that young people play in promoting the Commonwealth’s values of tolerance and development. The long-term success and sustainability of the Commonwealth is dependent on the financial and societal investments that the organisation makes towards youth development. I recognise that young people are most likely to be affected by unemployment, which is why I fully support plans to develop the Commonwealth youth credit initiative further; it will provide opportunities for young people to enhance their skills and receive mentoring.
Climate change is of course one of the great challenges that we face today. Last month’s meeting in Port of Spain enabled a progressive vision to be developed from the big polluters of today, Great Britain and Australia, to the rapidly expanding economies of India, South Africa and Malaysia and to countries that are yet to industrialise, such as those sub-Saharan nations that were represented. That is crucial to ensuring that developing nations avoid limiting themselves to growth driven by fossil fuels.
It is encouraging to see that the Commonwealth has pledged to give extra assistance to the poorest and most vulnerable members, which have contributed least to the causes of climate change. Low-lying countries, such as Bangladesh and the Maldives, and nations in sub-Saharan Africa will benefit greatly from increased defence measures. If we fail to act, there is a genuine risk of deaths and the wholesale migration of people whose land ceases to bear fruit as a result of flood and drought. In addition, there will be considerable financial losses in the countries affected. It is pleasing to see support for the Copenhagen launch fund proposal, which would help developing nations to tackle the effect of climate change—by encouraging reforestation, for example—and be paid for by the big polluters.
I believe that wealthier nations have a duty to share resources and provide funds to developing countries in order to assist them in adapting to the costs of climate change. Emerging economies such as India also have an important role to play, especially as the majority of global energy demand by 2030 is expected to come from those countries. The French premier, Nicolas Sarkozy, attended and addressed the Commonwealth summit in Trinidad and Tobago, demonstrating that he acknowledges the significance of the Commonwealth and the reality that it is growing in stature and can be an important agenda setter.
I support the agreement reached by the Commonwealth states to remove barriers to healthcare for women and children in poorer nations. That is especially relevant, as the British Medical Journal has suggested that a lack of funds is responsible for approximately 233,000 child deaths in 20 African countries each year. It will also contribute to helping the secretariat to achieve the millennium development goals that relate to child mortality, improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS and other diseases. The Commonwealth is home to 60 per cent of the world’s HIV victims and HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for adults aged between 25 and 44 in the Caribbean. I would be grateful if the Minister could shed light on reports that the Commonwealth Foundation has reallocated funds to tackle HIV/AIDS in favour of cultural activities. Does the Minister feel that this would be counterproductive?
There were other significant developments last month in the Caribbean. The organisation continued to grow: Rwanda was welcomed into the fold. It is a testament to the Rwandan people that they have advanced so quickly and firmly down the democratic path after the atrocities of the 1990s. Entry into the Commonwealth will encourage Rwanda to continue to develop from the strides that it has taken since the 1994 genocide. President Kagame has rightly attracted praise for his astute leadership of Rwanda. Fifteen years ago, Commonwealth membership would have been a distant dream to that nation ravaged by war, but it is now a reality.
The Commonwealth has previously admitted Mozambique, which is of course a former Portuguese colony, and that is to be applauded. Ultimately, this is what the Commonwealth is all about: it is a club based on shared values and democracies. After all, the Commonwealth’s official stated goal is,
“to build stronger democratic institutions and processes across the Commonwealth”.
For the Commonwealth, this is a crucial step. We must continue to expand the Commonwealth’s membership if countries aspire to its core values. Only in this way can we maintain its relevance in a crowded international space. The conflict resolution programme ought to be expanded so that it is able to offer support to non-Commonwealth states if desired, with experts assigned the central goal of peaceful outcomes. The Commonwealth family has a moral duty to many of its neighbours in the wider interests of regional security and democratic values. The Commonwealth’s success in addressing the causes of state failure in Lesotho, Swaziland, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Kenya should be harnessed and built on through mechanisms of conflict resolution.
The Commonwealth played a significant role in the ending of apartheid in South Africa, which highlights what this organisation can achieve. We can resolve to find a lasting settlement to the conflict between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. I was recently in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, where I met the President, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister, who would like to see a resolution to this long-standing dispute.
The Commonwealth is committed to advancing human rights in member nations. It must be bold in response to countries that show a blatant disregard for their citizens’ human rights. The Commonwealth must remain a beacon of tolerance. The Ugandan private member’s Bill that calls for life imprisonment or the death sentence for those convicted of homosexuality runs counter to the core beliefs of the organisation. What recent discussions have the Government had with members of the Ugandan Administration about this unsavoury proposal? The Commonwealth should entertain the prospect of creating an independent body to investigate successfully allegations of human rights abuses. This will end the reluctance of nation states to criticise each other for fear of harming bilateral relations.
In addition, there have been human rights abuses in Gambia and a war in Sri Lanka, which, unfortunately, have gone unmentioned by the Commonwealth. What is the Government’s view on how active the Commonwealth has been in highlighting these issues of concern in Commonwealth countries?
It is in Britain’s economic interests to take a greater role in promoting the virtues of the Commonwealth. As I said, the Commonwealth’s 2 billion inhabitants account for close to 30 per cent of the world’s population and contribute to approximately one-quarter of its economy. The linguistic and administrative legacy of British rule suggests that it would cost less to trade within the Commonwealth than outside the organisation.
The Commonwealth is made up of both developing and developed countries. These countries include some states that manufacture goods and machinery and others that produce raw materials. It would be a good fit if we can foster closer trade links between these countries within the Commonwealth. The growth of some of Britain’s ex-colonies, particularly India, provides abundant opportunities for economic development and closer business ties globally within the Commonwealth. Business and trade not only bring wealth to the nations but help considerably in building people-to-people connections.
I will address the question of funding. The UK Department for International Development currently provides 30 per cent of funds to the Commonwealth through bilateral development programmes, the Commonwealth Secretariat and developing autonomous Commonwealth bodies. What discussions, if any, have been held to work out a funding formula that takes into account the rising economic prowess of India, for example, so that all member states are contributing according to their means?
The Commonwealth is a unique organisation, which possesses characteristics that are different from those of other international organisations. For example, the G20 does not bring together states at different stages of the economic cycle; the Commonwealth does. The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth said in his recent maiden speech:
“We are a family of equals, not just a family of nations”.
This emphasises that all nations are equal, something that even the United Nations does not possess with its layered structure and limited access to some of its councils.
I am, however, concerned about the lack of awareness of the importance of the Commonwealth. A recent report by the Royal Commonwealth Society stated that the organisation continued to have a “worryingly low profile” among both the public and policy-makers and that less than a third of people could name anything that the Commonwealth does. According to the report, there is widespread confusion about what the Commonwealth stands for today. The report further states that, while the Commonwealth does good work in many areas, there are calls for it to focus on where it can add value. The report incorporates a number of critical remarks by various people and is a wake-up call to the Commonwealth, which urgently needs to raise its profile. The report further argues that the Commonwealth must refocus on its principles, priorities and people. We clearly have greater work to do in placing the Commonwealth at the heart of our foreign policy agenda.
I should like to see increased engagement of the United Kingdom in the future. Will the Minister give a firm commitment that this Government will engage productively and build on what was achieved in Trinidad and Tobago? The clear challenges that the Commonwealth faces cannot be shirked. Zimbabwe is currently a pariah state. Fiji has been suspended since last September. Re-engagement with these countries has to be crucial in driving the Commonwealth forward. Will the Minister enlighten the House on the discussions that the Government and the Commonwealth have had with Zimbabwe and Fiji about allowing them back into the organisation?
On humanitarian issues, I have previously spoken in your Lordships’ House about the plight of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and I welcome the decision of the Sri Lankan Government to open camps for internally displaced people. I hope that the Commonwealth can assist the Sri Lankan Government in honouring their pledge to resettle the majority of displaced citizens by the end of this year and to close the internment camps by 31 January 2010. Are Her Majesty’s Government playing a role in this regard?
I strongly believe in the Commonwealth as one of the key strings to our international bow. The old adage of democracies not going to war with other democracies comes to mind when discussing this, which is why I am such a supporter. Common values, shared culture and recognisable institutions across the globe offer the structural hope for a better world. From a democratic basis we can ensure socio-economic development; this is where the Commonwealth’s true value lies. I implore this Government and future Governments to remember this club’s importance as a mutually beneficial tool to rich and poor, strong and weak, in building a more consensual planet.
My Lords, perhaps I may be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on securing this debate. Judging by the number of your Lordships who wish to speak, it is a very welcome topic.
In the past, the Commonwealth has acted firmly against countries failing to comply with membership core values and principles. In recent times, however, apart from Fiji, little action has been taken against the more serious defaulters. Human Rights Watch claims that Pakistan and Bangladesh engaged in torture and illegal detention under the cloak of anti-terrorism measures, and accuses Sri Lanka, for the past six years a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, of overseeing serious breaches of the rules of war. It alleges that abuses continue, with Kenya deliberately avoiding accountability for state-sponsored, post-election violence, and accuses Cameroon, Uganda and Gambia of attacking human rights activists and journalists. Yet there has been no real action from the Commonwealth.
An added challenge has been created by the Commonwealth in its acceptance of Rwanda’s application for membership. Rwanda has made great progress towards attaining the Commonwealth fundamental core values since suffering the appalling genocide of the 1990s. Rwanda deserves and needs every encouragement. Yet, demonstrably, it has yet to meet the full criteria for membership enshrined in the 1991 Harare Declaration, the cornerstone of Commonwealth democratic integrity. The declaration represents the fundamental political values which underpin the Commonwealth. These are not just a set of aspirational ideals to be aimed for and achieved at some unspecified and convenient future date. They are the standards of entry irrevocably and irreversibly to be accepted, endorsed and implemented. The Commonwealth defines itself by these standards, as set out in the opening statement of the Harare Declaration of principles. Since its inception, the Commonwealth has been the consistent promoter of the universal values of democracy among its members, rich and poor, large and small. The Commonwealth is the universal champion of equality among nations, and a rich diversity of ethnicity, culture and beliefs, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, pointed out.
On the eve of the Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad, the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit—the CPSU—whose advisory board I chair, and Electoral Reform International Services launched their report on democracy in the Commonwealth. The study considered the quality of democracy in the Commonwealth and the effectiveness of Commonwealth collective action in promoting it. In broad terms, it identified the potential to improve standards and the application of democracy among its members. The report on the study sets out 12 key recommendations for action, of which I shall highlight just three.
The first is a proposal for regular and obligatory democracy health checks, with CHOGM authorising the secretariat to put in place and implement a mechanism and process to provide a regular check on the state of democracy in each member state. Secondly, each Commonwealth Government should issue a standing invitation to the Commonwealth Secretariat to visit member states—for instance, to observe electoral processes—without a formal invitation each time. This would provide an enormous step forward, because often the requirement for a formal invitation is used to impede Commonwealth action. The third proposal is for a stronger Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, focusing not just on action where there has been an unconstitutional usurpation of power, important though that is, but action, as originally foreseen, on serious or persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s democratic principles. That proposal could bring many more countries onto CMAG’s agenda.
The Heads of Government communiqué from Trinidad includes this last proposal, which is welcome, but, regrettably, the other 11 proposals are not specifically addressed. There is no specific section dealing with democracy in the communiqué, and the word “democracy” appears only three times in the 25-page document. The commitment to democracy promotion should not be just one among a number of Commonwealth objectives, it should be the defining characteristic of the association.
Human Rights Watch comments that the secretariat,
“fails to push or fund its human rights unit as a viable mechanism to encourage its members to comply with international standards”,
and it does not,
“make a serious effort to get the Commonwealth to act collectively at the UN and elsewhere to champion human rights”.
Human Rights Watch argues that the Commonwealth needs to act robustly and resource its defence of human and democratic rights. While there are calls in the communiqué for the enactment and implementation of several human rights conventions, there is no mention of extra funding or new approaches to promoting these in the Commonwealth context. Civil Society’s statement at CHOGM calls for stronger partnerships between Governments and civil society in decision-making processes. It calls, too, for the strengthening and expansion of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit.
It is now time, 18 years after the signing of the Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration, to give a new impetus to the Commonwealth’s commitment to promoting democracy. Much has been achieved since the signing of that historic declaration. The Commonwealth has committed itself to making democracy a “way of life”—and we need to spell out precisely what that means. There needs to be a common understanding about the state of current democratic arrangements and the impediments to deepening democracy. Political competition, rather than taking place among political parties, is too often between the state—representing the interests of the ruling party or its leader—and the opposition. The state apparatus—including the state media, public services, the state exchequer, police and judiciary, and intelligence services—is used to confer an unfair advantage on the ruling party. That is why more robust action is needed from the Commonwealth itself to move from affirmation to implementation of the Harare principles.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has done the House a great service in securing this debate in the Commonwealth’s 60th anniversary year.
I was only nine years old in 1949, but I remember the controversy in India over the founding of the new Commonwealth—a controversy that was due to the policies of South Africa and what was then “white” Australia. However, Prime Minister Pandit Nehru powerfully backed the new Commonwealth, and in a speech to the Lok Sabha he argued that the founding of a new Commonwealth could offer something unique to the world. He said:
“In this world, which is today sick and which has not recovered from so many wounds ... it is necessary that we touch upon the world problems, not with passion and prejudice ... but in a friendly way and with a touch of healing”.
Time has proved Nehru right; that touch of healing still defines the Commonwealth of today.
Over the years, we have seen the need for the Commonwealth’s touch in apartheid South Africa, in the military rule of Nigeria, in the abuses of Zimbabwe, and today in Fiji. Each of these cases has generated controversy, tension, even violent disagreement. When faced with such crises, the Commonwealth has always sought common ground, even when it seemed impossible. This is not a new trait. Professor Hancock once said that the Commonwealth’s existence could be traced to,
“an incorrigible disposition to escape from a logical dilemma”.
Under a succession of able Secretaries-General, this skill has been a hallmark of the Commonwealth. The current Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, is an expert at bringing together people with different perspectives. I am certain that he has the required “incorrigible disposition”.
Of course, building consensus is only the first step in applying the values of the Commonwealth. One cannot read the inspiring words of the Harare Declaration on human rights without sorrow that Harare’s citizens have since been betrayed by their leader. We all wish that more could be done to protect those citizens. Sadly, a touch of healing cannot be forced on the patient. In supporting freedom, the Commonwealth cannot operate by diktat. Yet even when we cannot do all that we wish, our principles serve as a powerful reminder of what should be done. The Commonwealth’s strength lies in the nations that have embraced its values—from India to South Africa to Singapore. It is their success that shows others the path.
In 1991, nine Commonwealth nations were under military or one-party rule; today, only suspended Fiji holds that dubious distinction. It is therefore right that the Commonwealth has decided to reconstitute the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group so that member nations themselves deal with violations of the values of the Commonwealth. In countries such as Gambia and Uganda today, the moral force of fellow members has the most weight.
It is also right that the Commonwealth considers whether the new Zimbabwe Government are returning to the values of the Harare Declaration. The most fitting tribute to the Commonwealth will come when the Harare Declaration proves to be more enduring than the regime that violated it. Alongside supporting democracy, the Commonwealth now offers another healing touch: helping Commonwealth citizens to secure their own economic future. The Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative helps young people to start businesses by offering them small loans and business training. This scheme has helped thousands of businesses to get off the ground. One business starter, a young woman from Ahmedabad, said: “I didn’t know I could ever do something useful. My family is very proud of me. I have money over every week, after making the repayments. I put some of it back into my laundrette and most of the rest goes to support my children”. It strikes me that some leading bankers could benefit from such a sound business strategy.
Another such programme is the Commonwealth Private Investment Initiative, which only last month launched the Aureos Africa Fund that aims to invest $400 million in small and medium-sized African businesses. From Nigerian drill makers to South African printers, this fund intends to provide both resources and management support for companies looking to expand and improve. Both these programmes are practical steps to improving lives and highlight two Commonwealth values: faith in the ability of our citizens, and the belief that a helping hand succeeds where a command can fail.
The Commonwealth’s great diversity makes it inevitable that its members often see the world differently. Yet by steadily guiding nations towards democracy and helping citizens to prosperity, the Commonwealth shows that diversity, democracy and development go hand in hand. After sixty years, the Commonwealth still offers the world a much needed healing touch.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for initiating this debate. When lifting our eyes above the serious national issues on which we tend to concentrate on this House and looking at the rest of the world, too frequently we dwell mainly on the Middle East, Afghanistan and continental Europe. There was a time when the Commonwealth had a much higher profile, even among those neither politically active nor interested. As a schoolgirl in the middle of the last century, I could see that most of the terrestrial globe in the classroom was coloured pink—the British Empire. It was largely that grouping that morphed into the Commonwealth, and left our country with a legacy of good in those countries that gained their independence, unlike what happened to several other “empires” that left a legacy of unrest and unhappiness. Unfortunately, subsequent generations of schoolchildren hardly know what the Commonwealth is or what it stands for. My noble friend has given us a great opportunity to rekindle interest in that great organisation, which is such a cause of pride to its head, Her Majesty the Queen, and I am sure to all of us.
Although the Commonwealth is by now quite an old, established organisation of 54 countries, it is a role model for 21st-century groupings of countries for purposes of trade, peace alliances and organised aid to newly emerging economies. It also encourages countries that have gained independence from erstwhile non-democratic and dictatorial regimes—witness Rwanda. I trust that all existing Commonwealth members will do all that they can to encourage Rwanda to reach the standards required, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey.
My noble friend Lord Howell delivered a significant speech on the Commonwealth in May 2006—three and a half years ago, yet the main points are as relevant today as then. The main thrust was that the Commonwealth should reposition itself as a major economic and strategic world player, with its own influence on global issues such as Middle East peace and energy tensions. I say “hear, hear” to that, but let us go further. Those tensions are even greater now and other tensions have come centre stage, equally demanding action, equally threatening, and extremely concerning; namely, poverty and corruption.
Billions of people probably look for guidance and security from the US, the EU, China and the growing economic power of some South American countries. The United Nations always seems to struggle to arrive at agreed solutions and is too often weakened by the inability to get agreement. The EU seems to flail around trying to assert an influence that it believes it has, but unfortunately that belief is not universally shared by many of the people whom it claims to represent. The groupings in the Caucasus are looking at ways that can protect them against the perceived overpowering influence of Russia. And all the while the vulnerable citizens of the least developed countries carry the ultimate can, in terms of wretched poverty. Many millions in the world subscribe to the commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself” without even knowing who the neighbour is and what is going so woefully wrong with them.
To be fair, recent and current attempts to get a world decision to do something about global warming and the sobering likely effects of climate change, although unbelievably torturous, show that the “better good” occasionally musters universal—or almost universal—support. Is there a role for the Commonwealth as a grouping to lead the attempts to muster universal support to tackle the dreadful, inhumane level of poverty in the underdeveloped and developing world? It should certainly be considered.
The Commonwealth is almost alone in the world as being a group of nations that does not threaten any other group. The UN millennium development goals have been adopted by the Commonwealth, recognising that those goals,
“have mobilised governments, international institutions and civil society to reduce poverty with renewed vigour and commitment”.
The reason for that support was baldly stated in September 2005 by the then Secretary-General of the Commonwealth at the United Nations Assembly:
“Half of the Commonwealth is under the age of 25, yet 70 million Commonwealth children have never seen the inside of a school.
Women account for around 50 per cent of the world’s population yet in many countries they remain marginalised from full participation in society.
In addition, many other people are marginalised from their communities for reasons ranging from access to basic health and education services to socio-economic and governance opportunities”.
This is shameful, and I use that word deliberately.
Just 12 months ago I had the great honour to represent the Government at the third global conference of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians against Corruption—GOPAC—in Kuwait. The message was clear: the future development of the seriously deprived, poverty-stricken countries of the world, where 1 billion people live on what is described as the poverty line of 1 US dollar per day or less, is largely threatened by corruption, which results in much of the funds to donor nations being siphoned off for political and other reasons by the few to the dreadful detriment of the many.
The World Bank and Transparency International have estimated that the cost of corruption worldwide is US $1,000 billion. Even in these days of mega-sums being lost through the antics of the banking sector, $1,000 billion as the cost of proven corruption is an almost impossible sum to understand, and is utterly scandalous. Can the Minister see any way in which we could influence the Commonwealth to major on this issue and take on the role as a world leader in the determination to fight this with all its might?
The definition of corruption that encapsulates this is,
“greed and personal gain by any means and at any cost”.
Would it not be marvellous if this debate led to a truly concentrated effort to tackle it? The Commonwealth has a better track record than many in achieving turnaround situations in a quiet but agreed manner. That is what the world needs and the Commonwealth could achieve it. It is not an impossible dream. The institutions are in place: the agencies of donor countries, the NGOs, the tireless activities of faith groups could all be used to create a better world for these 1 billion people and, by extension, a better world for us. Surely this is a wonderful aim to espouse.
My Lords, I was born and brought up in India and remember so clearly the resentment that Indians felt towards the British empire. It is ironic that, having spent so many years striving for its independence, India, like so many other countries, would choose to remain and maintain links with Britain as such staunch members of the Commonwealth. And then it becomes startlingly obvious why this is the case. The umbrella of the Commonwealth encompasses all its members not through a shared master but through a collective system of common values, ideals and principles—the English language, respect for democracy, human rights, institutions, legal systems, the rule of law and a dedication to trade. These qualities, which have often been referred to as “the Commonwealth factor”, are a major advantage in our globally competitive world.
The Commonwealth is a force for incredible good. With Her Majesty the Queen as its head, it has someone who inspires unanimous admiration and respect around the world. Further, one of the Commonwealth’s most powerful assets is its diversity, but this can also be its biggest challenge. The Commonwealth has a varied collection of member states: it has some of the biggest nations in the world and some of the smallest, some of the hottest and some of the coldest, some of the furthest north and some of the furthest south, some of the richest nations in the world and some of the poorest by far. For example, India and Pakistan make up 20 per cent of the world’s population, yet more than double that proportion of the world’s poorest people live in south Asia.
Today, in the 21st century, there is a positive list of thousands of items that India and Pakistan can trade with each other. It is estimated that if the barriers to trade between those two countries were removed, trade would increase tenfold. That is not an exaggeration. Can you imagine the millions of people who would be uplifted from poverty through the prosperity created through that increase in trade?
We know that open trade can revolutionise countries’ and regions’ economies—just look at us in the European Union. Who would have thought 60 years ago that France and Germany would be the best of friends and allies? I believe that that is thanks to the European Union. Trade brings peace, trade brings prosperity. Trade can stem hunger and promote wealth creation. While I recognise that trading does go on between Commonwealth member countries, there is much more that needs to be done.
There is a surprising absence in the Commonwealth of a major free trade agreement like those that exist around the world: the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA; the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC; and the Association of South-East Asian Nations, ASEAN.
The WTO Doha development round is still stalled after eight years, with two of the biggest stumbling blocks being the European Union and the United States. I propose that Commonwealth countries continue to strive to complete the WTO Doha development round and that they continue to belong to the trading blocs in their regions around the world, but in the mean time what about a Commonwealth trade organisation? What about an organisation that would bring together countries such as India and Pakistan? The Commonwealth is better equipped to commence with such a project, and I ask the Government why we are not encouraging something such as that.
The Commonwealth has 13 of the world’s fastest-growing economies. As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, said, Commonwealth countries make up one-third of the world’s population. A move towards a Commonwealth free trade agreement would be a recognition of the call by so many developing countries for trade, not aid. Commonwealth countries are voluntary members of the Commonwealth. They do not belong to the Commonwealth because they are forced to; they participate in a spirit of solidarity, community and belonging. What a wonderful spirit to have as a foundation for a trade agreement, which I am sure would prosper.
For the first time, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, His Excellency Kamalesh Sharma, is from its most populous country, India; and it is in this country that next year we will witness one of the greatest spectacles that the world has to offer—the Commonwealth Games. More than 50 countries compete in hundreds of events, and for 11 days Delhi will be transformed from the capital of India into the globe’s sporting capital. To quote a former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, the Commonwealth Games are the,
“single biggest public manifestation of the Commonwealth”.
The Games are an example of what these great member states can achieve together. They are a visible expression of the commitment and passion that this collection of nations and territories inspire and encourage. Yet, in spite of the Commonwealth’s grand headquarters at Marlborough House, its main limitation is its minuscule budget.
How wonderful it would be if a Commonwealth free trade agreement existed. The more nations that trade, the more stable and peaceful their relations with each other become. As we have heard, the Commonwealth already has a great role in development, but it can do much more to aid its members, particularly those with smaller economies. Through economic liberalisation, we can also have economic empowerment, and then we will witness the true potential of our wonderful and treasured Commonwealth.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend Lord Sheikh on introducing this very important debate and on the manner in which he did it.
The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, referred to the “Commonwealth factor” and described what has brought it about. I know from visits to just over half the member states and from participating in Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conferences and seminars what a unique role the Commonwealth plays in developing democracy, as my noble friend Lord Sheikh said. Democracy is the best guarantee yet designed for the development and protection of the rule of law, human rights, liberty, good governance and the shared values and ideals of the members of the Commonwealth. I would not go so far as to say that democracies do not go to war with each other but they are less likely to do so.
The Commonwealth is not a nostalgic, networking sodality; it contains a highly organised set of organisations which do their work with dedication and tenacity, led and inspired as they are by the outstanding Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma—himself, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, a citizen and former distinguished diplomatic representative of the world’s most populous democracy.
Democracy is a powerful enemy of conflict, which is the greatest cause of poverty and degradation in the world today. The work done by Commonwealth bodies to prevent and resolve conflict through dialogue, orchestrated by the secretariat, could be achieved by no other body, and the idea of extending its work outside the Commonwealth bears looking at. We are always told by our mothers not to try to run before we can walk, but it is an interesting idea. I recollect that when Australia occupied the chair of the Commonwealth in 2002, there was a real danger of armed conflict—possibly nuclear—between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, and I recall the vital role that the Commonwealth played, which would be acknowledged by all concerned, in helping to diffuse that situation.
The secretariat’s current strategic plan sets out a focused series of interlinked programmes in pursuit of economic development to build on the public-private partnership programme, the debt recording and management system, the Commonwealth Connects programme, the private investment initiative, and others. The Commonwealth accounts for about a quarter of world trade and investment and 40 per cent of WTO membership. It is a truism that trade as well as—if not more than—aid will bring about a better life. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, alluded to India and Pakistan as a case in point. I shall dwell briefly on the work of the Commonwealth Business Council, which was founded in 1997 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh; ably run for some years by Mr Mohan Singh; and chaired, to its and the Commonwealth’s good fortune, with great distinction by Mr Paul Skinner.
The CBC acts as a bridge for co-operation between business and Governments, between developed and emerging markets and between large and small businesses. It concentrates on enhancing trade, promoting a good environment for business and investment, promoting good practice in corporate governance and corporate citizenship, and facilitating information communication technology development. It encourages developing countries to play an active role in the WTO and to co-ordinate their activities. In new trade rounds, it encourages trade liberalisation and further liberalisation of services. It helps to mobilise investment into Commonwealth countries through measures to facilitate access to international capital markets, strengthen domestic capital markets, encourage regional integration, and encourage the private sector to work with Governments to achieve successful market economies so as to generate investment.
The CBC’s membership is global. Its stakeholders include Governments, the private sector, donor agencies and civil society. Its role in changing perceptions, sharing knowledge and experience and promoting business and government co-operation is vital. It has substantial achievements to its credit. I hope that it will continue to enjoy, as it deserves, the enthusiastic support of the Commonwealth Secretariat and, where appropriate, the British Government.
It is for each generation to form its own conception of the Commonwealth and to build on the Commonwealth’s inspiring achievements over the years in working towards our common aspirations. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, the Doha round has now been stalled for some years. Most of the world is in recession and I fear that protectionism—which is in the DNA of the European Union and of north America, Japan and China; it is in most people’s DNA—is one of the great dangers that could emanate from it. Nothing could be worse for the developing world than protectionism. The work of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth factor can militate against that.
I hope the Minister will reaffirm the Government’s support, financially and otherwise, for the Commonwealth and assist in achieving the millennium development goals, in conflict prevention and resolution, and in nurturing democracy. We very much look forward to her remarks.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to join the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in this debate. The Commonwealth knows that it has many friends in this House, perhaps because the two institutions have something in common. Both seem to belong to a past age but retain qualities that are still highly prized.
The Commonwealth is a remarkable assembly of nation states, cutting across all the frontiers of wealth, race and religion. Given that spread of interests, it may never be a strong political force, but it has shown that it can be a catalyst of political change. Some people say that the Commonwealth has no interests, but they forget that in recent years it has taken a stand on several major international issues, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and others have outlined. I applaud the achievements at Trinidad, especially the ability to pull in the UN Secretary-General and two Prime Ministers leading on climate change just before Copenhagen. That demonstrated true leadership.
The secretariat has forged some unsung but strategic partnerships, such as the governance reform programme in Africa and the trade capacity-building programme for regional economic communities in Africa. The promotion of fundamental human rights is at the heart of the Commonwealth. I applaud the new role in the universal periodic review of the UN Human Rights Council, which still staggers from one crisis to the next. I hope that the Commonwealth can instil some of its consensual charm into that, without coaxing it into the never-never land of bland communiqués that diplomats know so well.
I would like the Commonwealth to engage more directly in the development of civil society—which is, after all, a step towards democracy—among its member states. I take Rwanda as an example. Like the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, I was surprised to hear that Rwanda had been accepted as a member. Only last week, through church sources, I heard of the stifling of opposition, the intimidation of NGOs, the prohibitions on meetings and all the vicious paraphernalia of the one-party state. I know that the noble Baroness is all too well aware of that from her visits. Rwanda is not alone among offending Commonwealth states, some of which have been suspended by CMAG under the Harare rules. How can Rwanda qualify and how will it behave, now that it is a member, to avoid that suspension?
Mozambique may provide a helpful parallel. I remember that the NGOs were able gradually to criticise the powerful Frelimo Government, and some prominent corruption scandals were even opened up to media scrutiny. That may have been largely due to enlightened Frelimo politicians and donor pressure, rather than the Commonwealth, but membership will have provided many additional points of contact and will have generally enhanced Mozambique’s international status. Perhaps the same could occur in Rwanda, but its Government will have to work for it. They have the legitimate concerns that sectarian violence could return, but donors must be aware that even genuine fears of genocide easily become an excuse for tyranny and inaction.
Will our Government make a renewed effort, through the Commonwealth, to encourage civil society and the media in Rwanda so that they are not perpetually cowed by the Government? The community courts, which are trying genocide cases, should also be doing a lot more to encourage reconciliation as well as to administer justice. After all, this is one of our most favoured nations. The DfID country programme speaks of building,
“an accountable state that uses democratic systems”.
Rwanda is also a key to peace and stability in north-east Congo, where nearly 1 million people have been displaced by the fighting and the UN force is struggling to move into its peace-building role, with the support of Rwanda.
The Commonwealth is well suited to conflict resolution, a matter that I hope my noble friend Lady Young will explore, as she knows all about it. It must demonstrate that it can also engage with small but effective partners in human rights and governance. To fulfil the Harare principles, it needs to reach out, rather like the British Council has learnt to do through its young leadership programme, to people who may work at a low level today but could in future become the voices of good governance and democratic freedom.
In my last seconds, I want to propose at least two new members of the Commonwealth—one of which, Nepal, has so far not expressed any willingness to join. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, and I were there earlier this year. I hope that its new Government will consider applying. There are so many links with the UK and I am sure that there would be considerable business advantages. I also mention Sudan, which does not qualify but would like to join, but that is for another day. I would also like to see Afghanistan join, but that, too, is for another day.
My Lords, I go further than the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. The House of Lords is the British House of the Commonwealth and it is natural that the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, should introduce this debate today to celebrate the 60th year of the Commonwealth. It is an enigma, an accident of history, but a happy accident. It has worked positively on economic development and the development of democracy. In many ways, because of its diversity, it is a mini-United Nations. We stand in the antechamber of the United Nations because we are bound together by Anglophony. The world is embracing English as never before. Indeed, I am struck by the influence of the Commonwealth, which was ably demonstrated in Trinidad and Tobago in the preparations for the Copenhagen climate change conference. Do noble Lords believe like me that a real sense of optimism came from Trinidad and Tobago and has now flown into Copenhagen?
Does the Commonwealth justify itself? It meets a felt need, as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, demonstrated. Cameroon and Mozambique came in in 1995 and Rwanda came in in 2009. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, proposes other countries. The reason is that the Commonwealth is popular. Just like the European Union, more countries want to join. Does my noble friend agree that affection for one institution, the European Union, does not dilute affection for the other, the Commonwealth? Indeed, I hope that she can rebut the naysayers of the European Union and the Commonwealth. We should recognise that recently there were new recruits to the European Union that are represented in the Commonwealth. The EU now includes three Commonwealth states, plus Gibraltar. With her extensive knowledge from her years in the European Parliament and from representing us with the ACP, does my noble friend recognise that there is a real opportunity for our colleagues in the European Parliament to help with the development of the African Union, which I was pleased to go to on a CPA visit? The African Union is at a seminal stage, but we could give encouragement not only through our developing democratic ideas in the United Kingdom but also through the European Union and Parliament.
We are now developing ties with la Francophonie; perhaps my noble friend could report on those. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, rightly drew attention to the need to strengthen ties among the Commonwealth by developing business links. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, pointed out that that is, in part, answered by the existence of the excellent Commonwealth Business Council, which was also at CHOGM recently.
I declare an interest as a member of the executive of the CPA. I thank my colleagues there, especially the young people who busily prepare and see through the excellent conferences that are provided to help to develop democracy in other parts of the Commonwealth. These are held in London, but we send parties elsewhere as well. I would like to say something about young people. I have been able to go on some CPA visits and recently went to Dominica and Montserrat. I was very impressed that they had turned the fact that they were small countries into a virtue by bringing young people on. In those small countries, young people were able to monitor, follow and shadow their prime ministers and cabinets, which was of great benefit in terms of passing on the baton of democracy. I hope that we, too, can contribute to developing young people and their interest in the Commonwealth. I hope that the House of Lords will be the first democratic House to host young people from all over the Commonwealth to discuss common ideas, much as we have done with our young people in the United Kingdom.
I repeat that the House of Lords is the British House of the Commonwealth. We have many examples. I am to be followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who gives us her wisdom about Australia. There are also my noble friends Lord Joffe, of South Africa, and Lady Amos, who came from Guyana and has now replaced the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, in Australia, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. There are tremendous links through the professional engagement of the House of Lords with the Commonwealth and they should be emphasised.
My noble friend will know that Italy and France ensure that members of their own parliaments represent the diaspora of the Italians, in places such as Argentina, and of the French, in places such as South Kensington, which has been of some interest recently and which has the highest proportion of French people in northern Europe. Can we explore some of these good ideas about strengthening our ability to speak with authority and listen carefully to our colleagues and friends in the Commonwealth so that this Chamber can do an excellent job of expressing what is happening throughout the Commonwealth in the development of democracy and economics?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sheikh for giving us this opportunity to discuss this subject today. As a member of the Commonwealth, I find it particularly interesting. My family has been Australian for so many generations that I cannot really claim any rights in this country, but in 1954, I came here for six months and, somehow, I have never left. There have been all sorts of Acts over the years, and it has become increasingly difficult, but I think of the Commonwealth as a family. As the noble Lord, Lord Harrison mentioned, we are united by the English language, although some people here think I talk Strine rather than English. We are also connected by tradition and history. The present country of Australia owes its origin to Captain Cook from Yorkshire, so there is a direct line back to this mother country. I consider myself one of the family in the mother country, and I intend to speak frankly today as a member of the family and have a bit of a gripe about one or two things.
First, before I start on the downward path, I shall say how enormously loved and respected the Queen is. Whatever the position in the Commonwealth, whether in Australia or any other part of the Commonwealth—I understand that most countries in the Commonwealth are now republics—it does not make a scrap of difference. She is still Head of the Commonwealth and is still held in the same high regard.
I have a right of abode, which is stamped in my passport. Years ago, it was put in for free, but now it costs £140. I was lucky to get mine while it was still £135; it went up the next week. When I applied for it last year, I had to get a new Australian passport because my 10 years were up. I said to my children, “It’s interesting. In Australia, you can have a five-year passport for half the price”. They said, “Mother, as an evidence of good faith, you must go for the 10-year one”, so I did, and I was glad I did when I discovered that you have to renew the right of abode every time, so £135 over 10 years was a much better buy than if I had had only a five-year passport.
But I was rather staggered to be told, when I applied for the right of abode, that the 1981 Act under which I had always been given it had changed in 2006, and I would therefore have to send all my documentation in again. This meant sending in my husband’s birth certificate, his parents’ marriage certificate and his father’s birth certificate. None could be certified copies, but had to be the original documents. I spoke to someone and told him that I have a letter from 1985 from which I shall quote. It acknowledges that I had sent all the documents in and, on returning them, states:
“Such certificates can apparently be affixed to any future passports”.
But by the time we come to 2008-09, I am told that that I have to send all the documents in again. I said that this would be the fourth grant of right of abode in 40 years, but no matter. I spoke to a very nice and extremely helpful man in the Managed Migration Directorate of the Home Office. He said, “I have taken this up with the top brass here, but there is no way that you can get away without sending everything in again because of the demands of the 2006 Act”. I did think that it was a terrible waste of the directorate staff’s time and effort to do this. Then, when I got the right of abode, it stated that it had been issued under Section 2(1)(b) of the 1981 Act. That puzzled me because I had been told that I had to send everything in because of the 2006 Act. I thought that mine was an isolated case until I met someone else in exactly the same position after having been given the right of abode for 20 years.
I should like to mention to the Minister a more serious point. Apparently there is a defect in the 2006 Act which may affect my right and that of any other Commonwealth or Republic of Ireland citizen to sit in this House. I seek the Minister’s reassurance on that point because it might be by sheer luck that I am speaking today.
There are so many things that I would like to say about the Commonwealth. I have been involved in observing elections in the Seychelles, and I have seen lots of the work done with DfID through chairing an NGO in Africa. The Commonwealth is a marvellous body and I am very privileged to have been able to join the debate today.
My Lords, it may be of benefit to the whole House if I rise briefly to give the noble Baroness the assurance she seeks. The Government are aware of the legal uncertainty for Members of the House who are Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens, and we will legislate before the end of the current Session of Parliament to put the issue beyond doubt. I will provide a fuller explanation when I reply to the debate, but for the time being, I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured.
My Lords, perhaps I may add that this is an extremely serious matter. I have to ask the Minister that, when she winds up the debate, she will say how long the Government have known about this problem and how legislation is to be brought forward. This directly affects the right of many distinguished Members of this House to sit here. It is an urgent matter and we need to know all the details very soon.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for securing this timely debate, coming as it does so close on the heels of the recent CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago. First, I shall declare my interests. I am a member of both the Culture Committee of the UK National Commission for UNESCO and the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I am also chair of the Commonwealth Group on Culture and Development. Through the latter role, I was in the privileged position of being able to attend the Commonwealth People’s Forum meeting of civil society organisations and NGOs from across the Commonwealth which opened on 22 November and concluded with a presentation to Commonwealth Foreign Ministers on 29 November.
Civil society plays a tremendously important role in CHOGM proceedings, and I am glad that my noble friend Lord Sandwich drew attention to the work of NGOs and civil society because I do not believe that they receive sufficient recognition. Because of that, I want to focus on some of the issues raised during the Commonwealth People’s Forum. The Port of Spain Civil Society Statement to the CHOGM of 25 November arose from a series of meetings that began months ago and culminated in a gathering of around 700 people in Trinidad. My role was to present the case that culture, creativity and innovation should be given due regard when considering development strategies. I would very much like to know where the Government stand on this issue and the extent to which DfID and the FCO support the case for developing a more holistic model of development within the Commonwealth that takes full advantage of and invests in cultural and creative initiatives, especially as they can make such a valuable contribution to economic and social development as well as alleviating the impact of climate change and effectively promoting health programmes.
Inevitably, much of the focus in Port of Spain was placed on the substantial challenges we all face in relation to climate change. That was brought home to me forcefully by the many people I spoke to from small island states and low-lying areas. Changing weather patterns in the Caribbean islands and elsewhere are all too obvious. A key issue for environmentalists in the region has been how to raise the level of public awareness about the human contribution to global warming. One innovative project that originated in Trinidad had positive repercussions in Jamaica. After attending several workshops on climate change which included the use of visual and performing arts, one participant established a high-profile public awareness campaign in Jamaica using the cream of contemporary reggae and hip-hop artists in the Caribbean region to make a CD and DVD that give an easy-to-assimilate, compelling narrative on climate change in order to engage the public.
In earlier debates in your Lordships’ House on development, a number of noble Lords have drawn attention to the vital role of women in alleviating poverty in developing countries, and this role was reiterated many times at the CPF. However, several men and women pointed out that in some regions and states, the lives of young men in particular were in a precarious state for different reasons. This should not be read as a desire to shift the emphasis away from women, but for us to recognise that the wretched position of many men in the developing world has similar roots to that of women. For example, the men who wreak violence on women often kill and maim each other and/or physically assault children. There is a downward spiral of violent behaviour which can undermine any notion of gender equality.
Terrifying examples of this expression of violence are to be found in armed conflicts in various parts of the world. Having recently emerged from some 11 years of conflict, Sierra Leoneans were unsurprisingly wary about their Government’s ability to protect their lives and rights, and the call to return home from refugee camps was resisted. The population was also reluctant to engage with the findings of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, not least because each volume of those findings was approximately 2,000 pages long. Through a combination of communication skills honed via PR and marketing along with creative visual work, an illustrated comic book-style text was produced to explain the history of the conflict and distil the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Using the terms “Sierra Cats” and “Sierra Rats”, mythical animals with local cultural significance to denote the antagonists, the text managed to create a space where healing and peace-building could take place, and where former foes and victims of the disorder could begin to come to terms with the distressing recent history.
The position of minorities in some states has worsened since the 2000 CHOGM, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has already drawn attention to a number of countries where that is the case. It is worth noting that only 14 out of the 53, now 54, members of the Commonwealth have national human rights institutions that have achieved the Status A category in the accreditation system of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions. If the Commonwealth stands for anything, surely it must stand up for human rights. Of course it is a sensitive situation as both the historical and contemporary circumstances of colonial history, and the balance of economic power within the Commonwealth, shape member states’ attitudes and willingness either to be castigated or to castigate others about these violations.
To me, one of the key challenges for the Commonwealth is one that is up there with addressing the problems of climate change, poverty and the impact of the economic crisis: how to work with governments, politicians, the private sector and civil society to ensure the realisation of full and universal human rights.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sheikh has done the House a great service by introducing this debate. My theme is poverty and development.
In their different ways, all the players in Commonwealth development believe that it is only economic development—the creation of sustainable enterprises with the resources to meet market needs profitably—which will lead to permanently low levels of poverty. This has happened in Malaysia, which is now a middle-income country, but not in Ghana, although at independence their two situations were strictly comparable. Has DfID an analysis of the reasons why Malaysians now have an average income per head which is 10 times that of Ghanaians? How has it come about?
DfID lends support in its White Paper to the private sector’s role in achieving middle-income status, but its support is hedged with qualifications. The basic and enabling conditions need to be put in place by poor country Governments, corruption has to be eliminated, and the environment has to be wholly protected before it is possible to expect private sector development progress. This caution leads DfID to fund other bodies whose purpose is to study development but not to do it themselves.
It seems that DfID has yet to decide the old-fashioned riddle of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Is it ideal conditions for the private sector or the nerve to get on with it? Both questions need an answer. However, in development there have been answers. For example, Abraham Darby and his Quaker partners did not wait for government approval at Coalbrookdale; they would not have known that such a precondition could exist. Cecil Rhodes and his free-wheeling contemporaries—who attract the disapproval of today’s development pundits—contributed a great deal to modern South Africa’s economy. This leads me to ask why economic development does not come top of DfID’s priorities.
What plans do we have for four sub-Saharan African countries—the Gambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Zambia? All are Commonwealth countries, all are near the bottom of development indices and all have around half or more of their people living below the world poverty line. These countries need to achieve more than poverty alleviation. There is, indeed, a vital temporary place for poverty alleviation, but it is only a second best; it is no long-term solution.
If we have the ambition to see these countries become middle-income countries, what needs to happen? The first necessary condition for any significant development will be partnership between the country concerned, and the private sector within it, and offshore players. For example, in large-scale sugar production, both Malawi and Zambia produce sugar from cane; Sierra Leone most probably could; the Gambia probably not. The international sugar market is complex. It is full of multi and bilateral agreements; there is competition from beet sugar; some markets are growing, driven by rising populations and incomes, and others are inaccessible. The agronomy is complex—there are many varieties of cane. Is the soil suitable? Is the right amount of land available? Shall we have a large group of outgrowers? Is the cane to be rain-fed or irrigated? An experienced team of professionals is needed to assess the prospects of success. Sugar cane needs immediate processing at harvest time—it goes into a capital-intensive mill, demanding management and maintenance skills—and both the technology and the finance needed are scarce resources.
There will be housing, medical and schooling needs, and food supplies will probably need supplementing. I stop there to ask, where in DfID’s plans does hands-on management of major development opportunities feature? If the Gambia is again to become the shipping entrepôt it once was, a similar set of partnership imperatives applies. Ports need modern equipment.
Finally, daunting as these ideas may seem, they have been successfully tackled many times in the past. It is just that at some point, perhaps through lack of confidence or mistrust of business, we went off into the safer havens of poverty alleviation, abstract nouns and political correctness. Development solves many of the perceived problems which worry the bureaucracy—witness Malaysia, which was such a worry to the aid pundits as it achieved middle income—and we have to get down to the concrete realities of scientific and global detail to achieve development. As things are, there will be more people below the poverty line next year than there are today. Only private sector partnerships will turn the tide.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on initiating such a valuable debate. Having listened to the contributions so far, much of value has been said which will need, in due course, to be answered by the Minister.
We should be proud of the Commonwealth. We should also be proud of our contribution to the Commonwealth. The admission of Mozambique and Rwanda, whatever the problems, particularly of the latter, may be, at least shows how well regarded the Commonwealth is among many other countries internationally. It continues to have the potential to play an important part on the world stage although it may not yet have found its voice—or, perhaps more accurately, its role for the future.
I shall focus on an area that has not so far been referred to, and it will not surprise your Lordships that, as a former judge, I shall be commenting on the judiciary within the Commonwealth. The promotion of the common law of England and Wales has, over the past two centuries, crossed the world and forms the basis of the legal systems of many Commonwealth countries. It brought with it the immense importance of the rule of law, which is one of the pillars of a civilised and representative society. The Commonwealth law conferences held in different parts of the Commonwealth have shown the extent to which the principles of English law still play a part, even in countries which have totally different traditions such as in the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia.
I was recently involved in a training programme in Kuala Lumpur and found, without surprise, that I was talking exactly the same language as the Malaysian judges—and, I am glad to say, they did it all in English. However, one has to recognise the problems the judiciary has in the administration of justice in some parts of the Commonwealth. This is very worrying. Rwanda clearly needs help. Kenya has problems in respect of its competency and suitability amid allegations of corruption in the judiciary. I recently met some members of the Kenyan Parliament when I was taking part in a conference, in this building, of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—of which I am a member—and they were very concerned about corruption among the judiciary. However, the Kenyan Government have responded to an international request to set up a court to try cases of international piracy and they are to be much commended for doing so. They have also set up an interim judicial commission to do what a judicial studies board would call an appraisal of the judiciary. They hope to do that over the next 12 months.
Kenya is not alone in having problems with the judiciary. There are difficulties in preserving or even setting up a system of genuine judicial independence and impartiality. Not all Governments recognise the need for the judiciary to be independent. Some Governments see the judiciary as civil servants and, consequently, subject to control.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is doing excellent work in helping developing democracies to strengthen their legislatures. United Kingdom judges are involved in projects within and outside the Commonwealth, generally through the Judicial Studies Board. The Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, of which I was a member, is very supportive of judges in the Commonwealth who have difficulties. But there remains a pressing need for provision within the Commonwealth, particularly within the United Kingdom, to give as much support as possible to judges and the administration of justice in order to sustain competent, properly trained, independent and impartial judges and to uphold the administration of justice throughout the Commonwealth. The theme of this debate is the goals of democracy and development. An absolutely essential element of those goals is a strong, well respected judiciary which can be trusted by its citizens. As I said earlier, one of the pillars of democracy is the rule of law.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord on initiating this debate on the linkage between governance and development. It is being increasingly recognised, perhaps first by the World Bank and, over the past few years, by DfID that unless rulers are challenged and made accountable, there will be corruption and inefficiency.
I follow the noble and learned Baroness in saying that, rather like Monsieur Jourdain and prose, the Commonwealth has been doing it all the time from the very start. One thinks of the contribution of the common law—which has been touched on—and of the contribution over the decades by Lincoln’s Inn, not just in the substance of law but also in procedure, which has had a major effect on Commonwealth development.
It is important to be realistic about what the Commonwealth can and cannot do. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, made this point as did the current Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, in an excellent speech on human rights at the November CHOGM, where he drew the distinction between the rhetoric and the reality. The rhetoric is the Harare Declaration; the reality is that, often, perhaps because of bureaucratic problems, many Commonwealth countries are unable to implement even the Convention on Torture or the two major UN human rights conventions. Fourteen members are yet to ratify the two 1966 conventions. We can help in that.
In terms of governance, part of the Commonwealth’s strength is negative: the response to peer reviews in respect of the Harare principles; the role of the CMAG over the fluctuating membership of Fiji and Pakistan; and now Zimbabwe being self-excluded. It is also important that at the recent CHOGM it was decided to hold the next CHOGM not in Sri Lanka, because of repression and human rights problems, but in Australia. That also has some effect.
The strength of the Commonwealth in part derives from the informal Commonwealth, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young: the Commonwealth People’s Forum—in the genesis of which we in the UK had a major part in the Gleneagles CHOGM—and the networks of non-governmental organisations. Concerning South Africa, I have enormous respect for the civics which flourished in the apartheid years and which may now be a bulwark against authoritarianism in South Africa, challenging the Executive and asking the Government to explain themselves and the pretensions of power. All those are intermediary bodies which are part of the informal Commonwealth. I think, too, of the way in which the very diversity of the Commonwealth that we saw in the November CHOGM perhaps paved the way for Copenhagen by reaching informal agreements on financial support for poorer countries.
But the major contribution of our Commonwealth, as has been rightly said, in terms of Parliament and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, is vital. It is the parliamentary dimension which can profitably be strengthened. Much useful work is being done by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association generally, headquartered here in London, and by our own UK branch. For example, the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association organised the International Parliamentary Governance Seminar held in London in November, looking at the role of Parliament in governance, parliamentary democracy, the role of the press, the role of opposition and so on.
I shall make two quick points on this. First, there are a number of other organisations in the field; for example, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the European Union, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the foundations in the US and Germany and so on. There is an important role for co-ordination. I make a specific case for co-operation with France, particularly in west Africa. That was symbolised by the appearance of President Sarkozy at the CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago. A number of the Commonwealth countries are now bilingual; for example, Mauritius, Cameroon, Canada and Rwanda. La Francophonie, which has 53 members—and the lusophone members, which are eight in the world—can usefully work with the Commonwealth in this area to promote democracy and good governance.
In the current climate of this Parliament being vilified by the press in the UK, many parliamentarians in the UK feel under threat by taking part in the overseas work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to strengthen democracy. Perhaps our press fails to appreciate the hard and valuable work done by parliamentarians in terms of seminars and conferences worldwide.
Finally, I praise the initiative of the Royal Commonwealth Society and of our Foreign Secretary on the Commonwealth Conversation. The key question asked is whether the Commonwealth is spreading itself too thinly. In so many of the other things that it does, many other international organisations do the work perhaps in some ways more professionally and with more money. It is perhaps in governance that the Commonwealth can make the most important contribution. The Commonwealth Conversation reported back to CHOGM last month. I understand that a full report will be made by the Royal Commonwealth Society in January. It would be helpful to have an interim assessment by the Government today.
I have attended many Commonwealth conferences. I value the family spirit, the instant rapport and the fact that small countries can walk tall. It is important that many countries are still seeking membership. The Commonwealth can add value not only to their democracy but also to their development, as the mover of the Motion said.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, whom I last followed in a debate on Sierra Leone in the other place, which presages some degree of continuity. I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of London via the vehicle of this debate.
I am grateful to him for causing me in this context to take stock of my own travels. I find that I am short of two or three countries in the European Union to visit. In the United States, I am short of the states of Nebraska and North Dakota. However, in the Commonwealth, I have visited less than 40 per cent of its complement: seven countries out of the eight signatories of the 1949 Declaration of London; seven other African countries besides South Africa, including Mozambique; two islands in the Caribbean; one in the Indian Ocean; an archipelago in the Pacific; and strategic crossroads in Cyprus and Singapore. I have lived and worked twice in the United States, once in the European Union and once in what was then EFTA for a total of six-and-a-half years. I have never worked in the Commonwealth outside this country and have spent at most, in a single visit, a couple of months in Australia, a month in New Zealand, three weeks in South Africa and, in composite terms, six weeks in Canada.
Overall, therefore, I have much greater physical familiarity with Europe and the United States, and count myself as a European and an Atlanticist, yet it is within the Commonwealth that I feel most naturally at home. Why? It is the language, for one—and the very terms of my noble friend’s Motion, for another. For the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, one might add the rule of law. Then there are the historical connections, when we were generally on the same side, and what might be termed political wisdom in terms of our elision from imperial power to friendly partner, not least through Her Majesty’s superb response to her role. Never in the Commonwealth have we practised our historic role in Europe of an offshore holder of a balance of power.
If political wisdom has been one of our country’s most significant contributions to history, lyric poetry has fulfilled the same role towards civilisation. Those two strands come together in the game of cricket, one of the few games to have Laws with an upper-case “L” rather than rules with a lower-case “r”, and one in which lyricism is its essence and joy. It is also one in which generally the rule of law prevails. The epitome of its universality is that it is a game in which temperaments as diverse as the West Indian and the English find common cause. My noble friend on the Front Bench implied the other day that Rwanda’s entry into the Commonwealth from Belgian ancestry might have been lubricated by their newfound attachment to cricket. To echo the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, it seems conceivable that Afghanistan, which has already beaten an MCC side led by Mike Gatting, might apply to join, too.
The particular practical contribution that cricket has provided in the Commonwealth is a lexicon of metaphors on which debaters can draw in our mutual councils, which one can rely on to be understood. I made the same point in an alternative way, by saying that as our EU budget Council Minister for four years, I could rely on this same regard only on metaphors from classical mythology, and even that was unfair to the Scandinavians. However, above all, as my noble friend so often and rightly reminds us, it is the Commonwealth’s global reach and universality that is its greatest asset and potentially greatest strength. I say “potentially” because, even after 60 years, which exceeds the average lifespan in too many Commonwealth countries, we have not between us realised that full potential.
The Commonwealth has supreme successes in sport and education, both practised multilaterally throughout the Commonwealth and often bilaterally as well. Our mutual capacity to maximise our collective contribution to world equilibrium—and, yes, in the Motion’s terms, to development—has not yet been properly exercised and is already the test and challenge for the next generation. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, were wholly correct to emphasise the global importance of the semi-slumbering giant of India developing as it is, but much more patient thought needs to go into how the Commonwealth can exploit our mutual relationships in future and, indeed, as India stretches itself. Batons need to pass; we are not yet pulling our full weight in the world.
In the context of the rule of law, the Commonwealth can pride itself on the justice with which expulsions from the Commonwealth have occurred. I am not going to rehearse all the cases, but South Africa and Zimbabwe on one continent and Pakistan on the sub-continent were as much as anything expelled because they had offended against the spirit of the club, and the rest of the club did not want that to be condoned. The spirit is in the same vein a preoccupation of cricketers.
In conclusion, I cite a humble career long ago—that of a 19th-century Manchester non-conformist missionary, who spent a lifetime in the Admiralty Islands teaching his congregation the Commandments of God and the laws of cricket. When he died, full of years, his flock were too poor for a permanent monument, but planted his wooden leg upon his grave, and so fruitful was the local soil that the wooden leg took root and flourished and provided them with an inexhaustible supply of cricket bats. That is not a bad symbol for the Commonwealth. It is our responsibility within it to help to make its fertility blossom even more productively, commercially and politically.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for initiating this timely debate on the Commonwealth. What a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville.
I support so much of what has been said about the achievements of the Commonwealth in the fields of democracy and development, and would like to add my emphasis on three points. First, while the organisation’s involvement in development has been vital and important since its inception 60 years ago, the Commonwealth’s activities to promote democracy and champion democratic standards, human rights and the rule of law have really now begun to come into their own in the post-apartheid world, and with the creation of the mechanism of CMAG in 1995. This means of applying political pressure by members acting in concert, along with the provision of vital practical and expert assistance, for example at election time, has been a potent force for good in the past 15 years. The Commonwealth does not always get enough credit for that quiet diplomacy, as it tackles some of the very delicate political and governance issues among its members. However, much still needs to be done—and I welcome one outcome of the recent CHOGM meeting in Trinidad and Tobago—to look for ways in which to strengthen the role of CMAG in dealing with violations of the Harare principles, examples of which we have been given today. I hope that the Minister will let us know how the British Government will support that outcome of the CHOGM meeting.
Secondly, the Commonwealth seems to be of growing relevance in the 21st century and not a throwback, as some mentioned earlier. With increasing globalisation in all our lives, it becomes more not less relevant. The great challenges of economic growth, trade, climate change, water management, food and energy security are all global issues requiring global solutions. A grouping like the Commonwealth, brought together, unusually, by history rather than geography, has a unique contribution to make to the wider understanding of some of these issues. We must never forget, as some noble Lords have said, the priceless asset that the organisation has of a common language. It has a contribution, too, in brokering solutions that reach beyond and across regions, across the developed and developing world and the divides of size or situation. In other words, the Commonwealth is an organisation that is fit for purpose in a globalised world. I hope that the Minister will touch on how the Government may use the Doha round and negotiations that continue on climate change.
Thirdly, and probably most importantly for the vast majority of the people of the Commonwealth, the organisation does so much of its best work at the sub-political level—namely, among the non-governmental or civil society organisations. I certainly associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on the importance of the Commonwealth People's Forum. The work of these organisations in bringing people together, whether cricketers or dentists, businessmen or academics, to consult and exchange views, can be seen to be a good example of what is known as soft power. I hope that the British Government will continue to look for ways to use and support this aspect of Commonwealth activities.
The organisation in its 60 anniversary year still has a lot going for it. If there is an obvious challenge, it is in engaging the interests of people, particularly younger generations, in the value of the organisation and, in this country, in retaining some interest in the organisation which for years has been taken for granted.
If, however, the media have long since lost interest in the Commonwealth, let us take comfort in the importance that the people of this country attach to these links. If anyone doubts this, let me leave your Lordships with one thought. A fortnight tomorrow we shall be celebrating Christmas. On that day, business and political telephones, e-mails, twitters and texts will fall briefly silent, but the people of this country will be communicating in every way possible with kith and kin, friends and families, overseas. Certainly some of those contacts overseas will be in the United States and some in Europe, but I would wager that the overwhelming majority of the calls made on Christmas Day will be to the countries of the Commonwealth. Let us never underestimate the importance of the Commonwealth as we reflect on the long-term interests of the people of this country.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh, who has made one of his very professional speeches. Underneath, he is a real trader. He speaks most of the Indian languages as well as Swahili. While he may appear to be rather a serious man, he suffers from the disadvantage that he has to share an office with me, and I am never sure when I am serious or not.
I have spent most of my life in trade. When people asked what I did, certain parts of my family would whisper, “He’s in trade”, as if it was not the thing to be. My first assignment when I joined your Lordships’ House—surprisingly enough, as a failed economist who indeed had failed at everything—was to be appointed to a team to advise the Government of India on their future trading. I had only just joined the Lords, 45 years ago or longer. I went out as a young man with two introductions, one from the Speaker of the House of Commons and one from the secretary of the MCC. The letter from the secretary of the MCC opened every door until I was asked if I would like to play a game of cricket against the Indian XI.
We dealt with ilmenite, manganese, coir, jute, copper, handicrafts in Kashmir, prawns down in the south and cashew nuts. But I never believed, when we made certain predictions, that India would outstrip them by 10 times, manufacture things and then buy back British Leyland. We all liked the old former Morris Oxford in India, which, as one of my colleagues pointed out bluntly, could take ruts and bumps.
From India I found that I had moved on to Africa—to Sudan, which could have been the breadbasket of the Middle East. Everywhere I went, one thing I learnt later in my mind was that I like the phrase, “o’er land and o’er sea”.
In the debate on the Queen’s Speech I made certain suggestions. I have learnt in your Lordships’ House that if you want to get anything done at all it takes 10 to 15 years, like some good wines. So I have used what I call the “rule of thumb”. It is extremely useful. If you want to know where you are when you are sailing with a rather bad map, you put your thumb on the coastline and stay outside the width of your thumb. If you want to know where and how deep to plant things on land, wherever it may be, you stick your thumb in the ground. If you want to know how far away you are from other people—for example, from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, although I am not allowed to gesture in your Lordships’ House—you hold up your thumb and shut one eye, and you will see that it will move to the right. You work out how many fingers that is, and that will tell you how far offshore you are.
The theme I want to adopt today is to state further that when you look at the Commonwealth, you should first of all look at it from space. As Secretary of the Parliamentary Space Committee, I can say that you can do this with three or four pictures—it is fantastic.
Now to the land of the Commonwealth, which is very significant, with its 54 countries. I have said to myself, “Yes, you have the countries of the Commonwealth, and within that there are 15 Her Majesty’s Realms”—maybe one day Wales and Scotland, if they go independent, will become Her Majesty’s Realms—“but you also have 12 or so overseas territories. If you then look at those territories and the islands that are with them, you find that you probably have over 100 pieces of real estate that have sea around them”. So, in the defence and foreign affairs debate, I said that we should immediately introduce a Bill in this House to extend the coastal limit of our territories, Her Majesty’s Realms and the Commonwealth to 500 miles. This is not too difficult. Surprisingly enough, the United Kingdom is 14th in the top countries with more than 10,000 kilometres of coastline in the world, ahead of India. If you consider all this along with the resources of the sea, and then you look at global warming, defence and everything you can think of, the sea becomes important.
One of the suggestions that I have made—apart from doing what I have just said and claiming the rights to it—is that we should launch a series of satellites that could survey the sea, and name them after Commonwealth leaders. That is in hand, I suggest to the Ministry of Defence, and I would like to buy them if someone would finance them.
The key element of all, though, is people. Having been brought up partly in Canada and having more cousins in Australia—who have just written my family history—than I have had hot dinners in my life, and thinking of the areas that I have worked in, I am interested in people. The people of the Commonwealth are important to us. Are they British citizens? No; those from the overseas territories, under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002, are citizens, but the territories under us presumably become part of the Commonwealth. Could we not think of harmonising the Commonwealth and bringing it together by having at airports not just entry signs that say “EU” and “Swiss” but one that says “Commonwealth”? Is there not some added value that we could give to the Commonwealth nationality, as such? Where is a Commonwealth citizen domiciled? How many Commonwealth citizens are there in the United Kingdom who may suddenly be forced to be non-doms?
The value of the Commonwealth is not what it is today but its potential. It is the only global organisation in the world, and one of which I have become extremely fond.
My Lords, I extend my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on his acumen in putting down this subject for debate; the number of speakers demonstrates that. His opening speech showed how much he is in command of his subject, and we are happy that he has done this.
We all welcome the debate on the role that the Commonwealth has to play in democracy and development, and we welcome the accession of Rwanda. Point 21 of the Commonwealth communiqué reads:
“Heads of Government welcomed the Global Political Agreement on power sharing in Zimbabwe, and expressed the hope that this would be implemented faithfully and effectively … they looked forward to the conditions being created for the return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth”.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister elaborated somewhat on this by saying that he hoped that by the next meeting in 2011, which is two years away, Zimbabwe would have made enough progress for it to be welcomed back into the Commonwealth. He said that Britain had channelled £60 million in aid to Zimbabwe this year and was looking to do more, once the Zimbabwean Government had shown that they were ready to implement the power-sharing agreement.
If my memory serves me correctly, 30 years ago today, Lancaster House was the venue for the most intense discussions and negotiations on the future of what was then Southern Rhodesia. What has happened in the past 30 years? During that period we have gone from immense enthusiasm and optimism to the depths of despair for the future of Zimbabwe. Where are we now on the spectrum of highs and lows? It might be facetious to say, “It depends on which day you ask”. The problem is that we really do not know what is happening on the ground; it depends entirely who briefs. The All-Party Zimbabwe Group has had briefings from a number of different people. Some have been optimistic, more so than I would have expected, in that the economy has settled down; the level of violence, although still there, is not as high as it was; and the rate of land seizures appears to have slowed down. Other briefings say quite the opposite—that the violence is still there and increasing; and that the number of land seizures is growing to the extent that some of the Zimbabwean elite, who claim to be acting in the interests of Zimbabwe, have seized farms from white farmers producing a great deal of agricultural produce and now own 10 or 12 farms, all of which are non-productive. I was going to say that this land is lying fallow, but lying fallow is a positive thing; this land is actually lying derelict. We must try to deal with the situation.
As for the global political agreement, there is a sort of stagnation around which must worry all of us. It certainly worries the Commonwealth. It is true that President Zuma of South Africa is gaining plaudits for how he has dealt with the situation, but I regret that the Southern African Development Community, the guarantor of the agreement, has let the first deadline slip. That is bad news, and it means that this issue has to be forced. “Forced” is perhaps the wrong word to use, because President Mugabe, with brutal clarity, is excellent at manipulating a perception of ways in which colonialism and neo-colonialism work on his country. So we will be walking a tightrope. The British Government must certainly become involved, but the Commonwealth also has to become involved with much more vigour than it seems to have had in the past. Perhaps that is an unfair criticism, but I feel that there needs to be a push and a stimulus to keep things going.
President Mugabe and the people of Zimbabwe must recognise that there is an immense reservoir of good will in this country for the people of Zimbabwe. Lots of people are doing things to try to help in the future. Perhaps I may draw the House’s attention to a report which is to be published next Thursday entitled Land in Zimbabwe: Past Mistakes, Future Prospects, which has been produced by the Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group. I should add that the group welcomes the support given to it by the Royal African Society. The report points to ways for the future, and every input must be used for that.
If we are to keep the stimulus—which is absolutely necessary—going, then unilateral action will not help. I understand perfectly well that this country, the UK, has no prescriptive right to dictate to Zimbabwe what its future should be. However, I believe that multilateralism, within the Commonwealth especially, can move things forward when we are at a critical point for Zimbabwe. If the Commonwealth is to be true to its goals and aims, it really must put a huge effort into moving things forward. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for this debate.
My Lords, I join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Sheikh on his most eloquent and informative speech. He is right to bring the issue of the Commonwealth’s shared goals in democracy and development to the attention of your Lordships’ House. As a recent report from the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit has argued, the association’s continuing relevance will depend on its member countries’ ability to translate their commitment to democracy into a practical reality.
Eighteen years after the historic Harare Declaration which committed the Commonwealth to making democracy “a way of life”, it is important that we ask ourselves now how committed this Government and previous Governments have been to supporting that. It is vital, particularly during this period of global economic challenge, that we do not merely pay lip service to our position in the Commonwealth. Sadly, however, for far too long, rather than recognising the strengths of our Commonwealth partners, we have largely chosen to ignore them.
The Commonwealth has enormous potential for good. The alliances forged over 60 years between the 54 countries which make up the Commonwealth have only become more and more important in this new era of multilateralism. That trend will and should intensify. It is truly unique: an organisation where 54 countries of greatly varying wealth and circumstance come together, with the economic powerhouses of India and Australia sharing a table with some of the poorest countries in the world—a fact proven by the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.
If we think of the great challenges facing our world today—disparity of wealth, globalisation, climate change, the so-called clash of civilisations, and threatened national security—we realise that the Commonwealth’s varied membership positions it at the nexus between those interrelated crises. The unique strength of the Commonwealth is that its member states share some common essential aims despite their enormous differences in wealth, geography and global position. As my right honourable friend William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, said in a speech earlier this year:
“Each member is made from its own distinct material yet they are woven together by the common threads of democracy, diversity, tolerance, understanding and collaboration”.
I am sure that there are those in the Government who agree that the Commonwealth should play a more prominent role, but the reality has rarely lived up to their rhetoric. When he was Prime Minister, Tony Blair told us:
“We cannot let a priceless legacy like this fade into nostalgia”.
And yet two Labour Foreign Ministers have regularly failed to attend CMAG meetings. To me, that sums up Labour’s dismissive attitude towards the Commonwealth, especially as those meetings were held in London. It begs the question of what message the Government want to send to our fellow Commonwealth member states. And what message is sent by the closure of embassies and high commissions in seven Commonwealth states?
The Government should be promoting established relations with Commonwealth countries. India and Australia’s economic success—in stark comparison to the dire straits in which we find ourselves—should be utilised. Instead of relinquishing our Commonwealth commitments, we should be engaging more fruitfully. After all, Commonwealth trade has grown from £2 trillion to £3 trillion in the past 10 years. India’s growth is 7 per cent and Australia continues to grow. We must take every opportunity to engage in trade with those countries and with our African partners, and we should encourage mutually beneficial investment for all.
Speaking as someone of Indian origin, I am passionate about our relationship with India. In our large Indian diaspora community we have the perfect vehicle for strengthening that relationship with India. It is unbelievably wasteful not to make more comprehensive use of relationships which we could develop. It is imperative that we utilise our historic links with India as well as our current connection through our large Indian community. Not to do so would be detrimental both to our prosperity and to our influence in those parts of the world.
The Indian diaspora, with the extraordinary contribution it has made to British life, is representative of the wider impact that Commonwealth countries have had on the British economy and British society. A great many skilled personnel have found their way into our health system, for example, and inevitably improved it. Immigrant entrepreneurs have added value to the economy in ways that would have been unthinkable a few generations ago. To take the Indian example, the Indian community represents around 2 per cent of the population but contributes between 4 and 5 per cent of GDP. What a fantastic demonstration of what can be achieved. The contribution of Commonwealth citizens to this country has been and continues to be enormous, but there are those of us who believe that this fact seems to have escaped the notice of this Government and previous Governments.
Both India and Britain are among the Commonwealth powers that have experienced terrorist activity on their soil. Others have experienced long conflicts, guerrilla warfare and other violent events. That wealth of experience makes the Commonwealth such a potent tool for peace. It really is time to revisit our relationship with countries that have proven to be such loyal friends to us.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, has shown an impeccable sense of timing. It is 60 years after the founding of the Commonwealth, and just after the Trinidad debate. He should be congratulated on bringing about what has been a very constructive and positive debate on the Commonwealth. It is quite extraordinary to reflect on the transformation, over 60 years, from a British Empire—which I was a part of, as the last district officer to go to Kenya—to today’s Commonwealth of equal nations, involving in that time a massive migration which has created multicultural societies in countries such as ours, Canada and Australia. Now it is a group of 54 nations with one-third of the world’s population—rich and poor, big and small, with cultures and multiple faiths of all kinds—and that is a remarkable story.
The Royal Commonwealth Society’s report, however, shows that the Commonwealth has a very low profile, and that there is immense ignorance about the Commonwealth and what it is all about. It is absolutely salient to our history, so why is it that in our schools today children are not taught about their own history—that of the Commonwealth itself? Why do schools not twin with schools throughout the Commonwealth? This would bring the Commonwealth to life for young people. After all, the age of empire is now long gone. We can forget about the hang-ups of the past and stop being paternal and preaching to others. Equally, other countries within the Commonwealth can no longer blame the colonialists for their own problems. We can look to the future in a completely different light and see the Commonwealth as complementary to our European Union membership, and not as a substitute.
The Royal Commonwealth Society has challenged us in its report to stand up for the principles and values of the Commonwealth; to decide on our priorities and where the Commonwealth can add value; and to concentrate on the people of the Commonwealth, who are, after all, its heart. These are the NGOs, the civic societies and the professional bodies.
The Trinidad communiqué is pretty bland and very long. I would be grateful if the Minister—who I know is committed to the Commonwealth—could guide us to where the Government feel the priorities should be. There is an immensely long list of issues in the communiqué, but I would be glad to hear where the Minister sees the priorities. Of course climate change had to be a priority this time, but I am glad that the main emphasis in this debate has been on other issues, including governance, which is absolutely critical. What China is doing in Africa today is positive in many senses and may bring about more prosperity in Africa, but if Chinese investment and trade are not carried out within a framework of good governance in those countries, we will see an increase in corruption and civil conflict.
There is conflict resolution, which has been mentioned today, and reconstruction, both of which the Commonwealth is well equipped to play a positive role in. It also has an interfaith role. With 500 million Muslims, 400 million Christians and many other religions, the scope for interfaith work within the Commonwealth is strong.
I am rather surprised that education has not been a highlight of today’s debate. That is an area where the Commonwealth can play a very positive role. It is stunning to learn that 27 million Commonwealth children do not even go to primary school. Surely that is an area to which the Commonwealth should give priority. The Commonwealth of Learning, dealing with distance learning, plays a magnificent role in that field, and should be buttressed. I remind noble Lords again of the importance of Commonwealth scholarships. Related to all that is the youth: 50 per cent of the Commonwealth’s population is under 25. There should be a major imaginative move to encourage the youth within the Commonwealth, whether that is in entrepreneurship or networking of one kind or another. Then there is civil society, which in itself buttresses democracy in these countries. The work of the Commonwealth Foundation in strengthening civil society and the contact between professional bodies also are essential. Finally, like so many other noble Lords, I would highlight development, trade and the issues of poverty which the Commonwealth is so well equipped to deal with.
To give effect to these priorities, we need a strengthened, modern secretariat. I am glad that there have been references to Mr Sharma and the role he plays and to the importance of India in the Commonwealth today. We now have an opportunity to revitalise the Commonwealth. I am glad that the Trinidad conference decided to set up an eminent persons group to examine options for reform, to strengthen institutions and co-operation, to enhance the profile of the Commonwealth and to help determine its priorities. I hope the British Government will take a strong lead in that.
My Lords, we come to the concluding part of this important debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who has been instrumental in shaping the agenda on the basis of which most noble Lords have contributed today. It is a delight to follow the noble Lord, Lord Luce. I recall that he called a similar debate in July 2007. Much of the trend that was established at that stage was followed in the contributions of many noble Lords today.
As most noble Lords have said, this debate comes at an appropriate time—soon after the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Trinidad and Tobago, and the 60th anniversary of the organisation coming into being. The Commonwealth is a unique organisation of diverse nations, playing an important role in global politics. It is able to address issues that pose global challenges such as the impact of climate change, which the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned in his contribution. The issues that affect such places as Bangladesh, the Maldives, the Caribbean and the Pacific islands are now being discussed in Copenhagen.
This debate also gives us an opportunity to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth. Her contribution has been unique and it is her dedication that has kept the Commonwealth together over all these years. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for mentioning this contribution. On that point, I understand that there will be some clarification on the right of abode, which was raised. I point out to the Minister that there has been so much immigration and nationality legislation—particularly in the past 10 or 12 years—that it is about time that there was some consolidation of it. That would not have created the type of complex situation that the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has mentioned.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has raised a fundamental issue: are there any constitutional implications for the membership of some Members of the House of Lords? If so, I very much hope that there will be a Statement to the House at some stage on that particular matter.
It is interesting that the transition from the days of the British Raj, or Empire, to the Commonwealth has been so remarkable. No longer are there shades of the master-servant relationship. Rather, it is one of respect among nations of equals. The free movement of people in the early years of the Commonwealth has enriched the cultures of all our member nations. I am delighted that this point was ably stressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, particularly the contributions of many of the diverse communities that have settled in this country from Commonwealth countries. The common thread that unites us all is our beliefs, which are shaped by our multiracial, multicultural and multireligious society.
However, there remain some doubts about our common commitment to the Commonwealth of nations. The emergence of the European Economic Community, followed by the European Union, and now its extension to include new and emerging nations from the Eastern bloc, gives an impression of a downgrading of our ties with the Commonwealth. There remains a suspicion that we maintain a relationship that is no more than is absolutely necessary. I trust that the Minister will assure us that this is not so and that we will ensure that the European Union does not become a rich men’s club at the expense of our ties with the Commonwealth countries.
I will concentrate on two matters. The first concerns Commonwealth ties, which are so important. The Government could still do more to promote these ties. It has been brought to my attention that the recategorisation of the immigration points-based system now means that volunteers—I talk about volunteers only—who come to the United Kingdom for perhaps two weeks’ voluntary work are now classed in the same category as people seeking long-term paid employment in the United Kingdom. This is clearly not right, and means that there are extra costs for visas, which puts off many people, including those from Commonwealth countries, from coming to the United Kingdom. It seems absurd to hinder these people who want to do voluntary work in Britain and thus help strengthen and further the relationship and ties between Britain and other countries. We cannot put a price on this soft diplomacy. The Government should do as much as possible to help them. I urge the Minister to consider revising the points-based system, as I have already urged the Commons Minister, Phil Woolas, to do.
As I said, I want to concentrate on two matters. My second point, concerning poverty, was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain. Because poverty is endemic in many Commonwealth countries, we need to ask whether trade liberalisation can benefit the Commonwealth in the current economic climate. Trade liberalisation entails the removal of, or reduction in, the trade practices that limit the free flow of goods and services from one nation to another. That point was ably raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria, Lord Goodlad and Lord Harrison. Trade barriers are a form of protectionism and are carried out through a variety of means: tariffs, which raise the price of goods coming into a country; quotas, a physical limit on the number of goods that can be brought into a country; and other non-tariff barriers such as regulations and legislation which make it very hard for foreign competitors to sell their goods in other countries.
I emphasise that free trade or trade liberalisation do not mean unregulated trade where vulnerable communities are exploited by powerful multinational corporations. Free trade does not disregard the need to ensure gender equality, prevent child labour and ensure that supply chains function with optimum benefits for those along the entire supply chain, especially at the bottom. Trade liberalisation is about opening up markets to foreign competition; using fairness as a principle of transborder trade; and not holding developing world economies to ransom. The aim of trade liberalisation is to create a level playing field on which economies at different levels of development are able to compete. Trade barriers were established historically as a means of protecting states' trade interests. They were an attempt to protect domestic industries from competition from foreign producers and service providers. The basis for this has always been political.
Under a free trade policy, prices would be a reflection of true supply and demand, and are the sole determinant of resource allocation. Free trade differs from other forms of trade policy where the allocation of goods and services among trading countries is determined by artificial prices that do not reflect the true nature of supply and demand. These artificial prices are the result of protectionist trade policies, whereby Governments intervene in the market through price adjustments and supply restrictions. Such government interventions generally increase the cost of goods and services to both consumers and producers.
An attempt to solve a problem in one sector by interfering in the market creates problems elsewhere. The problem is markedly increased in the developing world. In many parts of Africa, the protectionist approach of western Governments has crippled economies and perpetuated poverty. Trade tariffs, western farming subsidies and commodity dumping have made it increasingly difficult for African states to generate healthy and stable economies. Many countries are not able to sell their produce even to their neighbours, who can import products more cheaply from Europe and the United States.
Women are more vulnerable to poverty than men and access to global markets is essential if women are to be empowered to work their way out of poverty. The Commonwealth is giving special attention to the different needs, constraints and interests of women in trade policy and trade liberalisation. Trade liberalisation is not without its difficulties, but it must not be confused with free trade and the complete absence of regulation. If one pays decent wages to workers throughout the Commonwealth, even marginally more money can be used by impoverished communities to enhance their own and their children's education. This will also increase people's own buying power and an entire market for goods and services will suddenly open up. Impoverished communities should not be seen as pools of cheap labour and threats to domestic labour; rather they are untouched markets, potential consumers and, ultimately, valuable participants in the growth of the world economy. This is the true meaning of trade liberalisation, and this is what development is all about.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth conference. I warmly thank my noble friend Lord Sheikh for promoting this debate and for introducing it with such a constructive and powerful speech. I want to allow the Minister ample time to cover the apparent legislative muddle that threatens the right of many of our colleagues in your Lordships’ House to sit here. This needs to be cleared up very quickly indeed and I hope that it will be clarified.
The debate has shown that the idea of the Commonwealth as a marginal international institution doing good works, uttering virtuous aspirations and blessing a host of unofficial organisations is now completely redundant. We now face—our comments have confirmed this—an entirely new international set of conditions, in which the Commonwealth should shed its past diffidence and prepare itself to take a lead in setting the global agenda. This will require the Commonwealth to raise its game all round, expand its ambitions and activities and forge new links with non-members in the wider world. It needs to demonstrate boldly its new significance in the promotion of world trade and investment and to build on the role that it has already begun to carve out in the World Trade Organisation debates that have been so bogged down.
I was very glad to see that at the Trinidad and Tobago Heads of Government Meeting a week or so ago the Commonwealth made moves that seemed to go in the right direction and to reflect this outward-looking trend. It brought in outside speakers, including the President of France, the Prime Minister of Denmark and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. That was a very promising sign, although frankly it would have been right for this House and the other place to have had a little more time to discuss the proposal for Rwandan membership before we simply signed up with other members and invited Rwanda in. That matter should have come before us.
Further progress in the Commonwealth depends, of course, on its leading member states. Until they wake up fully and understand the staggering potential of the new Commonwealth network as an ideal model for international collaboration in the 21st century, as the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, rightly reminded us, the backing will simply not be there. This means persuading Commonwealth Governments to give place and recognition to the Commonwealth network in their foreign and overseas economic and development policies at a level that—for various reasons, mostly now completely outdated—they have hitherto failed to do. The one big exception is India, which almost alone, with its new flair and dynamism, has recognised the Commonwealth as,
“the ideal platform for business and trade”.
Therefore, the first task is to bring home to a half-interested world a few new facts about the Commonwealth system that have clearly escaped our policy-makers and world leaders so far.
First, far from being a rundown club, held together by nostalgia and decolonisation fixations, today’s Commonwealth, as your Lordships have rightly observed, now contains 13 of the world’s fastest growing economies, including the most potent emerging markets on the planet. Outside the USA and Japan, the key cutting-edge countries in information technology and e-commerce are all Commonwealth members. The new jewel in the Commonwealth crown turns out to be the old jewel, dramatically repolished and reset—booming India, the world’s largest democracy with a population set to exceed China’s. I am pleased that we have such a dynamic and wise Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in Kamalesh Sharma, who is able to preside over and carry forward these realities. This presents a picture that is far removed from the old image of the Commonwealth, which was believed to be bogged down in demands for more aid and arguments about, first, South Africa and, latterly, Zimbabwe. Many sleepy policy-makers find it simply too difficult to absorb what has really happened. The unloved ugly-duckling organisation has grown almost overnight into a true swan; or, to use a different metaphor, the Commonwealth of today and tomorrow has been described as the neglected colossus which should be neglected no longer.
Secondly, it has recently been estimated that, in the new information age context, the Commonwealth’s commonalities of language, law, accounting systems, business regulations and judicial exchanges, as outlined by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, give us a 15 per cent cost advantage over dealing with countries outside the Commonwealth. As for finance, one may think that Wall Street is full of the masters of the world, but the combined market capitalisations of Toronto, Sydney and London exceed those of New York. The assets of the financial services sectors of the Commonwealth group of nations are now larger than those of the entire European Union.
Thirdly, it should be noted that recent detailed academic analysis has identified a growing “Commonwealth effect”—a perceived reduction in what is termed the psychic distance between Commonwealth member states and a consequent increased propensity for Commonwealth member states, especially the smaller developing ones, to engage in increased trade and investment activity between one another, in preference to and prior to trade and investment elsewhere in the global community. That is why flows of capital investment intra-Commonwealth—between Commonwealth countries—are gradually increasing in relation to other flows.
However, the new story should not just be about bread-and-butter matters and new economic opportunities, although they are staring us in the face. The Commonwealth needs to be reassessed in terms of its real weight in securing world stability, balancing the dialogue with the United States, linking rising Asia and the West, helping to handle the prickliest of issues such as the Middle East and Iran, promoting better development links, bringing small and larger nations—poorer and richer—together on mutually respectful and truly friendly terms and bridging the faith divides that others seek to exploit and widen. In all these areas, the Commonwealth—reformed, reinforced, built on and enlarged—offers, as the former Indian Industry Minister, Mr Kamal Nath, said, an ideal platform.
The tragic decline of America’s soft-power reputation and influence across the entire globe is leaving a dangerous vacuum. Into this vacuum, cautiously, subtly but steadily are moving the Chinese, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, reminded us, with their cash, investment projects, trade deals, secured access to oil and gas supplies in an energy-hungry world, military and policing support, and technology. That is happening, especially across all of Africa. This gap ought to be filled not by the Chinese dictatorship but by the free democracies of the Commonwealth, from north, south, east and west, banded together by a commitment to freedom under the rule of law and ready to make real and common sacrifices in the interests of a peaceful and stable world and the spread of democratic governance in many different forms. The Commonwealth possesses the vital attributes for dealing with this new world that the old 20th-century institutions conspicuously lacked. It stretches across faiths, as we have been reminded by your Lordships, with half a billion Muslim members, and it stretches across all the continents, thus by its very existence nullifying the dark analysis of a clash of civilisations.
It would be better still if a more confident Commonwealth now reaches out and makes friendly associations with other like-minded nations, both in Europe and Asia—even with Japan, which to some seems to be at the other end of the world but has some 11 per cent of the entire world’s GNP. With its confidence and dynamism beginning to be restored, Japan is interested in making links with the Commonwealth, especially with India and Britain together.
The Commonwealth Secretariat should be encouraged to develop its external wing in a much more powerful way than has been the case and should perhaps nominate a high official to work with the Secretary-General and act as the Commonwealth’s high representative. If we could make an emboldened Commonwealth the central platform of the international future, it would become one of the most enlightened and responsible groupings on the planet, a true league of democracies, which is ready to be America’s candid friend but not its lapdog, and a serious and respected force in economics and trade, in upholding security and in peacekeeping.
This is the body whose strengthening our own United Kingdom should now make its key foreign policy. That is not, I am afraid, the stance at present. In particular, the UK should consider transferring the administration of part of its overseas development effort, which at present goes through the EU, from that unsatisfactory channel to the Commonwealth system.
Of course we must always remain the best possible local members of the European region, as we nearly always have been. But Europe is no longer the most prosperous region. It is our duty to build up our links, many of which were strong in the distant past, with what are becoming the most prosperous and dynamic areas of the world, with smaller as well as larger nations and with those that are struggling in addition to those that are rapidly industrialising and increasingly high-tech. This is what an enlarged Commonwealth can do for us. That is why Britain’s external relations priorities need major realignment and why I should like to christen the home of our able and experienced diplomats the Commonwealth and Foreign Office—the CFO, not the FCO. Small things make a considerable difference.
My Lords, it may assist the House if I say that through the usual channels it has been agreed that my noble friend Lady Kinnock will respond to the debate within the 20 minutes allocated. Following that, she will deal with the very important issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
My Lords, of course, I should like to thank noble Lords for their contributions to this constructive and stimulating debate. In particular, perhaps I may thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, as everyone has done, for initiating the discussion and for identifying many of the key Commonwealth issues—namely, its core value of democracy, and the development that affects so many Commonwealth member states. I very much concur with the remarks of my noble friend Lord Hughes, who acknowledged the breadth of knowledge shown by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, in his intervention.
The democratic promise of the Commonwealth, which we are discussing, was set initially by the pledges made in 1971 in the Singapore Declaration, and subsequently two decades later in the Harare Declaration. The Commonwealth is indeed, as many noble Lords have said, committed to the promotion of representative democracy, individual liberty, the pursuit of equality, opposition to racism, the fight against poverty, ignorance, and disease, and opposition to gender discrimination.
When the modern Commonwealth was born, the defining features of international relations were the beginning of the Cold War, the end of empire, and the emergence of the post-colonial age. Sixty years later, the world has obviously changed. Imperial ties and imperial rivalries have been replaced by unprecedented global trade, travel and communications that make the world’s people more directly linked and interdependent than ever. As many noble Lords have said, that global reach is the Commonwealth’s global strength.
At the Commonwealth summit in Port of Spain, at which I was proud and privileged to be present, I was certainly reminded that no individual nation can act on any environmental or developmental challenge unless we work together. There are no single-country solutions to planetary, political, financial or economic crises. That is why the Commonwealth has an enduring utility. It has a legacy of achievements on political, diplomatic and economic issues, and retains a very distinctive voice, as we saw last month, on matters that remain politically divisive and contentious—there were many contentious issues at CHOGM—in today’s world. I saw at CHOGM that, where many international institutions often struggle to achieve the consensus that is necessary for action, the Commonwealth can put its principles into practice: whether on climate change, Sri Lanka, MDGs, or indeed the need for reform.
In Trinidad, the reasons for action in relation to the Copenhagen summit were obvious. The 54 Commonwealth nations contain a third of the population of the planet: 2 billion people, including those who are most exposed to the most devastating effects of climate change. If the pressures of carbon emissions continue on current trends, countries such as Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique and Tanzania face a potential drop of more than 20 per cent in some crop yields. Rice yields in India and Bangladesh will fall by as much as one-third. Large swathes of the Commonwealth’s small-island member states could disappear under the sea.
These are some of the realities that compelled a coherent voice from the Commonwealth, and a strong statement on 2 degrees; additional funding for adaptation; and Fast Start funding for the Copenhagen Launch Fund, starting in 2010 and rising to £10 billion a year by 2012. We believe that this statement will influence the debate at Copenhagen, but we know that this organisation has been the subject of many, many obituaries from those of little faith and little realism.
The fact is that the Commonwealth is doing remarkably well, so while we should welcome the affirmation of Commonwealth values and principles made at CHOGM—I urge noble Lords to look at that affirmation—we should also call for further and re-invigorated reform and the promotion of democracy. Both are essential to the sustained vitality of the Commonwealth. I would go so far as saying to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that the Commonwealth should be defined by its commitment to democracy. The definition should not be theoretical or technical; rather, it should be broad, inclusive and applied. As noble Lords have said, membership of the Commonwealth should invariably mean conditions of freedom: to engage in the political process, to devolve power, to promote gender equity, to enjoy equality before just laws, to deal with religious intolerance, and to encourage young people to participate.
No model can or should be imposed on Commonwealth members. However, when we talk about a more equal Commonwealth, we must address the marginalisation of people who are still excluded from the political process. Many Commonwealth citizens face enormous pressure from increased migration, state fragility, less security and more instability. The solidarity of the Commonwealth—we have seen this today—will as always be tested, but it will be the most essential characteristic. In all circumstances, there must be practical assistance, advocacy and protection. There must also be visionary leadership both from the Commonwealth Secretariat and from Heads of Government. That means, for instance, that election observation carried out by the Commonwealth should ensure more follow-up and continuing political dialogue. There is a need for more consistency in the process that is applied when countries are suspended from the membership of the Commonwealth, and, while we now largely focus on those who usurp power, there should also be a more rigorous commitment to addressing violations of human rights.
There must be leadership on how we deepen democracy and challenge those Commonwealth Governments who do not in reality tolerate open political competition and who continue to take advantage of their incumbency. We must be seen and heard to challenge intolerance and authoritarianism. The Commonwealth has the potential to be a really impressive champion of the universality of human rights. As a direct result of CHOGM, I am pleased to say that a working group will be set up to streamline and improve a rather unsatisfactory process.
I am glad that the theme of this debate brought democracy and development together. No lasting progress on tackling poverty can come about without good governance. That includes genuine respect for human rights, transparency, accountability, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. The interdependence of development and democracy is a natural issue for the Commonwealth, and I welcome the call made in the CHOGM communiqué for renewed global action to accelerate progress towards achieving the millennium development goals.
I do not think any noble Lord mentioned that the communiqué also referred to a health compact, which involves issues such as providing health services that are free at the point of use particularly for women and children. This is fundamental to fulfilling the health-related MDGs, which I am sure noble Lords are aware are particularly off-track. There is some encouragement, however. Since 2001, seven Commonwealth countries have removed user fees in their countries either for the whole population or for vulnerable groups. Malawi, Sierra Leone and Ghana all announced in New York in September that they would expand access to health services, giving millions more people access to free healthcare.
With 27 million Commonwealth children out of school, education, which is such a vital component in helping people out of poverty, is an urgent priority for Commonwealth countries. I welcome the fact that leaders in Port of Spain called for the replenishment of the Education for All task force initiative and unanimously supported the 1GOAL campaign.
I particularly welcome CHOGM’s recognition of the need to give women a stronger voice and greater influence in their communities. The case for action is overwhelming. In Africa, children of mothers who have spent five years in primary education are 40 per cent more likely to live beyond the age of five. In India, if the female/male ratio of workers went up by 10 per cent, GDP would be expected to rise by 8 per cent.
At CHOGM, we were pleased to welcome Rwanda into the Commonwealth as its 54th member. Membership will bind Rwanda to the values of the Commonwealth, including respect for human rights and a commitment to democratic principles.
I will now attempt to answer as many of the many questions that were asked as is possible. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, asked how the Commonwealth can support youth. There are Commonwealth youth programmes, especially the scholarship and fellowship programmes, through which the Commonwealth provides young people with access to higher education and enables graduates to go back to their countries to contribute to local economies. The Government provide 30 per cent of funding for the youth programmes.
The noble Lord asked whether the reallocation of Commonwealth Foundation funds would undermine efforts to tackle HIV. I reassure him that the same amounts are available, but we have seen quite welcome changes to the way in which the money is being spent.
The noble Lord also asked about the relationship between the G20 and the Commonwealth. The UK is a member of both the Commonwealth and the G20, and we recognise that we have a very special responsibility to ensure that, along with other members, we continue to transmit to the wider group the perspectives, priorities and concerns of the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord and other noble Lords raised the issue of Zimbabwe. While progress has been made in Zimbabwe over the past year, a great deal remains to be done in terms of judicial, constitutional and economic reform; freedom of the media; and respect for human rights. The Finance Minister, who is from the MDC, has made considerable progress in improving inflation in the economy. It is absolutely right that the prospect of Zimbabwe rejoining the Commonwealth is considered; if noble Lords look at the wording carefully, they will see that that is what is said. However, that is provided—I emphasise this strongly—that the reforms that we seek have been implemented, and that the benchmarks set in the GPA and the Harare principles are met. That is firm and agreed by Commonwealth members.
I say to my noble friend Lord Hughes that, when I was in South Africa recently, I met a number of Zimbabweans. They confirmed that there was still a high level of violence, intimidation and land seizures in the country. However, we remain hopeful that the engagement of President Zuma as a facilitator and the existence of the Maputo process, slow though it is, will bring progress soon.
I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, that we are concerned about the proposed introduction of the Private Member’s Bill which threatens such draconian measures against homosexuals in Uganda. We have made our position clear to the Government of Uganda. At the CHOGM, the Prime Minister raised the issue with the President of Uganda, and I raised it with its Foreign Minister. Please rest assured that we are well aware of the seriousness of the matter.
I turn to scales of funding to the Commonwealth. The UK has supported work to find a formula setting a floor for contributions at a level that poorer states can afford, so we are attempting to deal with that. It is clearly important that they can continue to benefit from the Commonwealth. Contributions must reflect core values of the Commonwealth, including that of ensuring equitable distribution and the principle of shared ownership. We will work hard to come up with an outcome that is fair to all.
The noble Lord mentioned Cyprus. I again refer him to the communiqué, which suggests a lasting settlement based on the principles of the UN and the Commonwealth.
It is not the first time that there has been a necessity to suspend Fiji, about which the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked a question. After the coup in 2006, the interim Government were given two years to restore democracy or face suspension. In April 2009, the situation grew worse. I have been working closely in relation to the abrogation of the constitution and the establishment of public emergency regulations. I was at the CMAG discussion in Port of Spain where grave concerns were expressed. CMAG gave the regime a final chance to open up inclusive and effective dialogue. If it fails to do so, the suspension will be continued. As noble Lords will see in the communiqué, a decision was taken to have Fiji not participate in the Commonwealth Games. We continue to support multilateral and regional efforts to broker dialogue with Fiji through the Pacific forum, but we just hope that we will see progress soon.
Sri Lanka and the issue of hosting the next CHOGM were mentioned. We are obviously keen, as the noble Lord would be, to ensure that Commonwealth summits demonstrate that we embody our shared values, including respect for human rights and democracy. We took that position; our ongoing concerns about humanitarian issues were expressed strongly; and the UK could not support Sri Lanka’s bid to host the next CHOGM. The UK supported Australia’s bid to host in 2011. All being well, Sri Lanka is scheduled to host in 2013, and Mauritius is willing to host in 2015. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, also raised the issue of suspension from the Commonwealth. It was not on the formal agenda of CMAG but I confirm that, given the seriousness of the situation, we raised our concerns clearly, strongly and loudly whenever appropriate.
I have read the CPSU publication carefully and consider it welcome. It makes a number of sensible and interesting commitments and shows great understanding of the work of the Commonwealth. I hope that many of us will take note of it, as the noble Lord has.
A number of noble Lords raised the subject of involvement with young people, on which I have touched. The noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, raised the youth credit initiative, which we welcome along with other Commonwealth programmes; it is a good initiative.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, asked about progress on the MDGs. They were agreed nine years ago and we have made progress. As she will know, in many areas fewer people are dying of AIDS. Many countries are implementing proven strategies to combat malaria and measles, two major killers of children. Deaths of children under five have declined from 12.6 million. There are a number of important signs of progress to which I can point. The world is edging closer to universal primary education, but on that MDG things are going slowly. Of course MDG 5 —maternal mortality—is the one that is still the most worrying of all; the health compact in the Commonwealth may have something to contribute to it.
I have not got anywhere near to the end of the questions. I have two minutes more, which I will use up, and then I will just have to apologise to Members and answer their questions promptly in writing.
The noble Baroness also raised the challenges that the Commonwealth faces, the first of which is clearly the economic hardship of many of its citizens. Tens of millions of people are in vulnerable employment and earn around a dollar a day, which is worrying. We must seize the opportunity offered by 2010 and the UN MDG review summit in September. We must prepare carefully for that summit to make sure that we have our positions in place.
I shall answer the question on tackling corruption. There has to be and is a firm commitment in the Commonwealth to the principles of good governance and the rule of law, which noble Lords raised. Those are central issues—they are at the heart of our efforts to build the democracy that we have been discussing. In that context, we need to acknowledge the role of other international institutions, such as the OECD and parts of the UN.
I undertook to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on Members of the House who are Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens. It appears that the Electoral Administration Act 2006 may have inadvertently cast doubts on whether Commonwealth and Republic of Ireland citizens were eligible for membership of the House. That was clearly not Parliament’s intention when passing the Act. Some months ago, the Government were alerted to the matter. Since then, we have undertaken discussions within government to find a way to address it. We recognise the seriousness of the issue. To put it beyond doubt and remove any uncertainty, we will introduce appropriate legislation before the end of the current Session. Only one or two clauses would be required. I understand that Members of your Lordships' House have concerns about the issue, and we will make Ministers available for an open meeting as soon as it is practical. The Government will table a Written Ministerial Statement as soon as possible explaining the issue in more detail.
My Lords, I certainly do not want to see any law which removes from this House the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, the noble and learned Baroness, the Attorney-General, or our own inimitable friend, Lady Gardner of Parkes. We are very glad that the matter is being taken seriously and that there will be new legislation as soon as possible. We welcome that but we are concerned that this matter has apparently been allowed to go on for some months, if not longer, without us being made aware of it. It is very worrying and it needs to be put right with the maximum possible rapidity. We look forward to hearing up-to-date information on when a Bill will come forward and what form it will take.
My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has said, and I am not simply talking about new legislation. I do not think we are talking about excluding any Members, as we are very proud of the contribution that people make to this House. What has been the retrospective implication of the decisions that have been taken so far in terms of membership of Members of the Lords who may not have been entitled to sit in the House?
My Lords, may I crave your indulgence in saying that I am not the Minister responsible for these matters? I trust that your Lordships will accept that I will ensure that a response to all these questions will be given in the Written Ministerial Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for what she has said because it helps to clarify the situation. She said that there was no certainty that our being here was out of order, so I am hoping that means that we can continue to attend while it is being made 100 per cent clear that to do so is in order.
My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the Minister for the comprehensive route she has taken in responding to this debate. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part and made this such an interesting and informative debate.
While in my submission I portrayed an overall picture of the Commonwealth and tried to encompass salient topics, I am pleased that noble Lords have spoken on specific points. To save time, I am not able to mention the names of the noble Lords who made various points, but I will however say what those points were. They included: democratic values; extra funding for the commonwealth; the views of Pandit Nehru; the Harare Declaration; the Commonwealth youth credit initiative; how to combat poverty and corruption; trade between India and Pakistan; the Commonwealth Games in India; the free trade arrangement; the work of the Commonwealth Business Council; the work of the CPA; the respect for the Queen in the Commonwealth; the work of civil society; the judiciary in the Commonwealth and training of judges; the role of cricket in bringing people together; the role of the Commonwealth People’s Forum; and the contribution of Commonwealth citizens to the well-being and advancement of the United Kingdom.
I was brought up in a British colony; when I was a young boy we had Empire Day, and the empire resulted in the Commonwealth. It is imperative that Commonwealth Day is always celebrated; we must not be complacent and must look critically at issues which need improvement. It is a unique club, indeed, and all members, including Great Britain, need to address all the issues raised today. I hope that what has been said here has an impact on improving the Commonwealth as a whole. Against that background, with great appreciation for all those who have taken part, I beg leave to withdrawn the Motion.