My Lords, the modern Commonwealth is a unique and powerful force in the world today. Its 54 member nations are linked by shared values, democratic aspirations, a common colonial history and, not least, language. The countries of the Commonwealth cover six continents, comprise one-third of the world’s population, represent all of the world’s major faiths and religions and collectively represent 20 per cent of world trade. The Commonwealth is also dynamic and growing. The two most recent members—Mozambique and Rwanda—do not even have historical links to our colonial past, and there are two more countries in the queue. We should never forget that Commonwealth soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder with our forces in two world wars. Small wonder then that the Commonwealth holds such a special place in our affection as well as in our history. This undoubtedly accounts for the distinguished list of speakers before us today. I am immensely grateful to all noble Lords who are participating. I look forward to hearing and learning from contributions based on specialised knowledge and experience over a wide variety of issues. I am also looking forward to the wind-up speech by my noble friend the Minister, who has always been a great champion of the Commonwealth, even when it was unfashionable, and who has, more than anyone else, ensured that the “C” is firmly back in the FCO.
Turning to the Motion before us today, first, I wish to focus on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association or CPA. Although only a recently elected member of the executive council of the UK branch, I have over the years participated in bilateral visits, incoming as well as outgoing. I might have been able to visit Canada and Australia under my own steam, but without the CPA I very much doubt that I would have gone to Pakistan or the islands of the South Pacific and been able to enjoy such insights into the way those countries operate.
The CPA is the parliamentary arm of the Commonwealth. It was founded as the Empire Parliamentary Association in London on 18 July 1911. Its then-stated aim was,
“the establishment of a permanent machinery to provide more ready exchange of information and to facilitate closer understanding and more frequent intercourse between those engaged in the parliamentary government of the component parts of the Empire … having a branch in the United Kingdom and in each of the self-governing Dominions of the Empire”.
Those were very far-sighted people who set up the association.
The current mission of the CPA is,
“to promote the advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance and by building an informed parliamentary community able to deepen the Commonwealth's democratic commitment and to further co-operation among its Parliaments and Legislatures”.
These are very worthy aims. The international secretariat of the CPA is based in London under the direction of Dr William Shija. The UK branch, as most people here well know, can be found in Westminster Hall. The team there, under the leadership of Andrew Tuggey, carries out and organises an impressive number of bilateral visits, parliamentary strengthening programmes and international outreach. It is a terrific team.
Each year the CPA organises an international Commonwealth parliamentary conference in a different member country: last year in Kenya, next year in Sri Lanka. This being the centenary year, it seemed fitting that the 2011 conference be hosted by the United Kingdom branch at Westminster. It was a splendid sight at the opening ceremony to see the flags of all the Commonwealth countries being marched through Westminster Hall to the podium from which Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen, the then Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker all addressed an audience of 600 delegates from across the Commonwealth.
The CPA is the only international organisation that gives a voice to all legislatures, large and small, developed and developing, and at national and state level, and voices were certainly heard during the three days of the conference. Thoughtful and articulate arguments pursued the overall theme of reinforcing democracy. Issues explored in workshops and open debate included: governance and accountability; climate change; education; the global economy; migration; and the future of the Commonwealth. Plenty of networking went on in between. Apart from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, our very own the noble Lord, Lord Howell contributed importantly to these sessions.
A high point came with the election, in spite of stiff competition, of Sir Alan Haselhurst, the former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, as chairman of the international executive committee for the next five years. This is no sinecure. His first task will be to deal with the implementation of a working party report on a reassessment of priorities at a time when there are strong differences of opinion within the CPA; for example, the question of the charitable status of the CPA has been raised, with some countries deeming it inappropriate, in spite of the tax advantages it provides. It is therefore important at this time that the chairman and chief executive of the CPA should be able to work closely together. Sir Alan has pledged to bring determination and drive to finding an enhanced role for the CPA.
The conference was an undoubted success. The purpose of this debate is to spread the word and put on the official parliamentary record recognition of the valuable work of the CPA and perhaps of the UK branch in particular.
As to the continuing role of the Commonwealth itself, it may change; it may be modernised and streamlined. But its commitment to democracy, good governance, human rights and the rule of law will always be relevant. Let us not forget that countries that do not comply with this commitment have been, and continue to be, suspended. They have to fulfil strict conditions before returning to membership.
There are a few things that give me hope for the future. One is the will to reform and develop Commonwealth institutions, as evidenced by the strengthening of the work of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group and the creation of the Eminent Persons Group to examine options for reform. I hope that my noble friend will be able to update us on progress in this area.
Another cause for hope is an initiative such as the Commonwealth Youth Parliament. As it happens, it is meeting in London this week—the third of such meetings. I had the pleasure of attending and talking to many of the young people yesterday at Marlborough House. Indeed, our new Lord Speaker was there in her capacity as joint president of the UK branch of the CPA. Those I spoke to came from Nigeria, Tanzania, Australia, Barbados, the Falkland Islands and, indeed, from all over the Commonwealth. They have already elected their Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Ministers with portfolios, and are clearly looking forward to their debate on climate change, which will take place here in your Lordships' House tomorrow. I hope that as many of your Lordships as possible will be able to attend that debate. It is clear that the next generation of Commonwealth politicians is already working together enthusiastically and learning the skills and values that the Commonwealth of the future will need.
The Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, whose president, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, is participating in this debate, played at that event. The Commonwealth Youth Games start today in the Isle of Man. All these initiatives represent other ways of bringing young people together and strengthening relationships and friendships. That gives me considerable hope for the future, and I trust that my noble friend the Minister will be able to reassure us that the Government’s commitment to and support for educational exchanges and the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan are ongoing and, if possible, increasing. Education is vital.
On the theme of education, which was raised frequently at the CPA conference, I should like to reminisce a little if I may. As a Minister in the Department of Education and Science, as it then was, in 1988, I attended the Commonwealth Education Ministers conference which was held in Kenya that year. We discussed there the possibility of a Commonwealth university. It was agreed that a university was perhaps exclusive and that the institution that should be formed on Commonwealth lines should go wider. As a result of that, the Commonwealth of Learning was set up in Canada, which has provided an important resource for the future. We must all be grateful to Canada as the main contributor to that institution.
Another idea that has been mooted is to have a Commonwealth-based research programme. This could be especially valuable in the areas of agriculture and perhaps energy, where alternative energy resources—for example, solar power—could have an enormous impact and benefit, particularly on the less developed countries. I hope again that the United Kingdom Government will support such an initiative and development.
Touching on the role of the Commonwealth and trade in the global economy, as I have already stated, collectively the Commonwealth countries represent 20 per cent of world trade. Another way of looking at it is that the Commonwealth market is nine times greater than that of the European Union. It represents developed countries like ourselves, huge developing economies like India and small, dynamic countries like Singapore. Commonwealth countries form half of the ASEAN bloc and include three members of the European Union, seven members of APEC and five members of the G20; so there is a certain amount of overlapping. The Commonwealth’s values and standards can be a force for good in all of those fora. It can even be said that some of the less developed countries will be the markets of tomorrow. It will be their consumer demands that are needed to ignite the global economy.
In an increasingly global world, a multilateral approach can be an advantage; in the case of small countries, it can even be essential. Most of such organisations are regionally based, like the European Union. Part of what makes the Commonwealth unique is its diversity and its geographical spread, and this diversity must be cherished. It is interesting to note that not only are the Francophone countries considering strengthening their institutions and working together along the lines of our Commonwealth, but now the Portuguese-speaking nations of the world have realised that they, too, have an untapped source of co-operation and much to gain from working more closely together.
Therefore we can be proud of the Commonwealth record, but we should not fail to recognise the changes and challenges that inevitably lie ahead. There is much to celebrate in the achievements of the Commonwealth, not least the mere fact of its continuing existence. I look forward to hearing other points of view in the course of today’s debate. I am glad to have had the opportunity to introduce this important subject. It has been both a pleasure and a privilege. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her timely initiative. Both she and the Minister are long-serving Commonwealth people. As for myself, I chaired the UK branch of the CPA for four years and currently I am vice-chairman. I have benefited enormously from the Commonwealth experience.
I make two comments—reflections—on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and one on the Commonwealth. Having been a member of the CPA for more than 46 years, I have seen many changes in our Parliament and in the association, mostly for the good. Our Parliament has become, I regret, rather more parochial. Fewer people have direct overseas experience, and the CPA is one means of providing that valuable experience. It is important not only in allowing smaller countries to walk tall but because it concentrates on the practical problems of parliamentarians, such as financial control of the Executive, the role of opposition, and so on. The linkage between governance and development is increasingly recognised, as is parliamentary diplomacy.
So far as the Commonwealth itself is concerned, the leitmotiv of the new Government has been their new commitment to the Commonwealth. To the CPA centenary conference in July, the Foreign Secretary said that,
“this Government has rediscovered the Commonwealth”,
“this government has put the Commonwealth back at the very heart of British foreign policy”,
and “back into the FCO”. Those are fine words but perhaps I may allow myself a little scepticism on those claims.
In the 1980s, I spoke on Africa for the then Opposition. I recall the period during which the then Government almost destroyed the Commonwealth in relation to sanctions on South Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and I were regularly briefed by Bob Hawke at the famous 1986 Marlborough House conference. I also notice that today, for example, the Foreign Secretary will give a speech on the diminution of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I began as a young diplomat in 1960. I remember two periods when the FCO was being diminished. One was in the 1980s in respect of South Africa and the other was before 1997 in respect of the European Union. I suspect that that will not figure in the Foreign Secretary’s speech today.
My other suspicion is that for some—but not, I am confident, for the Minister—the Commonwealth is viewed virtually as an alternative to the European Union when most Commonwealth countries value our membership of the EU as an advocate for the Commonwealth. I recall that in 1975, prior to the referendum on the European Union, the then Foreign Secretary, James Callaghan, visited African countries and learnt that they welcomed wholeheartedly our continued membership of the European Union, as it is now.
My final scepticism is that this is not year zero and not a new commitment. The Labour Government had a number of fine initiatives, in particular at Gleneagles, particularly in relation to the informal Commonwealth.
I welcome the Government’s stated initiative but it needs clear and realisable objectives. The claims of the possibilities should not be exaggerated, nor the likely results. Clearly, there is important work in the field of soft power, which is no less important. The Commonwealth has a role in the new political agenda—climate change, terrorism and energy security. They should recognise the limitations as shown by CMAG, as well as the fact that the Commonwealth could not play a role in key areas such as Kashmir and the conflict in Sri Lanka, and that in terms of election monitoring, it has not been a great success because of its reluctance to criticise failings in elections in member states.
The Secretary-General recently wrote that he had no role to speak publicly on human rights. Do the Government agree that he should have that role? If they are so committed to an increased role for the Commonwealth, where is the money in terms of new possibilities for the secretariat and for new issues such as human rights development, which really needs a new commissioner perhaps on a model of the European Commissioner for human rights? Nevertheless, we hope that the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group reporting to the Perth CHOGM will lead to a number of initiatives. I hope that the Minister will indicate their proposals in respect of the EPG and the CHOGM in Perth in October.
My final reflection is that one test of the relevance of an organisation is that new members wish to join—in respect of the European Union, Croatia and the western Balkans. In respect of the Commonwealth, we have not only South Sudan with its application on the table but also Somaliland. I shall end on this point: is it perhaps too fanciful to suggest that after the highly acclaimed visit of Her Majesty the Queen to Ireland, even Ireland in the new circumstances might over time consider some new relationship with the Commonwealth?
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, in congratulating the noble Baroness on securing this timely and important debate. If I may reflect briefly on his last comment, about the Republic of Ireland, is it beyond the wit of man to think that Afghanistan might rejoin us at some stage, this time in a civil rather than a military fashion? I leave that thought on the table.
My contribution today is on the continuing role of the Commonwealth in my position as chair of the International Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau, formerly known as the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit. In this regard, I am pleased to acknowledge the support provided to me by the bureau’s director, Daisy Cooper.
Reform is high on the agenda of the Commonwealth. The two groups previously mentioned, the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, are set to report on their proposals for reform at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in Australia in November. Meanwhile, DfID will be reviewing progress on the reform of the Commonwealth Secretariat after CHOGM and again, one year later.
Dealing with these initiatives in reverse order, in its multilateral aid review earlier this year, DfID concluded that the Commonwealth Secretariat was one of the multinational organisations offering poor value for money for the UK. As such, DfID placed it under what it called special measures. The Commonwealth Secretariat could play a key role in strengthening democracy and supporting development across the Commonwealth, and in making the Commonwealth’s voice heard on global issues. DfID’s review found, however, that the secretariat’s programmes were thinly spread over many interest areas and its potential was not being realised. As a result, DfID planned to increase its engagement with the secretariat and to work closely with other member states to drive reform forward. Its top priorities were to secure greater focus on areas of comparative advantage, to support and represent the interests of small states, global networking, advocacy and specialist advisory services to its members and to strengthen management and oversight systems within the Commonwealth Secretariat.
A goodly part of DfID’s year has passed and the Perth CHOGM is fast approaching. Can the Minister say what monitoring has taken place by his colleagues in DfID so far? What have been the outcomes? Based on progress to date, how confident are the Government that DfID’s funding levels for development, only to be triggered if progress is made, will in fact be released?
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, CMAG, will be reporting at Perth on how it intends to strengthen its role in ensuring that members abide by the Commonwealth’s principles and values of democracy, the rule of law and of human rights. Past calls for reform have criticised CMAG’s terms of reference for being too restrictive and not allowing for situations where otherwise democratically elected governments might be involved in widespread and sustained abuses. The main suggestion for reform called for the development of objective triggers which, if activated, would result in the immediate referral to CMAG. They would be based on unconditional and arbitrary actions such as postponing national elections without the agreement of all political parties, violating opposition rights and compromising the judiciary’s independence.
After some years spent garnering support for these reforms, they were defeated, apparently by the veto of a single vote at a Heads of Government Retreat in 1999. We understand that CMAG is now looking at these proposals again and that there is a call for it to adopt a more considered and proactive approach and not be just a censorious or punitive body. In this regard, do the Government plan to support and encourage CMAG in measures that would enable it to expand its mandate, to set objective triggers and to adopt a proactive approach to constructive engagement?
Finally, there is a report to CHOGM of the Eminent Persons Group. We understand the EPG is to make over 100 different recommendations to CHOGM. The most notable include a charter for the Commonwealth, a commissioner for democracy and the rule of law, an expert group on climate change, rationalisation of the secretariat’s work plan to discard low-priority and lower-impact programmes by 2012 and measures to ensure that the Secretary-General and all the Commonwealth heads of government play their part in enhancing the profile of the association.
The EPG report to CHOGM is full of exciting and challenging ideas. Can the Minister say what the approach of the Government will be in responding to that report? Will it be to select those initiatives they most favour or to welcome the report as a whole? Or will it be to be guided by the following principles: reform should provide something for everyone in 54 countries, big or small, rich or poor; reform that advances democracy and development; reform that recognises the comparative advantage of the Commonwealth’s convening power and ability to influence; and, as a member state, will the UK honour its commitments? If we wish to see new initiatives, we should pledge the financial resources to help fund them, or suggest areas of work that could be discontinued to release funds that could then be redirected.
DfID has highlighted this issue by making further funding dependent on reform of the Commonwealth Secretariat. If, however, we are serious about taking up the recommendations from CMAG and the EPG, members must be ready to fund the secretariat adequately. Many of its current shortcomings are the result of serious underinvestment over many years. It is unrealistic to call for additional funds without a clear demonstration by the secretariat that a programme for reform of the organisation and its working schedule has been developed and can demonstrably be seen to be in place. So I would urge the Minister and his colleagues to press vigorously for a binding commitment to such a reform programme from the secretariat as soon as possible as a condition of further funding.
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to congratulate the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on its centenary and its recent successful conference when delegations gathered from all parts of the Commonwealth in Westminster Hall. I have seen the Commonwealth evolve in ways that could not have been imagined 30 years ago when I joined the executive committee of the UK branch of the CPA. I was privileged to become its president when I was Speaker of the Commons, and I returned to its executive when I entered your Lordships’ House, so it could be said that I have come full circle.
The Prime Minister made a bold assertion in his speech to the CPA delegates which I think has great merit. He said:
“we no longer live in a world of super powers but in a world of networks and friendships”.
That, in a nutshell, is what I believe to be the real point of the Commonwealth. It is why this unique association of independent, democratic, multiethnic and multireligious countries has survived the changes that have destroyed the global supremacy of the old power blocs. Their roots were too weak to sustain them. They were not nurtured by the networks and friendships that support the Commonwealth and its enduring aspirations.
The Queen’s message to the CPA conference expressed her personal experience and understanding of what makes the Commonwealth tick. She said it ensures that nations talk to each other and that,
“there are many more similarities between us than dissimilarities”.
I believe that to be profoundly true. Why else, I put it to sceptics, would South Africa have rejoined the Commonwealth as a multiracial democracy after decades of apartheid? Why else has Southern Sudan, ahead of its first elections after gaining its independence, already applied for membership?
Historic connections with this country are part of the answer. They obviously admire our contribution to democracy. Just as important, I believe, are the networks and friendships the Commonwealth offers in a world where billions of people are threatened by forces that appear to be outside their control and where co-operation can make a big difference. In that spirit, perhaps another former member will follow South Africa’s example and rejoin our rainbow of nations. The success of the Queen’s recent visit to Ireland was a historic event that marked a new phase. Ireland has much to contribute and the Commonwealth would surely welcome it back. That, of course, is for the people of Ireland to decide for themselves in their own good time.
My grass-roots role is as patron of the Commonwealth Countries League, founded in 1925 to promote and encourage mutual understanding throughout the Commonwealth. Our education fund, which became a registered charity in 1982, sponsors secondary education for girls in their own country. Since that time, 3,000 young girls have benefited in 35 Commonwealth countries, a small number perhaps but an example of what can be and is being done by way of practical help and personal encouragement when more eminent statesmen have had their debate, passed their conference resolutions and gone home.
Advances in many Commonwealth countries today enable far more children to receive primary education, but barriers are very much in place before secondary education becomes available to many. In addition to climate disasters, challenges such as abject poverty, remoteness of location and ignorance are barriers to secondary schooling. Jane, from a remote island in the Solomons, needed extra support for travel and boarding in a larger island. She is now studying dental surgery in Fiji. The first woman doctor in Tonga was sponsored by the education fund. Three students from remote areas of Uganda are now at universities studying development economics, civil engineering and industrial chemistry. Former students in Papua New Guinea are working in banking, journalism, tailoring and forestry. Those supported by the education fund not only have achieved goals beyond there dreams, but are ambassadors for female education.
Advanced societies recognise that there are economic and health benefits from investing in female education. Educated women tend to have fewer and healthier children. They are economically more productive and earn wages. Particularly in developing countries, educated women have a higher status within their own communities. By empowering young women, they make a contribution to the future well-being of their own country as well as to that of the wider Commonwealth.
A new initiative was launched a few months ago here at Westminster, supported by the noble Baronesses, Lady Flather and Lady Howells, and me, entitled Thousand Schools for a Thousand Girls, headed by Ladi Dariya, herself a former beneficiary in Nigeria. Schools here are invited to raise funds for a five-year period to cover the cost of a girl’s secondary schooling. The project will not only benefit the sponsored girls but open the eyes and broaden the minds of students in this country to the challenges and the barriers elsewhere and demonstrate to our young people that they, too, are capable of encompassing the Commonwealth theme as agents of change.
Our fundraiser Ladi knows the difference that such support can make. Her father died leaving three wives and 13 children. While still a child, Ladi hawked bean cake and herded cattle, and read at night under a kerosene lantern. She was assisted by the fund, subsequently graduating with a BSc with honours in economics and, after some years in banking, she achieved a Master of Science in management and is an associate of the Chartered Management Institute of the UK. Ladi herself supports 10 girls in Nigeria through secondary education. She says, “There is nothing special about my story. It could be the story of any other woman from my background who is given the same opportunity”.
The work carried out daily by people of good will though charitable organisations changes the lives of communities within the Commonwealth for the better. I greatly appreciate the initiative that has been taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, in tabling this Motion, enabling me to give voice to some of the valuable grass-roots work undertaken by the educational fund of the Commonwealth Countries League.
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness for initiating this debate and am particularly glad to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, because I want to second some of the remarks that she has made. Like other speakers, I am convinced of the continuing value of the Commonwealth and welcome the evidence, despite the understandable note of scepticism that has been mentioned, that there has been a rediscovery and an increase in the personnel at the FCO dealing with Commonwealth matters. Like the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I hope that this really does presage a change in attitudes.
I have really come to learn and I have already learnt a great deal, including some acronyms with which I am pretty unfamiliar, so it has been a pretty steep learning curve to listen to other, more knowledgeable speakers. However, the diocese of London, as a result of Mozambique joining the Commonwealth, initiated a partnership with our equivalent church in Mozambique. We have thus participated in trying to increase the provision of education, particularly in rural areas, opened a health centre and tried to support flood relief schemes. My point is not the help that we have given to people in one of the newer Commonwealth countries but the extraordinary impact that opening the channels of communication has had on thousands—in London, we educate 50,000 children a day in our schools—of young people in this country.
One of the most exciting projects has been the way in which Mozambican artists—we remember that the independence of Mozambique came out of the most damaging civil war—have been using the debris of violence and war to make artworks. Recently we have received a work called “Music Man”, made out of spent cartridges, spent gun parts and all the debris of the civil war. The work has been shown in school after school. I went to one large primary school in East London —not a church school—where a very long corridor was covered with poems, artworks and reflections on the experiences that lay behind “Music Man” and the way in which Mozambican artists created, out of the lethal detritus of violence, something much more hopeful.
My question echoes the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, as to whether there is any scope—and I speak like a fool—for a Commonwealth programme in particular to link schools, create partnerships within schools, promote mutual learning, and increase the ways in which we bring together young people who have very different experiences of life in our wired-up world. Much of what has been discussed is extremely valuable, but it is at a very high level and I doubt whether the commitment to the Commonwealth as a concept will survive so prosperously unless we devise initiatives that build a popular basis for Commonwealth consciousness among the young. So much of what we have been talking about is information that is shared with highly motivated people, but within a comparatively small compass.
I have just one more comment. We have heard several times already in this debate that the Commonwealth is a multireligious entity. I recently had experience of a Commonwealth initiative that has brought together leaders of different faiths, from Nigeria and Uganda and involving faiths in this country, to confront the question of climate change. This seems to me a positive way of advancing one of the main objectives of the Commonwealth; we build unity not so much by scrutinising and criticising one another as by standing together, confronting a common problem. That builds relations and creates new experiences that outflank old animosities.
Therefore, as someone who is hugely grateful for the existence of the Commonwealth, my question focuses upon how we can build that greater popular basis of Commonwealth consciousness among the young.
My Lords, I welcome the debate on this subject. The Commonwealth is one of the few large, multinational organisations that have a very important position in the world in so many ways. This may be a surprising observation from me, as I am regarded—unjustly—as a eurofanatic and as caring very little about these things. In fact, as a Welshman, I go back to my days in the Sunday school at Carmel chapel, Aberavon, in 1935, when we were presented with a card from His Majesty King George V, celebrating his Silver Jubilee, which contained this sentence:
“I ask you to remember that in days to come you will be the citizens of a great empire”,
and I always have remembered that.
It fell to my lot, rather fortunately, some 12 years later, when I found myself commissioned in the Army— in the Royal Signals, though still having very little understanding of electronic science—to be posted to east Africa. I was stationed in Nanyuki on the equator, as second-in-command of the East African Signals troop, with 20 British NCOs and 100 Africans covering Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika. I am reminded very much of the extent to which my black signallers had seen service in the Burma campaign with the 11th East African Division. Sergeant Mbela Kasema BEM was one of these. He had come to represent them in the victory parade, and was still corresponding with a girlfriend in Chalk Farm. Among other things, I had to instruct my African soldiers in the greater benefits of “Kingy George Five” rather than Bwana Joe Stalin. I became very conscious of the fact that we were all grown-up children of the same great Empire that King George had commended with his message so many years before. So indeed I found it during the six years which I had the privilege to spend as Foreign Secretary, because there was no doubt about the importance of the Commonwealth.
One particular feature, which I will come back to, relates to the fact that I was, on demobilisation to Cambridge in 1948, given the alternative of going as a captain to command the signals troop in Mogadishu. I did not take that up because the signals troop there was simultaneously giving service to the Somali Youth League as well as the interests of their own unit. That was a rather unfortunate episode, but it drew my attention to Somaliland and, subsequently, to the existence of British Somaliland—of which more in a moment.
As Foreign Secretary, I came quickly to realise the importance of the Commonwealth in so many different ways. One that struck me almost immediately was how much better informed I was in going to IMF meetings, or things of that kind, than the Secretary of State from the United States because I had acquaintance with a whole range of countries, many of which paid great tribute to Britain’s contribution. I recall one observation made by Yaqub Khan, the Foreign Minister for so many years of Pakistan, when he welcomed me to the country and said, “You will enjoy it here—you will find it peopled by the noble ghosts of Britain's past”. I found similar tributes would come in from the leaders of many Commonwealth countries. Commonwealth conferences, or Prime Minister’s conferences, are enormously valuable in finding agreement between the Commonwealth members with their great diversity. For example, it helped us in getting across to all the Commonwealth countries, notably in dialogue between my noble friend Lady Thatcher and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the sincerity of our attempt to bring the Cold War to an end.
I want to close, if I may, with a minute on the problems of British Somaliland, which are very serious because of its subsequent merger in the greater state of Somalia, where it has now suffered adversely as a result of corruption and worse in that country. A very valuable comment on the whole situation was made in the debate in the other place by Tony Worthington, who I think was on the Select Committee on International Development when it visited Somaliland. He pointed out that:
“Our foreign service hang-ups about recognition are getting in the way of us fulfilling our duty to pursue the millennium development goals for the poor people of Somaliland”.—[Official Report, Commons, 4/2/04; col. 273WH.]
The reason is that it would like to be admitted to the Commonwealth—comparable to the admissions of, for example, Rwanda and Mozambique, which have been a great advantage to those countries and to ourselves.
British Somaliland, as it was, is not getting the treatment that it deserves. I cannot spend any more time describing the history behind that but I hope that Her Majesty's Government will pay attention to the case being tenaciously argued by a number of people for the recognition of British Somaliland, so that we are able to deal with it more independently than it is now being dealt with, in the unhappy marriage that it agreed to make with the rest of Somalia some years ago.
My Lords, I, too, add my word of delight to the noble Baroness for bringing forward this timely debate and offer congratulations, for what mine are worth, to the parliamentary association for surviving this long. Perhaps I might also say how much I respect the role of Her Majesty the Queen as an ingredient in the curious chemistry that has kept that body going, and being so lively for so long.
It is under the part of the Motion about the continuing role that I wish to offer my remarks. I would have wanted to spend a little time on and discuss further, for example, the place of Caribbean studies in our universities. I come to this debate from a meeting on that subject in my office. When I was pursuing doctoral studies in the area of Caribbean studies, there were at least half a dozen universities with vibrant departments looking at subjects that arise from that interesting part of the world. Now there are none. This is a source of great concern to those who live in significant areas within this country whose populations have large numbers drawn from those Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean.
In the few minutes available, I want to concentrate on what ongoing role the Commonwealth has towards countries that it has suspended from its membership. Suspension cannot be a self-justifying end in its own right. I have in mind particularly the case of Fiji. The Fijian Government have been suspended until they meet certain norms. Sanctions by Australia, New Zealand, the European Union and others have been placed on the present Government. However, they have taken terrible measures against the Methodist Church. They have refused to allow its annual conference to meet for three years and gave only 24 hours’ notice this year in ordering the church not to meet in conference. This takes away the economic basis of the Methodist Church in Fiji, where the finances for the whole year are gathered at its conference. Not only that but women’s prayer fellowships, choir practices, house groups, midweek communions and youth fellowships have all been banned. The Methodist Church is the only church against which the Fijian Government have taken such draconian measures.
Your Lordships may have a certain view of the minority place of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, but I bring the matter to noble Lords’ attention to remind them that, in Fiji, Methodism constitutes pretty much the DNA of the country. I myself preached at the institution of a president of the conference on the princely island of Bau not so long ago, in the very place where chief Cakobau was converted to Christianity in 1853 and where the baptismal font was carved out of a rock upon which previously the heads of those about to be eaten were crushed. Methodism has been part of the emerging Fijian country, and a wonderful place it is. However, at the moment, Methodism is being suppressed.
This is important because it means a very important part of Fijian society is being marginalised. The fabric of society is being weakened. Many of the council of chiefs, which operates alongside the legislature in Fiji, are themselves drawn from Methodism. The indigenous peoples are dominated by Methodism, too. Methodism has played a large part in bringing the Indian population, who are still landless—and that is another problem that has to be addressed at some stage—into the mainstream of life. I wonder what the Commonwealth can do to put further pressure on the Government of Fiji. The Pacific Islands Forum has already sort of excommunicated Fiji from its fellowship. I am hearing messages—texts and the rest of it—that, on the streets of Suva in Fiji, there are beginning to be the sorts of demonstrations that, who knows, could lead to things that we have seen in other parts of the world in recent times.
Prevention is better than a cure. Are there ongoing relationships? Does the Commonwealth have a continuing role? Should we be trying to do more and to be more proactive in creating conditions out of which conversations and pressure can be placed upon the Government of Fiji? All this is urgent. The Commonwealth must, therefore, be congratulated not only on the very proper range of activities it fosters and relationships that it engenders but also on the role it might play in keeping peace in troubled parts of the world. The Fijian Government are setting up an alternative Methodist Church to do their will, just as President Mugabe has done with the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe. Let us put in the cautionary note. Let us delight ourselves in the presence of the Commonwealth, and hope and pray that it can play some part in bringing decency and dignity back to the people of Fiji.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this debate. This is a great day for the Chamber. I am the fourth Welshman to be taking part in this discussion, and the second Methodist minister. It is a good day for me if it is not a good day for the House of Lords.
Some noble Lords will remember going to school in the 1940s, as I do, and seeing a map of the world showing the British Empire marked out in red, as my teacher, Miss Evans, told me. We were so delighted to see that. This weekend the “Last Night of the Proms” will take place. Spectators at that event and at home will join in singing:
“Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;
God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet”.
Those words may be sung at the “Last Night of the Proms” but I bet that they do not appear in any party manifesto at the next general election. Everything has changed. Ploughshares now replace the sword. We are building a Commonwealth that is full of dignity and understanding. I have always dreamt—I still do—of one country being a role model for the world. At one time I thought that India or the state of Israel when it was founded in 1947-48 could provide role models of peace and decency. Of course, I have been disappointed. Perhaps the Commonwealth of Nations can provide that role model as we work together, showing respect for each other and not entertaining military or political ambitions but civilised, cultural and often spiritual ones.
Last week I was in Poland, which I think Norman Davies describes in his book as the playground of the gods or of God himself. Six million Poles were killed—not only Jews but others as well—at the beginning of the Second World War and yet they have survived and pulled through. Some may disagree with me but I suggest that that is due in large extent to the fact that they have a faith: 96 per cent of Poles are Catholic. They fill their churches and their faith keeps them going, as is the case with Israel. In 72 AD, the people of Israel were expelled from Jerusalem and scattered throughout the world. All they had was their Sabbath and their Torah—their faith. That kept them going for the next 19 centuries. We do not always agree with them but, when they came back, the state of Israel was established. Therefore, we need not only a political element but elements of culture, civilisation and faith. This means that we have to respect people who have different faiths and cultures from our own. We should look at them and say, “Isn’t it great to be in a world where people are different from one another?”. It is.
I am a vice-president of the Llangollen International Music Eisteddfod. Every year I go there and see nations coming together. They are different and colourful and they respect and love one another. This past year, I think that 14 of the competing nations were from the Commonwealth. Thanks to the CPA’s sponsorship, they will bring a bit of the Llangollen festival to Westminster. Next year marks the Commonwealth Year of Culture, Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. On 2 July 2012 we shall have a Commonwealth carnival of music before the festival participants make their way to Llangollen. Dancers, instrumentalists and choirs from different countries will enrich all our lives. I ask noble Lords to put that date in their diaries. We will be able to celebrate the diversity of the Commonwealth at that event. Does it matter that Scotsmen have the bagpipes and Welshmen have the harp? Not a bit. We can all appreciate one another.
Finally, there is still much work for the Commonwealth to do. Within the UK Scotland wants a wee bit more independence and Wales is also trumpeting in some way, but is not the Commonwealth the framework in which nations which want to loosen their bonds with central government might be able to achieve an independence that is not political but operates at a different level—that is, the independence conferred by respect and dignity? That is what we have throughout the Commonwealth but a tremendous amount of work is yet to be accomplished by our Commonwealth of Nations.
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on having secured this important debate. I wish to confine my comments to the continuing role of the Commonwealth, particularly with regard to healthcare and biomedical research. In so doing, I remind noble Lords of my declarations of interest, particularly my role as Professor of Surgery at University College London.
There is a distinguished heritage with regard to health and the provision of postgraduate medical education and training associated with the Commonwealth. For many decades, medical trainees, graduates and other healthcare professionals from Commonwealth countries have come to our country and made a vital contribution to the establishment of the National Health Service and ensured that that service was sustained over many years. Many of them returned to their own Commonwealth countries, having benefited from training in the United Kingdom, and went on to become leaders of disciplines in the profession of medicine in their own countries, contributing to the development of healthcare systems in many nations based on the provision of healthcare in the United Kingdom. In so doing, they brought great credit to our country and increased the influence of the United Kingdom in those countries because the provision of healthcare is so very important in every nation.
Equally, our own trainees had the opportunity to practise in many Commonwealth countries, making important contributions, learning an awful lot and having their own careers enriched as a result. The contributions in this two-way relationship have been substantial. In our own country the development of primary care, acute hospital practice, mental health and biomedical research have been hugely enriched by the relationships between Commonwealth countries. However, in the past 10 to 15 years, that emphasis on encouraging links with regard to healthcare and biomedical research across Commonwealth countries has become somewhat less important to our nation as we have looked to other regions to deal with the provision of staff and medical professionals to help in the delivery of healthcare in the United Kingdom. That is a great pity because one of the important by-products of these close links in healthcare and biomedical research has been the promotion of our own healthcare and biopharmaceutical industry in Commonwealth countries. We often hear that this area of economic activity and endeavour in health and biomedicine is the second most important industry for our nation after financial services in terms of its economic value.
Moving forward, there are important opportunities for us to refocus on the Commonwealth. As we have heard, one-third of the world’s population are citizens of Commonwealth countries. Many of these nations are seeing substantial economic development. As nations develop there is increasing emphasis on the provision of healthcare and the training of healthcare professionals. Our universities, National Health Service, healthcare industries and biopharmaceutical industry could all benefit from a renewed focus on the opportunities available if there were greater collaboration and co-operation in healthcare provision across Commonwealth nations. Equally, those nations could benefit from the very fine industries, knowledge, technology and innovation that we have developing in our own country in our universities and their associated industries.
I have four questions for the Minister with regard to health and training of healthcare professionals in relation to the Commonwealth. First, do Her Majesty’s Government have a specific strategy for ensuring that we can once again encourage some of the most able and capable medical trainees from Commonwealth countries to spend some of their postgraduate training time here in the United Kingdom rather than go to other countries, such as the United States, or other European countries? Secondly, can we facilitate our own trainees to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities existing in Commonwealth countries to enrich their own careers and training opportunities? Thirdly, is there a specific strategy to promote our healthcare and biopharmaceutical industries in Commonwealth countries, so that they can improve and increase their export opportunities and in so doing, ensure that the innovation and discovery from our own universities, and within those industries, can be used to improve healthcare delivery and health in Commonwealth countries? Fourthly, and finally, might there be opportunities for us to build on the concept of Commonwealth learning to develop a virtual Commonwealth postgraduate medical federation or university to promote continuing medical education driven from the United Kingdom to assist the development of healthcare in Commonwealth countries?
I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper and I also congratulate the CPA on the centenary. I have been fortunate to go to quite a number of CPA conferences and to make bilateral visits to Malaysia, the Bahamas, Namibia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Australia, just to name a few. We were in Australia at the time of the Bali bombing and it was a privilege to be in the national Parliament to hear the then Prime Minister John Howard speak about what had happened.
On the same visit we also went to Parkes, the place of my birth in that largest island of the world, where we had the best barbequed steak that we had anywhere in the whole of Australia. When I came to this country I think that my passport said I was an Australian citizen but it certainly said that I was a British subject. That terminology has changed completely. When I had tea in the Lords Dining Room—I have been in this House for 30 years now—a colleague said, “Oh, it’s rather nice to have a colonial in the House”. Commonwealth people gave up that colonial tag a long time ago. He was not a young man but it was an interesting facet.
What has impressed me so much about the CPA is how well it works on what I would call not just an all-party but an almost cross-party-and-no-party system. Wherever we have been in the world we have all worked together and no party issues have ever come up. It has been much bigger than that, which is a very important point. I also went through the Commonwealth Secretariat as an observer to the first elections in the Seychelles after many years. That again was something that we felt was useful. I was in Kenya on Remembrance Sunday one year and saw all those wonderful, large, very black men with their umbrellas standing in the blazing sun on 11 November. That reminds me of the great contribution that the Commonwealth has made to this country. It has made a major contribution in both World Wars and in all other times and will continue to do so. There is great fellow feeling within the Commonwealth.
I am still in the position of having my domicile of origin which happens to be Australia. We almost lost the right for Commonwealth citizens to sit in this House. That would have been a tragedy because, although it affected me personally, it is a very much bigger issue. When I last wanted to speak in a Commonwealth debate in June 2009, I rang the Clerk of the Parliaments, asking, “Could you tell me what Act I am sitting under now because I always like to quote that when speaking on Commonwealth issues?”. There was a long pause and he said, “We are sorry but there seems to be a bit of an unforeseen mistake. We are not sure that you are meant to be here at all now”. I said, “What do you mean?”. He said, “Well, you did sit under the 1981 Act”, and I said yes that that was the one I quoted. He continued, “When they renewed that Act in 2006 the Government made a mistake and covered the Commonwealth in the House of Commons but failed to cover it in the House of Lords”.
My speech on that occasion was a bit of a bombshell when I brought this out in the Chamber. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, who was answering, said that the Government guaranteed that it was a pure oversight and would put it right before the general election. The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which is enacted now, was very late in coming to us and arrived on the last day of the previous Parliament. It was very controversial and various people said how ridiculous it was that we would be asked to put this all through on the same day and that we could not possibly do it as it would take weeks of deliberation. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, waved to me to come outside and said, “You have got to say something”. I said that it had been suggested to me not to say anything, but he said, “Well, I wouldn’t want to interfere with other people’s views but I think you should say something”, so I did.
Various other people made points but the most effective was the one from the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, who said that some parts of the Bill were good and we should allow them through and not the rest. He quoted the Civil Service and said, “It might be only 90 per cent right, but at least that is 90 or even 80 per cent more than we have ever had, and we have waited 40 years for that, so can’t we have it?”. Various other people hopped up and then I got up and said my little bit about not even getting a Writ of Summons for Parliament unless the legislation went through. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and to the then Lord Chancellor who spent most of that afternoon in this House working on an all-party basis to try to get agreement on which bits of the Bill would go through and become the reformed Act. Fortunately, at the last minute on the last day of that last Parliament it went through.
That is very important in terms of the Commonwealth because Commonwealth people are amazed when they hear that a member of the Commonwealth who is not an English person or a British citizen can be a Member of this House—as also southern Ireland. I heard someone mention southern Ireland. Perhaps this is another indication that southern Ireland may well become part of the Commonwealth.
This occasion shows that there is a growing feeling on the need to renew the strength of the Commonwealth and gives new impetus to that. The attendance at this debate is higher than at any former Commonwealth debate I have ever attended and the interest in the subject is stronger than I have ever seen. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on the way in which she introduced the whole subject and the timing of the debate.
The approaching Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia in October will have, as has been referred to by many noble Lords, the report and recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group. Having seen the first draft of that report, I have every reason to believe that it will be robust and strong in its recommendations. The Heads of Government have to be robust and strong in deciding whether they will implement some of the recommendations. In addition, as has already been referred to, there is the Diamond Jubilee next year in which there will be opportunities to mark the Commonwealth and the commitment of this Government to give added strength to it, led, I am pleased to say, by the Minister.
The Commonwealth exists as an opportunity for us to take, as equal partners. It is a pragmatic, evolutionary group of nations representing a whole cross-section of the world. It is voluntary; it is not a treaty; it is not NATO; it is not the United Nations or the European Union. It looks in an informal way for practical solutions to problems, and it can add value to the work that we ourselves do bilaterally and multilaterally with other bodies. It is unique and it provides us with an opportunity which we can take if we wish.
There are two main points I want to make. First, I start on the non-governmental side, because I think that the people-to-people connection in the Commonwealth is in fact its heart; that is what it is really all about. We have a vast pattern of connections—in the various speeches we have heard today we have already seen a massive demonstration of this. It is not just the CPA, which is a very important association, but all the other connections in the field of education and so forth. There are more than 90 professional bodies, a mass of civic society bodies, and a mass of NGOs which all provide a sort of pattern. I declare an interest as president of the Royal Over-Seas League, which does educational work in three African Commonwealth countries and holds a Commonwealth music competition. I am also president of the new Commonwealth Youth Orchestra; music, of course, unites rather than divides nations. There are so many other organisations across the board, in every field, from universities, to law, to the Commonwealth Jewish Council, the Commonwealth Press Union, and so on, which demonstrate this vast pattern of links between us all.
The Commonwealth Foundation seems to be the basis upon which we can move forward. I was its chairman for five years in the 1990s. I know that the Eminent Persons Group will advocate for that foundation to be strengthened. It can act as a catalyst and facilitator of contacts within the Commonwealth on the non-government and civic society side. I think particularly of young people. I suggest that to mark the Diamond Jubilee and the 60th anniversary of Her Majesty being Head of the Commonwealth next year, the heads of government devise some kind of Commonwealth legacy which will devote itself to strengthening the Commonwealth for young people and civic society in particular. I hope a lot of thought will be given to this for next year.
The other point I wish to make regards the government-to-government side. I welcome the Eminent Persons Group’s belief that it is most important that we strengthen the governance systems of the Commonwealth and methods for dealing with conflict resolution. It is here that the Commonwealth must practise what they preach, committed to so often by heads of government. We should devise and set high standards, and should be robust with those who do not stand up to those standards—I hope that that is what will emerge. The heads of government will have to be courageous if they are going to commit themselves to that. The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth will have to be very robust in speaking up from time to time on maintaining standards within the Commonwealth.
This Government and heads of government must be sharp in defining their priorities. If we try to do too many things in the Commonwealth, we will not achieve a great deal. Remembering that 50 per cent of Commonwealth citizens are under 25, I hope that a lot of priority will be given to young people. As far as membership is concerned, I hope there will be a separate debate on the subject of the former British Somaliland—an issue raised by my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, which I want to endorse. It was a great pity that the former British Somaliland was not allowed to enter the Commonwealth when it became independent in 1960. Perhaps new opportunities will be provided for us to debate this, as well as the prospects for South Sudan and other countries to join the Commonwealth. We now have this opportunity to rejuvenate the Commonwealth, and I hope the heads of government will take it in October.
My lords, I also thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for securing this timely debate ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next month in Australia. I strongly believe in the Commonwealth and I have spoken in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere on this subject many times. I personally know high commissioners of several countries and have met leaders of their diasporas in the United Kingdom. I am interested in foreign affairs and have visited several Commonwealth countries.
The Commonwealth stands as a beacon to the global community. Membership shows a commitment to democracy, good governance and the rule of law. It is understandable why so many countries take great pride in their membership, and why the number wishing to join expands frequently. The Speaker of the Parliament of Norfolk Island referred to the Commonwealth as,
“the most wonderful place for a small place like us”.
This sentiment was reiterated by the chair of the CPA International Executive Committee when he identified the need for greater attention to be focused on the challenges facing smaller branches and the island states. It must, however, be emphasised that the Commonwealth is an organisation of equals. Smaller and economically vulnerable states are all given equal weight in the organisation. We are all aware that this is not the case in many other international organisations.
In choosing to address the recent Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the importance of the association to the wider aims of the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister characterised the Commonwealth as modern, mainstream and practical. This seems to be a fairly relevant summary.
The Commonwealth's 2 billion inhabitants account for approximately 30 per cent of the world's population. It has been estimated that this translates to a contribution of one-quarter of the global economy. In excess of $3 trillion dollars worth of trade occurs annually within the Commonwealth. The combined gross domestic product of the organisation is thought to have almost doubled between 1990 and 2009. Member nations include India, South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore. These countries are among the fastest growing economies and are certain to shape the future of the global economy.
I welcome announcements by the Department for International Development that it will invest in Commonwealth countries separately to the United Kingdom's annual contribution to Commonwealth institutions and development programmes. A number of member nations are reliant upon the organisation's support in the area of development.
In choosing the right honourable Member for Kensington and Chelsea as our representative on the Commonwealth's Eminent Persons Group, we have an individual with a wealth of expertise in international politics. The group has been asked to make recommendations on improving efficiency within the Commonwealth. I, like many other Members of your Lordships’ House, look forward to reading its proposals.
It is argued by some that because the affairs of the Commonwealth are not legally binding, the organisation is weaker and its power is relatively less than, say, that of the European Union. I would, however, argue that this is a misunderstanding. It is the voluntary nature of the body and the common bond which provides its very strength. Indeed, the Commonwealth remains a forum for debating important issues affecting our world.
The Commonwealth comprises 54 nations, which represent each of the world’s prominent religions. I am actively involved in building harmonious relationships between various racial and religious groups, and I believe that the Commonwealth is a marvellous platform to bring people together under one umbrella. It is home to 800 million Hindus, 500 million Muslims and 400 million Christians. It is an important multilateral organisation that demonstrates the effective use of soft power in international relations. I would like to see Commonwealth countries more actively involved in conflict resolution and building stronger business links between the various countries.
The membership of Mozambique and Rwanda speaks volumes about the influence and prestige of the Commonwealth as a unique association in welcoming countries who do not have links to the British Empire. However, Zimbabwe and Fiji cause us concern. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide an update on Her Majesty's Government’s plans to engage with these countries.
The Commonwealth includes Sri Lanka, a country that has failed to reach its full potential because of ethnic tensions that have blighted the lives of many. I visited Sri Lanka as a member of a parliamentary delegation—the visit was organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—and I was impressed with the recent developments following the hostilities. My Lords, my time is up, so I will sit down.
My Lords, my long-standing and firm friendship with the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, began when she served with great distinction as a Member of the European Parliament for the city of Liverpool, where at the time I was a local constituency Member of Parliament. I cannot think of anyone better to have opened today's debate. She set the scene with great clarity and we are all grateful to her.
My association with the Commonwealth began when I was a Member of another place. I served as chairman of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. There is an old proverb that states: if you plant a seed, you plant for a season; if you plant a tree, you plant for 10 years; but if you plant education, you plant for a lifetime. I echo some of the things that my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said earlier, and others have said in the debate; it is clear that the role of the Commonwealth in future in promoting education must continue to be one of its central tasks.
There is a debate between ecclesiastical and secular Latin scholars about when to use a hard C and when to use a soft C. Many of us would say that in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for far too long we have used a soft C. However, in the Minister who will reply to today's debate—the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford—we have someone who has a long and distinguished record in promoting the Commonwealth, and who I am sure will insist that the hard C is used rather than the soft.
I will make one substantive point in my remarks. To some extent I echo what was said by my noble friend Lord Luce and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, about membership of the Commonwealth and new members. I support in particular what they said about British Somaliland. My remarks will return to a subject that I raised with my noble friend Lady Cox earlier today at Question Time: the position of South Sudan.
Before I turn to that, I will remark that 10 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Rwanda. I visited the genocide sites. In that country, the genocide that took place against the Tutsi minority by the Hutu majority led to the deaths of 1 million people. It was one of the most emotional and disturbing experiences of my life to see some of the mass graves and the places where people had been left. I had the opportunity subsequently to speak to President Paul Kagame. I was very struck when, in 2009, Rwanda applied and was given permission to join the Commonwealth. After all, this was a Francophone nation without the historic connections that many existing Commonwealth nations had. It was the right decision, not least because, in the Harare Declaration of 1991, we set out the principles of democracy and human rights that are not always observed even now in Rwanda. However, a country that seeks admission must surely have some belief in those principles: otherwise, why would it apply to join? At least when a country becomes a member of the Commonwealth and accepts the principles in the Harare Declaration, we are then able to hold it to account and also to enter into proper dialogue in order to strengthen those principles.
This morning, with the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, I met two senior officials of the new Government of Southern Sudan. It has become the world's newest nation, having achieved outright independence on 9 July. I visited Southern Sudan during the civil war, in which 2 million people died. I went to Darfur, where more than 300,000 people died. As the House heard earlier today, in Southern Kordofan and Abyei a campaign of aerial bombardment continues. I was last in Southern Sudan with my second son last year. We visited some areas there and in southern Ethiopia and Turkana where major challenges continue to face those nations. Again and again, I heard of the great warmth that people had for the United Kingdom and for the Commonwealth. Therefore, I was not surprised when the Juba Government, led by President Salva Kiir, lodged an application to bring the world's newest fledgling nation into the Commonwealth.
This is a dangerous time. I heard from the officials we met this morning that they are fearful that Khartoum will embark on a new outright war against the South. I heard from them about some of the many challenges that the South faces. Half of the South's population is below 18 years of age; 72 per cent are below the age of 30; 83 per cent are rural; only 27 per cent of the adult population are literate; 51 per cent live below the poverty line; 78 per cent of households depend on crop farming or animal husbandry as their primary source of livelihood; 80 per cent of the population have no access to toilet facilities; infant mortality is 102 per 1,000 births; under-five mortality rates are 135 per 1,000 births; the maternal mortality rate is 2054 per 100,000 live births; just 17 per cent of children are fully immunised; 38 per cent of the population have to walk for more than 30 minutes one way to collect drinking water; 50 per cent use firewood or grass as the primary source of lighting; 27 per cent have no lighting; 96 per cent use firewood or charcoal as their primary fuel for cooking; and a mere 1 per cent of households in Southern Sudan have a bank account. These are pretty daunting odds for any Government, but at least the Africans of the South now have the liberty and freedom that they have craved, and for which they fought and spilt blood, for so long.
Despite the phenomenal challenges, the taste of freedom is sweet. What better candidate could there be for admission to the Commonwealth? I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do all that they can in these urgent circumstances to accelerate that application for admission.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hooper has done the House and the Commonwealth a great service by initiating this debate. I recall that a few years ago, when in opposition, my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford expressed concern during the debate on the Queen's Speech that the Government of the day had failed to make any reference to the Commonwealth when they prepared that speech. In my intervention on one aspect to do with the Pacific, where so many island states are staunch members of the Commonwealth, I very much echoed his remarks, as did others. Therefore, I look forward to hearing from my noble friend when he winds up about the current Government’s attitude towards and support for the Commonwealth, its members and its associated institutions.
I will turn to the South Pacific in a moment, but will begin with a more general observation. Sadly, we seem to read less and less about the influence and role of the Commonwealth. There was a time 10 or 20 years ago when barely a day went by without the comments of the Secretary-General or another influential member of the secretariat on matters relating to international issues involving the Commonwealth, or on more wide-ranging matters, being drawn to our attention by the media. Perhaps I read the wrong journals and am ill informed: or is it simply that the press and broadcast media feel that the Commonwealth has less relevance and do not report it? Or is the Commonwealth secretariat less forceful in expressing and publicising its views?
For the past 25 or so years, I have taken a close interest in the South Pacific. I was first involved as a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister in the late 1980s, when my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon was Foreign Secretary. I have been fortunate to travel there fairly regularly ever since. As members of the Commonwealth, Australia and New Zealand are naturally the major players in the region. Both countries do much to exert influence to ensure that the region remains stable and to enhance prosperity. The Commonwealth itself has a role to play throughout the region. Since the 1980s some of the reasons for a measure of disquiet in the region have diminished. The French are no longer testing nuclear weapons there; the United States is not destroying chemical weapons at Johnston Atoll. I recall both these issues being raised regularly at international or regional conferences which I attended. The UK naturally had to speak up for its wider interests, which did not always sit harmoniously with others in the Commonwealth, but it always struck me that somehow the fact that we were also members of the club that is the Commonwealth, if I may characterise it that way, made the Commonwealth something of a bridge between regional concerns and a wider international perspective.
However, now other issues have arisen which bear close examination. The influence of China throughout the South Pacific, often courting the island states with economic inducements, is no doubt welcome in many ways to those who need support, but one is bound to ask whether, in the international arena, its influence and aspirations are wholly benign or of self interest. The Japanese fishing industry, literally hoovering up the ocean with its long-line and other techniques of fishing—let alone its abhorrent whaling practices—stands, in time, seriously to damage the ability of the island states to sustain their own fishing industries. Of course, climate change and changes in sea levels are a major worry. I was very pleased to read on the Commonwealth Secretariat’s website that prosperity and resilience in the region was a key theme of the secretary-general’s address to the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland yesterday.
There is also the matter of the internal politics of some of the island states and here I should like to dwell a little on Fiji, as did the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. I visited Fiji last year for the second or third time. No more loyal member of the Commonwealth did there used to be than Fiji. Going back to colonial days, the people of Fiji venerated Queen Victoria and their links to the United Kingdom. The Rabuka coup of 1987 put paid, at least temporarily, to Fiji’s active participation in the Commonwealth. Now, 25 or so years later, following a third coup some years ago which removed democratic government from Fiji, Fiji remains politically isolated. I feel, as does the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, that the Commonwealth has a major role to play in pressing for a return to democracy in Fiji and I hope that elections certainly will be held in 2014.
How different Fiji is from its neighbour, Tonga, another country I know well. How stark it is that Fiji, which has strong familial ties with Tonga, should have moved in one direction and Tonga in precisely the opposite direction. One of the first and very farsighted acts of the King of Tonga when he acceded to the throne was to promise change to Tonga’s constitution so as to give up many of his residual powers as an absolute monarch and bestow genuine democracy and a constitutional monarchy upon his people. The success of these changes, which took effect in November last year, are immensely encouraging. Tonga is a loyal member of the Commonwealth with strong residual links to the United Kingdom and it plays its part on the international stage too. For example, Tonga even has a large contingent of its defence force currently serving in Afghanistan.
In a nutshell, the Commonwealth is a force for good in the Pacific, as it is elsewhere. It deserves wider recognition, but to gain that, its secretariat must be encouraged to become much more forceful, more outspoken in its utterances and press harder on its publicity while it is active on the world stage. Sometimes individual members may be uncomfortable with that, and unanimity of approach is difficult to achieve, but surely it is an aspiration worth encouraging and working towards.
My Lords, I welcome this debate, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. My father was a diplomat in the Commonwealth Relations Office, so I was brought up to this. As a boy, I saw the Union Jack coming down in Kuala Lumpur in 1956 and heard the music changing—we had a musical discussion earlier this afternoon. In my career, I have visited scientific, meteorological and governmental institutions in about 14 countries. I declare an interest as a visiting fellow of the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre at Cambridge. In my remarks I should like to point out how the UK might reorientate its diplomacy to combine more strongly its roles in the Commonwealth and in Europe, particularly to help deal with global issues of climate change, the environment and developing science and technology-based business. The UK high commissioners could, I believe, do more to help promote the idea in Commonwealth countries of flying the European as well as the UK flag. You can be quite sure that when the French have their embassies in countries in the francophonie, they will be flying the European and the French flag.
The present and the previous Governments have worked closely with other European countries and the EU to establish Europe’s leading research position in climate change and to establish policies for mitigating emissions of greenhouse gases and for assisting developing countries to adapt to climate change and reduce their damaging impacts. Collaboration with Commonwealth countries is growing; we are having strong policy initiatives. The Australian Government are introducing bold legislation and, I am glad to say, ignoring the trumpeting by certain present and previous Members of this House who are very loud and noisy. In Singapore, the Prime Minister has set up a climate change secretariat and foresees greater collaboration with south-east Asians. As I found in a meeting interview with him, there is great concern in that area about the rising sea level, which for reasons of physics is stronger in that part of the world, as the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, has just emphasised. However, one has to say that the Canadian Government policy is not helpful in following the United States. I hope that there will be vigorous discussion with the Canadian Government at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
In July this year, the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, together with the Malaysian Commonwealth Centre, held a workshop to review the special aspects of science and policies on climate change in Asia. The severity of the impacts, from the sea level rise to the melting glaciers in the Himalayas, were highlighted and the need to combine policies for energy and food was emphasised. Indian policy specialists commended the EU leadership for their climate policy and urged the EU, and the UK working with the EU, to keep up the pressure on the US Government to take a more constructive position, or at least not to prevent international collaboration.
The EU and the Commonwealth could work better to promote high-tech business and trade. Many of the most advanced projects in the UK are part of EU programmes—for example, Airbus and projects in space and the environment. In Singapore, I met the EU representatives—many Commonwealth countries have EU representatives. I believe that they and the UK High Commission could do more to explain how EU programmes are world leading and could be used more to help collaboration between the high-tech and advanced countries of the Commonwealth and the UK and Europe. Of course, many of these Commonwealth countries, as I again saw in Singapore, are now in a very advanced position in terms of their own work. Some of the leading groups and universities in the United States are setting up establishments there. UK funding, by Her Majesty’s Government, of UK technology at trade fairs is, in the views of many business people I have met, a poor shadow of the funding provided by other countries, including EU countries such as Germany. Perhaps, given the difficulties of our finances, Her Majesty’s Government should collaborate more effectively and economically with the EU in the promotion of UK industry and its development globally.
Finally, I should like to return to the point I have made several times before in this House and elsewhere that it is quite extraordinary that when scholars and researchers come to this country to work in universities—I have had many myself—there is no funding, no encouragement, nothing to bring these people to London, to Westminster, to show them what goes on. They know nothing. They go back to their countries—some of them become Prime Ministers—and they know nothing about the UK. It is quite extraordinary. Only Chevening scholars, a highly select group, are given, as it were, the treatment, but that is a tiny proportion, whereas when you go to other countries, they really use the opportunity to tell them about the country. After all, that is part of the reason why we do this.
One more thing: if they come to the UK, they should also learn that the UK is part of Europe, and perhaps that is how we should be moving. I have very little faith in this. I have spoken to leaders of the British Council and the Foreign Office, and they do not seem to understand that scientists need to know about the world in which they live, so there is a thought.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper because this debate provides an opportunity to recognise not just that the Commonwealth has been a force for good but that it has a strategic importance for our country now and in the future. Too often in the past, we have underplayed the connections and interest we have with our partners in the Commonwealth. That is why I wholeheartedly endorse what the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for the Commonwealth have been working so hard to achieve: the re-energising of our relations within the Commonwealth. The Foreign Secretary’s visit to Australia and New Zealand last year was the first visit to those countries by a Foreign Secretary in 20 years. It indicates in stark terms that our focus has been elsewhere. Fulfilling the role that we have undertaken overseas in recent times may explain in part why, but it does not entirely excuse it. Surely the skill in gaining new friends and working elsewhere is in retaining old ones.
The Commonwealth family remains a unique forum for voices that would not necessarily be heard elsewhere. It is not just Governments that come together. The Commonwealth has a key role in feeding the world’s growing population. We have seen in graphic and heart-rending terms the consequences of nations—particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where 19 countries are in the Commonwealth—being unable to feed their own people. I therefore draw to your Lordships’ attention to and commend the work of the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth—the RASC—which encourages the interchange of information about developments in sustainable agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and the rural environment throughout the Commonwealth. It aims to encourage member societies in developed countries to help where agricultural education and expertise are needed to enable food production to be increased.
British farmers are actively playing their part, and within the RASC emphasis is being placed on the next generation and the generations of youth to come. Being the only Commonwealth agricultural NGO, the RASC seeks to work more closely with the Commonwealth secretariat and to participate in setting the agricultural agenda. The Duke of Edinburgh was president for more than 50 years, and this influential role is now fulfilled by the Princess Royal. In 2012, the biennial conference of the RASC will be held in Zambia and the theme will be feeding people and Africa’s role in helping global food security. Zambia has vast areas of sustainable agricultural production and commands some 50 per cent of southern Africa’s water resources. What a tragedy that its neighbour Zimbabwe has had its agricultural production devastated.
The Commonwealth is held in great affection by so many. Many of us have family ties. It continues to bind diverse nations together. Whether it is in the healthy rivalry of sport, the values of liberty and tolerance or a desire to enable all our citizens to prosper, the Commonwealth is an institution on which we should build so that all these ideals flourish. That is why I wish the Minister every possible success in his endeavours and responsibilities.
My Lords, I have been thinking a great deal about what the Commonwealth is. Is it an organisation? No, it is not an organisation. Is it a family? No, I do not think it is a family. I think it is a voluntary association of nations. It is a very good thing that it is voluntary, and it is certainly an association of nations. Many speakers have said that things have to be looked at and judged and that perhaps improvements need to be made. I want to state right at the start that I am not an uncritical admirer of the Commonwealth, but more about that in a minute.
My origins lie in the Empire before the partition and independence of India. India was quite rightly known as the jewel in the crown because, as the right reverend Prelate mentioned, in the two world wars we supplied a huge number of people as well as materials. India became a giant factory providing materials for the war effort. In the Second World War more than 2.5 million men volunteered. I am sure noble Lords know about the memorial that now stands on Constitution Hill to commemorate the contribution of Indians, Africans and people from the Caribbean islands because, amazingly, all these volunteers were not remembered on any of the memorials. It is very important to keep that in mind because that binds the UK to the countries that were there to help at the right moment. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, said about being called a colonial. I am quite happy to be called a colonial. I may not be one now, but I was one. I always say that it is the Empire striking back, so it is all right. I sometimes feel that I am here to remind people that we were part of the Empire and we are here now.
Anyway, to more important things. I think that we have set down too many absolute values for the Commonwealth to follow. If you set down too many absolute values, your attention is not necessarily focused on the most important ones. I believe that the most important thing, which was not mentioned in any of the papers, although it is an absolute value and has been mentioned as such, is the rule of law. Even with democracy, if you do not have the rule of law you have nothing. I am afraid that it is something in which many countries of the Commonwealth are sorely lacking. We have to find a way to help Commonwealth countries to develop better systems and to realise how fundamental this aspect of life is. You cannot have human rights without the rule of law. You cannot stop violence against women without the rule of law. You cannot protect the rights of individuals. Everything turns around. You can have democracy, but if you have corrupt politicians, who is going to stop them unless you have the rule of law? I want to make a particular plea because all the work the CPA does, which is wonderful, is about parliamentary democracy. It is necessary and essential, and it is an amazing programme, but somehow or other we have to bring in ways of improving the rule of law.
The other matter that concerns me deeply is that we talk an awful lot about climate change. We have talked about it in this Chamber. We talk about it, and we have conferences on climate change, but we do not talk about population. If in 1950 there were 3.6 billion people on this planet and there are now 7 billion, minus one or two, surely it is going to affect the climate. Surely no one can say that it will have no impact. There is no water, and all the trees have been cut down. It is extremely important that we start looking at population increase. Most of the population increase is in Commonwealth countries. In the next 30 years or so, the population of Africa is likely to more than double. Where will the food come from? Where will the water come from? No matter how many lightbulbs you change, or aeroplanes you do not use, it is not going to help with climate change. You have to look at the population. You have to consider helping women to not have so many children. This is a taboo subject. Nobody wants to talk about it, but it is essential for every possible reason: the needs of the people, too many young people, and not enough work, education, water or food. I therefore make the great plea that we should think about climate change aligned with population.
My last word—and it literally is a word—is that nowhere did I see corruption mentioned in the papers I have received. Is it not amazing that we all know how much corruption there is in Commonwealth countries and we do not mention it or talk about it? We have to be realistic. We have to be honest. We have to look at the situation as it is, not as we would like to imagine it is.
My Lords, first, I would like to add my own tribute to Her Majesty the Queen who, it seems to me, has done more than anybody else over the last 50 years to keep the Commonwealth together and to provide a wonderful focus of leadership. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on her excellent speech and for bringing this debate, which I think is particularly important at this time.
The Commonwealth is clearly the most international association in the world. On the one hand, it reflects 400 years of British history, engaging with the other parts of the world, but I think it should also be a much more important force in the future. I have always regretted the fact that 100 years ago Britain lost the opportunity that was sought by quite a lot of politicians to create a federal structure.
Britain is privileged to be at the centre of the Commonwealth but, as has been alluded to, should be careful not to be patronising in its attitude. I remember and was extremely embarrassed by the shoddy treatment that particularly Australia and New Zealand received in the 1970s in the wake of unrealistic expectations of EU membership. I remind the House that last time round, in the early 1930s, when Governments and central banks in Europe and America messed up their economies, the UK was able to recover very strongly in the second half of the decade, with the highest growth rates of the 20th century, on the back of a great strengthening of Commonwealth trade and indeed domestically of housebuilding.
I am very pleased that the Government have upgraded the importance of the relationship with the Commonwealth—indeed, it should have been upgraded long ago—and have commissioned a new Commonwealth strategy paper. I understand that the FCO has trebled the size of its Commonwealth Unit. To me, the Commonwealth’s economic and political co-operation and influence are still extremely underdeveloped, and a much greater development would actually be appropriate to the global world we are now in, where the relationships—trading, commercial and even political— between mature economies and new, fast-growing economies is ever more important.
My great interest—indeed, I made my maiden speech on the subject—is India, where I worked in the 1970s, a country for which I have huge love and affection. I have long taken the view that the UK and India in particular represent virtually the perfect relationship between mature and new, growing economies. I also lived in Hong Kong. Noble Lords have referred to Ireland, but I have always hoped that a way could be found for Hong Kong to become some kind of member of the Commonwealth. There is of course the sovereignty issue, but all things are possible and Hong Kong has been perhaps the greatest economic success of all the economies that grew and arose from British connections in the past.
The Commonwealth is not just about the amazing ties of history and culture and personal and family relationships but about what can be achieved with much more important political and economic co-operation in the future. I believe Commonwealth trade could grow from $3 trillion to $10 trillion within five years without that much difficulty. Reference has been made to the fact that the combined GDP has doubled in the last 20 years and could well double again in the next 10 or 15 years. The share of world GDP that the Commonwealth represents is in the course of growing by 15 per cent through to 2015. There has been a massive increase in what one might call middle-class consumers, and not just in India. There are some 1 billion in the Commonwealth as a whole, and, as mentioned, the Commonwealth represents over 30 per cent of the world’s population. This is a huge club that I think is being underexploited politically and economically. I would like to see completely free trade within the Commonwealth, as within the EU. It is potentially just as important to the British economy as is the EU.
Finally—reference has been made to this—it is important that the Commonwealth addresses some of the problems. We have heard the story of the Methodist Church in Fiji. We all know about the problems of Zimbabwe. There should be a mechanism for the enforcement of law and, with reference to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, there should be some machinery to address corruption. Britain has just passed its anti-bribery legislation. It would be inappropriate and meaningless if that influence did not go international. I hope that the Government’s commitment is very much in earnest, and in the difficult times in which we live I believe that the UK is extremely fortunate in having its Commonwealth relationship, which could be of enormous economic help over the next few years.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness for securing this important debate, and congratulate the CPA on its work, as I am a strong supporter of the Commonwealth. I also declare an interest as president of the Elizabeth R Broadcasting Fund, vice-president of the Royal Commonwealth Society, and as someone born in Trinidad, where membership of the Commonwealth is held in high regard.
My vivid childhood memories of the Commonwealth stretch back to my school visits to the now closed Commonwealth Institute, where through education I discovered the wonders of the various cultures which helped me understand how I fitted into the world as part of a global family. The feeling of belonging is one of the most important things for a child’s well-being and back in my days in the 1960s the Commonwealth, in all its glory, gave children that special ingredient.
Sadly, for one reason or other, the Commonwealth is no longer held in high esteem, especially over the last 15 years when it was government policy to place Europe centre stage and promote the EU as the most beneficial partnership for this country to be part of. However, nations like Japan, China and some South American countries have recognised the value in developing close ties with Commonwealth countries in order to increase support within world organisations such as the UN. We too need to nurture and encourage developing Commonwealth countries to participate within such organisations and influence the decisions that affect them and which can help them escape from the huge burden of debt.
Human rights are an important issue, too, so we need to help Commonwealth countries develop strategies for protecting the rights of people, allowing them to live without fear. This is where the Commonwealth Secretariat can play a part.
I am an optimist. I truly believe that the future is positive for the Commonwealth, because there is now a new, forward-thinking enthusiasm for it on the part of this Government. It is also good to know that the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group is working actively to promote the well-being of the Commonwealth.
There is a song which says of children:
“Teach them well and let them lead the way”.
That applies so appropriately to the future of the Commonwealth, for more than half the 1.8 billion people in it are under the age of 25. It is on these young people that we need to concentrate our efforts. Promoting knowledge and interaction between young people and encouraging them to be enthusiastic about the Commonwealth will strengthen understanding and global consciousness in our future leaders.
The task for us is to capture the imagination of the young and to energise them to support the values of the Commonwealth. Organisations such as the Royal Commonwealth Society have been doing just that for years with their youth summit and youth leadership programmes, which bring together young people to increase their awareness as global citizens. But more needs to be done, starting in the classroom.
Here in Britain, Commonwealth Day is one way of doing just that. For many years, I have tried to persuade the various Commonwealth bodies to open up the celebrations by holding the ceremony not just here in London in Westminster Abbey but in other major cities across the UK, in the same way as Maundy Thursday is celebrated each year. This way, the nation, especially schoolchildren, would get the opportunity to participate and understand the importance of the Commonwealth as part of their heritage. That is because, within every classroom, there will be several children who have Commonwealth connections. Will my noble friend the Minister give some consideration to the idea of moving the celebrations around the UK?
There is one area in the Commonwealth that I would like to highlight: the Caribbean member states, as they are vulnerable to many economic, social and environmental problems. Various trade agreements and the loss of agricultural revenue have forced many Caribbean islands to become wholly dependent on tourism. Now the question of the air passenger duty is hanging over their heads, with the potential to destroy their vital tourist industry, affecting many thousands of people. Policies adopted here in the UK, such as proposals for reducing leisure travel and a switch from long-haul to short-haul destinations, could have implications for the Caribbean in the areas of tourism and aviation. Another example of a decision made here that could have damaging financial consequences for the Caribbean is the proposal to abolish tax relief on Angostura bitters. This change would not only seriously damage the competitiveness of the product in the UK but would affect hundreds of people employed in the Caribbean by Angostura. I ask the Government to reconsider this proposal to abolish the tax relief.
There should be a long-term strategy to create sustainable businesses in the Caribbean—anything from call centres and light industry to medical and ocean sciences. Strong Commonwealth bonds will protect and help the Caribbean to survive. I have every confidence that this could happen. I was recently in the Caribbean and the political feeling there is one of optimism in respect of the UK Government. New links have been made at the highest level, and support has already been established through the Department for International Development. I believe that there are more connections elsewhere to be made.
I am so happy that the sun is rising on the Commonwealth once again. Let us all work together in harmony, show consideration when making decisions, and leave a golden legacy for our children to be proud of.
My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Benjamin about the need to rekindle enthusiasm far and wide for what our Commonwealth stands for and what it can do for all of us.
People in Britain who care deeply about the Commonwealth, and I am one of their number, have in recent years often found it difficult, I think, to overcome feelings of melancholy and restiveness. I should stress at the outset that this unease has not reflected any criticism of the work done by the myriad organisations that operate under the aegis of the Commonwealth, promoting cultural, educational and economic progress so successfully among its members. We will always be proud that the Commonwealth Secretariat is located in our midst at Marlborough House, where Edward VII as Prince of Wales tried to entice the King of Hawaii into joining the British Empire, an endeavour which, if it had succeeded, would have had interesting consequences for Anglo-American relations in more recent times. The Commonwealth is firmly embedded in our national life.
However, something serious has been missing. For far too long, the Commonwealth has been absent from our political life, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, reminded us with his customary force at the outset of this debate and as did my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble in more gentle fashion more recently. Winston Churchill taught us that the Commonwealth should always be one of our principal spheres of activity; in recent years, his injunction has frequently been forgotten. In politics, the Commonwealth has been widely regarded as an anachronistic embodiment of a sentimental memory. Under the previous Labour Government, no consideration was given to the importance of continuity and experience at ministerial level in our relations with key parts of the Commonwealth. Chris Mullin records in his increasingly famous diary that nine Africa Ministers held office in 12 years of Labour Government.
“How on earth can we expect to be taken seriously by our foreign counterparts?”,
he noted on 14 October 2009. It is an extremely pertinent observation, even though the word “foreign” slightly detracts from its force. The Commonwealth is family, not foreign, territory.
But now, at long last, despondency is in full retreat, which makes this debate, instigated so admirably by my noble friend Lady Hooper, a most timely affair. The coalition Government are seeking to restore the Churchillian precept. The Commonwealth is once again becoming a principal strand of British foreign policy. The Government choose to clothe their deep commitment to the Commonwealth in the fashionable jargon of the 21st century.
“The Commonwealth is a powerful global brand”,
the Foreign Secretary declares—not exactly Churchillian stuff—but it is the objective that matters, and the objective, reflecting liberal or progressive conservatism, could not be clearer. Our unique Commonwealth partnerships can, and should, bring us together on a family basis to help implement more fully in the world at large the liberal values that unite us: democracy, respect for human freedom and dignity, the rule of law and, not least, free trade, first promoted systematically by Pitt the Younger to the eventual benefit of many parts of the world that are now Commonwealth members.
We could be at a turning point in the history of the Commonwealth. This is a moment to encourage potential new members to consider the benefits of joining this unique institution, whose door is always open to newcomers as it is to former members. As the House has shown during this debate, the passing years have not diminished the sense of regret, so widely shared, that in 1949 the Republic of Ireland decided to leave the Commonwealth which, as “the restless dominion” of the inter-war years, it had done so much to shape. We are probably more conscious today than ever before that the family is incomplete without this conspicuous absentee from its ranks. So, too, are a number of influential figures active in the public life of our nearest neighbour. An open letter from them to the Irish Times on 3 March 2009 pointed out:
“When Ireland left the Commonwealth in 1949 the other member-states hoped its departure would be temporary … Ireland’s membership of the Commonwealth would, we are sure, be welcomed by the unionist community in Northern Ireland as a significant gesture of reconciliation … It would demonstrate unequivocally that the Republic has finally drawn a line under the troubled history of Anglo-Irish relations that led to Ireland’s self-exclusion from the Commonwealth 60 years ago”.
There can surely be little doubt that our fellow countrymen in Northern Ireland would rejoice if their southern neighbours returned to the Commonwealth family, and the family itself would surely rejoice to have southern Irish participation in all aspects of its affairs, from the Commonwealth Games to the advancement of human rights.
The point has been made earlier in the debate how very fitting it would be if progress could be made in the coming months, following the remarkable success of the visit paid by Her Majesty the Queen to the Republic of Ireland last May. The respect and affection felt for Her Majesty as head of the Commonwealth are boundless. It has been suggested that to mark her Diamond Jubilee next year, the means should be found to restore a royal yacht to her service. One way of doing this would be to put the project on a Commonwealth basis, raising the funds by public subscription from its members; it would work out at about 4 pence per head. The idea may be fanciful and impractical but rather magnificent in conception. The important point is to ensure that the Commonwealth never forgets for a single moment what it owes to its head.
My Lords, I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on initiating this timely and important debate. As I begin, if I may interject a light note, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, in his somewhat musical address, alluded to the fact that the Welsh have harps and the Scots have pipes; he omitted to say that we Irish have drums.
While your Lordships’ House may still be reeling from the ramifications of the Parliament Act 1911, it is fair to say that 1911 was not a year without merit. As today’s debate notes, it is the centenary year of the formation of the Empire Parliamentary Association, from which today's Commonwealth Parliamentary Association traces its lineage. It is also the centenary of King George V's visit to Ireland, a royal occasion which was not to be repeated until Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s highly successful recent visit to the Republic of Ireland, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, mentioned. Those are two centenaries, marking two defining moments for the Crown and the Commonwealth, and two institutions with which our nearest neighbour in the Republic of Ireland may be redefining its relationship. I will return to that theme later.
I should like to place on record my appreciation and thanks for the often unsung work of the CPA and the wider Commonwealth, a not inconsequential network of nations which encompasses some 2 billion persons. I believe wholeheartedly in the Commonwealth, not just for its historical ties that bind our countries together but for its ongoing work bringing pressure to bear in the pursuit of democracy and the protection of human rights throughout the world.
People often question the relevance and the impact of the Commonwealth in the modern day. It would be fair to say that, as an organisation, it has struggled somewhat to profile its work effectively, be that because some sections of the chattering classes will not have anything to do with the age of empire or because, on occasion, it has found itself travelling at the slowest pace among its disparate membership. Nevertheless, for all that, the Commonwealth remains highly relevant today, retaining the ability to do much good both at home and abroad. A greater appreciation and knowledge of the Commonwealth would foster a greater appreciation and understanding of multicultural Britain. It would help our people view the world beyond the confines of the developed West and allow them to have a more global perspective and insight on global problems.
As the economies of western Europe and North America face the unhappy prospect of a lost decade, the Commonwealth has the scope and the opportunity to encourage more adventurous trade links, not least with the emerging markets on the Indian sub-continent. As we go forward to the next century, does the Commonwealth have a role? Certainly it does. Does it have the ability to carve out an enhanced purpose and role for the future? Absolutely it does.
As I noted at the start of my remarks, 2011 is a year of two centenaries: the formation of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s predecessor and the visit of King George V to Ireland. Her Majesty's recent visit to that country has laid one ghost to rest; but perhaps there is now a case and an opportunity to settle another historical fracture. As was said earlier in the debate, Ireland left the Commonwealth in 1949. A return would be a final reconciliation in Anglo-Irish relations and an acknowledgement of the historical ties that link these two close islands and neighbours. Undertaking such a project would be a fitting start to a new “century of excellence”.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the excellent contributions from many speakers in your Lordships’ House. I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating today's debate.
I wish to declare that in January I visited Pakistan as part of a CPA delegation and I will also shortly be visiting Mozambique with the CPA. I am a child of the Commonwealth. I was born in Uganda to a family of Indian origin. Those are two distant and vastly different lands, yet they share many characteristics and values aided by their ties to Britain and the Commonwealth. I would hope that my contribution today would be equally relevant if I were in the Parliament of either of those two countries rather than in this great House in the mother of all Parliaments.
I wish to focus on two elements: my experience of the CPA since being ennobled and the need for a more trade-based Commonwealth in the 21st century. Since my ennoblement a little over a year ago, I have been very impressed by my interactions with the CPA. Having had to flee my home country because of a brutal dictator, I know the value of democracy and how essential it is for the instruments of democracy to flourish. The CPA's continuous programme of visits and activities would be enviable in any organisation, but when it is fulfilling such a worthy function as promoting democracy, it is something that we parliamentarians should be grateful for.
On my visit to Pakistan, I was struck by the passion of many of the young parliamentarians there, who look up to the stability and empowerment of Britain's democracy. Many of them were educated in Britain, and all of them feared the alternatives to democracy. I very much look forward to visiting Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony and one of the newest of the 54 member states in the Commonwealth, as it joined in 1995. The country is performing very well, and its membership demonstrates the continued high regard in which the Commonwealth is still held in many parts of the world.
The Government's policy of putting trade at the heart of our foreign policy is a wise and necessary one. As the Foreign Secretary said in Japan last year:
“We will make economic objectives a central aspect of our international bilateral engagement alongside our other traditional objectives”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, is right to say that the less developed Commonwealth countries are a market for tomorrow. I believe that the future of the Commonwealth must be debated with this statement in mind. Just as the Commonwealth adapted, with the London Declaration in 1949, to allow India and other independent nations to join, so it must adapt again to become a driver for economic growth. It is not just in Britain's interests; this sort of approach would most favour the poorest members of the Commonwealth, areas where poverty is still, sadly, far too prevalent.
As President Obama, also a child of the Commonwealth, said in his address to both Houses, the development of countries like China, India and Brazil has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty around the globe. If we can deliver sustainable economic growth to the Commonwealth, there is no reason why we cannot do the same. The countries of the Commonwealth are collectively responsible for more than 20 per cent of world trade, with over $3 trillion in trade taking place within the Commonwealth every year. At a time of global economic uncertainty, it is vital that we use our common links and long-established networks to boost trade and investment opportunities within the Commonwealth, and, in particular, in Africa. The Government have, encouragingly, already started to set out this case. I welcome the Government’s Commonwealth strategy. As the Foreign Secretary said:
“In our view, the Commonwealth could and should become one of the leading voices in the global economy, working to liberalise trade and break down barriers for international business”.
My noble friend Lord Howell has said that the Commonwealth strategy was drawn up thinking about,
“what the Commonwealth could do for the UK, and what the UK should do for the Commonwealth”,
I believe that it is in our mutual interest for the Commonwealth to ensure free trade—resisting protection and breaking down barriers for international business; to make it easier for smaller and medium-sized enterprises to export and do business abroad, especially early in the life cycle of a product; and to ensure that representatives of the business community are actively involved in the work of the Commonwealth, including promoting more businessmen to high commissionerships.
I am not advocating a complete change in the values of the Commonwealth. Pursuing economic policies is not contradictory to the core values set out in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009. I believe that economic security and prosperity are vital to ensuring that values like peace and security, education and good governance succeed.
The mechanisms of democracy—the rule of law, a free press, separation of powers, and free and fair elections—are vital for economic confidence. Economic prosperity is vital for the development of nations and, crucially, the development of a middle class, which is so often a defining moment in a country’s political history. I congratulate the CPA on its anniversary and encourage the Commonwealth of the 21st century to take a lead from our Government and demonstrate that it is open for business.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this timely debate. Over the past 100 years, the CPA has done sterling work and deserves our congratulations and gratitude for helping to promote the values of the Commonwealth. We look forward to another century of CPA’s sustained and innovative work to make the aspirations of the Commonwealth a reality. We wish Sir Alan Haselhurst all the best with his endeavours.
The Commonwealth is a unique phenomenon, with something special to contribute to the world in which significant geopolitical and economic shifts are taking place, and where democracy and human rights are under assault in many quarters. The Royal Commonwealth Society, of which I am president and a former chairman, described the Commonwealth as,
“an uncommon association with a wealth of potential”.
But to realise its full potential, the Commonwealth has to improve its efficacy. It has to reassert and renew itself in order to become a formidable force for democracy, development and prosperity. Thankfully, there are some very positive developments.
The Commonwealth is currently in an intensive phase of self-examination, which was partly triggered in 2009 by the Royal Commonwealth Society’s consultation about the future of the Commonwealth, entitled, “The Commonwealth Conversation”. The results of this consultation uncovered uncertainty about what its members had in common that sets the association apart from other international organisations and, of course, ignorance of its purpose. In response, the Eminent Persons Group to examine the options for reform was set up. The emerging recommendations on which it has consulted are robust and encouraging. The final report will be presented at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October.
That meeting will be an important moment for the Commonwealth. It is difficult to resist a feeling that if this opportunity is grasped with our eyes on the horizon and our feet on the ground, the prospects for the future of the Commonwealth are bright and what it can contribute to the world in the future is enormous. Here is an opportunity, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who said that,
“the Commonwealth should shed its past diffidence and prepare itself to take a lead in setting the global agenda”.—[Official Report, 10/12/09; col. 1187.]
This would be a moment to raise the recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group and, of course, move forward. However, it is important that the recommendations are not just discussed, talked about and communiqués issued. It is important that a realistic implementation timetable is agreed. Who will take forward the implementation programme is firmly decided and arrangements for monitoring progress are put in place. We now need action and not just words.
The other encouraging development, which has already been mentioned, has been the coalition Government’s more positive and purposeful attitude towards the Commonwealth compared to that of their predecessors. The Foreign Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have raised the profile of the Commonwealth within the FCO. They have spoken about the Commonwealth network as a vital strand of British foreign policy and the potential of the Commonwealth to become a leading voice in the global economy. Their analysis of why a shift in our foreign policy is necessary is compelling. The economic dimension of the Commonwealth is becoming increasingly important, as highlighted in, Trading Places: The “Commonwealth Effect” Revisited, a report published by the Royal Commonwealth Society in 2010.
That report pointed out that the Commonwealth Business Council is the only Commonwealth organisation which explicitly devotes itself to promoting trade and investment. There is further potential for the Commonwealth to nurture these links and this may well make its economic ties more important than its political ties: Rwanda, for example, joined the Commonwealth mainly for economic reasons. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that development, trade and democracy are interrelated, and that good governance and rule of law are central. Without good governance, development and prosperity cannot be sustained. The Commonwealth has a total package at its disposal, which it must exploit.
As we have heard, the Commonwealth is not just an alliance of Governments. It is an association of civil society organisations, the private sector and governments. Unrivalled among global organisations, the Commonwealth can realistically aspire to be a community of democracies. The Commonwealth’s attributes and connections, coupled with informal and unthreatening ways of working, make it well suited for building democratic societies from the ground up for conflict, resolution and mediation. Here is the opportunity with civil society to create what was referred to earlier as a very popular consciousness of the Commonwealth.
Some excellent work is being done by non-governmental organisations—for example, on migration and on issues of gender equality. The Commonwealth is a resilient and enduring force for good. It is a wide network both within and without. Now is the opportunity to grasp this moment with commitment and sharp purpose. I very much hope that the Government will do all in their power to assist with this process of reform and adaptation, in particular with the implementation of the Eminent Persons Group’s recommendations. It would be helpful to hear the Minister tell the House, if the recommendations are accepted, who is likely to lead the implementation of the reform agenda.
My Lords, as always, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper for the way in which she introduces these debates. She is a remarkably dynamic character. As she knows well, dynamics stands for “Do you need a more interesting challenge?”. I have spoken in these debates on many occasions because, in a strange way, I am descended from colonials who failed in the United Kingdom and went to Australia, New Zealand and Canada, or around the world, to try to do well. We Scots were always like that. I am descended from the first Lord Mayor of Melbourne and I was conceived on the beach in Jamaica, so I was told, and which I have reported to your Lordships before.
I do not like this term “common wealth”. At an earlier time, the French always referred to the Commonwealth and thought that the United Kingdom was a republic. I will go back to history in order that we may determine the future by looking at the past. We have had these crises of our economies over time. Perhaps the greatest was in the early 16th century when we had to form the council of trade because our coin was being devalued. That led to what one would today call international development. In those days, it was colonisation. It meant going out to acquire products at the lowest possible price from countries producing things that we needed and sending people out to increase production—whether that was sugar, jute, coir or even minerals.
We have forgotten that we as a nation at the moment have a major balance of trade deficit on manufacturing and that we have to be a worldwide trading nation. We forget, too, that we know these countries and they know us; but over a period of time we forgot what we would now call, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, “soft power”. We still felt that we had some great economic power when becoming an importing nation which needs to source its products. As noble Lords have pointed out, we have the technology to grow anything, anywhere in the world, at any time. We also have our historic relationships; I felt strongly that people in countries that left to become independent territories should have been treated differently and given Commonwealth passports. While I like the generic term Commonwealth—it has been used in the Commonwealth of Independent States across the board—I believe in the opportunities for bilateral relations.
During my time on various trade boards it was thought a good idea to go out to the colonies to see what they made and what they could produce. We forgot to look back at the records at what we had bought and imported. In my office I have a chart which the Department for Transport—the Ministry of Shipping—gave to me when I was trying to save the shipbuilding industry; it shows the position of His Majesty’s ships at sea and in harbour 14 days after my birth in 1937. It also shows what products we imported from which countries—rubber, flax or whatever. It drew to my attention that we were effectively an importing nation that may add value and re-export, and that is probably where we should come to.
We have the opportunity of being the world’s biggest client of individual Commonwealth countries, even if we have to re-export. You can give an order, an offtake agreement, to those countries in Africa which can produce enormous quantities of food—Sudan, for example, was meant to be the breadbasket of the Arab world—to acquire whatever they can produce. It could then be delivered to a particular port to be loaded on any one of the Commonwealth vessels—and these, as your Lordships know, make up 20,000 of the 90,000 vessels floating on the surface of the earth. The coastline of the Commonwealth is the largest in the world, some 44,000 kilometres.
If we look at those coastlines and we go back to Greenwich—which is of course the centre of the world—and we get a Mercator chart out and look down from the sky above from a satellite, beneath us there is an awful lot of sea, which is itself a great asset. Perhaps we should encourage certain initiatives with members of the Commonwealth countries, not least Her Majesty’s overseas territories, dependencies and islands. We have a normal 200-mile limit in the world. I think each of these countries should now declare a 500-mile limit and lay claim to all the resources that may be within or under the sea. If we look at the map, it shows where the resources are.
We as a country have no future as an insulated island; we have the ability, however, to look at soft power and build rapidly upon these historical relationships with Commonwealth countries provided we can bring an economic issue into the equation which will help their economies.
My Lords, it must be a happy day when so many of us are lining up behind the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, to celebrate the Commonwealth and the achievements of the CPA. It is an almost religious occasion. It is not fashionable to be positive about the state of the world at the moment; this weekend we are approaching another much less happy anniversary reminding us of terrorism. This is an important debate in that respect. Having been in New York last week I can confirm that Americans still have that spring in their step which has carried their economy through hard times in the past and has helped more than once to energise the post-war European continent. Whatever we do in foreign policy or in the Commonwealth we must not forget the underlying value of the transatlantic partnership to Europe and the rest of the world.
I, too, was brought up to admire the Commonwealth, not least as the son of a leading Eurosceptic who was the president of the anti-Common Market league and the safeguards campaign, no less. While I was never a supporter of that campaign and I voted for Europe, I have always recognised that this country has long depended on its relations around the world, as much as those in Europe, and those diplomatic and political ties with the Commonwealth remain equally strong and may be getting stronger.
There can be no doubt about the achievements of the Commonwealth and of the CPA; they belong to every sphere of activity and in some ways, as my noble friend Lord Luce suggested, the Commonwealth is the world’s largest NGO. It is this area of interest—the link between national parliaments, civil society and international development—on which I wish to focus. I declare my interest, having worked with several international NGOs and having benefited from visits through the CPA and others to parliaments in Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, India, Nepal and, latterly, South Sudan.
I have read much of what my colleagues and others have written in the excellent CPA conference supplement. They summarise all the splendid values and objectives of the Commonwealth, notably in promoting democracy, human rights and development. There is no need for me to comment on these except to say that they include a number of unattainable targets such as some of the millennium development goals. Our own DfID has been a little more honest than the Commonwealth in explaining that a significant number of the development targets, as we now know, simply cannot be met within the timetable.
Poverty in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, for example, is so acute that the systems we expect to be in place to carry out these targets are just not there and when we try to import or reinforce those systems we are only adding to the logjam of development. Have we got to the point where, remembering Iraq and Afghanistan, our aid is part of the problem and not the solution? This question will, I hope, be answered in part by our development Minister when he comes to report on the comprehensive aid review. Aid effectiveness is now on the agenda not only of our own Parliament but in Europe, Africa and Asia as well, and we must hope that this discussion will lead to beneficial changes and not another layer of government. My sympathies lie outside government, with civil society and with parliaments. Parliaments are very different in character of course—some are representative, some are a pretence or what used to be called a mockery of democracy.
The Africa All-Party Group published a groundbreaking report called Strengthening Parliaments in Africa and this has been important for the CPA in sharing experience and bringing expertise into parliaments. However, I firmly believe that we should go much further than this, through the CPA and other channels, and press for even more engagement between Parliament and the people, and thus draw governments into more meaningful development.
I have found that civil society organisations are, as my noble friend Lady Prashar has said, essential to this process. Human rights, however, illustrate a possible weakness of this engagement though the Commonwealth. My noble friends Lady Prashar and Lady Flather have mentioned the rule of law; my noble friend Lady Stern has written about this from her considerable experience. The New Delhi human rights office needs to be strengthened, CMAG could be more active. There is international support for the rule of law in Africa through the European Union and the African Union in Addis Ababa and this sets a good example for the Commonwealth. In Africa there are many stoic figures in human rights who can carry a torch, men and women, but they need much more back-up.
The independent human rights commissions, which I have visited in Kenya and elsewhere, bravely take up causes, sometimes with the help of the media and civil society, but they lack the political muscle which is sometimes only given to a parallel stooge government commission. Surely the Commonwealth, in the wake of the Harare Declaration, should do more in this area of human rights, which is always the neglected younger sister of development.
Finally, I hope that, like others, we can see a way for South Sudan to join the Commonwealth. Ideally, both parts of Sudan should belong, but there are problems. Let us hope that the conflict along the border will not prevent the south from benefiting directly through the Commonwealth from much wider contact with the region and other countries so that the people have an opportunity of lifting themselves out of poverty.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating my noble friend on securing this important debate, in which I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust. We have been privileged today to hear many eloquent speeches about what an extraordinary institution the Commonwealth is, the benefits it brings and what remarkable opportunities exist for its development. While acknowledging those successes, I believe we must recognise a number of challenging areas where it must play a more forceful role in shaping the future stability and prosperity of its member states and their peoples, and I would like to highlight two of those.
The first relates to equality and the dreadful treatment in too many Commonwealth countries of gay men and women, a subject ignored for far too long by the Commonwealth. It is time for change. There has been some progress in recent years and I commend the Commonwealth Secretary-General for stating that:
“Vilification and targeting on grounds of sexual orientation are at odds with the values of the Commonwealth”.
That comment follows a vital ruling in the High Court in Delhi which led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India, and of course South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Those are positive steps, but I fear they are dwarfed by the oppressive regimes in many other countries. Consider this: homosexual acts are still punishable by life imprisonment in seven Commonwealth states—Bangladesh, Barbados, Guyana, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda. In a further six, they are punishable by hard labour and flogging. Thirty-eight out of 54 member states still criminalise homosexuality, and indeed half of all the countries in the world that criminalise homosexuality are to be found in the Commonwealth. This state of affairs is wholly unacceptable.
There are many terrible examples of the human consequences of this. In Jamaica, sexual assaults on gay women are known by the odious term “corrective rape” and happen far too often. In Uganda, David Kato, a well known gay activist, was brutally murdered, unleashing a campaign of homophobic paranoia in that country. This has appalling implications for public health and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Where anti-homosexual laws exist, gay people are driven underground, away from effective HIV prevention, treatment and care. In Kenya, 42 per cent of gay men have HIV, which is a terrible waste of life. Whereas the Commonwealth once represented a beacon of hope during the start of the HIV pandemic, HIV now rampages within far too many Commonwealth countries with terrible consequences. It is now time for the Commonwealth to give a firm lead on this fundamental issue of human rights. Two years ago at CHOGM in Trinidad, many NCOs, notably the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, called attention to the issue of homophobia and its impact on the spread of HIV, but the call was met with a deafening silence. The issue must be on the agenda in Perth, and the meeting should be the beginning of a constant effort by Commonwealth leaders to make it central to a new human rights agenda. As the Secretary-General has said:
“The Commonwealth operates through encouragement not coercion”.
Let such encouragement begin now and in earnest.
My second issue is that of press freedom, and I declare an interest accordingly as chairman of the Press Standards Board of Finance. Press freedom is important to developing countries, not just as a matter of principle, but because it is a vital precursor to successful economic growth and social progress. There are some Commonwealth countries where the record on press freedom is execrable. In the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, many member states languish near the bottom of the table, with Rwanda an appalling 169th, in close proximity to North Korea and Iran. But the Commonwealth does take this matter seriously and recently there have been considerable gains in press freedom in Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia. In a number of other countries, Governments have moved away from the repressive architecture of state media control to allow the press the ability to self-regulate. Sri Lanka has made considerable progress in this area and there have also been significant strides in Bermuda, Vanuatu, Samoa and Namibia among others.
But my greatest fear is that funnily enough it is events in this country, the font of Commonwealth democracy and individual freedoms, which now cast a pall over further progress. For it is Britain, with a history of press freedom stretching back over many centuries, which has always been the shining example for those seeking such freedoms for themselves. For years we have assisted those seeking to move away from state control of the media, not just through our leadership but through practical help, as happened with the establishment of a press complaints commission in Sri Lanka. But now there are threatening noises here. Self-regulation has “failed”, we are told; the press must be “controlled”. “Independent regulation” is the way forward. How the repressive regimes in many member states must be cheering that. Let us be in no doubt that they will use what happens here as an excuse to crack down on the budding of a free press in their own countries. Already it has begun in Sri Lanka, and the runes are ominous in Namibia, Zambia and Botswana. I fear that others may follow, and that would be a tragedy.
I am deeply anxious that intemperate language about press freedom in this country could rebound to the long-term detriment of all member states in the Commonwealth, when what we should be doing is showing a leadership role. I would therefore urge the Government to make clear in Perth that this country continues passionately to believe in a free press, and will continue to do all it can to ensure that the ancient liberties we enjoy in this country are increasingly widely shared across the Commonwealth. That would be a great achievement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing me to speak in place of my noble friend Lord Triesman without giving proper notice, and I thank the government Chief Whip for facilitating this. I apologise on behalf of my noble friend Lord Triesman for his unavoidable absence.
We all owe a sincere thank you to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this debate. It has been a great debate which has triggered some absolutely fascinating and, for me, educative contributions. She summarised very well the excellent work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and certainly the Opposition want to join her in celebrating its work on the occasion of its centenary. There have also been some great contributions from around the House. I have learnt a lot from the noble Lords, Lord Luce and Lord Glenarthur, who both have great experience; and from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, who spoke most movingly about the grass-roots work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. We all pay tribute to that.
My own views on the Commonwealth are very similar to those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe. I am pro-Europe and I am pro-Commonwealth, and I do not see one as a substitute for the other. Indeed, I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, probably feels much the same. Perhaps I may say that this was embodied in my own family. My father-in-law, who was a Member of this House before he died, George Thomson, served as a Commonwealth Secretary in the Wilson Governments and as one of our first European Commissioners, so that is as pro-Europe and pro-Commonwealth as anyone can be.
A lot of people contributing to the debate have talked about what the Commonwealth meant to them personally. It certainly does not mean to me what it means to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who was conceived on a Jamaica beach, and I do not want to annoy the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London because obviously the Commonwealth is one of the great foundation stones of the Anglican Communion. However, the notable features of this debate were speeches from two Methodist ministers—my noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. It was in chapel in my home town of Carlisle that I learnt the virtues of the Commonwealth. We had fairly well drummed into us, although it did not have to be drummed very much, the problems of world poverty and the essential need for racial equality, both of which were seen through the prism of the Commonwealth. These values, plus those of democracy and human rights, were for me as a youngster what the Commonwealth was all about.
Let me make one general point before I ask the Minister some questions. I think that we need to be clear about what the Commonwealth is and what it is not. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, described the Commonwealth as a voluntary association of nations, but I think that it is more than that. I think that the Commonwealth should aspire to be a living network of values, sustained not just at the political level but at the people-to-people level, which many Members of the House have stressed. However, to be honest, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, that the Commonwealth is a kind of fool’s substitute for a proper foreign policy in the modern world. It is not a defence and security organisation or a trade bloc; it is not NATO or the EU, which are vital pillars of our economic security and our position in the world.
In describing the Commonwealth, I applauded the fact that, under this Government, it was becoming a major strand of foreign policy. I certainly did not intend to suggest—and I do not think that I did—that that was to the exclusion of many other important strands.
Of course, I was not trying to suggest that, but there is a little bit of a danger in the present Government’s discourse if you think about the three circles of influence of the past 60 years. There is clearly a weakening of the transatlantic tie with the United States, in that America is looking more Pacific-wards, it has its own economic problems and it does not think that Europe has stood up to the plate in world conflicts. Then we have all the problems with our relationship with the European Union, from which many Members of the party opposite would like to distance us. Given that that is happening to two of the three circles, I do not think that we can imagine that the Commonwealth is a substitute for those. I see the Commonwealth as playing a very big supplementary role in foreign policy because, as a multilateral organisation, it is an instrument of soft power. We should see it as a network of influence and values that can aid us in achieving our objectives.
On questions for the Minister, I want to ask first about the people-to-people aspects of the Commonwealth. I was very struck by the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that about 50 per cent of the Commonwealth’s citizens are young people. What ideas do the Government have for strengthening links between young people within the Commonwealth? That brings me to the point about higher education made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, because there is no doubt that in the last few decades our universities have lost out in appealing to Commonwealth students—he mentioned the case of postgraduate medical students. How do we once again make our universities the first choice? Of course, we need to make sure that Immigration Rules do not stop that happening, which is a very important point.
On civil society links, the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, gave as a good example the Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth. We need those kinds of links. How can we build on the initiative that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, spoke of so warmly in terms of raising consciousness about the need for girls’ education, which is an absolutely vital development issue?
On the government-to-government aspect of the Commonwealth relationship, what leverage can we exercise and what issues will the British Government put on the table as they try to strengthen the influence and role of the Commonwealth? As we have seen in this debate, there is clearly a role in climate change, both in highlighting the risks to the very survival of the island states in the Pacific and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, mentioned, in persuading rich countries that they cannot become climate deniers—we have to be blunt with people like the Canadians, who have to live up to their responsibilities.
On the human rights issues that the noble Lord, Lord Black of Brentwood, mentioned, on migration which the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, mentioned, and on the corruption issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, mentioned, how are we going to prioritise these topics for discussion? How are we going to use positively the opportunity of membership of the Commonwealth to improve people’s situation—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, spoke about Somaliland’s membership? Conversely, how can the Commonwealth be used as a sanction? The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, gave the example of the actions taken by the Fijian Government against the Methodist Church and we have the very big example of Zimbabwe. How in future do we play this mix of incentives and sanctions? What are the Government’s proposals for strengthening the Commonwealth secretariat, including its funding, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, mentioned?
This has been an excellent debate, which has shown the value of the House of Lords, has been well attended and has included some excellent contributions. It has celebrated the cross-party work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association—long may that continue—and it has demonstrated that the Commonwealth remains a good and great cause. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I would like to see the sun rise once again on the Commonwealth, but it will do so only on the basis of a proper analysis of its true potential as a unique instrument of benevolent influence in our very troubled world.
My Lords, I cannot disguise my pleasure for this occasion this afternoon, or do anything to reduce or diminish my very warm gratitude to my noble friend Lady Hooper for initiating the debate. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that this is a happy day when we have heard so much skill, expertise and insights about the possibilities of the future, not about the baggage of the past—although some of the baggage of the past, not all of it of course, one is proud enough to carry—that have made this a terrific debate. I know that that is the normal phraseology, but in this case I really mean it.
Let me start with the comments of my noble friend Lady Hooper, who launched us into the debate. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which she focused on to begin with, is a marvellous example of the non-governmental Commonwealth network that is really at the heart of what makes the Commonwealth unlike other multinational organisations and more attuned to the 21st century than many of the organisations that we inherited from the 20th century.
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association celebrated its centenary this year. That in July 1911 it was called the Empire Parliamentary Association is a reminder of its historical links, but July’s conference here, which I attended, showed how far it has come from that. We talked about Commonwealth mark 1, mark 2 and mark 3, and we are moving into a new pattern altogether. The more than 600 participants demonstrated the staggering diversity and yet unity of the Commonwealth, covering a huge range of cultures, religions and races with every country, as one of your Lordships rightly reminded us, on an equal footing—large and small, richer and not so rich, mighty and developing and holding back for the time being.
Of course, there is a very long way to go; your Lordships have all recognised that. The Commonwealth needs to have a more forceful role, as my noble friend Lord Black, one of the final contributors to the debate, has just reminded us, especially in the field of human rights, in matters such as sexual differentiation, and in other issues and the rights of minorities. Indeed, only last week I attended an amazing gathering at the Commonwealth Advisory Bureau, which was also attended by Justice Albie Sachs, who lost an arm when it was blown off by a bomb planted in his car. He has campaigned brilliantly down the years for homosexual rights in South Africa and throughout the Commonwealth.
All this sums up why the Government have made a powerful commitment to upgrading the UK’s relationships with the Commonwealth network, and strengthening it as a focus for democracy, development and prosperity. Next month’s Heads of Government meeting at Perth—the so-called CHOGM; I do not like the sound of that word, but that is what they call it—at which these recommendations will be discussed, has the potential to be a defining moment for the future of the Commonwealth. It provides an opportunity for this organisation to take its rightful place on the global platform and in the 21st century global system.
I would go a little further even than that and say that I think that from the point of view of Britain and this Government, of which I am a member, the Commonwealth marks out our country with a degree of exceptionalism. We have links, developed in the past from our own experience and from the way we have handled the unwinding of the old Empire and old Commonwealth while yet developing new friendships, and this gives the UK an exceptionalism that I think many people are looking for in a world in which we are constantly threatened by homogenisation and unification, and being submerged in the greater blocs that the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, rightly suggested were a thing of the past.
When one thinks about the millions of people in our own country with Commonwealth connections, Commonwealth origins, Commonwealth relatives, Commonwealth links and Commonwealth memories, it is probable that this could be the unifying national narrative that many people feel we need in this country at the moment. Many people argued during the stormy days of August here that this was a necessary or missing part of our own social culture. Dare I even say that one could see the Commonwealth—something that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said reminded me of this—as the big society writ large. I hope I am not pushing too much of a line of thought representing one party or another, because of course this whole matter stretches right across our parties, our Parliament and our institutions.
We must not get carried away. It is of course true that the Commonwealth has its faults and problems. It does not have the executive power or the resources of many other multinational institutions. In consequence, I am afraid, it is from time to time sneered at by ill-informed columnists. I should hasten to say that we have some very good columnists, but alas we have an ample supply of the ill-informed. They do not understand that in this age of citizen empowerment it is the voluntarily and grass-roots-supported nature of the Commonwealth network, with its enormous latticework of trans-Commonwealth linkages not just at government level but at sub-governmental level—on the professional, social, cultural, scientific, judicial, and educational levels, mentioned by several of your Lordships, as well as business, agricultural and technical levels—which makes the Commonwealth such an amazingly relevant organisation for this information age and such a huge pool of potential opportunities for all who belong to it, not least our own country, the United Kingdom. That is what gives the Commonwealth its deep-rooted power and influence, such as no other international institution can offer its members, and it explains why today so many nations are anxious to be associated with it, or are indeed queuing up to join it, a point which too many members of our own media seem to comprehend only dimly, if at all. The marvellous thing this afternoon is that your Lordships comprehend it, which must give some people at any rate very great encouragement.
Let me turn to a number of the specific points that have been made. I shall try to comment on almost everybody’s arguments, but I shall not be able to cover all the points that were made. My noble friend who opened the debate referred to the CPA and to the educational element that binds the Commonwealth together. There is much more to do, and the right reverend Prelate emphasised the tasks ahead in bringing the young people of the Commonwealth into closer linkages through links between Commonwealth schools and so on; I will say a word about that in a moment. We are expanding the Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships Plan and it is my hope that we have more to come on that front, so I can assure noble Lords that the crucial importance of education, at primary, secondary, higher and postgraduate levels, is not for a moment lost from sight.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, expressed—and I think it was a valuable input to the debate—some scepticism about putting too much emphasis on what the Commonwealth network stands for and can achieve. As he rightly said, soft power is the thing. Several of your Lordships mentioned the nature of the emotional and reputational value of soft power in the new landscape of this completely changed world, and the way in which soft power can bring in hard cash—by people turning to this nation, a trading nation, for our services, our goods and our exports—if we handle the soft power side of things in the right way.
The noble Lord talked about the need to beef up the human rights element, and the need for a new commissioner. That, of course, is one of the proposals of the Eminent Persons Groups, which has been much mentioned in the debate, that there should be a new commissioner for human rights, democracy and good governance. That EPG proposal is one that Her Majesty’s Government will back. The question then arises: will it happen? I cannot answer that. We are going to Perth to argue through these things with 53 other nations, many of which have very firm views on how the EPG ideas should be processed. We will push them very hard indeed and put our full backing behind them, but it is a democratic organisation and I cannot guarantee that all members will come out in this way. Nevertheless, we are hopeful that the general aims of the EPG—to upgrade and reinvigorate the Commonwealth and bring it to its own standards of strong commitment to human rights, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and good governance—will be seen to be the values of the future that make the Commonwealth what it is.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, also mentioned another matter that I am hesitant to mention as it is not really my business: the position of the Republic of Ireland. I refer to it only because I think no less than three or four of your Lordships all referred to the Republic of Ireland and the Commonwealth. I would have to say from this Dispatch Box that it is of course entirely a matter for the Government in Dublin and the Republic of Ireland to decide their attitudes towards these matters, but I put down a marker that there is obviously a strong consciousness and interest in this House about that matter. It is a rather fascinating thought when one puts it in its historical perspective.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey, who is very active in all these fields, mentioned the need to commit ourselves to the EPG aims. We do. The establishment of a commissioner is just one of them; the charter is another. There is a whole string of ideas and proposals for upgrading the Commonwealth, for giving the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group—CMAG—more teeth and making it more proactive, and for bringing home to everyone in the Commonwealth the idea that reform of the Commonwealth will help.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and several others, pointed out that these are two sides of the same thing: more democracy and more commitment to values and the rule of law equals more attraction for investment, more trust, more trade, more people ready to commit their resources to a country where they know there will be no knock on the door from the police in the middle of the night or some corrupt device removing investments and assets from the person who owns them.
Trust is the key to this. There was some derision of the new language in talking about badges and brands for the Commonwealth, but in this transparent age that is really what is needed. There should be trust among business investors as to which countries they can safely operate in and which less so. With high standards, the Commonwealth becomes a sort of brand—dare I say, a sort of kitemark—for investment, which alone will be the main driver in lifting nations out of poverty and low-income.
The right reverend Prelate was the first to raise the big theme of young people in the Commonwealth. Half the Commonwealth are very young people. The case for more linkages and even involvement in the national curricula of the Commonwealth is a very good one, which I have made to the Department for Education here myself. He also mentioned, as did many others, the climate and energy issues. That is a fascinating area, because many smaller Commonwealth members face a hideous dilemma: how do you find the energy and power—electricity, if you like—to start the development that lifts villages in remote areas out of poverty in a low-carbon way? It has to be an inexpensive way, as they cannot afford the expensive diesel and other fossil fuels that they are having to import. They need low-carbon green electricity, but of course green power is very expensive. There is a gap to be filled there and the Commonwealth can play a part in that. I think it will be on the agenda at Perth.
My noble and learned friend Lord Howe told us about yet another fascinating element of his glittering career, when he led an African military operational unit. He then turned to the issue of Somaliland, which my noble friend Lord Luce also mentioned. There is a difficulty. First, Somaliland is obviously not a nation at present, so even if the 54 nations of the Commonwealth were to consider it, it would not qualify. The question then arises about the recognition of Somaliland as separate from the whole Somalia complex. I ask noble Lords to consider the dangers that if one goes for fragmentation in that area, plenty of other bits and pieces there would also fragment with very great dangers, possibly with bloodshed pursuing.
Meanwhile, to put a positive note into this, there is just a chance that the new Transitional Federal Government in Mogadishu is at last getting established. The al-Shabaab terrorist groups have withdrawn from Mogadishu. There is a possibility that Somaliland would be able to find the right relationship of reasonable autonomy within the Somalia complex. It would be a pity at this very moment to turn things in another direction, so one has to be very careful about encouraging any fragmentation trends in that area.
Fiji, and the attack on the Methodist community there, was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. We are working with Commonwealth colleagues. I was personally involved in these matters down in Vanuatu last year at the Pacific Islands Forum. My colleague Jeremy Browne is down there this year, at this moment, trying to see how we can get ways of getting better dialogue and bringing home to the Fijians that their pattern of government really must be less dictatorial. It is not at all easy, but the pressure is there and is organised. Both we and Australia, and other countries in the area including New Zealand, are very much involved in seeing how this can be carried forward constructively.
My noble friend Lord Roberts mentioned that he was the second Welshman to speak in this debate. Well, I can tell him that here is the third Welshman speaking now. The carnival of Commonwealth music sounds a terrific idea and I hope I get the chance to visit it.
I have a number of comments on the very interesting ideas from the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, about unifying health education and health training for graduates throughout the Commonwealth. I am advised that the Commonwealth scholarship system provides for UK medical professionals, while the Commonwealth Health Ministers meeting gets support from the Commonwealth Secretariat for its dialogue on medical issues. That does not quite meet what I think the noble Lord was saying and I would like to write to him on his interesting and precise details. I am very glad that my noble friend Lady Gardner is here. She described the ways in which that was a little precarious at times, but it has come out the right way and we enormously value her contributions on the Commonwealth, of which she is such a distinguished member. The Commonwealth Foundation came into the debate from my noble friend Lord Luce. That is being reset. There are new ideas, which will be brought forward at Perth, about how that foundation, which has been through some difficult times, can be strengthened. He also mentioned the Somaliland issues, which I have dealt with.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh, who stands on a marvellous platform on these issues, mentioned Sri Lanka. We want to see Sri Lanka come up to Commonwealth standards and to position itself so that it can be a responsible host for a future CHOGM in two years’ time. However, there are of course difficulties and we are trying to develop a much better dialogue than we have had in the past. On South Sudan, yes, we support its membership. It is of course up to the whole Commonwealth, all 54 members, but we think it is a good idea and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has said so in terms.
Is there a loud enough voice in the Commonwealth, asked my noble friend Lord Glenarthur? No, I do not think that there is; the Secretariat must speak up. The Commonwealth is emerging as a major force in dealing with global trends, of which one is the Chinese developing their interests all over the Indian Ocean. What is the alternative to that Chinese interest? It is no longer America or the Atlantic but possibly the great Commonwealth unity of nations. We need a stronger voice in the Commonwealth for what we stand for, and for how we can bring the stability and relief from poverty to this modern world more effectively.
I mentioned agriculture, which my noble friend Lord Gardiner quite rightly referred to. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was right to emphasise the rule of law. My noble friend Lord Flight talked about Hong Kong, which is very interesting. It is a gateway to China and a former member of the Commonwealth. Some of its members still turn up on an informal basis at Commonwealth meetings, which is a very good linkage to have to the great Chinese markets. Generally, I agree with my noble friend that there is ahead a vast expansion of intra-Commonwealth trade and that some of the figures mentioned may not be so wide of the mark. New trade routes are opening up all the time, criss-crossing between members of the Commonwealth. They are not necessarily coming through London but developing an entirely new pattern of development, trade and investment in capital flows.
My noble friend Lady Benjamin talked about celebrations outside London. These already happen in Cardiff on Commonwealth Day and should happen elsewhere so that other cities can be encouraged to participate. She mentioned the vexed question of passenger duty. I can tell her that a process of consultation on the structure was launched and is under way and that the APD has been frozen for this year, so the Government are looking at this and are well aware of the feelings of unfairness about the structure.
My noble friend Lord Lexden asked whether this was a turning point for the whole Commonwealth. I believe that it is and that we are going into an entirely new pattern that is much more associated with the fabric of international relations than in the past. As the noble Lord, Lord Rogan, said, the Commonwealth has a powerful future and it could, as my noble friend Lord Popat said, be a driver for economic development and for liberalising trade. The Foreign Secretary has emphasised those points.
Action is needed and not just words, said the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, quite rightly, reminding us again of the link between democracy and rule of law on the one hand and economic development on the other—the two go together. There is also the support of the Commonwealth for gender equality and other social aims, which are sometimes not given enough prominence in international or United Nations circles.
The noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, gave us his unique historical perspective, as he often does, and reminded us about the criss-cross nature of trade within the Commonwealth. I have already mentioned the noble Lord, Lord Black, but he made some very powerful points about human rights. Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, asked questions about young people. Half the people of the Commonwealth are young. We have to deliver real Commonwealth gains, and not just rhetoric and high-sounding speeches, for young people in employment, education, opportunities and travel.
We have mentioned the climate issues, which are very important for the smaller nations. There is a whole organisation focused entirely on migration problems throughout the Commonwealth, which are considerable but which I do not have the time to go into. He raised the issue of Somaliland again and what sanctions we can bring to bear on the miscreants—the Zimbabweans, who walked out in a huff but would have been sacked anyway—and Fiji, which is suspended. These are problem areas that can be addressed by careful Commonwealth co-operation and subtle dialogue and pressures. They are matters that will all be on the agenda at Perth.
Perth could be a defining moment for the Commonwealth. Heads will need to take bold and vital decisions in response to the EPG recommendations, which will shape the role of this unique organisation, so that it may have more impact in the future. None of us should shy away from the difficulties that will be involved in the EPG proposals when they come to be discussed by 54 nations; we should be quite frank about this. Alongside the Heads of Government Meeting there will be a meeting of the Commonwealth business forum and a number of other meetings of Commonwealth organisations, all of which will help to reinforce the realisation that the Commonwealth has a powerful role and place in the future.
I repeat that the CPA has an integral role in reinvigorating the Commonwealth and helping to put the Commonwealth and its networks on a firmer footing for the future. My right honourable friend, the Foreign Secretary, said the other day:
“The Commonwealth not only occupies a special place in our affections and our history here in Britain; it is a cornerstone of our foreign policy, alongside our role in the EU”—
which the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, mentioned—
“our membership of NATO and our Special Relationship with the United States of America. It plays a key role in our thinking as we adjust to the new international landscape and the rise of the emerging economic titans of Asia, Africa and Latin America”.
As Her Majesty the Queen said, the Commonwealth is,
“in lots of ways the face of the future”.
The Government share Her Majesty’s ambition that the Commonwealth becomes a central platform of the international landscape, representing an enlightened and responsible association that plays an active role in shaping the direction that our world is moving in and the destinies of this nation as well.
My Lords, this debate has amply fulfilled my hope that a wide variety of issues would be raised by those with a real personal knowledge and background in them. We have heard about healthcare, agriculture, climate change, specific projects, voluntary groups and partnerships. I was particularly fascinated to hear about the diocese of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London and its relationship with Mozambique, one of the newest members of the Commonwealth. The consensus over the importance and value of education at all levels must be followed up to ensure that it is promoted by the Commonwealth in appropriate ways. I am glad to hear from my noble friend that the Commonwealth scholarship scheme is to be extended.
I particularly liked the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, referred to the role of the Queen as the ingredient that makes the chemistry of the Commonwealth work. The Queen plays an invaluable role and is much loved and appreciated throughout the Commonwealth.
Today is a Conservative day for debate and I am most grateful to the Government Chief Whip for making it possible at such a suitable time after the CPA conference in July and just before CHOGM. I am also delighted that the tone of the debate had a very cross-party feel, which I feel was entirely appropriate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on stepping in so admirably at the last moment, and I thank the Minister for his comprehensive wind-up. Finally, my thanks go to all your Lordships for your support and rich contributions to this important debate. I beg leave to withdraw the motion.