House of Lords
Thursday 22 March 2018
A minute’s silence was observed to remember the terror attack on Westminster on 22 March 2017.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.
Media: Press Sustainability
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the recently launched review of press sustainability in the United Kingdom will have the power to call for evidence; whether all such evidence received will be published; and whether all meetings held as part of the review will be public.
My Lords, the Cairncross review into the sustainability of the national and local press is being led by an external chair, Dame Frances Cairncross, with support from an advisory panel. It is not a statutory inquiry and will therefore not have the statutory powers to compel witnesses to give evidence, nor will it be required to hold meetings in public. Dame Frances will determine the process for gathering evidence in due course.
I am obliged to the Minister and congratulate him on his ability to switch effortlessly from subject to subject overnight; it is almost legendary. I welcome the review, and congratulate the department on its distinguished choice of chair and on assembling what looks like a knowledgeable and expert advisory panel. I am sorry that the evidence is not going to be published automatically and that the hearings will not be in public, but I hope that the chair will see the wisdom of doing that and look forward to seeing how events develop. Does the Minister agree that, given that the aim of the review is to secure high-quality journalism, the remit is oddly framed with its focus on the market environment and on consumers rather than citizens? Given the recent news, will he confirm that section 1.5 of the remit will allow the review to investigate and report on the ways in which social media have clearly been influencing opinion ahead of elections and referenda? If not, who will look at that?
Ultimately, the scope of the review will be a matter for the chair. It is going to be an independent, expert review but clearly it is intended to address the issue of the local press, where we have seen such impact from digital media in the past 10 years.
Does the Minister accept that the press will not be able to go back to its old role of doing news in small bits? It will need to do a deeper analysis and to focus on what is true news and go deeper into it. Some newspapers are beginning to do that—not before time. Will he take on board the importance of the British public being able to get in-depth and thoughtful news, as well as instant news? The two are important, but they are different.
We recognise that Impress is now recognised by the PRP and that some but not many newspapers at a national level have engaged with it. We also recognise the importance of IPSO and, indeed, of those newspapers, such as the Guardian and the Financial Times, which have instigated their own independent review positions.
My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who was a director of a local media company until a month ago, when it sold up. Could my noble and learned friend please explain to the House what in fact the Government mean by sustainability in this context?
We have to identify a model by which the local and national press can continue to deliver what is required of an independent and informed news source. That has been the subject of change, clearly; we have passed from the days when a piece of journalism could be accompanied by an advertisement and, therefore, self-sustaining. We have to look at how we can sustain our media in future.
My Lords, will the Minister not consider that his one-word reply to my noble friend Lord Razzall holds only till the next newspaper scandal hits us? Will he not accept that we still have a media self-regulating in its own self-interest, and that the abandonment of Leveson 2 is a massive missed opportunity, given that data is now today’s headline?
My Lords, will the Minister comment on the excellent scheme that is the levy on the BBC for local democratic reporting, and whether some of the very large international platforms should not have a levy on them to ensure that we can expand such a scheme?
NHS: US Companies
My Lords, it is in the best interests of patients that, as currently, the NHS continues to consider any UK or overseas organisation wishing to bid for contracts, provided that the NHS’s high standards are met. However, private companies are not legally guaranteed any right to bid for these contracts through an FTA. The Government will continue to protect the UK’s right to regulate public services in all trade agreements to which it is party.
The Minister will be aware that I have had a number of exchanges about the likely agenda for the negotiations on the USA-UK trade deal. I have been seeking to establish whether the NHS will be part of those negotiations, and I have been told that vigorous protection will be given to the NHS. Is not the most vigorous protection that could be given not to have it on the agenda at all?
I can reassure the noble Lord again—I know that some Written Answers have been given to him. Protecting the NHS is of the utmost importance to the UK as we leave the EU. The Government will continue to ensure that decisions about public services are made by UK Governments, not by our trade partners. As we leave the EU, the UK will also continue to ensure that rigorous protections for the NHS are included in all trade agreements that it is party to.
My Lords, does my noble friend not accept that the anxiety that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has would arise if the EU proposals in respect of TTIP were implemented? Is not the glory of leaving the European Union the fact that we will be able to decide this for ourselves?
My noble friend is right. The main point to make is that the same strong safeguards as we have now will be in place once we leave the EU. These include: that all providers of NHS healthcare in the UK must meet our standards of safety and quality; that staff must be registered with UK regulatory bodies; that decisions on which services to provide are locally led by clinicians; and that NHS hospitals will remain state owned.
Does the Minister accept that there is a considerable lack of transparency in the discussions taking place in the US-UK trade working group currently under way? If the group had been set up under the aegis of the European trade rules there would have been a scoping exercise about the breadth of the discussions, which would have been published, and the Commission and the Council would have sought a mandate from the European Parliament. Is it not unacceptable that Britain’s representatives in the European Parliament would have a greater degree of oversight over any discussions than its representatives in this Parliament would? That is perhaps why, under TTIP, access to the National Health Service was indeed excluded.
The noble Lord raised the question of transparency. Perhaps I may point out to him that, as we set out in the White Paper Preparing for our Future UK Trade Policy, we are committed to a transparent and inclusive trade policy. So it is there in writing, and the noble Lord should be reassured.
My Lords, do the Government recognise the article published in the Times highlighting our propensity to sell off valuable assets from healthcare, particularly inventions, at knock-down prices, thereby missing out, historically, on the profits that come from them? Do they recognise that the NHS data itself is extremely valuable to different companies across healthcare? Will they ensure that it is not sold off at a knock-down price without all the protections in place that are required for long-term confidentiality, and that we will reap the benefits of having an NHS that collects data?
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I have already made it quite clear that the strong safeguards in place now will remain in place. The barriers to entry for companies outside the UK are very high. On the other hand, it is important that patients come first, and that medicines and drugs for them that come in, very necessarily, from outside the UK, continue to do so. That is one of the things under discussion.
My Lords, does the Minister concede that American companies are already playing a big part in the running of the NHS? Is he aware of the Written Answer given to me by the noble Lord, Lord O’Shaughnessy, last October, which, talking about one of the three companies that oversee the supply of agency nurses used by every trust in the UK, stated:
“We can confirm that Health Trust Europe”—
one of the three—
“is owned by Health Care America and is a privately owned company”.
Will the Minister not come clean and tell us what part American companies play in running the NHS?
I do not think there is anything to come clean about, because I have already reassured the House that no privatisations will take place, and there is no privatisation in place now. The Government’s position is that the NHS is now, and always will be, a public service free at the point of need, and that it is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic. No trade agreements will ever alter these fundamental facts.
I do not believe that there is any evidence for that, but I remind my noble friend and the House that, to ensure that important drugs and medicines came in from the outside, it was the Labour Government in 2003 that brought in the ISTCs, which allowed privately owned companies to supply the NHS.
The Labour Government brought in some private sector involvement to reduce the waiting lists that had grown during the Conservative years, and which are now growing again. The Minister needs to address the question that my noble friend asked about the penetration of American companies into the UK health market already, and what that will mean. He could take a lesson from his noble and learned friend Lord Keen—a simple “no” to my noble friend’s Question at the beginning of this debate would have sufficed.
My Lords, if I have this correct, the Royal Free has already transferred to DeepMind—a subsidiary of Google—in excess of 1 million health records to be used as part of its AI development programme. Would the Minister care to rethink some of the answers that he had given to this House in the light of that?
Following up on the question asked by my noble friend, the Minister gave an assurance that NHS data will not be sold off at a knock-down price. Will he will give an assurance to the House that NHS data will not be sold off at all? The NHS needs to benefit over time from that incredibly valuable resource.
My Lords, as a matter of principle, the Government prefer effective self-regulation over statutory regulation. In the case of the advertising industry, we support the system of co-regulation and self-regulation for broadcast and non-broadcast advertising, enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority. We believe that this regulatory system works well for consumers and advertisers, and we support the previous Government’s assessment in its 2013 policy paper that the ASA is an exemplar of successful self-regulation.
Effective, yes. My Lords, last July I saw an ad in the New Statesman for magnetic stimulation treatment for Alzheimer’s. I guessed it was not effective and I complained to the ASA. Yesterday, eight months on, it upheld my complaint, but now nothing happens. No one is fined or reprimanded; no one has to contact the people who bought this machine on a false prospectus, let alone compensate them for being misled. Is the Minister really happy with that self-regulatory system with no enforcement? Will she agree to discuss with the ASA, whose chair is in the House, whether better consumer protection could be developed?
I can understand that the time delay was frustrating for the problem the noble Baroness mentioned. It took time because the ASA is sensible at bringing in outside expert advice when it needs to be sought to get the right decision. The ASA can deploy sanctions of various degrees of severity on advertisers it regards as non-compliant. These sanctions are usually proactively taken by the ASA. It is certainly very independent in the way it looks at things.
My Lords, the dangers of self-regulation were referred to not long ago by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. Does the Minister not share my concern about the way in which the ASA is not accountable to anybody? It is funded by the advertisers, the chair is appointed by the advertisers’ funding council, the council is appointed by the chair, the code of practice is written by the industry, the chair and the council provide oversight, and it is not even subject to freedom of information. It is hermetically sealed. This is not right under 21st-century governance principles.
There are a lot of questions for me to answer there. As far as funding is concerned, the ASA is indeed independent. It is funded by levies on the advertising spend, which seems fair since it is the advertisers that it is regulating. It is collected at arm’s length by two bodies—the advertising and broadcasting standards boards of finance—to maintain the independence of the system, ensuring that the ASA decisions are not influenced by those who may or may not be funding the system. Also, the board is fully independent, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Currie, who I believe is here today, and two-thirds of the council members are independent.
My Lords, last year Google paid UK tax of £36 million on £5.6 billion in turnover. For Facebook, the figures were £5 million of tax on £1.8 billion in turnover. The Minister will know that the EU has proposed a 3% turnover tax to stop this gigantic tax injustice. Does she agree that it would be better to use statutes to make internet giants pay fair taxes than to amend the status of the ASA, which, as she says, is an exemplar of self-regulation? A Lord Keen answer would be okay.
Certainly, online advertising takes up over half of all the ASA’s work. The self-regulating system allows for flexibility to take on additional responsibilities. The ASA has also developed new sanctions to help tackle harmful, offensive and misleading advertising contact online where there is no traditional gatekeeper. I may have to get back to the noble Lord on the question of tax, which is slightly beyond my brief.
Would the noble Baroness perhaps return to the original Question from my noble friend on the Front Bench regarding the effectiveness of any sanctions that the ASA may have at its disposal or, indeed, choose to use? As we have just heard, the online world is extremely fast-moving, so it is very hard for any organisation to have proper oversight of what is going on there because it is not very transparent. It is very difficult to see how consumers are getting effective redress, even when complaints are upheld.
I understand where the noble Baroness is coming from. Obviously, this is such a fast-changing world. The ASA does indeed have strong sanctions that it can deploy if the advertising industry is not doing as it is meant to be doing. There is ultimate referral to the trading standards department if there is a breach of consumer protection law, and it can consider stronger sanctions, as I said, if advertisers persistently break the code of the ASA rulings.
I thank my noble friend for her question. In July 2017, strict rules came into effect banning the advertising of HFSS food and drink products. The new CAP rules state:
“Ads that directly or indirectly promote an HFSS product cannot appear in children’s media. Ads for HFSS products cannot appear in other media where children make up over 25% of the audience. Ads for HFSS products will not be allowed to use promotions, licensed characters and celebrities popular with children”.
We are now trying to get advertisers to use these techniques to better promote healthier options for children.
My Lords, the Minister understandably could not answer all the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, but will she undertake to look at those questions, answer them and place the answers in the Library, and see whether it is not time for a thorough review of the governance of the ASA?
Gambling: Fixed-odds Betting Terminals
My Lords, the consultation on gaming machines and social responsibility measures closed on 23 January, and all responses are currently being considered. An impact assessment was published alongside the consultation in October and any additional evidence submitted, including on social costs related to FOBTs, will be taken into consideration. It was made clear at consultation that the stakes on FOBTs would be reduced, and the final position will be published in due course.
My Lords, these particular machines are a modern-day scourge which create misery and deepen poverty. Unemployed people are more likely to play these games than any other group. Citizens Advice has shown that, for every addict, six to 10 other adults are directly and adversely affected. The children and families of addicts are simply bewildered at the Gambling Commission’s suggestion that a stake of up to £30 might be acceptable. Will the noble Baroness assure the House that the needs of the vulnerable will be placed above concerns about either tax revenue or the gambling lobby, and that a £2 stake is the only answer?
I agree with the right reverend Prelate. Addiction to gambling has far-reaching, distressing outcomes, as we all know. We have made it clear that FOBT stakes will be cut. We are taking into account all relevant responses and evidence, and we will come to a decision soon. I am not aware that my right honourable friend the Chancellor has suggested that we cannot make cuts to FOBTs because of revenue.
My Lords, there is no doubt that the £1.8 billion that FOBTs generate for the gambling industry is a consideration. Like many noble Lords, I am extremely disappointed at the response of the Gambling Commission, which seems to have responded more to the needs of the gambling industry than the needs of our communities. These machines are roulette tables in every high street, where some can place £50 stakes every second or so, generating huge amounts of debt. In times past, we had strict controls and regulations on casinos; now it is all open. It is time that the Government responded. The Gambling Commission response does not abrogate the Government’s responsibilities to tackle this issue.
I agree with what the noble Lord says. We want to see a healthy gambling industry that responsibly generates investment and employment, but that must not be at the cost of those who are most vulnerable. Indeed, the consultation on changes to gaming machines and social responsibility was launched on 31 October and closed on 23 January, and we are now considering the responses before publishing our response. The Gambling Commission’s is only one of the responses that we will be looking at.
My Lords, is it not the case that, if you are on the national minimum wage earning £7.50 an hour, in a 40-hour week you can generate £300? I am under the impression that, with a £30 stake on these machines, you could bet that entire sum in under four minutes. Is that an acceptable thing to have in every high street?
We must remember that the Gambling Commission said that it wanted it to be £30 or below. We are looking at all the responses, and I cannot stand here and say what level we will make it. It is not set in stone that it is going to be £30; it might be much lower than that. We have to wait until we have taken all relevant decisions and looked at all the responses before we come to a final decision.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall that, in the debate in your Lordships’ House initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, right across the House there was agreement that the stake should be at around £2, not 15 times higher, as recommended by the Gambling Commission? Will the Minister confirm that half of the £1.8 billion revenue last year came from these fixed-odds machines and that the Gambling Commission found that last year 43% of users were from problem or high-risk households, many along the lines that were just described by the noble Lord?
Yes, I agree with the noble Lord. I feel that I am not being very helpful, because I cannot really give any definite answers because we have not come to a decision yet. As I said earlier, we are taking all the responses into account. We have had 7,000 responses to the review, and we are looking at them. The department takes this issue very seriously, and we will come out with a decision soon.
My Lords, I thank the Minster for putting on record the length of time the Government are taking, and I thank the right reverend Prelate for raising this matter. No one could condone addiction to gambling, but I urge the Government to consider the role of betting shops in market towns such as Thirsk, Ripon, Malton and Filey where, particularly on race days, they bring a lot of trade to the economy and provide many jobs locally in rural areas.
My noble friend is right. That is why we have to be careful when we decide what we are going to do, so that we see a healthy gambling industry, but it has got to be responsible. We know it generates investment and employment, but that must not be at the cost of the most vulnerable.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that fixed-odds betting is encouraging a culture of something for nothing, that it is an odious practice, that it serves no social utility and that we would be better off—I am sceptical even about a £2 limit—were it to be abolished as a practice in Great Britain?
We are looking at everything. It is interesting that the Gambling Commission said:
“A reduction in maximum stakes on B2 gaming machines could”,
be useful as,
“part of a coherent strategy to reduce harm, provided the effects are carefully monitored and evaluated”.
There has got to be a joined-up approach. We know that FOBTs are a problem, and we are looking at them. There are others areas of gambling that are also a problem, and we are looking at the whole area of gambling.
Police: Emergency Calls
Private Notice Question
My Lords, no one in need of urgent help should have their emergency call unanswered. While answering 999 calls is an operational matter for the police, we have maintained protection for police spending so that forces have the resources that they need to carry out their important work. It is for the police to determine how best to allocate their resources and manage their communications with the public.
My Lords, today Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has highlighted major concern that policing is under significant stress.
“About a quarter of forces are all too often overwhelmed by the demand they face”,
and are not meeting the one-hour standard for responding to 999 calls that require an immediate response, with one force taking an average of 14 hours to respond to such calls. Although these calls are not those where life is immediately in danger, they include domestic assaults where a partner has left the scene but could return at any moment, a category of call that has increased by 88% over the past year.
This week, the UK Statistics Authority ruled that the Government misled the public with the claim of an extra £450 million for local forces when, in fact, central government funding is falling in real terms—and has been for years. Would today, as we remember the sacrifice of PC Keith Palmer, be a good day for the Government to finally admit that the police service is now underfunded and say that they are going to increase central government funding for the police service?
I first join the noble Lord in remembering today the sacrifice that Keith Palmer made to protect people in the Palace of Westminster. There will be a memorial in, I think, about 20 minutes’ time in Westminster Hall to remember the attack a year ago. The MPCC and the APCC called for £440 million of extra funding in 2018-19, with additional counterterrorism funding and increases in council tax precepts on top. They wanted this funding for an extra 5,000 front-line officers for proactive policing by 2020. The funding increase for next year is made up of main government grant, protected at flat cash; up to £270 million from increase in council tax precept income; a £15 million increase in counterterrorism police funding; and a £130 million increase in national priorities, mostly special grant, for exceptional costs and technology. On the point about domestic violence, I totally agree with the noble Lord. We have provided £11 million through the police transformation fund to support new police interventions to tackle domestic abuse, with a focus on early intervention and prevention.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in paying tribute to PC Keith Palmer. The crisis in police response times has been made in Downing Street and the Home Office and is putting people’s safety at risk. Does the Minister accept that the Government have, in real terms, cut the funding to police? When she responds, I am sure that she will have in mind the comments of the UK Statistics Authority chair, Sir David Norgrove, who criticised the Government and the Home Office for incorrectly leading the public to assume that the Government were increasing police funding.
My Lords, every time I have stood at this Dispatch Box I have tried to explain what the increase will look like. I hope that I have made it quite clear. I have just explained to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the breakdown of the funding. Almost all PCCs in England intend to increase the precept by £12, or very close to that. We expect the funding increase for local force budgets to be very close to the £270 million figure that I have just outlined. Most PCCs have set out plans to use this additional funding to protect or improve front-line policing. As I have said before at this Dispatch Box, if all forces delivered the level of productivity benefits of mobile working of the best forces, the average officer could spend an hour a day extra on the front line. This has the potential to free up the equivalent of 11,000 extra officers across England and Wales.
My Lords, it is unfortunate that we talk about criticism of the police service on a day when we are recognising the bravery of Keith Palmer and many other officers who run towards danger rather than away from it—some of which is of course not reported. Can we return, if we may, to the question of emergency calls? A 999 call is the last resort of people out there on the streets and in their houses. There is no other course for people to take other than to take matters into their own hands and, to use the Inspector of the Constabulary’s words this morning on the “Today” programme, “If they are mad enough to take action, they will get an immediate response”.
I have listened to what the Minister has to say about funding, but the issue is emergency calls. It is a triage system that does not work and, if it is a question of resources, surely Home Office procedures and action should take care of these issues.
This is not just a question of answering 999 calls. Again, if you look at the report and listen to the Inspector of Constabulary, more importantly, it is a matter of investigative resources. Detectives are short of resources. Surely the noble Baroness will accept that this needs to be monitored and followed up by a further report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary to this House or to the public.
I agree with the noble Lord’s point about PC Keith Palmer and the bravery of our police forces. They often put their lives at risk in the line of duty. I also agree with him that 999 is a last resort. He talked about people who had been man enough to call deserving the response required. Sometimes, it would be good if someone were woman enough to call—because often these people are victims of domestic violence—but I understand the point of the noble Lord’s question.
In terms of resources, the Minister for Policing, Nick Hurd, has visited every police force in the country. Hence, we have arrived at the settlement that I outlined to both noble Lords who asked about this. The police are operationally independent of government. It is up to the police to deploy the resources that they get in their priority areas. It is absolutely right that 999 calls are answered. If you look around the different police forces, you will see different performance levels. It is not necessarily those police forces with the most money who perform best.
I wrote last week to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick, and pointed out that the working conditions of the armed officers here on the Palace Estate are not very good. They work a two-hour shift. If they get wet or cold, as they did in the snow, they are not very effective. I have photographs of officers with snow on their shoulders and hats. I cannot help but feel that, if they were horses or dogs, they would get some shelter. Is the Minister going to do something for these armed officers who are risking their lives in their jobs?
We have been mindful that stop and search has perhaps been overused in the past. As we are more vigilant as a nation to the dangers not only of serious and organised crime but of potential terrorism on our streets, the police-led intelligence work is probably going to have to be more fine-tuned in terms of stop and search.
There is an assumption that every 999 call is urgent, though it is not always the case. The police operationally determine the seriousness of that call. In recent times, police have been trained more acutely to recognise signs of vulnerability from members of the public who call, particularly in the area of domestic violence.
Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Middle Level Bill
Bill read a second time.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
That, in the event of any of the Northern Ireland Budget (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill, the Northern Ireland (Regional Rates and Energy) Bill, or the Northern Ireland Assembly Members (Pay) Bill having been brought from the Commons, Standing Order 46 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with on Tuesday 27 March to allow any of the Bills to be taken through their remaining stages that day.
Passport (Fees) Regulations 2018
Motion to Approve
I am speaking on the regulations. There is a story going around, which I am absolutely sure must be fake news, that the proposed iconic blue passport is going to be produced in France. Will the Minister confirm whether that is true or not, because, if it is true, it must be a great embarrassment for Her Majesty’s Government?
My Lords, any questions about this issue should have been raised in Committee. The question that the noble Lord asks has nothing to do with the regulations.
My Lords, I hope my question is not a random question. This statutory instrument is about fees for passports, so could I ask my noble friend: what would be the increase in fees if our new passports were printed in the United Kingdom, on the grounds of security, and not in France? French passports are printed in France on the grounds of national security.
I have every respect for the Chief Whip, but we are being asked to approve these regulations and, as a Member here, I am entitled to ask a question about them. I am asking what the increase in fees would be if, on national security grounds, which we would be entitled to invoke under the relevant EU directive, these passports were printed in Britain. If my noble friend does not know the answer, perhaps she could write to me.
My Lords, I do not think it is a question of knowing the answer or not. I make the point that the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Stoneham, were present in Committee last Thursday when we discussed this. We will have plenty of opportunity to discuss where the passports are printed. This is simply about fees. I repeat the points that I made to my noble friend and the noble Lord.
My Lords, this matter was not known last Thursday; it has only become public recently. For once, I actually agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. The Government of France insist that French passports are produced only in France for reasons of security. If we are, sadly, going to have to leave the European Union, and I hope that we are not, and if we are going to have these iconic blue passports—well, the last one I had was more black than blue, to be honest—then they ought to be produced in Britain, in Gateshead or somewhere else. Why is that not the case? The Minister must answer this.
I know that the noble Lord thinks that I must answer this, but it is a courtesy in this House that if someone has an issue to raise in Committee then they should raise it in Committee, and I fully expect that in due course, both noble Lords will try to secure a debate on this very matter.
My Lords, we seem to have got ourselves into a pretty pass about something that the Minister is not required to answer today. Noble Lords know that order in this House is constructed in such a way that they can get proper answers to questions that are troubling them. I suggest to noble Lords, who are obviously much better informed than I am about a particular issue, that if they wish to challenge a decision that the Government have made or might make or whatever, there are methods for doing so. They could put down Questions or they could put down Motions for debate, and I am sure that the House will try to facilitate those where it can. Really, we have a lot of business to do; a number of us want to be in Westminster Hall to pay proper tribute to the victims of the attack a year ago. I ask noble Lords, please, not to press this further.
Industrial Training Levy (Construction Industry Training Board) Order 2018
Motion to Approve
Electronic Commerce Directive (Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2018
Data Protection (Charges and Information) Regulations 2018
Motions to Approve
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this debate, just over a week after celebrating Commonwealth Day, and with less than a fortnight to go until the Commonwealth Games open on Australia’s Gold Coast. It provides a wonderful opportunity for your Lordships’ House to discuss the future of this great organisation and the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which will take place right here in London, in the United Kingdom, during the week of 16 April.
The Commonwealth is a unique global network. It is home to one-third of the world’s people, contains some of the world’s fastest growing economies and accounts for one-fifth of the world’s trade. With nearly two-thirds of its population—around 1 billion people—under the age of 30, the Commonwealth is well placed to be an influential player on the world stage in the years ahead. Indeed, one could even say that it has a responsibility to play such a role. Its diverse membership is committed to a set of values founded on democracy and the rule of law and embodied in the Commonwealth charter. With member countries that range from some of the world’s largest to some of its smallest, their climates from the tropical to the Arctic, their economies developed and developing, the Commonwealth itself takes its strength from this rich diversity.
Moving on to the summit in April, every one of these countries will have an equal voice at next month’s summit, and it will be a privilege to welcome them all. I am particularly pleased that an unprecedented number of Heads of Governments, Presidents and Prime Ministers will be attending this meeting, along with their Foreign Ministers, civil society leaders, businesspeople and perhaps most significantly—referring to the statistic that 60% of the Commonwealth is under 30—young people, two of whom as a minimum will be part of the official delegation of every country from all corners of the Commonwealth.
This summit will be an opportunity for the United Kingdom to demonstrate the openness of our society, the scope of our ambition for the Commonwealth and the strength of our enthusiasm to deepen partnerships with some of our oldest and closest friends. It will also give all 53 members of the Commonwealth the opportunity to build on the excellent work started in Malta three years ago to rejuvenate this unique organisation and make it fit for the 21st century. This summit and Heads of Government Meeting marks an important moment in the Commonwealth’s history. The Commonwealth has done important work in the past: it has supported countries through their transition to independence, helping them to develop free and democratic institutions, and bringing about an end to apartheid in South Africa. At the last summit we saw how Heads of Government came together to press for an ambitious climate change agreement in Paris, and we have recently witnessed the valuable work of the Secretary-General herself and her secretariat in brokering a political agreement in Zambia.
However, for the Commonwealth to face the global challenges of the 21st century and to truly represent its overwhelmingly young population, it must have a clear purpose, supported by all 53 member states. That is why this summit will focus on four clear priorities, on which leaders will seek to agree action. The first is to build a more prosperous future by making the compelling case for free trade as the best way to promote higher living standards around the world. The second is to build a safer future by addressing the security challenges, such as those posed by global terrorism, organised crime and cyberattacks. The third is to build a sustainable future, including by helping small and vulnerable states to mitigate the effects of climate change. The final priority focuses on building that fairer future by promoting the values of democracy, freedom and good governance set out in the Commonwealth charter. Our ambitions for the summit are encapsulated in the theme “Towards a Common Future”. We want the summit to contribute to rejuvenating the Commonwealth and to help to build a brighter and fairer future for its young citizens. Their interests and ambitions will be at the heart of this summit.
I assure noble Lords that we have been working very closely with member states, the Commonwealth Secretariat and civil society groups to put together a programme for the summit week that will strengthen the prosperity and security of all Commonwealth countries and their citizens. Since my appointment as Minister of State for the Commonwealth last June, I have had the great privilege and pleasure of visiting many Commonwealth countries, including India, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Ghana. Last September, I had the opportunity to visit the Pacific Islands Forum in Samoa before also visiting Fiji and Australia, and I represented the United Kingdom at the Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting during UNGA week in New York.
Last month, I was delighted to have the huge privilege to be not only the first British Minister but, I believe, the first Minister from any other Commonwealth country to travel to the newest member of the Commonwealth, the Gambia, just days after it had rejoined the Commonwealth. I had the opportunity to meet President Barrow and Minister of Foreign Affairs Darboe, and I held talks with Justice and Trade Ministers. Most significantly, I alluded to the youth of the Commonwealth. I spent some time with youth activists, human rights defenders and faith leaders, all of whom are doing important work in building a new vision for Gambia—one that upholds democracy, the rule of law, human rights and equality for all citizens.
From what I have gleaned from official meetings with government leaders and informal discussions with young people in all the countries I have visited, as well as in the UK, it is my strong belief that the Commonwealth has a powerful role to play in the modern world. People across the Commonwealth are not just genuinely enthusiastic but passionate about their membership of this great organisation, and recognise the part it can play in building a brighter future for their respective countries.
All citizens of the Commonwealth have an important role to play in building that better future. We believe that the Commonwealth can do just that, based on its three pillars: member-to-member state relationships; moving together collectively as 53 member states, as we will do during the summit week and CHOGM; and the incredible third element of the Commonwealth’s network of professions, citizens and civil society groups. It is this third element—the network of people and organisations working together across borders—that gives the Commonwealth its unique character and strength. This human network consists of more than 85 organisations officially accredited to the Commonwealth, as well as many diaspora communities. I am sure noble Lords will join me in recognising the extraordinary contribution the Commonwealth diaspora communities make to our country.
As I have travelled around the UK, I have met some phenomenal representatives from all walks of life. I have travelled across England and was recently in Cardiff and Edinburgh, and I have been inspired by the energy and enthusiasm for the Commonwealth from the people of this country.
The structure of the summit will ensure that voices from all three pillars of the Commonwealth—its governance, its institutions and, most importantly, its people—are heard. The week begins with Commonwealth forums focused on business, people, youth and women. These will take place over three days and, for the first time, will convene in the same venue on one of those days. This will give delegates the valuable opportunity to discuss shared interests, forge new partnerships and celebrate common values. The forums will be followed by Foreign Ministers’ meetings and Heads of Government meetings, which will take place in Lancaster House, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
Our vision for the summit is for the Commonwealth forums to build meaningfully into the leaders’ event. We therefore hope that the discussions from the forums, as well as the views of other interested groups, will directly inform the discussion by the Heads of Government and shape the outcomes and mandates that leaders will approve. These mandates will be recorded in the communiqué and will determine the Commonwealth’s priorities for the next two years, which, significantly for the UK, will be during our tenure as chair-in-office. I assure the House that the United Kingdom wants to play a full and active role in the Commonwealth during our time as chair-in-office. The important work of rejuvenating this organisation will require a collective effort for many years to come. We will make sure that progress made in London is sustained over the coming years, and we will support member states in honouring their commitments. We will ensure that what is agreed at the summit goes beyond just words and is backed up by meaningful commitments and financial support. The Prime Minister will be making announcements on these commitments and support during the summit week.
In starting this important debate, I say in conclusion that we want this summit to be a memorable milestone in the Commonwealth’s history—the moment when the Commonwealth steps up to show that it can help to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges. I assure noble Lords that Her Majesty’s Government will work closely with our partner member states and across the Commonwealth with other partners to deliver on this ambition.
I look forward to this debate and to hearing from noble Lords, who have vast experience and wisdom, their views on the Commonwealth and on the Government’s plans for the summit. I also look forward to our discussions on the recent report of the International Relations Committee, so ably led by a real ambassador of the Commonwealth, my noble friend Lord Howell. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Commonwealth Society and shall speak to the Motion in my name on the Order Paper. I thank the International Relations Committee and its clerks, advisers and support staff for their extremely helpful and constructive role in producing this short commentary and report. I also look forward very greatly to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, who has played such a central part in this issue over the years. We all very much look forward to hearing what he has to say.
This is going to be a summit with a difference. As my noble friend the Minister has just indicated, this is much more than just a meeting of Governments, Heads of Government and diplomats across green baize tables. It is going to be an outreach to peoples, to civil society, to business, to a thousand and one interests outside, because of course the Commonwealth does spread and reach far beyond Governments and has a very different structure to some of the intergovernmental and multinational patterns of the 21st century. We are moving into a new era. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the role that he personally has played in getting this new pattern developed. I also congratulate Mr Tim Hitchens as head of the powerful Commonwealth summit unit in the Cabinet Office, reporting direct to the Prime Minister and indicating the enormous weight and attention which Her Majesty’s Government are rightly giving to our relations with the 52 other Commonwealth countries.
This short report from the committee has two messages. First, the Commonwealth is a huge network. It is not just a gathering of Heads of Government. It is mainly non-governmental, grassroots based and multi-linked, as the report says—in the sense that, although Britain is important and the Head of the Commonwealth is of course Her Majesty the Queen, it is no longer the Anglo-centric pattern of the former British Commonwealth. This is about a completely new pattern emerging in the 21st century, which I think a lot of people find difficult to appreciate or understand as something very different from what went on in the past. No one planned this. It was not a blueprint. It was an accidental evolution of the Commonwealth system of voluntary co-operation. Of course, it fits perfectly into the digital age of hyperconnectivity by which all nations are linked, and particularly nations with a common working language, legal system, standards, origins, history and connections through commercial activity of all kinds.
This is a pattern which does not emerge very clearly from public commentary. Unhappily, it is not even reflected in the Library brief which we have been supplied for this debate—that is a pity, because Library briefs are usually superb. The brief does not seem to understand that this is a whole, new pattern. Like an iceberg, it is mostly underwater and the vast amount of professional networks are something entirely new. We can see it in organisations like the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which is not mentioned in the briefing. Every day, this organisation directly and continuously connects 530 universities across the entire planet. Take the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver, supported by the British Government. It is the biggest distance learning system in the world. It contacts 30 to 40 million people every day. This is a new kind of connectivity which we have to appreciate as part of the modern world, and the Commonwealth is certainly part of the modern world.
The second message from our brief report is a more selfish one. That is that I think it is right to look on this conference, its outcomes and the specialist areas the Minister has described as a key part of the United Kingdom’s reorientation in the post-Brexit world. There is a lot of talk of becoming isolated—of the dangers of not maintaining a deep and special relationship with Europe, which I hope we do. The reality is that even without Brexit, and before Brexit, the entire world pattern of trade is changing. We have to reorient our trade and our investment patterns; we have to look again at our security patterns in relation to what is happening in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, where the Indian Ocean is becoming as important in world geopolitical peace and security as the Atlantic Ocean. We have to look at the new links of cyberconnection which spread across the world. Again, it is with the Commonwealth countries, particularly with India, which is at the centre of all these developments, that we have to make new connections. This was coming anyway long before Brexit, but it is now more important than ever.
I am not saying for one moment that the Commonwealth is somehow an alternative to our close relations with our neighbours in Europe; they of course remain vital, but the EU of the 20th century and the Commonwealth of the 21st century are completely different structures and arrangements. What is happening now, which is why I welcome so much what HMG are doing, is that Britain is returning to the nations on which we turned our back in 1972. We thought then that they were not the world markets and that Europe was our destiny. Europe is still vital, but, frankly, the great new growth markets of the next 20 years will be Asia, Africa and Latin America. It will be the Commonwealth connection—it is one of many networks; it is not the only answer—that provides us with the entrée, the gateway, to those new markets where we have to succeed or we will be gravely disadvantaged. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Marland, who has to be at this moment attending the Commonwealth Games in Australia, on the work that he is doing on the business side. Of course, business is only a small part of it; trade comes from all sorts of non-trade sources, including trust, common understanding, common educational aims and so on.
Why are the Government now putting so much effort into this, which I applaud? There are three big answers. First, it is markets. The gigantic markets of the future are, as I just said, in Asia. Europe is important, but proportionally it is a shrinking part of the world market scene. Secondly, it gives us an opportunity to promote our values—I hope, in an exemplary rather than a lecturing way—throughout the 53-nation system of the Commonwealth, because values equal trust. People say, “Well, you can’t eat values on the breakfast table”, but values equal trust; trust equals investment; investment equals prosperity and entrepreneurship; and out of that come the growth and enrichment which produce societies more confident and able to move on from past arrangements. Thirdly, from Britain’s point of view, this is a fantastic opportunity to transmit our immense soft power influence, which we have underplayed and do not use as strongly as we should and which now through the Commonwealth network has a huge opportunity to be expanded and increased confidently.
Finally—this is more a psychological point—there is a lot of talk about Britain having to find a new role as we move into this transformed world which is emerging post Brexit, post Trump, post an aggressive Russia, post a rising Africa, post a rising Latin America and so on. This is where we can find a substantial part of our new role which gives the pride and purpose that we have lacked. In the words of Her Majesty the Queen, it is indeed the “face of the future”. Sixty per cent of the Commonwealth’s population of 2.4 billion is under 30—it is a gigantic organisation of youth; half are women—it is a gigantic organisation of women; it is the face of tomorrow. That is why we should applaud what the Government are doing. I am glad to be able to make these comments and commend my Motion on the Order Paper.
My Lords, I thank the Government, and in particular the Minister for securing this debate and for leading and introducing it so comprehensively. I also thank him for the energetic and very open way in which he has taken the leadership role within the Government on ensuring that the summit and the other forums are a huge success—I am sure that, 10 days out, he is a little nervous about it. In particular, I praise the initiative to involve so many young people from across the Commonwealth. I also express a hope, which he may wish to touch on in his summing up, that during this year’s CHOGM summit the Government might announce an increase in Commonwealth scholarships. That would be very welcome to ensure that the kind of links we have that provide our education system with opportunities for young people across the Commonwealth might be extended in this new post-Brexit age.
I also thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee on the short but clear, appropriate and positive report that it has produced in advance of this debate and the CHOGM summit. The report rightly concentrates on the role of the Commonwealth nations, and the Commonwealth as a whole, in promoting the international rules-based system and the vital importance of human rights issues in discussions at the summit and in the various other events taking place.
In the time available, I want to highlight a couple of points which may not necessarily have already been mentioned. I absolutely endorse the various initiatives and priorities set out by the Minister in his opening remarks and I obviously support the report of the International Relations Committee. I would add to those statements that the summit should have a key role in promoting the Agenda 2030 sustainable development goals. The Minister came along to our all-party parliamentary group on the sustainable development goals just a couple of weeks ago and we had a very positive and energetic discussion. But I was disappointed that when I visited the Government’s website on the CHOGM summit yesterday, I found that Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals did not feature on it. In fact, even the Commonwealth Secretariat’s website features it in only a passing reference.
The Commonwealth could play a terrific role in trying to achieve the sustainable development goals. The priorities set out for the summit in April tie in neatly and closely with the key themes in those goals: people and planet, prosperity and peace, and partnership. We should work in tandem with the United Nations leadership on this issue, and encourage the whole Commonwealth to be ambitious in setting out paths towards achieving the goals between now and 2030. Can the Minister give me an assurance on whether, between now and the summit, he might ensure that the promotions around the summit adequately reflect the goals and their importance in those discussions?
I will focus particularly on goal 16: on peace and justice, and strong, stable democratic institutions. It seems to me that this is where the Commonwealth could make the biggest difference. The history of the Commonwealth is perhaps mixed. It is sometimes successful in promoting human rights and supporting democratic institutions; at other times the Commonwealth has perhaps found that to be a challenge, given the nature of some of the elected and non-elected leaders we have dealt with over the years. But even with that slightly mixed history surely today, in the 21st century, the Commonwealth could be a beacon for strong, stable, independent democratic institutions. It could be an energetic partner in efforts around the world on post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. Surely the Commonwealth could share the expertise, professional and otherwise, that would help to build the capacity of developing countries in particular, in addition to post-conflict countries. The Commonwealth could build the capacity in those countries for stability, peace and progress in the future.
The Minister rightly highlighted his recent visit to the Gambia, during which I was able to meet him, as I was there at the same time visiting a number of important development projects. For example, it struck me in the Gambia that an intervention by the Commonwealth as a whole could support that small nation, which has just rejoined it, in a key democratic transition to ensure that it goes not backwards but forwards—that it is able in future to have those strong democratic institutions but also to develop a strong economy. Ludicrously, given the access to the land, the sea and the river that the Gambia has, it imports more than 50% of the food that it consumes. Surely there is an opportunity there for the Commonwealth to support that small nation in its transition and perhaps to use that as a pilot for other forms of support in the future.
Finally, I mention one of my personal preferences, which your Lordships will have heard me mention before. The Commonwealth Games take place in the Gold Coast in Australia just in advance of the summit. They are the friendly Games. They are a fabulous opportunity for people across the Commonwealth, including a three-person team from the Gambia, to come together in a friendly spirit of competition. Yes, they are seeking excellence and achievement, but also a cultural and sporting exchange that benefits everybody.
I would like to wish Team Scotland, with which I am closely associated, all the best for the Games. Their plane arrived in Australia this morning and I wish them all the very best, but also that the other nations— not just of the UK but all the nations of the Commonwealth—have a friendly Games. I wish the organisers—the Minister, Kate Jones, and the chair of the Games, Peter Beattie—all the best, and for the kind of success that we have experienced previously in Manchester and Glasgow and, I hope, will experience in Birmingham in four years too.
My Lords, I start by congratulating the House of Lords Library on yet another excellent briefing. I add to that the efforts of the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad, Lord Howell and Lord McConnell, in amplifying the briefing, which were also excellent.
I also ask noble Lords to share a thought for Vanuatu, the Commonwealth member originally chosen to host the next CHOGM, which was going to be in 2017. The Minister may well have found in his Commonwealth travels that Vanuatu is a string of 65 inhabited small islands, stretching over 800 miles from north to south and lying 1,000 miles to the north-east of Australia. In 2015, Vanuatu was devastated by Cyclone Pam, from which the resulting damage made hosting a CHOGM two years later an impossible task. It fell to the UK to host the CHOGM in 2018 in London instead.
Without wishing to repeat myself from my debate last November, I stress again that CHOGM 2018 is a golden opportunity for Parliament to be at the centre of activities to reinforce parliamentary democracies throughout the Commonwealth, as other noble Lords have said. In this context, there is a unique characteristic to the Commonwealth as a voluntary membership organisation. The nation states comprising the Commonwealth range from tiny Pacific islands such as Vanuatu, to the second-largest country in the world in Canada, to the second-most populous in India. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, has implied, large or small, in the chambers of the Commonwealth, each member has just one vote.
I want to emphasise again the interest in opportunities to expand the membership of the Commonwealth. I suggest that they fall into three categories—namely, previous members that have left for various reasons; countries that historically qualify but have not yet raised the issue; and other countries that have expressed an interest. I appreciate that there is a process to be followed, beginning with an appraisal of an application to the Commonwealth Secretariat and ending with a unanimous vote in favour from the membership. Surely, with the CHOGM in London, this has to be the ideal time and place for some serious discussions among member states. Facilitated by the Cabinet Office and with the prospect of a two-year chair in office ahead, it will be an ideal time to take these deliberations forward.
As with Zimbabwe, for example, on which the jury must remain out for the time being, there are a number of other African countries that, at one time or another, have been associated with the UK as provinces, protectorates, colonies or whatever. All would seem to benefit from closer ties to the Commonwealth, particularly in this internet age when distance of travel is no longer a hindrance to communication, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, so ably illustrated. There may well be some local resistance from existing members that are concerned by the possibility of becoming hosts to nearby countries, heavily dependent on them as their larger and more successful neighbours, but if the Brexit treaty can be achieved surely arrangements to broaden the Commonwealth could be managed.
Preceding the CHOGM will be several forums, taking place in London, bringing together representatives from business, civil society or government, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. In addition, a parliamentarians’ forum took place at the beginning of March and some noble Lords were involved. It was organised by the CPA UK, in partnership with the Cabinet Office Commonwealth summit team. The four-day forum was attended by some 80 parliamentarians from national legislatures drawn from 30 Commonwealth countries. The objective was to strengthen the crucial role of parliamentarians across the Commonwealth.
There were 24 sessions over four days—it was the first-ever parliamentarians’ forum in the Commonwealth, providing an input to CHOGM—and one of the most telling sessions was a debate that included youth delegates, on upholding or challenging the Commonwealth charter in the 21st century. The contributions from the floor offered a number of pertinent perceptions, such as that the charter has no timescale, has no relevance to small states, and was a post-Empire institution, with no clear definition. That reminds me of my old schoolmaster saying, “Now discuss”—and they certainly did. In summary, the delegates were in favour and supportive of the charter, but called for it to be strengthened, expanded, modernised and reviewed. I place on record my congratulations to the CPA UK team, which organised the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum. For those who were unable to come along, it was efficient, effective and encouraging. They are now working hard on solution-based messages before disseminating the final forum outputs.
The CPA UK team set out to promote the importance of the Commonwealth for a future generation of parliamentarians, to increase their awareness of the key themes of CHOGM 2018—to strengthen capacity and confidence; enable networking and collaboration opportunities between Commonwealth parliamentarians; and promote innovation and parliamentary engagement. They propose to establish a virtual pan-Commonwealth monitoring group to assess the progress of the Commonwealth towards achieving the 2018-20 strategic plan and report back. There is a clear ambition to sustain the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum and ensure that it becomes an invaluable feature of the biannual CHOGM in 2020 and beyond. I urge noble Lords to give it their full support.
My Lords, last night, here in your Lordships’ House, I hosted a discussion on behalf of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. Its president, Rita Payne, said that in the past five years 57 journalists have been killed in Commonwealth countries. In my brief remarks today, I want to address ways in which the Commonwealth might raise its game in protecting such basic freedoms and in championing minorities, many of whom suffer grievously on grounds of religion, orientation or ethnicity.
But first I should thank those who have initiated this timely debate. It is a signal honour for the United Kingdom to be welcoming the heads of over 50 countries to the 25th iteration of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. As the Minister said, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, more than ever we need to focus on the common values that we share across these nations—striving together to advance humanity in the face of so many challenges that risk tearing down the global human rights framework on which the Commonwealth is founded.
In the run-up to Easter, our minds turn naturally to one of the values that unites Commonwealth nations—that of faith. From a population of nearly 2.4 billion people—roughly one-third of the world’s population, spanning all six continents—95% of people in the Commonwealth profess a religious belief, representing a huge variety of faiths and traditions. Yet, according to the Pew Research Centre, around 70% of the Commonwealth population live with high or very high government restrictions on the right to freedom of religion and belief. The Commonwealth charter highlights faith or creed as a key uniting force, outlining the indivisibility of all rights and the opposition to any form of discrimination based on religion or any other affiliation. Specifically, the charter refers to,
“the need to promote tolerance, respect, understanding, moderation and religious freedom which are essential to the development of free and democratic societies, and recall that respect for the dignity of all human beings is critical to promoting peace and prosperity”.
The need to promote religious freedom, respect for the “other”, and to defend the rights of all communities was also articulated by Her Majesty the Queen on this year’s Commonwealth Day, when she said:
“The cornerstones on which peace is founded are, quite simply, respect and understanding for one another. Working together, we build peace by defending the dignity of every individual and community”.
With its origins in the horrors of the Holocaust, the political idea of the right to freedom of religion or belief is intended to respect the dignity of every individual and community. As the BBC’s courageous chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, reminds us, this has day-to-day application:
“If you don’t understand religion—including the abuse of religion—it’s becoming ever harder to understand our world”.
Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists on our right to believe, not to believe or to change our belief. It is one of very few non-derogable rights in the human rights arsenal. The drafters of the human rights framework knew its importance. It is not something that we can simply sweep aside, either because some believe it is irrelevant or because others are nervous of the potential for conflict. No, it is a right that must be upheld and promoted for the positive change it brings to the world. Freedom of religion or belief goes to the very essence of our humanity—the right to hold our deep-seated beliefs, think our own thoughts and follow our consciences. Without this right, CHOGM will be unable to answer its own points of focus: achieving a future that is more sustainable, fairer, more prosperous and more secure.
A study by Brian J Grim in 2014 examined economic growth in 173 countries and considered 24 different factors that could impact economic growth. He found that,
“religious freedom contributes to better economic and business outcomes and that advances in religious freedom”,
“successful and sustainable enterprises that benefit societies and individuals.”
High levels of religious conflict create unstable environments that drive away young entrepreneurs, disrupt economic sectors and deter investment. That makes the promotion of religious freedom a contributing factor to a society that is not only more stable but more prosperous, so it should be a high priority.
If we are serious about tackling issues like climate change, which is the route to greater sustainability, it must surely be done in partnership with all elements of society, including religious minorities, who are often ostracised and ignored by those in power and by contemptuous elites. Further, the Commonwealth’s own stated ambition to promote human rights to achieve a fairer future must include religious freedom as a central component. Wilfully keeping the right to religious freedom out of the debates at CHOGM would serve only to hamper the progress that might otherwise be made on the four prioritised issues.
CHOGM is a critical forum for tackling this right up front, not only acknowledging the rights abuses in member states but paving the way forwards, sharing best practice. It goes without saying that the United Kingdom has not always got it right. Coming from a religious minority myself, I am well aware of prejudice, discrimination and persecution—but I am also conscious of the great progress we have made in respecting the dignity of difference and in learning to live together.
Elsewhere the challenge remains—for instance, the assassination of Pakistan’s brave Minister for Minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, the death sentence imposed on Asia Bibbi, the use of section 295(A) of India’s penal code to attack minorities, and the hunting down of girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria. It is obvious that there is still a long way to go, and that change must come the world over. I therefore hope that the Minister will say something when he replies about how we intend to share best practice and commit to change. I urge him to ensure that religious freedom is prioritised at CHOGM and reflected not only in his reply today but in the joint communiqué and the Prime Minister’s opening remarks at CHOGM.
My Lords, the Anglican Communion extends significantly beyond the nations of the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, for obvious reasons of history, there is a very substantial Anglican presence in many Commonwealth countries. I am therefore pleased to speak from these Benches in this debate—and I, too, look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt.
Within the Anglican Communion we have a rich network of companion links between dioceses in different parts of the world, whereby most Lords spiritual will have an active engagement with the life of at least one Commonwealth country. The nature of the Commonwealth as a network of autonomous free nations also has some parallel with the life of the communion, wherein each province is autonomous yet links together through what one might call family likeness, and the position of honour granted to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The theme of the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, “Towards a Common Future”, resonates with the experience of these Benches. In our relationships with our companion dioceses within and beyond the Commonwealth, we are of course conscious of a shared past. Without it, the relationships would not exist. We are also conscious of some of the ambivalences of that shared past, especially the mixed legacies of colonialism. But these companion links that we nurture are devoted to sharing our common present and building our common future.
We share with the Commonwealth and our companion dioceses a great number of areas of concern and involvement, not least around, as some have already mentioned, climate change, resilience, sustainability, issues of human trafficking, modern slavery and gender violence, the roles of women and young people, and the building of positive frameworks in civil society. We are very pleased that people from across the Anglican Communion will be participating in some of the forums around the forthcoming meeting—for example those from Swaziland, Mozambique and Sri Lanka in the forums concerned with women and young people.
I am very grateful for the contribution just now from the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Unfortunately, it is the case that some of the worst-offending countries when it comes to religious freedom are found within the Commonwealth. In the margins of the Heads of Government meeting, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, working with the Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief, is convening a gathering of parliamentarians and religious leaders to discuss over two days how they may, among other things, hold their Governments and constituencies to account in relation to these concerns around religious freedom. I think that some Members of your Lordships’ House will be participating in that event. I trust that the Minister, in responding to the debate and to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, will welcome the initiative of the most reverend Primate and might indicate how these efforts from within the churches and other faith communities in relation to religious freedom might usefully complement the Government’s engagement in these matters within the Heads of Government meeting and in other fora.
My diocese has companion links with two Anglican dioceses in Tanzania. We also have a link with the diocese of Harare in a country that many of us wish to see as an active participant in the Commonwealth once again before too long. In my diocese, well over 30 parishes and schools have active relationships with parishes or schools in Tanzania or Zimbabwe, and I myself will visit both countries later this year.
I state very clearly that all these partnerships hugely enrich our lives and that the benefit is two way. For example, working also with the development agency Tearfund, we are forming relationships and promoting initiatives that seek to enable villages in Tanzania to become self-sufficient, with no dependence on aid. This is about mobilising local capacity and initiative—economic, social and spiritual—to develop agricultural resilience, educational opportunity and economic productivity. Clearly there is benefit to our African friends—I have seen it on the ground; it is immense—but also, because the relationship of dependency is removed as local capacity grows, the relationships become those as between equals, and that is hugely important.
My friend the Bishop of Kondoa in Tanzania leads a diocese in a very rural part of the country where the population is more than 90% Muslim. Neither community compromises on its beliefs, yet there is in many places an ease of relationship and a mutual respect from which we in this country can learn a huge amount. I recall visiting one place where, although it was Ramadan, the Muslim village elders came out in numbers to greet the bishop and me. Indeed, they greeted the bishop as “their” bishop. I learned later that they had donated to the church in that village land on which to build a church building and the priest’s house. In another place, the local councillor—a Muslim—was the first to donate a substantial sum to put a roof on a new church building. In the town of Kondoa itself, the diocesan Bible school, as well as training priests and lay ministers, runs a year-long empowerment programme for young women. On that programme, Muslim and Christian women study together alongside each other. These are practical examples from which certainly I have learned a great deal.
At risk of slightly breaking the irenic tone, there is one little matter I wish to raise with the Minister relating to the mutuality of hospitality, or some of the restrictions on it. It is, of course, the vexed issue of visas. I may travel and people from my parishes may travel freely to Tanzania. It is not always possible for people to come back the other way, and we feel somewhat embarrassed about that. It is easy enough to get visas for bishops to visit: it is the ordinary people, very often. Whatever guarantees we may give, many of these people lead subsistence lives in a subsistence economy and would not have any need for a bank account, and thereby find it hard to demonstrate, as it were, their bona fides. If we could have some further conversations with Her Majesty’s Government about that, we would be hugely grateful.
From these Benches, I welcome the opportunities we have to take forward our work of partnership within the wider context of Commonwealth relationships, and I wish the Heads of Government well for their forthcoming meeting.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for setting out so clearly the UK’s ambitions for CHOGM, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Howell and his Select Committee for their report. Clearly, we are all looking forward to seeing London and Windsor host CHOGM next month and to hearing how the Commonwealth plans to work towards a common future. It is an important network to promote shared values and interests. It can indeed be a force for good around the world by promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, development and prosperity.
The questions we should address today are: just how good is it at being a force for good; and how can we ensure that this year’s CHOGM turns warm words into real action? When giving evidence to the Select Committee, Tim Hitchens stated that, as chair in office over the next two years, the UK would,
“make sure that the things that are promised in London are delivered on time, and that, if they are not, people are held accountable”.
How do the Government intend to fulfil that commitment?
Today I will focus on two areas of human rights in particular: gender equality and LGBTI discrimination. Last week I went to New York to attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women. It is the principal global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women. When I look at the three-day programme for the Commonwealth women’s forum, I see that it covers exactly the same issues as we tackled in New York. That is good, not bad. It means that the Commonwealth is indeed reflecting global concerns, such as achieving gender equality and economic empowerment of all women and girls, gender parity in education, ending violence against women and girls, women’s peace and security, and women’s leadership. It is indeed an encouraging agenda.
It is vital that the Heads of Government not only listen to the views expressed in the fora, but then act to implement policies that reflect them. It was a pleasure last week to hear my noble friend Lady Williams of Trafford, Minister for Equalities, talk about the importance of women achieving financial independence. She told us about Innovate UK, a funding competition and support package to encourage more female-led innovation and start-ups. Are we in discussion with other Commonwealth countries to encourage them to do the same?
Earlier this year, I was delighted to hear my noble friend the Minister announce that he and the Foreign Secretary will focus on ensuring that girls in the poorest countries of the world receive at least 12 years of quality education. Have we had discussions with Nigeria about this challenging objective? I focus on that country because last week in New York we were advised that there are more girls out of school in Nigeria than in any other country in the world, even though the Government there want to make progress. The Nigerian ambassador acknowledged that conditions in his country have made girls and women particularly liable to exploitation and abuse, and that in some communities girls of primary school age are forced to sell goods on the streets instead of attending school. On my visit to Abuja and Kaduna, I was aware that valuable work on these challenges was being carried out by DfID and our excellent high commissioner, Paul Arkwright. That was just over years ago, however; I am out of date and would value being updated by the Minister on what is happening now.
I turn now to the issue of decriminalising same-sex relations, which should be an important objective of our work within the Commonwealth family. Thirty-six Commonwealth countries continue to criminalise same-sex relations, and more than 90% of Commonwealth citizens live in an area that criminalises LGBT people. Paul Dillane of the Kaleidoscope Trust believes that the economic argument has proved the winning one thus far in Mozambique, Seychelles and Nauru—the Commonwealth countries that have voluntarily decriminalised homosexuality in the past three years. In Nigeria, however, there currently seem to be no prospects for reform. Indeed, the original penal code prescriptions inherited from us have, I understand, been strengthened by harsh new legislation. Have the Government discussed these developments with the Nigerian Government so that we can understand better why they have occurred and help them to find a way of moving towards decriminalisation?
The good news is that the Commonwealth People’s Forum programme at CHOGM has a session on legislative reform in the Commonwealth and it is co-curated with the Commonwealth Equality Network. Last year, the Commonwealth approved the accreditation of TCEN—the first time an LGBTI-focused organisation has been officially accredited by the Commonwealth. I met TCEN representatives earlier this year and I am grateful to them for updating me on their pre-CHOGM work. What discussions have the Government had with TCEN recently, for example about the Commonwealth People’s Forum events, and what support are we able to give to the proposals they put forward?
Finally, I pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. She has been steadfast in her support for the Commonwealth. She has helped it to develop from just seven members in 1952 to the global organisation of 53 countries today, spanning every continent, all the main religions, and almost a third of the world’s population. It is a remarkable achievement that everyone can celebrate.
My Lords, I join the noble Baroness in paying tribute to the Minister and to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for providing such a good foundation for this debate. CHOGMs have had a mixed history. Sri Lanka in 2013 was an unmitigated disaster because of the human rights record of the host country; it had limited participation. Malta in 2015 was a qualified success. Now, we are in London next month. Clearly, it has been extremely well-prepared by the Government and again, there is talk of the turning of the tide and new beginnings.
Colleagues will forgive me if I say that there is an element of “we have been here before”. I was spokesman on the Commonwealth for the Opposition during much of the 1980s. I have been a member of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association executive for over 25 years and chaired that organisation for four years. I saw at first hand parliamentary diplomacy at its best and the value that so many parliamentarians attach to the Commonwealth. I was also in the margins of the special Commonwealth conference on apartheid at Marlborough House in 1986 when there was a real danger that the Commonwealth would collapse. That same Conservative press that now trumpet the possibilities post-Brexit were urging us to leave what was deemed to be a “useless organisation”.
It will be interesting to learn what the public response is to the Government’s strenuous efforts—for example, how many big lunches will there be?—and to look at the press coverage of CHOGM. Mr Hitchens of the Cabinet Office told the IRC that the UK’s aim was to ensure that what was agreed at CHOGM was,
“not just words but has money and commitments underneath it”.
Clearly, he accepts the need to distinguish between the Commonwealth of declaration and the Commonwealth of reality.
I want the Commonwealth to move forward successfully, but surely the best starting point is to avoid exaggerating what the Commonwealth can do. Realistically, the Commonwealth is not and cannot realistically aspire to be a political bloc. Diversity has its advantages, but there is increasing evidence of a north-south divide within its institutions, particularly on human rights. For example, I understand that there is no attempt at caucusing at the United Nations General Assembly because each of the Commonwealth countries gives greater priority to its own regional organisation or to the non-aligned movement.
Again, the Commonwealth cannot aspire to be an economic bloc, although Commonwealth members do belong to a number of regional trade blocs. There is scope for increasing intra-Commonwealth trade, which should be exploited. But there are major links between the European Union and Commonwealth countries, now particularly with Canada after negotiations for CETA lasting seven years. Preparations have recently been concluded for the EU to begin negotiations with Australia and New Zealand. Again, there is an economic partnership between the European Union and South Africa and the SADC countries. India has been negotiating an FTA with the European Union since 2007, but is basically protectionist and would demand major migration concessions from the United Kingdom post Brexit. India has blown hot and cold over the Commonwealth for some time. As in politics, the EU has more negotiating clout than bilateral Commonwealth deals, so we must avoid the illusion that the Commonwealth could be an alternative to the European Union. That is why all the Commonwealth leaders I have been able to trace are remainers. It is particularly true that some of the smaller countries, such as Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, saw the UK as a bridge to the EU market and as an advocate for them in Brussels.
Declarations on human rights there are aplenty—from Harare to the charter—but press freedoms are threatened in India and Pakistan, capital punishment is legal in 36 Commonwealth countries and in many it is difficult to be a Christian. After the Eminent Persons Group report, the Commonwealth shot down the attempt to have a commissioner for human rights. Why? Because it would have shone a searchlight on practices which would have been embarrassing to so many countries.
If we are, as I hope we are, committed to the Commonwealth, what about additional resources for the secretariat? At the moment, we pay one-third of the budget; two-thirds of the budget is paid by us, Canada and Australia; while India pays 4%, Malaysia 1.6% and Nigeria under 1.4%. Will the Government encourage other Commonwealth countries to pay more to the secretariat?
I mention these negative features as an antidote to overblown assumptions, but we should remember that one test of the value of an organisation is that other countries are seeking to join. There are at least seven such countries, Gambia has rejoined and Zimbabwe is reconsidering its position. Some examples of the benefits of membership include the good offices of the Secretary-General, particularly notable in Chief Emeka Anyaoku concerning South Africa; the informal Commonwealth network, which has been mentioned, and the Commonwealth’s role in fragile states, particularly in helping post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone. The Commonwealth consensus on climate change was an essential prerequisite to the success of the Paris conference. Small countries walk taller in the Commonwealth.
I have a few final questions. First, does the Government favour the establishment of a new associate status and was Ireland invited to this CHOGM? Do the Government hope that relations with la Francophonie will be developed? How will they evolve? As part of her campaign to be Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, published her ambitious manifesto. She deserves the full support of Parliament and the Government, and I hope that will be forthcoming.
My Lords, after four months of mutely haunting this Chamber, listening and trying to learn, it is with some trepidation that I utter my first words into the record of your Lordships’ House. I am very glad to be doing so on the occasion of a debate on the Commonwealth, with which I have been closely associated for many years. I was until recently private secretary to the Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth, and refer noble Lords to my declared interests both as chairman of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and, in the company of three other Members of your Lordships’ House, as a trustee of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.
I have been shown very many kindnesses, including reassurance and much encouragement, by fellow Members of your Lordships’ House during my short time here. There is comfort to be had in the knowledge that every noble Lord and noble Baroness was new once, though I worry that I may feel and behave like a very new parliamentarian for rather longer than them. I have also been greatly struck by the care, thoughtfulness and powers of forgiveness of the staff who have gently inducted me into the ways and labyrinthine geography of this House. I am enormously grateful to all those I have met and regret only the inevitable discourtesy of having failed to introduce myself more assiduously to others.
I am not entirely a stranger to this House. As the Queen’s private secretary, I would duly process into this Chamber at the State Opening of Parliament and end up pressed against the officials’ Box. There I would gently poach over the hot air vent. The very minor practical contribution of a private secretary to the proceedings of a State Opening of Parliament is as the bearer of a second copy of Her Majesty’s Speech. It is of course a role in the category of what one might call “highly unlikely contingency”. But, had the Lord Chancellor, resplendent in gown and tights, kneeling before his or her sovereign, reached into the purse only to produce a dry-cleaning ticket, I or my predecessors might have had our brief moment of glory. Alas, we have been thwarted by the always flawless organisation of that occasion by Black Rod and others. In his time as Lord Chancellor, no such drama befell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who did me the great honour of supporting me on my introduction and whom I am delighted to see in his place today. I am very grateful also to my noble friend Lord O’Donnell, my other supporter, who was a sage and generous mentor to me as I learned the ropes of my previous office.
This debate is a timely appetiser for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting next month. The Minister, with whom it was my pleasure to have worked at an earlier stage in the preparations, has outlined what by any measure will be a colossal piece of high summitry. I join other noble Lords in commending the work of the secretariat supporting this effort, and indeed also the efforts of the Royal Household, to achieve what we all hope will be an outstanding success.
I am also very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for the initiative of the International Relations Committee and its members in stimulating this debate. I yield to none in my admiration for his tireless work in promoting so thoroughly and positively the great work of the Commonwealth’s global network. The recent publication, The Commonwealth Transformed, is a brilliant collection of his many wisdoms on the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, has already—and, I am afraid, with far greater erudition—saved me from speaking to the grand sweep of the Commonwealth enterprise, so I wish to make just three points of my own.
First, the intergovernmental grandeur of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will of course have its own effect in the high councils of Commonwealth jurisdictions around the world. It may not, however, of itself initiate, invigorate or renew deeper popular awareness and interest in the Commonwealth in this country. There are, of course, prominent pockets of favourable sentiment and reservoirs of knowledge about the Commonwealth up and down the country—the Minister referred to some of his visits in that respect—but those pockets are patchy. Despite the very considerable funding that has been properly directed by the Government to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, and indeed to the Commonwealth in general, it is not yet the case that the Commonwealth message can be said to flow universally through the capillaries of the nation, to put it mildly. Were the message to be more keenly and widely felt, however, I firmly believe that it would inform and improve the United Kingdom’s appreciation of itself. It might also license the muscularity that the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, has suggested the Commonwealth might be capable of as it goes about its business around the world.
It is perfectly reasonable and useful for the United Kingdom to evangelise with full throat about the merits, virtues and—above all else—the rich potential of the Commonwealth. Indeed, from my own experience, I have seen a rudimentary understanding of the Commonwealth being often far more apparent in other Commonwealth jurisdictions than our own. The Minister made reference to the passion that he has witnessed in the wider Commonwealth and I would commend that same passion in our jurisdiction with equal vigour. It is a puzzle, although not an insoluble one. Actively sustaining attention in the Commonwealth is, of course, as much a matter for the non-governmental apparatus and networks of the Commonwealth as it is for Her Majesty’s Government. Nevertheless, I believe that one should never underestimate the power of a British governmental lead to help flatten the sine curve of interest in the Commonwealth between summits. May I therefore encourage the Minister to use the forthcoming period of the United Kingdom’s role as chair-in-office vigorously and imaginatively and, where necessary, in partnership with other actors, to promote the Commonwealth to an often-ignorant domestic audience as well?
My second point picks up briefly on the evidence submitted to the International Relations Committee. Tim Hitchens, the previously mentioned chief executive officer of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018, made reference to the outstanding work done recently to combat avoidable blindness, particularly blinding trachoma, right across the Commonwealth. Much of that work has been the responsibility—and achievement—of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, which has programmes established in 12 Commonwealth countries and has deployed the convening power of association with the Queen’s name to great effect. I endorse without reservation the case for using the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to give these initiatives a significant push and add my encouragement to the leading voice that I know the Minister will give to the chorus. It is worth emphasising that tackling the widespread affliction of avoidable blindness is precisely the kind of highly effective Commonwealth work—in this case of potentially global application—that thrives within, but especially outside of, a governmental apparatus. To my first point, this redoubles the case for maintaining the highest possible profile for the Commonwealth outside of the intergovernmental rhythm of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings.
My third point is really just an observation, and probably an impertinent one at that. I of course share the view so powerfully expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay; the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, has been one of its greatest strengths and stays for more than 66 years. During his own lifetime, the Prince of Wales has given highly active and enthusiastic support to Her Majesty in this role, as well as in all others. His Royal Highness’s wealth of experience in Commonwealth matters is a deep echo of the Queen’s own commitment. In these later years of Her Majesty’s reign, I occasionally accompanied the Prince of Wales as he represented the Queen, such as at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka in 2013. From my vantage point, it was striking to observe His Royal Highness’s own dedication to and lifelong affection for the Commonwealth.
My Lords, I am very honoured to find myself among your number. I aspire to contribute usefully to the business and reputation of this House. The territorial designation of my title is Crobeg in the county of Ross and Cromarty, a place which Dr Johnson would have recognised as a “tack” in the old Highland system. It describes a place across the Minches, in the Outer Hebrides, where I live and farm, and to which my forebears were deeply rooted. The Isle of Lewis is where I grew up and is the hinterland from which my own erratic journey to this House has proceeded.
I am grateful to noble Lords and to the wonderful staff of this House who have made me so welcome. In the language of my distant corner of the kingdom, I simply say, “Tapadh leibh, a h-uile duine”—I thank them all.
My Lords, it is a very great privilege to follow my noble friend Lord Geidt in his Maiden Speech to this House. For four years early in this century—it sounds like a long time ago, but it is not that long—I had the great pleasure of working with him when I was Lord Chamberlain of Her Majesty’s Household and he joined us as an assistant private secretary to the Queen. Before that, he had served for many years in international affairs of one kind or another, most notably in the Balkans, of which he has great knowledge. It was no surprise to me when he followed my noble friend Lord Janvrin as private secretary to Her Majesty in 2007 and served her for no less than a whole decade. Like his predecessor, he showed immense wisdom and common sense in serving the Queen. I suspect that historians will judge that he showed great skill too in the advice he gave in 2010 when there was a hung Parliament.
Many people know that he worked tirelessly to promote and strengthen the Commonwealth and thus reinforce the remarkable role that Her Majesty has played as Head of the Commonwealth over 66 years. I believe that he will be remembered as an outstanding private secretary to the Queen and a great public servant. I have to warn him that he has more to offer to this country in the years to come, not least in this Chamber, where we shall all look forward to his contributions.
I reinforce the congratulations to the Minister on his commitment to and enthusiasm for the Commonwealth. I hope that commitment and enthusiasm is now being reflected by other Ministers in the Government. Almost every single department—not just the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—needs to be committed in a collective sense to the Commonwealth. As always, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, who has been a tireless reminder of the potential of the Commonwealth. He has done this with a broad perspective of what value it can and must be to us.
I reflect what the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said. There have been many occasions in the past when there has been great anticipation for summits and CHOGMs, when people have expected great success. In my view, we have been disappointed many times that they have not moved forward as we would have liked. Now we have yet another—very important—opportunity to revitalise the Commonwealth. I am sure that I shall be challenged by historians, but I wonder what other empire over the centuries has managed to transform from an empire into a commonwealth of equal nations in the way in which it has happened in our Commonwealth. We have evolved as a kind of family club or voluntary association. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, we are not a substitute or replacement for the European Union; we are something quite different. This is thanks to Nehru, who arranged and persuaded the Commonwealth that Her Majesty should be its head, as she has been for 66 years. She has demonstrated this culture of personal rapport with people and Heads of Government that is at the heart of the Commonwealth. We have seen the emergence of India, which is absolutely central to the future of the Commonwealth. I hope that we shall see it play an increasingly important role in the future. We have this opportunity to translate ideals into action. We need more action and a greater battery of measures transforming these ideals into something practical. I hope this will emerge from the summit.
Many noble Lords have referred to the role of professional bodies. They have a vital role to play. There are one or two—I would say perhaps 10 or 12—very successful ones, such as the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, the Commonwealth Press Union Media Trust and, of course, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, led by the noble Lord, Lord Marland. The Commonwealth Foundation, of which I had the privilege of being the chair in the 1990s, deals with the non-government side of the Commonwealth and must give as much encouragement as it can to the proliferation and strength of these bodies. The non-government side of the Commonwealth matters as much as the government side.
Lastly, I want to touch on young people. As we have heard, 60% of men and women—two in three—are under 30. I feel that we have failed our children and our school students in this country. There is a remarkable lack of knowledge and understanding of their own history—transforming from an empire into a commonwealth—and what it must mean for them. I hope that we shall be able to strengthen the curriculum and teach our children more about the Commonwealth. Things such as the Commonwealth Class—a practical, technological way of linking up schools throughout the Commonwealth—as well as Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship schemes, must and I hope will be strengthened. Maybe the Minister will comment on this at the summit meeting
There is the whole question of youth and the emphasis on business creation and entrepreneurship and training for employment skills. Here, I want to express my pleasure at the Commonwealth of Learning to which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred. It is putting forward proposals for teaching employable skills to 15 to 25 year-olds in the Commonwealth. Skills and reskills are essential to getting jobs in Africa or on the Indian sub-continent. I hope that distance learning technology is something that will be pursued at the summit. We have a fresh opportunity this time. Let us take it.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to speak after my noble friend Lord Luce and after the hugely impressive maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt. He has been a huge force for good, supporting Her Majesty the Queen over many years. We look forward to many more contributions from him in this place, where we will hear his wisdom, intellect, skill and wit. How right the noble Lord, Lord Luce, is: the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, is only a fraction of the way through his life and he has much more to offer. As chairman of King’s College London, he has already made a tremendous impact in a relatively short time. Linked to this, I recognise the huge influence of Her Majesty the Queen, who for 66 years—with her personal authority, friendship, influence, example and steadfast dedication—has seen this institution grow and develop in an extraordinarily flexible and fluid manner. We have also heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, about the similar dedication of the Prince of Wales for a newer generation. The Commonwealth has long been one of his key priorities.
The difficulty of a debate such as this is that so many kindred spirits—noble Lords with whom one has a shared past and, hopefully, future—make wonderful remarks which it is difficult not to endorse. Thirty-five years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, was my neighbour, my guiding light, my source of wisdom and inspiration. Whenever I had an insoluble constituency problem, I would just pop over the border and ask the noble Lord, who immediately had the answer. What is so remarkable about him is that he is a visionary. He is forward-looking. So many people, as they move into their anecdotage, become natural remoaners. We should remember the noble Lord’s book, Old Links and New Ties: Power and Persuasion in an Age of Networks, published five years ago, which used language that was not commonly used then about the connectivities, fluid networks and markets of the future, and so it has proved to be. How right it is that the Minister should describe him as the real ambassador for the Commonwealth.
We live in turbulent and disturbing times. Many are concerned that the principles of democracy are under threat and that populism, nationalism and self-interest are in the ascendant. Only last night, James Harding, former editor of the Times and head of BBC News, delivered the Hugh Cudlipp lecture, “Is technology Destroying Democracy?” How apposite that is in the context of the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal. Here again perhaps, the Commonwealth has a unique potential. Enshrined in the 1971 Singapore Declaration of Commonwealth Principles is the support for democracy and for the inalienable right of every citizen to participate in framing the society in which they live. But, my goodness, in 2018, there is an undeniable global democratic threat. The annual Freedom in the World report by Freedom House shows that 2018 marks the 12th consecutive year of decline in global freedom. In the last year alone, more than twice as many countries showed net decline rather than improvement when measuring their political rights and civil liberties. This message is reinforced by the democracy index of the Economist Intelligence Unit, which reported that a majority of countries received lower scores in 2017 than they had a year before.
While the world may be facing a crisis, we recognise that the Commonwealth promotes democratic consolidation. It is beyond coincidence that membership of the Commonwealth correlates strongly with the presence of democratic processes and institutions. I acknowledge the valuable work of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth election management bodies. I echo the comment made by others about the encouraging developments in the Gambia, enabling it, through internationally applauded, neutral and transparent parliamentary elections, to rejoin the Commonwealth. However, human rights remain a concern. The Prime Minister said that Britain has a special responsibility to change hearts and minds, but not to preach or be Anglocentric, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said. But the fact is that elections in certain countries have been overshadowed by behaviour which is highly detrimental to fair contestation and inclusivity: for example, politically motivated arrests in Uganda and widespread election rigging in Bangladesh. Many Commonwealth countries fail to reach acceptable standards in freedom of the press. Brunei, Rwanda, Swaziland and Bangladesh are all in the lowest quartile of countries in the world for press freedom, and Malaysia, the Gambia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are not far above them.
The 2013 CHOGM in Sri Lanka was boycotted by India, Canada and Mauritius over human rights concerns, particularly the abuse of opposition journalists and politicians, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, recalled. He referred to the record on religious freedom, a point about which I feel most strongly. The Commonwealth Initiative for Freedom of Religion and Belief is incredibly important, because, as the right reverend Prelate rightly said, faith groups and faith relationships are a huge force for good. The right reverend Prelate and the Church Mission Society articulate the work they do spreading values which are really Commonwealth values—they are not the same but have a great deal of similarity—and so do other faith groups. This is a subtle balance that should not be underestimated. Capital punishment is still disproportionately high and too many Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality. We have an important part to play in this.
Finally, as Britain re-evaluates its position in the world and its relationships, we know that the markets of the future are in Asia and Africa. We also know that you do business with people you like and trust. I feel that prosperity for all is the best determinant of enlightened and responsible behaviour. Through this unprecedented business event, with 800 CEOs and non-executive directors gathering, I hope that we can re-energise prosperity, well-being and trust across the Commonwealth. There has been an extraordinary degree of preparation and I praise my noble friend Lady Anelay for her work before the Minister took it on. With so much work and effort, this really is an opportunity to create a more prosperous, safer, sustainable and fairer Commonwealth.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on a most excellent maiden speech. However, I have to say to him that the idea of him standing in the corner and poaching away very slowly is not one that will leave my mind too quickly.
I congratulate the Minister on opening the debate and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on opening the debate on the report of the International Relations Committee.
I have spoken many times in your Lordships’ House on the Commonwealth, particularly in relation to human rights and civil liberties, especially those not enjoyed by some minorities, or, indeed, by those who form the majority on our planet: women. In defending and promoting human rights, civil liberties, fundamental freedoms and universal values, we must apply the same principles whether here in the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland, in the European Union, or indeed across the globe. To do otherwise is to undermine the principle of the universality of human rights. It is in the context of human rights and civil liberties for all, regardless of difference, that I wish to approach this debate.
As we approach CHOGM in London and Windsor, I again pay tribute to the exceptional work undertaken by Malta during the summit in 2015. I also recognise, and pay tribute to, the work undertaken by the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, who has placed human rights at the forefront of her tenure, including LGBT rights, so that they are no longer an afterthought to be discussed in the margins of the summit. In this respect I know that she faces some opposition, but I know my noble and learned friend well and believe that she is well adapted to pursue this case vigorously.
Between 16 and 20 April, the United Kingdom will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit and it will focus, as we have heard, on delivering four outcomes under the theme of working towards a common future. Preceding the Heads of Government meeting, there will be four forums and inclusivity must be the key to all of them. They must not be a way of managing subjects into the shadows because some Heads of Government would rather not have the summit discuss the issues at all. Sadly, I have been reliably informed that certain minority issues, such as gender identity and lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people’s rights, will be sidelined in the forums, and that the Heads of Government will not discuss the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people and gender identity issues. That would be a travesty and a totally unacceptable outcome, particularly given the lead by the Maltese Government in 2015. However, I recognise that the Prime Minister, Mrs May, has already given a lead on inclusivity. Indeed, in her PinkNews Awards speech, she gave her commitment to undo the negative legacy of colonialism and, as she stated on Commonwealth Day last year, to reaffirm the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Democracy, human rights and the rule of law must include everyone; there must be no exceptions.
As other noble Lords have said, the Commonwealth is a family of nations, but for many of us, including LGBTI people, it is a family where we are not welcomed, are not treated equally or with dignity, and often are denied our liberty. In 36 of the 53 states of the Commonwealth, homosexuality is criminalised and same-sex relationships are banned. Although these laws were imposed by the United Kingdom, these countries cling desperately to this alien imposition almost as a badge of honour. The repression is not diminishing: in some countries, people boast of it, often citing culture or religious belief as a reason or an excuse. Sadly, all too often, organised religions and religious leaders condone such repressions actively or by their silence.
I defend religious beliefs and always will—even as a born-again atheist—but I will never defend the right to impose such beliefs on others when in so doing it diminishes the rights or protections of another human being. We absolutely need the voice of religion and religious leaders, and we need them in support of equality and non-discrimination, regardless of difference. That which we demand for ourselves we must demand for others.
I therefore come to the following observations. The Commonwealth Business Forum must address the reciprocity of rights of all people. Transnational corporations and business developers must recognise that discrimination and the denial of rights and equalities would prevent some inward investment and would certainly prevent the transfer of key business development staff to countries where they would lose not only the rights that they enjoy but potentially their liberty. The Commonwealth People’s Forum must also address the rights of LGBTI people and others who are oppressed if we are truly to achieve the prospect of an inclusive global community. It would be unacceptable if the Commonwealth Youth Forum failed to discuss gender identity and LGBTI people, particularly when one of our goals is that everyone should achieve their unique potential.
The women’s forum has a vast area of inequalities to address. Here again, no one should be left out. In all the work that we do, we need to recognise the multiplicity of types of discrimination that one person might face. Sadly, as I have said so often, to do nothing about one aspect of discrimination faced by an individual is to make redundant all the good on the other aspects that we have attempted.
Finally, no one should be left behind. Difference is not to be feared: it is to be embraced and celebrated. That is the nature of family; indeed, it is the essence of the human race. I pay tribute to those women and men and their allies from across the Commonwealth who face almost unimaginable situations in campaigning for the simple virtue of equality and inclusion. LGBTI activists from the Commonwealth Equality Network were here in London only a few weeks ago, hosted by the brilliant Kaleidoscope Trust.
I wish to remember, too, the brave and brilliant Ugandan activist David Cato, who was murdered because he dared to campaign for equality. We must remember him and, because of the rights denied to people, we must be determined to make certain that the Commonwealth is fit for purpose and fit for the modern world: open, inclusive and a beacon for democracy, human rights and the rule of law for all.
My Lords, with the permission of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in the other place earlier today. The Statement is as follows:
“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement to update the House on support for those affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy and on the second report from the Independent Recovery Taskforce. This report will be published in full on GOV.UK and placed in the Library of the House.
Nine months on, the shocking and terrible events of 14 June continue to cast a long shadow. I know that it cannot have been easy for survivors and the bereaved hearing last week about the failure of a fire door from the tower, tested as part of the Metropolitan Police Service investigation. I am confident that the police and public inquiries will, in time, provide answers but, having met survivors and heard their stories, I know that does not take away from the pain and loss being suffered now by those left behind. Their welfare remains our highest priority, through our continued work supporting the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and through my right honourable friend’s valuable work as Grenfell victims Minister, ensuring that their voices and concerns are heard right across government. That work is supported by my department and, more widely, by the NHS, local government and the voluntary sector.
My thanks go to everyone who has gone the extra mile to be there for a community which has gone through so much. I also thank the task force for its work in helping us ensure that, after the slow and confused initial response to the disaster, the people of North Kensington are receiving better support from RBKC to help them recover and rebuild their lives.
When I reflected on the task force’s first report in November, I was clear that, while progress was being made, I expected to see swift, effective action to address all the issues highlighted, particularly the slow pace of delivery and the need for greater empathy and emotional intelligence. These two things are absolutely vital if RBKC is to regain the trust of the people it serves. My department has been working closely with RBKC throughout to provide the support and challenge necessary to drive this work, and I am pleased to see, from the task force’s second report, that some important progress has been made. RBKC, alongside the Government, has put in significant resources and increased its efforts to provide those affected with greater clarity about the support that is available to them.
We have also seen a stronger focus on implementing new ways of working to drive much-needed cultural change across the council and collaboration with external stakeholders, along with greater candour about the improvements that still need to be made. However, there is much more to do to ensure that residents can see and feel that things are getting better on the ground. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the vital task of rehousing those who lost their homes: a task that, as I have always been clear, must be sensitive to individual needs, but not use these needs as an excuse to justify delays.
Five months on from the fire, at the time of the task force’s first report, 122 households out of a total of 204 had accepted an offer of temporary or permanent accommodation. Only 73 households had moved in, and only 26 of those into permanent homes. Today I can report that 188 households have accepted an offer of accommodation. Just over two-thirds of these— 128 households—have already moved into new accommodation, 62 into permanent homes. This is welcome news, but as the task force’s second report highlights, progress has been far too slow.
It was always going to be a challenge to respond to an unprecedented tragedy on this scale and to secure new accommodation in one of the country’s most expensive locations, but progress has not been made as quickly as it should have. There are still 82 households in emergency accommodation, including 15 in serviced apartments, with 25 families and 39 children among them. This is totally unacceptable. The suffering that these families have already endured is unimaginable. Living for this long in hotels can only make the process of grieving and recovery even harder. As the task force has said, it is unlikely that all households will be permanently rehoused by the one-year anniversary of the fire. This is clearly not good enough. I had hoped to have seen much more progress, and it is very understandable that the people of North Kensington will feel disappointed and let down even if there are encouraging signs that the pace of rehousing is speeding up.
The council now has more than 300 properties that are available to those who lost their homes, so each household can now choose a good quality property that meets their needs, with the option of staying in the area if they wish. To ensure that these homes are taken up, I expect all households, regardless of their level of engagement, to be given whatever support they require to be rehoused as quickly as possible. The Government will continue to play their part and provide help with rehousing and other support for survivors, including financial support worth £72 million to date.
The weeks ahead will be critical for ensuring that efforts to rehouse survivors go up a gear. I will be closely monitoring this progress and will of course keep the House updated. As I said earlier, if the council is to regain trust, it is paramount that the Grenfell community is not only being told that things are changing but can see that their views and concerns are being heard and acted on. A good example of this, as highlighted by the report, is the transfer of responsibilities from the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation—KCTMO—to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea on an interim basis. This happened after residents made it clear that the tenant management organisation could no longer have a role, not only at Lancaster West but in wider housing management within the borough.
Residents have also been engaged in the process of refurbishing the Lancaster West estate, with the Government matching the £15 million that the council is investing in this programme. Alongside this, the council will shortly be consulting with residents on the long-term delivery of housing management needs across the borough, and their voices and needs will also be at the heart of the process to determine the future of the Grenfell site and the public inquiry, which has just held its second procedural hearing. Those needs must be an even stronger focus as we go forward and step up efforts, not just on rehousing survivors but on helping them rebuild their lives and, vitally, rebuilding trust. It is a process that will clearly take time and unstinting commitment on all sides.
As the task force has noted, some progress has been made, but there is no room for complacency. I expect the council to take on board its recommendations and do more to listen to the community, to improve links with the voluntary sector and to act on feedback from those on the front line. I also want to thank the task force’s members once again for their valuable contribution—which will continue for as long as it is needed. As it has noted, despite the many challenges that exist at Grenfell, there is,
“a level of community spirit and attachment not often seen in local communities in London”.
There is a dynamic and diverse community spirit, made stronger during the darkest of days, which is determined to secure a brighter future for North Kensington. We share that determination and look forward to working with the bereaved, survivors and others, in this House and beyond, who want to help turn this into reality. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for repeating the Statement delivered by his right honourable friend the Secretary of State in the other place earlier today.
As usual, I pay tribute to the response on the night from the emergency services, and of course the response from all the public servants who have been helping ever since that terrible night, as well as the charities, faith groups and others who have worked to get the community back on its feet. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude for the work they have done and continue to do.
I also put on record—I have mentioned this many times—that the firefighters are still waiting for the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to apologise for the offensive comments he made about firefighters in the past. He is still silent on this, and of course he is a man who is not normally known for not voicing an opinion. We will probably never get that apology, but it is right that we should put that on record.
At 11 pages, this is a fairly long Statement from the Government today. When you look at it closely, it reveals disappointing progress; the Minister recognised that in his comments. We have 204 households, and only 62 have accepted permanent accommodation—so 142 households are still in some form of temporary accommodation nine months on from that dreadful fire. That is a regrettable situation to be in. The Prime Minister said in the immediate aftermath of the fire that everyone would be rehoused in three weeks. We now learn today that there will still be people in temporary accommodation on the anniversary of the fire. That is a most regrettable situation to be told of in the House today.
Can the Minister set out for the House what actions he and his other ministerial colleagues have undertaken since they previously reported on the numbers of households that had accepted permanent accommodation? In addition, for future Statements, can the Minister persuade his colleagues to set out where we are a bit more clearly? We know that we have 204 households—that is an agreed figure. It would be much easier for everyone if he then stated the number of households in permanent accommodation, then the number in temporary accommodation, and then the number in hostels, hotels or staying with family and friends. Sometimes we end up getting the permanent and temporary totals added together, and it is not always clear where we are. It would be much more transparent if we got them all laid out clearly for everyone in that way.
It is disappointing to note in the report of the task force that progress has been far too slow, with 82 households in emergency accommodation, including 25 families and 39 children. I agree with the Minister that this is totally unacceptable. As he said, the suffering that these families have already endured is unimaginable. However, although I agree with him, he is a member of the Government, and it is their duty to deal with this matter and to do right by the survivors as quickly as possible. We as the Opposition can only raise this question, but the Government’s job is to deliver, and they need to do so much more quickly. I noted also in the Statement that the Government had hoped to see more progress. When the Minister leaves the Chamber today, what will he do, with his other ministerial colleagues, to make sure that we do not have such a disappointing report the next time he reports back and that more progress takes place? Clearly, there have been systematic failures here. Whatever we thought would happen has not happened.
Regaining the trust of the community has to be the priority for Kensington and Chelsea Council. The political and senior management team has been changed, but we still have not seen the council get to grips with the challenges it faces. We expect the council to take on board what was reported and to be able to deliver. Can the Minister confirm that he is confident that, even with the changes to date, the authority can meet the challenges it faces? I accept that these are unprecedented challenges; if it cannot meet them, what else will the Minister and his colleagues do to ensure that the authority can deliver and do right by the residents? I noted the change of the housing organisation, which is good and what the residents wanted—but again, what about the council?
This is a most disappointing Statement from the Government. I hope that the next time we have a Statement, much more action will have taken place. I hope that the council takes on board the recommendations—but if the Minister feels that it does not, what will he do? I thank again the members of the task force for their report, which is a valuable contribution to what has happened, and I agree that the community in North Kensington has come together, which is the saving part of the tragedy. I will leave my comments there and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I thank the Minister for the Statement he has made and echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on the emergency services and the voluntary organisations in the area—and, of course, on the huge community spirit that has been released by this tragedy and which is still driving the community forward. I also welcome the forthright and robust terms that the Statement used, such as, “disappointing”, “concern” and “clearly not good enough”. All those feelings of anger and concern which were expressed in the other place and which the Minister has expressed again in this Statement are shared on these Benches—and more than shared by the local community, which is at the cutting edge of the disappointment, the concern and the anger.
As the Statement acknowledges, far too little progress has been made between the first report and the second report. It was good to hear that there will be increased attention to getting results, and so on. However, when all is said and done, I found it difficult to see in the Statement any new and different thing which the Government or their agents and agencies will do to move things forward. First, therefore, can the Minister tell us what new, practical steps will come out of the anger and concern that the Secretary of State expressed at the other end of this building? I recall that in a Statement before Christmas, the Minister responded to a question from me by saying that the wrapping of the eyesore—the fire-damaged block—would be completed by Christmas. I would welcome confirmation from the Minister that that is now the case.
There is a wider issue. There are 340 other blocks around the country with compromised fire safety, and many of them also have compromised insulation, which means higher heating bills as well as a higher fire risk. What advice is the Minister’s department giving to the owners and managers of those blocks about the remedial measures that they should be taking and, just as importantly, how many agreements have now been made with local authorities which have affected blocks about paying for the remedial action needed?
I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Stunell, for their contributions and for their general welcome of the report. Turning to the issues that have been raised, I totally endorse the comments about the commitment that we saw from the emergency services at the time of the fire and the immediate aftermath. They did fantastic work, and obviously that work is being continued by public servants—by civil servants and local authority workers, as well as by charities, faith organisations, voluntary organisations and volunteers. There was also an incredible outpouring of charitable giving after this awful disaster.
I shall try to deal, first, with the point concerning the figures raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy. I think I understand what he is getting at: it is perhaps more a question of the organisation of the figures. All the figures were in the Statement, as I am sure he appreciates. I shall take that point back—but, as I said, the figures are there. The noble Lord will know that to an extent there is a degree of fluidity about this. Some people were initially in temporary accommodation and, after a period there, they opted to stay on a permanent basis. So there is a bit of fluidity in the figures, as I am sure he will accept.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, for his acknowledgement of the robust nature of the Statement. I think that it reflects the feeling in the department. In fairness, considerable progress has been made in some areas, as the report will demonstrate, but much more needs to be done. We should remember that the task force is an intervention. This intervention will remain and the task force will report again in the autumn. The leader of the council and the council have an obligation to respond to the task force’s report, and I know that the Secretary of State has already spoken to the council about that.
We are expecting to see more progress in relation to the housing issue, but I gently remind noble Lords that the approach—which we have all accepted was the right one—was to allow people to turn down offers. I think it is right to say that everybody has had an offer, although I hesitate to say “every household” because some households have recently split, and that is another factor. However, certainly the vast majority of households have had offers. It was an agreed policy—probably in both Houses, but it was certainly the feeling in this House—that people should have the opportunity to turn down properties and change their minds. That said, we recognise that too many people, and certainly too many children, are in emergency accommodation, and that is not desirable. However, some people are still suffering trauma and do not want to discuss moving at this stage. I am not saying that that is the case for everybody but I remind noble Lords that it is still very much a factor, particularly if there is talk of moving to a high-rise building or even to one that has more than two or three storeys. There are considerable difficulties here, for understandable reasons.
Picking up on other points, the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked about the status of the block. I will get back to him on the precise situation but it remains a crime scene, which limits what can be done on it at the moment. However—again, this has been widely welcomed—we have given an undertaking that the future of the site will be determined by the local community. Quite rightly, it will take the lead on how the redevelopment goes ahead, and I am sure that we will all want that to happen at pace once the site is no longer a crime scene.
The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, also asked what was intended in relation to managed blocks in the private sector. We have provided financial assistance of £1 million to help identify blocks with Grenfell-type cladding, and that process is ongoing. However—I think that this is the point that the noble Lord was getting at—there is then a question of who pays for that. The view of the Secretary of State and the Government is that this should be met morally, if not legally, by the owners of the blocks. That said, we have seen cases where that process has not been followed. The Secretary of State is calling together a round table of those involved—landlords and, following an undertaking in the Statement made earlier today in the other place, tenant organisations, which will also have a view on this—to see what can be done in that regard.
On the question of those in social housing, we are still talking to 41 authorities, and deep discussions are going on with four to five organisations about assistance. Most of them do not want assistance with cladding; they want assistance with other things such as sprinklers. Therefore, it is not all specifically Grenfell-related, if I can put it that way. It may be that Grenfell has provided the impetus to look at these matters, but the assistance does not all relate to cladding. However, the discussions about financial assistance continue.
I think that those were all the points raised by noble Lords. If I have missed anything, I will, as always, write following the Statement, picking up points and, if necessary, correcting myself, as is sometimes the case.
My Lords, I welcome the emphasis in the Statement on the need for the council to listen more to the community. However, two weeks ago I attended a meeting in Parliament with Grenfell survivors and the UN special rapporteur on housing, and the primary message that I took away was that survivors still do not feel that they are being listened to—they do not feel that their voices are being heard. What will the Government do to ensure that survivors really are listened to and to ensure that they feel they are being listened to and that their voices genuinely are being heard?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, very much indeed, and I would be interested in talking to her further about that meeting. I know that Leilani Farha, the UN rapporteur, visited—we were, I think, unaware that she was coming and I do not think that she contacted the department or the Government. That said, in relation to the noble Baroness’s question, the Grenfell survivors Minister, Nick Hurd, certainly meets frequently with members of Grenfell United and with Grenfell survivors and bereaved. We are engaged in meeting the community. Civil servants from the department are still there on a permanent basis and are engaged in finding out what people’s needs are. As was indicated in the Statement, with the wide support of political parties here and in the other place, the welfare of the bereaved, the survivors and the community is central to the Government’s philosophy and policy.
My Lords, the Minister talked about rebuilding trust and clearly recognises that as an issue. I understand that there are anxieties and rumours locally that the total number of deaths has been withheld and that inaccurate information is being given out—in other words, that there were many more fatalities than have been reported. I also understand that the forensic work being undertaken is of a very high quality. It has been described to me as “heroic” by someone who is aware of the details, which I am not. Can the Minister encourage as much sharing of information as is possible? Of course there are sensitivities, but I hope he will agree that, however brutal the truth may be, truth is better than rumour.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, very much indeed, and I understand where she is coming from. First of all, in relation to the death toll conspiracy theories, if I can put it that way, these were certainly very much in existence early on. I think they have abated somewhat. There is certainly no substance to this. It is unimaginable that there would be some sort of cover-up of the number of dead. This just has not and would not happen under any government or local authority, or in any set of conceivable circumstances in this country. That has not happened.
Could I join the noble Baroness in the tributes she paid to those who have been engaged in forensic work? The trauma and the horror of having to do something like that is something that leaves the rest of us in awe. That has been very hard. While identification of the dead has not slowed the housing issue, it has slowed some of the progress that could be made. It has contributed massively to the trauma that people have felt there.
I agree with her about transparency. Wherever we can be transparent, I think the disinfectant of sunlight is the best way forward. Of course, there are sensitivities as she rightly says. There are also considerations with regard to any criminal proceedings, which would be another sensitivity. But certainly, wherever we can provide information and be open about information in response to any inquiry or in making Statements, we are seeking to do so.
My Lords, can the Minister give a timescale as to when Ministers intend to complete discussions with those in private properties who are now part of the situation where cladding has been under question? I have raised this matter with the Minister in a private letter, and I declare an interest as someone who lives in such a property. There is no such thing as moral obligation, because I do not think so far the landlords or the property owners have been given any indication as to when any help or advice will be forthcoming from the department. It would be very helpful if the Minister could indicate the timescale within which it is intended to complete this discussion, so we know exactly where we stand.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. He has indeed already raised this issue. Once again, I can well understand what is prompting him to do so, and it is an issue that concerns the Government. As I indicated, we are still in the process of identifying blocks that fall into this category, partly because of issues about where ownership is held. That said, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is very keen to hold this round table to look at the range of issues and options that apply here, because we do recognise, as the noble Lord has indicated, that this needs addressing. If I have further information on this, or about the timescale, I will certainly include it in the letter that I will write.
My Lords, I remind the House of my registered interests. I would like to ask the Minister to clarify the number of permanent homes that there shortly will be. I remind the Minister that, on 14 December 2017 in this Chamber, the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, said:
“The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is doing intensive work alongside the families, finding out what accommodation they need and where they need it, and seeking to match that with the 300 houses that it is acquiring. I very much hope that by June everybody will have been offered and accepted permanent accommodation”.—[Official Report, 14/12/17; col. 1669.]
It is now three months on since that Statement, and the end of June is three months on from now. I am very concerned about numbers being published which are open to question. I would like the Minister to clarify this: I think, but seek clarification, that the 300 homes referred to in this ministerial Statement are the same 300 homes that were said to be being assembled by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in December. Only 62 households have been permanently rehoused as of today, and a large number are waiting to be permanently rehoused. What is not clear is how many of the 300 mentioned in this Statement are permanent, and how many are only available for a temporary tenure.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, very much for those particular points. I think I heard the first question, but I think there was a sneeze in the Chamber, which happened at a strategic point. I think he was asking about the number of people housed in permanent homes at the moment?
To clarify, it was explained by the Minister in December, but not by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, that there was an expectation that all 300 families—all those who needed a permanent home—would have a permanent home by the end of June. I think that the 300 homes talked about in this Statement are the same 300 homes that we had in December. I do not know, because the Statement does not tell us, how many of those 300 in today’s Statement are actually available for permanent tenure. If they are not all available for permanent tenure, it implies that many are going to have to wait for many months to come to secure permanent accommodation.
I am grateful to the noble Lord and see the point that he is making. I think the reference in the Statement, though I do not have the relevant figure to hand, is over 300. I think it is the same 300. I think there are certainly more than enough permanent homes to house all the households, which are, I think, 204 as we stand. There are still splitting of households, which might send it up to 210. I will confirm that in the letter, if I may. I think that is the case.
I take the more general point which was made previously by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about providing more clarity in the way we set out the figures. The figures are here, but perhaps not as well set out as they could be. The aim is certainly to ensure that these homes are taken up on a permanent basis. I do once again confirm that the vast majority of people have had offers made to them. We can make offers, but we cannot command people to accept them and nor have we ever sought to do so. It has generally been supported in the House that we cannot require people to accept them. Of course, we can try to ensure—this is a point that the task force made in the second report—that there is more personalised consideration of people’s particular needs and wants, and that is something that I hope we are able to pick up, so that we can match people’s needs with a particular property. But there are still people—I do not want to overstate it—who do not yet want to engage with the discussion because of the trauma associated with moving, even out of emergency accommodation where some of them are quite familiar. That may be something that we do not think is objectively desirable, but we have to be sensitive to their feelings.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018
Motion to Take Note (Continued)
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on his maiden speech; I was delighted to have the commitment to the Commonwealth of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales reaffirmed.
I was particularly struck by the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on the harnessing of civil society. What occurs to me is that, while heads and Ministers are important, it is the people’s Commonwealth on which we should be focusing. How appropriate it is that the emphasis on civil society should be at the CHOGM hosted here in London.
This year’s theme of a common future and role for the Commonwealth in a more prosperous, sustainable, secure and fair future is also integral to Britain’s outlook of reshaping relations in the changing international environment by strengthening diplomatic, trade, defence and security ties. We have heard from the Minister that the final communiqué will reflect the continuing promotion of a more prosperous, sustainable, secure and fair future—a common future, a vibrant future, shaping the Commonwealth’s purpose into the 21st century. Promotion of economic and social development, a broad ability to assist in building capacity for democracy and human rights, economic development and governance by focusing on strengthening national capabilities are central.
Commonwealth membership also remains attractive because the community provides an important trade network. Although not a formal trading bloc, the network provides access to established economies such as Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but also emerging markets such as India and Malaysia. The Commonwealth also reaches into international organisations such as ASEAN, the African Union, the Caribbean Community and the Pacific Islands Forum. I take on board fully the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about the regions of the Commonwealth not necessarily being able to be relied on as a replacement for the European Union. Appropriate care should be taken in that regard.
The overnight news that 44 countries in Africa have agreed a deal for a continental free trade area is welcome. However, I can see this presenting challenges and opportunities for the future. I was delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, made mention of my friend and mentor, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, a past, effective Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. I have a sneaking regard for the just-announced initiative in respect of Africa beyond the strengthening of internal continental trade. Trade relies on good transport links, so I hope that there will be progress in the development of east/west links rather than the current north/south Paris-London necessities.
Trade between Commonwealth states is estimated at more than $680 billion, and intra-Commonwealth trade is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020. According to the Commonwealth Secretariat, when both partners are Commonwealth members, they trade 20% more, pay 19% less and generate 10% more foreign direct investment inflows. This “Commonwealth effect” shows that membership contributes positively to increased trade, investment and labour flows.
Commonwealth members’ trade relationship with the UK has for decades been governed through EU policies. Brexit means that Commonwealth members’ trade relations with the UK are at a crossroads. There is huge potential to capitalise on new trade and investment opportunities with Commonwealth nations. There needs to be a focus on achieving improved trade logistics, simplifying tariffs and other barriers to trade, and developing regional supply chains where Commonwealth countries have existing advantages. There is huge scope to improve this and it should be a prime focus.
However, we need to encourage new sets of players to take an active role. Yesterday, for example, I had the opportunity to call into the Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce’s offices here in London to discuss a wide range of issues beyond just that of the Commonwealth. We determined that it had never been more important to stand together than in these challenging political times to create a conducive business environment that facilitates trade, job growth and prosperity. SMEs in particular depend on this to be able to grow. Such an environment will be dependent on harmonising regulations, reducing non-tariff barriers and improving access to the digital economy. Digital trade enables more entrepreneurs and businesses to trade, particularly SMEs, in emerging markets. It helps remove unnecessary red tape, increase financial inclusion, tackle corruption, connect rural communities to global consumers and increase the number of women in business. I can envisage a clear central role for the International Chamber of Commerce in bridging the gap between the private sectors and global policymakers.
We can also look forward to the Commonwealth Business Forum. All in all, much will come from these initiatives. While it is for the private sector to come together, too much is sometimes expected from government. However, its role is to underpin opportunity by providing export finance facilities and the like.
For my own part, and it is appropriately declared, my humble contribution is that of creating SupplyFinder.com, a platform to promote, connect and facilitate global trade. However, in recognition of this upcoming CHOGM, I am launching TradeCommonwealth.co.uk, which will coincide with identifying opportunity and connecting particularly SMEs around the Commonwealth.
Although we can hold our head high and be proud of the shared association with countries around the world, it places a burden of responsibility on us. We do pull our weight; much of our contribution is unsung, but we—the family—face common modern-day challenges: climate change, new cross-border security threats and threats to our shared values. The Commonwealth should ensure that the organisation remains responsive to these to retain relevance, vibrancy and effectiveness. Our country’s mantra should be: what is good for our friends is what is good for us.
Mr Arnold Smith, the first Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, possibly had in mind our common values, friendship and understanding when he remarked:
“100 years from now, I suggest, historians will consider the Commonwealth the greatest of all Britain’s contributions to man’s social and political history”.
It was Her Majesty the Queen, however, who stirred the imaginations of us all when she noted that,
“what we share through being members of the Commonwealth is more important and worthy of protection than perhaps at any other time in the Commonwealth’s existence. We are guardians of a precious flame, and it is our duty not only to keep it burning brightly but to keep it replenished for the decades ahead”.
These words should be remembered this time forth.
My Lords, I am delighted that we have the opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 and the Select Committee report from the International Relations Committee on the same subject. Let me congratulate the Minister for the Commonwealth, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on his excellent contribution at a recent meeting on the topic of CHOGM and the sustainable development goals. We should add to this the considerable interest in the Commonwealth taken over the years by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, chair of the Select Committee. Let us also not forget the excellent contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, in his maiden speech.
Over the years, we have diluted the importance of the Commonwealth in the work of the Foreign Office. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is rightly credited with bringing the C-word—Commonwealth—back into the mainstream of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We therefore start with two positive role models for this important debate.
Over this present Session of Parliament, we have spent considerable time debating our stance on Europe. In the context of these debates, it is important to note that serious attempts are being made to build our trade relations with rest of the world. In April, CHOGM is meeting in London at a crucial time when minds are focused on identifying countries where trade relations are vital for the prosperity of the United Kingdom. We can no longer afford to ignore our Commonwealth countries in this equation. The days of imperial power have gone; we now have to treat these countries as equal partners.
We have long considered the development of a values-driven society as a core goal, and we expect every nation to abide by this objective. The question we need to ask is: what is a liberal concept of a modern society and how should we respond to debates about fairness and ethics in search of such goals?
I am grateful to the Lords Library for the briefing notes it provided. We are told:
“The Heads of Government Meeting will focus on creating a prosperous future for all Commonwealth member states”.
This reminds me of the words of Kofi Annan, who said that we must make fair trade work for the poor. Poverty can be defined as the deprivation of basic human needs: for example, sufficient food, clean water and shelter. It also extends into a lack of resources and services such as healthcare and education, which add security and quality to a person’s life. Poverty has arguably existed for as long as human beings have. We have come to accept that along with the richer, there will be the comparatively poor. This is so true of our Commonwealth. Today we are faced with a world where nearly a fifth of the population live in extreme poverty. In such countries, wealth and power rests with a few. People are rightly demanding an end to unfair trade rules, for example: in common cash crops, in the replacement of Governments found to be corrupt, and in increased aid to the poorest and economically least-developed countries.
We in the UK have a good record on providing aid. For example, at one stage we completely cancelled the debts of some of these emerging nations. But we need to do much more than that; let me give three examples. A major police investigation relating to practices of bribery and corruption by an international arms manufacturing company was discontinued because it was not in our national interest. We also supplied a third-world country with a multi-million pounds air defence system that had no strategic importance—I refer to the country of Tanzania, where I have an interest because I was born there. Furthermore, where are the ethics when the drugs that can assist in dealing with HIV/AIDS are not available because the recipients cannot afford the cost of them?
Corruption seems to thrive in many Commonwealth countries. Poverty is endemic in many countries as well. We need to ask whether trade liberalisation can benefit the Commonwealth in the current economic climate. The reality today is that 1.2 billion people are living below the international poverty line, deprived of approximately $700 billion per year through unfair trade rules, while HIV/AIDS is a growing killer.
I am grateful for the briefing notes from the Fairtrade Foundation. I am well aware that fairtrade already operates across the Commonwealth, including the consumer markets in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. I trust that any trade communiqué will note that one-third of fairtrade-exporting countries are Commonwealth members and that there are more than a million fairtrade workers and producers in Commonwealth countries.
There is a message here for those who have been talking about Brexit. Free trade or trade liberalisation does not mean unregulated trade, whereby vulnerable communities are exploited by powerful multinational corporations. Free trade does not disregard the need to ensure gender equality, prevent child labour and ensure that supply chains function with optimal benefits for those along the entire supply chain, especially those at the bottom. We have seen evidence that trade tariffs, western farming subsidies and commodity dumping have made it difficult for some African states to generate healthy and stable economies. Many countries are not able to sell their products, even to their neighbours, who can import products more cheaply from Europe and the United States.
We have evidence that women are more vulnerable to poverty than men and that access to global markets is essential if women are to be empowered to work their way out of poverty. Trade liberalisation is not without its difficulties but it must not be confused with free trade and the complete absence of regulations. Impoverished communities should not be seen as pools of cheap labour and threats to domestic labour; rather, they are untouched markets, potential consumers and ultimately, valuable participants in the growth of the world economy.
There are other issues from which many countries of the Commonwealth have shied away, for example those of the LGBT community. I was delighted by the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, on this subject. We in the United Kingdom have a proud record of abolishing capital punishment. Is it not time for the Commonwealth to consider this issue? Some Commonwealth countries still lag behind in building a consensus on these issues. The root cause of international strife is poverty and all that goes with it. No country can prosper if a section of its community is discriminated against or disadvantaged. This is a challenge we all face but CHOGM gives us the opportunity. It is time for action, for change and for building a safe and decent Commonwealth.
My Lords, I welcome this debate and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on his maiden speech. I shall long remember his previous function in this place—he once replaced a dry-cleaning ticket for the Queen’s Speech, and I thank him for that. I note that the aim of the Commonwealth conference is to deliver,
“a more prosperous, secure, sustainable and fair future for all its citizens”,
and that one of the forums will be devoted to women’s issues, which is of course what I want to concentrate on.
No country can achieve the aims stated unless it uses the talents of half of its population, who are women. Those talents are lost. If a country wants a sustainable and prosperous future, women and young girls must be valued and not left destitute by out-of-date laws and policies. The sustainable development goals must be remembered, SDG 5 in particular.
No woman can be empowered to take a full part in society if she is not given power over her own body—to choose the number of children she has and to resist the horrors of FGM and child marriage. When she can do these things, she and her children have a better chance of education and joining fully in their society and its workforce. The World Bank has shown that when fertility rates fall—that is, family size—the economy of a country improves, there is less strain on natural resources and less tendency for people to want to migrate. It is therefore crucial that the conference promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls, and ensures that they have access to family planning above all things.
“Family planning” is such a mumsy phrase. It sounds like too much of a detail and is not the stuff that men usually talk about at international conferences—I know men and I have been to a few of those conferences. But it is so important and it will benefit all of society when Finance Ministers, not just Health Ministers, take it seriously. Our Government recognise its importance and the Department for International Development is concentrating resources on sexual and reproductive health. It is our Minister’s job to convince the heads of Commonwealth countries that that is so. It is a simple and inexpensive intervention, and requires no coercion.
Much research has been done on the benefits of providing family planning facilities in a country. A figure widely quoted is that for every dollar spent on family planning, the economy of a country will benefit by $120—not a bad investment. Where does that figure come from? It has not come out of my head or that of any other family planning enthusiast. It is a figure endorsed by the Department for International Development, US AID and the Guttmacher Institute, and in many other academic papers written in the last 10 years.
Three years ago a Danish economist, Bjorn Lomborg, assembled many teams of economists plus representatives of the United Nations, NGOs and business, to look at the most effective way of achieving the sustainable development goals, which we hear so much about. The most beneficial measure according to all their research was, not surprisingly, lowering barriers to trade, which I know is very important in Africa. But the second most effective measure was to provide sexual reproductive health services, including family planning, confirming the figures we all like to quote. I repeat: for every dollar spent on family planning, the economy will benefit by $120. Importantly, sexual and reproductive health services must include access to safe abortion, and many Commonwealth countries do not provide this for their women. Malta, for example, which this country is succeeding as Chair-in-Office, prohibits abortion entirely, even to save a woman’s life. Maybe women in Malta can afford to travel abroad when they need an abortion, but women living in the global South and many Commonwealth countries cannot afford this and will seek a dangerous illegal abortion.
I draw attention to the hearing report launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, which I chair. Our report is called Abortion in the Developing World and the UK, and it quite clearly states that the abortion rates are the same whether legal or illegal in a country. The important difference is that women who take matters into their own hands because there are no facilities are frequently maimed for life or die. This is another loss to their country and a great expense on their health services. It is a totally unnecessary expense if that country provides access to family planning and safe abortion.
Finally, I return to impressing on this House the importance of all countries providing sexual reproductive health services and family planning for their populations. I beg the Minister to take these issues forward at the conference and make sure that this is mentioned in the final communiqué.
My Lords, this is an exciting moment for the United Kingdom to be hosting CHOGM, and it gives those of us who are despondent about exiting the European Union the chance to think positively and constructively about our relationship with Commonwealth countries, with which we have so much in common. The theme “Towards a Common Future” is very apt, and we are indebted to my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lord Howell for giving us this opportunity and starting the debate with such eloquence.
There is so much to say that it is difficult to confine oneself in the short time available. First, I want to speak about the Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum, as indeed have others. Over the years, not only in the CPA UK branch but at international CPA assemblies, people have raised the issue of the lack of parliamentary representation at heads of state meetings, which is particularly important for those countries with presidential systems. Tribute should be paid to the CPA UK branch for grasping the opportunity to organise what was a successful initial meeting. As has already been pointed out, the forum engaged more than 80 delegates from across 30 Commonwealth countries, covering Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Americas, and an equally impressive youth delegation of leaders and activists in their respective fields. I attended many of the sessions and I know my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lord Howell, and others from the House, were welcome and important contributors.
The declaration resulting from our deliberations will, I hope, be considered fully at the CHOGM in April and influence the final outcome. I hope too that this event becomes an established part of future CHOGMs. I would like to see the Parliamentarians’ Forum and its declaration continue to be part of the build-up to and preparation for future CHOGMs. The United Kingdom’s role of Chair-in-Office over the next two years gives us the opportunity to advance this suggestion, as well as the many other novel and practical suggestions that have been made during this debate. I hope the Government will do so.
Secondly, I would like to focus on the status of overseas territories. The United Kingdom still has 14 overseas territories, tiny territories with independent constitutions, mostly standing on their own two feet. I recognise that other Commonwealth countries also have overseas territories—Nigeria, and Australia with Norfolk Island, spring to mind. An international grouping of them all, similar to UKOTA for the United Kingdom overseas territories, could be encouraged. Why can the overseas territories not have some sort of independent voice and status within the Commonwealth and independent representation at CHOGMs? A way could surely be found to elect one or more representatives of overseas territory Governments in order to at least have observer status. Given the importance and impact of climate change on these tiny territories and their rich biodiversity, it would be appropriate. Although this may not be on the agenda for CHOGM in April, given the comments of my noble friend Lord Howell about reaching out to other organisations, I hope the idea can at least be considered at the fringes, and that it has the support of my noble friend the Minister and is carried forward during our two years as Chair-in-Office.
My third point is about education, which is very much on the agenda of the April CHOGM. Its importance has already been recognised in the course of the debate. In the late 1980s I had the role of Education Minister in your Lordships’ House, and I attended the Commonwealth Education Ministers’ meeting in Kenya, in 1988. The late Asa Briggs, the eminent educationalist and former Member of your Lordships’ House, proposed the concept of a university of the Commonwealth. The outcome was the Commonwealth of Learning referred to by my noble friend Lord Howell and others. Although it does great work, it is not as well known as it should be. We should revisit the name and it should be known as the University of the Commonwealth, but the important thing is to find a way to ensure that its work is better understood and appreciated.
Again and again, the subject of education was raised at the Parliamentarians’ Forum and the declaration makes reference to a focus on Commonwealth education in school curriculums, not just in the United Kingdom. There are many other ways we can take advantage of our common language—exchanges of teachers and more scholarships for young people, building on the excellent existing Commonwealth scholarship scheme. Let us keep up the momentum engendered by this CHOGM here in London and continue to monitor progress and activity, with all the means at our disposal here in your Lordships’ House, in order to achieve that common future.
My Lords, I welcome the renewed interest in the Commonwealth and the UK Government’s decision to host CHOGM next month. I very much appreciate the active role that the Minister is playing in promoting that and working for it to be the success that we all wish.
It is also interesting that last year saw the first meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers. To me, it is a shame that it took Brexit for something like that to happen, when it could have happened at any time in the last 40 years and perhaps should become a regular event. I am wholly in favour of promoting trade with the Commonwealth, but it is a total delusion to see the Commonwealth as any kind of substitute for our trade with the EU. It is worth pointing out that Germany’s exports to the Commonwealth are more than ours by a margin of around 17.5%, if you take the top 10 of our exports. It managed to achieve that in spite of the appalling constraints of being a member of the European Union.
It would also be a terrible mistake to view the Commonwealth as the vehicle for the Empire 2.0 project, which some of the harder-line Brexiteers have been heard to talk about. We all recognise and welcome the fact that the Commonwealth long ago ceased to be the British Commonwealth. It is not and never will be a trading bloc. As many noble Lords have said, it is a voluntary association of sovereign nation states with a shared history and shared values. Its actions are based on consent; members can leave without negotiation, as the Maldives did, and can also be expelled—and, of course, as we have heard, the Gambia has rejoined.
It is also true that when we joined the European Community we offended some Commonwealth members, notably New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, Australia. But they have moved on and built their economies on their own regional trading blocs. I have no doubt that New Zealand would love a deal that allowed them to pour their lamb back into our markets, as well as the wine produced on what used to be sheep farms. However, I fear for what that would do to our own sheep farmers, who already face the loss of their prime export market for live lambs, mostly to France. In fact, in the month after the referendum, the export of Scottish lambs to France fell by 80%. It recovered because the French could not find the lambs anywhere else, but that clearly indicated that, once we leave the EU, they will not be looking for Scottish lambs.
Frictionless trade is never as simple as it sounds. As president of the Caribbean Council, I know that Commonwealth countries have concerns that the European partnership agreement with Caricom may be compromised by the UK’s exit, especially as we are the prime destination or transmission route for their products. Cane sugar producers in Guyana, Belize, Jamaica and Barbados are concerned that the special status that they currently enjoy will be sacrificed to open up exports from Brazil—something that it appears Tate and Lyle is lobbying hard for—resulting in their severe hardship. Tate and Lyle’s case, of course, failed to mention the consequences for weak Caribbean countries. What assurances can the Minister give that we will give priority to the agreements that we currently have?
So changing trade patterns with the Commonwealth need to be entered into sensitively and realistically—but let me turn away from trade and look at those other aspects of the Commonwealth that are of great value. It is interesting to ask what holds us together. Why does it still exist? The Commonwealth charter shares values and principles, such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Less openly stated is a shared heritage of the English language and rule from Britain during the days of Empire. It certainly does not behove Britain to lecture—and I do not think that that is the tone of the debate in this House—but rather to facilitate frank and open discussion. That is why I very much welcome the four forums proposed for the CHOGM summit: the youth forum, the women’s forum, the business forum and the people’s forum. I hope that citizens from across the Commonwealth will be emboldened to highlight controversial issues.
My noble friend Lady Barker in a previous Commonwealth debate mentioned that 40 of the 53 Commonwealth countries outlawed homosexuality. It is nice to know that that number has reduced, but it is still extremely high. Female genital mutilation exists across too many countries, but is especially prevalent in the Gambia and Sierra Leone, is high in Nigeria, Kenya and Tanzania, and exists in Ghana. Child marriage—by that I mean marriage under 15—blights the lives of girls in many countries, notably Nigeria and Pakistan. As the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, mentioned, access to family planning and safe abortions is not readily available in many Commonwealth countries. So I hope that, through the forum, powerful voices within those countries may be raised so that they can examine the impact of these practices and start campaigning for basic rights.
I welcome the commitment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, during the election campaign to democracy and development, and I will finish by focusing on development, much of which goes to the Commonwealth. I am concerned that over the past two years development expenditure has come under pressure and, contrary to popular belief, is being cut. Humanitarian aid has nearly doubled, mainly because of Syria and Yemen; 25% of ODA goes through other departments for which development is not a priority—rather, security and prosperity are. There has been a substantial uplift in the allocation of funding available for the CDC, which I do not oppose, and the purchasing power of the pound has fallen by 20% since the referendum. Can I ask the Government to acknowledge this—because, frankly, I do not think that they have acknowledged that development spending specifically is being cut? We have an enviable record of strengthening health and education; we used to lead on building agricultural resilience; and we are helping people, especially women, to acquire skills and access to finance, title to their land and cash transfer payments. But many of these programmes are coming to an end and do not appear to be being replaced.
I praise the Government for the commitments that they have made, but we need to prioritise things such as disability, particularly sensory deprivation for blind and deaf people. Girls especially are vulnerable. I will make my final point on this issue and declare my interest not just in development but in deafness. For deaf and blind girls, the prospect of rape or sexual assault is high. Many of our charities, such as Sightsavers, Deaf Child Worldwide and DeafKidz International, are doing great work with local partners. We cannot bind any country at CHOGM, but we can open their eyes and ears and provide a voice to those for whom development offers hope for a better future. Let us maintain it.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. His warning about the cuts in development spending are, I hope, well heard by the Minister and others. I congratulate my new noble friend Lord Geidt on his memorable maiden speech. I can tell him that it is always a pleasant experience to debate the Commonwealth in this mainly empty Chamber; it is a subject that inspires warmth and optimism and arouses positive feelings, which makes it a rarity at a time when global solutions seem to be out of reach. It has also become a more fashionable topic in the era of Brexit and as we approach the London CHOGM.
None the less, if you look more closely at the Commonwealth, it contains a huge assortment of nations, within which dwell many of the world’s intractable problems: climate change, natural disaster, autocratic rule, human rights abuse, and so on. If we can solve some of the problems this afternoon, we will have done a lot for the world at large.
The main themes are prosperity, sustainability, security and fairness, and I shall concentrate on two of those. First, on sustainability, we are very fortunate in this House to have the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, as our informal ambassador for the SDGs, and I congratulate him and the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, who both shared their insights and briefings on these subjects. The SDGs are in some ways more nebulous than the old MDGs, because there are so many of them: 17 goals and 169 targets. Nevertheless, they are more focused, and the Commonwealth is ideally placed to carry them forward.
The Minister has emphasised young people, and the Government have been quite right to pick up girls’ education and the injustice that millions of girls inside the Commonwealth do not attend school. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is another great champion of rights for women and girls. DfID has some excellent programmes in east Africa run by those communities themselves, and we need more of them.
A critical part of poverty reduction is data collection, and I have been asking the Government whether DfID is backing up the poorest countries in their attempt to measure and monitor their own SDGs. The answer has come back from the noble Lord, Lord Bates, that of course the UK is in the forefront of data collection, through our own Office for National Statistics and to 20 developing countries via the UN statistics department. Therefore my supplementary question to the Minister is: can the Commonwealth itself, given its special status between the developed and developing worlds, be given any specific role in monitoring the SDGs?
Then there is fairness—a vast theme encompassing human rights, good governance, the rule of law and fair trade. Gay rights has become a contentious issue in east Africa, and there is regrettably no sign of a breakthrough via the Anglican Communion. However, the Commonwealth may be one of those agencies where gradual change can and should be encouraged. The Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, yesterday showed that the Minister is only too well aware of that issue.
Good governance is an equally tricky subject when it comes to the ability of political leaders—some highly respected individuals, such as President Museveni, an old friend of this country—to cling to office and manipulate so-called free elections. But again, peer groups of nations acting through Commonwealth auspices can make a difference in the long run. Zimbabwe is going to come under close scrutiny, not only in Africa but everywhere, to see whether it can move towards these elements of fairness that would qualify it for membership.
Both these themes of sustainability and fairness are well illustrated by the Fairtrade Foundation, an organisation I have admired since it was founded in 1992 by aid agencies including Christian Aid, Traidcraft, CAFOD and Oxfam. The idea of trading fairly with the poorest countries caught on quickly in the supermarkets and today, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, there are over 1 million Fairtrade workers and producers in Commonwealth countries alone.
Fairtrade has a particular message for CHOGM. It urges the Commonwealth to: commit to living incomes and living wages; combat modern slavery through effective measures; develop trade policies guided by the SDGs; support women’s economic empowerment, including measures to promote women’s leadership; and invest in producers and provide incentives for those seeking higher ethical and sustainable standards. The CDC is taking up the challenge of poverty reduction as a right arm of DfID—not an easy task for a historically commercial organisation.
I have urged the CPA to arrange MPs’ visits to countries where the CDC is active. Public-private enterprise must be at the heart of international development within the Commonwealth family, alongside the many other NGOs now being used by DfID. Incidentally, I hope DfID has noticed the sensible suggestion recently put forward by Jeremy Lefroy MP for the UK to have its own development bank after Brexit, especially since we will be leaving the European Investment Bank.
To the new members of the Commonwealth I would like to add two other names—Nepal and South Sudan. The political scene in Nepal has recently changed dramatically with the re-election of Prime Minister Oli earlier this year, ending months of deadlock. Nepal is still recovering from two severe earthquakes nearly three years ago. It has always cherished its independence, but it is a largely free society and I still hold out hopes that its economy would benefit enormously from membership of the Commonwealth.
South Sudan is another of the world’s poorest countries with strong UK connections that would, or will eventually, gain from Commonwealth membership. But little can really be said about that until a Government are formed who truly represent the whole nation and end the current tragic round of conflict and bloodshed. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, reminded us, we all know that “Brexit or the Commonwealth” is not a genuine either/or choice. Yet there is something quite sad about the UK returning to its former status as an offshore island seeking old and new friends somewhere out in the ocean.
It is clear that whatever their concern for the health of other member nations, our Government will be using CHOGM to strengthen their own diplomatic, economic and development ties around the world—and so they should. My personal preference would be for the Government to go rapidly into reverse gear and to remain in the EU where we properly belong—but I recognise that that story is for another day.
My Lords, I am pleased to be taking part in this debate, initiated by the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Howell of Guildford. It is an important opportunity to celebrate all that is good about the Commonwealth. We are part of one of the largest gatherings of global citizens, and it is all made possible by the incredible work that ensures that the organisation not only functions well and is fit for purpose, but is also forward-thinking in this increasingly digitised and mobilised world, where networks and people connected together are increasingly working towards the common good of all humanity.
The Commonwealth, with its great wealth of people, institutions, and diplomatic ties, is well placed to be a leader in helping others as well as itself. I wonder how we might make use of the resources at our disposal to bring together more stakeholders to help more women and girls gain access to the tools they need to empower them and improve their lives and the lives of their dependants.
The theme of CHOGM is “Towards a Common Future”, and I can think of no better way to advance this aim than to help as many other people as possible. One of the reasons why this is so important is that both our country and the Commonwealth are committed to supporting the SDGs and pursuing an agenda of 50:50 equality by 2030. Therefore bringing together pooled resources of knowledge and skills will not only help bring the goals closer to realisation but also benefit many individuals along the way. This is particularly important for gender equality, which is a main part of the goals.
South Asia is one of the areas of the Commonwealth that would particularly benefit from a concerted effort to address many of the issues that women and girls face. UNICEF reports that in the region there is,
“a lack of education opportunity for millions of girls, social customs that accept extreme gender bias, and practices such as early marriage”.
This is something that the Commonwealth as a whole should address urgently, as such issues often mean that many women and girls live in poverty and are abused because they are treated as second-class citizens.
UNICEF also reports that one-quarter of the world’s children live in South Asia and that:
“The number of children whose survival is in danger, or whose lives are blighted because of gender or poverty, remains stubbornly high. Almost half of the region’s children are underweight”;
and that the area has,
“some of the world's highest rates of maternal mortality”.
Addressing these issues through the common wealth that we share, and drawing on expertise and skills from the whole of the Commonwealth, would help to accelerate change and improve the lives of women and girls in South Asia in particular, and also those of women globally.
Efforts such as this are aligned with the aims of the Women’s Forum and even the Youth Forum when we think of how many young people are married under the age of 18 within the Commonwealth. We should be bringing all our resources together to fight against injustice and human rights abuses, as well as many other problems we face today, including modern day slavery and trafficking. The Commonwealth is committed to gender equality, and we are now well placed to truly do something about it.
If these issues are not tackled, for many women and girls a life blighted by cruelty and injustice is all they can hope for. We must do more to change and turn things around so that they are more empowered and can participate more fully in the communities in which they live, bringing their wants and needs to the policymakers, becoming policymakers themselves, and changing the world for good. I urge the Governments of all the Commonwealth countries to address these problems and provide education and opportunities for women and girls to become self-reliant and better placed to take advantage of the better prospects that an education can offer.
I am extremely grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad and Lord Howell, for organising this important debate on the Commonwealth. I have been lucky enough to have lived my entire life in Commonwealth states. My heritage originates from India and I lived in Kenya before coming to this country. Throughout my career I have pushed for closer ties with the Commonwealth and a strengthening of the deep bond of kinship that links us together. I am pleased to see some commitments to an intensification of ties in this report, but there are some parts I feel I must call out.
In her 2016 evidence, the Secretary-General said that relations with the EU and with the Commonwealth were not an “either/or” situation. In a narrow sense this is correct, but it misses the point entirely. The slow ebb of powers to Brussels robbed our Ministers in the other place of many levers that they could previously rely on. Most notably, we ceded our entire trade system, tariffs and all, to the Commission. We could rely on only 1/28th of a say in that system and there was no way we could pretend to have an independent policy when it came to international engagement. Freed from the customs union and single market we will have a precious chance to rejuvenate some of our links to countries in every continent and time zone on earth.
More broadly, we will have to consider what our true role in the Commonwealth is. Will we be facilitators, hosting regular summits and meetings on issues of international concern? Will we be dealmakers, pushing for agreements on certain matters? We might even be global ambassadors, pushing for more countries to join or return to the Commonwealth. Ministers and the secretariat will need to give these questions careful thought, but there is one issue upon which we have a moral duty to lead.
Discussions of human rights in the Commonwealth are often kicked under the carpet for fear of seeming undiplomatic. It is certainly not the done thing to harangue or embarrass one’s allies in front of the world. That is something that ought to be avoided, but our diplomats must push as hard as possible behind the scenes to get some practical commitments on LGBT rights and female empowerment. The British people will be dismayed to see us enter into agreements if there is no push for progress in these areas. I have great faith in the Minister. Can he assure me that human rights will be one of the areas in which we seek to negotiate and encourage progress in our new Commonwealth strategy?
My final thought on the matter is this: great opportunities beckon if we can be flexible. A wide-ranging free trade deal with India is one of the biggest prizes we can aim for, as our investment links and cultural connections have primed our markets for closer co-operation. However, we will need to cede on some issues. It is common knowledge that the price of such a deal would be more visas for students and businesspeople. I would welcome this wholeheartedly in any case as I think international students are some of the most important migrants we can attract, but the point is this: there will be give and take. The UK does not have any sort of entitlement to good deals, so we will need to take a hard and calculated look at the trade-offs. Ministers will need to be straight with the public. If they are, we can make faster and better progress.
My Lords, like others, I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for introducing the debate. I also thank him for all the energy and commitment that he brings to everything that he does in the sphere of foreign affairs, not least the Commonwealth. If anyone can regenerate the Commonwealth for its future, he will. I also thank most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Howell. We have known each other for a long time. I have a great respect for him and his consistent interest not only in the Commonwealth but in the wider world. It is important that someone with his interest in the wider world takes the Commonwealth so seriously. His report was very helpful.
As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, talk about his the challenging record of travel across the world, I thought that it was interesting that he did it on a European Union passport. That is a significant point. It brings home to me the sadness of what we are engaged in on the European front.
The Commonwealth will be judged in history not on its aspirations, statements and resolutions, let alone by its rhetoric and pageantry, but on its effectiveness and the actions that it takes on the issues that confront it. Nothing is more challenging than human rights. We must not deceive ourselves: all is not well in the Commonwealth on human rights. In fact, to call a spade a spade, some of what happens in the Commonwealth is a disgrace to the countries concerned and to the Commonwealth itself. We must make this a priority. I was heartened by the strength of commitment shown by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, in what she had to say, as much as I was by my noble friend Lord Cashman.
The other issue that I will mention is migration. We get terribly preoccupied here with immigration, but what about the issues of migration? They cannot possibly be tackled and effectively dealt with on a national basis. They have to be dealt with by international co-operation. Here, the Commonwealth has a great contribution to make. This has direct relevance to security because, with migration on the scale on which it is operating, with all the uncertainty and frustrations that this develops, it is a playground for extremists who set out to exploit the situation and increase instability. We therefore must make that a priority.
If we are looking to the causes of migration, conflict resolution is a high priority. What are we doing together to resolve conflict before it becomes destructive on a massive scale? What are we doing on pre-emptive diplomacy? When we identify developing problems, taking action in time to contain them is a challenge not only to the Commonwealth but to those closely associated with it. As the Minister will know, I am preoccupied with what is happening in Cameroon. I sometimes think, “Here is a classic example of something that could not only go badly wrong for the people there but have devastating consequences throughout the region”. What we doing about specific issues such as that?
Then there is the whole issue of climate change. In the past, I have visited some of the very vulnerable communities of the Pacific. You see how quickly they could simply disappear from the world as climate change has its devastating effects, with consequential famine, drought and the rest across the world.
I associate myself with those who say that, while we welcome initiatives on trade and wish them well, here is a chance to put quality into the nature of trade relationships. Are we ensuring that, as trade relationships are developed, the issues that could test inequality across the Commonwealth community are taken seriously? Are we taking seriously the things that go wrong from trade in terms of security and climate change?
I conclude with the point that I always make: for me, the first reality of existence is our total interdependence with the world as a whole. The issues of interdependence as they stretch across security, climate change and all the other massive issues that have to be tackled internationally will not be solved by the Commonwealth alone. The Commonwealth will be judged by the contribution that it makes—for example, at the UN and in UN institutions. I would love us to have a debate again soon about the UN’s significance, because in post-Brexit Britain we will quickly begin to see why the UN matters as an institution. We should be mobilising the Commonwealth to play its full part within it. I thank noble Lords for having introduced this debate on some real challenges ahead.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on a most insightful maiden speech.
I should like to speak about an organisation that I have been associated with for the past 20 years: the Commonwealth Partnership for Technology Management, more conveniently referred to by the four initials CPTM. Let me elaborate on that title. First, why Commonwealth? CPTM owes its foundation and continuing existence to CHOGM. It was set up by the 1995 CHOGM in New Zealand to replace earlier Commonwealth-wide consultative arrangements for technology management. It was formed as a company, limited by guarantee, in England to act as a co-operative organisation dedicated to bringing together elements of Commonwealth Governments, the private and public sectors and individual professionals on an open networking basis. The Commonwealth secretary-general appoints a liaison officer. The organisation is mandated to report biennially on its activities and achievements, latterly to the pre-CHOGM Foreign Ministers’ meetings. The report to this year’s ministerial meeting covers a wide range of activity in the past two years and sketches out CPTM’s intentions and ambitions for the future.
Partnership is a key word in CPTM’s title. Unique to this organisation is a code of practice—indeed, a philosophy—that the most valuable form of partnership is one that stresses and strives for win-win solutions and outcomes, rather than beggar-my-neighbour or confrontational exchanges. The values of tolerance and co-operation are equally prized. It has proved its worth as an organisation that relies totally on being able to bring together groups and individuals from around the Commonwealth—and beyond—to work, discuss and engage co-operatively together. A whole variety of topics has been addressed over the years, ranging from agriculture to tourism, from industry to academia and from disruptive digital technologies to programmes for national vision ambitions. The spread of interest that this has generated in the Commonwealth nations of Africa, Malaysia, the island communities of the Caribbean, Mauritius and elsewhere is impressive. So, too, is the level of engagement. One of the key features of CPTM over the past two decades has been its ability to bring together large, 500-plus groups from many Commonwealth countries, including up to a dozen Heads of State or Government prepared personally to devote considerable time and effort to the dialogues that take place. I have attended or spoken at a number of them.
Another key development in this partnership has been the growth of a younger element of participants, known colloquially as the 29ers. Their interest and enthusiastic engagement gives me confidence that the work of CPTM will be taken forward by new generations of participants. That confidence is further enhanced because, over the years, I have seen that many of today’s heads of participating countries, like their predecessors in office, have been attracted to CPTM and are actively pursuing their involvement. This partnership is encapsulated in the phrase “smart partnership”, and it is proving to be just that—smart in achievement, smart in bettering human relations and smart in striving for win-win outcomes and understandings.
Technology is the third word of CPTM’s title. It is perhaps hard to recall now that, 20 to 25 years ago, the buzzword for covering modernisation and development was just that—technology. It has, of course, been much superseded by the digital language and outlook of today’s fourth industrial revolution. CPTM, in that sense, may best be characterised as a platform for interactions. It provides the lodestone for progressive and interactive developments in today’s ever more integrated global societies. Certainly, CPTM has found that it has become a platform for much interaction and exchanges of ideas on modern developments. A most successful interchange has taken place recently within the CPTM format on disruptive digital technologies and their relationship to new currencies like bitcoins, engaging the active participation of a number of governors of national banks.
Finally, I turn to management, the fourth of the words in CPTM’s title. An important aspect of CPTM’s work is that it brings together individuals and groups with much experience and interest in the methods, theory and practice of leadership and governance, both in the public and private sectors. These are individuals with ideas and experiences to impart to newer and younger generations on how to bring out the best in national or personal endeavours. CPTM itself relies on a minute and dedicated staff. The chairman is Malaysian—indeed, domiciled there. The CEO and “action lady” is Dr Mihaela Smith, who has been with CPTM from its inception. She has a unique and unrivalled ability to connect personally with many of the Heads of State or Government who have played such an active part in the development and encouragement of CPTM in the past two decades. She spent last Monday visiting His Excellency President Museveni in Kampala at his personal request.
While much has gone well for CPTM, it has not enjoyed universal approval in some parts of the Commonwealth. In the UK, FCO interest in particular has been lacking under successive Administrations, in spite of varied attempts that I and others have made to foster it. CPTM’s approach is to bridge difficulties, rather than to hide behind them. I hope that those heads who have benefited from CPTM and are supportive of it will speak up for it next month and encourage greater interest in the UK and older Commonwealth countries that have felt obliged to keep a distance from it.
Time moves on and one individual stumbling block that has been an issue in the past is now behind us. Once again, I encourage the FCO and the Minister in particular, to whom Dr Smith, the CEO, has recently written, to revisit their thinking about CPTM and recognise what a force for good it is, has been and will be in the future. Brexit is with us, encouraging and reawakening interests in an expanding, global future—interests in which the great Commonwealth must have an exciting part to play and in which CPTM can make its own unique contribution.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his wonderful opening speech and the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his commitment to the Commonwealth. I also congratulate the noble Lord on his passionate maiden speech.
I visited an international hotel recently in a Commonwealth African country and on the back of the bedroom door there was a sign saying, “Please leave our children alone”. It made me weep to think that wicked perpetrators would visit a country to sexually exploit children. We know that that happens not just here in Britain but across the Commonwealth, but there are those who want to make sure that we share every bit of expertise and knowledge with countries across the Commonwealth to safeguard children. Officers from CEOP are working with the Overseas Territories trying to get senior officials to commit to a safeguarding agenda and protection for children, but they are finding it difficult to get change in place, with finances and lack of resources given as the reasons why. But great progress is being made in countries such as Montserrat, which has completely reformed its social services and police force when it comes to child protection. This shows that when there is a push at senior level, real and sustainable change is achievable.
The Internet Watch Foundation, of which I am a champion, is also working closely with Commonwealth countries. It has an international hotline that provides a secure and anonymous way for citizens of six Commonwealth countries to report suspected child sexual abuse material—because every nine minutes a child is sexually abused online. It is happening right now. So the IWF’s vision is to eliminate child sexual abuse material online and remove this appalling imagery hosted anywhere in the world by working in partnership with the internet industry, law enforcement and Governments.
The IWF wants to work with as many Commonwealth countries as possible within the next decade. As internet coverage continues to expand at a rapid rate across Commonwealth countries, the problem is likely to grow. Therefore, it is crucial that Commonwealth heads of Government work with the UK Government and others to help research the problem in emerging countries and gain a more informed understanding of where content is generated, hosted and consumed.
Commonwealth countries also need to be encouraged to continue to promote initiatives such as Safer Internet Day, which educates children and young people about online safety issues. As technology continues to develop, there are many emerging threats that will make it harder to trace the spread of child sexual abuse material, such as smart TVs and phones that can store images. So there is greater urgency to ensure that Commonwealth nations are actively involved in addressing these current and future challenges. I ask the Minister whether the Government will encourage those attending the summit to act on child sexual abuse by reaching out and engaging with the IWF to develop their own reporting hotline and to ensure that tackling child sexual abuse in all its forms is a major priority for Commonwealth nations following the summit.
I now turn to kidney transplantation. I am a patron of the charity Transplant Links, which, over the last 10 years, has performed many kidney transplants from parent to child. These are done by a small group of British NHS transplant specialists whose aim is to address the problem of kidney failure across the Commonwealth, where the outlook for patients with end-stage kidney failure is dire. In some countries where there is no access to dialysis the average life expectancy is just three months.
The vision of Transplant Links is to create and support a network of self-sustaining kidney transplant programmes across the Commonwealth. NHS doctors and nurses freely give up their own time to travel to each partner country to work together and transfer skills until sustainability is reached. The medicines needed to stop rejection are finally easily available, so maintaining a healthy transplant is now much cheaper and the financial benefits of getting patients off a dialysis machine are huge.
The Transplant Links team is currently working in several countries across the Commonwealth, and each one is tailored to local needs in terms of infrastructure advice, skills transfer and mentoring. However, the hurdles faced by the charity and its local partner colleagues are varied, both clinically and logistically. The path to saving lives could be made much smoother. What is needed is consistent government support in each partner country to ensure that resources are allocated to the project, and that the project is supported. Will the Minister encourage Commonwealth Health Ministers to engage with Transplant Links and each partner hospital to facilitate the logistics and finances needed to make this possible, so that the doctors and nurses can do their job and transform lives? Will the Minister give his support to the extraordinary dedication, compassion and talent of the NHS volunteers and their partner hospitals across the Commonwealth to achieve their vision?
Finally, many hope that the EU withdrawal will give the Government the opportunity to review the unfair policy of frozen overseas pensions for Commonwealth British citizens. Cost has always been the reason given for this unjust policy continuing, but the initial cost could be easily met by including unfreezing pensions as a perk of any future trade deal with Commonwealth countries. Do the Government propose to discuss this punitive issue during the summit?
As a strong supporter of the Commonwealth, I hope that the outcomes of the summit will lead to a fairer and a more sustainable, secure and prosperous future. The issues that I have raised today, if acted on, will help to do just that.
My Lords, the first few speakers in this debate made the Commonwealth sound like motherhood and apple pie—everything was perfect and cosy. It was left to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, to tell us something about the realities of the Commonwealth. I am sorry that he is not in his place because I think he brought us back to reality with his speech. Before I start my speech I want to say what a pleasure it was to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Geidt. I had the good fortune of working with him earlier on the memorial, so I was very pleased to see him here.
Anyway, back to the Commonwealth. All the things that are going on are all very well, but I remind noble Lords that the last CHOGM was the first time that there was a women’s forum. Everybody said how wonderful it was to have a women’s forum. But women form half the population of the Commonwealth and of the world. I do not think it is such a great thing that it took such a long time to have a women’s forum. In fact, do we need a women’s forum? Women’s issues should be discussed and thought about in the mainstream of CHOGM, not in a separate women’s forum. I have never believed in separateness because the people with the power to take decisions are not usually at those forums. Now we will have another one. That is good; we will keep having them.
What are the real problems of, say, Africa? We face the huge issue of climate change and lack of water. We also face children dying because either they are drinking dirty water or there is no water. But we do not have family planning. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is not in his place. He says that we must bring religion back, but religion is not always beneficial to women. It may be beneficial to men but it is not beneficial to women. Certainly, his religion is not beneficial to women. The Catholic Archbishop of Uganda declared that there should be no family planning and that any woman who uses contraception will go straight to hell. The population of Italy is falling—how is that possible when they do not believe in contraception?—but the population of Africa is increasing. They keep having children and then some of them just die because they are sick or there is no water or there are too many of them and they cannot be managed. So we cannot always rely on religion to give us the best that we need. I do not think that Catholicism does, and nor does Islam. There is a very beautiful temple in Neasden which noble Lords may have visited. The priests there do not allow women in their presence because they would be contaminated by the women. I do not go to that temple; I would never go anywhere where they believed that. I do not think that noble Lords know that when they go there.
I have been reading about the issues on which the CHOGM will be focusing. One is a more sustainable future. Would not half the population of the Commonwealth be helpful in that? They will add to the economy and to whatever is needed to be done. Another is a fairer future. Women certainly have not got a fairer future. We have to realise that the Commonwealth is a two-tier entity. We cannot really now count the original Dominions as the Commonwealth because they are fully developed countries.
India, which is supposed to be such a vibrant economy, has the largest number of poor people, and we can imagine that the poorest of the poor people are going to be the women. It is not only that; there are hundreds of thousands of bonded labourers in India. They borrowed money and could not pay it back so they are bonded to the person they borrowed from. It goes on not only in that generation but in the next generation, so they live in slavery not for one generation but on and on. These are things that we must not forget when we think of India as being rich and such a vibrant economy. Money is not going down as fast as it should.
Another issue is a more secure future. We would all like a more secure future. Women get raped and abused. We know that in Nigeria girls have been taken away and have not been found. So women need a more secure future in the whole world, not just in the Commonwealth. Statistics show that 130 million girls are not in school. Whether their lives would be changed by going to school, we do not know—but if they do not go to school their lives certainly will not change. Forty-three percent—getting on for half—of women are married before the age of 18, and of course they are going to have children and are going to have problems. The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, talked about abortion. If we get working on family planning and make it easily available to women, we may not need to have so many abortions or to think about it. It is just a terrible world for women. Whatever we do at CHOGM, a bit of focus on women is needed. The only way things can improve is if we have a non-political judiciary. The present Secretary-General is a lawyer and I hope that she will work on the legal side of the work in Commonwealth countries. If you have the rule of law, you will get all the rest. If you do not, you get nothing.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lord Howell for initiating this important and timely debate. I am grateful that we have a chance to discuss the impending CHOGM together with the International Relations Committee report, which provides us with a helpful framework to better appreciate the UK’s relations with the Commonwealth past and present, as well as to shape the future.
My noble friends Lord Ahmad and Lord Howell make an excellent team to take the Commonwealth to the next level. I say that because our Commonwealth relations have often been treated as a binary choice of focusing our engagement on either the Commonwealth or the European Union. That was always a flawed dichotomy. I believe that the Commonwealth should have always remained a central part of our foreign policy strategy. Nevertheless, I welcome the renewed drive to revive this remarkable organisation which reaches so deeply into the history and heart of our nation.
Trade is one area where I passionately believe we can make a difference, especially with African members, and I am glad that my noble friend has recently visited Gambia and Ghana. Some noble Lords might know that as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Rwanda and Uganda, I have visited those countries a number of times. It is impossible to overstate how welcoming African countries have been of UK engagement and how enthusiastic they are about doing more business with British companies, but also how let down they have felt due to the UK’s retreat from the Commonwealth platform. The question I often hear is, “Where have you been?” I answer truthfully that we have been too focused on Europe, not without good reason, but for a country that has always proudly claimed to be global, we were, at least in economic terms, almost exclusively continental.
Africa is a continent close to my heart. I have a personal interest in helping it thrive as much as a professional one in making our relations a success. But I have also witnessed incredible transformations which I believe make the continent ripe for business: more stability, less corruption and a steely drive to replace aid with trade. Africa back then is not Africa now, and it has a wonderfully bright future ahead. But I sense that our perceptions and preconceptions, which I call the “Band Aid lens”, are obscuring our ability to see the full picture of opportunities in infrastructure, agriculture, health, education and energy. Africa is the new frontier, with a young population who are more educated and aspirational than ever before and hungry for reform, modernisation and prosperity.
In my relatively short time as a trade envoy, I have seen how quickly UK businesses have been able to make their mark. A British company is building a new airport in Uganda to the tune of £310 million. Two British companies have been shortlisted to build an oil pipeline worth $2 billion. I recently led a successful horticultural mission in Rwanda. These material achievements demonstrate that Africa is not the continent of poverty to which we have been accustomed but a continent of immense promise and untapped potential.
The upcoming CHOGM will, I hope, hit home the message that Africa and indeed the whole Commonwealth is a perfect network for business. It is home to one-third of the world’s population and boasts a combined GDP of $14 trillion, yet it currently accounts for only 9% of our trade. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, quite rightly said that Germany’s trade with our colonial countries is roughly 17%, more or less double what we do.
The summit should reinforce our collective will to reshape the Commonwealth into a global trading body that reflects the vast opportunities that are ready for the taking. Where there is a will, there must be a way. It is essential to have the right infrastructure in place so that we can deliver UK goods to Commonwealth markets, facilitate transactions and allow our global vision to become a reality. It is on this that the UK needs to focus, and first is aviation. One of my biggest achievements to date was to open a route between London Gatwick and Kigali. However, the process of securing the route laid bare some serious shortcomings in our aviation policies. We used to have a bridge between the UK and Africa; today we can barely catch a flight to an African capital. This is problematic, because ease of access will be a central consideration for exporters. I have argued many times that we should build more runways without delay so that we can literally open up more avenues of travel, revive abandoned routes, such as those previously operated by BA—which used to fly all over Africa—and, in the simplest terms, connect British businesses to Africa. As many noble Lords might know, our direct routes from Heathrow to Freetown, Entebbe, Dar es Salaam and Lusaka, among many others, have stopped in the last five years. It is about time that we fly back to those African countries.
Secondly, we need to have the right financial infrastructure. We claim that London is the world’s financial centre, yet there is only one British bank operating in Africa—Barclays—which, after 100 years, is in the process of selling out this month. Banks, like air routes, are a basic and indispensable resource for businesses. They are the bridges of which I speak. We should be building, not dismantling them. Further down the line, as I have previously argued, we should consider establishing a Commonwealth bank. For now, I can tell noble Lords that the exodus of iconic British brands such as Barclays and BA does not inspire confidence in our African partners that the UK is fully open for business.
Does the Minister agree that, as we prepare for life after the EU, our actions must keep with our words and our infrastructure must adapt to our ambitions? Will he demonstrate the political will to treat Africa as a serious business destination? We must be fully equipped in every sense of the word if we are to meet all the challenges that lie ahead post Brexit and if we are to realise our bold global ambitions. The good news is that history has given us the advantage. The Commonwealth family, with our historical bonds and shared language and values, is alive and well. There is an old Maori saying which talks about preparing for the future by honouring the past. They call it, “walking backwards into the future”. For the UK, Africa and the whole Commonwealth, our common past can show us the way forward.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad and Lord Howell, for securing this debate. The last words of the noble Lord, Lord Popat, are a good cue for me to say what I wanted to say, which is that the past is a guide to the future. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said in her brilliant speech how the Commonwealth had enjoyed the leadership of Her Majesty the Queen for 66 years. Indeed, the change from the British Commonwealth to the Commonwealth very much coincided with her coronation.
In contemplating the future of the Commonwealth, there is an 80-tonne elephant sitting in the room that nobody has so far mentioned: can we always presume that Britain will be at the head of the Commonwealth, especially that the monarch will be at the head of the Commonwealth? That question must be discussed, because the Commonwealth is not the Commonwealth of 1952; it is different now. We cannot just turn the Commonwealth tap on and off as and when we please. We have to understand the past and, if we are to be committed to the future, the present leadership structure of the Commonwealth will not serve the purpose. The noble Lord, Lord Geidt, in his brilliant maiden speech mentioned the contribution that His Royal Highness Prince Charles is making to the Commonwealth, which is of course very welcome. But I do not think that one can presume—I am sorry to say uncomfortable things—that the leadership of the Commonwealth will be in London. There are many countries that would gladly share the leadership. Perhaps we should have a constitutional structure whereby the leadership rotates around the countries of the Commonwealth; we cannot always presume that it is our possession.
To say something about the past, there is a tendency, especially in films about the Second World War, to talk about Britain standing alone during that war. The Commonwealth is not mentioned at all, nor the fact that millions of soldiers came and fought—and died. Britain was not alone; Britain had the Empire at its disposal and the Empire pulled out all the stops to help the mother country. Now, we have to rewrite our past. We really cannot go on having that kind of narrative of the past that excludes everybody who helped us and where we are the hero. Now that we are about to go out of Europe and need friends, we suddenly remember, “Oh yes, there is this thing called the Commonwealth”. They have not just been waiting all these years to be loved by us. They really have not. I have talked to some Indian leaders and they are not waiting with open arms and eager hearts to help us.
We have to fight. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, Germany does much more business with India because, when German businessmen go to India, they go prepared. They go with a lot of knowledge, unlike British businessmen who presume that, because they speak English and play cricket, Indians will know what we need and how we need it. I have seen in action how far short British businessmen fall compared to continental businessmen. We need to get our act together, pull up our socks and take the Commonwealth seriously, not just occasionally, but so as to create a constant and fruitful engagement which will be as much to our benefit as theirs. We have to recognise that, during the 66 years of Her Majesty’s reign, while we have prospered, relatively they have prospered more. They are catching up. Economies such as India, Nigeria and Malaysia are going to be very important to our future, not just as former poor countries but as seriously thriving centres of business.
To secure the future of the Commonwealth, we need to think of a better governance structure. There is no reason why the Commonwealth Secretariat should be in London but, be that as it may. We have to think about the leadership and some sort of constitution for the Commonwealth. It cannot just be an informal gathering. Secondly, we have to develop in our own domestic politics a much more serious concern with the Commonwealth and our relationship with it. With that rather contrarian message, I had better stop.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for introducing this debate and for the leadership, commitment and passion with which he has undertaken the task. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and to his Select Committee for their report and for his tenacity and perseverance in making sure that the Commonwealth is recognised for what it stands for. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on his thoughtful and witty speech.
The theme of CHOGM, “Towards a Common Future”, and a focus on delivering the four outcomes—trade, security, democracy and sustainability—could not be more important, given the seismic changes taking place in our interconnected and globalised world. In my short contribution this afternoon, I want to focus on the role of civil society and a non-governmental Commonwealth. The challenges facing us today can be tackled only by working together, at governmental and non-governmental level, through multidisciplinary and multilateral collaborations and, of course, through networks.
The Commonwealth’s distinct advantage is that it is made up of a network of many intergovernmental, parliamentary, professional and civil society bodies. There are no limitations to developing new partnerships, projects and networks and adopting new standards and effective governance. Networks are the lifeblood and energy of the Commonwealth. They build friendships, trust and understanding and bind different perspectives together to think creatively about issues and solutions. These networks will help create a renewed sense of common interest and values, a shared vision of democracy, governance and rule of law and, above all, new ways of doing things. We need to revitalise democracies, make creative and positive use of new technology and develop strategies to tackle inequality. This, of course, has resulted because we have pursued a market economy without paying much attention to governance. Transforming education and taking steps to deal with climate change need to be rethought and require the engagement and participation of all, particularly the young, when 60% of Commonwealth citizens are aged under 30.
To re-energise the Commonwealth, we do not just have to determine what we do; it is also about how we do it. Nor is it just about what happens at CHOGMs; it is about how we move forward. Prosperous trade, a sustainable future and a secure and peaceful world cannot be achieved unless we have vibrant democracy and good governance. The Commonwealth itself will be vibrant only if it is composed of vibrant democracies. Vibrant democracies need—and are, indeed, supported by—lively civil societies because they build social capital, trust and shared values, hold society together, and facilitate an understanding of interconnected society and interests within it. They are a strong voice on human rights and values which, of course, are enshrined in the Commonwealth charter.
Civil society is indispensable if we are to realise the true potential of Commonwealth advantage. Democracies are creaking and the space of civil society is shrinking in many countries. Civil society organisations are the places where democracy is learned. They help to instil what I call democratic behaviour in citizens. We therefore have to recognise the intrinsic value of civil society and the distinct advantage it provides in building democracies. Business, youth, women and people’s forums, which will take place during CHOGM, are prime examples of the intrinsic value of civil societies. Civil societies are an integral and indispensable part of delivering the objectives of the Commonwealth. We have to ensure that the governance of the Commonwealth is such that the law on civil society organisations is understood for its intrinsic value and for what it does, and is seen as a partner and not just as a competitor or irritant. The machinery of the Commonwealth—the secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation—need to work with these organisations in a meaningful way. They need to form partnerships to deliver desired outcomes. They need to become organisations which enable civil society organisations to encourage innovation, help with the exchange of good practice and scaling to give civil society the space to influence, scrutinise and monitor the implementation of policies.
A new high-level group on the Commonwealth has been set up to reform the Commonwealth and equip it to fulfil its potential. Expectations of the Commonwealth are high, as we have heard in the course of the debate, but to realise these expectations we need to pay attention to the governance of the Commonwealth. This initiative is important and this opportunity should not be squandered. If this is to be a milestone CHOGM, it should give impetus and commitment to revitalise the institutions of the Commonwealth, ensure that the role of civil society organisations is integral to these strategies, and ensure that the intrinsic role of civil society is not just recognised but positively supported. Can the Minister please tell the House what areas this group will cover? Will it cover governance issues and how the machinery of the Commonwealth works? Will it cover the modus operandi of the secretariat and that of the Commonwealth Foundation? How will these two organisations change to ensure that they build effective partnerships with civil society and the secretariat? What support will the Government provide for this initiative?
My Lords, all those most welcome visitors who will be with us next month in connection with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting will surely be struck by the scale and extent of the programme which the Government have organised. It underlines the importance Britain attaches to this unique partnership of nations, linked to each other in full equality.
Equality between the member nations must be matched by full equality for all the peoples living within them. How one yearns, particularly here in Britain, for full and equal respect to be accorded throughout our land to members of different religions who profess their faiths with deep sincerity within the law. How one yearns too for the law in all members of this unique partnership of nations to accord full and equal rights to communities within them who are entitled to the protection of the law, but in some cases have been denied it for far too long.
LGBT people are always in the forefront of the minds of a number of us who contribute regularly to debates about the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman—my friend in this matter—is prominent among our number and has spoken with his customary passion again today. The oppression which gay men and women suffer in so many Commonwealth countries is an affront in this age which has enshrined human rights in binding international treaties. No one feels more strongly about this than our Lord Speaker, as he made clear in speeches from these Benches in previous years. We must emphasise again today the wide cross-party agreement that exists in this House on this issue.
It is now over six years since the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group called unanimously on all Heads of Government to take active steps to secure the repeal of discriminatory laws against homosexuals. Countries which have such laws are in flagrant breach of the Commonwealth’s own charter. Our own Government have shown unwavering commitment to progress with successive Ministers in this House—the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, in the coalition, followed more recently by my noble friend Lady Anelay, who has reiterated her personal commitment again today, and now my noble friend Lord Ahmad, all of them demonstrating great concern and sensitivity.
The recent report of our International Relations Select Committee urges the Government,
“to continue to take a robust position on all aspects of human rights”.
High hopes of progress have been invested in next month’s meeting and our Government must ensure that LGBT people throughout the Commonwealth, who will be looking expectantly to London, are not disappointed. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, expressed some serious fears. I hope that the Government will be able to allay them. Perhaps our International Relations Select Committee would consider taking evidence from the Commonwealth Secretariat. It would be interesting to hear in some detail what it is doing to try to help advance the cause of human equality throughout the Commonwealth in this and other areas.
I am among the many people in these islands who harbour the hope that one day the Republic of Ireland will return to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is today a completely different organisation from the one that the Republic left in 1949. Anglo-Irish relations have been completely transformed too, although they are going through some temporary difficulty at the moment because of Brexit. Now is perhaps not the time for any major public initiative, but I hope that Ministers and officials will look for opportunities behind the scenes to make the point that this great Commonwealth partnership is incomplete without our Irish friends, south as well as north.
I remember hearing the Commonwealth described some 30 years ago by an eminent Tory as an anachronistic embodiment of a sentimental memory. Today, a marked change of attitude is evident in the Conservative Party, as in the country at large, due in no small part to the sustained work of my noble friend Lord Howell. The Government have responded very admirably to our present stronger feelings about the Commonwealth by organising a truly impressive programme for the meeting next month, which could well set the scene for a new phase of Commonwealth development to the benefit of the world as a whole.
My Lords, I join in congratulating and thanking the noble Lords, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon and Lord Howell of Guildford, for the splendid way in which they introduced this important debate. I also join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on his excellent maiden speech. In so doing, I remind noble Lords of my own entry in the register of interests, particularly in the area of healthcare, and my association with the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust.
The set theme of the summit—to focus on issues of fairness, sustainability, security and prosperity—might well be addressed in some measure through trying to achieve universal access to healthcare throughout all Commonwealth countries. There is a substantial burden with regard to disease, which is different, of course, in different parts of the Commonwealth because of the different economies and geographical locations, but the reality is that there is great disparity. In parts of Africa, the average life expectancy is under 50 years; in Australia, it is some 82 years. A lady in Sierra Leone is 300 times more likely to die of the complications of childbirth than one in Singapore. When one looks at the availability of healthcare resource, one sees that the number of doctors per 100,000 of the population is 300 times greater in Malta than it is in Tanzania. There is much to be done.
An initiative in which I had the privilege of being involved was an attempt—regrettably, it did not go forward—to utilise the Commonwealth family, through the good offices of the Commonwealth Secretariat and its new capacity through the Commonwealth Hub cloud mechanism, to bring together a global community of healthcare professionals among the 53 Commonwealth countries to share all that we currently know. There is a huge store of knowledge and information already available to be applied to the best practice of medicine and the best provision of healthcare. That, appropriately and responsibly shared across 53 Commonwealth nations, providing the opportunity for front-line staff and those responsible for the delivery of the healthcare system to learn from what is already known, would have had the capacity to be transformational. That community—globally—of healthcare professionals, privileged to be responsible for the care of one-third of the world’s population, would have been quite remarkable. That might happen in the future.
There are, however, as we have already heard in this debate, important and impressive examples of a focus on healthcare delivering substantial outcomes for Commonwealth citizens. One of the most important is the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and its relentless focus on the question of eye disease, improving eye health and improving healthcare education in that area. The remarkable work has focused principally on the elimination of avoidable infectious eye diseases that lead to blindness, such as glaucoma. It also makes use of very impressive technology through an organisation called Peek Vision to screen the eye health of children in its first iteration in Kenya, but now proposed for all children in Botswana, performed principally using a smartphone and the good offices of teachers to assess the eye health and intervene early in respect of those children where there is a risk of vision loss. That is a very impressive achievement of the diamond jubilee trust. There has also been an impressive focus on education through the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, which has developed programmes of education across the Commonwealth to deal with community eye health and, of course, the prevention of eye diseases.
As part of the Commonwealth Summit week we have the Commonwealth Business Forum, where there will be a session on life sciences and the potential application of other technologies across Commonwealth nations to achieve the greatest impact on driving healthcare opportunities, improving access to healthcare using technology and, of course, important opportunities for education. That, coupled with the impressive initiative of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust to focus on driving opportunities for young people to come forward with projects and to drive change, opportunity and improvement for the lives of their fellow citizens in their own communities, provides an important chance to bring together technology and the enthusiasm of the young in their individual communities, and to apply technology not only to deal with established illness but to use the whole area of health tech to drive improvements in the capacity of those communities to protect their own health. Through doing that, achieving better health and more equitable access to healthcare across the Commonwealth nations, and sharing what we have learned through decades of research and application successfully in our own remarkable healthcare system, the National Health Service, but also in healthcare systems in other mature Commonwealth economies, we have the greatest opportunity to make a contribution, not only to the sustainability and prosperity of communities but to the very security of those communities and, of course, fairness.
My Lords, this has been a justifiably thorough debate, which not only does justice to the agenda from the Cabinet Office and the Commonwealth Secretariat but to the work of the Minister—I join with Members from across the House who have given credit to his work. I also give credit to the committee, on which I have the privilege to serve under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Our short report, gladly, is aligned with the Government’s strategy, and there is a degree of consensus.
This debate has also seen us welcome a new Member to our House, the distinguished noble Lord, Lord Geidt. It is always great to have another Scottish Peer who can be utilised. Now that he has a voice after his maiden speech, I am sure that he could bring his extensive diplomatic skills to the devolution clauses in the Brexit withdrawal Bill, which we will need a little diplomacy to work our way through in the coming months.
I hear the noble Viscount say from a sedentary position that the prospect of taking part in those debates will drive the noble Lord away; it may well do.
My noble friend Lord Chidgey reminded us that we should recall Vanuatu and the difficulties it faces as we welcome our Commonwealth friends to London, because it was due to host the summit. I will return in a moment to the focus we should have on our small and vulnerable Commonwealth states, especially those vulnerable to climate change.
I also endorse the work of the CPA, which is over a century old. I was pleased to host the CPA young representatives in this House on Commonwealth Day and to participate in the parliamentarians’ forum, which has been mentioned.
With the honourable Okechukwu Enelamah, the Minister of Industry and Trade of Nigeria, it has been my privilege to chair a geographically and gender-balanced eminent persons panel for the All-Party Group on Trade Out of Poverty for our inquiry, in partnership with the Overseas Development Institute, which focused on how trade and investment can remove people in the Commonwealth out of poverty. Our report will be published on 3 April. The inquiry was informed by a wide range of witnesses from across the Commonwealth and by many discussions that I had with a large number of Ministers of Trade from Commonwealth countries. The report will be titled “Our Shared Prosperous Future: An Agenda for Values-led Trade, Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Jobs for the Commonwealth”.
The issues of human rights, especially for the LGBT community, capital punishment and press freedom have all been raised in this debate, but I want to focus my remarks on trade and removing people in the Commonwealth from poverty. In essence, our report will make the case for the summit to agree a new agenda for trade and development in the Commonwealth, with a series of recommendations to Commonwealth member countries and the secretariat, and specifically to the UK Government as Chair-in-Office, leading to the next summit in Malaysia and finally to a greater alignment of Commonwealth development to the global goals period leading up to 2030. We hope that our recommendations will form a degree of consensus at the business forum and within the four areas of focus.
We recommend a step change in activity, with more targeted outcomes. It is worth remembering that 13 of the Commonwealth’s members are among the UN’s least developed countries. Nearly one in five people—some 440 million women, men and children—in the Commonwealth live below the international poverty line of $1.90 a day. That is almost twice the global average, so, unless we take action, people born in the Commonwealth today are on average twice as likely to live a life in extreme poverty as people around the world as a whole.
Two-thirds of the world’s small states—states with populations of less than 1.5 million people—are members of the Commonwealth, but in one Commonwealth country, India, the workforce alone is expected to grow by 138 million people by 2030. That shows not only the breadth but the complexity of the Commonwealth. Many of the small states are also highly vulnerable to climate change, as I mentioned. There are immense development challenges but opportunities to utilise the regional networks—the modern Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said—are also present.
We should also recall that two of the G7 and a quarter of the G20 are Commonwealth members. The Commonwealth as a network can lead at all the top tables of the economies around the world and be a conscience, setting the values for the development agenda. We therefore need to see a greatly enhanced cross-regional and cross-country level of participation in removing trade barriers, sharing legislative good practice and supporting wider economic participation. For example, in the World Bank’s flagship index of ease of doing business, which captures a range of barriers, from corruption to bureaucracy at borders, Commonwealth countries ranked first, with New Zealand, but also 77th, with Bangladesh.
Our report focuses on five areas where our many recommendations will fall. The first is reducing the costs and risks of trade and investment. This is where, as we heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and others, it is necessary for the Commonwealth to work with the WTO and other organisations around the world, assisting the development of trade facilitation support for vulnerable countries.
The second area is boosting services trade through regulatory co-operation, utilising the network characteristics of the Commonwealth and, in particular, its relations with APEC, ASEAN, the OECD and others.
The third area is making trade more inclusive. Quite rightly, we heard about the need for much more work to be done to support not just the Commonwealth’s minorities but, in many respects, the majority, with economic participation by women and of course young people. The report will highlight the secretariat’s SheTrades initiative, although scaling that up is critical. Quite frankly, the Commonwealth will not be relevant in the future if it does not focus on young people’s and women’s fair participation across the piece—at the political and business levels and in society. We are also proposing a Commonwealth fair and sustainable trade initiative, capturing not only fair trade and values but also the spirit of the Commonwealth charter in the way businesses trade.
The fourth area is addressing the special needs of small and vulnerable states, as I have mentioned.
The fifth and final area is strengthening partnerships, through Governments, business and diaspora in particular. We need to move away from looking at the Commonwealth diaspora as one that simply sends remittances back to countries and instead see it as a network within each of the Commonwealth countries that can enhance our shared agenda—and of course including the valuable role of the CPA. There should also be a greater focus on co-ordinating regulations, standards and capacity. We cannot forget that many of our Commonwealth countries have a very weak capacity as regards trade ministries and development ministries, and the larger and more developed economies can focus much more on that.
Finally, we also want to see values-led trade. I had the good fortune, through the support of the CPA, to attend the ministerial conference MC11 for the WTO in Buenos Aires last year, meeting many Commonwealth members. Perhaps it is the zeitgeist of the moment, and CHOGM can meet this time, when we focus, not only on trade, finance and economic co-operation but on that which is based upon values and a conscience. The Commonwealth is not, nor should it be, nor will it ever be, a rules-making forum. But it can do more to co-ordinate on an equal basis the least developed and the most developed, the smallest and the largest, in a consensual manner, with mutual respect, to make sure that the rule-making bodies around the world operate better. We should eschew the idea of country first and wealth for the few, and replace it with a commonwealth for all in the world.
My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, for his excellent introduction, and also for the excellent work he has been doing to ensure that this CHOGM will be a success. I would also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his introduction and for his committee’s timely report. And I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on his excellent maiden speech; I will refer to some of his comments later on.
It has been 20 years since the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Since then, the world has faced new and hugely difficult challenges. Next month is a key opportunity to recognise the role of the Commonwealth, with its 2.3 billion people, a third of the world’s population. It is an opportunity to recognise the role it can play in supporting each member in addressing these issues.
After the detailed preparation work ably undertaken by the noble Lord, we will see the leaders of the summit, as everyone has mentioned, focusing on delivering on four outcomes: a more sustainable future, a fairer future, a more secure future and a more prosperous future. The Minister has made it clear that these will also be the key themes in the youth, business, women and civil society forums. Whilst it could be argued that such themes are too general, they embrace all the aspects of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals and the 169 targets, which are of course aimed at resolving issues such as poverty, ill-health and inequality and the specific commitment to leave no one behind. Like my noble friend Lord McConnell, I hope that when the agenda gets down to those specifics, we actually focus on delivering the SDGs, which pose a challenge for developed as well as developing countries. In particular, they challenge all countries to ensure that the most marginal groups are targeted.
Delivering on these cannot be left to Governments alone. That is why we need to nurture and develop all aspects of civil society and why the summit’s fora will be so critical to the success of CHOGM. The ingredients of a thriving democracy are not limited to Parliaments and parliamentarians. Civil society, from churches to trade unions, have been and remain an important part of democratic life and are often a guarantor of human rights. The views expressed in the fora need to be heard by the Heads of Government and the Minister has given us assurances that they will be, but I hope he can explain in more detail just how this will be achieved.
Today, I want to focus on two of the themes: fairness and prosperous futures. On fairness, the Commonwealth charter sets out a shared vision of democracy, good governance, human rights and the rule of law. As the Commonwealth Secretariat put it, by upholding and promoting the principles, member states can ensure a “fairer future” for all members of the Commonwealth and provide the essential basis for sustainable development. In Malta, the Heads of Government acknowledged that human rights were fundamental to achieving the sustainable development goals. As we heard in the Chamber earlier this week, the 2018 report of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative will focus on SDG 8.7; that is, measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour. The report will be launched on the eve of the summit. Will the noble Lord reassure us that the Government recognise the importance of civil society in addressing these issues, especially global trade unions, which have done so much work on human trafficking and in particular in Bangladesh on some of the conditions that workers have to operate under?
My noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned that same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults continues to be criminalised in 36 countries of the Commonwealth. As the Prime Minister highlighted earlier in the year, a lot of these laws are a hangover from British colonial rule. While they remain on the statute book, they have a continuing impact of fear, stigma, rejection, violence and, too often, murder, as in the case of that very brave man, David Cato, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Cashman. As highlighted by our own Lord Speaker, this persecution and criminalisation of identity can also decimate efforts to halt the spread of HIV. It often results in gay people being unable to access the healthcare, education and employment that they need, preventing access to HIV testing and treatment.
The key to progress in the 2015 summit was the way in which the Kaleidoscope Trust and The Commonwealth Equality Network and its LGBT activists from criminalising countries were able to lay bare the facts about life as an LGBT person in many Commonwealth countries. The 2018 fora create the space for civil society to engage with decision-makers who are not normally willing or able to consider LGBT concerns. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure my noble friend Lord Cashman on the questions he asked and on precisely how those issues will be engaged at the Heads of Government Meeting. I also want to repeat a question that I know I have asked the Minister on previous occasions: how do we enable countries from the global south which have decriminalised to lead on the issue of reforming outdated criminal laws, particularly sexual offences laws? Will the Government provide funding to enable the Commonwealth Secretariat to support the reform of outdated criminal laws in member states that seek it?
In Malta, the leaders’ statement recognised the economic potential that can be unlocked by tackling discrimination and exclusion, yet in the Commonwealth, as we have heard in this debate, too many women, disabled people and minorities are discriminated against and denied access to their fair share of goods, services and opportunity.
Economic growth has the potential to be the engine to drive change. But growth without jobs, inclusion, healthcare, education and human rights simply will not deliver for the many. Persons with disabilities are often among the most marginalised people in the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, said in his excellent maiden speech, blindness and poor eyesight is a critical issue. It affects 85 million people across all countries in the Commonwealth; many people just need glasses. What steps will the Government take to promote a Commonwealth free of avoidable blindness and poor vision?
I too welcome the engagement of young people at this meeting and in the fora. But if it is to achieve its ambitions for a fairer and more prosperous Commonwealth, the Heads of Government Meeting must also embrace the opportunities and address the challenges of a population that is ageing. These meetings have never discussed ageing issues or made reference to older people. The actions taken by Commonwealth member states will determine whether ageing is an opportunity or a challenge to society. As we know in this House, the capacity of older people to work—often in spite of physical frailty—needs to be recognised and supported. I hope that the Minister will give us a commitment on that.
On a prosperous future for all Commonwealth member states, this afternoon we have heard many in the Chamber talk about trade. The Commonwealth Secretariat has also highlighted the fact that shared values, regulatory systems and language have “the potential” to increase intra-Commonwealth trade. At the Commonwealth ministerial round table held 12 months ago it was agreed that a key aim will be to increase intra-Commonwealth trade, with a projected increase to $1 trillion by 2020. We have heard recently from the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, that the Commonwealth is likely to miss this target; the predicted figure is around $700 billion. What efforts will the Government make at CHOGM to discuss trade barriers facing Commonwealth countries and ways of overcoming them?
As my noble friend Lord Anderson said, it is vital for the UK and the EU to work together constructively to mitigate post-Brexit risks and manage the related economic uncertainties, including continuity of the trade preferences that developing countries currently enjoy in Europe. Can the Minister say how the Trade Bill, which is currently going through the other place, will contribute towards increasing trade with our Commonwealth partners?
The noble Lord, Lord Marland, has frequently argued that abuse of the rule of law and a lack of trust in trading partners were the barriers to trade for UK companies, and that the Government should focus on increasing their capacity to support businesses confronted by such obstacles. Good governance and respect for the rule of law are vital for stable societies, and the Commonwealth agreed to make anticorruption work a priority. Can the Minister update the House on exactly how the UK’s new anticorruption strategy will be reflected in the agenda for CHOGM?
The Minister has told many of us, as the programme has developed, that words are not enough and that we will be judged by actions. While the UK is Chair-in-Office, I hope that he will be able to reassure us that the programme will have delivered specific actions.
My Lords, I first thank all noble Lords for their expert and in-depth contributions to this debate. It again shows the tremendous interest and expertise in the Commonwealth in your Lordships’ House. From the outset, I thank again my noble friend Lord Howell for his committee’s report, but also for leading on this issue for a long time. I know that I, along with many other Lords, have benefited from his expertise in this area. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, on his excellent maiden speech. It is perhaps appropriate—the noble Lord alluded to this—that our first meeting, which was shortly after my appointment, was at Buckingham Palace, when we were meeting different high commissioners, together with the Secretary-General, on the very issue of the Commonwealth summit.
Let me also give an assurance to all noble Lords. Several references were made to different leads and departments. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, also asked about a cross-government approach. Rightly, as noble Lords have acknowledged, this is not about one department over another; this has very much been led by the Prime Minister herself through the interministerial group. It underlines the important role that all departments must play in ensuring not only the planning but—coming to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised among others—delivery during the time of the UK’s Chair-in-Office.
At this time, I also acknowledge and align myself to the words of my noble friends Lady Anelay and Lady Bottomley, and the noble Lord, Lord Geidt, among others, in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. I talked about ambassadors, but there is no argument—sometimes we use the word “arguably”, but I will not actually use that word. There is no greater ambassador for the Commonwealth than Her Majesty the Queen. Look at the role Her Majesty has played over many years; it is a fitting tribute that we are holding this summit during the week that will culminate in an event at the Royal Albert Hall marking both her birthday and her contribution to the Commonwealth. We hope that the event will reflect that contribution. I also pay tribute to all members of the Royal Family: the Duke of Edinburgh for his unstinting support during Her Majesty’s reign, and also His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who I know has visited more than 40 countries of the Commonwealth and continues to support the efforts of the Commonwealth across all countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, talked about the history behind the Commonwealth, which we all acknowledge. It is also important to recognise that, when Her Majesty’s Government or indeed any of us talk about the modern Commonwealth, the Commonwealth of today, it is one based on partnership. I have seen in my travels and bilateral discussions the immense respect for Her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth—not as someone from history but as someone who has shown unstinting leadership at a time when countries need to come together. There is immense respect for that particular role.
Let me also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, on the points I alluded to in my introduction about the important role of civil society. As I said from the outset, this is not about the Government alone. It is not about member states alone. There are three pillars of the Commonwealth and a vital pillar is that network—the network which brings people together and which bridges gaps through ages, races, faiths and communities. That is something quite unique about the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lady Hooper talked about parliamentary engagement. I am greatly appreciative of the kind comments about the efforts of Her Majesty’s Government in this regard. As I have always said, parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in meeting the challenges facing the Commonwealth today. We recognise the extraordinary contribution that they make from across the Commonwealth.
In December last year, I wrote to all MPs and Peers setting out the Government’s close engagement in this respect. Since then I have met, individually and collectively, with different APPGs and Members of the other place and of your Lordships’ House across all parties. I have also written to the chairs of all-party parliamentary groups asking for their support in the planning and work during the Commonwealth week. I was also delighted to address more than 70 parliamentarians from the Commonwealth at the first ever Commonwealth Parliamentarians’ Forum. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, that I saw the direct benefit of that. I hope there is a discussion I can take up with the noble Lord, among others, on how we can integrate that more fully in future CHOGMs as well. I also join him, among others, in congratulating the CPA UK team for organising that forum.
I assure noble Lords that, during the summit week, there will be a cross-party parliamentary delegation made up of Peers and MPs who have a history of Commonwealth interest and activity. As we are finalising events, there will be opportunities for parliamentarians to take part, because this should be a collective recognition and celebration but also a partnership of how parliamentarians come together in this role. We are also working with parliamentary authorities and the CPA UK on plans to hold a reception in Parliament on the evening of Tuesday 17 April, and I am delighted to say that the Speakers of both Houses have agreed to co-host the event.
I briefly want to mention the IRC report again, and acknowledge the work of my noble friend Lord Howell in this respect. I very much welcome his committee’s findings that our preparations for the summit demonstrate the strength of feeling that we in the Government have for the Commonwealth and the role that we feel it must play in our increasingly interconnected world. Similarly, I welcome the fact that the report emphasises the importance of achieving clear, tangible commitments at the summit, and of following up on these during our time as Chair-in-Office. I look to every the noble Lord who has participated in this debate and beyond to assist in the delivery of the outcomes and ambitions from the summit and the Heads of Government meeting, because our Chair-in-Office will be defined by how we co-operate and work together.
As I said earlier, we want the summit to be a truly national celebration of the Commonwealth. I assure noble Lords that I have been working directly with the devolved Administrations, having visited them, the overseas territories and Crown dependencies, which I know my noble friend Lady Hooper is concerned about. We will seek opportunities during the course of the week, involving the First Ministers of our devolved Administrations and the representatives of the overseas territories in various events during that week.
I also acknowledge the point well made by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that the Commonwealth is an incredible institution. We are looking forward to the Commonwealth Games very shortly and, indeed, to the next Commonwealth Games, from Brisbane to Birmingham. I am sure that all noble Lords will acknowledge that we will do our utmost to ensure that the Birmingham games are a success.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, raised the important issue, as did other noble Lords, of SDG 16, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised the issue of SDG 5. As I am sure anyone knows who has had discussions with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, she will reiterate and re-emphasise the point that it was the Commonwealth which was the first on SDGs. As was acknowledged by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, much of the agenda is reflective of those very important SDGs, and we remain committed to them. In that regard, I note the constructive comment from the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, that our websites should reflect similar language, and I shall take that back.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, raised the issue of making progress on the SDGs through the Commonwealth Secretariat. I assure him that I will take the issue back with me, but, as ever, it will be an issue of capacity. I assure noble Lords that we are looking at how we can work more constructively with member states on the delivery of SDGs in the context of the Commonwealth.
The noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and my noble friend Lady Hooper raised the issue of Commonwealth scholarships. I assure noble Lords that education will be an important theme during summit week. As noble Lords are aware, the Government have already allocated £25 million for Commonwealth scholarship commissions for 2017 and 2018, which will provide for 802 new awards.
Many noble Lords alluded to the role of young people, and rightly so. I assure the noble Lords, Lord Geidt, Lord McConnell and Lord Luce, and the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, among others, that we believe that the youth should be at the heart and soul of Commonwealth delivery. In response directly to a point that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised, it is also about those who are elders in the Commonwealth. I assure noble Lords that I have met, since our meeting with the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sustainable Development Goals, directly with representatives of those representing the interests of the older generations across the Commonwealth to ensure that those important points, including the points about health, are not forgotten, as we plan not only for the summit but for our Chair-in-Office.
I assure the noble Lords, Lord Geidt and Lord Luce, among others, that we have worked very hard on ensuring that we incentivise and enthuse our own youngsters and youth in this regard.
The Commonwealth Youth Forum will take place at the start of the summit. It will give young people from across the Commonwealth the opportunity to debate the challenges facing them today, and agree youth-led initiatives to influence decision-makers and ensure that young people have a voice in the future of the Commonwealth. I emphasise the fact that the youth summit—the young people’s forum—is being organised by the members of the youth council themselves. Although I have waded into a few meetings, I assure noble Lords that the agenda is very much being set by them. There have been some challenging questions and answers. I have attended various events, including with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister at No. 10, where we invited various people from across the UK for a question and answer session and a meeting directly about what their ambitions and aspirations for the Commonwealth were. I am also delighted to say that each Commonwealth country attending the summit will have two members—one young woman and one young man—under 30 as official members of their delegation.
We have launched the Commonwealth education pack for schools across the UK to inform and explain the importance of the Commonwealth. It has already been shared with more than 40,000 teachers in the United Kingdom and can be accessed by schools across the world—and before any Welsh Peer asks me this, yes, the Government have paid to ensure that it is translated into Welsh.
The important issue of the education of women and girls was raised by several noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Anelay. I pay tribute to her work in respect of the Commonwealth. As I have always said, she has been a teacher and a guide to me personally, when she was Chief Whip, during my time as a Whip. It was a great honour to take over from her in this role as Minister of State for the Commonwealth. I pay tribute to her work on this issue, but also to her continuing support on the important issues of the empowerment and education of women, and of LGBT rights. In this context, let me assure noble Lords that 12 years of quality education is something that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has put at the heart and soul of British foreign policy. We have received strong support from other Commonwealth member states on ensuring that this will be reflected in the agenda of the Commonwealth summit and the Heads of Government Meeting.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, my noble friend Lady Hooper, and the noble Lord, Lord Loomba, for raising these issues. I also assure the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that it is right to mention the important role of women’s issues in this summit. The main vehicle for that will be the Women’s Forum—but the issue of women’s empowerment will not be limited to that forum alone. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said, it will be reflected across all aspects of the agenda, including the Business Forum and the Heads of Government Meeting.
My noble friend Lady Anelay asked some specific questions about Nigeria and girls’ education. Yes, as I have made clear, the summit is an opportunity to focus on girls’ education. About Nigeria, let me assure my noble friend that we have had three high-level conversations with Nigeria on girls’ education in the past four weeks alone. The Foreign Secretary spoke to the Nigerian Vice-President; Harriett Baldwin, the Minister for Africa, has spoken to the Nigerian High Commissioner; and my right honourable friend the International Development Secretary spoke to the Nigerian Minister for Women Affairs and Social Development. The Commonwealth was central to the discussion, as was girls’ education.
The issue of fairness is a key element and pillar of the Commonwealth discussions, and it has been raised by a number of noble Lords. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, my noble friends Lady Bottomley and Lord Suri, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, all raised the broad issue of human rights, but also specific issues within that context. First, on freedom of religion and belief, as with the previous summit in Malta in 2015, the Heads of the Commonwealth have recognised the freedom of religion and expression. The summit will encourage the Commonwealth to build on that. As noble Lords will know, the Government have also provided funding to the Royal Commonwealth Society’s inter-faith service, which was extremely well attended in Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day, 12 March. Freedom of religion and belief is a priority for the Prime Minister, for the Secretary-General and for me, as Minister for Human Rights. We will discuss this bilaterally and during the course of the Commonwealth summit through various forums. I also acknowledge the great work done by Lambeth Palace. We look forward to the event that is being organised on this issue in the margins of the Commonwealth summit during the course of the week. I pay particular tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for his continuing support and leadership on this important issue.
LGBT rights were raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Cashman, and my noble friends Lord Suri, Lady Anelay and Lord Lexden, among others. The Prime Minister has said clearly that we have special responsibility to help to change hearts and minds. We will ensure that these important issues are discussed during summit week. I have already said previously from the Dispatch Box that we also use bilateral meetings with different countries where criminalisation of homosexuality still persists. Most recently, when I visited the Gambia I raised this issue directly with its Law Minister.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, also asked about specific issues on the agenda during Commonwealth week. I assure him that the Government are committed to combating discrimination and violence against LGBT people throughout the Commonwealth. We will use every opportunity at the summit to highlight our belief in this central message. Indeed, the Prime Minister committed herself to raising this. In December I met representatives of the UK Alliance for Global Equality, which included representatives from the Kaleidoscope Trust among others, to discuss this agenda, in particular preparations for the summit. This was followed up by a roundtable with C10 and Foreign Office officials. This remains a priority. In this regard, I look forward to working with noble Lords when it is our Chair-In-Office to ensure we can work constructively on this issue, on freedom of religion and belief and on gender equality to ensure that these priorities, which I know are cross-party, are reflected.
The noble Lords, Lord Geidt and Lord Kakkar, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, raised various issues on health, as indeed did the noble Lord, Lord Collins. On attacking avoidable blindness, as I speak we are in the middle of the Committee of the Whole, which is looking specifically at the detail of the communiqué. It would be ill-judged of me to prejudge those comments because discussions will continue tomorrow on issues such as those mentioned by noble Lords, including malaria. I noted the passionate contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, on kidney transplants. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, spoke with great aplomb and great knowledge about the excellent work of the Diamond Jubilee Trust, among others, and the use of technology in addressing some of the pertinent health challenges. I say to noble Lords: here lies the opportunity. So much can be achieved through the network. I look forward to noble Lords working on this.
In closing—I apologise, but I will come back on specific questions I have not yet addressed—prosperity and trade were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and my noble friend Lord Popat. This is a cornerstone of how we helped to deliver that Commonwealth advantage. We heard from noble Lords about the advantage and the lower costs of trading with Commonwealth countries. We need to look at those barriers.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, and others asked about specific issues such as the de-risking of banks in the Caribbean. I assure him that we are working constructively with Caribbean countries directly. There is a specific agenda item in the business forum on that very issue to discuss problems and practical solutions, so that we can help to facilitate greater trade between Commonwealth nations. I do not forget the important contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Dholakia, who said that this is ultimately the gateway to reducing poverty and contributing to a more secure, stable and prosperous world. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, before he asks me, that I look forward to reading his report and then meeting him to discuss how we can progress the various outcomes more constructively.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to raise the issue of sustainability and oceans. It will be a central theme. It is about cleaning up the oceans and looking at the opportunity they can provide for marine protection areas and the economic sustainability of countries around the Commonwealth. He also raised the issue of small island states and the importance of resilience and sustainability, which will be a key point of discussion.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and my noble friend Lady Anelay rightly said that all these discussions have to result in actions. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to work very constructively in our role as Chair-In-Office to ensure that we can deliver on the outcomes. In that regard, there are some simple measures that I have already initiated. My noble friend may well appreciate this. For example, when I took on this role, there was no book—as I am sure she felt with Malta—to tell us where the good was and where the pitfalls were, what had been learnt and how to build capacity. We as a nation have that capacity and experience. Surely, we are duty bound to help whoever may take on this responsibility next. It sounds simple but it is a practical thing that we will take forward. We will work within the context of the Commonwealth. I say to noble Lords that there are huge opportunities to deliver on this within the context of the United Nations as well. We will continue to do so.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and my noble friend Lord Suri also asked about the Commonwealth Secretariat and our support for the Secretary-General. I assure noble Lords—I have used this phrase before—that I work hand in glove with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who has faced challenges in trying to regenerate and revitalise the Commonwealth and make it a much more agile and reflective organisation for the 21st century. That concern was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar. We will deal with this so that we can look to the future of the Commonwealth with great optimism.
I have a final point about the future and the expansion of membership. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, raised issues about Ireland. We heard from the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, about Nepal, South Sudan and other countries. I am delighted that Gambia has now joined, but as noble Lords will appreciate, this is a decision made on consensus. The fact that there are other countries interested in joining the Commonwealth perhaps underlines the importance attached to this issue.
I am conscious of the time and I do not want to detain noble Lords further. There are some specific questions that I have been unable to answer because of the limits on time and I will of course write to noble Lords in that respect. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is a huge opportunity for us in the United Kingdom. But I was at the meeting of, as it is termed, the Sherpas—the workers who are putting together the communiqués and working hard across the Commonwealth nations to ensure that we can see progress. There was great enthusiasm and excitement about the summit and the Heads of Government Meeting. That underlines the prevailing attitude of working closely in partnership with member states as equals to ensure that we deliver on not only our ambition for the Commonwealth summit but the ambition of the Commonwealth itself.
Finally, it is a huge privilege for the UK Government to be hosting this special occasion at this time. On a personal level, it has been a huge and humbling privilege for me to hear the expressions of great warmth and support from noble Lords during this debate. But the summit is only the beginning. The hard work will start during our term in office. I thank all noble Lords for their support today and in the planning. I look forward to working with them constructively as we deliver on the ambitions and actions of the Commonwealth summit.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 (International Relations Committee Report)
Motion to Take Note