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.