My right hon. Friend the Commonwealth Secretary is considering how we might arrange to bring together a Commonwealth Parliamentary assembly. I promised last week to keep this topic in mind as a possible subject for discussion at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, unlike some of the promises in his party's election manifesto, this undertaking received considerable support on both sides of the House and in the Commonwealth? Can he assure the House that this is not to be yet another broken party promise?
The hon. Gentleman has had his fun, but I take it that he really wants to deal with the specific issue. This proposal was first made in the debate on Commonwealth affairs on 6th February, last year, and I have indicated that we take it very seriously. If we can get general Commonwealth backing for it, we hope to make progress with it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there already exists a worldwide, all-party association of Parliamentarians which meets annually in conference, with national delegations which are led by important Ministers? Before coming to any final decisions on this matter, therefore, will he consult the United Kingdom branch of that association of which he himself is chairman?
Yes, Sir. All of us are well aware of the valuable work done by the C.P.A. and, if I may say so, of the hard work of the hon. Gentleman and others in this connection. However, I think that it would be true that in the European area the work of the Strasbourg Assembly has gone much further in the matter of bringing Parliamentarians together than we have succeeded in doing for the Commonwealth. Therefore, while I agree with proceeding in harmony with those who are able to take part in the C.P.A., it would be good if we could see how we could develop this work.
Would not the Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference which is coming in the summer be a good opportunity to discuss this further, perhaps after taking a decision about the Commonwealth secretariat?
I promised on 2nd March, and the right hon. Gentleman will recall what I said a moment ago, to keep this topic in mind as a possible subject for discussion at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers which, I think, is what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
Following what the hon. Member for Essex, South-East (Mr. Braine) said, would my right hon. Friend note that last year the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association decided that this year's conference would be a much longer conference, with background papers, moving towards the idea of a Parliament of the Commonwealth? Would my right hon. Friend, therefore, be very careful to have a look at this extended form of C.P.A. annual conference to see whether it meets the sort of thing which he has in mind?