Orders of the Day — The Commonwealth

– in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 16th March 1995.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Conway.]

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 6:02 pm, 16th March 1995

This is a welcome and timely debate. This week, the whole Commonwealth observed Commonwealth day. Here, at Westminster Abbey, Her Majesty the Queen, the head of the Commonwealth, attended a multi-faith service at which, for the first time since 1961, the South African flag was paraded with those of the 50 other Commonwealth members, and the flags of the Commonwealth fly today in Parliament square.

This weekend, the Queen returns to South Africa for a state visit. It will be her first visit since 1947, when she dedicated herself to the Commonwealth. South Africa's return to the Commonwealth family of nations marks a turning point, which I am glad the Foreign Affairs Select Committee has noted and remarked by undertaking its own inquiry into "The future role of the Commonwealth". Such work will help to focus our minds on what the Commonwealth can and cannot do.

In New Zealand in November, Heads of Government from the Commonwealth will meet once again for their two-yearly conference, the first at which South Africa will have been present for over 30 years: 30 difficult years for the Commonwealth, now happily behind us.

The Commonwealth's origins lie in the supple relations that evolved between London and the dominions up to 1947. It is now a very different body that encompasses nations that are linked to the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, but which have rightly chosen to make their own way in the world. The Commonwealth has helped them to do so. The Commonwealth was set up not to withstand change, but to reflect and to respond to it. The Commonwealth has no formal constitutional structure: it relies on conventions and procedures that evolved by consent.

The Commonwealth has no voting rights or international legal authority, but that very looseness is a great advantage compared to other international institutions, which were often set up with a single purpose in mind and which are now having to adapt to a vastly different post-cold war world. The inherent flexibility of the Commonwealth gives it a freedom to respond to the times, and to help take forward the best interests of a quarter of the world's people.

The Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as it is of Governments. The Commonwealth's organisations and peoples benefit from shared practices and beliefs, and not infrequently from the widespread use of English. The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, well described the Commonwealth's central attribute as its ability

to bridge racial, ideological and economic divides and inequalities, assisted by its common language and common heritage". We agree that the Commonwealth acts as a bridge in those ways.

Commonwealth countries comprise over a quarter of the world's peoples, from the tundra of Hudson bay to the lush rain forests of Guyana; from the deserts of Australia and northern Nigeria to the olive groves of Cyprus. Every religion is represented, reflected in the Muslim, Jain, Sikh, Hindu, Jewish and Christian divines who spoke at Westminster Abbey on Monday, all subscribing to five Commonwealth affirmations, ending with a prayer for peace led by Mr. Gordon Wilson of Enniskillen, and a final affirmation:

We affirm our common faith in the need to establish justice for every individual, and through common effort to secure peace and reconciliation between nations". Our challenge is to translate those values into specific and beneficial actions.

Let me cite three down-to-earth Commonwealth organisations that daily put those values into practice in a concrete way. The first is the Commonwealth Foundation, which, on a budget of only £2 million, helps to keep alive and thriving a host of Commonwealth professional and other non-governmental organisations. It will hold its second NGO conference in New Zealand in June. We have helped to finance that meeting and believe it can do good work.

Well-known groups like the Commonwealth Games Federation and the Commonwealth Medical Association—[Interruption.] I knew that the Commonwealth Games Federation would bring a cheer from the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). Those two bodies and others bring together peoples from across the Commonwealth, such as Commonwealth architects and Common wealth dentists, to share professional expertise, idea; and experience.

The second organisation is the Common wealth Parliamentary Association. We all know well the contribution that the CPA and parliamentarians make in promoting the cause of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The CPA reaches beyond the Commonwealth to countries looking to join or rejoin.

The CPA provides invaluable assistance, guidance and training. Its involvement begins long before elections are ever planned; it continues through the pre-election and election processes, and it stays on to ensure that advice is available on the spot after elections. The UK branch alone provides vital training and support in parliamentary practice and procedure to some 50 Commonwealth parliamentarians each year through seminars in the UK. There is an unrivalled wealth of experience among its members from all the Commonwealth, which provides a vital link with overseas parliamentary systems through the overseas visits.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd)—the chairman of the CPA executive committee—reminded the House of the value of parliamentary workshops during the debate on the South Africa Bill last week. I share my hon. Friend's views on the usefulness and importance of such experience sharing, and my right hon. Friend Baroness Chalker and I will give his proposal for further support for CPA initiatives constructive consideration. If my hon. Friend and the CPA would like to talk to us about that, we would be interested to consider the CPA's ideas.

Thirdly, there is the Commonwealth Institute here in London. I am aware of the support that it enjoys in the House, but unfortunately its exhibitions have stayed still and visitor numbers have fallen off. Indeed, it looked at one time as if the Commonwealth Institute might have to close. That would have been a great sadness, but the building itself, which is remarkable in its way, needed major repairs, especially to its huge canopy copper roof.

I am delighted to say that the institute's supporters have devised a new exhibition concept, "Wonders of the World", which highlights some of the great natural wonders in Commonwealth countries. The Government have offered to make £2.4 million available provided the institute can raise £5 million in sponsorship commitments by July this year.

The institute has provided generations of schoolchildren and visitors to London with a window on the world of the Commonwealth. We hope that that can continue, and if the sponsorship target is met that will be a clear indication of the support that the Commonwealth enjoys in this country.

Photo of Mr Clive Soley Mr Clive Soley , Hammersmith

Many of us were very worried when the Commonwealth Institute was threatened with closure. I welcome what the Minister says, and I know from my contacts that there is now hope that it will continue. Many schools now try to arrange exchanges with Commonwealth countries. I know a school near Stroud that is arranging for a group of children to go to India. Far more such activities could be arranged, and they would fit in with the work of the Commonwealth Institute, but the Government must put in more money. Will the Minister consider helping schools to arrange exchanges with other Commonwealth countries?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

One of the advantages of the Commonwealth is that much can be done on a voluntary basis. Many exchanges take place around the Commonwealth, but one would have to have regard to where the money was coming from and how the exchanges were organised and attributed. Such schemes look attractive at first sight, but they could have substantial financial implications. Again, that is one of the topics that the Foreign Affairs Select Committee could consider when it studies the future of the Commonwealth. I see no reason why the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member who has ideas about how we could take forward Commonwealth initiatives should not put them to the Select Committee.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

I am glad to hear the Minister say such warm and appreciative words about the Commonwealth Institute. I too have visited it and have been impressed by the determination of Mr. Cox and his staff to take things forward, albeit on the basis of diminishing public financial support, which I believe will be phased out completely by 1999.

In developing his policy on the Commonwealth, will my hon. Friend take full account of the larger role that the Commonwealth Institute could play in acquainting people, especially young people, as the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) said, with the great potential of the Commonwealth? Britain, as the mother country of the Commonwealth, should have a more attractive window on the Commonwealth for all young people. Will my hon. Friend bear that aim in mind when deciding what support to give the institute?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I entirely endorse everything that my hon. Friend says. That is why we have made it clear that we are prepared to support the Commonwealth Institute, but for the institute to move forward it must be viable and capable of demonstrating that it is viable. Sadly, in the recent past visitor numbers have fallen and exhibitions have remained fairly static. All that is now changing, and the institute has suggested advanced and bold initiatives for making itself more attractive. We hope that they will succeed, so as to enable future generations of children from here and elsewhere in the Commonwealth to benefit from the institute's work and from the educational opportunities that it can offer.

Few would dispute the value of the various forms of professional and non-governmental co-operation between the peoples of different Commonwealth countries, but when we ask what the co-operation between Commonwealth Governments means in practice the answer is more complicated. Charges of double standards, of vague and generalised communiqués and of exclusive concentration on particular issues at the expense of other matters equally important have in the past had a certain ring of truth. But even if we were to admit those falls from grace, two strands in the shared political activity between Commonwealth countries have proved their worth and will continue to do so.

First, the Commonwealth provides a conduit for a host of links for practical co-operation between Governments—links that otherwise would almost certainly not exist. Secondly and importantly, the Commonwealth as an association has a role in promoting good government and human rights.

On practical co-operation, let me cite just two instances, not of Britain supporting the Commonwealth but of other Commonwealth countries supporting each other. First, there is the interest that the Canadians take in the professional and economic well-being of Caribbean Commonwealth countries. That is not necessarily a logical connection, but the shared values in law, in education and in sport combine to ensure that those Caribbean states, which are small and sometimes vulnerable, can turn to a genuine friend for support.

Another example is provided by the programme that the Indian Government provide for African and other Commonwealth military personnel to receive training of the highest quality at the Indian staff colleges. Again, that is not an obvious connection, but the Commonwealth link has made it possible and fostered it. We should not forget, either, the immense network of educational co-operation throughout the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth teachers exchange programme enables more than 400 teachers and their families to swap schools for an academic year.

The Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship programme enables more than 500 students from Commonwealth countries to further their studies in other Commonwealth countries. The Association of Commonwealth Universities, a superb organisation that is little known outside its field, enables Commonwealth universities to exchange teachers, administrators and ideals. For example, it allows vice-chancellors from the Pacific to share problems with vice-chancellors from the West Indies or Asia. To attend one of the association's conferences is to see the Commonwealth as most imagine it should be.

Photo of Mr James Lester Mr James Lester , Broxtowe

Does my hon. Friend accept that the newest Commonwealth organisation, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, which has existed for only one year, represents a new step forward in the way in which we can foster good governance not only at central Government level hut at the level of government that matters most to people—local government? Just today the Barbadian delegate to the Commonwealth Assembly asked for assistance in establishing local government in Barbados, which the Government are now seeking to bring about.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I am glad to confirm what my hon. Friend says. Indeed, it was he who took through the House a private Member's Bill enabling local authorities in this country to give technical support to local government overseas. Only the other day, the deputy Minister responsible for local government in South Africa was in London attending a conference with a significant number of local councillors and others from this country. He talked about the local government elections that will take place in South Africa in October, and the support that can be given by this country in many different ways—for example, in terms of technical expertise and monitoring. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to another way in which the Commonwealth can be of assistance. When I visit Barbados later this year, I shall certainly pursue the issue of local government support for Barbados.

A second strand of Commonwealth intergovernmental co-operation, and perhaps the most important, is the contribution that the Commonwealth can and does make to good government and human rights. Of course, there have in the past been some very bleak spots. Idi Amin's Uganda was perhaps the most notorious, but the Commonwealth was able to help put Uganda back on its feet when Amin was overthrown.

Sadly, there are still some bleak spots today. In the Gambia, where the democratic government of Sir Dawda Jawara was shamelessly overthrown in July last year in a military putsch, the timetable for democratic elections, even if implemented, means that they will be delayed by at least two years.

Sadly, in Nigeria, which, rightly, was mentioned in the debate on the Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill, the military Government's commitment to return to civilian democratic rule carries as yet little conviction. The pattern of ministerial dismissals, arbitrary arrests and bans on political activity undermines confidence in what the military Government profess to want to do.

In Sierra Leone, the Government of Captain Strasser have a programme for elections, but are hard pressed by rebel activity to put it into practice. Those problems actively concern Commonwealth Governments, and we welcome the lead that the Commonwealth Secretary-General has taken in addressing them. The Secretary-General—himself a distinguished Nigerian—has observed:

Nigeria cannot seriously aspire to wield any appreciable influence abroad or play a leading role in realising Africans' hopes unless it can put its own house in order". Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland will wish to establish how they can help to reverse those setbacks.

We should recognise that relations between Commonwealth countries, too, have not always been harmonious. The tension between India and Pakistan causes concern to us, and to all other members of the Commonwealth—friends of both countries. Nevertheless, while the problems between India and Pakistan can best be resolved bilaterally, it is reasonable to think that they might have become more difficult if the Commonwealth link had not existed.

It would be idle to imagine that such problems will disappear; the question is, how is the Commonwealth equipped to respond? The picture is encouraging. After the long period during which South Africa preoccupied Heads of Government conferences, a fresh start was made in Harare in 1991 with the adoption of the Harare declaration, a detailed and clear commitment by all Commonwealth Governments to high standards in accountable, just government and the protection of human rights. The Commonwealth now has an objective benchmark against which to assess its own members' records.

In 1991, the Commonwealth Secretary-General launched a major programme to help Commonwealth states to organise multi-party elections in Zambia, the Seychelles, Guyana, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa and Malawi. Commonwealth election observer groups have been preceded by technical missions to help in the organisation of elections, and by Commonwealth teams that have subsequently arrived—supplemented by teams from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and elsewhere—to assist in putting parliamentary democracy on a firm footing.

However hesitant and faltering those efforts may seem, they represent a collective act of will by 51 diverse Governments, with the moral authority that that commands. In a post-imperial world, that role for the Commonwealth should not be underestimated: we attach the highest importance to it. When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister attends the Heads of Government conference in Auckland in November, the Commonwealth's role in sustaining democracy will be at the forefront of his priorities.

Nor should it be forgotten that Commonwealth countries play a full part in United Nations peacekeeping. Five of the top 10 contributors to UN peacekeeping are Commonwealth countries: ourselves, Pakistan, Canada, Bangladesh and Ghana. Commonwealth troops are currently in Kuwait, the former republic of Yugoslavia, Georgia, Rwanda, Western Sahara, Tajikistan, Liberia, Haiti, Angola, the Golan Heights and El Salvador. Commonwealth troops are making a major contribution to UN peacekeeping around the world.

An aspect that has tended to be overlooked in recent years is the importance of Commonwealth counties as trade and investment partners. The Commonwealth includes five of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies since 1985: Singapore, Mauritius, Botswana, Belize and Hong Kong. Commonwealth countries generally are now pursuing policies of political and economic liberalisation; exports to the Commonwealth, far from declining since our entry into the European Community, have grown by more than 20 per cent. in real terms since 1983.

The dynamic emerging economies of Asia—Malaysia and Singapore, for instance—have contributed to our economic growth in recent years. In the past five years, our exports to Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia have increased by 100 per cent. India, too, shows signs of becoming an increasingly important trading partner as the benefits of economic reform take effect. The Indo-British partnership initiative has been a great success, and South Africa and Pakistan clearly also have export potential. More than 60 per cent. of our exports to the Commonwealth are now to the "new" Commonwealth.

But it is not all one way. In 1993, Britain was a major importer from 35 of the 39 Commonwealth countries for which we have up-to-date statistics. Our balance of trade with the Commonwealth is healthier than our balance of trade with the European Community or the rest of the world. Commonwealth countries are an important recipient of British investment: some £36.8 billion, nearly a quarter of our investment stock, is held in those countries, over 40 per cent. of it in the new Commonwealth.

Britain's entry into the EC has been seen by many Commonwealth countries as a benefit, not only for their exports to the UK but because it opens up new European markets. The absolute level of trade with Commonwealth countries has held up well since Britain joined the EC. We argued for the creation of the European Union banana regime in the face of virulent opposition from some of our European partners which have no special links with traditional banana-producing countries.

We hope that the regime has given the Commonwealth countries a breathing space during which they will restructure their industries and make their economies more competitive—a process with which we are willing to assist them. There will be further threats to the regime, both from within Europe and from further afield, but we remain committed to defending the fundamentals of the regime to protect the interests of our Commonwealth friends.

Rum is one of the industrial successes of the Caribbean Commonwealth. We have argued strongly for the ending of the anomalous arrangements under the Lomé convention, which restrict rum exports from African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to the European market. EC quotas on "light rum"—90 per cent. of ACP production—have now been abolished; as a result of determined UK pressure, the quota for "traditional rum" has been set at three times the level originally proposed by the Commission. With further increases of 3,000 hectolitres each year before total abolition in the year 2000, we believe that that offers the Caribbean rum industry the opportunity and incentive that it needs to continue its successful development.

Those are two instances of the way in which our membership of both the Commonwealth and the European Union has enabled us to play a constructive part. A third and more recent contribution was made in the recent fisheries dispute. I think that I can best summarise that contribution by reading a communiqué given to diplomatic editors today by the Canadian high commissioner in London. It states:

The Canadian High Commissioner, the Hon. Royce Frith today (Thursday, March 16) phoned the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to thank the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs for his very helpful role in bringing the parties to the negotiating table, as the British and Canadian governments had sought to achieve from the beginning. That is another instance of the way in which our membership of both the Commonwealth and the European Union enables us to play a constructive part.

Commonwealth countries are close trading partners. Many are countries whose further development we seek to encourage through our aid budget. It is our policy to maintain a large and effective bilateral aid programme; because of our historical links, it is right that the largest share of British aid should go to Commonwealth countries. Of the top 10 recipients of bilateral aid in 1993-94, six—India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Uganda—are Commonwealth members. Bilaterally, we also have large "good government" programmes in a number of Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth as an institution has also provided us with a useful opportunity to emphasise the need for good government, and the importance of economic and political reform.

In 1993-94, £625 million, well over half our gross bilateral public spending on aid, went to Commonwealth countries. In the context of multilateral aid, our objective is to ensure that Commonwealth aid programmes meet real needs in developing countries by providing assistance—such as aid to small island states—that lies within their areas of comparative advantage over other aid agencies.

In that context, it may be helpful if I reiterate our position on the European development fund and Lomé. We have announced our intention to contribute a substantial sum to EDF VIII. It will be a significant reduction in cash terms on our contribution to EDF VII. We are not taking a position on the overall size of EDF VIII; nor are we making a judgment on the quality of the EDF. The reduction has been made because we are trying to achieve a better balance between multilateral and bilateral aid.

We expect multilateral aid to reach around 60 per cent. of total British aid in several years' time; EC aid alone will be more than 40 per cent. of the total UK aid programme. We also need to contribute to a substantial replenishment of the International Development Association both this year and in three years' time. Multilateral commitments are growing all the time.

Against that background, our objective is to maintain a substantial bilateral programme. We intend to continue to be a major contributor bilaterally to the development process in ACP countries, particularly in Africa. Our commitment to Africa remains strong. We are giving £850 million of bilateral aid to the special programme of assistance for Africa, which is a multi-donor effort co-ordinated by the World bank. A strong bilateral programme ensures that we have the ability to make the decisions to support countries in the Commonwealth.

Photo of Bob Spink Bob Spink , Castle Point

My hon. Friend shows great mastery of his brief. Does he agree that Commonwealth countries might take great comfort from our taking between £8 million and £11 million from our Overseas Development Administration bilateral aid budget and using it to rejoin the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation so that we could further promote education, science and culture?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

We will need to consider whether to join UNESCO on its merits. As my hon. Friend knows, we left it because we did not think that it was serving its purpose well. In due course, we will have to consider whether to rejoin UNESCO. We have to take each organisation on its merits and consider whether it serves well the interests of those whom it has been set up to serve.

Our bilateral aid is very much valued and appreciated throughout the Commonwealth. It might be of interest to the House if I read what the Ugandan Minister of Finance wrote only a matter of days ago to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said:

I would like to express to you and to Her Majesty's Government the most sincere gratitude of my own and that of the Government and people of Uganda for the vital concern which Great Britain has shown consistently about the crushing burden of debt which Uganda and other Sub-Saharan African countries are shouldering.As you know, the first fruits of your most commendable efforts came with the write-off of the greater portion of our Paris Club debts this month. For my part, I can only promise you and Her Majesty's Government that the generosity of the Paris Club members to Uganda will not be frittered away. We shall stay the course of economic reform and liberalization upon which the growth of our economy so critically depends.We trust that with an expanding economy, Uganda will progressively fend for herself and eventually meet her international obligations.Once again, thank you so much. Uganda and many Commonwealth countries which we support with development aid recognise that Britain has taken a leading role in tackling the problems of debt. They recognise that our bilateral programme of aid is of great benefit to them.

We also support the Commonwealth secretariat. We contribute up to 30 per cent.—just less than £3 million—of the secretariat's programme and running costs, which in 1994-95 will amount to £9 million. Those links are reinforced by regular ministerial contact between members and fellow countries in the Commonwealth. During the past three years, there have been ministerial visits to 41 Commonwealth countries. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been to Canada, Cyprus, India, Malaysia and South Africa, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and Ministers across Government remain in close contact with Commonwealth colleagues on matters of common concern. We have frequent visits from Commonwealth Heads of Government to the United Kingdom. All Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in New Zealand will have an interest in the implementation of the Harare declaration. It would be neither credible nor worthy to ignore those countries whose Governments fail to match principle and practice. The Commonwealth would be false to its vocation if it failed to respond meaningfully, convincingly and effectively to the challenges posed by military Governments. Other members will have their own priorities for the meeting in Auckland. Some will have an interest in helping Fiji to return to the Commonwealth. Fiji has begun the process of reviewing its constitution.

The summit will also have to deal with Cameroon's application to join the Commonwealth. Two years ago at Limassol, Heads of Government said that they would be ready to welcome Cameroon at Auckland, provided that by then its efforts to establish a democratic system, consistent with the Harare declaration, had been completed. We think that Cameroon may still have some way to go to meet that requirement, but it is of interest that there are countries that wish to join the Commonwealth.

We cannot anticipate the agenda at Auckland, but at the meeting in Limassol two years ago, for example, the Prime Minister, with Mr. Keating, the Australian Prime Minister, was able to persuade the conference to adopt a short declaration on the GATT Uruguay round, to launch a Commonwealth mission to press for its conclusion and to allow that Commonwealth mission to speak on behalf of Commonwealth countries as a group. That was a useful initiative, which demonstrated the ability of the Commonwealth to respond to concerns of the day.

Provided the Commonwealth adheres to realities and achievable goals, and eschews the temptation of grandiose or hollow declarations, it can and will remain a force for good. It is in that spirit that we approach the next Heads of Government conference in New Zealand in November. The conference will be the first to be attended by South Africa since 1961. That will give the Auckland meeting a special character. Given the attention that the Commonwealth has paid in the past 30 years to South Africa, it would be entirely proper for the Commonwealth and its members to continue its special efforts to meet South Africa's post-election needs, as it has done for other countries after independence.

If South Africa remains stable and prosperous, the whole of southern Africa—Commonwealth countries in large part—will benefit. If South Africa fails to realise its potential, the prospects for Africa as a whole, much of it Commonwealth Africa, will be diminished. The Commonwealth as an association remains engaged in South Africa at a moment when practical support may make a decisive difference.

Between now and November, new issues may well arise on which the Auckland conference can usefully comment. We certainly see scope for the Commonwealth working together, doing more to combat drugs, drug trafficking, money laundering and organised international crime as a whole. At the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Canada last year, that issue attracted the support of parliamentarians right across the Commonwealth. We will be talking to our Commonwealth partners about our ideas on how we can work together better to handle drugs and international crime between now and next November.

The Commonwealth has no big battalions on its own account. It cannot enforce, it cannot direct and it operates by consensus. In a world of strains and conflicts, the Commonwealth helps to promote a sense of shared values, shared responsibilities, shared histories and shared experience. There is much that the Commonwealth can do together and should do together to promote shared values.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley 6:37 pm, 16th March 1995

I join the Minister in welcoming the debate and in thanking the Leader of the House for the allocation of time for it. It is the first debate that we have had on the important topic of the Commonwealth since 1987, and a great deal has happened since then.

There will be a great deal of bipartisanship in the debate. The Minister, knowing me, would be disappointed—

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

—devastated, indeed, if the debate was completely bipartisan. He will certainly not be disappointed. The temptation in a debate on the Commonwealth is to make a tour d'horizon—if my French is acceptable—of the 51 states and give some commentary on each one. Hon. Members will be glad to know that I intend to resist that temptation.

As I was not able to attend the debate on the South Africa Bill last week, I should like to take this opportunity to welcome South Africa back into the Commonwealth fold after an unfortunate isolation of more than 30 years. The elections in South Africa last year and the resulting end of a universally despised apartheid regime were welcomed by all, particularly by those in the Commonwealth and by those in this House who made it their especial task year after year, Question Time after Question Time, debate after debate, to highlight the divisions and the racial injustices in a society which offended human and democratic values. It has been a long and painful journey for the people of South Africa, and it is by no means yet complete. We have a great deal more to do to help the people of South Africa.

I am glad that South Africa's re-entry into the Commonwealth family has been precipitated at a very early opportunity. It will enable the Commonwealth to further its common values in a country which was devoid of such principles during its long isolation. A stable South Africa will benefit other nations of the Commonwealth especially, as the Minister rightly said, in Africa, which is dominated by Commonwealth countries.

The evolution of the Commonwealth is progressing at a pace which is quicker than ever. The changing nature of an institution born of British imperialist tendencies is marked and the opportunities for Britain and for our Commonwealth partners, economically, politically and culturally, are there to be grasped. The Commonwealth is no more a crude remnant of colonialisation or, as Disraeli once described it, a millstone around our necks".

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

That was before the Commonwealth.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

The hon. Gentleman is right, of course—I just could not bring myself to say the word "empire", as I am sure he will appreciate.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

The hon. Gentleman need not worry; I shall be saying it later.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

In 40 years the Commonwealth has grown from a few dominions to 51 wholly independent members with populations ranging from a few thousand people to several hundred million. With a total population of around 1.5 billion people, the Commonwealth is the largest multilateral organisation in the world, other than the United Nations, and covers a quarter of the world's land area. I agreed with the point made by the hon. Member for Castle Point (Dr. Spink) about the need for us to rejoin UNESCO, and I was disappointed that the Minister did not give a more positive reply; it is good that some of his Back Benchers keep reminding him.

The Commonwealth spans a quarter of the world's land area and its peoples derive from all five continents and from every major regional bloc and economic zone. It makes up 25 per cent. of the United Nations General Assembly, uniting large and small, developed and developing nations. There are still remnants of the empire, of course, in the shape of the dependent territories. I do not intend to deal with all of them, but from what my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said just now, it seems that he intends to spend some time talking about them if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Sadly, as we all know, one dependent territory—Hong Kong—is to leave the Commonwealth in 1997. I hope that the Minister recognises the concerns of hon. Members of all parties for the maintenance of democracy and human rights in Hong Kong after 1 July 1997. China has agreed to one country and two systems. The system in Hong Kong is a matter not just of capitalism as opposed to communism but of democracy, which is an essential part of that system and must not be tampered with. I hope that the British Government will make that clear to the Government of China.

I shall not dwell on the Falklands, a group of islands on which I have had enormous pleasure on occasions, but I shall briefly mention the Caribbean dependent territories. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office should spend more time looking at the future of those territories. Labour Members accept that those territories should not be pushed unwillingly to independence, but there should be maximum internal autonomy. I have been concerned over the past few years by the actions of governors in relation to the elected Governments of those dependent territories. It is a delicate relationship, and middle-rank Foreign Office diplomats do not always possess the necessary sensitivity to deal with it.

Some people describe the Commonwealth as lacking a modern role and as needing revitalisation and energy. I understand their concerns, but a role is being fulfilled. There have been whispers of the demise of the Commonwealth based on the old view of it. There is a feeling—I hope that it is not shared by anyone in this House—that since South Africa has sorted out its immediate problems, our work is complete. Neither of those assumptions is true. Indeed, as the Minister rightly said, more countries are seeking to join the Commonwealth. He mentioned Cameroon, but Mozambique, Eritrea and Angola also want to join. Namibia, of course, has already joined.

The Commonwealth has committed members around the globe, particularly in Africa, who are also involved in their own regional organisations. The Minister rightly mentioned the role that the United Kingdom can play as a bridge between the Commonwealth and the European Union. I welcome what was said by the Canadian high commissioner. I certainly do not criticise our Government over what was done.

Equally, all other Commonwealth countries have their own regional networks to plug into. There is the North American free trade agreement, the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the Pacific rim, the preferential trade area for eastern and southern Africa, and many more. The Commonwealth transcends those groupings and provides opportunities—multilaterally and bilaterally—in areas of economic aid, of trade and of global security.

Many advantages of membership are evident. The Commonwealth's very diversity can often be its strength. The Minister mentioned the multi-faith service. The development of understanding between, for example, Islamic Pakistan, the Christian Caribbean, Buddhist Sri Lanka, and the commitment to opposing racial prejudice has been significant in the Commonwealth's approach.

The ideals of the Commonwealth are also those of democracy and the democratic process, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government, fundamental human rights, equality for women, universal access to education, sustainable development, the alleviation of poverty in member countries, protection of the environment, and the promotion of international consensus on major issues. It sounds a bit like our new clause IV—>[Interruption.]

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

It is indeed.

All those ideals, however, are not prevalent throughout all the Commonwealth countries. Indeed, they are not all prevalent in the United Kingdom. I could spend some time addressing that topic, but I shall not do so. Instead, I will refer to events such as the military coup in the Gambia and the human rights abuses in Nigeria. I was pleased that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) raised the latter point in the previous debate.

I was also pleased at the way in which the Minister spoke about Nigeria as there is great concern about the situation there. Lord Avebury, as chairman of the parliamentary human rights group, has written to the Nigerian high commissioner expressing concern about the arrest of General Obasanjo and the health of Chief Abiola. I hope that the Minister will follow up his very welcome expressions of concern by making direct representations to the Government of Nigeria through its high commissioner. The Commonwealth ideal is not yet universal even within the Commonwealth countries, although much has been achieved over the past few years and many groups have worked hard to further the core Commonwealth ideal of democracy. As the Minister said, in the Seychelles and Ghana, we have seen a return to multi-party democracy after one-party rule. In Lesotho, military rule gave way to a democratically elected Government. In Guyana, where I was present during the elections as an observer, and in Pakistan, many election observers witnessed peaceful changes of Government by democratic means: all progress in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth secretariat, which was set up during the first Wilson Government in 1965, has advanced the democratisation of countries and, as the Minister said, it plays a substantial role in combating drug trafficking and abuse, in attempting to help the wave of refugees, in problems of third-world debt, in technical and medical co-operation, in environmental strategies and much more. Many hon. Members, especially those who have turned up for this debate, will have witnessed the work that the Commonwealth secretariat and other Commonwealth organisations are doing at first hand and will wish to refer to that aspect.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is an organisation of which I have a special knowledge and for which I have special affection. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) knows, I am the joint honorary treasurer; the other is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so the House will appreciate that I do all the work.

I see the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) in his place; he is chairman of the United Kingdom branch and I know that he welcomes the fact that a Scotsman is joint honorary treasurer. I welcome the Minister's statement that he is willing to talk about supporting delegations, seminars and further activities because, throughout the Commonwealth, those help to strengthen political, cultural and economic links among all countries and help us to encourage the development of democratic ideals.

The CPA provides a permanent parliamentary focus for the most diverse group of nations within the United Nations and is the sole means of regular consultation among members of Commonwealth Parliaments. The membership continues to thrive here in Westminster, highlighting the extent to which hon. Members and peers value its work. We have more than 565 members in the Commons alone and I hope that hon. Members who are not yet members will soon join.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

It is not very expensive, and it can be seen as an investment. The commitment of Commonwealth Members of Parliament is also well known.

In an intervention, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) rightly mentioned that the democratic process has to move further down to the grass roots within the Commonwealth. The need for local and regional government has long been recognised in this country. Sometimes we have wandered—the previous Prime Minister started to abolish some of our local government, but it has been generally recognised as an area in which the Commonwealth can further its ideals.

Although in its infancy in some developing countries, the democratic process can be given the wealth of experience that is present in other Commonwealth states. Local democracy is a key element of the democratic process. As a former councillor, I know that. The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Anyaoku, recognised that fact when, in addressing the 40th CPA conference in Banff, Canada, he referred to the "effective devolution of power" and said:

a rigorous and strong system of local government should contribute to, and strengthen parliamentary democracy". The establishment of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in 1994 as a new Commonwealth body to promote local democracy and community development is greatly to be welcomed and I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Broxtowe. We now have 77 organisations with Commonwealth in their title and the number is growing at the rate of three per year. As the Minister said, they are responsible for the Commonwealth games, the Commonwealth human rights initiative and others. The Commonwealth Local Government Forum will significantly strengthen the Commonwealth's ability to encourage the development of local government, and Opposition Members welcome it.

The forum works closely with local government in the United Kingdom and will allow effective utilisation of the provisions of the hon. Member for Broxtowe's Local Government (Overseas Assistance) Act 1993, under which local authorities can become actively involved in overseas activities. We shall have to be careful which authorities they are. To take a random example, Lady Porter's would not be an obvious choice, and I am sure that Conservative Members have other suggestions. To date, the CLGF has undertaken initiatives in countries such as Malawi, Tanzania and South Africa, where the focus is on induction programmes for newly elected councillors.

I have concentrated on democracy at national and local level, but, however important, it cannot alone answer all the problems of our developing partners in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth recognises the essential link between democracy and socio-econornic development. The Commonwealth and the heads of each of its Governments should accept that there are developing countries which have maintained impeccable democratic credentials, but which are still struggling with crippling developmental problems.

Our calls for increasing and improved democracy must be accompanied by effective co-operation in tackling those major socio-economic problems. Poverty and hardship can breed social unrest, disillusionment with the democratic process and rejection of the principles that we value so highly. The culmination can often be extremism of the left or the right, or military takeovers—the rise to power of the sort of Governments that the Commonwealth has sought to eradicate. That is a very real problem as people are overwhelmed by the weight of poverty that ensues.

Whatever the Minister said—with all his fine words—the only answer is one that has seemed to elude Conservative Governments in the past 16 years. Since 1945, the Conservative party has been perceived as resisting the tide of decolonisation and staying true to the ideals of imperialist Britain and the 19th century Conservative objective of upholding the Empire of England.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I remind the hon. and learned Gentleman of Baroness Thatcher's struggle to avert pressure on white South Africa, which epitomised that trend. If she had had her way, we would not have put pressure on white South Africa to end apartheid. Her understanding of the Commonwealth principles of democracy was shown in her message to the Commonwealth conference in 1987, when she said:

Anyone who thinks that the ANC is going to run the Government in South Africa is living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land". The right hon. Baroness is the one who is living in cloud cuckoo land. Some Conservative Members, including most of those here today, have had a more enlightened attitude, but she was the Prime Minister and the Head of Government.

The manner in which the Heath Government entered the European Community caused some resentment among our Commonwealth friends, but equally—I know the background of the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Faber), the parliamentary private secretary, and his family history—the view taken by some Conservative Members that we can return to a position in which the Commonwealth is seen as a substitute for Europe is not realistic. The Commonwealth recognises that it has changed its role. It is of growing political influence, but not an economic grouping for its members' self-interest. The question of Europe or the Commonwealth was rightly described by Chief Anyaoku, who said:

Europe and the Commonwealth cannot be adversaries, but partners in a common cause. The Government are not heeding the message that democracy on its own is not enough for our developing Commonwealth neighbours, despite the Minister's fine words. Overseas Development Administration bilateral aid to Commonwealth developing states has dropped nearly 30 per cent. I have the statistics here, so the Minister cannot deny that. Aid to Commonwealth multilateral bodies has also declined. The Commonwealth's multilateral aid arm, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, is also suffering from the restricted budget.

The Commonwealth gets some large sums of money from the aid and trade provision budget, however. For example, £234 million was wasted on the Pergau debacle and £2.9 million was wasted in Botswana on a flight information project—money that should have been spent on basic human needs such as health, education, safe water and sanitation, things that the countries of Africa desperately need. I have one simple statistic—the £234 million wasted on Pergau is close to the £215 million that was cut from the Commonwealth aid programme to Africa in 1992-93, which shows the Government's priorities.

When we look at the social and economic statistics for some of the developing countries in the Commonwealth, we can understand why those prestige projects are viewed with such contempt. Many countries, including Bangladesh, Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania, still have an infant mortality rate of more than one in 10; five countries have a life expectancy of less than 50 years; and the number with access to safe drinking water is less than 20 per cent. in some of the rural populations of Africa.

The Minister mentioned debt. The debts which many Commonwealth countries owe to developed countries run to billions of pounds, with a handful owing more than 100 per cent. of their gross national product. There was outrage at the European development fund discussions in Brussels when Baroness Chalker embarrassed our European counterparts, disgraced the United Kingdom and showed contempt for the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries present. She collapsed the talks when she proposed a cut of 30 per cent. from the European development fund. That shows the Government's lack of concern for many of our fellow Commonwealth countries.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman says that we should do more to help countries such as Bangladesh, but does he not find it curious that, under the existing Lomé system, more European development fund money goes to countries like Mauritius than to Bangladesh? We have many concerns about how the EDF operates, and it must be right for Britain to have a strong bilateral aid programme.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I have heard the arguments from the Minister and Baroness Chalker about why we should cut the European development fund to put more money, allegedly, into the bilateral programme, but that is not the answer; both programmes need to be maintained. The problem is that the whole fund for overseas aid has been continuously decreasing over the past 16 years, which is why the Government have to make that cut—they cannot maintain the bilateral aid programme on a reducing budget. The Minister must know that many excellent opportunities exist to use the Lomé convention and European Community mechanisms to aid the developing world. The EC-ACP Lomé relationship is separate from our direct relations with the Commonwealth, but equally valuable.

As the Minister said, the Commonwealth's future is to be examined by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. That is to be welcomed on both sides of the House. I certainly welcome the debate that will ensue as a result of that study, as it will show the advantages and benefits which exist for all members and it will analyse the Commonwealth's changing role and global importance. In all its activities, the Commonwealth benefits from shared practices and beliefs, and from the shared language of English which for most of us, though not all, is our native language. The modern association consists of three layers—Government; Commonwealth secretariat and other inter-governmental bodies; and the 77 Commonwealth non-governmental organisations.

The Minister mentioned the Commonwealth Foundation and I endorse what he said about it. I could say much more about the work that it does for young people and its range of activities. I had the privilege today of talking with a member of staff from the Commonwealth Foundation who, unlike the Prime Minister, was in Copenhagen at the social summit—

Photo of Miss Joan Lestor Miss Joan Lestor , Eccles

I was there, too.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

My hon. Friend was also there and she, too, will testify to the value of the social summit, the networking which took place there and the links that it provides between Governments and non-governmental organisations. It is a great pity that the British Government were not properly represented there.

The Minister mentioned another Commonwealth institution—the Commonwealth Institute—and tried to take credit for the fact that the Commonwealth Institute will, it is hoped, survive. The hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) should perhaps take some credit for that, as he argued against a cut of £2.7 million in Government funding, but the Government ignored him, so it is no thanks to the Minister or the Government if the Commonwealth Institute continues. The Labour party hopes that, despite the elimination of the grant to the Commonwealth Institute over the next few years, the institute will nevertheless survive. It is another example of the Commonwealth's commitment to the work of young people and education.

I make no apology for quoting for a third time the excellent Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Anyaoku. He described the Commonwealth's central attribute as

its ability to bridge racial, ideological and economic divides and inequalities, assisted by its common language and common heritage. Coupled with a commitment to democracy, the "Commonwealth way", as it has become known, is respected throughout the world. A commitment from the Minister to the Commonwealth's future role and a substantial aid budget to our partners in the Commonwealth would be welcomed by both sides of the House today.

We certainly look forward to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in November, to which the Minister referred when he listed the range of topics on the agenda. We would look forward to it even more if there were an election in October and a Labour Government representing this country in Auckland to look after the true interests of the people of the Commonwealth.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford 7:05 pm, 16th March 1995

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). He and I have worked long on Commonwealth Parliamentary Association matters, as he is joint treasurer and I am the recently retired chairman of the United Kingdom branch. One of the charms of that organisation is that, because all its members are parliamentarians, they are all honourable friends, so it is sometimes difficult not to address hon. Members across the Chamber as "my hon. Friends". The fact that we work together is a characteristic of that organisation.

I join other hon. Members in thanking the Leader of the House for providing time for this debate. Curiously enough, one of the benefits of the Jopling system is that it has made time available to get round to debates that we have wanted to have for many years but have been unable to have.

I also thank the Minister for his positive approach to the debate. Some of us were worried about the Government's underlying commitment to and feel for the Commonwealth, especially in the light of the European debate. To have a positive approach demonstrated tonight is reassuring and I am certain that that reassurance will be felt beyond the Chamber.

I also thank him for his earlier reference to a remark that I made exactly a week ago when I raised the question of parliamentary workshops in southern Africa. Work is well advanced on preliminary budgets and, even now, feelers are being put out for an early meeting. I should like to be in a position to report to the half-yearly meeting of the international executive committee my thoughts on that matter, and the thoughts of my hon. Friends in the Government on it will be extremely helpful.

The benefits that those workshops can bring are enormous and it is well understood throughout the Commonwealth, although not yet, alas, throughout the world, that the CPA is unique in providing professional development of parliamentarians. We are just at the end of the 44th parliamentary seminar here in Westminster, which is aimed at that development of parliamentary expertise.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

It finishes tomorrow.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

As my hon. and learned Friend, the current chairman of the association's UK branch, says, it finishes tomorrow.

The debate is timely for us as we try to formulate thoughts in advance of the Auckland Heads of Government meeting in November. It is also timely in making it obligatory for us to go back and look at the Harare communiqué of 1991, which, as the Minister said, was a remarkable document as it was a reassurance and a restatement of Commonwealth principles. Paragraph 9 of the communiqué contains a declaration that is often quoted. I shall not quote it again as the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley already set it out, but it is every bit as valid today as it was then. It is a good foundation. In paragraph 12, there is an explicit invitation to the CPA to play a full part in promoting the objectives of the Harare declaration.

As was acknowledged—because that was very much part of the theme, the CPA as parliamentary wing of the Commonwealth—the CPA has responded with vigour to that invitation. Mention has been made of the election monitoring and observing missions that have been undertaken in conjunction with the Commonwealth secretariat. We have the ability to draw on a vast resource of members in all parts of the world, who are capable of understanding what they are witnessing in the different areas in which the elections that they are invited to observe take place.

The specific realm of excellence and expertise of the CPA is that of post-election seminars. Several places have benefited from them and several will benefit during the year, not necessarily on the basis that I spoke about earlier, but in ways specific to the countries concerned. I believe that we have been helpful, in many cases, in shortening the learning curve of new Houses, so that they have not gone off the rails.

There is further scope to explore the use of the reservoir of parliamentary talent, and indeed former ministerial talent, which exists throughout the Commonwealth and the world, in conflict prevention and also possibly exploration and resolution. I do not know that we have the ability to act as arbiters, but we have the ability to go in as disinterested neutrals, hear both sides and suggest ideas that might be explored. The parliamentary experience that we have available to us is important in that. I have always worried that, when parliamentarians retire, we discard them from our reservoir of talent. They are there to be drawn on while they are healthy and available, which is often the case. We should not ignore that.

In our plenary conferences and regional conferences, we have aimed to choose topics so as to draw out issues that are referred to specifically in the Harare declaration, and to enable Members of so many different Parliaments coming together to share their experiences and knowledge and to devise and derive tactics that they might deploy in their home states to solve various problems that we identify under those circumstances.

My hon. Friend the Minister headed the delegation to the parliamentary conference in Canada in October. He experienced at first hand the enthusiastic exchange of information. I am delighted that he is able to lead the delegation to the 1995 conference in Sri Lanka, when we shall take further the issue of the way in which we develop democracy in our Commonwealth.

The Minister told us some of the ideas for the Heads of Government meeting in Auckland in November, and I shall tell him about two specific aspects that I believe need to be discussed, among many. The first is what I call the profile of the Commonwealth. The profile of the Commonwealth has been low. From time to time, it has been raised as a result of the temperature in South Africa or, before that, Rhodesia, there has been a fight and the media have been interested in us because there has been a fight. However, for the most part, because we tend to work together and not to fight, we do not excite media interest. That is a disadvantage. It is an advantage for our work, but a disadvantage in terms of obtaining public understanding.

In that context, I welcome the visit made to Brussels on 2 March 1995 by Chief Anyaoku, when he spoke to the European Parliament and met members of the European Commission. That was valuable, especially given the fact that the 35 Commonwealth countries make up slightly less than half of the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in the Lomé convention. It is terribly important that there is greater awareness in the European Union of the nature of the Commonwealth.

We need to continue to increase the awareness of the Commonwealth in the world, of all that it stands for and of what it does. I mentioned the European Union. The United States of America is another part of the world that one might say is temporarily absent from the Commonwealth, or whatever one says, but in the USA there is not only an almost total lack of knowledge about the Commonwealth, but a lack of awareness that it even exists. Over the years in the House, I have had attached to me from time to time some of the young interns from universities. I always ask whether they have any awareness of the Commonwealth and, with one exception, the answer has been, "What is the Commonwealth?" It brings it home to me the fact that there is no knowledge.

Last summer, I was invited along with a CPA team to do a presentation at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual convention. That was a fascinating experience because the convention was very well attended. There is a ground swell of feeling in the United States at the moment that its system of checks and balances is so checked and balanced that nothing can be done; there is gridlock. All types of curious solutions are being suggested. My object, along with others, in being present was to demonstrate that there is another way.

Among the 200 state legislators who were present at that meeting, there was a total blankness and amazement that there was another way of running a Parliament or a legislature. They were fascinated, and want us to send another team to try to demonstrate at their next conference the way in which our system works. I believe that that is good, in that those people can understand that there is a world outside; that there is another way of doing things. They find it mind-boggling that there should be no fewer than 120 legislatures around the world—almost three times as many as in the United States—working on that system, more or less, with variations and bits and bobs.

Further, I believe, given the spread of the Commonwealth to so many parts of the world, that that very large part of the world that I refer to as the Hispanic world should have a greater awareness of the nature of the Commonwealth. We just breathe on it through Belize and Guyana, but there should be far greater awareness, and we could avoid certain difficulties before they happen if there were that awareness. That is one big task that Heads of Government must tackle—to decide how to raise the profile of the Commonwealth without fighting to obtain reportage.

The second aspect that I wish Heads of Government to consider relates very much to fundamental political values that are referred to so often in various communiqués. The key to that lies in remarks made by Chief Anyaoku in his speech to the CPA plenary conference in Canada, when he floated the concept of linking democratic governance with active membership of the Commonwealth. His remarks were as follows:

I have had occasion to say in the past that military intervention in politics is a political aberration and a derogation from the democratic development of a country. I believe that as we progressively pursue the objectives of the Harare Declaration, the day will not be far away when representatives of military regimes will find no welcome in the councils of the Commonwealth. That was a brave and sensible statement. I believe that it should be acted on.

The CPA already practises that concept, because among the criteria for active membership of our association is full democratic governance based upon universal suffrage. A member who slips from grace democratically is placed in abeyance. In CPA terms, that is fairly draconian, but it is our only sanction. It is not terminal, because a country is allowed back in the CPA as soon as that state of grace is restored.

One must be sensitive about what one advocates. I do not want to expel countries from the Commonwealth. Countries want to join it and the more countries we embrace, the better the chance we have of influencing change. By "we", I mean not the United Kingdom, but Commonwealth members. There should be a penalty, however, against any group in a particular country that contemplates overthrowing or seeks to overthrow the democratically elected Government of that country. That group must consider the downsides to its action, and there should be some.

Each member country should know exactly where it stands and that the Commonwealth adopts a consistent approach. During the course of the year I passed through Fiji, to which my hon. Friend the Minister also referred. There is a distinct sense of injustice in that country, not because of the military coup and the subsequent peregrinations about how to restore a democratic Government, while recognising the various problems and interests, but because it is felt that Fiji was treated differently from other Commonwealth countries. People said to me, "Why were we expelled when Nigeria, the Gambia and Sierra Leone have not been expelled? Why were we treated differently?" They have a case.

There is a way of dealing with such a problem. It has been set out rather neatly in the communiqué from Islamabad, issued by senior officials, which addresses the question of non-payment of subscriptions to the Commonwealth secretariat. It made it clear that when a country had not paid for six years, it should be given special status. That special status would debar it from attending Heads of Government meetings. If that country had paid its subscriptions to the Commonwealth fund for technical co-operation—CFTC—it would be able to continue to draw on that reservoir of aid.

To apply that arrangement sideways, when a country slips from democratic grace through a coup or whatever, it should not be accorded the privilege—that is the right word—of attending a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. That country should be placed in a special relationship to the Commonwealth. Should it continue to pay its subscription to the CFTC and to the Commonwealth as a whole, it should be able to use that particular avenue to guarantee developmental aid and non-governmental organisation involvement. In that sense, the citizenry is not disadvantaged, but we should not give a platform to those who achieve their power by non-democratic means. I would like such an arrangement to be on the agenda at Auckland.

While I have been chairman of the international executive committee of the CPA, I have endeavoured to use my vacation time—I emphasise that, for obvious reasons—to visit as many CPA branches as possible. Whenever I have had an overseas commitment, I have been able to bolt on a number of rapid visits round the branches. I try to do a "Heineken" by getting to those branches, especially the smaller ones, which other chairmen and officers have been unable to reach. It is something of a rarity to travel to the smaller branches.

It is also nice to talk to people outside the Parliaments. It is a humbling experience, because their awareness of and regard for the Commonwealth is awe-inspiring. That is not only humbling, but unnerving, because in the United Kingdom I do not find that same awareness, respect, understanding, regard or even knowledge of the ideals of the Commonwealth.

That lack of knowledge brings me to the Commonwealth Institute. I should declare that, as a governor of it since 1989, I have a non-pecuniary interest in the institute. It took me a little time to understand what I was seeing. I acknowledge the downbeat nature of some of the remarks made last week and tonight about it. The lack of awareness, knowledge, understanding, respect or regard for the Commonwealth is a great reflection of the failure of the institute for many years. My hon. Friend the Minister has already referred to the falling numbers who attend the institute—800,000 people a year used to visit it; now that number is down to 250,000. That is a failure in itself, because the institute is failing to attract people.

I experienced trepidation when Lord Armstrong set out on a quinquennial review of the organisation. I was uplifted by his positive report. It was marvellous that the Commonwealth Institute was recognised for what it is. Along with the other governors, however, I was knocked down by the opinion of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and rather startled when funding was withdrawn. In fact, I was shattered. On reflection, and painful though it has been, I endorse what the Government have done to the Commonwealth Institute. I do not think that change could have been made without that kick. I do not believe that the Government have gone far enough yet.

One of Lord Armstrong's recommendations was that doing nothing was not an option. Throwing money at the institute had, palpably, achieved nothing. It was clear that there had to be a change in thought. I welcome the arrival of Lord Armstrong, as a vice-chairman, on the board of governors. That in itself is a powerful statement of confidence by him in the future of the institute.

I also pay tribute to the powerful chairmanship of David Thompson, who has guided the changes made during the past few months. I should like to reflect on the imaginative thinking of Stephen Cox, the director general of the institute. The fact that so many of our colleagues are aware of what is happening to the institute, when previously they were not even aware of it, is a reflection of his lobbying capabilities. There is nothing wrong with that.

The House must understand that feeling at the Commonwealth Institute is upbeat. It is excited by and committed to what it is trying to do. The developments are exciting. Now that the thought processes have been let loose, we are grateful to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for its further support as the institute moves into a period of transition. The timetable must be very tight if we are not to lose momentum as new developments are made. The Government need to move fast when the business plan is submitted, which will be well within the deadline.

There is a narrow window of opportunity for construction work to take place while the conference season is in abeyance. If we run over that and lose the conference season, the cash flow outcome will be different and dangerous. Incidentally, anyone seeking an excellent conference venue in London should know that the Commonwealth Institute's conference centre is right up among the leaders. It is very good indeed and extremely competitive.

I should like the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Treasury to match the lateral thinking that has been let loose within the Commonwealth Institute. There must be a team effort to take that to completion and there is a great penalty for doing nothing. If we get it wrong, if the thinking does not emerge and if there is collapse, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will be left with a mess. That would be a rotten message to the Commonwealth and the world, as well as there being a continuing bill of £590,000 a year, because that is the sum that is required to do nothing to the building. That cannot be avoided, at least not without primary legislation. The pitching of the Commonwealth Institute into a new orbit is welcome, and traumatic, and it is becoming a value-for-money operation as well.

One message is not enough. Politics is also about perception and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office needs to project a continuing interest in the Commonwealth Institute. I am not saying that it needs to continue with the grant, but a rose by any other name smells as sweet and a subscription showing commitment would be helpful in terms of outside attitudes and perceptions. As I said, we must bear it in mind that doing nothing and allowing collapse would mean a subscription of £590,000 a year, and we are not necessarily looking for that.

The Department for Education has to play its part as well, because the institute is an educational establishment. My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) spoke about its educational purpose, which is to create and develop awareness among the young as well as the old in this country, whatever their ethnic background, about the nature of the Commonwealth. The institute is the United Kingdom's only provider of education about the Commonwealth; the national curriculum includes a study of commonwealth. The educational activities are closely linked to the whole operation.

There is a Department for Education representative on the executive committee. I have been on that committee since 1989 and have listened to the DFE saying, "Yes, we agree." But as soon as there is a question of any money or help it says, "No, that is not our department, that is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We could not possibly get involved in that." As the institute has a positive educational role, I should like to see a positive educational input in financial terms from the DFE.

I support the institute's bid for a one-off grant to help it in its transition. It is a modest grant for the funding of phase 1 of its new education centre and I am certain that it would be a good investment. I should also like to see the DFE making a continuing subscription to the institute because of its palpable education mission.

There is great excitement in the institute about the new vision, which I call the Commonwealth vision—vit is the vision of the Commonwealth that the institute portrays. It will rapidly become one of Britain's major draws for visitors. I want to see that happen and the time scale cannot be allowed to slip. It must be sustained and all the help that the Government can give in that direction will be enormously appreciated.

Our Commonwealth could not be invented if we started from scratch. It is a remarkable institution that others have tried to replicate, but so far they have failed. We might be able to help them in another way. The Commonwealth is international and multiracial and it works on personal relationships. Those have to be the best relationships for people, whether they are part of the Government or the governed. All Commonwealth countries need friends around the globe, and countries from outside the Commonwealth are seeking to engage our Commonwealth friends in friendship. The United Kingdom needs to look towards its friends in the Commonwealth so as to maintain that friendship, because we never know when we might need it. The Commonwealth is a forward-looking and pragmatic group of friends who have demonstrated their ability to work well together. We contribute a tremendous amount to the peoples of the world and we must continue to do that.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 7:34 pm, 16th March 1995

The House is better informed about the Commonwealth Institute and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as a result of the speeches by the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd).

I share the anxiety of the hon. Member for Hereford about the fact that American interns had not heard the word "Commonwealth". The word is part of their own constitutional tradition, because the state of Virginia is properly described as the Commonwealth of Virginia. Other states are described in the same way. It is a pity that the interns did not understand that, at least for people in this country, a Commonwealth embraces much more than a single state.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley made an enthusiastic speech, and revealed the answer to a mystery that has troubled me for some time. When, in February and November, many of us are pallid and sickly, I could never understand why the hon. Gentleman had such extraordinary reserves of energy and sported such a well-developed tan. All can now be revealed. As treasurer of the CPA, the hon. Gentleman, in an orgy of self-denial, has taken himself to places that are far from the bosom of his family and the mother of Parliaments, so as to advance the interests of the Commonwealth and the CPA.

It seems to have done him no harm, and that may encourage others among the 536 CPA members in the House to take a more active role.[Interruption.]The hon. Gentleman's humorous response to these shafts at his expense does him great credit.

The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley made a number of significant points, dwelling to some extent upon the issue of the readmission of South Africa. When one considers the extent to which South Africa dominated Commonwealth affairs from 31 May 1961, when Mr. Verwoerd took it out, until 1 June 1994, when Mr. Mandela brought it back in, it is right to look at the Commonwealth to some extent through the eyes of South Africa as a rejoined member. That is especially relevant when one considers that Her Majesty the Queen is about to embark on what is justifiably described as an historic visit to South Africa, although it is her second visit.

What will South Africa be looking for as she returns to the Commonwealth? There is an obvious answer, and Mr. Mandela has been totally frank about it. The South African Government will be looking for the advantages of trade, commercial opportunity and aid. Some telling points have already been made in the debate about the importance of aid and the extent to which, in the Commonwealth at large, there is, to put it as gently as I can, disappointment that some of the aspirations on aid have not been met by the Government to the extent that hon. Members in all parts of the House would have preferred.

South Africa will also be looking for the diplomatic influence that the Commonwealth can bring to bear on so much of world affairs, and for the opportunity of cultural exchange about which we have heard in the debate. South Africa is rightly described as sports-mad, and will be looking for the additional sporting opportunities that will now be available to it.

At Murrayfield stadium in November, as the South African rugby team was eviscerating my native and beloved Scotland, for a moment I disloyally wished that the Gleneagles agreement was still in force. A nation for which sport has always been extremely important is at last being allowed to take its rightful place in those sports in which it is truly world-class. So there we have it—the economic, diplomatic, cultural and sporting factors. Those are the benefits that South Africa undoubtedly looks for on its return to the Commonwealth.

I want to consider the interests of the Commonwealth's African members. One remembers the extent to which Africa was a central battleground, sometimes in literal terms, during the cold war. That war has come to an end. As a consequence, the super-powers' interest in Africa has waned. The Commonwealth is extremely important for its African members, because it allows them the opportunity for a collective voice.

For obvious reasons, the United Kingdom has rediscovered emphasis on the European Union, although the extent to which that will be carried through is something on which, at this stage at least, no final conclusion has been reached. The opening up of eastern Europe has necessarily focused people's attention away from Africa. The possibility of peace in the middle east has had a similar diversionary effect. The emphasis on the Pacific rim and the enormous economic opportunities that are available have also diverted attention. One could even say that the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement has drawn Canada, for so long a prominent member of the Commonwealth, into a relationship with the United States of America and Mexico.

For its African members, therefore, the Commonwealth has become yet more important as the eyes of the world have been diverted in other directions because of those political developments.

That collective voice has an influence on the UK—and through the UK on, I hope, the European Union—and on Canada, Australia and New Zealand, which are developed countries. Therefore, that opportunity for a collective voice persuades some countries that have never been members of the Commonwealth to show an interest in joining. They include Mozambique, Cameroon, Angola and Eritrea. One can say, without being patronising, that new democracies in Africa have much to learn from the Commonwealth and from the traditions of parliamentary government, about which we heard in the eloquent speech that was made earlier.

Some regimes are more in need than others of the lessons of parliamentary government. I thought that the hon. Member for Hereford embarked on an interesting debate when he said that the Commonwealth should not treat it as an entirely internal matter if a country that had conducted itself with proper parliamentary democratic traditions should change into a military rulership or something of that sort.

The Commonwealth's strength and credibility will be maintained only if it robustly condemns the replacement of properly constituted civilian rule by military rule, and large-scale human rights violations. Exclusion, special status and other such measures may be difficult to achieve—one can imagine all sorts of efforts being made at self-protection against sanctions of that sort.

As the hon. Gentleman said, however, such measures could do nothing but enhance the credibility of the Commonwealth as an institution embodying certain principles. Membership of the Commonwealth should be continued and allowed only if those principles remained at the heart of the institutions of each member.

I shall slightly divert from the comments of the hon. Gentleman for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes). One might say that I take a slightly less visionary view of the Commonwealth. There must be some realism about what we are capable of achieving. I believe, as to some extent my remarks have underlined, that the Commonwealth's greatest contribution probably lies in the promotion of democracy and in the protection of human rights. That involves the extent to which the Harare declaration can be turned from a set of principles into practical proposals that are fully implemented.

Leaving aside the question of special status, suspension and other such measures, in a sense the Commonwealth's only effective sanctions are moral pressure and the ability to communicate, which a common language and common traditions undoubtedly confer. It would be idealistic, but wholly unrealistic, to expect that the Commonwealth as presently constituted could resolve the difficulties that exist between India and Pakistan.

One can argue with some force, however, that, if those difficulties were to reach their most acute state, and if, for example, an outbreak of hostilities took place—there have been, and no doubt will be, occasions when that seems likely—the Commonwealth would at least be available at the beginning to offer the opportunity for mediation, and to endeavour to persuade the adversaries to find a way of resolving their difficulty.

In relation in India and Pakistan, the Commonwealth would have a unique capability—no other institution would have that. I take a more realistic view than the hon. Gentleman—I believe that I am right to describe it like that—but I acknowledge that moral pressure, the capacity to communicate, and the existence of common traditions could be effective weapons in endeavouring to solve either hostilities or some substantial political disagreement that might arise between Commonwealth members.

One matter is a puzzle. I have frequently asked myself this question. What would have happened to the Commonwealth if apartheid had not been carried out in South Africa, and if that country had not left the Commonwealth? What would have happened to all that moral indignation that characterised the meetings of Commonwealth Heads of State for such a long time? As with all speculations, it is impossible to give a realistic answer, but we are entitled to say that those meetings will no longer be as acrimonious as they were—we hope——and that the important task is to ensure that they become more fruitful and that the Commonwealth is more effective, now that it has solved its most significant internal political problem.

Last year, I had occasion to visit a cemetery near one of the battlefields in Europe. One only has to do that to realise just how strong the tradition is to which I have referred. The number of people from Commonwealth countries who died in western Europe fighting against Nazism is staggering to behold. To hon. Members who have not taken that opportunity, I recommend it as an extraordinary indication of the fact that the battle in Europe was fought by the Commonwealth as much as by the UK.

That common history and tradition clearly informs our attitudes today. It gives me hope in two respects. First, there is a practical thing we can do. Many of our discussions in the United Nations are given over to effective peacekeeping or peacemaking. We need not get into that debate this evening, but if ever an opportunity existed for the Commonwealth to take an active role, it surely lies in peacekeeping. We share those common traditions and a common language. Many senior officers have had common training as well.

I hope that, in the development of the Commonwealth's role, some consideration will be given to the extent to which Commonwealth battalions, or battalions from Commonwealth countries, may be allowed to take part more in relation to the likely increased requirements and obligations of the UN to provide peacekeeping forces.

I want to finish with the comment that has punctuated my speech, which is that it is in the promotion of democratic values and the recognition of human rights that the Commonwealth's relevance is to be found. A debate such as this gives us the opportunity to underline the possibility that a commitment of that sort would create.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton 7:50 pm, 16th March 1995

In this week in which 51 flags fly in Parliament square representing the Commonwealth, I thank my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government for responding so promptly and with such enthusiasm to my request at business questions two weeks ago for a debate devoted entirely to the Commonwealth during the week following Commonwealth day, which was Monday 13 March. I wish the other representations that I make ceaselessly to the Government were taken up with such enthusiasm.

As the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has reminded us, this is the first Commonwealth debate held in the House since 1987. It is a disgrace that an institution that is so important to us in Britain has somehow managed to slip the attentions of all of us as legislators, and has not been the subject of a special debate. It has been subsumed in every other debate on foreign affairs. Perhaps the fact that we are having this debate is a manifestation of the remarkable and exciting resurgence of interest and activity in this great international institution in which Britain plays such an essential part.

If Dean Acheson had still been with us, he would be saying today that Britain, having lost an empire, has now found several roles. After all, there is hardly any major international organisation today, whether it be the United Nations, NATO, the G7 countries or the European Union, in which Britain does not sit at the top table, influencing important future policy. Of all the great institutions, the one in which we experience the greatest warmth and feel so much a part is the Commonwealth.

It is a great voluntary, charterless union of nations. It is the inheritor of the days of empire. It now numbers 51 nations, ruling over 1.5 billion people. South Africa and Pakistan have at last come back to join, as has Namibia, which was never a part of the British empire. Mozambique, Cameroon, Angola and Eritrea have shown an interest in joining, despite having no direct cultural links with our union in the past. An article in The Independent on Sunday recently said that Ireland was considering coming closer to the Commonwealth, and someone told me that Japan was showing some interest, if only as part of a joint venture.

During my early political lifetime of a generation and more, the question was often asked, "What is the use of the Commonwealth? It is no more than a talking shop. It does nothing and stands for very little." That is said no longer. The Commonwealth is now expanding and showing a new vitality. Why? I think that it is because its existing members, its former members and its aspiring members see a relevance and importance for it in the new world order.

In the past few years, the old order of the super-powers facing each other off in a cold war has disintegrated. Africa, once a focus of super-power interest, has become potentially weaker without strong allies. The old imperatives of communist power and compulsion have dissolved, and its vassal states are in danger of losing the guidance and control which for so long masqueraded as stability.

There is now a new freedom in the world. There are the beacons of democracy, free enterprise and the rule of law, but there is also a need for a new community which will foster and develop those beacons. There is a need for the newly independent nation states in the new order all over the world to attain new goals.

First, they need to maintain their independence by achieving economic self-reliance. That means joining a community with a common economic interest and opportunities for trade and industrial development. The Commonwealth could help to provide that with the investment of the major parties in countries such as South Africa and with the links that Britain has with the European Union.

Secondly, those countries need to be a part of a community with common security interests, in which their concerns can be expressed and their voices listened to in a way that has been no longer possible now that the old orders have dissolved.

Thirdly, there is a need to be closer to the beacons of democracy, free enterprise and the rule of law that are guiding those nations away from the rocks of totalitarianism in which those countries have engaged hitherto.

Fourthly, at a time of resurgent nationalism and racial conflict, the community that they join must be genuinely multiracial and concerned for human rights and civil liberties. The 1991 Harare declaration states that the Commonwealth would work, inter alia, for fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens, regardless of race, colour, creed and political belief.

Fifthly, such nations will inevitably feel more comfortable in a community where there is a common language and a common history and culture. Although not all the aspirants to membership meet that requirement, broadly, the Commonwealth provides all that, and, in addition, the head of the Commonwealth—the Queen—embodies in her office and her person some of the best of the traditional features of our communal history.

Because of our shared history and traditions, particularly our regard for other races, there is a warmth of feeling among Commonwealth members that one does not feel so strongly in the other institutions in which Britain plays a part. The Commonwealth is and feels like a family—a family of nations.

As we have heard, over the past two weeks the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of which I currently have the privilege to be chairman, has been hosting one of its regular seminars for Common wealth parliamentarians. As Briton eats, drinks and discusses with Kenyan, as Canadian discusses with Indian, New Zealander with Pakistani and Australian with South African and Falkland Islander, we all feel as if we are talking to our cousins—members of our family. It is quite extraordinary. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) for his kind remarks about the sort of work that the CPA does in that family environment.

Many organisations actively promote the Commonwealth ideal—they have been mentioned in several of the excellent speeches this evening. Since Parliaments are so central to the Commonwealth, it is not surprising that the CPA, with its international office as well as its United Kingdom branch here in Westminster, plays a such a prominent role. We represent the interests of over 10,000 Commonwealth parliamentarians in 123 legislatures in 47 Commonwealth countries.

The United Kingdom branch has 962 members, which includes 565 Members of Parliament—nearly all of us. I have approached some of our friends the Liberal Democrats, but they are committed to so many activities in the House, having to keep pace with the various Departments of State, that I accept that it may be a little difficult. However, I should be grateful if the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) would encourage one or two of his hon. Friends to consider joining. I do not accuse them for one moment of not being interested in the Commonwealth, but they are so few in number that they have to spread themselves thinly to cover all their commitments.

Three hundred and fifty members of our branch are former Members of Parliament. It is one of the largest branches of the CPA worldwide. Because of the high reputation enjoyed by our organisation, we had no fewer than 235 full applications from men of great distinction in the military and public services in answer to our advertisement for a new branch secretary to follow the redoubtable Captain Peter Cobb RN, who has served us for 15 years and, sadly, is having to retire.

Our model of parliamentary democracy—the Westminster model—has been exported worldwide. With the aid of workshops, seminars, visits and conferences, we continue to maintain that model and influence countries that seek to embrace it. In this context, I need not repeat many of the points made today, but we maintain that model in close liaison with the international CPA, which is chaired with great distinction by my predecessor at the United Kingdom branch of the CPA, my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). My hon. Friend's team of officials is led by the distinguished former Speaker of the Ontario Parliament, Mr. Arthur Donahoe QC.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

I must put the record straight; the gentleman is the former Speaker of the Nova Scotia provincial assembly.

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

Our family is so wide, and we have so many cousins, that I sometimes forget what their allegiances are. Canada is and always has been a great part of the Commonwealth; whether Arthur Donahoe comes from Nova Scotia or Ontario is of little importance to us, although no doubt of great importance to him.

The metamorphosis from an empire with obligatory membership to a Commonwealth where membership is freely entered into, and even sought after, is astonishing. It is a sign of how long-established ties can evolve to become relevant even in a hugely changed world. However, to compliment the Commonwealth must not be the end of the story. We must continue to ensure that it remains relevant to its members and that we in Britain—in the mother of Parliaments—play a central role in developing and strengthening a very great institution. How can we do that?

First, we must develop our own economic links with Commonwealth countries. Our recent preoccupation with Europe may at times have blinded us to the fact that, whereas that institution commands less than half our total overseas earnings, the Commonwealth commands well over half. To the great markets of Asia, especially India, Hong Kong and Malaysia, we hope to add additional investment, and therefore earnings, in the great sleeping economic giant of South Africa.

In order to justify our involvement in these great economies, we have to be willing to stimulate the development of those countries with help in the form of training and aid and the development of their human resources, police, military establishments, public administration and their management skills, especially in the private sector. There is a tremendous reservoir for mutual economic development in the Commonwealth, and we must take these markets very seriously in the years ahead.

Secondly, we must keep bright the beacons of parliamentary democracy, the rule of the law and free enterprise capitalism—beacons lighted, let it be said, in the Thatcher years. Without those beacons, the emerging nations may lose heart and revert—so delicate may some of the new states be—not to totalitarianism of the left but perhaps to totalitarianism of the right. With naked nationalism always comes racism, and that is the reverse of the multicultural, multi-ethnic society for which the Commonwealth stands. We must so resource ourselves that no invitation to advise, no request for guidance based on our wide experience and no invitation to visit or be visited, can be refused.

I know that the Government value the work of the CPA and will ensure that it remains properly financed. It is a very small price to pay for the great good it does to the very infrastructure of the international society. I remember especially the pleasurable help that many of us were able to give in the South African elections almost a year ago.

Thirdly, we must be aware that the new world order is throwing up enormous and potentially cataclysmic problems, and that the small emerging nations are especially vulnerable to the horrors of drugs, with which comes organised crime. Money laundering and economic crime is now becoming so widespread, with consequences so frightening, as to make our concerns about strengthening democracy seem almost as irrelevant as shifting the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic.

Three cases of serious fraud in the United Kingdom alone currently allege deficiencies exceeding by several hundred million pounds the total annual figure for burglaries in England and Wales. When one considers that most fraud is never investigated or its perpetrators caught, let alone brought to trial and convicted, one gains some idea of how grave the situation is in this country—and, of course, other countries.

Millions of pounds can be moved from one country to another in the twinkling of an eye without any police force being aware of how, where, why or when it happened until long after anything can be done about it. The smaller developing nation states of the Commonwealth are especially vulnerable to exploitation in this respect, and we must share our knowledge, intelligence and police with them.

The value of the worldwide cocaine trade alone has been put by those who know at several hundred thousand US dollars—as much as the entire gross national product of a country such as Britain. With such money, land is bought and developed, factories bought and constructed, and businesses, including banks, set up. They process the laundered money and invest it in legitimate businesses, where it grows and inevitably forms a significant part of national economies. Some Commonwealth countries are very vulnerable, and need all the help we can give them.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley , City of York

I agree that a number of small Commonwealth countries that have active offshore financial industries are vulnerable in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman outlines. I am sure that he shares my pleasure in the fact that Britain gives help in the form of technical advice on banking regulation and policing, but does he share my concern that some of the offshore economies have that help paid for in part out of the Overseas Development Administration budget?

Does he believe that the relatively small sums of money involved—tens of thousands, or, at most, hundreds of thousands of pounds—could be met by increasingly slightly the fees for offshore businesses that register in states such as Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands?

Photo of Mr Ivan Lawrence Mr Ivan Lawrence , Burton

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable intervention, but it would better be directed to my hon. Friend the Minister who will be summing up. I would rather not discuss fees and their scale, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We must pull out all the stops and share our knowledge, expertise and influence, and also the information that the Commonwealth countries, including the smaller ones, can provide for us.

Cocaine is not the only problem. Pakistan and India have enormous problems with heroin, as does Hong Kong. Cannabis is a problem in the Caribbean islands such as Jamaica. There are millions and millions of addicts, and billions and billions of dollars are being made by drug-trafficking operators looking for financial systems to infiltrate, Governments to buy and economies to undermine.

How long will pure, uncorrupted democracies last, even if we help to make them more representative and responsible by the influence that we can exert through our Commonwealth parliamentary associations? What will happen if we do not, as parliamentarians of the Commonwealth, take the lead in fighting the terrifying evils of drug and financial crime by genuine international co-operation?

The members of the Commonwealth can work together in an effort to wipe out drug crops by providing farmers in Commonwealth countries and others with alternative livelihoods. We can act by encouraging stronger laws and stronger policing to trace, seize and freeze the assets of drug traffickers. We should help to ensure that Commonwealth countries sign the United Nations conventions against drugs, implement the 40 recommendations of the G7 summit financial action task force, which set out best practice, and implement also the 21 recommendations of the Caribbean financial action task force under the chairmanship of Trinidad and Tobago.

Many activities are taking place. We must use all the force and persuasion we can within the Commonwealth to try to ensure that the maximum advantage is taken of the work that is being done. We hope that, in future, our CPA seminars will target world problems of the sort to which I have drawn attention, rather than holding general seminars on general matters of interest. If we home in on some of the problems, we may be able to achieve more mileage in dealing with needs and opportunities.

Fourthly, I so agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford that we must build up the knowledge and understanding of our children about the Commonwealth. They must learn in our schools what the Commonwealth stands for, and why it is such an important part of world society. They must understand why it is something in which we in Britain can take so much pride. In a sense, it is almost a national organisation. Britain has been so much at the centre of the Commonwealth. We continue to play our part, but no longer as the head of the empire. We are sillt one of the important players.

We have all rightly sung the praises of the Commonwealth this evening. Its vital role in the world—I hope that this encapsulates my theme—must not be underrated. It cannot be denied that the Commonwealth is a great force for good in the world, and a vital part of Britain's inheritance.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead 8:12 pm, 16th March 1995

I shall resist the temptation to join battle with the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) on the contribution made to the well-being of the 1.5 billion people of the Commonwealth—the vast majority of them extremely poor—by free-market capitalism, let alone by the Thatcher years.

I add my congratulations to those already directed to the Leader of the House for organising the debate. It has been a fine debate and we must hope that seven years will not pass until the next one. Such debates should be annual parliamentary events. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have made that point, or similar points, will be listened to by the Leader of the House.

Britain can be justifiably proud of the way in which it has made the adjustment from being primus inter pares as the head of an empire to being a member of the family of the Commonwealth. Having lost our empire, we have, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton said, found not one but many roles in the world.

We have a Commonwealth upon which the sun never sets. I was once upbraided by an old man in a poor village in central Africa. He said, with what I thought was great prescience, that the sun never set on the British empire because God would never trust an Englishman in the dark. I do not know quite what he meant. It is true, however, that we have adjusted to a new role with some distinction.

It is true also that the Commonwealth is held in much greater affection elsewhere within it than it is here in the United Kingdom. That is one of the reasons why we should have an annual debate. It is also one of the reasons why, as has been said, we need to be more innovative and more generous in our support for institutions such as the Commonwealth Institute. Generally, we should seek to put more power at the elbow of the Commonwealth.

Bearing in mind the good nature of the debate, I say with some trepidation that it has been slightly too self-congratulatory and has pictured the Commonwealth in just a little too rosy a way. I declare an interest because I have recently returned from a visit to Pakistan over the new year holiday as a guest of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. It is a country with which I have close links. I hold its highest civil award, and I take a close interest in its affairs, as do other hon. Members.

Having just returned to the Commonwealth fold, Pakistan is extremely sore about the apparent lack of interest of the Commonwealth, and of the United Kingdom as a leading player within it, in the dreadful problems that are afflicting its fragile democratic Government. The burden of my remarks will be on that subject, on relations between Pakistan and India and on ways in which the Commonwealth could play a constructive part in resolving some of the problems.

During an interview with the International Herald Tribune, Benazir Bhutto said:

Pakistan today is the frontline state against the forces of extremism and fanaticism. It is a wall of modernity against all those values that undermine global stability. Pakistan has a constitutional and democratic government. It ought to be strengthened and supported". I agree with her. Pakistan is in the front line. It is under tremendous onslaught from the forces of darkness. It is incumbent upon the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth to do everything possible to buttress the democratic system in Pakistan and to help it to deal with the many problems that it faces.

The problem of drugs has been alluded to by several hon. Members. No other country in the world, with the possible exception of Colombia, is more afflicted by the big-time, big-business, organised drug trade. There are drug barons who are vastly wealthy with huge, feudal armies at their disposal. They are extremely heavily armed. That is something to which I shall return.

Pakistan is afflicted by the awful sectarian disaster of Karachi. In 1994, more than 1,000 people died as a result of political violence. In the first three months of this year, many hundreds more have perished, including, over the past week or so, two diplomats from the American mission in Karachi, with 15 people dying in a mosque here and a dozen at a mosque there. People are being gunned down from passing cars and up alleyways in political violence that is showing every sign of spiralling out of control.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan was right to say in Karachi the other day that to some extent violence is being encouraged and, in part, financed by foreign powers. Iran is involved, for sure, in the new Shi'ite-Sunni conflict in Karachi. Involved also is India, which has recently had its consulate closed in Karachi because of the role being played by Indian secret intelligence agents in fomenting communal violence.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan was right to say that the west had flooded Pakistan and Afghanistan with high-tech armaments for the holy warriors, the mujaheddin, who were fighting the holy war against communism and the Soviet Union, and that has led to a situation where, in Karachi alone, there are 100,000 illegally held automatic arms capable of absolute devastation in the crowded marketplaces and mosques in which they are increasingly being used.

There are millions of weapons in the wrong hands in Pakistan and they are now spreading throughout the country. They are in the hands of those noble warriors who used to be lauded by Sandy Gall and others on "News at Ten" when they were doing the bidding—[Interruption.] I see that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has returned to the Chamber. They were fighting for a world safe for free-market capitalism, in which it could flourish. However, those people are now using their weapons to undermine the very existence of the democratic state in Pakistan. They are murdering people on a daily basis and they pose an armed threat to the existence of democracy itself. Then there is Kashmir. It just will not do for Britain to walk away from the question of Kashmir. It will not do for the Commonwealth to say, "It has nothing to do with us." Kashmir is a legacy of the end of empire. It is a legacy of the failure of the British Government at the time—yes, a Labour Government—properly to manage the partition and all that flowed from it.

A reign of terror exists in Kashmir. Six hundred and fifty thousand Indian soldiers occupy illegally, in breach of United Nations resolutions, the tiny state of Jammu and Kashmir. Atrocities of a horrifying kind are an everyday occurrence there. That is happening in the Commonwealth—a point that has not been touched upon in the debate so far, except tangentially.

On my last visit there, I interviewed women who had been raped by Indian security forces. A woman of 18 had been raped by more than 100 soldiers in a little village on the outskirts of Srinigar. I took photographs of men whose feet had been severed by the swords of Indian soldiers in the Commonwealth, in the past 12 months, during this reign of terror in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir.

Atrocities are taking place and we are doing nothing about them. I must tell the Minister that, although he battled bravely to try to recover some of the damage done, the recent visit to India and Pakistan by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was a disaster for the people of Kashmir and Pakistan. His very definite tilt in respect of British policy, moving it from one of sitting on the fence to one of climbing down on the Indian side of the fence because of the free-market capitalist opportunities which are opening up in the new post-Soviet India, was an absolute disgrace.

The Secretary of State said that the UN resolutions on Kashmir were increasingly irrelevant. Leaving aside the issue of when a UN resolution becomes irrelevant and of sending the message to aggressors that, if they can hang on to their spoils long enough, the UN resolutions condemning them will one day become irrelevant, the facts are that we have an obligation as the head of the Commonwealth and as the former imperial power to try to control the tragedy and disaster in Kashmir.

I shall explain how we can do that. As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, we are in a unique position. The Commonwealth is in a unique position—because it contains both India and Pakistan and, therefore, Kashmir—to kick-start some kind of negotiating process which long ago ran into the snow in Kashmir. It is no use the Secretary of State saying that the Simla agreement somehow supersedes the UN resolutions. The Simla agreement calls on the matter to be resolved between India and Pakistan, but India will not even discuss the question of Kashmir with Pakistan, claiming that it is an internal matter, when all hon. Members know that it is not.

We are in a position to say, "Well, all right. If it is some kind of internal matter, let's deal with it in-house, inside the Commonwealth family." We can set up an eminent persons group of the kind that worked so well and so effectively over the South African problem. There are plenty of distinguished, superannuated statespeople at large in the Commonwealth family, such as Bob Hawke of Australia and Kaunda of Zambia. Even the heroine of the hon. and learned Member for Burton, Lady Thatcher, could play a role in this, with her stature in many parts of the world. I am not sure whether it is deserved, but it exists. It is possible to put together an eminent persons group which could play the kind of shuttlecock role between India and Pakistan that could kick-start the process.

I must tell the Minister that the cost of not doing that is not only the continuation of the disaster of massive repression in Kashmir and the inevitable corruption of democratic life and civil liberties and the rule of law in India which that represents. Kashmir is a dagger at the heart of the Government of Pakistan and of democracy itself in Pakistan. The banner that is flown by the fanatics of the Islamic right in Pakistan is that democracy will never resolve the question of Kashmir: only a Pakistan bristling, armed to the teeth and, if possible, nuclear armed, will ever force India to disgorge that which it holds illegally in the form of Jammu and Kashmir.

That is a running sore; ultimately, it will engulf democratic politics in Pakistan unless the issue is grasped by somebody. I argue that it would be better that that somebody was the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom than anybody else, because we are so uniquely placed to fill that role.

The Government of Pakistan deserve the support of all people of good will in this House. The Prime Minister bravely confronted the zealots in the past few weeks over the outrage of the sentencing to death of two Christians for painting slogans on a mosque. The Prime Minister of Pakistan immediately declared that that was completely unacceptable, that she was shocked and horrified by it, and that the verdict must not stand. The higher court in Pakistan, having considered the matter, quashed the sentences.

I hope that the Minister will believe me when I say that great anger and rage was caused among the extremists in Pakistan by the stand that she took, but she took it. They feel great anger when she takes a stand against the drug barons, too, but there is also great anger and frustration in Pakistan when democratic politics yields nothing in the context of the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

For several reasons, therefore—for India's sake, for Kashmir's sake and for the sake of Pakistan and of the Commonwealth—we should do something about that situation before it is too late. I hope that the Minister has heard what I have said.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington 8:29 pm, 16th March 1995

I speak as someone who today celebrates his 19th anniversary in this place when I say that one of the excellent benefits of attending a debate such as this in the House of Commons is that if one listens carefully to the thoughtful and sometimes passionate speeches, one can learn a great deal that helps to advance one's own thinking. I hope that it will not be Back Benchers alone who derive a useful few hours of adult education from the debate, but that those on the Front Benches, especially Ministers, and their civil service advisers, will derive some benefit too. They would do well to listen to some of the knowledgeable and occasionally passionate speeches about different aspects of the Commonwealth, such as many of those that have already been made.

I do not have much that is original or even passionate to say, but I want to add my brief contribution because I too attach great importance to the Commonwealth as an institution. I must declare a sentimental interest: I was born in Simla, nearly 52 years ago, at the tail end of the British Raj, and I have watched from afar as India has developed from being the jewel in the crown of the British empire to being a leading and vital member of the Commonwealth of nations, on a par with any other of its members.

I was especially interested, therefore, in what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) said about the tragic and needless continuing conflict in Kashmir and Jammu. I shall say a few amateur words of my own about that later.

I could not possibly match the encomium of the Commonwealth as a whole delivered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who also spoke powerfully and interestingly about combating international crime, especially drug-related crime. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Government will do everything possible to follow up my hon. and learned Friend's advice, because it seemed to me that he spoke with great knowledge of the law and order issues involved.

From what little I know about such matters, I realise that Britain has a great deal of expertise in this matter, which could be applied to such problems. For example, MI6 seems to be able to spend a large sum on its new headquarters just across the river, and the press tell us that it is seeking a new role in the world now that the Soviet Union has collapsed. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will not be able to speak about this publicly, but one new role for MI6 might be playing a constructive part in what must be global efforts to counter the international drugs trade and all the racketeering that goes with it.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) a strong interest in ensuring that the Commonwealth Institute survives, transforms itself and prospers in its new public-private partnership, especially as by 1999 it is scheduled to be devoid of all direct public support. Like my hon. Friend, I have seen the exhibitions mounted by the admirable Stephen Cox and his colleagues showing what they intend to do with the site. I too have visited the site and seen its great potential, which remains despite the fact that, alas, the building was constructed at a time and in a way that makes it fiendishly expensive and difficult to maintain.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there should be a contribution towards that necessary transitional expense by my former Department, the Department for Education, which obviously has a clear interest in ensuring that the Commonwealth Institute performs its tasks well in future. I hope that there will be no needless and sterile talk of fighting over departtnental boundaries, because it is both in the Government's interest and in the national interest that the institute should make the transition.

One has only to ask oneself the rhetorical question: how would the French handle the situation if a question arose concerning a comparable institution with a potentially important role to play in supporting and popularising the francophone community? They would grasp the opportunity with both hands, and they would be right to do so. This country should not be afraid to emulate such an example.

I have said to the managerial people at the Commonwealth Institute that in the fund-raising efforts that I believe that they are to make, they should make a serious effort to look for "high net worth" individuals, of which there are many more now than there were in 1979, courtesy of the policies of the Government as well as other factors. Those people should he sought not only within Britain but throughout some of the more dynamic and prosperous Commonwealth countries. The institute should approach them and appeal to their sense of altruism and their wider sense of civic responsibility, so as to secure an injection of private money into what is obviously a worthwhile institution.

I have a couple of questions to ask the Minister concerning the Commonwealth in general. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may be able to say something about each of them in his winding-up speech. I agree with all the hon. Members who have either explicitly or implicitly underlined the fact that the Commonwealth, rather like the Pope, does not have all that many divisions directly in its own name. It has a history and considerable moral authority in all parts of the world, and it should use those to exert a constructive influence, especially with regard to the problems that have led to intractable difficulties such as those in Kashmir described by the hon. Member for Hillhead.

The first question that I should like to ask my hon. Friend, and about which I should like to hear a little more, is: what precisely have the Government sought to do within the context of our Commonwealth role to assist in conflict resolution in Kashmir, the example that the hon. Gentleman gave? Just as important, in my view, is the example of the internal difficulties in Sri Lanka.

From time to time, I talk to sixth formers in my constituency, as I suspect that other hon. Members do. At a recent meeting, I exchanged views with lower sixth form girls at Wallington high school for girls in my constituency, and I was struck by the fact that three or four questions were asked from different quarters about the situation in Sri Lanka. I was asked why the Government appear relatively impotent in taking effective action to influence that situation, and those young idealistic girls specifically asked me whether we could not do more through the Commonwealth connection to help to resolve the dispute.

That is especially relevant because, as the House will know, the situation is not, strictly speaking, an internal matter for Sri Lanka, as the Indian Government have played a considerable role in supporting the Tamils. The House would like to know that the Government take issues such as Kashmir and Sri Lanka seriously and are using their best endeavours to exploit all the opportunities and all the contacts and networks of the Commonwealth to bring about a peaceful solution to those tragic problems.

My second question is about another problem that has concerned me for years—the non-proliferation regime. Of course, that has a connection with the India-Pakistan dispute. A review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is to take place shortly. I understand that Her Majesty's Government strongly support the indefinite renewal of the treaty, and that is all to the good; but it is important for us to give an earnest of our intentions. We must subscribe to the spirit of the comprehensive test ban treaty, which in the minds of many is linked with progress on non-proliferation. We must set an example to "threshold" states—and even states such as India and Pakistan, which are way beyond the threshold. Those states have demonstrated their capacity to cause nuclear explosions, and, for all I know, have the ballistic capacity to deliver nuclear warheads. We cannot assume that, just because the cold war is over, the threat to the people and environment of the globe has diminished.

If anything, the dangers are greater rather than less in the new multi-polar, fragile world, because the condominium between the United States and what was the Soviet Union no longer exists. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something reassuring—something that would reassure my young constituents who want to believe that they can grow up and, in their adult lives, make their contribution in a time of peace and prosperity.

I am glad that the Commonwealth now provides such a wide and rapidly growing range of trade and investment opportunities, not only for this country but for the countries in which we invest and with which we trade. Over dinner the other day, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, paying one of his rare visits to this country—obviously, he performs his duties abroad on behalf of Britain, and rightly so—reminded me that Britain is now the second largest exporter to India.

Everyone thinks of China as the world's monster market, but we should consider India's natural resources, as I have done from afar. We should consider its human capital—its skills, its links with Britain, its academic achievements, its scientific expertise and the commitment to free markets that has followed from the new Indian policy. All those assets bring great benefits not only to this country, in terms of trade and payments, but to the Indian people.

They desperately need the lubrication of growing prosperity to counter extremism, develop their country and, hopefully, limit the dangers of fundamentalism—Hindu fundamentalism or any other kind. Limiting fundamentalism will not only lessen the risk to the future of India—India's very existence is a miracle, given the problems of the Punjab and so forth—but help, at least at the margin, to reduce the dangers of a polarised attitude to critical questions such as the future of Kashmir, on which I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Hillhead.

I bring no special expertise to the debate, but I have enormous sympathy with our friends and fellow family members in the Commonwealth nations. I believe that the Commonwealth has a great future—indeed, probably a greater future in the 21st century than it had in the second half of the 20th. It is up to us, as the mother nation of a great institution, to help to take it forward on a basis of equality, mutual respect and adherence to altruistic policies of the sort that I have described. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to reassure us all.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock 8:43 pm, 16th March 1995

Let me begin by paying tribute to Sir Charles Kerruish, president of the Tynwald, who will shortly celebrate 50 years of continuous service to his island legislature. He is the father of that House, and almost indisputably the father of Commonwealth parliamentarians. When I met him and other fellow parliamentarians on the Isle of Man on Commonwealth day, I realised the importance that members of both large and small jurisdictions attach to the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It was with great pride that the Tynwald Members commemorated their island's membership of the Commonwealth. As others have pointed out, the United Kingdom is probably unique in not celebrating Commonwealth day to any great extent, or at least to the extent that it is celebrated in other parts of the world.

On that day, I was able to renew my acquaintance with friends from the Isle of Man Parliament whom I had met at the CPA conference in October. It was a privilege to be part of the United Kingdom delegation on that occasion, and I shall always remember the re-entry of the South African delegation to the plenary session, which was very moving. I reflected, however, on the fact that there is still one great void in the membership of the Commonwealth. I refer to the Republic of Ireland.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) mentioned Ireland, but he may have overlooked the fact that Ireland was a member of the Commonwealth until 1949. I think that it is time that it returned to the Commonwealth. About a year ago, in parliamentary questions, I suggested that the Government—along with Heads of other Commonwealth Governments—should take the initiative in extending an invitation to the Irish Republic to rejoin the Commonwealth. I was disappointed to receive the reply, "Invitations are not extended; people or countries apply." I thought that a rather disingenuous and churlish approach; strictly speaking, that may be the position, but surely indications should be given that the time is now appropriate for Ireland to rejoin.

Irish men and women live in every corner of the Commonwealth, and they—or their children and grandchildren—play a full part in the Administrations and lives of Commonwealth countries. An Irish team would enrich the Commonwealth Games, for instance. Let me also remind those in the Irish Republic—if they read our deliberations—that it is no longer the "British" Commonwealth but the Commonwealth. That may reassure those who are beginning to contemplate Ireland's return.

In his discussions with Lloyd George, Eamon De Valera tried to persuade him that an Irish Republic could exist in what was then the British Empire, and by what he termed "external association". The head of that external association, he argued, could be George V, but Ireland would participate as a republic. Lloyd George threw up his hands in horror, and said that it could not possibly be done: it was alien to the whole concept of the British Empire. It was a great lost opportunity. In that regard, De Valera was ahead of his time: exactly the same formula was used by Pandit Nehru in 1949. India remained in the British Commonwealth as a republic and, indeed, the majority of states in the Commonwealth are now republics. It is a great irony that, as India joined the Commonwealth with republic status, Ireland was taken out by the Costello Government. As things have bedded down, as there is a majority of republics in the Commonwealth and as the Commonwealth is demonstrably a powerful player for good in the world, it is time that Ireland came home to this family of nations.

Ireland has a proud record of working in international organisations, brokering peace in the world and contributing to peacekeeping forces. Its readmission would complement the work of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and many other countries.

It is significant that the External Affairs Minister of the Irish Free State, Kevin O'Higgins, played an important part in the discussions that led up to the Statute of Westminster Act 1931. Unfortunately, he was assassinated before enactment. I mention him because the Under-Secretary gave a limited history of the development of the Commonwealth in his opening remarks. He overlooked that major and important constitutional milestone, the Statute of Westminster, which settled our relationships with the Commonwealth as it then existed—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State. Broadly, it stated that those were countries of equal status with the United Kingdom. It has been a significant statute. It has given good service to the evolution of the Commonwealth.

I have, however, sought to make the point in the House for some time that the Statute of Westminster is now old. It needs to be reviewed with a view to the development of a new constitutional relationship between those countries in the Commonwealth mainly but perhaps inappropriately described as the "old Commonwealth" and those which still have as head of state Her Majesty the Queen. I raise the point because, sooner or later, we—when I say "we" I mean the 16 countries in the Commonwealth of which Her Majesty the Queen is head of state—will have to deal with the matter. It is better to do so now than at a moment of constitutional crisis.

I shall explain why I believe that we need to re-examine the Statute of Westminster. Three constitutional issues could arise which would create major problems for the Governments and Parliaments of the countries of the Commonwealth of which the Queen is head of state. One is the issue of the primogeniture rule, under which the heir to the throne is the first-born son of the monarch.

It is conceivable that in 20 years' time or more the first child of the heir to the throne or the monarch will he a girl and the second child a boy. Under our existing rules, the boy would become the heir to the throne. It is my understanding that this would create dissatisfaction, if not be unacceptable, to some of the countries in the Commonwealth that share the United Kingdom monarchy. That is one scenario that could create an immediate conflict. I venture to suggest that, if Canada and New Zealand are still monarchies at that time, they will find it unacceptable that a girl who was the first-born of the monarch or the heir to the throne should be passed over in favour of the second child, who was a boy.

Secondly, it is conceivable that there could be a need for regency legislation at some stage—for example, if the monarch or the heir to the throne was incapacitated. That would require simultaneous and parallel legislation in 16 independent Commonwealth legislatures.

The third scenario is the divorce of the Prince of Wales. Legislation is not necessary for a divorce, but special legislation would be needed as a consequence of that divorce. If there was a subsequent marriage and if there was issue from that marriage, what position would those children have in the line to the throne?

Those three scenarios could arise and they need to be considered now, before there is a crisis. The first test of the Statute of Westminster Act was in 1936 when Edward VIII wished to abdicate. The Prime Ministers of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa used their powers under the Statute of Westminster to ask the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate for the abdication. It would now be impossible for the Canadian Prime Minister or Parliament to ask the United Kingdom Parliament to enact the necessary legislation consequent on any of the three scenarios to which I referred; they are constitutionally unable to do so. In addition, it is arguable that they would have to alter their constitutions in any of those scenarios; it would not be simple for them to do so.

The Parliaments and Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and St. Kitts and Nevis have equal status in relation to the monarchy. In some parliamentary questions, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the mechanism by which Her Majesty the Queen can be given collective advice by the Prime Ministers of the 16 countries of which she is head of state. He said that there was not one. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, constitutionally the Prime Minister is the principal adviser to the Queen in the United Kingdom.

I assume that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth is the adviser to the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, but there is a gap. There is no collective mechanism by which the Prime Ministers of the 16 countries of which the Queen is head of state can give collective advice. Her Majesty's Government must deal with that point. They must take the initiative with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other countries to hold a conference so that those joint issues can be raised. There should be some mechanism whereby collective advice can be tendered to Her Majesty the Queen.

I wish to refer again to Ireland in the context of the scenarios that I have outlined. In 1936 the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa agreed that Westminster should enact His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 on their behalf, but the Prime Minister of one dominion declined. The Prime Minister of the Irish Free State, Eamon de Valera, said, "Hang on a moment. Westminster is not going to enact the head of state legislation for me." He used that occasion to abolish the post of governor general by legislation in the Dail and created the post of president. Effectively, and legitimately from his point of view, he moved the Irish Free State one more ratchet towards his objective of a republic.

I have to issue a warning. If the points that I have raised regarding the 16 monarchies and the collective advice is ignored, and if any of the three scenarios to which I have referred occur, there will be trouble in the Commonwealth. For instance, Prime Minister Keating may take a leaf out of the book of Eamon de Valera. He may say, "I am going to go to the House of Representatives in Canberra and legislate for our own head of state." That could create many problems and ricochet throughout the Commonwealth because it would have all been done hastily, rather than in a considered way. We need to work out some mechanism whereby the countries of which Her Majesty the Queen is head of state reach a collective agreement about monarchical succession, so long as that system endures.

One other point occurs to me, which is relatively minor but which flows from my previous point. I asked questions some time ago on what contribution the 15 other states of which the Queen is head of state make to the civil list and to the funding of the monarchy. I was told that they fund the monarchy's functions in their own jurisdictions, which I understand. When the Queen visits one of those countries, the Government of that country host her visit. I think that as a principle it would be good if, on a population basis, the other 15 states made some contribution to the running of Buckingham palace and the costs of the head of state.

Such a principle is especially significant in the debate about a new royal yacht. Apart from once a year, when Her Majesty the Queen visits the islands in Scotland, the royal yacht is primarily a symbol of her Commonwealth function, and she uses it when she visits countries around the world. The cost of the royal yacht should be shared, certainly between the 16 states of which she is head. Arguably, other countries may want to contribute too.

How about having a crew drawn from Commonwealth navies? I should have thought that that would be extremely attractive to the navies of the Commonwealth, especially those of countries of which the Queen is head of state. Since our armed forces are stretched, we should also develop further another practice that occurred in the past. Some of the ceremonial duties at Buckingham palace should be carried out more frequently by representatives of the armed forces of the other 15 states to which I referred.

I intervened on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and said that I would mention the empire. The vast majority of Commonwealth countries are fully independent, but some 14 jurisdictions, containing a total of almost 200,000 people, are not independent but are colonies. They are headed by a governor who is appointed by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. We have an obligation to those 200,000 people to ensure that they are subject to good governance. Here at Westminster, we need to find a way in which we can monitor, probe, scrutinise and examine the administration and stewardship of the governors who are appointed by the Foreign Secretary.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the issue of the colonies was much more important in this place, and I venture to suggest that, as a result, the colonies were more closely scrutinised. As the big colonies have gained independence, there is a real danger of our doing a disservice to the 14 other jurisdictions and forgetting about them. I have excluded Hong Kong because, regrettably, it will soon be leaving the Commonwealth. In those 14, apart from Hong Kong, there are about 200,000 people.

Those jurisdictions are peppered around the globe and we should try hard to provide some machinery whereby we can study their Administrations and provide them with some representation. We ought to consider what happens in the United States, where comparable jurisdictions can send non-voting Congressmen to Washington. They have the opportunity to speak in debates and to put questions exclusively on matters that relate to their jurisdictions.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

The hon. Gentleman is canvassing a novel idea. Would not a simple solution to the dilemma be to encourage the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to establish a Sub-Committee, that could have some oversight over our remaining dependencies?

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

I thought about that. My suggestion is not instead of that, but complementary to the concept of the Select Committee having a scrutiny role. We are talking about a group of people who are dispersed around the globe and it is impossible for the Select Committee to ensure the scrutiny to which I referred, or to ensure that messages are brought to this place about any unhappiness, criticism or need for remedies that might exist in those colonies.

Some limited form of representation at Westminster for those jurisdictions is required. What on earth could be wrong with that? I have felt somewhat frustrated. If the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) and I were to take an interest in those jurisdictions, we would have no way of getting there. Great distances and enormous costs are involved. We might be included on delegations, but they are not the best vehicles for scrutiny.

I take an interest in Gibraltar. The first time that I went there was at the invitation of the Government of Gibraltar, who had noticed that I had taken an interest. It would have been much better if I had been able to go without an invitation. When one goes as a guest, there is always the potential for embarrassment. We need to provide some opportunities for spot visits—

Photo of Mr Donald Dixon Mr Donald Dixon , Jarrow

During the recess.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

My hon. Friend has a point.

Today I had lunch with a representative of the Australian Northern Territory. The Australian state Parliaments—let alone the federal Parliament—have a breathtaking travel budget. 1 am not advocating that, but there should be some opportunity for representatives of this place to visit the remaining colonies for which we have some responsibility without notice so that proper scrutiny can take place.

Like other hon. Members, I have painted a broad canvas of interests with regard to the Commonwealth. I was recently in the company of one of my hon. Friends, discussing my thesis that Ireland should return to the Commonwealth. He said, "Why on earth would it want to do that?" I was shocked by that response and explained why I thought it would be to the mutual benefit of the Commonwealth and Ireland if it re-entered.

He expressed the view that the Commonwealth was unimportant, which deeply depressed me, because I acknowledge that it has been a force for good in the world—albeit a very silent force. It has done a great deal in brokering some ceasefires and has intervened where there has been bloodshed. Some hon. Members have referred to its failures, but it is important for us to acknowledge that it has also played a great part in trying to achieve some stability. In some cases, it is a ratchet against military takeovers.

Through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other agencies, we are able to aid and assist the fragile and emerging democracies in the Commonwealth. I should like the CPA to develop as a limited parliamentary arm that supervises the work of the Commonwealth secretariat and other agencies.

At the conference that I attended with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in October, I welcomed the innovation whereby the Secretary-General agreed to present a report to the assembly and then answer questions. I believe that the hon. Member for Hereford had a hand in that welcome development of parliamentary scrutiny of the important Commonwealth secretariat's work.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth has been a fervent supporter of that development. I take no credit for it but hand the credit to him, because he has always gone out of his way to ensure that he is available to exchange views with us.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the position. That welcome development should be continued in subsequent conferences, because the Commonwealth agencies and secretariat are of considerable interest. It would be educative to a number of Commonwealth parliamentarians and show the democratic principles behind the Commonwealth if what Chief Anyaoku did in Canada were continued at future conferences.

I add my name to the list of hon. Members who proclaim the Commonwealth as a proud and valued institution, and I wish it well in its further development.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) 9:11 pm, 16th March 1995

This has been a timely and welcome debate. The House has been broadly united in agreement about the Commonwealth's value, potential and achievements. The underlying feeling that emerged in the debate was that more needs to be done to bring home, both here and overseas, what the Commonwealth stands for and its potential. That was the broad canvas against which today's debate took place.

A number of specific points were raised, some important and some of detail, and I shall try to respond to them, particularly to those on which I was specifically asked to respond. However, I do not want those points to detract from the strong overall agreement in the House.

By and large, I agreed with what the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) had to say on this subject. There is no daylight between the Government and the Opposition on the subject of Hong Kong, and I am sure that the House of Commons is at one in its position on Hong Kong, which is a great strength and support to the governor and people of Hong Kong, as we approach 1997 and the period of change.

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised, however, that I fundamentally disagreed with him about our aid budget and the European development fund. We have every reason to be proud of our aid budget, which is the sixth largest in the world at a time when many countries, such as the United States and Canada, are reducing their aid budgets. I am sure that we shall debate that subject on many future occasions—I look forward to ODA questions on Monday—so I shall not dwell on the subject now.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) rightly discussed the contribution that the Commonwealth can make towards tackling drugs and international crime. I fully support him on that. We already do a considerable amount, and a large chunk of our aid budget is devoted to supporting Commonwealth countries such as Pakistan in tackling its drugs problem. As I said in my opening comments, one of the subjects that we shall consider at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference in Auckland is what more the Commonwealth can do to tackle drugs, money laundering and international crime.

There are already many excellent examples of co-operation. As recently as a few months ago, for example, the Government of Anguilla, working with others, achieved a first-class operation in setting up what was, in effect, a sham bank which sucked in large quantities of laundered money from the drugs trade and succeeded in achieving many arrests in South America, Spain and elsewhere and in having a significant impact on one of the Colombian cartels. That was a Commonwealth country working with the United States, ourselves and others to achieve that.

The hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley) specifically asked, in relation to some of the smaller dependent territories, whether, when they have offshore banking regulatory regimes, the costs should be met by greater licence fees. A number of those dependent territories, such as the Cayman Islands and Bermuda, receive no development aid. Some dependent territories, such as Montserrat and the Turks and Caicos Islands, do receive development aid. Because they are small territories, they need it. We regard responsible offshore finance as a means by which territories can achieve sustainable economies.

While I am on the topic of dependent territories, it may be helpful if I respond to the arguments of the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). I shall not leave out any issues raised by other hon. Members, but it might be convenient to discuss these points at this stage.

Dependent territories are not colonies; we have no colonies left—they are dependent territories. They have legislative assemblies. I am sure that the hon. Member for Thurrock did not mean it in that way, but I am sure that the Chief Ministers of countries such as the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the British Virgin Islands, which have recently had democratic elections, would feel insulted if they thought that we in Westminster sought to interfere with their business.

In so far as the dependent territories have governors, those governors have reserve powers under the constitution. They are finite, limited powers under the constitution. The hon. Member for Thurrock is perfectly free to question Foreign Office and other Ministers about the responsibilities of those governors, in terms of those reserve powers, to the United Kingdom Government.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

The Minister is right. I was not referring to the Chief Ministers and colleagues in the local legislatures. Those matters which are devolved to them are their affair, and I very much welcome that. It is those powers that are reserved to the governor which need to be scrutinised. They include the very important function of policing. Policing is therefore exclusively the province of the governor and the Attorney-General is invariably appointed from Westminster. I think that such powers need greater scrutiny.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

They are very much reserve powers. The governor would exercise powers over policing only if there had been some failure by the local legislative assembly to ensure that its territory was properly policed.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay , Thurrock

Policing is not its function.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Yes, it is. I am conscious that the hon. Gentleman wishes to take a greater interest in the subject. If he formed a team of his colleagues, we might start with St. Helena. If they would like to visit St. Helena in the next six weeks or so, I am sure that the Government Chief Whip might be prevailed on to find the requisite funds.

As the hon. Member for Thurrock obviously wants to take an interest in the dependent territories, I should tell him that, if he visits the Foreign Office, officials will, I am sure, be happy to brief him on how limited the reserve powers of governors are nowadays. The dependent territories are, by and large, countries which determine their own decisions. Bermuda, which is a dependent territory, as the hon. Gentleman knows, has recently published a Green Paper and is debating whether it might consider moving towards independence.

It is absolutely right that we should be especially worried about parts of the Commonwealth which are in difficulty, and that we should be especially worried when parts of the Commonwealth are in difficulty with one another. In my opening comments, I referred to the position of Pakistan and India, which is of great concern to every friend of both countries.

It is tempting to think that either the United Kingdom or some other country or organisation could do something to take the process forward, but an imposed solution to Kashmir would be doomed to fail. Progress will only be made if India and Pakistan talk to each other and seek to resolve the situation in Kashmir themselves.

It is worth remembering that the Simla agreement was reached through discussions between Prime Minister Bhutto, the father of the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, and Mrs. Ghandi when she was Prime Minister of India. They made considerable progress in those talks, and the evidence of history is that the greatest progress has been made when India and Pakistan talk to each other.

We have made it clear that we feel that there needs to be a genuine political process in Kashmir—the status quo cannot continue for ever—with full recognition of human rights and a cessation of external support for violence in Kashmir. Those are important prerequisites.

On the broader issue of Pakistan, we were all delighted to welcome Prime Minister Bhutto to the United Kingdom last year. She came to a successful investment conference organised by the Confederation of British Industry and she obviously had the opportunity for discussions with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and many others. She was a welcome visitor.

Next week I will lead a trade mission to Pakistan of some 50 business men and women, who are keen to invest in that country. They recognise that there is potential for partnership with it. I am sure that the Government of Pakistan see in the United Kingdom a people and Government who are keen to work with Pakistan to ensure its stability and development. It is a crucial country in the Commonwealth as it stands at the gateway to central Asia. We often look to Pakistan for advice on developments in that region. There is no shortage of desire to ensure that there is stability in Pakistan and that its Government is supported in their efforts to achieve economic stability and economic progress.

Photo of George Galloway George Galloway , Glasgow Hillhead

I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said and I wish him and the trade delegation well when they leave next week. Before he concludes his remarks on Kashmir, can he explain how it is that under international law, according to United Nations resolutions, there must be a plebiscite so that the people of Jammu and Kashmir can decide for themselves whether they wish to remain in India, join Pakistan or, for that matter, strike out as an independent country? The Simla agreement cannot supersede those UN resolutions, which have the force of international law.

In as much as the Simla accord was useful, does the Minister agree that bilateral negotiations between India and Pakistan have run into the sand, or the snow, as I acknowledged earlier? Now there are no substantial negotiations or talks between those countries. All that I asked for in my speech was for Britain and the Commonwealth to kick-start that process, perhaps through an eminent persons group. Will the Minister give that request some consideration?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we spend a considerable amount of time considering the difficulties of and concerns about Kashmir. Many parliamentary colleagues on both sides of the House quite rightly and most helpfully keep Ministers briefed on their visits to Kashmir, their impressions of it and their contacts with politicians on all sides of the equation.

We are firmly convinced, however, that progress will come about only when India and Pakistan decide that it is in their best interests to talk to each other. The Commonwealth can and will interfere only if Pakistan and India request it to intervene. Long-term sustainable progress will come about only when India and Pakistan talk to each other. As I have said, all the evidence of history is that the greatest progress is made when India and Pakistan talk to each other.

In addition to speaking about Kashmir, my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) raised the issue of Sri Lanka. He will be interested and pleased to know that the President of Sri Lanka was in London this week. She had discussions today with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and with me two days ago. Much of what we discussed with her dealt with what more we could do to help the peace process in Sri Lanka move forward.

Since the election of the President of Sri Lanka, considerable strides have been made in the peace process, which seeks to resolve the difficulties with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north. That process appears to be temporarily halted, and we were keen to understand what more we could do to help her in that regard. We are certainly willing to give what support we can to move the process forward. We all earnestly hope that, by the time the CPA conference takes place in Colombo later this year, the peace process in Sri Lanka will have made considerable progress.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington summed up well our attitude towards the non-proliferation treaty. It is a valuable instrument in trying to ensure that world peace is sustained, and in the post-cold war era it is all the more important that the non-proliferation regime is sustained.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for responding to the three issues that I touched on. Perhaps I could ask about the issue which concerns me and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway). The Minister spoke rather disparagingly about Britain or the Commonwealth seeking to impose a solution in relation to Kashmir or of seeking to interfere between India and Pakistan. That was not the sense of what I and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) were seeking to say.

We sought to say that we should take every opportunity, bilaterally and through the Commonwealth, to make our good offices available in different ways to facilitate some sort of coming together and a rational process. If that does not happen, the dispute has all the qualities necessary to turn the area into a serious flashpoint, possibly with wider implications for the world as a whole.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Progress will be made only if India and Pakistan decide to talk and move matters forward in their best interests and in the best interests of the people of Kashmir. If at any time India and Pakistan come to us together and say, "We would like the assistance of the United Kingdom or the Commonwealth to facilitate progress on this issue," it is inconceivable that we would do anything other than seek to be supportive. But we cannot seek to be an umpire or to impose some solution on India and Pakistan. That is the straightforward position.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I should like to press the Minister on this issue. It would be wrong for us to expect the Minister to respond immediately to the powerful case that was put by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and by the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman). It would be helpful to the House for the Minister to say that he will take this matter away and have a word with the Foreign Secretary to find out his reaction to these suggestions. In the light of the well argued case of my hon. Friend, that is the least that the Minister can do, and I hope that he will do it.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is always tempting to take problems away, but it would be disingenuous of me to do that, because this issue has been raised frequently with us. We have given it careful consideration over a long time and, as I have said, our clear view is that progress in Kashmir will be made only if the Governments of India and Pakistan talk to each other, if a genuine political process is started in Kashmir, if there is full recognition of human rights there, and if there is a cessation of external support for violence in Kashmir. [Interruption.]

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West

Does the Minister not understand that the Simla accord is more than 20 years old, that about seven bilateral sets of talks have taken place between India and Pakistan, and that India has shown a marked reluctance to discuss Kashmir in any meaningful way? As the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) just said from a sedentary position, peace would never have come to South Africa if the Minister's attitude towards Kashmir had been displayed towards creating democracy in South Africa.

We are asking for some fresh thinking. Like the Foreign Office in its policy on Kashmir in the past five years, the Minister seems to be whistling in the dark. No elections will take place in Kashmir. The overwhelming majority of people in Kashmir want the right to determine their own destiny. We are asking the Commonwealth to take an initiative to ensure that peace and the right to determine their affairs come to the people of Kashmir, as it has come to the people of South Africa.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

The hon. Gentleman is asking for the Commonwealth unilaterally to interfere—(Interruption.] Yes, he is. He is asking it unilaterally to interfere in the internal affairs of two Commonwealth countries. Its rules are clear: it can intervene only if both Pakistan and India request its involvement. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has a large number of constituents who take a particular interest in the Kashmir issue—that is understandable—but I repeat that in my view, and in that of the Government and the vast majority of people, sustainable progress on the Kashmir issue will be made only if India and Pakistan talk to each other, with each country wishing to reach a solution without other parties' involvement, and without it looking as though we or others are seeking to act as umpires or to impose some solution on those two countries.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

I shall not give way any more on this, as I have comprehensively explained our position on Kashmir. It seems that the spokesmen from the two Opposition parties are being slightly disingenuous in the way in which they are approaching the issue. It is a difficult subject, which is of considerable concern to two of our Commonwealth colleagues. I have made our position clear. If either the Liberal or the Labour spokesmen is suggesting that progress should be made other than in the way I have suggested—which is by talks between India and Pakistan, by genuine political process in Kashmir, by a cessation of external support for violence, and by recognition of human rights in Kashmir—they owe a duty to the House to make that clear.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

In the Minister's anxiety not to prejudice the position, he has closed his mind to another possibility, which some of the interventions have sought to embrace. It is right to say that progress will be made only when the two countries agree to talk to each other, but what is wrong with the Commonwealth encouraging them to talk to each other?

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It is clear from everything that I have said that we and everyone should continue to encourage India and Pakistan to talk to each other. We do that whenever we have any discussions with members of the Indian or Pakistan Government. If I have the opportunity next week when I am in Islamabad and elsewhere, I am sure that I shall repeat what I have said to the House today. Of course we take every opportunity to urge India and Pakistan to talk to each other and to make progress on the issue, because we are aware that it is of considerable concern to many people, but real sustainable progress will be made only if India and Pakistan talk to each other. There is no disagreement about that.

I should like to make two final points for completeness. In relation to Ireland, there is always a danger of it looking as though the UK is speaking for the Commonwealth. It is always tempting to think that we can speak for the Commonwealth, but we would appear presumptuous if it were thought that we were doing so. It is self-evident that countries are applying and do apply for membership of the Commonwealth, and the Government of Ireland must know that it is always open to them to do likewise if they choose to do so.

The last time I studied the statute of Westminster was for my university law finals. Having heard all the horrific things which might occur as a consequence of that statute, I should like to take the matter away, reflect upon it, discuss it with the Law Officers and write to the hon. Member for Thurrock, who raised a cornucopia of problems.

I hope that I have responded to all the specific points raised by hon. Members. I must mention the Commonwealth Institute, because it is important. I should make it clear that the Government emphatically do not want the institute to close: we want it to use the fine building in Kensington high street, provided by the Government, to promote the Commonwealth in a modern way and to be able to stand increasingly on its own feet. I certainly commend the work of the institute's board. The director-general and his staff have shown commendable drive and imagination in developing a re-launch strategy, and it was because of that that Ministers judged the strategy worthy of support.

As I said in July last year, we offered an extra £2.4 million to help with the institute's own fund raising. We have set the institute the target of raising £5 million in the next 18 months. The Government hope that the public, businesses and all those who see the Commonwealth as a force for good will respond generously. When the institute raises that sum, as I hope it will, we shall be ready to respond speedily to ensure that the windows of opportunity that have been alluded to are taken advantage of and that no opportunity is missed. As I have said, we wish the Commonwealth Institute to continue.

This has been a helpful and welcome debate. I hope that I have responded to all the points that have been raised and I hope that it will not be too long before we have another debate on the Commonwealth.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.