Commonwealth

– in the House of Lords at 9:22 pm on 18th July 2007.

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Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 9:22 pm, 18th July 2007

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will clarify their policy towards the Commonwealth ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda in November 2007.

My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity—at long last, I might say—to explore the Government's approach to the Commonwealth and to test whether this Government and this Administration will be more positive than previous Administrations on this subject. I am delighted at the number of noble Lords taking part and I regret that, due to this hour and other commitments, a number of those who put their names down have had to withdraw. It is a great pleasure to welcome to the debate the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, the new Minister responsible for development matters, who will be making her maiden speech. She could not be better qualified to speak on the Commonwealth, because she was born in Uganda, educated partly in India and, after the age of 15, has lived and worked in this country as a British citizen.

Within my 10 minutes, I wish to focus on the strategy that should be adopted for the Commonwealth. In the past 60 years, we have seen the most remarkable transformation from the British Empire to the Commonwealth of equal nations. Throughout this period, the Queen has provided a common link in her capacity as head of the Commonwealth. Coupled with this change has been a substantial migration of people within the Commonwealth, thus contributing to today's multi-cultural and multi-faith community in the United Kingdom. All this is essential history for any schoolchild to understand today's British society.

What of today's Commonwealth? What is its composition? It is a total cross-representation of the world—the world through a microscope—with 53 nations making up a quarter of the government of the world, a third or 2 billion of the world's population and a fifth of the world's trade. The Commonwealth ranges from the smallest nations—some 32 of them—to the largest. It ranges from the poorest—a third of its people live on less than a dollar a day—to the wealthiest, and it has fast-emerging states, such as India, which is the fourth largest economy in the world today. It represents almost all faiths and cultures in the world. For example, there are 500 million Muslims living in the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth faces all the problems that the world as a whole faces: international terrorism; illicit migration; drugs and crime; climate change; multi-faith and multi-cultural issues; fragile democracies; poverty; and education and health issues. We share common aspirations and values, as well as the commitment that we have made at summit meetings to democracy, the rule of law, freedom of press and expression and the important role of civil society. We share a common language in English and we have many common institutions, legal systems and business practices.

The Commonwealth is a vast network of contact—of Governments, people, professional bodies and non-government organisations. There are over 80 professional bodies of the Commonwealth, ranging from the universities and architects to magistrates, nurses and the press. The Commonwealth work is supported by a range of other bodies: the Secretariat; the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation; the Commonwealth Youth Fund; the Commonwealth Foundation, of which I had the privilege of being chairman for five years and which focuses on the non-government of the work of the Commonwealth civil society, culture and so on; the Commonwealth of Learning, which facilitates distance learning throughout the Commonwealth; and the Commonwealth Business Council, which deals with the private sector and economic development. I will also mention a new organisation, which I welcome: the Ramphal Centre for Commonwealth Policy Studies. All those and many other bodies are supplemented by other activities, not least the Commonwealth Games and the usual Government-to-Government contact.

What is the Government's attitude to all that? Successive Governments in this country have paid lip service to the Commonwealth. We have tended to turn our backs on the Commonwealth. The result is a remarkable lack of interest and knowledge in the United Kingdom of the Commonwealth. We have concentrated, of course, on the European Union and NATO and relations with the United States.

There still lingers in this country a measure of guilt complex about the past and sometimes we still see things in rather colonial and patronising ways. Equally, other Commonwealth countries are still inclined to blame the United Kingdom, as their former colonial power, as a diversion from their own problems. I need only cite Mr Mugabe to make the point. Now is the time to make a psychological adjustment in our attitude to the Commonwealth. To get rid of these outdated concepts and cobwebs of the past, we must, of course, know our past, but we must also recognise that a gem has now emerged that can bring great benefits to all its members, including the United Kingdom.

This is the age of multilateralism and here is a unique forum for confronting and helping us all to solve international problems and for the United Kingdom to benefit from membership. The Commonwealth complements other groupings, such as the United Nations, the European Union and NATO, as well as bilateral relations with other countries. It is not a substitute; it simply complements. As Sir Shridath Ramphal, the former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, said once:

"The Commonwealth cannot negotiate for the world, but it can help the world to negotiate".

It seems to me that policy has evolved over decades from the summit meetings in Singapore to the summit in Harare. The policy of the Commonwealth that has evolved reflects the view that democracy and good governance on the one hand and development on the other are interdependent—the two must develop hand in hand to help to create more prosperous and coherent societies.

Let us look for a moment at these two issues. First, on democracy, we have organisations now such as the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which plays a vital role in monitoring persistent violation of democratic principles. It has looked at a number of countries, from Nigeria and Pakistan to Fiji.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Zimbabwe. It was suspended in 2003 by Mugabe—the decision was taken by him and not by the people of Zimbabwe. Others will no doubt speak about Zimbabwe in this debate but the test case here involves the credibility of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth was active in trying to help to end apartheid in South Africa and return her to the Commonwealth, and the same must happen with Zimbabwe. The Royal Commonwealth Society, of which my noble friend Lady Prashar is chairman, has taken an admirable lead in discussing ways in which the Commonwealth can start to hold out hope for the people once Mugabe has gone.

The Commonwealth needs to establish links with civil society. The Commonwealth Foundation is a very good organisation for taking the lead on that. We need to work with moderate nations in Africa, such as South Africa, Botswana, Ghana and Tanzania, to help the people of Zimbabwe to move towards a better solution. The Commonwealth Heads of Government need to stand ready with contingency plans to rehabilitate that failed state. There are many other ways in which democracy is supported in the Commonwealth, not least through the admirable work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The other aspect in this regard is development. It is interesting to note that trade within the Commonwealth has increased from US$2 trillion to $3 trillion in the past 10 years. Economic development is crucial to stability in these countries and the Commonwealth is equipped to promote favourable trade terms, to help small and developing nations and to help work for the liberalisation of trade. The Commonwealth provides an ideal forum to develop integrated and realistic approaches to economic expansion and wealth creation in each of those countries. I hope that the Minister will feel able to say something about the role of the Department for International Development in this area and the priority that it gives to the Commonwealth.

I conclude by saying that I would like Her Majesty's Government to commit the United Kingdom to adopting a positive, imaginative and vigorous approach to the Commonwealth in a non-paternalistic spirit and as an equal partner. To achieve that, the Prime Minister needs to show personal leadership on this issue and secure the commitment of Ministers, supported by a proper Whitehall machinery, to implementing the Commonwealth's multilateral policies. This would benefit the Commonwealth and serve Britain's own interests.

Photo of Baroness Howells of St Davids Baroness Howells of St Davids Labour 9:32 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this timely debate and for his thorough introduction.

I speak to you as a child of the British Commonwealth and as someone who has lived her adult life as a citizen of the Commonwealth. Many would say that that is not much of a difference, but appearances can be deceptive.

The transition in the title highlights the ever-changing nature of the institution as history has buffeted its boundaries, structure and procedures. Its status as successor to the British Empire similarly reflects a long historical process as conquered territories sought to assert their independence from the metropolitan hub. It is no secret that countries that were initially the most successful in this process contained a large settler class drawn from the metropolitan country. It was only after the Second World War that other imperial territories were able to seriously challenge the iron grip exerted from the centre on the conduct of their affairs. The relaxation of that grip was achieved after inhabitants of lands scattered throughout the globe struggled valiantly for the freedom to exert control over their destinies. Many did so after returning from battlefields where they had fought—some had died—to protect the freedoms enjoyed by the citizens of the metropolis.

The past 50 years have witnessed the arrival of a variety of settler classes into this country from the countries once conquered by it. This apparent historical inversion masks the wholly different nature of the relationship enjoyed by the outgoing settlers with those among whom they settled from that which greeted incoming settlers with those in this country. The role of the latter was to repair, invariably at a menial or minor level, the infrastructure, to man the often shattered remains of the country's industrial base and to oil the wheels of what we now call our service industries.

This they have done, and many look back in their retirement with pride at their achievement, against considerable odds, in assisting in Britain's revival of its status in the world. However many also look with alarm, as Britain seeks to realign itself with other groups of nations, such as the European Union, at the effects that these associations will have on the Commonwealth.

I would like to draw noble Lords' attention to that arc of islands which form the Caribbean membership of the Commonwealth, among which is the country of my birth, Grenada. As with so many Caribbean islands, many of its citizens are scattered among the populations of nations that dwarf them in both geographic and economic size. Those who are here, and their children, feel that their mother countries have become at best the home of hazy memories of golden beaches and eternal sunshine and at worst almost forgotten specks in a far distant ocean.

People do not starve in the Caribbean. Coups are not a feature of our recent memories. As we do not have large mineral resources, we are not subject to the mass excavation of our soil for what lies underneath it. However, we do have some real problems that deserve far more attention than they attract.

I realise that the clock has beaten me. I will end quickly by saying that I would like to enter a plea that Britain should not, in its rush to join new families of nations, forget its obligation to that family that ensured its economic pre-eminence for so long.

Photo of Lord Blaker Lord Blaker Conservative 9:37 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I, too, thank and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this debate. Now that that has been done from both sides of the House, may I suggest humbly that that should be enough because it will save everybody else doing it and thus save us time.

I too will talk about Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has done. If noble Lords have doubts about the propriety of doing so in a Commonwealth debate, because Zimbabwe is no longer in it, they can be reassured. All that they have to do is look at section B of the 1995 Millbrook declaration, made in New Zealand, when it was head of the Commonwealth. That will reassure them of the propriety of not only talking about Zimbabwe but doing things—but that is another question.

When South Africa was outside the Commonwealth, the member countries treated it in the same way because the Commonwealth did a great deal to help South Africa to get rid of apartheid. Conditions in Zimbabwe are appalling, so bad that I do not want to get into a discussion about them now. I think that all noble Lords know how indescribably awful it is.

After the savage attacks on a peaceful prayer meeting about three months ago, there was an urgent meeting of the SADC summit, which appointed President Mbeki to facilitate dialogue between the Government and the opposition in Zimbabwe. Almost all the SADC countries are members of the Commonwealth. Since that proposal for dialogue, about three and a bit months ago, no agenda has been fixed. Mugabe's representatives failed to turn up to the latest meeting called. That shows us how President Mbeki is treating that proposal. Therefore, the world should not expect any good news from that direction.

What else could be done? I doubt whether linking the Zimbabwean dollar to the rand would be acceptable to South Africa. That has been suggested but it has not been discussed publicly. However, it is an idea that is floating about. The responsibility to protect is a subject that is being talked about more and more, largely in United Nations terms, but such action requires UN consent and tends to assume the use of troops, if only for peacekeeping; therefore, I doubt whether that is relevant to Zimbabwe.

My proposal that the G8 should use its influence with Africa resulting from its partnership for aid and debt relief in return for good governance has received no response, so at the moment I do not see a future for that.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is said to be thinking hard about what should be done. I hope that that is so, but I have one important point for the secretariat. At present, Zimbabwe is not on the agenda for the CHOGM in November this year in Kampala. Obviously, I am not calling for Zimbabwe's presence under the current regime or anything like it, but I am sure that Zimbabwe is important enough to be discussed in Kampala.

Photo of The Bishop of Norwich The Bishop of Norwich Bishop 9:41 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I shall obey the admonition of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, but I want to add the best wishes of these Benches to the noble Baroness in her new position as a Minister and wish her well in all that she undertakes.

It was as long ago as the 1926 Imperial Conference that member countries were described as,

"autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs".

The Statute of Westminster gave that some legal force, and it is in that spirit that the Commonwealth continues to exist. It is an extraordinary ideal to live up to, one that is not exactly easy when member states vary so much in economic power, resources and wealth. But the value of the Commonwealth is expressed not least in the equal dignity accorded to all members, whatever their size, wealth, culture or religion, and, in the time available, I want to refer to a single current threat to that.

I believe that the proposed economic partnership agreements will be discussed at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. They are in the process of being negotiated between Europe and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, many of them members of the Commonwealth, and they should be completed by the end of the year. There is real anxiety in ACP countries—inevitably, as the EU is, overall, both the biggest trading partner and the biggest aid giver to many of them—therefore, it is hard for this negotiating process to be even-handed when the odds are stacked so much on one side. The Cotonou agreement, on which all this is based, said that no ACP country should be worse off as a result of the process, but many Commonwealth countries fear that they will be, as EU aid will be dangled as a carrot and waved as a stick if African countries, in particular, do not open up their markets to European companies in the area of service provision and government procurement.

The African Union has recently pleaded for transitional measures to safeguard the continued entry of African exports to the EU market beyond the end of the year. I believe that our Government's stated position is that ACP countries should have alternatives to these partnership agreements, and I want to know whether that is still the case. How does our part in this EU process reflect our Commonwealth aspiration that we and other countries should be,

"equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another", especially if the EPA negotiations demand the opening of African markets way beyond anything envisaged in the Cotonou agreement?

This is really an area where our commitment to the Commonwealth is a necessary counterbalance to any misuse of the economic power that we enjoy as part of the European Union. I know well that the teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is that the poor are blessed, but we do not increase their blessing by making them poorer. A high doctrine of the Commonwealth may prevent us doing just that in this case.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour 9:44 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, in joining in the welcome to my noble friend on the Front Bench, perhaps I may say how fortunate we are that her expertise and commitment will now benefit your Lordships' House as well as the Department for International Development.

The Commonwealth is one of our best routes to global conversation. When I used to negotiate for the UK it was a pleasure, and often something of a relief, to find among the host of nations at the UN a group of friends who, crucially, spanned the rich and the poor worlds, and who understood each other better because of the common heritage so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Luce.

The Commonwealth has a particular contribution to make to development, because of its ease in sharing expertise through the secretariat and its myriad professional associations. This kind of partnership is all the more important now because development is changing. It has always needed more than aid, but now there is an urgent need for strategies to go wider, on climate change, on fair conditions for trade, on human rights and human security.

Aid is still the starting point for basic standards of health and education, so I would like to ask my noble friend first about the leading cause of death of children under five: pneumococcal disease. I declare an interest as vice-president of a new all-party parliamentary group to raise awareness of it. It kills nearly 1 million children, of whom 90 per cent are in developing countries. Those who do not die are often disabled.

There is a safe vaccine, but it needs to be developed. UNICEF—of which I am a UK trustee—and DfID are aware of the problem, and with the advance markets commitment system, an innovation which my noble friend has had a great deal to do with, DfID has undertaken to get results. Can she also arrange for this underknown dread disease to be given more prominence in DfID's public thinking on health? In the excellent document Working Together for Better Health, the goal of reducing child mortality mentions only measles immunisation, which would do this by two-thirds. Successful pneumococcal disease vaccination would probably achieve the millennium development goal on child mortality by itself. How will this be considered in DfID's biennial review of its health strategy?

In education, the UK has worked within the Commonwealth to ensure that more children, especially girls, go to primary school. In Tanzania, where I was last summer, abolishing school fees increased enrolment from 4.4 million to 8 million, about half of whom were girls. Now there is more need to support local capacity for training teachers; and it is in the area of training and professional education that we can work with the Commonwealth to most advantage.

Photo of Baroness Park of Monmouth Baroness Park of Monmouth Conservative 9:47 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, with particular pride and pleasure. A fellow Somervillian, she brings energy, commitment and wide experience to this House. We are also fortunate in having the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to open the debate. The Commonwealth needs advocates with stamina—he has certainly shown that tonight—as well as vision.

I speak in the context of the imminent collapse of Zimbabwe, only prevented so far by the extraordinary courage of its civil society. The UN has failed, despite the urgent representations of Anna Tibaijuka and Jan Egeland, in its responsibility to protect, both within the country where it was inhibited, and still is, from any intervention, and in New York, where it has allowed the African Union to prevent any discussion of Zimbabwe in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The African Union's policy of peer scrutiny, because it is voluntary, has effectively inhibited any action, and we have chosen to respect this. There is, however, one potentially powerful and entirely legitimate source of support for Zimbabwe's civil society, and that is civil society in the Commonwealth. The SADC countries, Zimbabwe's neighbours, are members of that Commonwealth. Their economies are deeply vulnerable. We do not know the result of the economic report that they were mandated to make at the Tanzania conference in March.

We should be encouraging the lawyers, trade unionists, teachers, doctors and students within Zimbabwe by funding initiatives—some of which are already contemplated—to take them to Commonwealth countries for training. Those initiatives could be used to encourage Commonwealth leaders to move to the next, vital step of putting Zimbabwe on the agenda in Uganda in November. Nothing could send a clearer signal to the people of Zimbabwe, and to the world, that we believe that their country has a future. Our country and the US are generous givers to the many aid programmes inside Zimbabwe. Let us now give for the future of a country well able to restore its economy and its society by its own efforts, once it is free.

The Commonwealth, in words cited by Judith Todd, left the candle in the window for the people of South Africa when Verwoerd took his country, but not his people, out of the Commonwealth. As my noble friend Lord Blaker said, both the Harare declaration and the Millbrook agreement require us to do the same for Zimbabwe. Let us not forget that the Commonwealth countries united could do much to secure action in and by the UN, as they did at the time of the Falklands. I rejoice to hear that our Prime Minister has already sent one encouraging signal by telling the Portuguese Prime Minister that if President Mugabe is invited to the conference in November, he will not be there. Today, a country is being destroyed from within before our eyes. The Commonwealth must now set a bright light in the window for the people of Zimbabwe to see.

Photo of Baroness Tonge Baroness Tonge Liberal Democrat 9:51 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I want to talk about the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in safeguarding the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth, which are democracy, development and diversity—the three Ds. Recently, there have been problems that seem to indicate that CMAG is becoming less effective. Many noble Lords have mentioned Zimbabwe, so I shall not, except only to say that I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said in his opening remarks about that country.

There was hope that President Obasanjo in Nigeria would consolidate democracy there and tackle corruption, but the recent national election showed serious problems in the Niger delta, which was considered too dangerous for the Commonwealth observer group to visit. Should not the action group of Ministers be automatically engaged when an observer group gives a negative report following an election?

The main thing that I want to talk about in this debate is the need for the Commonwealth to pay attention to Pakistan, which was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 2004. That country is walking a tightrope between its own extremists and the demands of America and is still under military rule, which we reluctantly condone. Its close neighbour is Afghanistan and the warlords. I was condemned by my party and many others in 2001 when I said that we should be dropping food and aid on famine-stricken Afghanistan, not bombs. It seemed to me then and now that bombs would make a poor country even poorer and more dangerous, and that bombs would scatter Osama bin Laden and his merry men all over the world, but especially to the northern territories of Pakistan. Of course, that has happened. Pakistan is now in great danger.

Economic development and aid are the way to win hearts and minds in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That should be the Commonwealth's greatest task in Pakistan and it should be NATO's greatest task in Afghanistan. Properly fed and educated people with hope for their children's future are less likely to become extremists. A Taliban-controlled Pakistan with nuclear weapons is the alternative, and is one of my nightmares. Urgent economic development must go hand in hand with the steps towards democracy that we want Pakistan to take. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should make support for that country its priority.

Photo of Baroness Prashar Baroness Prashar Crossbench 9:55 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the House, because she is a true Commonwealth person. I am delighted that she will be responding to this debate and I greatly look forward to her speech. In making my contribution, I declare an interest. I am the chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Luce.

There is now increasing recognition that the modern Commonwealth is ideally suited to meeting some of the challenges of the 21st century. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, recently argued that the Commonwealth,

"should shed its past diffidence and prepare itself to take a lead in setting the global agenda".

In a visionary speech on e-connectivity, the President of India said that, through the integrated evolution of the Commonwealth knowledge grid, we can address many common challenges of development. Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, in a debate in this House two years ago, said that we as a nation were in great danger of missing a great opportunity to continue "to champion the Commonwealth". Champion the Commonwealth we must, but we must also be an active catalyst for change within the Commonwealth, because we are well placed to help to revitalise it, to rebuild its capacity to contribute to multilateral diplomacy and trade, and to develop new and imaginative ways of dealing with some development issues.

Change in the leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the forthcoming publication of the Sen commission report and the report on the new membership rules for the Commonwealth, and of course our new leadership in the UK under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as the upcoming 60th anniversary in 2009 of the London declaration, all provide an excellent opportunity to consider the future role of the Commonwealth and that of the UK within it, particularly in the context of our own international priorities. This is an opportunity to make an unsentimental assessment of where the Commonwealth can make a difference. It is an opportunity to review the factors that may stand in the way of a better understanding of its benefits and potential, and its relevance to our internal, national concerns, because these overlap with our external concerns.

There are several areas in which the Commonwealth can make a difference. The first is as a consensus builder. As my noble friend Lord Luce said, this was very well put by the former Secretary-General, Shridath Ramphal, when he said:

"The Commonwealth cannot negotiate for the world, but it can help the world to negotiate".

The Commonwealth's diversity is an advantage. It provides energy and dynamism not just in the international context but also nationally, because it provides a healthy framework for complex societies grappling to work with difference. Its core values and attitudes provide the ability to develop consensus through dialogue and ideas rather than a quest for power politics.

The Commonwealth is unrivalled among international organisations because it can realistically aspire to be a Commonwealth of democracies. Time is running out. We have heard about the Commonwealth's economic advantage in the sense that it has within it the 13 fastest-growing economies along with the poorest 14. It can make a difference in these areas, as it can in development. I would like to suggest that we in the UK should take steps to make a realistic assessment of the potential and develop an agenda for meaningful engagement with the Commonwealth. To that end, I should like to know whether Her Majesty's Government would consider undertaking such an assessment through a process of wide consultation in preparation for the 60th anniversary in 2009.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for the debate. It is altogether good to see the Minister on the Front Bench. Previous Ministers have set a big challenge to meet with their powerful contributions. My noble friend brings with her great qualifications and very useful experience, not least—if I may say so as a former director—her effective role as a trustee of Oxfam.

The Government are firmly committed to multilateralism. The Commonwealth has considerable potential as a catalyst for building global consensus. It is globally representative and culturally and ethnically diverse, but its effectiveness depends on the will of its member Governments to use it and support it. It needs not only a strong secretary-general but one with a clear mandate to lead proactively and imaginatively.

To generate the international understanding and global solidarity that is so essential to security, education at all levels is vital. That includes informal education. On this, there has been a recent, very exciting development. It emerged at the Commonwealth People's Forum in Malta in 2005, was taken up by the Commonwealth Education Ministers meeting in 2006 and is to be developed further at the next People's Forum in Kampala, where it is hoped that it will cover inter-faith work. It is led by a new British inter-organisational NGO called BUILD. It promotes effective partnerships between schools, professional organisations, hospitals and medical schools, with great mutual support in both directions.

Recently, I was privileged to chair a BUILD meeting at Marlborough House at which Archbishop Tutu was a keen participant. It was deeply impressive, especially to hear the proven evidence of what is already being achieved. I hope that this and similar practical initiatives, not only at ministerial level but at grass-roots level, will attract all the priority and attention possible.

Photo of Baroness Verma Baroness Verma Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills 10:01 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for the debate. There are some very positive cases of how the Commonwealth has among its membership some of the most influential countries in the world, such as Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand. These countries have sustained economic growth and have established long-standing democratic processes. While it is true that these are the success stories, unfortunately the cases of countries not succeeding should and must remain a worry to the United Kingdom.

Can the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to strengthen the voice of the Commonwealth? It is time that we considered aiding the poorest of our Commonwealth members by looking beyond monetary aid as the solution. It clearly is not working, as we are told that there are still over 660 million people in the Commonwealth who are living on less than a dollar a day. Life expectancy for the poorest of the world in the Commonwealth is in decline, and fewer than 35 per cent of children are receiving complete primary education. The millennium development goals are becoming distant dreams, as the targets for halving poverty and eliminating preventable infant deaths are unlikely to be met by 2015, as previously predicted.

The obsession with setting and meeting targets is failing. The restructuring and empowerment of these failing countries must be in local development by local organisations, supported fully with structures, leadership and accountable systems. Corruption is rife in many of the sub-Saharan Commonwealth countries, and we must act carefully and in a measured way when we offer assistance to our Commonwealth friends in helping them to overcome the challenges that they face.

Africa has suffered particularly from a lack of good governance and is continually subjected to corruption, with the people in power abusing the status that they hold and taking advantage of the weak and crumbling states that they govern. We need to ask how we assist Africa with aid programmes that reach its people and how we support the restructuring of the infrastructure and ensure that we do not tolerate dictators who take advantage of the poverty and chaos that is prevailing in these countries.

As mentioned, Zimbabwe presented a defining moment for the Commonwealth, as it was left grievously wounded and unable to deliver the principles on which it rests. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has sunk his country and its people into atrocious inflation and desperation. The aid that we provide needs to be tracked. Development and accountability are key factors that should be linked with aid. Capital flight should be curbed, and powerful individuals in Africa should be prevented from transferring money into foreign bank accounts. Keeping money in Africa is crucial in assisting funding with local investment and development and health and education programmes. As it stands, preventing capital flight is a key part of achieving some of the millennium development goals on reducing poverty.

The Commonwealth has a duty to ensure that measures are in place to prevent further debt and human loss in Africa. While there are obvious difficulties, would the Minister assure the House that the Commonwealth will be given greater recognition for the contribution that it makes and can make to the rest of the world?

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 10:05 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, CHOGM has a lively website, which is already predicting the weather forecast for Uganda in November. What it cannot forecast is the precise agenda. I am one of those who would like to see a Commonwealth initiative on Zimbabwe.

Today, I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in expressing the concerns of many ACP countries about the effects of the new EPAs under the revised Cotonou agreement. They fear unfair competition from globalisation, displacing local producers and capping industrial development. They expect a loss of revenue from the removal of import taxes, inevitably leading to cuts in public services. Article 1 of the Cotonou agreement stated:

"The partnership shall be centred on the objective of reducing and eventually eradicating poverty".

It is an unequal partnership. The EU is not only the biggest trading partner but the biggest aid donor. That was recognised by DfID last time we debated this. As I recall, it was an uphill struggle for the UK to remind the Commission of its stated objectives. However, it may be that, since then, DfID has had to give way to other foreign policy considerations. I am therefore much looking forward to hearing in due course about the UK's latest position. Meanwhile, I welcome the Minister to the House and to the debate, for which I also thank my noble friend Lord Luce.

According to the NGOs, the European Commission is negotiating the EPAs in a way that fundamentally breaks the letter and spirit of Cotonou. The Commission has dismissed pro-development proposals, forced the Singapore issues back on to the negotiating table and linked future development assistance to concessions made by the ACP, in direct contravention of the EC's obligations to provide at least equivalent market access on 1 January 2008. These are serious charges, which show the degree of exasperation on both sides. These concerns have been voiced by ACP officials on numerous occasions; the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided legal advice in their favour. The African Union, in Accra on 29 June, urged the EC to consider putting in place transitional measures that would safeguard the continued entry of African exports beyond December 2007. Would the UK, therefore, in view of its previous support for the ACP, now support the latest appeal of the AU heads of state and put in place transitional measures? That would also be in line with the UK's own position in 2005, which was that the ACP should have alternatives available if requested.

These are matters of great concern to Commonwealth countries, which include the least developed countries among their number. The CFTC, which my noble friend mentioned, is especially involved through its hubs-and-spokes project, its trade facilitation and its export development strategies. This is all likely to come up in Uganda in November.

Photo of Lord Jay of Ewelme Lord Jay of Ewelme Crossbench 10:08 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to this House and to her ministerial job. We worked closely together in preparing the G8 summit at Gleneagles, particularly on poverty reduction in Africa and on development issues more generally, to which I know she is deeply committed. I welcome her to this House.

In my last appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, before I left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was rightly taken to task for agreeing an annual report of the FCO that made no mention of the Commonwealth. I pleaded guilty with genuine contrition, because I share others' views that the Commonwealth has a crucial role to play and that its role is frequently and usually underestimated.

I want to make three short points, one political and two developmental. The political point echoes the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, about the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, CMAG. I was very struck, upon attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane in 2002, by the number of Commonwealth countries, often small and isolated, which showed huge appreciation of the peer group pressure put on them for good governance by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and by CMAG. Britain is a member of CMAG, and I share the hope of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that the Government, both in the run-up to and after the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda, will give real impetus to CMAG's work.

The first of my two development points is as follows. Last week I was in South Africa and Zambia, two Commonwealth countries in which the positive effects of good governance, effective economic management and economic growth are clear to see. I would welcome the views of the Minister and of DfID on the importance they attach, as I do, to economic growth as a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for poverty reduction in the third world, and to the need for Government, business and civil society to work together to meet the millennium development goals. In that context I should declare an interest as chairman of the trustees of Merlin, the NGO that provides essential medical help to many of the poorest people in the world, including in Commonwealth countries.

My third and last point is on Zimbabwe. The contrast between South Africa and Zambia, which I saw last week, and the situation in Zimbabwe could not be more striking. Others have spoken about the politics of Zimbabwe. I hope that DfID will, albeit discreetly, be making the necessary preparations to work with others, particularly Commonwealth neighbours of Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth Secretariat, to ensure that, when the Mugabe regime finally ends, that country can realise its economic potential and we can end the wholly unjustified and unnecessary misery of its people.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Swansea Lord Anderson of Swansea Labour 10:11 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I also warmly welcome the Minister. I congratulate the noble Lord on his initiative, and thank him particularly for mentioning the sterling work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the UK branch of which I had the privilege to chair for four years.

Time permits only to mention some of the leftovers from the Valletta CHOGM two years ago and to ask what new initiatives Her Majesty's Government propose for that. The consensus is that Valletta was very positive on the political agenda and on good governance and democracy, as well as in trade and development, but questions still arise from it. First, we think of the Commonwealth as a wonderfully informal organisation, yet at Valletta we had the longest communiqué ever: 103 clauses. Who bothers to read those? Is it worth the effort? I hope we can bear that in mind.

Secondly, the Commonwealth is not just about governance but about peoples. The 85 Commonwealth civil society organisations have already been mentioned. What further proposals do the Government have at Kampala to engage civil society, remembering that civil society has been increasingly mainstreamed? One of the excellent initiatives at Valletta was the valuable meeting between the Foreign Ministers and the business and civil society forums.

Three matters were leftovers for the Secretary-General. One was paragraph 26 of the communiqué, asking the Secretary-General to explore initiatives to provide mutual understanding and respect among all faiths. We look forward to the Sen commission report on that. Another of those matters was paragraph 101, on future membership. CMAG has been something of a disappointment. Do the Government now see that there should be limits on new members? Lastly, with regard to paragraph 17 of the Valletta statement strengthening intra-Commonwealth dialogue and networking collaboration on trade and economic issues, what progress has been made and what input has there been from the Government?

Brave promises were made about increasing the contributions to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-Operation by 6 per cent per annum in real terms over the next five years. Has anything happened further to those promises?

One postscript: at Kampala, the Commonwealth will be saying goodbye to Don McKinnon, the Secretary-General. Someone at least should pay tribute to the sterling work he has done in his term.

Photo of Lord Selsdon Lord Selsdon Conservative

My Lords, while I was waiting rather impatiently for this great debate tonight I was having a pea and ham soup with Martha in the Bishop's Bar and we were saying that it is funny that the Ethiopian flag and the Jamaican flag are the same. I got out my book of flags and I had a look. I then said that it is strange that military power is becoming less and less important in the world, absolute wealth is becoming less and less important, and the most important thing is influence—that strange, mystical, airy bit that no one knows how to put together. If you are too strong, you have enemies.

So I thought we would look at the Commonwealth again. I have always been brought up on the Statute of Westminster, I have roamed the world around the Commonwealth and I said let us see what we have got now. We have 53 countries, which represent roughly 25 per cent of the world; add to that 20 dependent or overseas territories and the odd island here or there and we are pretty important. We have 2 billion people, which is a very significant 30 per cent of the world. We have roughly 12 million square miles of land, and if you add to that the territorial rights of 12 miles out to sea and airspace we are again pretty influential. And of course we have Her Majesty the Queen, probably one of our greatest assets, who is head of state in 19 countries.

It does not stop there. We still control 90 per cent of the cricket in the world. While people may suggest that it was the Commonwealth that effectively brought South Africa to heel, I can tell you it was the Gleneagles agreement. I remember sitting with President Bush—he was not president then—in Jamaica, talking about boycotting Grenada, when suddenly Eddie Seaga turned to me and said, "Is it true that Boycott is going to play cricket in South Africa?" That was a momentous occasion.

Now we are losing out on the rugby side. We have only 70 per cent of the rugby in the world, but what have the Americans got besides baseball and American football? Hardly any sporting influence. If you look further, you realise that it was effectively Cuban music that helped develop the Caribbean and you see that rap and other music has spread right across the world to create that form of culture.

This adds up to the observation that the Commonwealth has greater value than any of us appreciate—and probably more than it appreciates itself. It is a remarkable collection of people who have taken over from when the sun never set on the British Empire. They are probably playing rugby in some of the Pacific Islands even at this minute.

We could then look at some of the strange joint ventures, including the joint claims on Antarctica, and involving Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand and ourselves. It is how we put it together. I have always felt that the House of Lords should set out to represent the Commonwealth. No greater leader could we have than the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who was one of the best and most honourable Foreign Office Ministers that we have ever had. So I sit down saying: we have influence; let us use it.

M

Lord Selsdon's observation that we still control 90 per cent of the cricket in the world and his subsequent mention of the Commonwealth, throws up, albeit obliquely, another interesting point that Lord Selsdon might like to make use of in the future.
In the middle of the 17th century, there was another Commonwealth, the one headed by Oliver Cromwell. The Navigation Acts that were passed during his Commonwealth Period laid the foundations of English sea power and the founding of colonies which 200 years later became the British Empire. Hence, this country's continued 'control' of 90 per cent of all cricket in present-day Commonwealth countries where the game has flourished - Australia, the Indian sub-continent, New Zealand, South Africa, the West Indies.
What would Cromwell have thought of that when, 350 years ago, he and other puritans banned people from playing the game?

Submitted by Michael Bourne

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 10:18 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I remember well from my childhood in India the ambivalence that many felt towards the British Empire. As a recently independent former colony such feelings were of course completely understandable. However, through the Commonwealth, India chose to remain connected with Britain along with many other former colonial countries. The British Empire—the largest empire the world had ever known, larger than the ancient Persian, Greek or Roman empires—was no more. Yet the vast majority of the countries of the empire that demanded their independence also chose to retain their links with Britain and with each other. That is amazing. It speaks so much to the strength of the common ideals, values and principles that the diverse members of the Commonwealth share: the English language, respect for democracy, human rights, institutions, legal systems, the rule of law, dedication to trade and solid business practices. These qualities, which have often been referred to as the Commonwealth factor, are a major advantage in our globally competitive world.

As my noble friend Lord Luce mentioned in his superb speech, there is significant trade between Commonwealth members. However, this is happening in the absence of a major trade agreement like those behind the North American Free Trade Agreement, the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation and the Association of South-East Asian Nations. We could be doing so much more to encourage trade between member nations and the Commonwealth on top of, and supplementing, the existing regional trade blocs to which many members of the Commonwealth already belong, such as the EU, in Britain's case. Questions are being asked around the globe about the effectiveness in today's world of multilateral institutions such as the UN, the World Bank and the IMF. The WTO Doha development round is at a standstill.

I welcome our new Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera. I say to her and to the Government: would it not be wonderful if a Commonwealth trading bloc, with a free trade agreement, existed? The more nations trade, the more stable and peaceful their relations with other countries. I believe that if an effective Commonwealth FTA trading bloc existed, it would attract prospective new members, such as the former British territories in the Middle East. Just look at the European Union. Who would have thought 60 years ago that France and Germany would be the best of friends today?

The Commonwealth already has such a great role in development, but it can do so much more to aid its members, particularly those with smaller economies. Through economic liberalisation, we can also have economic empowerment. In developing this vast as yet untapped potential, we can accomplish so much in truly unleashing the common wealth in the Commonwealth.

Photo of Lord Joffe Lord Joffe Labour 10:21 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, noble Lords will see that I am speaking from the Labour Benches for the first time. I take this opportunity to thank the Convenors of the Cross Benches, first the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, and now the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, and their colleagues for their kindness and support while I sat on their Benches.

I welcome the Minister, my noble friend Lady Vadera, and very much look forward to her maiden speech. I had the pleasure of working with her when we were both trustees of Oxfam. There I developed a great respect for her incisive intellect and the purposeful contribution she made, not only to Oxfam but, more importantly, in her years at the heart of the Treasury. She will surely make a significant contribution to this House and to DfID.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an independent international NGO, reported in its spring newsletter that President Museveni's Black Mamba Squad, which operates in secrecy at the behest of the president, raided the Uganda High Court in Kampala on 1 March this year. There they arrested five members of the opposition, who had just been released by the court on bail after being charged with treason and terrorism. In the process, they brutalised not only the suspects but their lawyers as well.

This is not an isolated incident and it seems increasingly clear that the Ugandan Government are using the police and military to crack down on political dissent and opposition. Bearing in mind the Commonwealth's aim to promote democracy, good government, human rights and economic development, it is ironic that its Heads of Government meeting in November is to be held in Uganda, where the opposite of all these objectives appears to be taking place. It will be interesting to see whether the abuses of human rights in Uganda are raised at this meeting or whether they will be papered over. It will be a sad day for the Commonwealth if President Museveni follows in the path of Robert Mugabe and the Commonwealth ignores this because of pressure from some African leaders.

If I had the time, I would talk about education. As I do not, however, I simply ask my noble friend what her policy, and that of the Government, will be on education.

Photo of Lord Watson of Richmond Lord Watson of Richmond Liberal Democrat 10:25 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I reiterate the thanks of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this subject. Here we are, compressing the mighty subject of the Commonwealth into three minutes. That might have depressed me until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, whose capacity to compress so much into three minutes is remarkable and a tribute to this House. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the Front Bench. We are all looking forward to her maiden speech.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies. One of that council's tasks is to be involved in the organisation of the Commonwealth Day Observance service in the abbey just across the road from here in March each year. That service illustrates something extremely important about the Commonwealth: that it has a unique ability to create an inter-faith dialogue. Although the service is within the abbey, it is not Anglican; it is an inter-faith dialogue. I hope that the Minister will tell us that the Sen commission report on respect and understanding will take us forward at CHOGM—that it will not just be a report, but that there will be action subsequent to it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, mentioned Nigeria, albeit briefly. The Commonwealth observer group report on the elections in Nigeria this year was gloomy reading. That report has gone to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, but will CMAG do anything about it? These reports on failures of democracy in the Commonwealth seem somehow to vanish into the air. Something has to happen as a consequence of them. I would be grateful for anything that the Minister could tell us about that.

The right reverend Prelate made a point about trade issues at CHOGM. I know that the agenda is not yet fixed, but there is great concern among the Africa group in the WTO that trade should be high on the agenda and not trailing down below. Important issues such as the EU partnership agreements need to be discussed. Will the Minister reassure us that trade will be at the top of the agenda? If we do not discuss trade, all that will be left for us to discuss is aid.

I raised with the Government a couple of weeks ago the unfortunate and ill judged closure of our embassy in Madagascar. We wait to see what will happen, but the idea that the best interests of this country and Madagascar can be looked after part-time from 1,000 miles away in Mauritius is frankly nonsense. Will the Minister assure us that the closure in Madagascar is not the beginning of a long list of others?

We need from the Government a statement of their commitment to the Commonwealth. Not only do we in this country have a great return on that vision, commitment and investment of imagination, but those things are also in the interests of global understanding, dialogue and a better future for us all.

Photo of Baroness Rawlings Baroness Rawlings Shadow Minister, International Development 10:29 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this important debate. It gives me great pleasure to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, whose maiden speech I very much look forward to hearing. She has had a most distinguished career, well qualifying her for this new position. As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, she was born in Uganda and, having lived her early life in India, went on to read PPE at Oxford. She became a highly successful banker with SG Warburg before joining the Treasury in 1999 and becoming a trustee of Oxfam. I have no doubt that, with this formidable background, her maiden speech on this particularly relevant topic will be both informative and interesting. We look forward, too, to her future contributions to this House.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister identified the Commonwealth as one part of a new, three-pronged foreign policy, complementing our American alliance and our strong links with Europe. On these Benches, we have always supported such an approach, yet the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office departmental annual report makes only one passing mention of the Commonwealth in more than 150 pages. Can the Minister explain that? The summit is a great opportunity for the Government to set out their proposals on how to support democracy and good governance throughout the Commonwealth. How are the Government helping Uganda to hold free and fair elections in December? What support are they giving the Ugandan Government in the peace talks in south Sudan and with the Lord's Resistance Army?

There is great potential, too, for economic development. The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development has proven how successful the use of informal international networks—in this case, "international" is merely Muslim communities—can be in setting up small businesses in the developing world. What encouragement are the Government giving to the business community to exploit similar networks between different Commonwealth members?

I fear that, in three minutes, I have barely covered this huge subject and do not expect the Minister in her short time to answer all the questions tonight. However, I look forward to her response and her maiden speech and hope that the Government will soon back up their enthusiastic words with meaningful proposals.

Photo of Baroness Vadera Baroness Vadera Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for International Development 10:31 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, I start by expressing my gratitude to Members from all parts of the House for the warmth of their welcome since I have joined and their kind words during this debate. Your Lordships' advice and support has helped me immensely, as I continue to adjust to my new role in government. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this important debate. I will endeavour to reply to a few questions, given the time constraints. If noble Lords will permit, I shall write to them on the remainder that I have noted.

Today's debate takes me back to my earliest memories at primary school in Jinja, Uganda. My mother tongue was Gujarati, and I struggled with English. I was about to leave for India because of the Idi Amin repression. The last place that I, a stateless child between Asia and Africa, could ever have expected to be was standing before your Lordships as the newest member of the House of Lords. The daughter of a Kenyan mother and Ugandan father, of Indian origin, educated in Jinja, Bangalore, Bombay and finally Britain, like my noble friend Lady Howells, I feel a true child of the Commonwealth. I am one of its most fortunate. The tolerance and generosity of British society and the ties that bind the Commonwealth together gave me my life chances, most recently to work eight years at the Treasury, arguing its case against the insistent and sometimes unreasonable pleadings of other departments, and now three weeks at DfID, arguing its case against the insistent and sometimes unreasonable parsimony of the Treasury.

As noble Lords from all sides of the House have said, the Commonwealth brings together countries not because of what they want but because of what they are. The Commonwealth's unique and underestimated strength but also in part its limitation is the fact that it is not an exclusive club of the most powerful like the G8. Nor does it generate tension between developing and developed countries, as sometimes occurs in the IMF and World Bank. Nor, like the UN, does it have regional groups competing to advance their agendas. Its members speak for themselves with an equal voice, whether they are small island states or global players. I am intrigued by the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, that we should have an unsentimental assessment of the Commonwealth, and I will investigate that.

In response to the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I can say that the importance that we place on the use of this rare forum will be illustrated by the seriousness of the agenda and the breadth of our team attending CHOGM in November. My life will have come full circle as I join the British delegation going to my birthplace, Uganda. I welcome the theme of the meetings, transforming Commonwealth societies for political, economic and social development. There are new challenges facing this development, not least climate change, which we have helped to secure on the CHOGM agenda in the run-up to Bali in December. But the old challenges remain.

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, rightly emphasises economic development and business formation. The Commonwealth Business Council creates very similar networks to those that she mentioned. I view aid not as charity or welfare, nor as the creation of permanent dependency, but as an investment in equitable growth and the individual's dignity of economic independence. With reference to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, in most poor countries aid is necessary, but in no country is it a sufficient catalyst for development. Wealth creation, economic growth and good governance must be central to poverty eradication.

The Commonwealth has extremes of experience to learn from in this regard. Over the last 20 years, India has saved 100 million people from poverty, and within the next 20 is expected to become the fourth largest economy in the world. But while its GDP is growing at 8 per cent, it is creating jobs at only 3 per cent a year. That inequitable growth has meant nearly one-half of all Indian children are undernourished—a far higher level than in most of sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, India's ability to benefit from an international services market shows the importance of trade for growth and reducing poverty. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that trade will be right up there at CHOGM.

In response to the concerns expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I can say that the UK has argued its position on the flexibility of economic partnership agreements consistently since 2005, and that has not changed for any other strategic reason. We believe that the Commission has accepted many of our arguments and is showing more flexibility in order to conclude negotiations by the end of the year, but we continue to monitor these negotiations closely.

I am delighted to see present my noble friend Lord Joffe, who introduced me last week. In response to his question and that of my noble friend Lord Judd, I should say that education is going to be a central agenda going forward, both at CHOGM and generally for development. Across the Commonwealth, 26 million children—nearly two-thirds of them girls—do not go to school. Education is the best investment that the world can make and, together with health, the best way to break the transmission of poverty from one generation to the next. For every year of schooling in the poorest countries, incomes grow by more than 10 per cent. For every extra year that a mother went to school, the chances of her children dying fall by 8 per cent. In large parts of the world, poverty has a woman's face; empowering women is both a means and an end for transforming societies.

The UK has committed £8.5 billion over 10 years to get every child, especially girls, into school. Our commitment was ground-breaking, not just in its magnitude, but in its understanding of the need for patient capital to get a generation into productive economic activity. The 10-year results-based commitment gives the certainty of funding that countries need to plan and develop sustainable education systems with the ability to train, as well as continue to pay teachers and to make education free, and therefore universal.

With respect to health, I wish to assure my noble friend Lady Whitaker that pneumococcal disease will be addressed in the reviews of our health strategy. There is a significant market failure in research and development for diseases that affect poor countries due to their weak purchasing power. Only 10 per cent of global health research is devoted to conditions that account for 90 per cent of the world's disease burden. If successful, the advanced market commitment that we launched will result in a relevant strain of pneumococcal vaccine, which could save up to 5 million lives over the next 25 years.

It was disconcerting enough when the noble Baroness, Lady Park, used to question me as principal at Somerville College. I cannot begin to tell you how disconcerting it is to be questioned by her now, in your Lordships' House. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her contribution to my education and her graciously selective memory of my undergraduate years.

The noble Baroness raised the subject of Zimbabwe, as did many other noble Lords. My family's experience of a ruthless dictator left me with no tolerance for those who abuse their citizens and destroy nations in the name of anti-colonialism. As will be discussed in another place tomorrow, we agree with noble Lords that Mugabe is not going to be a part of the solution for Zimbabwe's future. This Government will continue to work with SADC and the Commonwealth to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe can exercise the right to determine that future. I agree with noble Lords that the Commonwealth has a duty of care to assist the people of Zimbabwe, as it assisted South Africans during apartheid. This Government stand prepared to assist in what tragically, but inevitably, will be an extremely fragile state, with its economic base and social fabric destroyed.

In the mean time, the people of Zimbabwe face a humanitarian crisis. A quarter of the population have fled to neighbouring countries and half those remaining need urgent food aid. More than 3,000 people die of HIV/AIDS every week. To help those immediately at risk, I am able to announce to the House today that DfID is committing £50 million to extend the protracted relief programme for the next five years. The programme will be delivered entirely through local and international NGOs and will provide seeds, fertilisers, livestock and access to HIV/AIDS care to assist 2 million of the country's most vulnerable.

While the reconstruction of Zimbabwe and development in the Commonwealth are strategic concerns to us, in the words of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, there are no "moral strangers" in this world. I am conscious that many in this House share this view and have exercised much effort and expertise toward this end. I hope that in my position as Minister for International Development I can build on your Lordships' strong platform. I was rather optimistically named Shriti, which means "knowledge" in Sanskrit. To borrow the words of Herman Hesse, more than knowledge, it is the wisdom of the distinguished Members of this House that I will seek to find, live, and be filled and sustained by in fulfilling my duty. Thank you.

Photo of Lord Luce Lord Luce Crossbench 10:42 pm, 18th July 2007

My Lords, with the forbearance of the House, on behalf of your Lordships I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, on not only an excellent but a delightful maiden speech. Her speech and her experience show that she is highly suited to her new ministerial job in the Department for International Development and is very well placed to stand up for the Commonwealth.

The noble Baroness spoke most movingly about her earlier years in Uganda and later in India and made the point that she is devoted to the Commonwealth. She worked for 14 years with the City investment bank SG Warburg, later owned by UBS, and worked on many projects from banking to project finance. She has advised Governments of poor and emerging countries on issues such as external debt and public sector restructuring, and she has worked with many Commonwealth countries, from South Africa and Uganda to India, Nigeria and Kenya. Since 1999, as we all know, she has worked at Her Majesty's Treasury as the personal adviser to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is now Prime Minister, and was a member of the Council of Economic Advisers as a policy expert on many issues, ranging from business and finance to international development. As we heard from another noble Lord, she has been a trustee of Oxfam for five years.

The noble Baroness has excellent experience of economic and developmental issues and of the Commonwealth. On behalf of your Lordships, I congratulate her most warmly on her maiden speech and on becoming a Minister. I wish her well in government, where I am quite sure she will make a positive contribution.