My Lords, just over two years ago, the Royal Commonwealth Society concluded in a report that by 2050 the Commonwealth would either be a total irrelevance or a vibrant global entity. Are we doing enough to ensure that it is a vibrant entity? Despite many recent Commonwealth debates in this House with excellent and enthusiastic contributions, many of us feel that successive British Governments have not grasped the opportunities available to us through collaboration with our friends in the Commonwealth. We can now take stock of the latest Heads of Government meeting in Malta. I am delighted that we have many noble Lords who will make their distinctive contributions to this debate and, in particular, that the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, has chosen this subject to make her maiden speech. I am very grateful to the Minister for replying and look forward to her assessment of the outcome of the meeting.
There are a number of reasons to be enthusiastic. There is no doubt that the Maltese Prime Minister, Mr Muscat, and his team have shown leadership and commitment to move things forward. That valiant island has taken on responsibility in recent weeks for an African Union/EU summit on migration, the Commonwealth meeting and, shortly, the presidency of the EU.
The fact that our Government have agreed to host the next CHOGM in 2018 gives an excellent chance to give a constructive lead. We must start working now to ensure a high level of participation by Heads of Government at that meeting. We can best do that by signalling our wholehearted commitment to the value of closer Commonwealth co-operation.
Above all, we offer the warmest congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on her appointment as Secretary-General from next spring. She was nominated by Dominica, the land of her birth, and is rooted in the Caribbean. We are very proud that she is a Member of the House of Lords. I am certain that she will give dynamic leadership and bring benefits to all 53 Commonwealth countries. We wish her every success.
It is important to see this debate in context. Europe’s role and influence in the world is currently weak. The eurozone is struck by economic paralysis. Putin’s Russia is striking out dangerously in our region and in Syria. In Britain, we wait in a state of uncertainty to determine the nature of our future role in Europe. Meanwhile, the Middle East is in turmoil, posing a serious threat to world stability and bringing massive migration and refugee problems.
Despite all this, Britain is still able to play a constructive role in the world. Our economy is expanding. We have the second-largest defence budget in NATO and spend 0.7% of our national income on development assistance. The British Council, the World Service and our universities give a strong measure of soft power. The Minister made a significant point in the debate last week on NATO and the European Union, showing that we are the only nation to have such a wide range of membership of international bodies, from the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU to the OECD, the IMF and the World Bank.
To cap all this, we have the Commonwealth. It is a unique association of 53 nations sharing a common history and language and aspirations for good governance, the rule of law and increased prosperity. It contains more than 2 billion people, covers a cross-section of the globe from the Pacific to Africa and the Caribbean and includes big states, such as India, and small states, such as Trinidad. Other nations are longing to join it. At a time when civilised values and ways of life are being challenged, it is significant to note that the Commonwealth embraces 1 billion Hindus, over 620 million Muslims, over 32 million Buddhists, 440 million Christians and, of course, thousands of Jews and Sikhs, among other religions.
Let us be clear: this association does not replace, but rather complements, our roles in NATO, the EU and the UN. It provides an exceptional opportunity for all its members to use the soft-power benefit of membership to our mutual advantage. Subject to correction by historians, I know of no other empire that has successfully transformed into a Commonwealth of equal nations. We are part of a family whose circumstances constantly change. My own experience demonstrates this transformation. I served as one of the last district officers in Kenya, did my Army service in Cyprus and was later Governor of Gibraltar, then vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham with its many Commonwealth students, and, later, chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation. I am also present of the Royal Over-Seas League.
Britain has moved from the paternalism of empire to the equal partnership of the Commonwealth, where we try to solve differences through dialogue based on a culture of personal rapport. It was Nehru in the late
1940s who proposed a formula to end the empire but to allow our links to develop by accepting our monarch as head of the Commonwealth. Without any doubt, it is the Queen who has provided the framework for the links between us through her personal relationship with Commonwealth leaders. She is now ably supported by the Prince of Wales. As Lord Chamberlain, I was able to witness the Queen’s deep commitment to and love for the people of the Commonwealth.
Contact between people is the heartbeat of the Commonwealth. Modern technology gives added momentum to this, transforming contact and networking between people and organisations on an unprecedented scale. It is the young who lead the way in networking, and people under 30 constitute 60% of the Commonwealth. The annual Commonwealth Observance Day in Westminster Abbey is full of young people, and this year’s theme is “A young Commonwealth”. Yet we have clear evidence that we in Britain are failing significantly to teach the majority of our schoolchildren their Commonwealth history and background. I ask the Government to take a lead in changing the curriculum to rectify this.
I welcome the lead by the Commonwealth Secretariat, in partnership with the BBC and the British Council, to promote greater understanding of the values of the Commonwealth Charter through the Commonwealth class project for seven to 14 year-olds in thousands of Commonwealth schools. Following the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Malta, I welcome the encouragement by Heads of Government to promote entrepreneurship, vocational training and initiatives to help young jobseekers. I applaud the dynamic leadership of the Commonwealth Youth Programme, motivating young people to engage with a range of issues in a pan-Commonwealth context. The excellent Commonwealth of Learning uses distance learning to promote education, working, for example, towards eradicating child, early and forced marriage.
I welcome the support from the Heads of Government for the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. Since the scheme began in 1959, 30,000 people have held awards, the vast majority of them in the United Kingdom. A notable example among their distinguished alumni is Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. While it is inevitably Heads of Government who provide the framework and leadership, it is the non-governmental aspect that can generate networking and enthusiasm. The Commonwealth Charter, to which all Governments are committed, was signed in March 2013. Can the Minister tell us what progress was made in Malta on measures to implement our Commonwealth commitments?
How are we strengthening the commitment to international peace and security? I understand that the Government are contributing financially to a new Commonwealth unit to support efforts to counter extremism and share expertise. How are we contributing to tackling the radicalisation of young people? Are ways being found to help to heal gender issues, to provide respect and protection for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people? Sustained dialogue is surely the best way forward in this area.
On governance and the rule of law, CHOGM announced proposals to tackle corruption and promote co-operation between law agencies in anticipation of the 2016 anti-corruption summit. However, what progress was made in strengthening judicial independence, building legislative capacity and election monitoring? The Commonwealth model of collaborative and mutual support between Governments and other partners surely deserves encouragement and greater investment. Can we be reassured that officials, especially at DfID, are sensitive to the distinctive benefits and unique strengths gained from working with and through the Commonwealth in this way?
We need a proper system of accountability to ensure progress on the implementation of decisions taken by Commonwealth Heads of Government. For example, the agreement on climate change, concluded in Paris, reflects the Commonwealth leaders’ priority for protecting the more vulnerable small island states.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of interaction between the government and the non-government sectors. We need far greater encouragement for the flourishing of the private sector, ranging from the growth of trade, business and investment to the ever increasing value of civil society and the 85 or so professional Commonwealth bodies.
CHOGM launched a new publication on the advantages of intra-Commonwealth trade, an excellent, well-researched piece of work by the secretariat. Trade between Commonwealth areas, which is estimated at more than $680 billion, is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020. Can the Minister say something about the Hub & Spokes II Programme, which is destined to increase trade opportunities? I further welcome the launch of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, which focuses on trade and investment, led by the noble Lord, Lord Marland, who is speaking in this debate.
There are over 80 Commonwealth-associated and affiliated professional bodies, which cover every walk of life: universities, local government, architects, judges, magistrates, the press, musicians, medical people, dentists, and the very valuable Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Study Conference are examples of successful professional bodies. These bodies need encouragement by best-practice stories and seed-corn finance to strengthen their work. I welcome the encouragement by Heads of Government of stronger interaction between the secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation and these professional bodies. I understand that there were successful forums at Malta for women, civil society, youth and business, and that Heads of Government were able to encourage their work. This shows the vast reserves of good will and expertise on which we can draw through the Commonwealth.
HMG now faces a very real opportunity to work strongly and effectively with our friends and partners in the Commonwealth. This will bring benefits to all members, as well as to the United Kingdom. However, that requires leadership from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I should pause and say, in fact, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I know that the Minister of State, Hugo Swire, has given excellent support. All Secretaries of State must be told to think and act Commonwealth. The Secretary of State or senior Ministers must attend Commonwealth meetings on finance law, education and health, for example. They must be involved and get to know their Commonwealth counterparts. The Secretary of State for Education must take a lead in ensuring that all schoolchildren are taught about the Commonwealth.
The new Secretary-General will be her own person and must decide herself whether the Commonwealth Secretariat needs to be restructured to fulfil the requirements of the Malta CHOGM. With limited resources, she will have to decide on priorities. The Secretary-General and Commonwealth Governments must take hard-headed decisions about their priorities, and if the Commonwealth is to make progress, the message to all Governments must be the Churchillian “Action this day”.
We all participate in one form or another in the Commonwealth. It provides exciting opportunities for us all. However, perhaps above all we should be reminded that we have a special role which is best expressed in the words of Nehru, which the Prince of Wales spoke of in Malta, that the Commonwealth can best deal with problems with a “touch of healing”. Is that not just what this vulnerable world so badly needs? I beg to move.
I declare my interests as president of the Royal Commonwealth Society, which has 70 world branches, and as chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies. I am not quite sure how in 180 seconds or fewer your Lordships are going to be able to make their distinctive contributions covering 53 nations, 2.3 billion people and 33 Heads of State. I think that there is something very wrong with a system that places this constraint on us. However, I shall confine myself to three points.
First, the Malta Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was brilliantly organised by Malta and its very vigorous Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, and it went extremely well. It got miserable coverage in the British press but that is another matter. It is excellent news that we will have a new Secretary-General who is a Member of this House. She has great talents and an enormous task ahead, which I am confident she will successfully perform.
The Malta meeting was vastly enhanced by the liveliness of the Commonwealth Business Forum, which preceded the Heads of Government meeting. It was organised with huge efficiency and energy by my noble friend Lord Marland. It should be no surprise that this was such a successful affair. Of course we must get our relationship right with the European Union, but the big economic prizes in the future are going to be outside Europe, very largely in the huge new rising markets of the Commonwealth and their neighbouring countries. That is where we have to succeed, or fail.
It is time for us to understand that the nature and rules of the entire world trading system have changed radically, putting us in the position where the markets and interests of the Commonwealth are of enormous significance and importance to this country. The Commonwealth is not just another international institution to be kept happy; it is in fact a huge engine of soft power, trust and, indeed, security. One recent encouraging sign was that that was recognised to some extent in the recently published strategic defence review and in the national security objectives, so there is a dawning understanding of the huge significance of the Commonwealth in our own future and affairs.
However, to the sleepy officials and commentators who still have not quite grasped that point, I end my 180 seconds by echoing what Cicero said to the Roman people. We have heard about Nehru; I now add Cicero into the game. Cicero asked, “How long will you go on being ignorant of your own strength?”. That is the message I would like to send to the policymakers of Whitehall.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on securing this debate and on putting CHOGM and the Commonwealth on the Floor of this House. I join the many people who have congratulated my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland on her election as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. It is very good news for the Commonwealth. She is a brilliant choice and will strengthen the organisation enormously.
I want to confine my brief remarks to highlighting to the House the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The trust was set up with the blessing of the 2011 CHOGM in Perth, Australia, and under the chairmanship of Sir John Major, to celebrate and mark Her Majesty the Queen’s unrivalled 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth, and indeed her whole life of public service.
I declare an interest because I am privileged to be a trustee of the trust, whose mission is to enrich the lives of people from all backgrounds within the Commonwealth. It does so in ambitious programmes and alliances, working towards eliminating avoidable blindness in people of the Commonwealth and empowering a new generation of young leaders. Sir John reported to the Malta CHOGM on the record so far, and it is a hugely impressive record. The Heads of Government, in their communiqué, recognised the valuable work the trust is doing. It is funded by Governments, corporate partners, trusts, foundations, community groups and indeed individuals across the Commonwealth, and it has made remarkable progress on its objectives.
The fact is that four out of five people who are blind today need not be so. There are simple and affordable means to prevent it and to treat victims, and that is what the trust seeks to address. Because of the trust’s work, already 37,000 people have had surgery to prevent trachoma blindness and 5.5 million have had antibiotic treatment. Diabetes is forecast to increase by 60% across the Commonwealth by 2030—a quite staggering and depressing figure. But with early detection and treatment, it is possible to reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy, a major cause of blindness, by some 90%. The trust has a programme for that, and another addressing blindness in premature babies.
Finally, under its Queen Young Leaders programme, launched by Princes William and Harry, the trust aims to, and already has sought to, discover, celebrate and develop young leaders in every one of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. I assure the House that this is a remarkable and inspiring group of young people.
The trust, with is mission to celebrate the Queen’s truly remarkable reign, has already made its mark. It was a proud point in the Heads of Government list of achievements that was broadcast from Malta.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this debate. He reminded us that he began his distinguished career as the district officer in pre-independence Kenya, where I was simply a humble schoolboy. I think that our joint appreciation of the Commonwealth stems from that experience.
I also very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about us having only 180 seconds. That is a ridiculous way to proceed in this House and I hope that it changes. I feel particularly sorry for my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who has to make her maiden speech in this truncated time, despite all the benefit of her having been a distinguished Minister in the Department for International Development.
By far the most significant outcome of the Malta CHOGM was the election of a new Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. I join others in welcoming her election. I hope she will follow her distinguished Caribbean predecessor, Sir Shridath Ramphal, in being really effective. A couple of years ago, I happened to meet him in the Caribbean and, to my astonishment, he gave me the proof copy of his book, Glimpses of a Global Life, to read and comment on. His tenure as Commonwealth Secretary-General was certainly a very vigorous one, not always to the comfort of Her Majesty’s Government.
“The Commonwealth has appeared less active and less publicly visible in recent years and there is evidence that it is missing opportunities to influence events. The Commonwealth Secretariat must sharpen, strengthen and promote its diplomatic performance”.
The committee is right. Before the Malta CHOGM, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that she hoped they would find a new Secretary-General who would be assertive, proactive and willing to invoke the charter with all its emphasis on human rights, democracy and tolerance. She certainly got her wish. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, having begun by noting that 40 out of 53 of the Commonwealth member countries still criminalise gay people, is going to be very active on the human rights front.
Another important aspect of the Malta CHOGM was that Canada became re-involved in the Commonwealth. That is very important. I last met Mr Justin Trudeau when he was a boy of 10 or 11, when his father introduced me to him. He seems to have developed very well since then. Canada has an important role to play.
We have only 180 seconds, and I want to conclude by quoting from an article written this week by 92 year-old Harry Leslie Smith, who visited the chaos of the jungle refugee camp at Calais:
“The world has changed since I was young. It has not grown harder: just more foolish and selfish. I have seen camps like the Jungle before—at the end of the war. But back then, there was a desire among ordinary citizens and their leaders to alleviate the plight of refugees. Today, it is different. The common will to do good, or at least maintain a decent society for all, has vanished. Our politicians—and we, the ordinary people—are ignoring our moral, political and human responsibility to be our brothers’ keepers”.
In an unstable world, soft power organisations are extremely important to stress the common values of the Commonwealth. It is uniquely placed to bridge, and not increase, divisions in our world.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Luce for securing this debate, and I pay tribute to his unstinting support for the Commonwealth over many years.
My noble friend recalled, as do I—I speak as someone who attended nine CHOGMs—years gone past when the UK Government seemed to be less than focused on the Commonwealth. It was perhaps seen as something of a minor legacy issue to be managed. I hope that this is no longer true. The United Kingdom cannot afford to take this unique organisation for granted—indeed, the reverse.
The essential case for the importance of the Commonwealth has been made and spoken of: 53 countries, some 2 billion people in a digital, globalised world. We only have to look at the outcome of the Malta meeting to realise how relevant this organisation remains to the United Kingdom in 2015, whether at the political, economic or wider civic level.
At the political level it is, above all, an essential networking forum—in Malta addressing the urgent issues of terrorism, migration, climate change and sustainable development. Perhaps less prominent in the headlines, but no less important, is the continuing role of the Commonwealth in promoting human rights, good governance and the rule of law.
At the economic level, I, too, draw attention to the impetus given by the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council to the Commonwealth Business Forum, which met in advance of CHOGM. The council has a unique opportunity to make a vital contribution to Commonwealth trade and investment in the years to come. The potential for intra-Commonwealth trade is huge and UK companies are well placed to benefit from this.
Bit it is at the civic—or people—level that the Commonwealth works best and gives the organisation its unique character. By this I mean the work of the Women’s Forum, the Commonwealth Science Conference, the Commonwealth of Learning, the Commonwealth Games and some 80 accredited Commonwealth organisations that give this extraordinary club its real meaning.
The Commonwealth is, of course, about politics and economics—but for the citizen it is about sport, learning, science, technology and culture. It is about people building relationships, greater understanding and shared values. So I hope that the Minister can assure us that we will never again take the Commonwealth for granted but, rather, build on the success of the Malta CHOGM to advance our political, economic and soft-power objectives.
The omens are particularly good, as has been mentioned. The new Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, is an inspired appointment and I welcome it wholeheartedly. The next CHOGM meeting will be here in the United Kingdom in 2018. We have a huge opportunity to make a real contribution to the Commonwealth over these coming years. The more we put in, the more we will get out. We have everything to play for.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who has kept the Commonwealth flame alive for so long for his kind words towards me and the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, which I chair, and other noble Lords who have referenced us.
I declare my interests. As I have already said, I am chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, I chair the Commonwealth Business Forum and I am president of the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, which has not yet been mentioned.
At the beginning of the Commonwealth Business Forum I asked all the delegates the question: why are we here? It was a good question at the time because to many of us the Commonwealth was in inertia. However, by the end of our three days of conference, there was a clear answer. We had the leadership of the Minister of State, Hugo Swire, who I am delighted to see is attending this debate. We had my noble friend Lord Howell, with his energy for a man of his age, if I may say so, constantly at the forefront of our initiatives. We also had the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, with his health initiative making incredible strides. Put with that the energy of our new chairman, the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, who at 42 has excellent drive, along with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who is now engaged fully in the initiatives. The appointment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has already been referred to, which is great news for us all, while of course the rock of this foundation is Her Majesty the Queen, who has kept the show on the road. There is now an opportunity for renewed optimism and enthusiasm.
In the Business Forum alone, where else could you get 1,200 people from 70 countries, including 25 Ministers, 15 Heads of State, the Lord Mayor of London and the Prince of Wales attending an event on the small island of Malta? That in itself is incredibly powerful for people in the business community. In three minutes I cannot tell noble Lords all about what our organisation is up to on anti-corruption and on developing and helping SMEs, but I am available to Members of the House, and indeed to anyone for that matter, for private meetings to describe what we do.
The key initiative to come out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was the $1 billion
Commonwealth Green Finance Facility. This is the most ambitious thing the Commonwealth has done for a long time. It is being led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Muscat, and is supported by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Malaysia and Canada; in other words, the big Commonwealth countries are supporting the island states in their green and blue economies, which is vital. I had the honour to co-chair the facility with the head of the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, Justin Mundy. It is going to be a real focus for us over the next 18 months, about which I hope to report more to the House in due course.
(Maiden Speech) My Lords, I am so very honoured to be here and to have a continuing platform from which to pursue the political passions of my life. But first I thank noble Lords across the House for the warmest of welcomes. I have been utterly charmed and beguiled by the doorkeepers, Black Rod’s Office and the police, all of whom I thank for their kindness and courtesy, and not infrequent rescue from a wrong turn. I am delighted to make my maiden speech on the recent Commonwealth meeting, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for bringing forward this opportunity to me.
The Heads of Government emphasised the need to protect individuals from all forms of violence and discrimination. Violence and discrimination abound across the world. From the almost two women a week here in the United Kingdom who are killed by their partners or former partners, as you go across the world it just gets worse: acid attacks, female foeticide, breast ironing and rape as a weapon of war. I have raised these issues at the very highest levels in countries where women have no rights and in those where there are laws, but no implementation. However, there is nothing more totemic to illustrate the lack of women’s power in this world than female genital mutilation. I am proud to have introduced and spearheaded the campaign in the coalition Government to address FGM both here and abroad.
What I found as I went across the world is that where they oppress and suppress women, they do even worse to homosexuals, and the Commonwealth has a very, very long way to go on this. That brings me on to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is my happy place in politics. In case not all noble Lords are aware, I am the originator and architect of the same-sex marriage law. I should like to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords on all sides for their contribution to the safe passage of that Bill, with particular thanks to my noble friends on these Benches, to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for his stupendous efforts, and indeed to the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House—and I say to George Clooney that he chose the wrong woman.
I went on to push international LGBT rights as a DfID Minister, and this will be one of my ongoing passions, as will disability in the developing world and, indeed, the contaminated blood scandal. But my main focus will be on my role as energy and climate change spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. The extraordinary feat of agreement in Paris last week, when the world came together to address climate change, was a totemic, hope-giving, heart-stopping moment, but it will be actions rather than words that deliver. From wild child to the heart of the British establishment, I am delighted to be here and delighted to serve.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, and to congratulate her on a powerful, thoughtful and compassionate maiden speech. Her remarkable contribution to this Parliament in the other place and her service in two government departments, the Home Office and the Department for International Development, are highly regarded, and her further contributions on many important issues that are deeply held in your Lordships’ House will be greatly welcomed in the years to come.
I also thank my noble friend Lord Luce for introducing the debate, and in so doing I declare my own interest as chairman of the advisory board of the Commonwealth Health Hub within the Commonwealth Secretariat and as chairman of the Healthcare Business Group of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. I should also declare an interest as chairman of UCL Partners because some of our organisations are involved in the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.
The recent Heads of Government meeting reaffirmed the importance of a focus on healthcare in the Commonwealth. There is great disparity in what is currently achieved. Life expectancy in Lesotho is 48 years while in Australia it is 82 years. A woman is 300 times more likely to die of complications in childbirth in Sierra Leone than she is in Singapore, and in Malta there are 300 times as many doctors per 100,000 population than there are in Tanzania, so there are great opportunities. It is reassuring to see how the Commonwealth is now mobilising itself to address this vitally important issue, one that is of significance to every Commonwealth citizen.
Within the secretariat, the health hub has now created a platform that will provide the opportunity for communication and contact across the largest single grouping of healthcare professions in the world. Those professionals are serving a population of some 2 billion people. But it is thanks to the support of the noble Lord, Lord Marland, and the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council that a further group has been established to bring forward a broader base of partners to address important Commonwealth opportunities. This group of partners, which is drawn from Government, the independent commercial sector and the charities sector, will address four important issues as agreed at the recent Commonwealth Business Forum. These are to develop new methods for financing healthcare projects across the Commonwealth nations, to aggregate those opportunities for development into large enough pools that independent finance can be brought to bear and is attractive to those who are prepared to make long-term commitment, to ensure that appropriate methods of regulation of healthcare systems are achieved across the Commonwealth nations, and to ensure that opportunities for education and training are delivered to a similar standard in order to drive improvements in outcomes and thus improve the long-term prospects of all Commonwealth citizens.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this debate. In introducing it he spelled out the remarkable advantages of the Commonwealth for Britain. The CHOGM in Malta was by any standards a success. Thankfully it has succeeded in re-energising the Commonwealth and instilling a stronger sense of purpose. Equally successful were the meetings of the Business Forum, the People’s Forum, the Youth Forum, and the first ever Women’s Forum—and above all, as we have heard, the Commonwealth has elected its first ever female Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. I send her my warmest congratulations and I wish her well in this very important and challenging role.
I am pleased that the next CHOGM will be held in the UK. It will be an opportunity to build on the success of the 2015 Malta CHOGM, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and it will be our opportunity to provide leadership. This success must be built upon and the momentum for reform kept up. No doubt it will be the intergovernmental Commonwealth which will be the driver for change, but the non-governmental Commonwealth is a crucial partner if the Commonwealth is to become an effective force for good.
The professional, social, cultural and personal connections of peoples are the Commonwealth’s enduring features because they are embedded in people’s hearts, identities, experiences and memories. They are now vastly strengthened by the information revolution and modern communications. Commonwealth Governments and the official Commonwealth machinery must now catch up with the real network of relationships. The Commonwealth Secretariat must become less top-down.
Two changes are needed to do that. In 2013, in a debate in this House, I suggested that the Commonwealth Secretariat should aim to have three regional offices—in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean—with the Secretary-General retaining the leadership and overall responsibility for implementing decisions by Commonwealth Heads of Government and acting in accordance with the Commonwealth charter. These centres would channel impetus and initiative from the regions and would be guided and supported by the secretariat.
These regional offices would not only increase visibility but would help to build strong, purposeful partnerships and links with the non-governmental Commonwealth. At present, the relationship with non-governmental sectors is far from satisfactory. Steps need to be taken to bring more closely together the significant and representative Commonwealth organisations in partnership with the secretariat. The Commonwealth Secretariat would be better supported and more effective if the major non-governmental bodies representing civil society, professions and interests were engaged in a routine, constant dialogue and exchange, and worked together to tackle the challenges facing them in the 21st century. It is about a different way of working to maximise impact, which is why I was very pleased that the Prime Minister mentioned civil society, youth and education bodies when committing £1 million each year for five years to counter extremism. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to encourage the secretariat to involve the non-governmental sector more meaningfully and urge reforms to make the secretariat less top-down and more inclusive?
Finally, does the Minister agree that it is in Britain’s national interest to be fully engaged with both the Commonwealth and the European Union, and that it is not a binary choice as suggested by some? It was significant that when talking about migration, which is now a global problem, Heads of Government noted the outcomes of the Valletta summit on migration.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble and very old friend Lord Luce for launching this debate, and I join in the congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on becoming Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. I was particularly heartened to see that she has already said that an important commitment is to promote the decriminalisation of homosexuality and same-sex relationships in the Commonwealth.
Forty-two of the 54 member states have laws against same-sex relationships. When one considers that, it is very hard to understand the words in the communiqué of the Heads of Government that emphasise the need to protect individuals from all forms of violence and discrimination. There really is a disconnect on that point. It is an important point because if we are to sustain support for the Commonwealth and encourage it, that support will be eroded if there is this big distinction between the way in which we look at things in this country and in other countries, and what happens in those countries which have these criminal offences.
According to the Human Dignity Trust and Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth accounts for more than 60% of HIV cases worldwide, although for only 30% of the world population. So it is not only a moral issue; it is also a public health issue. Again, I see a profound disconnect between the words in the communiqué and the reality. I note that in the communiqué, there is a public health paragraph that particularly mentions malaria and polio but has no mention of HIV.
I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will turn her attention to the way in which the Heads of Government meetings are organised and the frequency with which they take place. They are supposed to be Heads of Government meetings. Yet at the Malta meeting, there were only 31 Heads of Government. In particular, the Prime Minister of India, who found time to go to Paris, was unable to go to Valletta. In Colombo, there were 27; in Port of Spain, there were 34; and in Perth, there were 35. That is not a very good turnout and if you compare it with a European summit, a G20, an ASEAN or almost any other international gathering, it is a very poor turnout indeed. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will turn her attention to whether this could be improved, whether the sequence should be altered or whatever other changes are required.
I said that the Indian Prime Minister was not there, which was particularly important. Trade in the Commonwealth is increasing, which is very encouraging. But if trade in the Commonwealth is to increase further, India will be crucial. India will be the powerhouse. Therefore, the engagement of India in the Commonwealth is of the greatest importance. That, too, I hope the noble and learned Baroness will turn her attention to.
My Lords, like others I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for having introduced this debate today. I am very glad that in doing so he emphasised the role of the Queen. It would be impossible to overestimate the role she has consistently played in holding the Commonwealth together, which comes from her personal dedication to the objectives of the Commonwealth and her vision in seeing its potential relevance. Her contribution to Britain’s relationships with the world as a whole should also never be underestimated. I might just add that I saw this in action when I had the privilege of being the Minister accompanying the Queen on a visit to the Gulf right back in 1979. I have admired her ever since.
It is important to remember—I think that our debate has emphasised this—that it is not the British Commonwealth and has not been for a long time. It is the Commonwealth, of which we are privileged to be a member. We will be judged by the positive contribution we make to that and not by relying on history and status.
I hope that my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, whom I warmly congratulate on having got this post—I also congratulate the Commonwealth on having the good sense to appoint her—will see, among other things, the potential that Britain brings in its membership of the Commonwealth to strengthen relations between the European Union and the Commonwealth. That should be a very high objective.
Above all, the Commonwealth will be judged by its effectiveness. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, was right to say that she should look for examples in this context. I am quite certain all of us would agree that Sonny Ramphal was second to none in his vision, determination and drive. His would be a very good example to follow.
In saying that the Commonwealth must be effective, I hope that it will establish clear priorities on the importance of its work with youth and education in our totally interdependent world. I also hope that it will emphasise its work on human rights and I endorse every word of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. It is a cruel contradiction that we have this rhetoric about freedom and democracy, to which I hope most of us and most members of the Commonwealth are completely committed, and the reality of what is happening in the field. It must be effectively addressed.
My Lords, this is always a happy occasion. There is nothing quite like the Commonwealth to bring that essentially British sense of satisfaction that we are bringing good into the world. I have been reading letters home from
Sir Edwin Lutyens 100 years ago. He was the very British architect of New Delhi, who at first could not be doing with the extravagance and romance of Moghul styles. He had to compromise. That is what Britannia must continue to do: accept a diminished role in world affairs while sharing her experience and high standards with 52 other nations. It is a remarkable achievement, although still a work in progress.
Undoubtedly, CHOGM at Malta has made progress in many areas, such as education, human rights, gender balance—as demonstrated by our Secretary-General—small states, climate change and the new forestry initiative. Yet, rifts within countries remain. Cyprus is one example. We should expect the Commonwealth to be more of a place of reconciliation. I would like it to look outward again, to countries such as Burma, South Sudan and Nepal. Unfortunately, South Sudan has had more than its fair share of violence and conflict. I have advocated its membership, but until it restores unity, there can be no question of that.
Nepal, on the other hand, remains an obvious candidate because of the many associations with Britain over the last 200 years, including the Gurkhas and tourism—although sadly, in my view, no longer the monarchy. In the last few months Nepal seems to have emerged from the political turmoil that followed the civil war. There is now a new constitution after many years of discussion, a new Parliament, and a new Prime Minister, president and speaker, the last two being women. The time seems ripe for a new attempt to bring Nepal into the Commonwealth, not least to help resolve the fuel blockade on the Terai border with India, which has so damaged the economy. I wonder whether noble Lords recognise the extent of the current humanitarian crisis in Nepal, originating from the two earthquakes this summer and now considerably worsened by the blockade. Our strong links with India surely require us to make much more effort to bring the main parties together, as well as the Nepalese people directly affected.
Finally, there is our own monarchy. The Queen’s close involvement will of course give the Commonwealth added value, which we all hope and assume will continue. I have one request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is unfortunate that the villa in Valletta that is the Queen and Prince Philip’s former home is at the mercy of developers, when it could become an important heritage site for Malta. Perhaps the FCO, in the name and spirit of the Commonwealth, could make a further effort to put this right—I boldly suggest even making it a gift to Her Majesty after so many years of service.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on initiating the debate. I will use my limited time to focus on the need to build our overseas trade relationships.
There is great demand across the world for the establishment of regional trade agreements to help individual economies without putting sovereignty at risk. The Commonwealth is essentially a ready-made trading network. It comprises a healthy mix of large and small, developed and developing, landlocked and island economies. It also contains some of the most promising emerging markets, such as India, Malaysia and South Africa. In 2013, Commonwealth members’ combined exports of goods and services were valued at $3.4 trillion—about 15% of the world’s total exports. Around half of this comes from developing countries. Given the growing significance of developing countries in the world economy, this presents vast trading opportunities for the Commonwealth.
I recently held in your Lordships’ House a debate on bilateral trade with Africa. One-third of African countries are Commonwealth members, including Mozambique and Rwanda, which are both members of the 7% club in Africa. I believe that the Commonwealth as a whole should be looking to capitalise on the many opportunities provided by the African continent. Trade within the Commonwealth must also be considered. Intra-Commonwealth trade now stands at $600 billion and is projected to pass $1 trillion by 2020. It is estimated that when both bilateral partners are Commonwealth members, they tend to trade 20% more and generate 10% more foreign direct investment inflows. It is thought that our historical ties, shared values, familiar administrative and legal systems, the use largely of one language and a strong diaspora community all contribute to these benefits.
With all this in mind, I welcome the new trade financing fund that will boost trade capacity for smaller and developing Commonwealth countries. This will in turn benefit us all. I would like to see greater exposure for the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and proper recognition of the important role it can and should play.
There are of course challenges, one of which is climate change. Many Commonwealth countries have high export concentrations in a range of climate-sensitive sectors, including agriculture, resource extraction and fisheries. Some countries also need assistance with unlocking the full potential of their private sector. This includes issues such as infrastructure, access to finance and developing trade strategies. Commonwealth countries must work together to find solutions to these challenges.
My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for initiating this important debate. I suppose I should declare two interests. One is that for six years I chaired the Council of Commonwealth Societies, in which role I was succeeded by the ever-young noble Lord, Lord Howell. I also chair the Commonwealth publisher, Nexus.
In attracting the attention it deserves, paradoxically, the Commonwealth—and, indeed, CHOGM—is challenged by some of its greatest strengths: its global reach of 53 countries; its diversity; and its highly developed economies, right the way through to, for example, India. But it also has less-developed, hard-pressed economies—in many cases in small island states—that are vulnerable to the impact of climate change. There is then the extraordinary fact, referred to several times in the debate, that 60% of the 2.2 billion inhabitants of the Commonwealth are aged under 30.
Diversity makes the Commonwealth somewhat hard to describe and its interests hard to define. It is not easy copy for the media. Television finds it simpler to cope with Davos in January than it does with CHOGM in December. In the United Kingdom the Commonwealth is generally regarded as a good thing, but what is its clout? Uniquely, the Queen has given it its face and identity. Her commitment to the Commonwealth is one of the greatest achievements of her reign, but maybe her contribution peaked at Marlborough House when she signed the charter. It is interesting that on the very first page of the charter, the Commonwealth is described as,
“a compelling force for good”.
Who can really explain why? The answers are of course there—a shared language, shared values and many shared legal systems—but “compelling”?
I will briefly focus on two facets that can prove to be truly compelling in the years ahead. The first is the Commonwealth’s support and advocacy for what the Prime Minister has described as,
“judicial independence, legislative capacity building and election monitoring”—[ Official Report , Commons, 30/11/15; col. 3WS.]
In all these, the secretariat—now to be headed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who is a wonderful appointment—acts with discretion and a great deal of effectiveness. It is becoming more and more important. We are all depressed by the advance of extremism and the violence attached to it—of course we are. But the fact is that the thrust of history is not with that violence, nor that extremism. South Africa’s transition from apartheid, in which the Commonwealth played a vital role, illustrates that. Although Myanmar is not currently in the Commonwealth, the elections held there point in the same direction. What is greatly important is the monitoring of elections and the effectiveness of transitional jurisprudence. The Commonwealth can indeed play a compelling role in that.
Secondly, and finally, there is the Commonwealth’s unique network of small island developing states, to which I have referred. Given their importance in the Paris agreement on climate change, CHOGM was a kind of curtain-raiser for Paris. It was no accident that the President of France attended CHOGM. The potential of the Commonwealth is indeed compelling. It constitutes one of the greatest assets for good in our dangerous world.
My Lords, the excellent Library Note on the Heads of Government Meeting made no mention of India and Pakistan. I seek to make only one point about them—namely, the need for détente. These Commonwealth members have the two largest populations and are immediate neighbours. They have fought several wars and for too long have coexisted in a kind of cold war. Attempts at “cricket diplomacy” have not brought a real thaw. They share a long frontier, but I understand that there is only one land crossing point for travellers.
The need for détente and for the maximum person-to-person and group-to-group contact is surely obvious. I am glad to say that the young parliamentarians in both countries have led the way. Links between schools, universities and civil society at all levels should be made. Dialogue and exchanges of all kinds would create the right climate for intergovernmental negotiations and agreement. Their Governments can hardly fail to know that huge increases in trade, services and investment in both directions could be had; it just needs a modicum of good will and a strong desire to find the common good of both countries.
As has been mentioned, we all welcome the recent appointment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, as Commonwealth Secretary-General. I urge her to put inter-Commonwealth détente at the top of her agenda.
My Lords, living in Manchester during the 2002 Commonwealth Games was my first real exposure to the Commonwealth brand. I think that I was a product of the lack of focus in our education system to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred, but it was odd as I have lived in both Trinidad and Ghana. So it has been the work of your Lordships’ House, through the focus of my noble friend Lord Howell, that has illustrated for me the importance of, and the future for, the Commonwealth.
With only three intergovernmental structures—the secretariat, the Commonwealth of Learning and the Commonwealth Foundation—there is, unlike with the EU and the UN, not a huge bureaucracy. The Commonwealth could be a nimble network of equals that gets things done; and in Malta it certainly got things done. The vision and commitment of the Prime Minister and President of Malta were inspiring. There was no better advertisement for the first ever Commonwealth Women’s Forum than the chair of the Malta CHOGM task force holding the whole thing together—the inspirational Ms Phyllis Muscat, who is no relation to the Maltese Prime Minister. The steely focus of my noble friend Lord Marland, who ran the Commonwealth Business Forum like a troop commander, also saw the revitalisation of the Commonwealth’s business focus. However, business needs stable government, the rule of law and respect for human rights. One has to accept the gulf between the values of the Commonwealth charter and the reality of the lives of many. However, the huge change in Sri Lanka since it hosted CHOGM is remarkable. The UK made the difficult but, with hindsight, correct choice to attend that CHOGM. The voters of Sri Lanka, some of whom have told me that they were publicly shamed by the focus that CHOGM gave to their country, have, I hope, changed the course of that nation for good.
I declare my interest as the project director of the Commonwealth Initiative for the Freedom of Religion or Belief at the University of Birmingham. It was vital to see that human right stated in the communiqué as the cornerstone of democratic society. The key Commonwealth priority of countering extremism is noted by Her Majesty’s Government as being connected to this human right. While many in the Commonwealth will look to us to see how, in countering extremism, we uphold the values to which the Magna Carta gave birth, especially freedom of expression, the Commonwealth is a network of equals. There is no magic bullet for countering extremism, as more than 10 years of the
Prevent programme have shown. The Commonwealth is a network where we can humbly think and analyse together the best policy solutions to this pressing global issue, especially for young people.
Many Commonwealth roles are already held by bodies in the UK such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which now chairs the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, and the new, most impressive Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretary-General, a British Guyanan FCO director, Akbar Khan, and, of course, the new Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who will not only inject energy and clear leadership but will pour herself out tirelessly, I am sure, to enhance the Commonwealth for its citizens. For the next two years, Malta chairs the Commonwealth and then the baton will pass to the UK. I join the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in asking my noble friend the Minister to outline how it is proposed to promote the Commonwealth among British young people, so that in 2018 they have more awareness of the Commonwealth than I did in 2002 in Manchester.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on this initiative and on becoming the Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar. We rejoice with him at the appointment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. She will be a consummate diplomat, as Chief Emeka Anyaoku was, for example, in relation to South Africa.
The Secretary-General has been mandated to review the governance of the Commonwealth Secretariat—yet again—but nothing was said about the resources of the secretariat. The secretariat is a poor relation, with very limited resources, whatever is concluded about governance. The last figures I have suggest that three countries—the UK, Canada and Australia—pay two-thirds of the budget. India contributes only 4% and Nigeria only 1.4%. This surely represents a lack of commitment. Again on the subject of commitment, at the Colombo CHOGM only 26 Heads of Government attended. How many actually attended the Malta CHOGM?
I pose two questions to the Minister. Over the past 10 years there have been serious discussions about welcoming new members. Rwanda came in in 2009, but the Islamic Republic of Gambia is out. Some other countries have been mentioned. What, for example, is now happening about South Sudan, which has been on the table since 2011? I do not believe that Ireland has yet been mentioned. There are, of course, major burdens of history to overcome. The time may not yet be right, despite the highly successful visit there of Her Majesty the Queen. May I suggest to Her Majesty’s Government that we should consult Ireland about possible attendance at the London CHOGM in 2018, in whatever capacity it finds acceptable? Clearly, President Hollande did not worry about his national sovereignty in attending the Malta CHOGM.
Secondly, paragraph 52 of the communiqué drew attention to special guests such as the United Nations Secretary-General, which illustrates the status they accord to the Commonwealth, and there were many representatives of international and other organisations. President Hollande was present. That was relevant, of course, in relation to preparation for COP 21, and as a representative of La Francophonie. It is important that the two organisations, though very different, work together.
As a senior member of the European Union—of course, Malta and Cyprus are members of both organisations—we must clearly show that it is absurd to talk of a choice between the European Union and the Commonwealth. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will fully consult the Commonwealth in general, and the overseas territories in particular, as we approach the referendum debate? The Minister will well know, for example, the very deep concern in the Falklands and Gibraltar at the possibility of exit. Both would lose a very powerful advocate in Brussels in the shape of the UK.
My Lords, everybody has expressed delight at the election of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, to the post of Secretary-General. I am sorry but I have to do the same. I like to think that it is good to have friends in high places. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will be very successful.
I think that I have spoken in every Commonwealth debate that the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has initiated. It is wonderful that he keeps on bringing these debates to your Lordships’ House, thus giving us the opportunity to think about the Commonwealth more seriously than we normally do. Once again, I thank him for that.
We were so delighted that CHOGM had a women’s meeting—we should be delighted, because it was the first time. It has even been said that there should be a women’s meeting every time CHOGM takes places. Can you think, though, of a men’s meeting where women do not attend? We have a women’s meeting where the men do not attend. Who holds the power? Who holds the decision-making? It is the men, but they do not attend the women’s meeting—they do not listen to what women have to say about the issues that concern them. This bothers me greatly.
I believe it is the first time that there has been more general agreement between all the attendees that they will do something about climate change. It is really amazing that there was an agreement. When, however, do we think they will have an agreement about working on violence against women or about population and access to family planning? The Commonwealth does not have to fall in with Saudi Arabia, which is not part of the Commonwealth. Nor does the Commonwealth have to fall in only with Catholics. There are Catholics within it and they do not have to practise family planning, but it should be available to everyone else. I wonder whether it will ever happen.
On a previous occasion, I said that, without rule of law, nothing can change in a country. We have to think about that. Corruption is endemic, we all know that. It will not go away just by our waving a little piece of paper saying, “We will tackle corruption”. I am from India and, although I have lived here more years than I lived in India, I know India well because I go there every year. Corruption is endemic and I do not know what the present prime minister is doing. So far, there is no sign of anything except that people come to work on time. That is the only thing that anybody has noticed.
We have laws on the treatment of women. Somebody mentioned about making them work—they do not work, nobody bothers about the laws. Women suffer all the way through. Unless we deal with the needs of half of the population of developing countries, we cannot be called civilised.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for initiating this important debate. I also congratulate the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on being appointed to that very important position. I am a great believer in the Commonwealth, which is a unique, multicultural, multi-institutional organisation spanning six continents of the world, bringing together nearly one-third of the world’s population and promoting multi-identity.
I welcome the Government’s pledge of £5 million for a new Commonwealth counterextremism unit. I anticipate that other countries will follow the lead of the UK and Australia. Since last year, I and some of my colleagues have been talking to the Commonwealth Secretariat about establishing such a unit. The biggest threat to the world today is terrorism, and its legacy in the Commonwealth is far too visible, from the Troubles in Northern Ireland to the Kashmir dispute. Just yesterday, Boko Haram left another 30 dead and 20 wounded in terrifying attacks on three villages in Nigeria, adding to the 6,644 lives that it has already claimed, according to the Global Terrorism Index.
Speaking from my own personal experience, the best way to counter terrorism and civil unrest is through a twin-track approach, with dialogue and education and with the use of force against those who are not interested in talking. Some 60% of the Commonwealth population are under the age of 30, and the majority of them live in developing countries. The role of education in promoting peace, democracy and respect for each other is essential in shaping these young minds—they are the future of our world. At an educational complex that my trust funded in Punjab, we have 130 students from the Kashmir Valley, who grew up in that troubled space. Through education and by mixing with other children, it is amazing how the mindset changes.
I am also in the process of establishing a new Institute for Conflict Studies and Resolution Strategies in Punjab and in Northern Ireland. The intention is to put into practice the recommendations of the 2007 Commonwealth report Civil Paths to Peace, which were reaffirmed in Malta this year. I attended the CHOGM and my colleagues and I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the importance of setting up a unit, such as the one I mentioned, on resolving conflict, studying and opening the debate while these things are happening.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to Ireland. I have been talking to people over the past few years and encouraging dialogue on Ireland rejoining the Commonwealth. I am glad that, in April this year, the Royal Commonwealth Society set up in Dublin for the first time and had support from senior members of the Dublin City Council.
My Lords, I, too, would like to thank to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and I refer to the stated aims of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s commitment to,
“support member countries to prevent or resolve conflicts, strengthen democratic practices and the rule of law, and achieve greater respect for human rights”.
I was reminded in August as we passed the 182nd anniversary of the introduction of the Slavery Abolition Act that, just yards from this Chamber, in Victoria Tower Gardens on Millbank, sits the Buxton memorial fountain. This monument, built in 1866 and originally housed in Parliament Square, was created in commemoration of the abolition throughout the British Empire of the transatlantic slave trade and in recognition of the efforts of a significant group of parliamentarians and other prominent citizens who dedicated their lives to the cause. This subtle neo-Gothic construction is, sadly, among only a handful of monuments that recognise the pain, torture and suffering of an estimated 30 million black men, women and children whose forebears were kidnapped in chains from their homes on the coast of western Africa. They were destined for lives of servitude, brutality and enslavement or were often thrown overboard en masse en route to the slave markets in Europe and the Americas in order to achieve greater profitability from insurance claims.
The African slave trade was introduced to Britain by Drake and Hawkins in 1567 and was to continue for the next 300 years. This trade in human misery was to bring, shamefully, untold wealth and prosperity to our lands. The Royal African Company is noteworthy: its principal business was in African slavery and many of its shareholders sat in this House and the other place.
Is it not a tragedy that, to this day, we have not made any attempt to properly recognise the real victims of the slave trade? Is it not a stain on our history and the history of the Commonwealth that, to date, not a single penny of compensation has been paid to restore some of the injustices committed to the real victims of what must be defined as one of the greatest crimes against humanity and what many refer to as the “Holocaust of Empire”? I should like to place on record there has been an abject failure of creating any monument to recognise the role played by those who were themselves enslaved in undermining and challenging the brutal system that cruelly punished them for several hundred years.
The other point I wish to draw to the House’s attention is the imperative of the Commonwealth’s role in peacebuilding and, in this context, I draw attention to the war of independence between Pakistan and Bangladesh. It ended 44 years ago yesterday, but protracted tensions remain. Since 2010, I have spoken in this House of the more than 300,000 women raped as a weapon of war by the Pakistani army. Nothing can compensate for the violent deaths of loved ones, torture, slavery and rape, but reparation and uncompromising apologies might begin the process of acknowledgment of the wrong done, and even assist in the healing process for the nation and its people.
We have a strong first woman in our new Secretary-General, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, who will take charge of the Commonwealth. I wholeheartedly salute her. She has campaigned robustly on justice and peace, and I hope very much that she will make time to integrate reparation and apology in her priorities for the greater peace among Commonwealth members.
The communiqué issued at the end of the Malta meeting included a ringing reaffirmation of the Commonwealth’s commitment to human rights, declaring them to be,
“equal, indivisible, interdependent … and universal”.
However, we were entitled to expect those fine sentiments to be accompanied by an explicit indication of the need for determined action in an area to which I am glad that Members of this House and the other place now regularly return, as has happened in this debate—I refer to the criminalisation of homosexuality in the overwhelming majority of Commonwealth countries. Gay people in both Houses of our Parliament have a responsibility to encourage change among our Commonwealth friends and partners.
Gay people in this country have witnessed a transformation in their position in our society, securing an acceptance, understanding and legal status that they have never had before in our history. It is natural for us to want to extend the benefits of change that we have gained over the last 50 years to gay people in Commonwealth countries, united to us by ties of kinship, affection and history.
This is not a question of seeking to impose British liberal values on other countries where earlier intolerant, illiberal British values were planted in days of Empire. The values that we promote are universal and international, embodied in the UN charter and, more recently, in the Commonwealth’s own charter. It was good that, in Malta, the issues that concern LGBT people so deeply were discussed in the Commonwealth People’s Forum; it would be better still to have them drawn into the main sessions of the conference itself.
It is now four years since the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group unanimously recommended that,
“Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws”, against homosexuals. This matters not just as a fundamental human rights question, but as a precondition for relieving so many Commonwealth friends from the pain and suffering of AIDS, to which my noble friend Lord Tugendhat made reference. The EPG was quite explicit on that point, saying that,
I repeat the statistic that my noble friend gave us: countries of the Commonwealth comprise 60% of people living with HIV globally, while representing 30% of the world’s population. It is a statistic to keep always in the forefront of the mind. CHOGM adopted the important EPG report in 2012. What has become of it?
We all know that change is unlikely to come quickly everywhere throughout the Commonwealth, but gay people hope and pray for the creation of sustained, serious momentum for change.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for his debate, which reminds us of the importance and power of the Commonwealth as a forum for economic, social and political dialogue of nations around the world. Today it was particularly inspiring to listen to my new noble friend Lady Featherstone, speaking in her characteristically determined way about her commitment to pursue equalities throughout the Commonwealth; we have all seen it over the last five years, often in times and places where it was difficult and dangerous to do so. Similarly, we have seen her commitment to the rights of disabled people around the world. I am delighted that she will henceforth take part in our debates; she will be a great addition to this House.
Like many others, I congratulate the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. She has an outstanding record of commitment to human rights, and a unique ability to talk to a diverse range of people at different levels of society. She is an outstanding choice for her job. I am pleased that, since she became Secretary-General Designate, she has talked of the need to begin a respectful and constructive dialogue around LGBT rights, because I wish to follow many others in this debate on that subject. I do not want to repeat what they said, but 40 of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalise consensual gay relations. In some countries, the situation is getting worse. Using the blueprint of Section 28, Nigeria introduced a draconian law in 2014 that does not just criminalise gay people but carries the threat of prison for 14 years. Brunei is phasing in a new penal code that will apply the death penalty—stoning to death—for consensual gay sex.
It is in that context that I ask the noble Baroness how much progress was made in Malta on the long and difficult journey towards building consensus around gay rights in the Commonwealth. In particular, what work was done to take those people from the Commonwealth who are interested in pursuing economic progress and link the two? We now have a growing body of evidence that, when individual workers are frightened for their lives and of being arrested and do not have access to appropriate healthcare, their ability to be productive in competitive businesses is demonstrably impaired. It is not just that we have to share with the countries of the Commonwealth the need to give people appropriate political rights; we have to present to them the economic evidence from which we have already learned. That way, the millions of people throughout the Commonwealth—those who are gay and those who are not—will benefit greatly from our experience.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this timely debate. Of course I add my congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on being appointed as the next Commonwealth Secretary-General.
Many compelling and positive facts about the Commonwealth have been eloquently stated today but, in addition to the facts, the Commonwealth is a family, as was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Luce. My father came to Britain in the late 1940s after serving as a sergeant in the British Eighth Army in the Second World War. As a Jamaican, he was a member of the Commonwealth and, in coming to England, he did not see himself as travelling to foreign parts; he was coming home to the motherland. Sadly, although he was a qualified accountant, the only job he could get was as a toilet cleaner at a factory in Birmingham. His fortunes changed when Warwickshire County Cricket Club discovered that he could play cricket. The headline in the local Sports Argus was “Warwickshire sign Jamaican immigrant”. But the following year, in 1949, when he scored 121 runs against Leicestershire, the headline then read “Warwickshire saved by local Brummie Taylor”.
My father’s story, and that of many immigrants to Britain from the rest of the Commonwealth, builds on that concept of family, but what kept him going was a belief—his Christian faith. Although the Commonwealth heads meeting was essentially a political and diplomatic event, it recognised that the various faith groups in the Commonwealth had a role to play in its future. In Britain, as in other Commonwealth countries, there are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other faith communities that are networks of leadership and expertise. There needs to be more of a partnership between Commonwealth Governments—including this one—and these groups in tackling such issues as terrorism, migration, human rights, poverty and equality.
In Britain alone, there are nearly 5,000 black majority churches. The black Pentecostal churches have more than 300,000 members. Black churches such as Glory House, KICC and the Redeemed Church of God attract thousands of people to each service. The congregations there are mainly from Africa and the Caribbean, and many of those people are successful professionals. They are part of the wider Commonwealth diaspora that is keen to help with the ongoing problems highlighted by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In recognising the faith groups, we must not let the fruits of the spirit go sour.
My Lords, I join in thanking my noble friend Lord Luce for taking this opportunity yet again to discuss the value of the Commonwealth and the outcome of the recent CHOGM. That meeting had many successes and certainly raised many challenges. One of the great successes was the establishment of the Commonwealth climate finance access hub, which was timely ahead of the COP 21 meeting in Paris. The CHOGM was also timely because it was ahead of this week’s WTO meeting in Nairobi, where the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations conference on trade met to address trade and development issues.
In my limited time I want to touch on two issues: good governance and trade. Some 60% of the members of the Commonwealth are made up of young people, and the biggest challenge many of those people will face is spiralling unemployment in their countries of origin and the desperate need for foreign direct investment. To quote from one of the many press releases:
“The global community is now tasked with translating the aspirations”, of the SDGs,
“into practical action, including within the realm of … policymaking”.
On the issue of good governance, I have become increasingly alarmed by current developments in South Africa, which has for many years been a key member of the Commonwealth. We all had great expectations for the rainbow nation under the admirable leadership of Nelson Mandela but, sadly, Jacob Zuma has been the most disastrous and destructive President. His move last week to remove the Finance Minister, who rightly vetoed yet another of his extravagances, is typical of his autocratic and irresponsible leadership. This has not just led to a dramatic collapse in the South African rand; over the last five years, we have seen a huge drop in inward investment into that country, which relies on foreign direct investment to promote sustainable development. President Zuma’s poor governance has given the country an uncertain future. Equally, Robert Mugabe, who is now well into his 90s, has been clinging to power in Zimbabwe for far too long. The prize of new leadership in Zimbabwe and South Africa is enormous. When this happens, I hope that Zimbabwe will rejoin the Commonwealth.
Finally, I hope that progress can be achieved on removing trade barriers in Africa to create a truly African continental free-trade area. This would be a catalyst to boost trade substantially between African countries, of which 17 are members of the Commonwealth. The value and future of Commonwealth trade is well documented in the secretariat’s trade report. I have always been a great and firm supporter of the value of the Commonwealth in jointly tackling all the challenges as one big family. In this respect I am glad that in her inspired new appointment, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, can now drive these initiatives forward.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for bringing to the House this debate on the report of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta in November, at which the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, was elected as the next—and the first woman—Secretary-General. Her renowned experience, enthusiasm and wisdom will make her a worthy champion, as she reaches out to achieve her stated goals of democracy and development.
As the very first speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, had the most time—I have the least—and he gave us a tour de force. I felt a sense of excitement as he spoke—a need to be involved. I felt ashamed of how little I have actually done since I joined this organisation. On looking back, I realise I have never attended anything, so I feel now that I really must contribute more. I look forward with enthusiasm to the Minister’s response to some of the noble Lord’s questions, which I could never have explained away, but I am delighted to be here.
I mainly wish to speak about the Commonwealth scholarships, which demonstrate the importance of the Commonwealth to individuals, especially the relatively young. Tens of thousands apply for these awards each year and 25,000 have benefited from those the UK offers. In many cases, the awards have transformed their lives and the societies in which they live. Many award-holders develop lifelong links with the United Kingdom—a talented and influential example of soft power, which is a credit to our country.
The Commonwealth scholarships scheme has enjoyed support from Governments of all parties over the years. It is critical that this continue and that there is scope to be more ambitious. The newly announced DfID priorities rightly focus on the very poorest and most fragile states. The majority of Commonwealth scholarships are already made to such countries, so the scheme is ideally placed to develop new initiatives. Combining a development scheme with support for the Commonwealth offers a win-win situation. A friend of mine, who got me interested and who was a Commonwealth Scholarship Commissioner, recently attended the welcome day for the new intake of more than 400 scholars and fellows who are based across the United Kingdom. He told me that the enthusiasm and commitment which they exuded made it one of the most exhilarating occasions he had attended for a very long time.
Finally, as a serving member of your Lordships’ European Union Select Committee and as a businesswoman, I was taken, as we approach our in-out referendum, by an article in the Daily Telegraph of
“Increased trade with Commonwealth countries is perfectly possible for Britain”.
It does not have to mean one or the other, or that Britain will have to leave Europe if it is to continue to support our Commonwealth. He continued:
“The emerging economies of the Commonwealth suddenly look ... exciting”, so absolutely everybody will want to talk to them and take part with them. He went on:
“The transformed international scene is now filling up with a quilt of new networks and alliances. The Commonwealth and Europe are two of these. Britain should be leading in both”.
As he said,
“Britain’s best service to the Commonwealth is to stay and shape a European Union which needs Britain more than ever”.
Now, there is something new to think about.
My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on securing this debate at such an appropriate time for this House. In his contribution, he recognised the commitment of the Maltese Government at their CHOGM. He made an interesting point about whether the United Kingdom would do the same at our London CHOGM in a couple of years’ time. He brought a very wide range of issues before us and reminded us that it is of course the young who lead the way.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, set out the scale of the Commonwealth, in spite of the lack of time for Members in this debate and the lack of interest in the British press in covering the Commonwealth. He said that there are big prizes in growing markets for the Commonwealth. He ended with a very apposite question: “How long will we be ignorant of our own strength?”. What a wonderful comment to think about.
The noble Lord, Lord Robertson, talked about the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust and commented on the commitment of Her Majesty the Queen in her 60 years’ service to the Commonwealth.
My noble friend Lord Steel reflected on his boyhood in Kenya. I was going to say that he was in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, but “patronage” would probably be the right way of putting it. He made the point that there are great things to come from the newly elected Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. She has noted that 40 out of 53 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexuality and has therefore set herself a target for change, which is admirable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, made such a wonderful maiden speech in only three minutes, which is quite remarkable. She set out the passions in her life: the protection of individuals from violence and discrimination; the protection of women; the abolition of FGM; her commitment to LGBT rights; and fighting climate change. My noble friend Lord Sandwich gave us the wonderful example of Lutyens and his view of architecture in Delhi—which of course most of us will have seen—setting standards that can be adopted and adapted for a wide range of issues across the Commonwealth.
That of course reminds us of potential Commonwealth members, as did the noble Lord, Lord Rana. It just so happens that I have some strong connections with the Republic of Ireland and I often work with Irish MPs on capacity-building projects in southern Africa. It is slightly difficult when I invite them for a meeting in this place, because to get here they have to come through security at Cromwell Green, which is not particularly attractive for them.
As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, pointed out, the Commonwealth stands out among organisations for the particularly broad range of professional and civil society bodies that enable citizens in member states to work together and provide mutual support. This is acknowledged in the opening words of the Commonwealth charter:
“We the people of the Commonwealth”.
The charter also recognises,
“the important role that civil society plays in our communities and countries as partners in promoting and supporting Commonwealth values and principles”.
My noble friend Lord Watson expanded on this and emphasised it in his speech. As the chair of the advisory council of the Commonwealth Policy Studies Unit, I had the opportunity to attend the 2011 CHOGM in Perth, Australia, where the Commonwealth charter was presented.
At the Malta CHOGM, Her Majesty’s Government chaired the round table on LGBT issues, and I would be grateful if the Minister could advise us of the outcomes of that round table, as this has become such a pertinent topic in our debate today. In their 2015 CHOGM communiqué, Heads of Government paid tribute to the many Commonwealth organisations and individual citizens who had gathered in Malta. They contributed in a diverse way to advancing the Commonwealth’s values, principles, goals and priorities.
A very significant Canadian contribution is the Commonwealth of Learning, or the COL, an outcome of the 1987 Vancouver CHOGM. The COL has been generously supported by Canada and other member states, and is still based in Vancouver. Under the leadership of Professor Asha Kanwar of India, it continues to deliver an important expression of intergovernmental co-operation on education, which has always been a primary area of Commonwealth focus.
In Malta, Heads of Government welcomed the work of the COL and its “learning for development” approach in enhancing access to quality education and training, leading to employment and entrepreneurship. They envisage that under its new strategic plan, and through the use of ICT, it will add value to national efforts to accelerate progress towards achieving the sustainable development goals. Heads of Government expressed particular appreciation for the Virtual University for Small States of the Commonwealth—another COL initiative—and in particular its use of innovative technologies for human resource development in small states and the special initiative to prevent child marriage.
While in Malta for the CHOGM, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia announced that his country would double its financial contribution to the COL. This is a great boost in support and will help the COL to improve the lives of thousands of vulnerable girls and women. As Professor Kanwar pointed out when acknowledging the values of this fresh financial commitment, investing in girls and women yields high returns.
The work of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Luce, also mentioned, and of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, and the contributions of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, are impressive in their impact and influence, offering beacons of hope and real opportunity for many of the most promising young people. Scholarships, fellowships and other forms of educational exchange are critical to building and sustaining pan-Commonwealth co-operation and are an important way of showing the commitment of the United Kingdom to international development and understanding.
I encourage DfID and the FCO to find ways of strengthening scholarships and fellowships as a powerful strand of influence and good will, not least because of the way in which Commonwealth undergraduate and postgraduate students are able to carry forward and expand their links with this country and more widely through the Commonwealth’s networks of professional and civil society organisations, to which I have already referred. Under the coalition Government, it was particularly satisfying how BIS and UKTI provided support for special fellowships in connection with the Commonwealth Science Conference held in Bangalore. This revival of a gathering that had not taken place for 50 years showed renewed understanding of and confidence in the importance of the Commonwealth as a forum for co-operation and exchange.
In their Malta communiqué, the Heads of Government paid tribute to the Science Conference and welcomed Singapore’s offer to host the next Commonwealth Science Conference when it convenes in June 2017. The conference attracts and warrants the attention and investment of resources by such eminent institutions as the Royal Society, the Indian Institute of Science and the National Research Foundation in Singapore. We should also pay tribute to the imaginative partnership project, Commonwealth Class, which is bringing understanding of their Commonwealth identity to a new generation of Commonwealth citizens. Again, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, picked up on this. Led by the British Council and the Commonwealth Secretariat, the project presents high-quality videos and learning materials on the values of the Commonwealth charter. Schoolchildren around the world can work together online and acquire citizenship skills and a global perspective.
Initiatives such as this, particularly for schools and young people, are needed more now than ever. The Commonwealth has the reach, the diversity and the networks to lead in advancing respect and understanding. In this context, I commend the very welcome support being provided by the Government and other member states for a new unit in the Commonwealth Secretariat to focus on the vital work of countering violent extremism. Through its work on civil paths to peace, the Commonwealth collectively has given a lead in finding innovative and inclusive ways of peacebuilding and national development. From its earliest days, and on crucial issues such as fighting institutional racism, particularly in southern Africa, the Commonwealth has been able to lead and convene for progressive and liberal approaches.
We look forward to a new chapter opening under the stewardship of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland—a citizen of Dominica, let us not forget. As so many other noble Lords have done, I congratulate her warmly on her appointment as Commonwealth Secretary-General. This must be the best thing since sliced bread as far as we are concerned. Finally, I am delighted we have had the opportunity, in this most timely debate, of considering the contribution the Commonwealth makes and how, to quote the theme of the 2015 CHOGM, it is adding global value.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for initiating this important and timely debate. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, on her excellent maiden speech. I hope she will not hold my efforts in Hornsey and Wood Green on election day against me—nevertheless, it was an excellent maiden speech.
In a world that faces huge challenges—the greatest number since the Second World War—it is important to recognise the key role that the Commonwealth, with 2.3 billion people, which is one-third of the world’s population, can play in supporting each member in addressing them. The theme of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held last month in Malta was:
“The Commonwealth—Adding Global Value”.
That is key to its purpose and success in the 21st century. It cannot replace the peacebuilding role of the UN or be a substitute for the EU in terms of trade, but it can complement and enhance the goals of these organisations.
It of course gives me great pleasure to congratulate my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland on her election as Commonwealth Secretary-General. In taking over on
“consensus on a revitalised Commonwealth”, which will focus on the,
“twin goals of democracy and development”.
As have heard, the Heads of Government addressed climate change, sustainable development, trade and investment, migration and countering violent extremism and radicalisation. In doing so, they reaffirmed their shared commitment to the values and principles of the Commonwealth charter.
In today’s debate, I want to focus on the twin goals that my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland identified as her principles: democracy and development. In their final communiqué, the leaders welcomed the adoption of the 2030 UN agenda for sustainable development: 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at resolving sustainable development issues such as poverty, ill health and inequality. The Commonwealth leaders described the agenda as “historic” and as,
“containing the ability to change the world”.
They agreed that the Commonwealth should provide assistance to member states in order for them to attain long-term debt sustainability.
The universality of the goals and the specific commitment to leave no one behind are key to the importance of Commonwealth involvement. They pose a challenge for developed countries as well as developing ones. In particular, they challenge all countries to ensure that the most marginalised groups are targeted over the next 15 years. Goal 16 on peace and justice is a major step forward for linking peace and development and ensuring that human rights and trusted institutions are now a universal commitment. The specific inclusion of goal 5 on gender equality, focusing on the importance of the empowerment of women and girls, their education and other gender-related issues as a priority within the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat, is extremely welcome.
The preparations for the data revolution are vital, as accurate data and their disaggregation at the country level as well as globally is fundamental to ensure that goals are met for everyone. I therefore welcome the agreement that the Commonwealth should facilitate member states’ efforts to obtain adequate and predictable resources from a variety of sources, technology and capacity-building to achieve the sustainable development goals.
As we have heard, the continued engagement of civil society in the monitoring and implementation of the SDGs is also key to the Commonwealth’s involvement. There are concerns that in some countries civil society will be marginalised again. What steps have the Government taken to lead by example in developing a country plan for the implementation of the SDGs involving NGOs and parliamentarians?
The Heads of Government acknowledged that all human rights are equal, indivisible, interdependent, interrelated and universal, and urged members to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms. They recognised that freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association and freedom of religion or belief are cornerstones of democratic societies and important for the enjoyment of all human rights, including the right to development, and are fundamental to achieving the sustainable development goals. As the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, reminded us, they emphasise the need to protect individuals from all forms of violence and discrimination.
What discussion took place in Malta on the agenda for the forthcoming UN humanitarian summit in 2016, at which a number of the SDGs will need to be addressed? As many noble Lords mentioned today, the omission from the final communiqué recognising the rights of LGBT people was disappointing. Same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults continues to be criminalised in 40 of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. As we have heard today, a lot of those laws are a hangover from British colonial rule. While they remain on the statute book, they have a continuing impact of fear, stigma, rejection, violence and, far too often, murder. The persecution and criminalisation of identity can also, as we have heard, decimate efforts to halt the spread of HIV. It often results in gay people not being able to access the healthcare, education and employment that they need, preventing access to HIV testing and treatment.
There was some progress in Malta. Like the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, I welcome the policy dialogue held between LGBT activists from across the Commonwealth and policymakers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, the International Development Minister. To what extent were various CHOGM forums utilised to make the case for decriminalising consensual sex between same-sex adults? Will the Minister urge the Commonwealth institutions to draft a comprehensive good practice model of sexual offences for member states?
As recognised by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland at Malta, we do not have the right or the opportunity to force states to decriminalise, but we can start with a really good conversation, to work with them so that they understand the economic as well as the human rights issues involved in making that necessary change. Were any efforts made towards a more pragmatic and constructive bilateral engagement with particular countries at Malta?
Finally, I refer briefly to many people whom many noble Lords have met: brave people who daily go about their lives in the knowledge that being themselves could lead to imprisonment or worse. What direct assistance will the Government provide either financially or politically to support the development of lesbian, gay and bisexual movements worldwide, but, in particular, in the Commonwealth countries?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on securing this timely debate on the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Valletta. I welcome contributions from noble Lords on all sides of the House; despite the short time limit for contributions, they were very valuable. In particular, of course, I welcome the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone. It is a delight to hear from here, as it was in another place and in cross-departmental meetings which she chaired and I attended.
Before I address some of the main issues raised today, I join Peers in paying tribute to Her Majesty the Queen. Her Majesty has been steadfast in her support for the Commonwealth. She has helped it develop from a group of just seven members in 1952 to the global organisation of 53 countries that it is today, spanning every continent, all the main religions and almost a third of the world’s population. Indeed, the Queen opened this year’s meeting, and was joined in Malta by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh and Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
There has been much reflection today on the pleasure at the appointment by the leaders at CHOGM of the noble and learning Baroness, Lady Scotland, to be the next Secretary-General. Dominica should be proud of the campaign that it ran in support of the noble and learned Baroness. I congratulate it and her on the result. It is good for the whole Commonwealth.
The United Kingdom wanted the strongest possible candidate to drive the Commonwealth forward and steer the organisation through reform. We believe that the noble and learned Baroness is the right person to ensure that the Commonwealth has a strong voice and is able to impact on the most pressing global challenges and unite its members behind the Commonwealth’s values. So in answer to questions about our role in pressing ahead with reforms, of course it will be the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who leads, but we look forward to working with her when she takes up office in April 2016 and in the build-up to the next CHOGM, which will take place in the United Kingdom in the spring of 2018. She can count on our support for the reforms for which she has been mandated.
The United Kingdom sees the Commonwealth as an important network to promote shared values and interests and strengthen prosperity, security and the rules-based international system. That is why we committed in our manifesto to strengthening the Commonwealth’s focus in promoting democratic values and development. This year’s CHOGM offered a vital opportunity to do that and to increase the organisation’s impact and relevance after a difficult meeting in Colombo two years ago. Malta’s theme of “adding global value”, as the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, focused leaders’ discussions on areas where the Commonwealth can make a real difference at a time of unprecedented global challenges. In tackling issues such as extremism, climate change and sustainable development, the Commonwealth has unique strengths to offer: its global reach and diversity; its shared legal systems, language and values; and its extensive civil society and youth networks.
I was asked in particular what we were doing as a Government to teach schoolchildren their Commonwealth history and background. The Government have reformed the national curriculum, and the new curriculum has been taught in schools from September last year. So there are already opportunities for schools to teach pupils about the Commonwealth. Today I encourage schools to consider how best they can make use of those opportunities and develop them to fit them to the circumstances of their particular area and needs.
The Prime Minister led a strong UK delegation to Malta. He was supported by the Foreign Secretary, who attended the CHOGM Foreign Ministers meeting, and by the Minister of State for the Commonwealth, my right honourable friend Hugo Swire. My noble friend Lord Maude, the Minister for Trade and Investment, attended the Business Forum, along with Hugo Swire. My noble friend Lady Verma, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, represented the UK at the Women’s Forum and the People’s Forum. This shows that the Government are deeply committed to the Commonwealth, not just out of a sense of tradition and obligation but out of a belief in political freedom, which has underpinned the organisation for more than 65 years, and is as relevant now as it was at the time of the London Declaration. The Commonwealth is a unique organisation in the world order, and this Government firmly believe that it can be a force for good around the world, by promoting freedom, democracy, human rights, development and prosperity.
I was asked about others who attended. They comprised 12 Presidents, 22 Prime Ministers, 34 Foreign Ministers from the Commonwealth itself, and President Hollande and Ban Ki-moon joined for a climate session ahead of the successful COP 21 Paris meeting.
At CHOGM, Commonwealth leaders were united in their strong condemnation of the recent attacks in Paris and elsewhere. They agreed that countering extremism would be a new Commonwealth priority, and committed to increasing co-operation between Commonwealth member states. The UK’s pledge of up to £1 million per year for the next five years to set up and support a dedicated Commonwealth unit to counter radicalisation and extremism will help to deliver this. The unit will co-ordinate sharing of expertise between Commonwealth countries, and work with them and the Commonwealth’s civil society, which as noble Lords have said is so important, and with youth and education networks to counter extremism propaganda, including on the internet. We also announced seed funding to establish a counter-radicalisation youth network across Commonwealth countries. With 60% of the Commonwealth’s population under the age of 30, this will be an important initiative to support moderate youth voices.
Climate change, which has been mentioned much today, is one of the greatest challenges the world faces. It affects all Commonwealth states, and is a threat to not only our environment but our development, security and economies. At CHOGM, leaders agreed a climate action statement, which sent a strong message, ahead of the United Nations climate negotiations in Paris, on the need for a credible and effective global agreement. The Commonwealth’s 25 small island developing states are of course particularly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. At CHOGM, the Prime Minister announced a package of initiatives aimed at supporting efforts to build their resilience, increase their access to climate finance and reduce their reliance on aid.
I was made keenly aware of this, because climate change is part of my FCO responsibility, working with the lead department, DECC, and I hosted diplomatic meetings for those small island states that are at threat of inundation and change to their way of life. It was so important that at CHOGM we were able to announce our support, which includes £20 million to help the SIDS access disaster risk insurance; £5.6 million of assistance to develop maritime economies; and up to £1 million for expert assistance to access development finance. In addition, UK funding will support a new Commonwealth climate finance access hub, and we will be supporting a new working group within the Commonwealth to identify ways to leverage private sector investment for green projects. I was asked about that and yes, indeed, we shall support that.
In line with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, and with the values set out in the Commonwealth charter, Commonwealth leaders also agreed that good governance and respect for the rule of law are vital for stable and prosperous societies as well as for efficient, effective and accountable public institutions. The Commonwealth agreed to make anti-corruption work a priority, committing to strengthen efforts to tackle corruption, including through increased transparency and co-ordination among law agencies. The Prime Minister co-chaired a side event on anti-corruption with the Botswanan President, which helped to generate momentum towards the UK’s anti-corruption summit next year.
On the plans for the UK to take forward its own work on sustainable development goals, it is essential that we lead by example, as we have, in coalition and with the support that we gave to the Labour Government when they were in office. We have given our co-operation to all the issues surrounding climate problems. We have also faced the same cross-party agreement over our approach to sustainable development goals. I was able to take part in discussions, when I was appointed a year and half ago to the Foreign Office, and I have valued the support that I have received around this House in taking forward DfID’s work on putting into good practice what we have signed up to.
On values and good practice more widely, the Commonwealth reaffirmed its commitment to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to support the empowerment of women and girls. I noted keenly the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, about the importance of pursuing the eradication of FGM. She has my full support as a Minister and, I know, the full support of this House.
LGB&T rights continue to be a major source of division among Commonwealth members, but we were able to secure recognition in the CHOGM leaders’ statement of the economic potential that can be unlocked by tackling discrimination and exclusion.
At the leaders’ retreat, the Prime Minister called on the Commonwealth to stand up for LGB&T and wider human rights. My noble friend Lady Verma, which whom I work very closely on the eradication of violence against women and girls and on the whole issue of LGB&T rights, urged the Commonwealth to do more when she chaired a People’s Forum panel on LGB&T issues. Was it enough? No—we would have liked more, and we will continue to press for more, because it is right that homosexuality should be decriminalised around the world.
The Prime Minister also called for the Commonwealth to do more to hold countries to account when they fail to live up to their responsibilities as Commonwealth members. In particular, he urged all members to send a strong and consistent message to the Maldives on the need for political dialogue and the release of political prisoners. At its meeting in the margins of CHOGM, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group voiced serious concerns at recent developments in the Maldives, which it agreed were deserving of formal consideration. A ministerial delegation will visit the Maldives early next year and report back to the ministerial action group. At this point, I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend Lady Berridge does with regard to freedom of religion and belief internationally. I assure her that human rights discussions are never complete unless we also within those discussions consider the impact on and importance of freedom of belief and, indeed, of freedom of expression.
I was asked, in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, what progress is being made in strengthening judicial independence, building legislative capacity and election monitoring. Through its strategic plan, the Commonwealth Secretariat has worked to deepen adherence to Commonwealth political values and principles. This has included observing 13 elections in 11 countries in the past year, working with a number of members on the promotion and protection of human rights and supporting the development of national institutions effectively to facilitate the administration and delivery of the rule of law and justice.
Much mention was made today of the importance of business and trade throughout the Commonwealth. Commonwealth leaders agreed to advance global trade negotiations and, in particular, to ratify the WTO trade facilitation agreement. In the run up to CHOGM, the business forum brought together more than 1,300 delegates, 180 political and business leaders and 15 Heads of Government. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Marland on his efforts in organising that event under the auspices of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, to which the UK provides support. I am most grateful to him. In addressing that forum, my noble friend Lord Maude underlined the importance of leveraging Commonwealth trade. He also held bilateral meetings with a number of Commonwealth partners to promote trade with the UK.
Before turning to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, about hubs and spokes, I will say that today I have been invited to walk down memory lane a little and to rehearse some of the debates we had during the passage of the European Union Referendum Act. How wonderful to say the word “Act” instead of “Bill” at long last, after Royal Assent this morning. I had better not tire the House by going over it again, but as noble Lords pointed out today, it is crucial that it is not a binary choice. I like having all things in my life, and we can have both those institutions.
I was asked about the trade hubs and spokes programme. It is a long-term capacity-building support programme that strengthens the abilities of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries to formulate, negotiate and implement trade policies and participate in international trade negotiations. The programme does this by deploying experts into 11 regional organisations—the hubs—and 36 government finance and trade ministries—the spokes—so that they are on hand to provide advice to Governments. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for referring to this because it is not particularly well known. It has run since 2004. It is a joint project funded chiefly by the European Union with support from the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group secretariat. The Commonwealth is a co-donor. It is responsible for implementing the programme. The other co-donor is the Francophonie, the French equivalent of the Commonwealth. More than 70 developing countries in the ACP group are eligible for assistance from the hub and spokes programme. That is essential.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was one of those who referred to membership. In particular, he mentioned Nepal. We welcome applications to join the Commonwealth when countries can demonstrate the necessary requirements and dedication to the Commonwealth’s core values, particularly in relation to human rights, good governance and the rule of law. Existing support from the international community, including the UK, in areas such as governance will help Governments make progress in meeting the criteria for membership. Decisions on membership are made by consensus of all heads of Commonwealth members based on applicant countries meeting the criteria. In 2014, during a visit to Kathmandu by my right honourable friend the FCO Minister of State Hugo Swire, the Government of Nepal noted an interest in joining the Commonwealth. We encourage Nepal to follow that up with an informal expression of interest to the Commonwealth Secretariat. That is the way to start the process.
Taken together, all the issues which have been discussed today by noble Lords are crucial to the future success of the Commonwealth. All the issues discussed at Valletta and the outcomes achieved there represent a successful summit for the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom. There is now a real opportunity for the Commonwealth to build on the discussions in Malta and demonstrate unity and a shared sense of purpose in tackling the most pressing global challenges and upholding democracy, human rights and sustainable development across the organisation and the whole world.
The UK is committed to helping the Commonwealth unlock its vast potential, and we will use the opportunity of hosting CHOGM in 2018 to do just that. Our focus will also be on taking forward the initiatives announced in Malta, in co-ordination with the Commonwealth Secretariat and our Commonwealth partners, in particular to increase the Commonwealth’s capacity to counter extremism and support its small island developing states.
We look forward to working with a range of partners—civil society and NGOs are vital to any work—across the Commonwealth institutions, which are essential, the Commonwealth regions and bilaterally to maximise the impact of the Commonwealth and ensure that it is re-energised, remains relevant in the 21st century and delivers prosperity and security to every one of its members.
My Lords, I have attended several debates on the Commonwealth in the past nine years, but I think I can say without any shadow of doubt that this is the most encouraging one I have taken part in, not just because of the number of speakers, albeit for three minutes each, but because of the range of subjects across all the affairs of the Commonwealth. The number of noble Lords who actively participate in various aspects of the Commonwealth, from health to trade, business and other areas such as education, is very striking. Yesterday, I spoke briefly to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and what struck me was her infectious enthusiasm which seems to have been picked up today during the course of this debate. It is good that we have enthusiasm, but the challenges in front of us in the Commonwealth are enormous. I shall single out one subject which has been highlighted a lot today, which is human rights issues. The Commonwealth is surely the right forum for trying to move these issue forward and solve them through persistent and constant dialogue, which is what the Commonwealth is all about.
It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate and to congratulate in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, on a very striking speech. I am very grateful to the Minister for a characteristically thorough and thoughtful reply to this debate.