HC Deb 09 February 1965 vol 706 cc175-8
4. Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he will make a statement on progress made with setting up a Commonwealth Secretariat.

11. Mr. Hornby

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations whether he is yet in a position to publish the report recently prepared by officials on the establishment of a Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Foundation.

21. Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what progress has been made in the establishment of a Commonwealth Foundation to promote interchanges between Commonwealth organisations in professional fields.

26. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations what stage he has reached with his plans for setting up the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Arthur Bottomley)

As I said in reply to the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. Robert Edwards) on 19th January, senior Commonwealth officials, after a series of informal and very friendly meetings, reached agreement on a report which was submitted to all member Governments for their consideration. We are already in communication with all Commonwealth heads of Government and have made suggestions to them as to how progress should be made, particularly with the early appointment of the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The report by officials and our exchanges with Commonwealth Governments must remain confidential, but I should like to take this opportunity of emphasising that, for their part, the British Government are anxious to press forward with all speed with the establishment of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation. We are convinced that these bodies can have an important part to play in strengthening the Commonwealth association.

Mr. Lloyd

In regard to the scope of the Secretariat, has the right hon. Gentleman considered the future evolution of Commonwealth bodies, such as a Commonwealth consultative assembly?

Mr. Bottomley

These are matters for the Commonwealth Secretariat, when it is established, to consider on representations from the Governments concerned. I have no doubt that at least one Government will consider putting forward that suggestion.

Mr. Hornby

Is it the intention of the right hon. Gentleman that the Commonwealth Secretariat, if established in time, should play any part in the planning of the next Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference?

Mr. Bottomley

It is not anticipated that the Secretary-General can be appointed before the next Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference, but it is hoped that some progress can be made so that he can sit in at the initial stages so that he may be ready to take over in time.

Mr. Irvine

The right hon. Gentleman has said nothing about the professional fields. Could he emphasise the importance he feels that they could play in Commonwealth co-operation?

Mr. Bottomley

Yes, Sir. I am well aware of the enthusiasm which has been aroused in professional and voluntary circles interested in the Foundation. The Government are grateful for the wide measure of support which the proposal has attracted. We are convinced that, with such backing, the Foundation can find a valuable rôle to play in strengthening the unofficial links in the Commonwealth.

Mr. Johnson

Would my right hon. Friend care to scotch the view which is held in certain quarters that the senior officials of the new organisation should perhaps come from the older Dominions or white Dominions, but that it should be open to all the Commonwealth Governments concerned?

Mr. Bottomley

This, too, is a matter for all the Governments concerned. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has suggested to them that names should be submitted.

Mr. Sandys

While not asking the right hon. Gentleman to give the details, may I ask him to say whether agreement has been reached as to the scope and functions of the Secretariat? In view of what he said about the wide measure of support for the Foundation, does that mean that offers of financial support are forthcoming from other Commonwealth Governments?

Mr. Bottomley

On the question of finance, how the Secretariat and the Foundation can be paid for is now being considered. We will await the result of the discussions which are going on. The scope of the Secretariat is, again, a matter on which all the Commonwealth Governments are consulting. We hope that it will be as wide as possible.

Mr. Fisher

Could the Secretary of State say, very approximately, what size the Secretariat will be and the numbers of staff and so on? Will there be an annual budget and is he able to give any idea of the size of the organisation?

Mr. Bottomley

It is not anticipated that in the beginning it will be a very large body from the point of view of the numbers employed in the Secretariat. Discussions are going on as to what the numbers should be. The matter of cost is being considered by all the Governments.