HC Deb 07 July 1989 vol 156 cc630-6

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 7, at end, insert are in receipt of an annual grant-in-aid to".

12.53 pm
Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 5.

Mr. Marshall

I am glad to have the opportunity to say a word or two about these amendments, which reflect a good deal of important work carried out in the other place to bring this Bill back in a shape that I believe will commend itself to both sides of the House. The Bill was sent to the other place unopposed by this House, but it happened, for procedural reasons, that we did not have a chance to discuss some of its implications. Therefore, in supporting the amendments, it may be for the convenience of the House if I take the opportunity to highlight why I believe that the effect of carrying through these amendments, and those that follow, will be to highlight the activities of both the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In that regard, I am glad to see on the Front Bench my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant). He is my opposite number as the chairman of the executive committee of the CPA. Muzzled he may be by his Whip's duties, but alert and vigilant as ever he is on behalf of the CPA.

The amendments are needed for technical drafting reasons. The objectives of the Bill are to set up a register of publicly financed international parliamentary organisations that are in receipt of grant in aid, both for British and international secretariats. The additional words about grant in aid are included in the amendments to clause 1 and the title.

The elimination of any reference to the Council of Europe, the North Atlantic Assembly and the Western European Union is in no way intended to reflect any criticism of those organisations. When the Bill was introduced, we were given technical advice that those three organisations should be included. Further advice, which coincided with the Bill going to another place, suggested that in two important respects—international secretariat and grant in aid provisions—there was a unique arrangement for the CPA and the IPU that did not relate to the three other organisations.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to talk specifically about the CPA and the IPU. As is well known, on 29 June the IPU celebrated its centenary and Mr. Speaker unveiled a bust of Sir William Randal Cremer in the Members' Lobby. In the centenary year of an organisation founded by this Parliament and the French Parliament, it is splendid not only that a British parliamentarian has been honoured in that way, but that the bust of a Back Bencher now appears in the Members' Lobby alongside the eminent figures who have occupied the office of Prime Minister

The IPU has always united all parts of the House. Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you have given great support to both the IPU and the CPA when there have been visiting parliamentary delegations. Your predecessor this morning—Madam Deputy Speaker—is a long-standing serving member of the CPA executive and will be chairing the women's parliamentary meeting at the IPU conference in September as part of the centenary activities. I also wish to welcome the hon. Member for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) to this debate. I have been corresponding with her because we are anxious to bring as many women parliamentarians as possible into the wider international dialogue provided through the IPU.

I wish briefly to deal with some of the activities relevant to both organisations, and I shall explain why they have been singled out in the Bill. The 1988 report of the executive committee of the United Kingdom branch of the CPA highlights the thrust and purpose of the organisation and the way in which it has built on its long establishment since 1911 when it was born—as the British Empire Parliamentary Association.

During the 37th parliamentary seminar in 1988, the United Kingdom played host to delegates from 22 Commonwealth legislatures, among whom where six presiding or deputy presiding officers and three Ministers. The seminars in London and Canterbury attracted a great deal of interest, and much valuable work was carried out. The parallel activity of a Commonwealth parliamentary visit later in the year attracted 20 legislatures. It gave Commonwealth parliamentarians an opportunity not only to meet their fellow parliamentarians in both British Houses of Parliament, but to visit Oxford, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

In all the CPA's wide international activities in 1988, we cannot ignore the fact that many of them were directed towards the recognition of Australia in its bicentennial year. To that end, the 34th Commonwealth parliamentary conference was held in Australia's splendid new Parliament building in Canberra. Those of us from the CPA and the IPU who were privileged to attend a number of events during the bicentennial, thanks to our Australian parliamentary colleagues, will recognise that one of the most rewarding aspects of the development of the CPA has been the growth not only of other Commonwealth Parliaments but their commitment to the CPA and their willingness to keep in touch and work with parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth, and especially those in the United Kingdom.

Others may wish to say more about the CPA, but, as chairman of the executive of the British group of the IPU, I shall concentrate on that organisation—not only in discussing our status along with the CPA, but our direct funding relationship with the Government and our willingness to volunteer for public accountability.

1 pm

I first presented this Bill—supported by the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), the hon. Members for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) and, in the earlier stages, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith)—because, like them, I felt that the suggestion that either organisation was some kind of travel club should be countered head-on.

Over the years we have become used to the media idea that any attempt on the part of Members of Parliament to become better informed, to maintain a dialogue and to be in touch with Parliaments around the world is a joyride. Of course it has many pleasurable aspects, but that description is a travesty of the work that is actually done. The IPU deals with 112 countries, and must maintain relationships with those countries through the use of some 10 working languages in addition to English and French, the official languages of the IPU. It is a highly sophisticated organisation, involving parliamentarians from both Houses who must be well briefed. Both organisations are well served by small but skilled secretariats.

We are especially conscious that, particularly in our conference work in distant places, we draw considerably on the contribution of the learned Clerks. Of additional significance to the IPU is the work that they do twice a year, in parallel with us, at the conference of the Association of Secretaries General of Parliament. Both learned Clerks and parliamentarians play their part in our bilateral relations with those 112 countries, and have the opportunity to exchange notes.

The "travel club" idea is nonsense. That is clear when we consider the implications of the 1984 visit of Mr. Gorbachev, as he then was, to the United Kingdom, and appreciate the seriousness with which other countries have approached the IPU's work over many years. That applies particularly to the Third world and eastern Europe. When Mr. Gorbachev came to this country in 1984—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. The debate is becoming very wide. I am waiting for the hon. Gentleman to tell us why the words in the Lords amendment should be inserted in the Bill. So far, he has not done so.

Mr. Marshall

As always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I bow to any ruling that you may make. I am simply trying to demonstrate the special nature of the two organisations, and to explain why they should be singled out for recognition and public accountability.

Part of the grant in aid mechanism in the Bill is devoted to expenditures that would allow, for example, a Russian delegation to visit this country in response to an invitation such as that tendered in 1984. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your usual benevolence, will entirely understand why I single out that visit. It was a fascinating example of a parliamentary organisation's establishing links which, in this instance, have led to a continuing dialogue as a result of the subsequent elevation of Mr. Gorbachev to higher things.

In 1986, funding of the kind that will be allowed in future under the Bill was provided to allow a delegation from the British Parliament to visit the Soviet Union, led by my noble Friend Lord Whitelaw and the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey). That ability to vary the compositions of delegation reflects another way in which the grant in aid provision will bring together not only Parliament but Ministers and Opposition Front Bench spokesmen. The Bill's grant in aid provision rightly reflects Parliament's willingness to assist the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen of the day to play an active role. That is why I paid particular tribute earlier to the hon. Member for Swansea, East, who serves on the executives of both organisations and who, despite his onerous responsibilities as an Opposition Front Bencher, clearly sees his IPU duties as an important part of his work. We welcome that.

I shall touch briefly on one or two other aspects of the IPU's other work. There has been recent mention of the proposed British-Irish parliamentary body, about which a more formal announcement will, we hope, be made shortly. It will consolidate our continuing and long-standing dialogues, which take the form of exchange visits and conferences with our Irish parliamentary colleagues. For 23 years, the IPU's dialogue with the Guatemalan Parliament was Britain's only link with that country. My hon. Friend the Minister nods, because on other occasions he has been good enough to recognise that maintaining links by the public funding of parliamentarians has in a number of cases led directly to the restoration of what might be called normal international relations.

At the IPU's centenary conference in September there will not only be debates about problems affecting the peaceful use of space, about world food, population and indebtedness but an opportunity for bilateral dialogues with many countries in addition to the conference proceedings themselves. In that connection, those of us who were responsible for bringing the People's Republic of China into the IPU will recognise the opportunity that that conference will provide for particularly timely and significant discussions with Chinese parliamentarians.

One could cite many other examples of the work that is in hand and which is continuing. The Argentinian dialogue has been maintained when, for various reasons, the Government have been unable to continue it themselves. It can fairly be said that the changes to the Bill will highlight the determination of both bodies to continue a process that has developed over many years. In the case of the IPU, I suggest that it is not unreasonable to back President Gorbachev's arguments in his book "Perestroika", to the effect that a factor in international diplomacy is a parliamentary link. It is that parliamentary diplomacy which is highlighted by the Bill.

The Bill reaches the parts that Governments cannot reach, and one cannot avoid drawing the conclusion that, from time to time, it is useful to one's country to show people from outside it the constructive work that Parliament undertakes—drawing as of necessity it must, on the support and involvement of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House. I always find it particularly fascinating to observe how parliamentarians from this House and from the other place work together when they are thousands of miles from home. Perhaps that is a lesson for us all back here.

Finally, I refer to the work of the other place in presenting the amendments before this House today. We are very much obliged to Viscount Montgomery of Alamein for having piloted the amendments through the other place. He was supported by Lady David, an executive member of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Further support came from Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos, the Official Leader of the Opposition in the other place. I am grateful also for the support of Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran, of the Minister of State for Defence Procurement and of the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The proposals that they have endorsed have met with widespread support both from the Government and from all political parties.

In commending this group of amendments to the House, I reflect on the fact that later amendments will be consequential. For the convenience of the House I am trying to encompass as much of the argument as I can in the debate on the first group of amendments.

The Bill, and the amendments, are a small but important step towards trying, even if it is only once in every 100 years, to go public on the kind of work that we do in private, away from the glare of publicity. I hope that it puts into context the real essence of much of our parliamentary work. I pay tribute to all those who have sustained the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Whatever work we may embark on during the next 100 years—for example, in the release of political prisoners, in drugs control or fighting terrorism—I feel certain that the strength and support that we have enjoyed until now will continue to be a feature of our parliamentary life. In that spirit, I commend the amendments to the House.

Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe (Leigh)

I warmly associate myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall), which dealt with an ideal objective. As he said, the aims and objectives of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association are to achieve an all-party approach to vast international problems. He referred to the purposeful work being done by the two organisations. It has led to the creation of what we call a dialogue of diplomacy. The exchange of views, which has taken place over many years now, has had an influence in the corridors of power in many countries. I hope that implementation of the aims and objectives of the amendments will be as effective and as long-standing as the two associations hope.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East)

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) has said about the Bill. We are happy to support it and to give it a fair wind. It is a useful measure. All hon. Members are well aware of the important work done by the IPU and the CPA. The measure will help to bring out into the open some of the valuable work that they do.

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) when he spoke to the amendments. He made some very valid points. I accept that there are technicalities which make the position of the other organisations to which the amendments refer—the WEU, the Council of Europe and the NATO Assembly—somewhat different. As we all know those organisations provide valuable sources of contact between parliamentarians and have done some useful work over a number of years and continue to do so.

I note with interest what the hon. Gentleman said about the Bill's particular relevance to Opposition Members, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friends who have been associated with the hon. Gentleman in his efforts today. I should put it on record that the Opposition value the contacts that those organisations provide, which can be maintained over a number of years and lead to a great deal of insight into the concerns and special situations of our parliamentary colleagues in many different parts of the world. I support the measure and give it fair wind.

1.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Eggar)

May I say on behalf of the Government how delighted we are to have the opportunity to discuss the Bill this afternoon. I pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel (Mr. Marshall) who consistently, quietly and over a long time has managed to surmount and avoid all the various obstacles that have confronted him—both procedural and imposed by Whitehall for various arcane reasons that neither he nor I fully understand—and to get the Bill back here. That is a considerable achievement. I would have said that he has done so single-handedly, had I not heard the speeches by Opposition Members and had I not read with great interest and heard about the debate in another place.

My hon. Friend paid tribute to Viscount Montgomery and Members in another place, who as members of the executive committee of the IPU or the CPA have contributed to the smooth passage of the Bill.

I was delighted that my hon. Friend drew the attention of the House to the presence in the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant), who has managed to combine his unheard activity on the Front Bench with splendid chairmanship of the CPA. I, too, pay tribute to that.

The Government have no problem with the amendments suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel. I offer him an apology as advice that he received on the original drafting of the Bill proved subsequently to be incorrect and led to the need to introduce the amendments in the other place and to bring them back here.

It is fitting that the Bill should be getting a very strong wind behind it in the House in the centenary year of the IPU. I know how very hard my hon. Friend has worked in gathering together the various strands that will make the conference to be held in London in September a unique and uniquely successful event. I am delighted that Mr. Speaker and his colleagues, including Madam Deputy Speaker, will be closely associated with the centenary events in September.

The hon. Members for Gateshead, East (Ms. Quin) and for Leigh (Mr. Cunliffe) have rightly and understandably expressed the importance that we attach to the exchange of parliamentarians, both within the Commonwealth and in the context of the CPA—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister's remarks are wide of the narrow terms of the Lords amendment that we are supposed to be discussing. I very much hope that he will get back to it.

Mr. Eggar

I appreciate your concern, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we should remain in order, and I will certainly endeavour to do so.

We are talking about the substance of the Bill. The effect of the amendments is to limit the compass of the Bill to the IPU and the CPA. We very much regret that, for technical reasons, the other organisations must be excluded from the Bill. My hon. Friend has explained the reason for that. As a result of the amendments, we are left with the Bill mentioning the CPA and the IPU. The work that those two organisations do in the exchange of parliamentarians of all parties and of all member countries of the CPA and the IPU is widely welcomed and recognised. That is why the Bill should be introduced and why the two organisations should be mentioned. There should be an obligation on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to come to the House every year with the names of the organisations covered by the Bill, namely the CPA and the IPU, and the amounts of money that are being made available by the Government to fund them.

The exchange of parliamentarians is to be widely welcomed. My hon. Friend has already mentioned the importance of continued dialogue with parliamentarians from Guatemala and the existing dialogue with parliamentarians in Argentina. He drew attention to the important visit by Mr. Gorbachev, as he then was, when he came here under the auspices of the IPU. Examples such as those justify the expenditure of public money on those two organisations.

I thank you for your tolerance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I thank all hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. Again I pay tribute to the tremendous work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel on getting the Bill this far. I have no hesitation in welcoming the amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 5 agreed to.

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