HC Deb 13 July 1994 vol 246 cc980-1
15. Mr. Eastham

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the future of the Commonwealth Institute.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I am pleased to announce that the Minister for Overseas Development has today informed the acting chairman of the Commonwealth Institute that the Government are willing to provide a grant of £2.4 million over the three-year period from 1996–97 to enable the institute to regenerate its galleries and become self-supporting by March 1999.

Mr. Eastham

I thank the Minister for his reply and also for kindly telephoning me this morning in relation to the matter. Is he aware, however, that the Commonwealth Institute in London is desperately in need of cash to finance the refurbishment of the building, which will cost about £5 million? Given that grants were previously in the order of £2 million per year, does not £2.4 million over three years pale a little in comparison? Does that not show a negative attitude towards the Commonwealth?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No. The Government are most certainly committed to the continued strength of the Commonwealth. The offer that the Government have made is under discussion with Mr. David Thompson, the acting chairman, and it is on condition that the institute raises £5 million in sponsorship and submits satisfactory business and building maintenance plans. Mr. Thompson is confident that, with the restructuring in hand and with the assistance that he will receive from private sponsorship, he will be able to maintain the building and make the Commonwealth Institute a viable and flourishing institution for the future.

Mr. David Howell

Does my hon. Friend accept that that is excellent news which will be widely welcomed on both sides of the house? Does he further accept, as I am sure that he does, that that institute or club, the Commonwealth, is not only thriving, but growing and that more and more countries are seeking to join it? Does he realise, as I am sure that he also does, that the provision is a very good move which reflects the growing interest of this country and Commonwealth members in grouping together for the future?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I very much agree with my right hon. Friend and I am grateful for his encouraging comments. We hope that the Commonwealth Institute will thrive and flourish with an injection of private sector funds as well as Government assistance in the interim period because it is an important institute for the development of the Commonwealth which we wish to see flourish and thrive. As my right hon. Friend will be aware, we paid some 30 per cent. of the costs of the Commonwealth secretariat in London and 60 per cent. of our bilateral aid goes to Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Rogers

I do not quite understand why the right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) thinks that the Government are advancing when there is a cut in grant from £6 million to £2.4 million. The Minister and the Government are sending out completely the wrong signals to the Commonwealth. We should like to know whether the Government intend to privatise or to hive off that valuable and focal institution because that is what they are doing under the restructuring. Will the Minister tell us what status he envisages for the Commonwealth Institute after 1996 and whether, when the process which he seems to be undertaking starts, he intends to repeal the Imperial Institute Act 1925 and the Commonwealth Institute Act 1958 under which the institute is governed? When will that process be put into train?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

No, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government believe that the Commonwealth Institute has a great future ahead of it, in the way in which I have indicated, with assistance from the private sector and help from the Government over the interim period. The institute is, of course, run by its own body of management, governing body and trustees. There is no plan to repeal the Acts of Parliament to which the hon. Gentleman referred, which established the Imperial Institute and later the Commonwealth Institute.

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