HL Deb 12 March 1979 vol 399 cc392-462

4.20 p.m.

The PRINCIPAL DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Greenwood of Rossendale) rose to call attention to the role of the Commonwealth and its continuing value; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, with the flags of 40 Commonwealth countries flying today in Parliament Square in celebration of Commonwealth Day, I think it would be right that my first words today should be words of thanks to Her Majesty for the very wise Commonwealth Day statement that Her Majesty has issued. I should like, too, to thank two noble Baronesses in this House. The first is my noble friend the Government Chief Whip who found time for this debate. I know her devotion to the Commonwealth, and I know that when she led our delegation from the British Commonwealth Parliamentary Association at Kingston her speeches made a great contribution to the debates there.

I must also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. She and I, as members of the Executive of the CPA, heard at the same time that it would not be possible for another place to find time to discuss Commonwealth Day. Quite independently the noble Baroness and I thought that it might be possible to obtain time here. With what I know is characteristic generosity the noble Baroness was kind enough to entrust to me the privilege of moving this Motion this afternoon. I am truly appreciative of her kindness, although the responsibility of doing justice to a subject as great as this is a very heavy one indeed. I believe very strongly that next year and for many years to come this should be a great parliamentary occasion, with the Leaders of the parties reaffirming their belief in the ideals of the Commonwealth. It really is not good enough for Governments, or Oppositions, or anybody else to leave it to what one might call freelance work by Members of your Lordships' House. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will take that message very seriously indeed.

I have in my hand a poster which was issued for Commonwealth Day by the Commonwealth Secretariat. It portrays tellingly and attractively the diversity of religions, languages, colours, legal systems within the Commonwealth and, above all, it shows dramatically the youth and the youthfulness of the Commonwealth. In the vast Commonwealth, with its 950 million people, more than half of them are under the age of 25. They constitute a possible breeding ground for the evils of extremism and violence, but they also offer the most fertile soil for the ideals of tolerance, interdependence and coexistence which bind the Commonwealth together.

It is a poster directed particularly at young people. I am told that when the Department of Education and Science were asked how many copies they would like they said 30,000. On being told that only 500 could be provided free they decided that 500 was the number that they wanted to use. Altogether in this country, which is still the heart of this great Commonwealth, whatever its titular position, no more than 3,000 of these posters were distributed; 52,000 went to overseas countries, and Canada itself produced 65,000. Really, my Lords, we must do much better than that on future occasions.

May I now touch for a moment on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to which so many of us in this House and another place are tremendously indebted. It is an organisation which enjoys my confidence and affection, and looking at it I think objectively I have no hesitation in saying that it is well run, efficient, vigilant, and quite invaluable in preserving links between the Commonwealth countries. At this very moment, for example, at the 28th seminar of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association on Practice and Procedure there are 25 Commonwealth Parliamentarians; and I believe that Sir Robin Vanderfelt and Mr. Peter Molloy are doing a great service to the Commonwealth.

Having been for a moment critical of the Department of Education and Science, I feel that I must praise the Government for having made a donation of £100,000 to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association's working capital fund. It now stands at £350,000. The largest and the smallest countries were among the first contributors, India and Gibraltar, and the Isle of Man was the first to put its money on the table.

It has been a privilege for me to serve the Commonwealth in the Colonial Office and the Ministry of Overseas Development, and on the Board of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. It has been a privilege, and it has been equally a privilege to know and work with men like Mr. Nehru, whom I first met a few days after he had come out of a British prison when I was in Allahabad in 1933, and whom I last saw only a few weeks before his death. It has also been a privilege to be a disciple of my noble friend Lord Brockway. When I spoke twice at Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conferences I was proud to see how many of the leaders there I had met in the course of their campaign for independence, so that my feeling of privilege is indeed one which is extensive. I do not think I need remind your Lordships that the history of the Empire and the Commonwealth is a tangled story. It is not wholly good, but there is very little of which we need be ashamed and there is a very great deal of which we should be proud. With very few exceptions those who have moved into independence have done so on terms of friendship, and I hope that that friendship will endure for all time.

I remember when I was Minister of Overseas Development returning from lunch with Colonel Ojukwu and driving through a Nigerian forest when I saw that we were flying the flag on the bonnet of the car. I asked the driver whether it should not be Lord Thurlow, as he now is, who should be riding in a car which was carrying the flag, and were we not infringing protocol by doing so. The Nigerian driver said, "Don't make me turn it down, Sir, the people love it. It reminds them of the good old colonial days". When a few minutes later we broke down in a village there was ample demonstration of the pleasure on the part of the local inhabitants.

Apart from the links, and apart from the friendship, there is not very much wrong with a system which has produced from very small countries indeed men of the stature of Seewoosagur Ramgoolam of Mauritius, Joshua Hassan in Gibraltar, John Compton in St. Lucia, Seretse Khama in Botswana, George Price in Belize, Harry Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, Ratu Mara in Fiji—and so one could go on almost indefinitely. But there must have been something to enable those dependent territories to produce men of the statesmanlike stature of those to whom I have referred.

I sometimes wonder whether perhaps we have gone a little too far. I am not absolutely convinced that it is in their own interest or wise in the wider interest to give independence to countries which are too small and too poor to sustain it; they can become dangerously unstable. Even in the 'sixties there is reason to believe the United States and Soviet Union were getting a little anxious about the speed of decolonisation by Great Britain. That was why, at the Colonial Office, I pioneered a new form of associated statehood in December 1965. I hoped it would facilitate federation and the forging of special relationships between tiny countries and their larger friends. I also called a conference to discuss the problems of the smaller territories; it came to be known as the "What shall we do with Pitcairn?" conference, and we never had a wholly satisfactory answer to our question.

However, inside the Colonial Office I enunciated what I called the "piano stool principle of colonial policy", having taken the title from an occasion when a man arriving at a party saw a friend of his sitting at the piano. He went to his friend and asked, "What are you doing sitting at the piano? You can't play", and his friend replied, "I can't, but as long as I sit here nobody else can play either". There is of course a moral in that story because so long as we are in control of various parts of the world they will not fall into the hands of those who may not be the best friends of this country—and my goodness how much we owe to the peoples of the Commonwealth and the Colonies during the two world wars we have undergone—though it is not for me to remind your Lordships that nature abhors a vacuum.

I wish to pay tribute to the men and women of the Colonial Service. I do not think it is sufficiently appreciated how very different they were from the diplomats in the Foreign Office and in the Commonwealth Relations Office, as it then was. In the Colonial Service they were not diplomats; they were the practical men who dammed rivers, built bridges, ad- ministered law, protected health, looked after security and did all the things to make the territories to which they were sent viable, tolerant and civilised. Today especially we must salute them, just as we do the civil servants in India and Burma of earlier years.

I have concluded after a great deal of thought that the impact of membership of the European Community has been less damaging to the interests of the Commonwealth than I feared at one time would be the case. It has had some detrimental effects, but I hope that perhaps the noise many of us made at the time may have been partly responsible for the fact that both Mr. Heath and the Labour Government went out of their way to protect the interests of the Commonwealth in their negotiations. I know that the present Prime Minister is utterly devoted to the cause of the Commonwealth and I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that my right honourable friend Mrs. Hart has been an absolutely first-class Minister of Overseas Development, and that the protection that has come to the developing countries has come in large measure through her efforts.

I am always a little afraid that we may get rather self-righteous when we read lessons to other Commonwealth countries on how they should conduct their affairs, because what is appropriate to us is certainly not in every case appropriate to them. Democracy can taken many forms. But I am encouraged by the fact that Parliaments seem to be coming back into favour. After an interval of six years, Swaziland has a new Parliament; Bangladesh had elections last year; Ghana returns to the parliamentary fold in July; Nigeria, with 20 Parliaments, will become a parliamentary democracy by 1st October; and I know your Lordships will share my pleasure that the Clerk Designate of Ghana's National Assembly, Mr. Aggrey-Orleans, is here on attachment in the Palace of Westminster.

I am more grateful than I can say to my noble friend Lord Shackleton for having at some inconvenience come here this afternoon. I hope that when my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts replies to the debate he will reaffirm in the most robust manner that there will be no change in the status of Gibraltar, Belize or the Falkland Islands without the genuinely full-hearted support of those people who want to remain British and who do not want to become Spanish, Argentinian or Guatemalan. I can see no point in the rounds of talk with Guatemala and Spain and the Argentine which, every time they take place and however altruistic the purpose of my honourable and right honourable friends in the Government, only go to cause anxiety and to unsettle the people of the territories whose future is inevitably going to be discussed.

On one occasion, I went to a social occasion linked with the United Nations in New York and I found myself pinned in a corner by the Spanish Ambassador. It was a terribly noisy party and I could not hear a word he was saying, so every minute or so I would say very loudly and firmly, "We do not regard Gibraltar as negotiable." I hope Lord Goronwy-Roberts will say that our Government still do not regard Belize, the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar as negotiable. I beg to move for Papers.

House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for having introduced this debate today. As a former Secretary of State for the Colonies and as a former Minister of Overseas Development, no one can be more qualified than he to open such a debate and, as one would have expected, he spoke with great knowledge and was immensely stimulating. It was no coincidence, as he explained, that this debate should have been introduced on Commonwealth Day, but even if it had not been introduced on Commonwealth Day it remains a highly important subject, one to which too often people give nodding approval but for which in their hearts of heart they would like to see a clearly defined future.

Of course that is never possible. When a young man asks his superior, "What is my future?", the only real answer is, "Be yourself,' work hard and contribute your best in whatever circumstances you may find yourself, and then you will have a future". I believe that advice applies equally to the Commonwealth, but with a much more pungent line; it has, in my view, a hugely important part to play not just in self-interest or self-advancement, although they may play a part too, but as a force of stability, maturity and collective judgment in a turbulent world.

Those who see the Commonwealth standing merely as an obelisk to past glories fail totally to comprehend the substantial latent talent for good and for world understanding which is contained within its curiously undefined limits. The Commonwealth, like your Lordships' House, is unique; there is nothing like it in the world. It has rightly been described as a microcosm of the world; a voluntary union of countries which has neither rules nor obligations, and yet of which one person in four throughout the world is a member, the common cohesive factor of which is a shared history, a common language, and a natural and genuine friendship. Into this history has moulded and developed an attitude of common approach and sensitivity to world affairs, and when this essence (as one might call it) is distributed throughout the globe—through Europe, Africa, the Americas, the Caribbean and the Pacific—no one can really doubt that that holds great potential for the influence, for better or for worse, of world events.

Throughout the world there is a common tendency developing within countries and between countries; and it is that of size. The village school gives way to the comprehensive; the small firm becomes a member of a group; and so countries in their turn flocculate together in various groupings throughout the world. One may wonder what is the cause of this. I suggest that there are two reasons, and they are both connected. The first is power; not necessarily, but sometimes, the overt clamouring to dominate. Frequently, though not always, the inverse applies when, as in a run on the bank, if you do not get in quickly, too, you will be left out in the cold with nothing. The second reason is the fear of the unknown, and the consequent desire to feel the hand of friendship. No one can stand by and witness the extraordinary sophisticated capacity which man has developed for himself to blow to pieces not only his enemies but also himself and his environment without being terrified for the future, and frightened of the unknown. Of course, there is nothing new in the fear of the unknown; it affects each generation in turn. It is only when the unknown becomes known, and the future becomes the past, that history almost seems obvious. In the same way, no one in the free West can view the march of Communism across the countries of the world without asking, "Is it going to stop, and if so, where, and what can I do to prevent it? "No one can watch the development of world economics, the scales of size which ensue, without asking, "Ought we to be part of this or part of that?"

So we have seen the understandable grouping together of countries for whatever purpose—military, economic or ethnic—sometimes to dominate, but mostly, at least in the Free World, to protect and to preserve. The danger is that these organisations may stand like huge chrysanthemums, all broadly based, but inward-looking; and if they become inward-looking, they stand the danger of creating for themselves, and for others, a whole series of new and additional problems.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, said that he was apprehensive at the time the United Kingdom joined the European Community, and he was glad that it had not worked out as badly as he had thought. There were some who then said that we were turning our backs on the Commonwealth. I never believed that that was so, nor that the option ever was the Community or the Commonwealth. Britain can be of greatest value to the Commonwealth if Britain is strong, and if Britain's membership of the Community will help to make Britain strong, her membership of the Community can be only of benefit to the Commonwealth. Equally, if Britain can help to contribute not only economically but, more importantly, by influence and by judgment, to a strong Europe, that will benefit not only Europe but the Commonwealth, too, provided that Europe is not permitted to become self-orientated; and this is where the influence of the Commonwealth can be substantial.

If Britain by virtue of her Commonwealth association with countries all round the world can import into the Community a realisation of the inter- dependence, and the dependence, of other countries, possibly right at the other side of the world, on the actions of the Community and of Europe, that will help Europe to be, as it must be determined to be, outward-looking, not inward-looking. In the same way, in other parts of the world the meetings with which members of the Commonwealth may find themselves involved—for example, the Organisation of African Unity, or the Association of South-East Asian Nations—can only be enriched and be less self-orientated if the Commonwealth members can bring to those organisations the knowledge and experience of the problems of other parts of the world which they will have gained by their membership of the Commonwealth. Of course the intimate, friendly, family meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conferences, with their lack of rigidity, add greatly to the fullness of genuine understanding.

Meritorious as these groupings may be, the world cannot be separated into watertight containers whose occupants are each beavering away for their own ends. We all depend upon the actions of our own organisations of which we are members, but we are all affected by the actions of those organisations of which we are not members, and the Commonwealth, by being a harmonious extract of the nations, the creeds, and the races which cover the world can bring, I venture to suggest, a maturity, and indeed a serenity, of judgment to those organisations which will enable them to become less introspective and more outgiving for the benefit of each other and of the world. In an age which requires to quantify the value of a person or an organisation by means of statistical facts or figures, or units of output, it is as well to remember that the most significant factors which tend to alter events are the unquantifiable: confidence, judgment, understanding, experience, loyalty, and trust; and it is these in which the Commonwealth is both rich and unique.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, pay a tribute to the colonial officers of years gone by who gave so much to the developing countries of their generation. Nowadays we tend to apologise for the Empire and the past as if it were something of which to be ashamed; but it is not. The Empire was the precursor of the Commonwealth; the United Kingdom disseminated across the world the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, and the technology of the day, and it thereby helped those countries to grow. There is nothing to be ashamed of in that. It is true that what may have been done, or the way in which it was done years ago, might be unacceptable were it to be done in that fashion today, but it is a cardinal error to criticise the past with the standards of the present. In falling into that error people sometimes fail to acknowledge, or to accord approval of, and even worse, they register disapproval of, the work which was done by the people of the Colonial Service and the leadership which the United Kingdom gave, and still gives, and from which other countries materially and significantly benefited.

But as times change, so do methods and attitudes change. The Commonwealth itself changes, and therein lies its strength. The qualities and requirements of leadership change; and it is leadership which the world and the Commonwealth require. I was impressed by a definition of the qualities of leadership which I think refers as aptly to the Commonwealth as it does to the individual. It was given by the late Keith Erskine of Securicor. I have inverted a sentence, but he said that, Leadership is not by driving, by compulsion and enforcement, by carping criticism or by reluctance to make allowances. Leadership is by example, by quiet authority, by warm understanding, by timely appreciation and by patience". What a motto for the United Kingdom, and what a motto for the Commonwealth!

It is far easier to criticise and to condemn, with all the rectitude which such condemnation implies, rather than to understand—and, having understood, to solve. Take Rhodesia, and the fearful problems which surround that country. I have never been there, and I therefore feel it almost an impertinence to comment other than to say that it is easy for those who are miles away from the scene, and who, mercifully for them, do not have to live with the problems and the tensions with which that country bristles, to criticise and condemn, separated as they are by miles both physically and emotionally from the contact point of reality. I wonder whether there is not here an opportunity for the Commonwealth to bring to bear its understanding, humanity and corporate wisdom to help a colleague in distress. Such action would help the United Kingdom from getting into a position of isolation and exposure in the councils of the world; and if the immediate solution to the Rhodesian problem, whatever it turns out to be, results in the long-term in the infiltration of Russian influence and Communism to that country, then that will have a disastrous effect on the future of Africa, the freedom of the West and the Commonwealth. So the Commonwealth has a direct interest in ensuring the stability of Rhodesia.

My Lords, the diversity and the corporateness of the Commonwealth can be a stabilising influence in the world; and if such influence is needed now, how much more will it be needed in the future? When we see a country like Iran, a short while ago the stabilising influence of the Middle East, suddenly blow up as it has in the last few weeks, one cannot but say, "Where next?" It exemplifies the difficulties of sudden wealth, of over-rapid economic development and of expectations stimulated but unfulfilled—expectations which can be neither curtailed nor contained; the perfect entree for Communism. This creeping mycelium of Communism can be seen at work throughout the world, whether it is in the build-up in the Russian naval fleet or her activities in Africa and elsewhere. The West must not be asleep, and nor must the Commonwealth be asleep, to the vulnerability of the Free World to the supply of materials such as chrome, manganese, vanadium plutonium and uranium. These are basic supplies which we all take for granted but over which Russia and Southern Africa—South Africa, Namibia and Rhodesia—have a virtual cartel; and if Russian influence were to take over, overtly or covertly, in Southern Africa, that could deny to the West, and especially to us in Europe, these basic raw materials. Russia does not have to acquire; to deny is sufficient.

That is why, in our search to protect the freedom of the world from Communism, the Commonwealth has such a unique part to play, where all members are united, from their various origins and from their different corners of the globe, to stay free. They can together act as a buffer against Communism. By their conduct they can be an answer to Communism; and by their interlocking support they can protect each other from Communism from within.

My Lords, members do need mutual support, and I should like to give your Lordships an example of what I mean. Some two years ago I happened to be in New Zealand, and I learned how that country wanted to develop the techniques of deep-water fishing, which they had never done before. They did not have the boats, the knowledge or the expertise. They particularly wanted partners and advice; and, above all, they wanted, for obvious and historical reasons, the United Kingdom to help them. Although some people did go out from the United Kingdom to investigate the situation, the fact is that, whatever the reasons were—and I have no doubt they were very good reasons—out of 40 approaches from companies and Governments to help New Zealand develop its deep-water fishing industry, not one came from the United Kingdom despite New Zealand's predilection for United Kingdom help. New Zealand is therefore now getting her help and her know-how elsewhere—from the Japanese, from the Koreans, from the Germans and from the Russians.

I have no doubt that the New Zealanders are perfectly capable of looking after themselves and of dealing with the Russians; they are pretty old hands at the game. But what of the other members of the Commonwealth in the Pacific? There are some 12 independent States there. Apart from Australia and New Zealand, there are countries like Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, the Gilbert Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Papua New Guinea and so forth. Some of them are tiny States: Nauru has only 4,000 square miles. They are highly vulnerable to pressures and to influences. Now that they are independent they are, quite naturally, taking a pretty close look at their traditional friends, to see what they make of them, and also at those who, for whatever reason, would wish to become their new friends. As their traditional friends it is imperative that we make sure that we measure up to this scrutiny.

The Russians and the Chinese have both been active in this area in the last two years, establishing a political relationship with some of these States and offering aid for development—ports, airports, fisheries development and so forth. They are all apparently harmless projects in themselves, but we know the Russian pattern. First they undercut mercantile freight rates, then they get fishing facilities, then anchorages, then port facilities and then sometimes bases; and what initially starts by being a harmless entry of a fishing vessel eventually becomes an intrusion by a naval vessel. It is no quirk of accident which has permitted Russia's navy to develop from being a mere coastal navy 20 years ago to being a full ocean-going navy today. So, my Lords, as the United Kingdom pulls out its physical presence from the Pacific by granting independence to these Commonwealth States, we must not negate the responsibility, which still firmly adheres to us, of ensuring that there remains behind a credible and reliable political and aid presence. There cannot be left a vacuum for others to fill. The influence of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth is vital to the stability of the Pacific, and we must not expect Australia and New Zealand to provide that on their own.

Some of what I have said makes one feel that the future is alarming; but the power and indeed the influence which the Commonwealth can exert for the benefit of the world, has, in my modest judgment, never been greater—and, of the two, influence and not power is far the more effective and far the more acceptable. As the United Kingdom is encouraging more members of the Commonwealth to become independent, and to be responsible for their own affairs, there is a tendency to feel that, as with children who have grown up and come of age, the parents must not interfere and the younger generation must be free to do as they will. That is right; but, my Lords, the influence of the parents and the home continues, is substantial and is vital.

So it is with the Commonwealth. The influence of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth must continue, it is substantial and it is vital. In case we feel obliged, for wholly meritorious reasons, to be over-hasty in relinquishing our influence over newly-emerging independent members of the Commonwealth, I can do no better, in conclusion, than borrow some words from the autobiography of my noble friend Lord Home of the Hirsel, The Way the Wind Blows. In a few succinct but telling words he encompassed the whole cross-current of forces which are exerted on a growing family and which, I venture to suggest, apply with equal justification to the growing family of the Commonwealth as they do to the growing family of an individual. He said: The home must not be possessive. It is enough that it should be there". I would merely add that it is up to us to see that it is there.

5 p.m.


My Lords, the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for initiating this debate appropriately enough on Commonwealth Day. I would agree with him absolutely in saying that it should be an annual occasion both in this House and in another place to have, as near as possible to the date of Commonwealth Day, a debate on the Commonwealth itself. As a former Secretary of State for the Commonwealth, albeit only for a short period, I had probably less than 12 months' experience in that Department. Having started off as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and finishing up as Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, I had within the short period of 12 months lost my "relations" and simply finished up with "affairs". But the experience was well worth having. I was, in fact, the last but one, I think, of the Ministers before the merger with the Foreign Office. At that time there were rumours throughout the Commonwealth of the possible merger which was to take place, and the idea was not thought to be entirely acceptable to the Commonwealth countries. Certainly the older Commonwealth countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand felt it a little unwise, to say the least, that they should be linked with foreign countries within one Ministry and within one Department. Some of the new, emerging, independent countries, too, who had elected to become part of the Commonwealth on attaining independence felt that this merger would be unwise for they certainly did not regard themselves in any way as foreign countries. However, all those fears seem to have been unfounded and the present arrangement of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would now appear to be quite acceptable to both the old and the new Commonwealth countries; perhaps for the very simple reason that the title of the Depart- ment includes the word "Commonwealth" —something quite as simple as that.

I am sure that the world history of the past century will be marked by the fascinating fact that what was originally the British Commonwealth of Nations should have evolved into a Commonwealth of Nations independent of the United Kingdom, into an association of nations equal in stature and no longer subordinate to any other. Perhaps another interesting, and to some extent anomalous, fact is that within the Commonwealth something like 20 countries are republican; and yet are perfectly happy to accept Her Majesty the Queen as the Head of the Commonwealth. It is an excellent thought. In one sense the word "Commonwealth" is a little wrong; it is a bit of a misnomer, because the wealth, or, for that matter, the poverty, of the individual Commonwealth countries is certainly not common to all. There is a considerable diversity economically within them. But I like to feel that there is much that is common to the 36 or 40 countries. As one example, most of the parliamentary systems and procedures are based on our own, itself the result of centuries of parliamentary government. Most of the new Parliaments which have resulted from countries gaining independence and retaining Commonwealth membership have had very willing help from our own Clerks at the Table with their vast experience of Parliament. And that help has been greatly appreciated.

It is not always easy to install exactly one's own parliamentary system on a new emerging and developing country. I recall one story of such a country being anxious to follow us in every possible way and to emulate our institutions, and they were asking questions about what happened in the British Parliament. One such question was, "What do you do to persuade party supporters to vote together in Parliament? "Of course, the short reply was, "We use Whips." I wonder if that reply was ever really understood in some of the new developing countries.

When moving round the Commonwealth one cannot fail to be impressed by the work and activity (which has already been mentioned) of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Their seminars, conferences, exchange visits of Parliamentarians between one Commonwealth country and another are invaluable. One cannot overestimate the value of such visits. There is no surer way of Commonwealth Parliamentarians getting to know each other better than to meet in that way in each other's country. Equally, I think the biennial Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conferences held in different Commonwealth cities are extremely important. They arc certainly not always the easiest or quietest of meetings of Commonwealth heads. Nevertheless, they provide wonderful opportunities for the Prime Ministers of both the very large and the very smallest of Commonwealth countries to meet together on a basis of absolute equality.

Following the unilateral declaration of independence in Rhodesia, most of the Commonwealth countries were not only incensed at what had happened in that country but many of them blamed the British Government. I had the pleasure—the doubtful pleasure at that time, in 1966—of attending the Prime Ministers' Conference in London with the Prime Minister. During the time of that conference, which lasted just over a fortnight, the Prime Ministers not only got very annoyed and truly let off steam, but at one time even talked of expelling Great Britain from the Commonwealth. So one can see how free discussion was on an occasion such as that. Looking back and reflecting, I do not think that any of it does any harm at all; in fact, to the contrary, it does a great deal of good. But on that occasion, thanks to the Prime Minister's calm and careful handling, assisted by some of the heads of the older Commonwealth countries, the conference closed as usual with an agreed statement. I am sure that most of the Prime Ministers' conferences are a little more restrained than that one was, but whatever heat is engendered these conferences are well worth while.

On a rather different aspect of Commonwealth affairs, I can recall that in the early days, in the formative days of the Commonwealth, there was a feeling that the Commonwealth Secretariat, separate from the departmental ministries of the countries, was quite unnecessary. I once heard it described as a luxury. That view could not have been more wrong, as time has proved. With the increasing number of countries gaining their independence and electing to remain within the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Secretariat has proved not only necessary but essential. I personally should like to pay tribute to its work.

As the countries for which we in the British Parliament have some responsibility become fewer and more and more countries gain independence, I feel that the future role of the Commonwealth should remain very much as we know it now without many changes. It is my hope that with each independence we shall see a new member of our Commonwealth club, if we may call it that, sharing some common bonds but always retaining their own national characteristics and cultures.

I have no desire to be in any way controversial in a debate of this sort, but I would add as regards the difficult problem of Rhodesia, which will finally be settled when this Parliament grants Rhodesia independence as the new State of Zimbabwe, that I hope it will be within the Commonwealth of Nations. 1 should like to see that before next Commonwealth Day.

5.1 p.m.

The Earl of SELKIRK

My Lords, everyone is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for initiating this debate on this particular day and for the opportunity to hear another noble Lord who was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs speaking so fully from his experience. The problem of the Commonwealth is that you suffer on the one hand from over-enthusiasm, which may be highly emotive, and on the other hand from almost total indifference and hostility. It is difficult because it is rather evanescent to ask what are the facts today? What really is the situation as it exists?

I have had the honour of attending the service held this afternoon in Westminster Abbey along with the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, and I think that it is right that there should be formal expression of concord from time to time. This is an annual service, well organised by the Dean and in the presence of the Head of the Commonwealth. There you can see a common affirmation by those representing every big religious body throughout the world, not only in English, but in our old languages: Arabic, Pali, Sanskrit, Hebrew and Punjabi; and, beside those religions, also four branches of the Christian Church. To me this represents a common respect for standards and institutions. Just like us, members of the Commonwealth do not live up to their standards. Nobody ever does. If you lived wholly up to your standards, they would probably be hardly worth living up to. That does represent standards which we are recognising, and it seems to me of outstanding importance that all should know they are recognised throughout the Commonwealth.

Our association has grown up in an odd way. The only rule is the recognition of the Head of the Commonwealth. There is no obligation in politics, in economics or on the military sphere. The Commonwealth is governed by the standards which whoever is currently leading sets for himself. That is the only standard that we have. That is the basis on which this organisation will continue. I happen to believe in what Sir Robert Menzies said—that this is primarily an association of people and not an association of governments. In point of fact, we do not very much mind if governments change from time to time in different Commonwealth countries. They may change here, they may change elsewhere. What we are interested in are the lives of other people who live there.

In many ways, the political sphere is the most difficult one; and, of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, has said, the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers is of extreme importance. But this does not bring it down to the people in this country or indeed to the people living in the Commonwealth, and there we can all do something. Not enough is done, not enough is recognised. The most obvious aspect is professional training, seeing that the experience which we have is being more widely diffused. This is most notable in the legal profession. The Inns of Court take a great deal of trouble with students who come here. The expertise of medicine, engineering, music and accountancy have to be learned and understood in the complicated structure of a modern state. We have the advantage of years of experience in running organisations and building them up. New countries are suddenly thrown into this difficult and technical world, a world riven with every form of violence, and they have to face it and build up their structure. It is in that that we can make a big contribution.

There is another contribution, and I put it in the simplest terms. I have been associated with the Victoria League, among other organisations, for a number of years. The purpose of the league is to ask visitors into people's houses. In my own experience in various countries nothing is more revealing, interesting and human than to see how other people live. We can all do that in different ways and it is worth a great deal of trouble. It cannot be done simply and it is not always economic, it is an expensive business; but it makes an immensely human contribution to what I say is a gathering of people. May I also say, going back a little on the professional side, that the top members of our professions in this country can do a tremendous job by visiting various members of the Commonwealth. Their presence is immensely welcome. There is a certain pride in showing how they do it. I was delighted to hear three comments on how possibly it can be done better. Here is a service that is open to everybody.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, said perhaps we were a little self-righteous. I think we are. We are far too ready to criticise what happens in other countries; things to criticise happen here, too. It is not so often that the media get hold of things happening elsewhere which are infinitely worthwhile. It is generally recognised that this heritage in which we find ourselves has come to us by chance. There was never much theory behind it; but what one can say is that if it was not here we should give our eyes to have it. Not only that; it is the object of envy of many other countries who ask, "How did you do it?". Frankly, there is no simple explanation. I am afraid that one must ask the question whether we are going to be up to the unique tasks which come to us. That is what will be the test of whether or not this will continue.

It is unfortunate that we are still the hub of the wheel. I should like to see many more spokes between the other parts of the wheel. They are growing, but growing slowly. There still rests with us a very heavy burden, and the growth of the cross-spokes is taking place. There was a time when Winston Churchill spoke of our finest hour. A Swiss commentator said today that it was not very likely anyone would say that of us today. None the less, it would be foolish for us to write off the Commonwealth. It has not developed as anyone thought it would; and, with great respect, I think it will go on changing in a great many different ways. There is something in my experience strangely different in going into a Commonwealth country compared with any other country, however agreeable, pleasant and good they are.

There was a time when the Commonwealth essentially stood for law and order. We do not stand for that today: some people may say we stand for the permissive society. I think it is a pity that we should not distinguish more sharply where liberty is related to permissiveness. There can be no liberty without a standard of organisation and law. I think we should welcome this debate. I entirely agree with the noble Lord that we should hold a debate of this kind, or something like it, and it may be that among the 40 other members of the Commonwealth some similar debate is taking place. We shall learn about that in due course. What we do know today is that man has invented the ability to destroy himself completely, and the only way we shall stop that is if we have mutual respect and understanding of people who live in other countries.

5.31 p.m.


My Lords, I share the gratitude that has been expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, for introducing this motion. I am glad that some years ago he had the opportunity to share the heartwarming experience of the reaction to the British flag in Nigeria. I may say that even when I was widely believed personally to have lit the fire of the first large-scale assassinations of Ibos in Northern Nigeria—I believe many still believe this—there was nevertheless no disposition to be other than courteous to the British flag when I circulated in what later became known as Biafra. I hasten to explain that I had this dastardly reputation because I had flown a thousand miles into the heart of the anti-Ibo North in order to play in a polo match!

I think this is an appropriate occasion for a stocktaking, not only because it is Commonwealth Day but because it is five years since we acceded to the EEC Treaty, it is over 15 years since the Commonwealth Secretariat was established and it is more than 10 years since the merger of the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices. We can now get a certain perspective. In the debate in your Lordships' House after the referendum three years ago, I think we nailed to the mast the illusion that there was some kind of dichotomy between entering Europe and being a member of the Commonwealth, and that these were in some way alternatives. I hope this cry will not be raised again by those atavistic forces which are venturing to try to resurrect the issue of entry into Europe. It is completely fallacious.

There are two factors which in retrospect, I think, can be held to have a special responsibility for the continuing strength of the Commonwealth. The first one, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, reminded us, is the importance, which we cannot exaggerate, of personal links. Here, I venture to ask those responsible for staffing and for the training of our own officials who handle relations with foreign and Commonwealth countries to try to ensure that in the future, as in the past, there will be a maximum amount of continuity and personal acquaintance among those who conduct relations with the Commonwealth and their opposite numbers.

The second factor to which attention has already been drawn is the continuing extremely valuable work of the Commonwealth Secretariat. As the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, commented, when the Secretariat was established some people suggested that perhaps it was a bit of a frill. That certainly was not the feeling in the Commonwealth office. In the Commonwealth Office there was unrelieved joy that at long last the Office was being relieved of the function of general co-ordination of matters of common concern in the Commonwealth—a function which had for long confused opinion and led to a good deal of misunderstanding.

The Secretariat has gone from strength to strength. I should like to refer to one or two illustrations of initiatives that it has taken and of new ventures which are achieving most valuable results. The first is the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. Every Commonwealth country has its own instrument for administering aid to other Commonwealth countries, but the Commonwealth Secretariat has started this new concept of each Commonwealth country being able to receive financial help from central Commonwealth funds, to enable the poorer countries to send personnel with experience relevant to the needs of other countries in the Commonwealth and to help them when they themselves could not afford to pay for it. I think that is useful, and certainly a great number of visits by experts are being financed in this way. Last year there were 300 attachments of such experts of over six months' duration, and that is very useful. Again, in the field of education and training this new fund has 500 projects, some of them involving considerable numbers; and it is being further developed.

Thirdly, the Commonwealth Secretariat, through this fund, is able to help the weaker members of the Commonwealth to get on with the difficult and complicated business of export promotion. We ourselves in this country know that it is no easy matter to export: it is very hard, complicated and sophisticated work. Through the Fund for Technical Cooperation, the weaker and less experienced countries receive the kind of guidance and professional help that this difficult export promotion requires.

Another illustration of a new initiative is the youth programme. It is increasingly realised—and the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, I think, referred to the fact that over half the 1,000 million population of the Commonwealth is under 25—that there is a youth dimension to every social, economic and indeed political problem. We tend to think that youth will somehow grope its own way towards playing its part in the different specialised fields. This youth programme, set up by a former Heads of Government meeting, takes a much more sophisticated approach than that. It recognises that within each Commonwealth country there must be leadership and there must be the development of a form of profession to give guidance as to how the younger bracket can in fact be led to play a positive, active and constructive part in as many as possible of the spheres of national life.

The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, referred to the undoubted fact that the Commonwealth is essentially an association of peoples rather than an association of Governments alone, and to the importance of professional contacts in this. I should like to pay a very warm tribute to the work that has been done, so unobtrusively and so effectively for the last 10 years or more, by the Commonwealth Foundation. We do not see very much in the headlines about the Commonwealth Foundation, partly because its extremely able Director-General, Mr. Chadwick, is a most unassuming person who does not seek headlines, but the Foundation needs all the help that it can get. We cannot exaggerate the value over the years of more and more professional contacts being built up and cherished by continuous meetings and interchange of visits, and the Commonwealth Foundation has, by its efforts, enormously increased the number of interchanges and conferences of this kind.

I should like to ask the Government one question in the field of aid. A couple of years ago I raised the question of what seems to me to be an unnecessary and tiresome lacuna in our arrangements for giving aid to some of the very small territories that want aid most. Those like the noble Lord, Lord Grey, behind me, and myself also, who know the particular circumstances of very small islands, realise that it is very difficult to get viable commercial projects going in these little places where everything costs so much to start. It goes without saying that in small islands almost everything that is needed for a new project has to be brought in from outside. It is immensely costly, compared to building a hotel in this country, to build one in a small island in the Caribbean. Everything has to be carted in from outside, and across customs barriers, too. Is this not a field where it is clear that the aid-giving countries, such as ourselves, should seek to prime the pump? I think it is perfectly clear. We are told that it cannot be done. Why cannot it be done?

Direct aid is given by the Ministry of Overseas Development, but it is not given to private concerns. Private enterprises, where they are to be helped from Commonwealth sources and aid sources, are helped by our instrumentality of the Commonwealth Development Corporation. But the Commonwealth Development Corporation can help only projects which can be seen by reasonable estimates to be commercially viable. So we have the lacuna that direct Government assistance cannot be given to a project, however worthwhile, because it is in private hands, and the CDC cannot prime the pump because the capital costs are too high for viability. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the extremely able men in Whitehall and the CDC to bridge this gap, and to allow direct Government money to move towards the CDC to enable them to administer projects which can help in starting up what will eventually be viable enterprises in these small countries, especially in the field of tourism. After all, we do it ourselves in the hotel field. We subsidise our private enterprise hotels. Why can we not do it for the dependencies that need it so much?

Thirty years ago, at the time of the great debate about India and Pakistan joining the Commonwealth, I was rather a heretic about expanding the Commonwealth. I was very conscious of the value that we derived from the very close-knit ties that we had with our Commonwealth partners, which were so very clear in the post-war reconstruction period as well as during the war. Was it wise to inflate the Commonwealth? I was wrong. History has shown that this entirely new kind of Commonwealth, now with 40 members, has a part of the utmost value to play in the wider international community. Here is a nexus of people who can work together, who can trust each other and who can devise means of taking initiatives in the wider international stage of a kind that it is extremely difficult to generate in the pandemonium of 140 Governments, all exercising their muscle power. I was wrong, and I have no doubt whatever that the Commonwealth in its present form will go from strength to strength.

5.37 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, out of his very great practical experience of the Commonwealth, has given noble Lords very valuable and fresh information about the Commonwealth and has made very important suggestions. I am sure that we are all very grateful to him for letting us know what he thinks, out of his great experience. I should like to join all other speakers in thanking my noble friend Lord Greenwood both for introducing this subject and for the manner in which he did so.

I was for a time Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, as the position was then called, and I spent a lot of time studying what I thought held the Commonwealth together and constituted the glue and kept the whole thing going. I came to the conclusion that the heart of Commonwealth unity is a shared history. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who is not in his place, that the whole thing was not planned in any way. It was brought about by history which affected us, as well as all the other members of the Commonwealth. From the beginning, the Commonwealth has continually changed and developed, often to the dismay of traditionalists, but if it had not developed continuously the Commonwealth could not exist today.

The Commonwealth started as a completely Anglocentric Empire and then became an Anglocentric British Commonwealth. Canada always opposed the concept of a British Commonwealth, because this concept could not accommodate the French-speaking Canadians or, indeed, any other non-British element in the Commonwealth. But, at the same time, Canada was fearful of absorption into the United States and wanted the Commonwealth as a counterweight. Therefore, Canada wanted to see a Commonwealth continuing that had room for non-British elements, and Canada played a very important part in shaping the Commonwealth in such a way that it has survived till today. Only because the existing members had become sovereign, independent nations did Nehru, at the Prime Ministers' Conference in 1946, change his decision, already taken, to leave the Commonwealth. He saw with his own eyes that these existing members were so sovereign and so independent that India would not lose a jot of independence by continuing to remain in the Commonwealth. The same applied to the other Asian members. Because the Asian nations were in the Commonwealth, the African nations decided to stay in—and so on as each new wave of independence took place.

The Commonwealth is the only international organisation that cannot be joined. Nations can only grow into membership by evolving from colonial status to sovereign independence. One can say, indeed, that if there had been no Empire there would be no Commonwealth today. The form is that when a country attains independence it signifies its desire to remain in the Commonwealth. Then the existing members unanimously agree to accept it. A nation therefore does not join the Commonwealth; it continues in the Commonwealth and merely changes its status within it. Today this is standard and common practice, but the original establishment of this procedure was not so easy. I played a certain part in evolving the present formula in the complex arguments that took place in the case of India.

At the same time as India continued in the Commonwealth, the British Commonwealth became simply "the Commonwealth". There were two main reasons for this. One was that more and more members had no British clement in their population. Secondly, the United Kingdom appropriated to itself the term "British", as in "British Rail" or "British Airways". It would, in any case, have been impossible to continue with the term "British Commonwealth", because that would imply that the Commonwealth belongs to Britain, in the same way as its railways do.

Many factors arising out of the history of the Commonwealth helped to hold the Commonwealth together, and a good many of them have been mentioned by previous speakers. The recognition by every single member of the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and the unrivalled esteem in which she is held throughout the Commonwealth is a vital unifying factor. And because the Commonwealth has a personal symbol of unity, it can have a total variety of flags and national anthems without losing unity. As some speakers have said, the Commonwealth is also held together by a network of official and unofficial economic, scientific, educational, medical, legal and cultural links. These are manifested, in the main, in Commonwealth-wide organisations, and they are based on a similarity of standards and ways of doing things throughout the Commonwealth.

A point which I do not think has been mentioned so far but which seems to me to be of considerable importance is that every member gains, through membership of the Commonwealth, in importance and status in the world. The smaller members would hardly be known at all if they did not attend Heads of State meetings. Even the larger members—Australia, Canada, India and the United Kingdom itself—gain in prestige and influence because of their membership of a Commonwealth that is spread over every ocean and every continent of the world.

As my noble friend Lord Aylestone said—and I agree with him—the relatively recent and important factor of unity is the Commonwealth Secretary and Secretariat. When, at the beginning of the Commonwealth, Australia pressed for a Commonwealth Secretariat at almost every meeting of Prime Ministers in order to consolidate the position of the British in the Commonwealth, this was always blocked by Canada, for the reasons which I have given. Only when a large number of smaller members arose in the Commonwealth did they revive the idea of a Commonwealth Secretariat, but for the opposite reason from that which had inspired Australia in the beginning. They did not want the United Kingdom to go on organising Prime Ministers' meetings and the like. They wished this to be done by a body responsible to all members. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, that this has turned out to be a most valuable factor of unity in the Commonwealth. One result of the Commonwealth Secretariat is that Commonwealth meetings are no longer held automatically in London but in various Commonwealth capitals and that the local Prime Minister or Head of State presides.

Another vital factor is that English is the language spoken by all leaders of Commonwealth countries. The English spoken in England is no longer "standard English". There is no "standard English"; every variety of vocabulary, pronunciation and even spelling is equally valid throughout not only the Commonwealth but all the English-speaking world. A continuing and visible proof of the unity of the Commonwealth is that so many Prime Ministers and Heads of Government regularly come from the ends of the earth to attend Heads of Government meetings. They show that they attach great importance to them. They give up time and travel enormous distances to attend these regular meetings.

The Commonwealth has practically reached its finite size and form. In no sense is it Anglocentric any more. One can no longer properly speak of Britain and the Commonwealth but of Britain as a member of the Commonwealth. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, that the Commonwealth will certainly develop further. I think that as it develops it may come closer together, because now no single country dominates it. That is what has held the Commonwealth, so to speak, apart. I think that it may well come together as it develops in the future. At the moment we can affirm with assurance that a Commonwealth that has developed and grown so far and that has shown its continuing value to its members will endure as a permanent, important and beneficent part of the world order.

5.47 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, and thank him for initiating this debate. When he and I realised that the Leader of the House of Commons had written on 8th March, 1978 that he was unable to find time for a debate this year, we were both very disturbed. Therefore, I am very grateful to him for taking on this task. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, for permitting us to hold this debate on 12th March when, we hope, other countries are holding similar debates. I should also like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, for what he has said. Having stayed with the noble Earl in the Far East, I know all about the splendid work that he did there.

I feel very humble, because I think I am the first person to speak who has never held the post of Minister or administrator. On the other hand, I am a "grass roots" person, because I have worked in the Civil Service in Malaysia and have slept in long houses in Sarawak. I have also worked in India and have lived in a Basha building, eating rice with my fingers out of a quale. Therefore, I know about what I call the "grass roots" end of it, and I probably had to obey some of the orders of the noble Lords who have already spoken.

I wish to mention the International Friendship League, of which I am the President. This does exactly what the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, wants. The League is completely voluntary, it has 30 branches, it runs three hostels, and it helps to bring people from overseas into English homes. The noble Earl ventured to suggest that this might he expensive, but my answer is that if we invite people into our homes for a cup of tea and a biscuit and make them feel welcome that is all that they want. They want to be invited into English homes to meet English people. I do not think that the type of hospitality that is extended to them matters.

Turning to the problem of the English language, I believe that for the first time pidgin English was today read in Westminster Abbey. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, can confirm that pidgin English was read today in the Abbey? The noble Earl says that he does not remember. I want to concentrate on the question of the Commonwealth Secretariat. I should like to pay a tribute to the marvellous Guyanese who is now the Secretary, Mr. Shridath Ramphal. I have read his report of the activities from April 1975 to 1977 and the progress in getting new members to come in and the money they have subscribed—£1,810,420 and, marvellously, a contribution of £1,000 from Nauru—are very good indeed.

There is one difficulty in connection with which perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, will be able to assist. At the moment the officers work in five different places. There are 300 in staff of 20 different nationalities. Surely somewhere can be found for them and I am going to suggest Richmond Terrace. That has been empty for a long time; it is near the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I believe the various countries would be quite pleased to contribute to the necessary alterations, if only they could get the whole organisation working together.

I should like to quote a short poem which the Secretary-General of the Royal Commonwealth Society mentioned when he was talking about a changing world order. He said, Not in this land alone, But be God's mercies known; From shore to shore, Lord Make the nations see; That men should brothers be, And form one family The wide world o'er.". I think that really expresses what we feel today. He added that to form that family might well be the precondition of human survival on any tolerable basis. In my opinion one of the greatest things for which the Commonwealth stands is peace in this world, and, in my view, so long as the Commonwealth keeps together there is less chance of there being a world war. Also, I hope that English remains the working language because it is very useful in communications. Having been in the Council of Europe, I know only too well the difficulties one encounters when one has to put on earphones to hear the representatives of the different countries speaking. However good the interpretations are, it is not the same. I have been to four Commonwealth conferences of the parliamentarians and it has never been necessary to have any translations at all.


My Lords, one cannot make a joke when people are interpreting and others are listening through earphones.

Baroness VICKERS

Yes, my Lords, it is particularly awkward when it is in German because they laugh about 10 minutes afterwards! I should also like to mention a very interesting little booklet entitled, From Governments to Grassroots which is the report of the advisory committee of the Commonwealth Secretariat which has done a wonderful job. It is on the relationships between the official and the unofficial Commonwealth and the references they were given were to study and report the scope for the greater role of the NGOs in the information and the education fields. There are two types of NGOs: the Commonwealth Institute, the Commonwealth Foundation and the Royal Commonwealth Society and there are others which I think could be made more use of. For instance, the Commonwealth Press Union. Surely they could help by including a leaflet with their CPV quarterly. This would be sent to many countries and would be very valuable. I think there should be discussions with the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association on how to exploit the interest which was promoted and which we all remember, by the wide television coverage of the Commonwealth Games and also of course the cultural festival which accompanied it.

The CBA and the Secretariat should study the feasibility of producing radio cassettes. It is easy to put material on to cassettes and they are easy to send away, and I think we should put on to cassettes the various aspects of life in Commonwealth countries, which could be used in schools. Some of the Governments have foreign exchange problems and I think some consideration should be given to easing the travel restrictions particularly, as has been mentioned, for young people because I think that hinders a lot of the conferences. Furthermore, the customs regulations should be reviewed. It is very aggravating that when one sends books to these various countries one has to pay a considerable duty upon them.

In the excellent report of the Commonwealth Secretariat there is a list of the number of seminars. I tried to count them, but there are too many. I was interested that the multilateral trade negotiations were discussed, senior medical officers, education administration—and those were only a few, which I think were beneficial. Of course they have a tremendous number of publications, which I regret to say do not seem to find their way very far out of some of the offices. There is a splendid list—on economics, on education, on rural development (which has not been mentioned so far); on law, on science and technology and youth. This is not an original idea of mine because it is suggested in the report, but I should like to see the appointment of a co-ordinator who could co-ordinate the unofficial with the official Commonwealth. I believe that would be a great advantage. There are many NGOs, as we know and I have already mentioned two, but I should like to mention some that are definitely voluntary organisations. The Council for Education in the Commonwealth has three MPs as chairmen, one from each Party; it was formed in 1960 and I was one of the first chairmen. It has been carried on very well ever since. They should really be co-ordinated because they have a great many good ideas and I believe it would be an advantage. Then we had a debate with regard to overseas students affairs and the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, kindly answered it. When she was replying for Her Majesty's Government she said that no decision had been made, but time has passed since then and perhaps this evening the noble Lord may have a little more information. Then there is the Women's Corona Society—and I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Grey of Naunton, is here because his wife is the present president. That is run entirely by women and has 29 branches in different countries. Interestingly enough, Nigeria has a big association with eight branches; the Gilbert Islands has two branches and Malawi has three, just to mention one large country and two smaller ones.

Before people go overseas, and particularly business people and their wives, there are courses telling them about the money, about the language and giving them an insight into any country to which they are going. We also provide women speakers for the Commonwealth. So I should like to suggest that, in view of the fact that during the last 12 years it has been found that there are 20 Commonwealth professional associations, 15 national professional centres, all more or less working on their own, if this little booklet, From Governments to Grassroots, has done a worthwhile job we might find them putting some very useful ideas in front of the Government, and we could get co-ordination between the different organisations which are working in water-tight compartments.

It has been said by one noble Lord that the Canadian Government in 1977 requested the Secretary-General to establish this actual committee. It has been established and, so far as I know, nothing has happened since. So I think it has done a worthwhile job and I hope the noble Lord will be able to tell us something about it. In particular, I should like to know whether it is possible to co-ordinate the five different offices in some building where they can work more efficiently together.

5.59 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin with an apology to my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale and to the Minister that I may not be here at the end of the debate. I am going to a Commonwealth occasion—the celebration of the anniversary of the independence of Mauritius. I should like to thank the noble Lord for his kind reference to myself, but still more the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers. I am pleased, as often occurs, that I am following the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and I shall be making some reference to what she has said later in my speech.

My Lords, during 70 years of political activity I have seen four revolutions. The first is not often recognised—the political and social revolution in our own country. When I first became active in politics large numbers of working men had no vote; we had no manhood suffrage; of course we had no women's suffrage. There was literally starvation in our land, and a political and social revolution has taken place in this country in changing those conditions. The second revolution I have seen is the Soviet revolution, the third the Chinese revolution, the fourth the colonial revolution. It is possible that we are now witnessing two further revolutions: the change in the whole of industry by the technological revolution, and an Islamic revolution in Asia. But tonight we are considering the colonial revolution and the Commonwealth which has followed it.

I think the first thing to mention about the colonial revolution is the short time in which it occurred. For over three centuries territories had been occupied in Asia, Africa and South America by the great Powers. But in 20 years that old system was almost completely overthrown. I think it was largely due to the effect of the Second World War, a war against Fascism and for democracy, but not only in its ideological aspect; the experience which those thousands of Asians and Africans had in travelling about the world made them conscious of the self-government which other peoples enjoyed.

The colonial revolution began by the recognition of the independence of India, for which Clem Attlee, the Prime Minister, Stafford Cripps, and, if I mention him in influential background, my brother-in-law, Reginald Sorensen, had so much responsibility, But I want to recognise this tonight, that the very power of events there meant that not only the Labour movement, which accepted in principle the right of peoples to govern themselves, but also the Conservative Party, which had been the Party of the Empire, took a great part in bringing about the change. I want to pay my tribute to Mr. Iain Macleod for the service which he rendered when he was a Conservative Colonial Secretary. A little ironically, Iain Macleod used to ask me to have discussions with him more than any Labour Colonial Secretary had ever done. He saw that unless self-government was given to the continent of Africa there would be Maumau all over in Africa and not only in Kenya.

That colonial revolution is now almost complete. There remains Rhodesia, about which I will speak a little later, Hong Kong in its difficult position, and the small islands. I want to endorse what my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale said about the small islands. It is impossible that small islands with a population of perhaps even less than 1,000 should be independent and self-governing. I would like to see them federated under a new Commission which would be established by the United Nations. I believe that is the solution to their problem.

My Lords, I want to confess at once that, though I have taken considerable part in the struggle for the independence of nations in Africa and Asia, I am very often disappointed by the results—military coups, violence, denials of human rights. But there are two things that should be said about that. The first is this: they have happened less within the British Commonwealth than they have in territories which were under other colonial administrations. I want to recognise this. Though I spent a large part of my life in challenging British Imperialism, the British colonial system was preferable to other colonial systems in Africa, preferable to the French system of amalgamation with Paris, preferable to the Belgian system which denied any place to the indigenous people, any authority in their administration. The British colonial system did at least, with all its atrocities, evolve so that the African and Asian people could move to membership of their Legislatures. I believe it is that difference which is responsible for the fact that there have been fewer military coups, less denial of human rights, less violence within Commonwealth territories than in the territories of other colonial administrations.

There is a second comment to be made on this. When we deplore what has happened within the new independent nations, let us remember that there has been less violence in Africa and Asia than there was in Europe in the parallel situation when the old empires in Europe were disintegrating into nations. The revolutions, the violence, the inquisitions, the persecutions in Europe were much greater than anything that has happened in Africa or Asia.

My Lords, I want to say a word in comment upon the speech which the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, has delivered from the Opposition Front Bench. He saw the Commonwealth as an instrument of the Free World against the Communist world. Most of the Commonwealth nations are not Communist: like us they hate the totalitarianism of Communism. However, they also remember the imperialism of the West and that in their struggles aid has been given, however cynical it may have been, from the Communist countries.

The majority of Commonwealth countries are not aligned with the Western group: they are unaligned. Because they are unaligned I believe that the Commonwealth has a great contribution to make to peace which the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, has said it will fulfil. It is the unalignment of the majority of Commonwealth countries which will contribute to that end—indeed, it was those countries that called the United Nations Disarmament Conference. That is the contribution which they are making to world peace.

I have said that I have often been disappointed by what has happened. I have also been encouraged. As regards democracy we have the magnificent example of India. For a period there was Indira Gandhi and her régime, which was overwhelmingly defeated. We have the example of the democracy which India has maintained over the years. I admit that there is a challenge. Communist China appears to have advanced so much more rapidly than India. I tell my Indian friends that they must be more radical and drastic in dealing with the problem of their villages and village poverty if they are to make their democracy a success.

There is also the question of human rights. I have recently been to East and Central Africa. Before I went, Amnesty gave me a long list of prisoners of conscience—men and women who have been held in prison without being charged or without a trial. There is not a single detainee in Kenya, Zambia or Tanzania who is now on that list. The first action of the new President of Kenya, President Moi, was to release every prisoner who had been jailed without being charged or tried. In Zambia, the only detainees in prison who have not been charged or tried are the SWAPO dissidents and even as regards them a solution is in sight. Half of them are rejoining SWAPO and the other half have been placed under the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees to be sent to other countries if they cannot go back to Namibia. When I was in Tanzania, the last 14 prisoners who had been held without being charged or tried were released. Over that vast area of Africa—and I hope that my noble friend Lord Paget will read what I am saying—human rights are being recognised as they have never been recognised before.

I am encouraged by the dedication which Commonwealth countries have to the service of other peoples who are under repression. Zambia, so loyal to the decision of the United Nations to apply sanctions, has probably suffered in consequence more than Zimbabwe itself has suffered. I have met Kenneth Kaunda. I shall not say that he is bitter because he has a character which is rarely bitter. However, he is hurt by the fact that, while his people suffered for their loyalty to carrying out sanctions, British oil companies, with the knowledge of some of our Cabinet Ministers, were breaking those sanctions and sending their oil to Rhodesia.

I am encouraged by the experiments which have been made in Africa as regards democratic socialism. They are often denounced as Communist, but that is ridiculous. As regards Tanzania, which is one of our Commonwealth countries—I have met Julius Nyerere and he has said, "It will take 30 years to establish socialism here". He tells me that there is not a single person in Tanzania today who is living on unearned income. All industry has been taken over as a public service. The great plantations which were privately owned are now co-operatives and heroic, although rather pathetic, village communities are being established. Anyone who has seen that is inspired by what the Tanzanian people are doing.

The Commonweatlth, despite its diversity—for example, its democratic States, its theocratic States, its scientific Socialist States, its democratic Socialist States and its capitalist States—is progressive in the world today. There has been a series of Commonwealth conferences. All of them have contributed to progress. They are attacks upon the remnants of colonialism, racism, and apartheid. However, a new issue has now arisen. At the last Conference of the Commonwealth nations at Kingston the issue of a new international economic order was raised. I am glad that our Prime Minister made a contribution, because it is now the issue which our Commonwealth must face—namely, the fact of the rich and poor worlds; the millions within our Commonwealth who are hungry. Commonwealth statesmen are leading that campaign—Manley and Burnham at Kingston and now Julius Nyerere at the great Arusha conference which has just been held. Our British Government, if they are to retain the solidarity and sympathy of other nations in the Commonwealth must endorse the demands for a new world order which will end the disparities between North and South. My Lords, this is Commonwealth Day. I salute the Commonwealth for its achievements in the past. I salute it still more for my hopes for its future.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, when following a speaker in your Lordships' House, it is customary to comment on the statements that he has made. I have the greatest respect for the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, but I disagree fundamentally with the statement he made that there has ever been what he has termed a colonial revolution. For some 30 years I served as a colonial overseas officer. I went out from this country about 50 years ago, not in the belief that I and those who served with me were the most superior beings on this earth, but in the belief that we had a duty to serve. When I travelled over that long distance this was borne in upon me by the fact that we had a British Navy in the Mediterranean, in the Far East and in the Atlantic Ocean, and when I arrived it seemed to me that that Navy was keeping the peace of the world, which all peoples of the world enjoyed.

Following on from that, I remember meeting Mr. Ormsby-Gore, as he then was —a Secretary of State some 50 years ago—when I, as a young man of 20 years of age, had a conversation with him. He turned to me and said "Do you know why you are here?" Young as I was, I was completely overcome by his words to me. However, he went on to say "You are here to lead these people to self-government". That was 50 years ago; and that was what we were involved in.

In following up my reasoning behind all this, I know from my personal experience that it is always an anxious time for Her Majesty's Government when deciding at any one moment when a particular country is ready for self-government. We had a responsibility for those people whom we were endeavouring to serve. This country had a responsibility to ensure that when it was handing over government to independent nations, they were fully equipped and able to carry out that task to the benefit of their own people in those territories. That is my answer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Brockway.

This evening, I am immensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for introducing this debate. It is most timely. When we consider that our former colonial empire—now devolved to independent nationhood—extends to over one quarter of the earth's surface, it is of immense importance—and this underlines the remarks that I have just made—that what independent nations believe of us and we of them should be accurate and true. It is because I value the continuance of the Commonwealth that it is most important to underline that precept: accurate and true—for, in the years following victory in the last war, we have come to doubt some of the principles which governed our colonies and to place tradition under the microscope. This tearing up of the roots for minute examination and scrutiny of the fundamental beliefs of our forefathers which gave us a stable society has extended over the whole of our political spectrum, and has not escaped the distortions spoken and written about our colonial policy.

If we want the concept of the Commonwealth to succeed—and I want it to succeed—let those in this country who must one day (when we are no longer alive) by the natural progress of affairs succeed to the positions that we hold, know the truth of our past. Otherwise, our young people will lose any interest in the Commonwealth and it will die. Let me quote an example of what I mean. In our British schools where African and British boys study together, among many of the emotive statements in a book on Africa there is this—and what conceivable good can it do to the fostering of good Commonwealth relations for African boys and British boys to read this about Africa in our schools?— European interests always came before the interests of those people overseas". That is entirely false, and that I know from my experience.

I can say to your Lordships that remarks of the kind that I have depicted appear in the books written by some of our academics, whose grey matter is vastly superior to mine, and that in isolated cases statements of this kind fall from the lips of some of our politicians. I cannot believe that in either category these gentlemen have had my experience as a colonial officer in Malaysia for some 30 years when it was my duty to give effect to your colonial policies. That applied to all territories under the administration of the Colonial Office. Therefore, I am in a position categorically to deny that it was ever the policy of the Colonial Office to place the interests of this country before those of any overseas territories, or to carry out a policy to their detriment.

Let me face squarely the charge of exploitation. Yes, this country benefited by its association with our overseas territories, and so did they. That is a fact. Let me illustrate that statement from my own experience. As a former Commissioner of Customs and Excise in Malaysia, I am in a position to state that every dollar and cent of the huge revenues that we collected from the export of rubber and tin, the import duties and the Excise duties was ploughed back into the construction of roads, ports, electrical installations, hospitals, schools, et cetera. All those were handed over by Britain as going concerns at the time of independence and, under an independent government—I have taken the trouble to research this—they have, to their eternal credit, greatly extended those facilities. That is the position today.

I believe that there is a dire need for an international public relations officer for the Commonwealth, or a need for an historian, to comment on the Commonwealth's affairs. The part played by Britain in the past has been entirely honourable. In this country our children should know that. So should the children in the independent nations of the Commonwealth. Only then can they look each other straight in the face. We are now removed from close contact with our overseas friends for, by virtue of their independence, we no longer live among them. That makes it more important than ever for us and for future generations, accurately and faithfully to record these overseas people who helped us. I believe that the future of the Commonwealth depends upon this. Given that our record is faithfully kept, the Commonwealth can be strengthened by its young people, for boundaries are coming down and the isolation of distance will be removed by the speed of travel. The truth about our past will fortify them and us in the years ahead in a Commonwealth association with one another which I hope will continue.

It has been my privilege to be a colonial officer in Malaysia when Colonial Secretaries of some standing visited that country. To mention only a few whom one remembers with affection, there were the late Jim Griffiths and Oliver Lyttleton. I remember the visit of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I remember too on this Commonwealth Day the joy of the Malaysian people at the appointment of Sir Hugh Clifford as Governor and High Commissioner for the Malay States. That was many years ago when I was a young cadet in Malaya. At that time, the Malays were thrilled because when Sir Hugh was appointed he had, some years prior to that date, endeared himself to the peoples of Pahang as a young cadet and district officer. There are many books about Sir Hugh, and many books about Malaya which are worth reading and which could possibly be studied in our schools and certainly by the young people of this country.

I remember too Sir Frank Swettenham and also Sir Shenton Thomas, Governor and High Commissioner in 1940, who, when it was obvious that the Japanese attack on Malaysia in December 1941 and February 1942 would succeed, stated that it was the duty of every colonial officer to remain and share the sufferings of the Malaysian people—those people whom we had endeavoured to serve. So far as I am aware, every colonial officer followed the Governor's advice. This was in the highest traditions of the Service. I am most grateful for the tributes which have been paid to the Colonial Service this evening by noble Lords and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, who introduced this debate.

It is not my purpose to mention what happened afterwards during imprisonment in Changi Jail, but it is appropriate to remember with gratitude and even affection on this Commonwealth Day those Malayan people who died so that some of us in Changi might live. They were discovered sending in to the jail food and drugs to help us when we were desperately short of both. For this many of them suffered torture; some of them suffered execution. But does not this act underwrite the strong bonds which existed between us and those people who were the recipients of our service?

It is nonsense to say that we were not wanted anywhere. At the granting of independence some of these people expressed regret to me personally at our impending departure. In conclusion, I remember one incident which I think is appropriate to what we are thinking about tonight. As a young officer many years ago when wireless communication first became possible, it was a great thrill for us to listen to England some 12,000 miles away, and I remember the occasion when Her Majesty's grandfather, who seemed to be very tired at that time, went down to receive the congratulations of both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall at the end of a long reign. As we were listening to this many miles from anywhere a young Malay turned to me and said, "You know, having heard him speak, I feel it makes me want to do something better with my own life".

My Lords, that is my feeling about the Commonwealth. I am grateful to the noble Lord for introducing this debate. It is most timely. I believe in the Commonwealth's future. I am most grateful for some of the speeches I have heard this evening. They give me hope, and I hope that they will be of assistance to Her Majesty's Government.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, it has become a platitude in talking about the Commonwealth to speak of it as an unique institution. It is unique, and many speakers have said this afternoon that it has arisen out of the British Empire. I would say rather that it has arisen despite the British Empire. The noble Lord, Lord Gridley, who preceded me, set the precedent for answering, or following, the previous speaker, and I am happy to do so, if only briefly.

I plead guilty to being one of the writers that he spoke of who, in writing history of the British Empire and of other empires has said that at the height of empire the interests of the Europeans were always paramount. That was what colonialism was about. What I should like to suggest to him is that he considers, Yes, the colonial Powers built hospitals, roads, schools, and provided water. Yes, there was a positive side. I would entirely agree with him and pay my own personal tribute to many of the devoted colonial officers, with many of whom I have stayed and enjoyed their hospitality and seen their devotion to the local people. But in its essence the colonial ethic, the imperial ethic, is that of domination by the great Powers, and in this case we are talking about the European great Powers.

I would suggest to him that he considers that although many speakers have talked about the coming of independence to the Colonial States during our lifetime, it would be more accurate to talk about them regaining independence. All these people have known independence long before the Europeans came. There were States; there were empires; there were whole structures of political institutions that had been devised in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and South America when Europeans were living on a very low political standard. Of course, we have not time to debate this tonight, and it is not the main thrust of the debate, but I should like to undermine a little of the complacency that has been heard in this Chamber this afternoon.

The Commonwealth is a political institution. As a political institution it will live and grow provided that it has things to do; that it is not just accepted. Yes, we all speak English; most of us play cricket; we know each other; we come to London and we have meetings with each other. No, as a political institution this institution depends on its action, on its activity. I suggest that it has two principal activities that are challenging it in the near future. Before I do so I should like to ask noble Lords to consider whether they are not, either consciously or unconsciously, forces undermining the continued existence of the Commonwealth.

I shall give two examples. My noble friend Lord Brockway has already referred to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, speaking second in the debate. I agreed entirely with the first part of his speech and admired the language in which he spoke. With the second part I disagreed entirely, and I would ask him to reconsider his approach. He spoke of the Commonwealth being a buffer against Communism. It is not, and those who would like to make it into such an institution are doing it an ill service. It will not become a buffer against Communism, and if we try to make it so we shall destroy it because from the Commonwealth countries themselves the world looks a very different place than it does from within this Chamber.

If the Chinese come and show you how to grow rice or build a railway from Dar-es-Salaam to the Copper Belt, you do not ask them what their political philosophy is, and I can assure noble Lords that, from my experience, knowledge and observation, their political philosophy has never interfered with the kind of aid they have been giving. I do not want to pursue this too far and I would only add that the Russians have not been as sensible as the Chinese and never as constructive. If you try to make the Commonwealth into something which is an extension of what you consider to be the national interest of this country or Western Europe, you will destroy it precisely because the majority of the people of the Commonwealth do not look on the world as divided in the way you in this Chamber look upon it.

The second factor which is undermining the continued existence of the Commonwealth is the kind of speech we heard last week which takes aside what are called the new Commonwealth mothers in this country, which separates them from the mass of our British community, although many of them may have been here for 20 years, and which identifies—quite incorrectly, as any scientist here will support me in saying—skin colour with ethnicity or culture. If one wants to see an example of British Victorian culture, ask my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead to give some instances of the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding one must eat at 100 degrees in the Caribbean.

When that sort of speech is made, when we start talking about new Commonwealth immigrants, when we are frightened that new cultures coming into this country may diminish the development of a British culture—which, after all, has always been a mongrel culture and has alsways had a mixture of cultural ingredients—we are not just insulting the members of the British community, we are also antagonising every Commonwealth country outside these islands. The speeches that are made on those lines—unscientific and appealing to the lowest emotions—are reported in the Press of our Commonwealth fellow-members and they are a threat to the continued existence of the Commonwealth.

The speaker to whom I am referring said the British people would no longer argue. We will argue all right and we have always been prepared to argue. What we will not argue is on the false premise that you identify a person's character, worth or culture according to the colour of his or her skin and classify them as new Commonwealth immigrants. That brings me to the first of the important challenges which I believe the Commonwealth now faces, and that is in the whole field of race relations.


My Lords, I am listening intently to my noble friend's remarks. He referred to Commonwealth mothers being mentioned in some speech, but we have not learned to whom he has been referring, and that is a little confusing.


My Lords, I was referring to a speech made last week in which a percentage was given of new Commonwealth mothers in this country and I was attacking the concept that you divide the people of Britain according to the colour of their skin, because that is only what "new Commonwealth" is used for; it is a euphemism for colour and I am sure the speaker would agree that when he is talking about new Commonwealth mothers and births to new Commonwealth mothers he is in fact talking about coloured mothers and coloured babies.

I was saying that the whole issue of race relations is the first challenge to the Commonwealth. It has been said on a number of occasions by speakers in both Houses that the Commonwealth is an organisation, an institution, which has no rules and no bounds. That is not so. I was present at the Singapore Commonwealth Conference in 1971 when the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles was approved unanimously by every Prime Minister and Head of State at that meeting. That declaration is worth reading; it is up in lights in the Commonwealth Institute and many schoolchildren read it every day. It is worth reading because it lays down that the Commonwealth does not recognise racial, colour or ethnic differences as factors for separating mankind.

In laying down those principles, the Commonwealth was reflecting its own history. It is not a coincidence that the only two members of the Commonwealth to be expelled—or, to be absolutely and technically accurate, asked to withdraw—have been South Africa and Rhodesia, in both cases because of the racial policies and attitudes that were institutionalised in both those countries. I hope that when the Minister replies to this debate he will be able to tell us how the Government are preparing for the next Commonwealth Conference to be held in August in Lusaka, and what contribution they intend to make to what has been this long-standing race relations issue, the issue of the continuation of white supremacy, a relic of the Commonwealth and a relic of colonial days in Southern Africa. It is not unrelated to the racial tensions in this country.

Let us recognise that this Commonwealth of ours is present on all the six continents of the world. It embraces peoples of every major religion and of every major ethnic community, but perhaps, above all, it is populated by three-quarters of the world's poor, and that is the second central issue that our Commonwealth has to face. As my noble friend Lord Brockway pointed out, a start was made in Kingston, but we have been disappointed that in the last four years there has not been more follow-up. We have two-thirds of the world's population commanding no more than 12 per cent. of the world's products and only 7 per cent. of its industry. Here in the Commonwealth we have the opportunity, a better opportunity perhaps than in any other international institution, to discuss face to face and calmly, in an atmosphere of negotiation, this real problem which faces both the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. I hope that the Minister will say how the Government are preparing for this. I believe that at the Lusaka Conference our Government can make an even greater contribution than was made by the Government in the Kingston meeting of 1975, but only if it is identified with the needs of the vast majority of Commonwealth citizens.

If we use the great skill in this country, in other Commonwealth countries, and in the Commonwealth Secretariat—to which I also pay the highest possible tribute—to face the central issue of our generation, I believe that the Commonwealth itself can play a vital international role, the effects of which will be much wider than those simply within the Commonwealth itself. Let us remember that the members of the Commonwealth have already played a great role in world history, not least in this country. Let us also remember that it is not a one-way traffic. We learn much from our Commonwealth members, if we listen and look. The Americans have learned much. It was the slaves who took the techniques of tropical farming to Central and Latin America. Today it is members of our Commonwealth coming into this country —not just the Canadians, the Australians, and the New Zealanders, but also the Africans, those from the Caribbean, and the Asians—who are making a new contribution to an enriched culture in this world and in this country. That, I believe, is the opportunity and the challenge which faces our Commonwealth, and we must be active within it if it is to continue to exist.

6.53 p.m.


My Lords, I wish to add to the tributes paid to the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, not only for having most fortuitously initiated this extremely important debate on Commonwealth Day, but also for making a very convincing and characteristically knowledgeable speech. Unlike many noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, I have never served in Government, and my visits to the Commonwealth have been fairly limited, being confined to New Zealand, Fiji, and the Caribbean. It is true that today mention of the word "Commonwealth", especially among young people, evokes a certain amount of cynicism, and I should like to suggest one or two reasons why this is the case. I believe that a certain amount of the "us" and "them" attitude is taken. The White Commonwealth is not infrequently played off against the coloured Commonwealth; Canada, Australia, and New Zealand against the newer members. I have never personally agreed with this; I do not think that many people have. One question which we must ask ourselves—and I believe that history will show this —is whether in some cases independence has not come just a little too soon. It was bound to come, as we have been reminded. Fifty years ago a distinguished person mentioned the fact that a great nation was preparing for independence.

I went to St. Martin-in-the-Fields for the Independence Day service for Dominica. The first High Commissioner there, Arden Shillingford, happens to be a very good friend of mine. I have never been to Dominica, but I know some of its people over here, and I would be among the first to wish that country well. However, bearing in mind its 55,000 people—equivalent to the population of a town such as Eastbourne—one must be a little apprehensive about how they are likely to manage, though one hopes that the apprehension is misplaced.

In 1974 I paid a business visit to St. Lucia, which I believe is known as the jewel of the Caribbean, and anyone who has been there knows why. It is a country of great beauty, with wonderfully friendly people, a thriving tourist industry, a fast-developing harbour, and a large quantity of mineral resources, particularly in the northern part of the island. I received a personal invitation from Mr. Compton, the Premier of St. Lucia, to attend the recent independence celebrations. Unfortunately, due to business and personal commitments which I could not cancel I was, most reluctantly, unable to accept. However, I went to Westminster Cathedral on a very cold, bleak day to attend the service of independence, and a very beautiful and moving service it was. It was interesting to note that in the choir there were, I think I am right in saying, one or two young St. Lucian boys. The flag of independence was carried up to the altar by three charming St. Lucian girls, two of whom were nurses. I wish to say a few words about that later. I personally regret, in a sense, that an island such as St. Lucia is breaking away from the Commonwealth. However, at the same time I do not think there is any prospect that we shall lose contact with the island because though I say that it is breaking away from the Commonwealth, I feel that perhaps through this move we might more firmly cement relations with it.

Last September I had the great privilege of being one of the 10 United Kingdom delegates to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Jamaica. Incidentally, I believe that the next conference is to be in New Zealand, and I think that it is the following year that it is to be held in Zambia. I should like to pay a tribute to our hosts in Jamaica, who ran this conference with great efficiency and courtesy. I would also join the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood, in his tributes to Sir Robin Vanderfelt and to Mr. Molloy, and certainly to their counterparts in Jamaica. Here was a real opportunity to meet representatives from about 20 Commonwealth countries. With many of the views of those countries one might have disagreed; but, after all, my Lords, the idea of a conference is to share opinions, to expound views and to try to find some common ground.

My own impression of this conference, particularly in the case of the plenary sessions, is that much was done there. I may say that the conference was held at a very difficult time, because it coincided with the publication of the Bingham Report. I should also like to pay a personal tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Llewelyn-Davies, who led the United Kingdom delegation with the utmost tact and distinction at that especially difficult time. I will not say that all my views and the views of some of my noble friends accorded chapter and verse with hers, or indeed with others at the conference, but the way she handled a potentially difficult situation was, I thought, masterly; and, although this conference took place last September, I make no apology for putting that tribute on the record now.

My Lords, looking at the matter of race relations, I think New Zealand gives a lead here. I was there in 1971, as many of your Lordships know, with my wife and with Princess Alexandra and her husband, for the centennial celebrations of the City of Auckland. We attended many functions and I had to make many speeches. I had two Maori welcomes, which were fascinating; and I visited a number of Maori people. One I met was a particularly fine wood-craftsman and a justice of the peace; and, of course, over here we have that outstandingly fine singer, Kiri Tekanawa. One of the first VCs of the war was won posthumously by a Maori. When one talks about the role of the Commonwealth one has only to go to the Domain in Auckland and see the Roll of Honour. As I think I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House, there, on a wall, there are some 4,000 New Zealand names of those who fell in the last war, largely in Crete. That, out of a population of about 3 million, is a very large percentage; and, of course, these New Zealanders included a substantial number of the Maori population.

I think one of the most moving experiences I have ever had was to go to the dawn Anzac Day Service in 1971. It was held at 5 o'clock in the morning, and one looked over Auckland Harbour as the dawn was breaking. There was created an extraordinary feeling, because although Auckland is 13,000 miles from the Isle of Wight, one almost had the feeling that across the water was the Isle of Wight, so close are the contacts which still remain between our two countries.

My Lords, the role of the Commonwealth at the present time is a difficult one, because we have 40 countries all of different sizes and different populations which now have indepencence, and the question really is as to how we can best assimilate those differences. I think one most encouraging aspect—and this really gives the answer to the continued value of the Commonwealth—is the number of Commonwealth nurses and doctors in this country, particularly in our hospitals, who do such outstandingly fine work. The six mental hospitals in the area of Surrey where I live have a very large number of nurses from the Commonwealth—from the Caribbean, from India, from Malaysia, from Mauritius in particular, and from many other countries—and the integration among the various races and our own British staff is very much to be praised.

My Lords, it is a great pity that this debate has taken place in a House which is less than full. It has merited a much larger attendance, mainly because of the vital importance of the subject. I would say only this in conclusion, that whatever may be the future of the Commonwealth, there is certainly no need to apologise for it. There will be scepticism shown in some quarters, and the question will be raised as to how some of the problems are to be resolved in these countries; but I think it is fair to say that we in this country and those in many of the larger European countries have faced the same problems and have not yet quite solved them all. So I believe there is much hope for the future of the Commonwealth, and that it is more and more necessary for an even closer partnership between this country and all the Commonwealth countries, the old ones and the newest of the new. It is absolutely essential for the sake of mankind that this partnership should continue.

7.9 p.m.


My Lords, I, too, should like to join in congratulating my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale on having selected Commonwealth Day for this debate. Few Members of your Lordships' House are better qualified than he, with his long record of years of devoted service to the Commonwealth, to initiate our discussion. I believe the Commonwealth has a greater role than ever to play in world affairs, and never was it more badly needed than it is today. But I want to confine my remarks to the youngest independent member of the Commonwealth, St. Lucia. Two weeks ago I was privileged to attend (I was much more fortunate than the noble Lord, Lord Auckland) her independence celebrations, and most impressive they were.

The one discordant note was struck by the BBC reporter, Mr. Martin Bell. Many of us who heard him were really left wondering whether he was indeed referring to St. Lucia at all, or to some other island of his own imagination. His was a half-baked, slanted piece of reporting, totally unworthy of a great nationalised medium such as our own BBC. The whole British Press, in contrast to the BBC, acquitted themselves very creditably. The Guardian came out with the headline: "Islanders cheer a free St. Lucia". The Daily Telegraph stated: "Outlook bright as St. Lucia wins full independence". The Financial Times lead with: "St. Lucia becomes independent: favourable omens for self-rule". Only the BBC, that great untouchable quasi-Quango now beyond the reach of Parliament—I had always imagined that Parliament was the supreme court of the realm until it whittled away one of its greatest privileges only recently—did St. Lucia and the cause of Britain irreparable harm.

When one thinks of the magnificent role played by the BBC during the Second World War and of the millions of people oppressed by Nazi terror sitting glued to their radio sets, listening to the BBC broadcasts as the only source available of honest, factual reporting, one can realise how the BBC has sunk over the years. Then, it was a source of hope and comfort in Europe's darkest days. Now, my noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich has had a great deal to say about the BBC's slanted approach in dealing with the problems facing our police, but, in reporting the St. Lucia independence celebrations, the BBC representative, Mr. Martin Bell, would appear to have plumbed even lower depths still.

The BBC report reminded me very forcefully of an account of the reporter's role that I had recently read in a cheap American paperback: Reporters are not supposed to care what their victims think of an article after it has been published. A good reporter must find means, any means, to make people reveal what they should never reveal. I have watched crack reporters bullying, stalking out their prey, kicking on doors and refusing to relent after the source has cracked. I was warm and seemed so ingenuous that people talked to me as if I was a friend. But I was not a friend. I wrote what I thought regardless of the consequences". That almost fits in with the BBC's reporting of these happy, spontaneous celebrations that I witnessed at first hand on the island of St. Lucia.

I would ask a question of my noble friend who is to reply for the Government—and I apologise for not giving him prior notice; for I heard of this debate only last night. Has any protest been received by Her Majesty's Government at the BBC's reporting of these proceedings? I readily understand that he cannot answer it in today's debate, but could he not obtain a transcript of the BBC's reports? If there is any way my noble friend can make amends to the Government and people of St. Lucia for the BBC's deplorable lapse of good taste and objective reporting on an otherwise supremely happy occasion, I hope it is not already too late for him to do so.

I ask because this is a matter of extreme importance. The island of St. Vincent is to attain its independence later this year. Antigua may well follow suit in the near future. I submit that it is no business of ours to interfere in the internal politics of these Caribbean islands; but I am jealous of Britain's good name. It is of the utmost importance that, when we cede independence to these islands, we bow out with honour and dignity and with a good grace that will leave no unpleasant taste behind. Here, I must pay tribute to the representative of Her Majesty at the independence celebrations of St. Lucia. Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra and Mr. Angus Ogilvy won the hearts of everyone throughout the proceedings. The Princess presided over them with a dignity and charm which was superb. She went out of her way on numerous occasions to mix freely with the people of the island, especially the children; and carried out an exhausting programme of activities with a warm kindliness and sweetness that left behind an excellent impression. No one could have fulfilled these heavy duties or carried them out, often in intense heat, with greater devotion and more striking success. She proved herself in every way an admirable representative of the Head of the Commonwealth.

I should also like to add a tribute to the Government representative, Mr. Ted Rowlands, who had a very important role to play in the proceedings. He played it with grace and good humour that did credit both to the Government and to Britain. As I have said, the one discordant note came unfortunately from the BBC's representative, Mr. Martin Bell; and I would ask my noble friend to see that in due course full amends are somehow made to the people of St. Lucia and active steps are taken to prevent a future repetition of this deplorable episode.

Listeners to the BBC programme may well have asked: who is Mr. George Odlum? He is the deputy leader of the Opposition, a handsome but frustrated firebrand who, if I have got my facts aright—and I speak subject to correction—was engaged in a street brawl at the time of the last election and was subsequently involved in police court proceedings. He is rather like a limbo dancer on the island, one who swallows a flaming torch and breathes out flames afterwards. His engaging personality seems to have buttonholed every delegation that visits the island. He was the main source of Mr. Martin Bell's information. In Mr. Martin Bell's own words: he wears his politics on his sleeve, the sleeve of a Castro-style uniform". How Mr. George Odlum must now be laughing up his sleeve and how foolish has our own BBC been made to look after incalculable damage has already been done!

In contrast, how generous and liberal-minded was the attitude of the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Mr. John Compton, throughout the proceedings. Among the 51 nations represented, Cuba sent five delegates who were the honoured guests during these celebrations. I had the privilege of sitting with them during one of the official lunches and I know how much they valued the invitation extended to them and how pleased they were to be present. Yet Mr. Martin Bell reported, apparently through his contact with Mr. George Odlum—and I can only paraphrase—that, in a country whose politics were as sulphurous as its hot springs, what should be one of the smoothest transitions to independence was threatening to be one of the most acrimonious. Mr. Martin Bell quoted Mr. Odlum as saying: The Opposition of St. Lucia warn that they cannot guarantee the safety of people attending the independence celebrations". But who is Mr. George Odlum to guarantee their safety? I never sought his protection; and, indeed, felt much safer without it. Could not Mr. Martin Bell get his information from the official leader of the opposition, Mr. Josie, or was it because the Guardian has described the leader of the opposition as "the quieter Mr. Peter Josie"? The Guardian of 21st February went on to say, very properly: On the last occasion that visiting VIPs"— As I said, they attended from 51 countries— were threatened with a riot, only a few bits of banana were thrown". On the next day, Independence Day, 22nd February, the Guardian reported: Princess Alexandra arrived with the Foreign Office Minister of State, Mr. Ted Rowlands, amid the apparent collapse of the Opposition's efforts to disrupt the celebrations of the island's independence from Britain". But the damage by the BBC had by then already been done.

I can vouch, after attending nearly all the official Government celebrations on the island, that I saw no sign of any disturbance and no untoward incident of any kind. But to sensation-hungry reporters that is not news. On the contrary, I have rarely seen such spontaneous rejoicings on all sides. The St. Lucians are a gay, happy and very friendly people, and they revelled in the carnival atmosphere of their independence celebrations. The carnival on 26th February began at five in the morning and went on till after mid-night. The streets were packed with wildly enthusiastic crowds, some six or more deep, lining the pavements, and the long procession of decorated floats, steel bands, laughing, singing children, all in their gay fancy costumes was a real joy to behold. So much for Mr. Martin Bell of the BBC, who by then had left the island, and his mentor Mr. George Odlum.

My Lords, why do I stress these matters in this evening's debate? It is simply because, as I have said on previous occasions, I believe profoundly in the Commonwealth. I believe that this unique, free association of 40 independent States can be a power for untold good in this sorely distracted world of today. I believe that Britain, the mother-country, should still remain a trustee for their welfare and good relations long after their independence has been achieved. As a benevolent midwife, we have presided over their birth. I hope we shall long continue to preside over their growth and prosperity, and play a role worthy of our great past as the noblest, and yet the most maligned, colonial power in the whole of human history.

7.24 p.m.

The Earl of AVON

My Lords, I too should like to open my remarks by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale, for originating this debate. My theme is on the changes which have taken place in the Commonwealth since the war and the need for the attitude of this country to change too. I thought that I might be rather out of step with the rest of the debate today, but in point of fact many noble Lords have spoken on the same topic. As the noble Lord has stressed, Britain is now just an equal member of the Commonwealth. I have some very small doubts about the relationship between our Government—and successive Governments—and the Commonwealth. These doubts stem from the many changes that have occurred over the past 30 years.

Since the war there has been the NATO Alliance which, although shared with Canada, has made our friendship with the United States of America of a special importance to us. An example of this would be our appointed Ambassador in Washington at the moment or an Ambassador which Mr. Macmillan sent to Washington some years ago. Both of these were personal appointments, but they were to Washington, not to Canberra or Ottawa. This is the obvious special importance which perhaps we overstress when we are thinking of our relationship with America. Then, over the past two decades, there has been our preoccupation with entry into Europe, putting a severe strain at times on some of our Commonwealth relationships. Here we might perhaps turn to the Benches on my right and their preoccupation with Europe, yet there is not one of that Party here tonight. Also, to be a member of three clubs—and I am sure some noble Lords are members of many more than three—puts a strain on the amount of time one can spend with each club. I feel that we have now put a slight strain on the Commonwealth by the addition of these two clubs.

There has been the most welcome step of the formation of the Commonwealth Secretariat; and may noble Lords have already paid tribute to the Secretariat and I should like to add my own tribute to them as well. They have done tremendous work. Their work is mainly administrative and cohesive at the moment. But because they work in London this should not lessen this Government's responsibilities with the Commonwealth abroad. I feel that having the Commonwealth Secretariat here is, on the one hand, an advantage, but on the other hand a disadvantage. Another small point is that Governor-Generals now tend to be nationals of their own country. This is an excellent step but it means that one more small link with this country has been severed. In the past there has been an India Office, a Commonwealth Office, a Dominions Office and a Colonial Office. Now it is all under one roof.

Still talking of the changes of the moment, we have had a tremendous preoccupation with Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway is constant in his attention to this detail in this House. This is a Commonwealth issue of tantamount importance but it should not overshadow the other Commonwealth relationships. All this adds up in my mind to two trends: first, the Government of Britain has been, and is, mainly occupied with its alliances closer at hand and the African problem. Secondly, the responsibility of upholding the Commonwealth is slipping from the hands of Whitehall. This may be no bad thing, but there must be no vacuum left. I believe, because of these trends, Government needs a new initiative and a more positive approach to the Commonwealth today. "New initiative" and "a more positive approach" are easy to say but are difficult to put into practice. I suggest that the aims could be to ensure the continuing strength of the Commonwealth; to nurture present members; to look for new members; to harness the goodwill both for trade and mutual benefit; and to maintain an alliance which is a positive help to world peace. In answer to some noble Lords opposite, the very mix of the Commonwealth geographically, from a religious point of view, and politically—and it does not matter what politics—is one of the major factors for world peace for tomorrow.

Perhaps this is going backwards a little, but I should like to see one of the Ministers of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office called the Minister of State for the Commonwealth. We know their duties are parcelled out to some degree, but would it not be nice to have a Minister whom we could all see? Most people in this House would welcome the noble Lord who is going to reply to this debate in that position. Also I should like to see this Minister of State for the Commonwealth so rarely in the Foreign Office that when he is greeted there it is always, "Hullo, stranger", because he is contantly visiting the Commonwealth.

I may be treading on dangerous ground in suggesting this because it might already have happened, but I should like there to be a study of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to see whether its constitution might not be changed once more, perhaps into Overseas Affairs, one Minister of State being responsible for the Commonwealth and being so titled, one for Europe and being so titled and one for Foreign Affairs. Another idea might be to have a combined programme of visits done at Cabinet level not only for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State but for other Ministers such as the Ministers for Trade and for Defence. I should like to see this co-ordinated so as to cover not only the 40 existing countries of the Commonwealth, but also to go to the Provinces: perhaps to Perth and British Colombia. The Minister may perhaps tell me that that already takes place. There is so much goodwill in these countries that it seems to me to be absolute folly not to make the best use of it.

For some of the reasons I stated earlier, I believe there is a real danger that the Commonwealth could drift into becoming a less meaningful family, and I believe that the Government in this country should take a positive step in order to ensure that that does not happen. The Government should also take the initiative in enhancing our country's standing within the Commonwealth, for the benefit of the peoples in this country and in order to increase the trade between our country and Commonwealth countries, both now and in the unpredictable future. I am pleased to support this Motion.

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, may I begin by joining in thanking my noble friend Lord Greenwood for giving us the opportunity of marking Commonwealth Day with this debate. I am sorry that I was not in my place to hear the first few minutes of his speech, but I heard most of it and I can assure him that I shall study Hansard very carefully. I am glad to have the opportunity of following the noble Earl, Lord Avon. His father was a man for whom I had great admiration, and I find that what he has had to say is very thoughtful and very thought provoking.

I speak today as one who grew up in a small colony, practised medicine in three colonies, led a nationalist movement in one of those colonies and, while practising medicine in this metropolis, have taken an active interest in Third World politics. In fact it is no secret that the Committee of African Organisations and the anti-apartheid movement were both started in the basement beneath my surgery. I have, however, always been a Commonwealth man and was a member of a group in the Royal Commonwealth Society called Nudge. It was formed to keep nudging people in authority in this country into keeping the Commonwealth and Commonwealth interests in the forefront of policy-making.

I have seen the Commonwealth grow from its immediate post-war membership of seven to the 40 members of today. In my student days the struggle was for the independence of India, and though I cannot speak Hindi I am well accustomed to shouting "Jai Hind". But, although India became independent in 1947, it was not until 1957 that the Commonwealth had its first African member, when Ghana became independent on 5th March. Today the Commonwealth has strong representation in Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean. As these territories are part of the regional groupings, the Commonwealth is well represented in the Organisation of African Unity and is steadily increasing its representation in the Organisation of American States and the Latin American Group of the United Nations. The Commonwealth represents a large proportion of the United Nations and is well represented among the non-aligned States and the Group of 77. So the Commonwealth has its tentacles far and wide in the various organisations that exist today.

There is no set pattern to the political composition of its members. Although they all recognise the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth and many Commonwealth countries are monarchies with the Queen as Head of State and the Governor-General appointed by her on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, many of the territories are republics with their own presidents. Moreover, they are not all democratic. Some are democracies on the Westminster model, some are one-Party States, many are dictatorships, and I think it is fair to say that the Commonwealth even contains a tyrant. Commonwealth countries have broken off diplomatic relations with each other and Commonwealth countries have been at war with each other. Therefore, there is no one pattern that pervades the Commonwealth. Although the members are all former British colonies or protectorates, not all the former British colonies have joined the Commonwealth, and one of those who originally joined has recently left.

In 1965, as has already been mentioned, the Commonwealth established a Secretariat and appointed a Secretary-General. This particular innovation has enabled the Commonwealth voice to grow and to be heard more clearly as the years went by. I think it is fair to say that the Commonwealth voice is being heard more clearly today than it was 10 years ago. The Commonwealth has been well served by its two Secretaries-General. Arnold Smith had the job of laying the foundation, and he did it well. Shridath Ramphal has built on that foundation and is doing an extremely good job.

In two of the major problems concerning the world today, the Commonwealth is well placed to make a substantial contribution to their solution, and it is imperative that it should be seen to be making that contribution. It is odd—not so odd really—that both my noble friends Lord Brockway and Lord Hatch of Lusby have touched on the points I am now about to touch on, because the two problems I am referring to are the bridging of the gap between the "haves" and "have-nots" and the making if possible for people of different races to live together in equality and friendship. For the Commonwealth consists of industrialised nations, mainly agricultural nations, developing nations, some rich nations, some poor nations, some predominantly white nations and some predominantly black nations. It is therefore well placed to make contributions in these two fields.

Although the efforts to solve these problems provide opportunities for the Commonwealth to show its worth, they carry dangers for the Commonwealth. The present North/South dialogue, to which my noble friend Lord Brockway referred, and the move to try to establish a new international economic order provide the Commonwealth with a splendid opportunity for influencing the negotiations and helping to create the requisite climate for the leap forward which this can bring. Britain's agreement to the Common Fund can be regarded as an example of the value of Commonwealth discussion and this has led to some progress being made, even though rather slowly. Through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation, the Commonwealth Youth Programme, the Commonwealth Foundation, the proposed attempt at co-operation for accelerating industrialisation, the conferences and seminars on national development and the help it provides in export promotion and trade fairs, the Commonwealth Secretariat makes a contribution in this field.

Britain's entry into the Common Market and the consequent Lomé agreement has provided additional avenues for aid to the poorer countries of the Commonwealth. But I think it is only fair to say that Lomé has not proved as helpful as was hoped, and that the EEC is still not as co-operative or outward-looking as was expected. The EEC countries have such differing national interests and Britain is in so much disagreement with her EEC partners, that it is doubtful to what extent we shall be able to open the doors, which must be opened if Lomé II is to be a success. But in terms of the Commonwealth it is essential that it should be successful, and that Britain should be seen to be pulling out all the stops to make it so.

Economic divisions lie at the root of most national disagreements. It is essential that a way should be found of creating the kind of partnership between developed and developing nations which the Lomé Convention seemed to have begun. We must build on the strengths of Lomé I and remedy its defects during the present negotiations. This country has a very important part to play in seeing that this is done.

The race issue is more complex, but poses a more immediate danger. It is seen in its crudest and most dangerous form in Southern Africa, but that is exactly where it is likely to cause most difficulties and, what is more, that is where the danger is most imminent. The failure of successive British Governments to deal with the Rhodesian rebellion has allowed an abscess to fester in that region which, when it bursts, will have very serious consequences. Moreover, there is the obvious danger—and I see it more and more every day when I listen to some of the speeches—that a British Government will misread the situation and allow themselves to be drawn into supporting the white minorities in that area, in the mistaken idea that they are protecting Western interests. That would be a terrible mistake, for it is those very interests which would be jeopardised by such an act.

All Members of your Lordships' House know that the Russian influence in that area is now very much greater than it was in 1965. Please ask yourselves, my Lords, why, and then proceed to use whatever influences you have to prevent policies from being pursued which would inevitably lead to greater Russian influence in the area. I am not speaking only about Rhodesia. I am speaking also about South Africa. Had Mr. Smith accepted the deals that were offered him on the "Tiger" and the "Fearless", things would have developed differently in Rhodesia. There is still time for South Africa to adopt policies that could prevent the kind of damage that Rhodesia now suffers. I know that she has many friends in your Lordships' House. I hope that she will have her attention drawn to this fact.

But the danger to the Commonwealth inherent in the race issue is not confined to Southern Africa. It is even more important in this country. The world is too small for us to think that we can live in separate compartments. We must live together or perish. This point is one which needs to be made more and more, because there are still a lot of people who have not realised that the conquest of the air, which had the effect of bringing countries closer together, also brought people closer together and made their separation from each other more difficult. It has also made us more interdependent. People's ideas and horizons must expand to meet this fact. We in this country have a splendid opportunity of showing the world how people of different races can live together in equality and friendship. Please let us grasp it with both hands.

There is one last matter, on which I wish to comment, which has been commented upon by more than one speaker; that is, the question of the small territories. This is an issue which the Commonwealth must face, as there are more and more small countries becoming independent and becoming members of the Commonwealth. I am sorry I cannot agree with my noble friend Lord Greenwood that you can at this stage stop the process—you cannot. What you have to work out now is a way of dealing with it. I think that a system of common services, particularly overseas representation, will have to be evolved. In the St. Lucia debate, I mentioned that some of the small islands in the Caribbean were exploring this possibility. I believe that they should be encouraged and, perhaps, given some help at a Commonwealth level. This is a matter which calls for deep and careful thought, and for urgent action. I conclude as I began by declaring my faith in the Commonwealth, and my hope that it will prove itself the great and enduring institution for which it has all potentialities.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Greenwood for opening this debate, and for doing so in a speech of such distinction, knowledge and sincerity. He brings to these discussions a unique record of service to the Commonwealth and, indeed, in international affairs, and it is always a pleasure and an instruction to listen to him.

It is, indeed, most appropriate that we talk of the Commonwealth on this day, the second Monday in March, when all around the world other Parliaments and a great many other non-governmental organisations, as the noble Baroness reminded us, will be doing the same and marking this unique occasion. Her Majesty, in her Commonwealth Day message, has emphasised that the association of nations, involved as it is in political, social and economic problems, is above all concerned with the lives of people. Indeed, she went further and highlighted, as two special Commonwealth successes, the Commonwealth Games held in Edmonton last year and the accompanying Festival of Arts, noting that both of them brought together in friendship young people from all over the world. We were reminded that the Commonwealth is a very young affair. I have here a few figures of my own: two-thirds, or 66 per cent. of the Commonwealth's vast population, which is not far short now of 1,000 million people, is under the age of 30, while 42 per cent. is under the age of 15. Here indeed is the wave of the future.

Moreover, the notable manifestation this afternoon of Commonwealth celebration—the special religious observance—should, I think, be particularly noted, because it was a gathering of representatives of all faiths. This is the ecumenical principle carried beyond even the efforts of the Churches themselves in the fact of the Commonwealth. We were delighted that the representative of Papua New Guinea should have read a portion of the Christian scripture in his own language, in pidgin. The religious observance attended by Her Majesty as Head of the Commonwealth and by a wide variety of distinguished representatives of the Commonwealth itself shows us that while the Commonwealth is diverse—and its diversity, as we have heard, is one of its strengths—it also has a persistent cohesion.

One noble Lord was almost on the point of properly misquoting Voltaire. If I have got his intention, although perhaps not his words, right, it is that if the Commonwealth did not exist it would need to be invented, like Voltaire's God—and it would, I suspect, be as impossible to invent the one as the other. The Commonwealth has been given to us. It has emerged as an organic, growing, cohesive association of free peoples and we should make much of it. I take particular note of what my noble friend has said about it: that there may be deficiencies in the way in which we in this country celebrate this great fact of our life. Although it is diverse and also at the same time cohesive, the Commonwealth is so adaptable. It keeps abreast of the demands of an increasingly complex and troubled world. It has expanded and grown; the one does not always mean the other. We now have 40 members, four new members having joined since 1977, with a little assistance from myself and the enthusiastic agreement of your Lordships' House. In every case, these newly independent countries have said at the end of the constitutional conference, "Yes, we want to join the Commonwealth." In most cases, they also want to have Her Majesty not only as the Head of the Commonwealth but also as their own Royal Head of Government.

The fact is that the expansion and the co-operation are happening today more than ever before. They are indications of the value that the members of the Commonwealth place upon membership. As an increasing number of smaller countries join its ranks, so the Commonwealth takes a special interest in the particular problems of such small countries, and very useful and practical ideas about these problems have been and are at present the subject of study and discussion in Commonwealth agencies. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, for a most thoughtful and constructive speech. I have made a special note of the suggestions which he made about looking at possibly better ways of assisting the developing and, indeed, the smaller members of the Commonwealth.

It is absolutely right and proper that the British Parliament should stress in this debate the continuing value of the Commonwealth. I should like on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, if it is necessary, to emphasise that the United Kingdom's commitment to the Commonwealth remains wholehearted and as strong as ever. We value our membership most highly. Perhaps we do not stress it sufficiently strongly in public. We are a little shy of asserting our enthusiasm in case we are suspected, perhaps, of somehow trying to reintroduce into the new Commonwealth our predominance in the old Empire. But that time is past. It is time for Britain, as one of the 40, as an equal, sovereign, independent member of an association of other equal, sovereign, independent countries, to come forward a little more, to shed the inhibitions of the past and to declare its enthusiasm, its affection and its dedication to what the Commonwealth stands for.

I should like to refer to an extremely cogent point that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He put it so well. I am paraphrasing, and I hope that I do no disservice to the noble Earl. He said that our membership of the Commonwealth in no way conflicts with our commitments to any other international or regional body to which we belong—for instance, the United Nations and the European Community, a point which indeed my noble friend Lord Greenwood of Rossendale emphasised with great clarity in the first part of his speech.

The Commonwealth has no constitution or rules. It therefore adds to rather than subtracts from the sum of our international relations. As an example, I think it is true to say that our commitment to our Commonwealth friends has helped in recent years to create a more outward looking attitude within the European Economic Community, and I believe that this will grow. I am not looking too far ahead, I hope, when I say that I hope that the two communities, if I may put it like that, will grow ever closer together, because the bonds within the Commonwealth are also the bonds which ultimately may well link it with the community of Western democratic nations in Europe.

May I join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to the valuable contribution which the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association makes to the Commonwealth relationship, because a commitment to elective democracy remains a major strand of the Commonwealth purpose. And speaking of democracy, perhaps I may here refer to my noble friend's specific question to me. He mentioned the future of Gibraltar, the Falklands and Belize. I can only say once more what I have said many a time at this Box in the last few months and, indeed, few years. Her Majesty's Government will propose no change in the constitutional position of those countries which is not clearly and democratically endorsed by their peoples.

I shall now turn to the role of the Commonwealth today and the practical benefits which it brings to its members. Here, it is important to stress that we cannot expect or ask the Commonwealth to do more than it is able to do. Nor can we expect unanimity on every issue. We have here representatives of a quarter of the world's population. There is bound to be diversity and indeed a variety of practical interests and occasionally a conflict of interests. Its members come from every continent. The various countries represented in the Commonwealth are in various stages of development; they are of varying size, both in population and in area; they include people of almost every religion and race. So the first benefit it brings to all its members and ultimately to the wider circle of the nations of the world is not unanimity, still less uniformity, but understanding; the attempt at understanding, the will to understanding—and for this it is uniquely fitted. Indeed, that will to understanding leads to concrete examples of practical co-operation.

The first benefit that comes to us is the meeting of the Heads of Governments. In five months' time, the heads of Governments of 40 countries will be sitting, informally but in dignity and equality, around one table in Lusaka—not in London this time but in Lusaka — learning from each other how each one sees the world's problems, speaking strongly and frankly to each other in the way my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead has been speaking to this House once more tonight. I am sure that we all listened with particular respect and attention to what he had to say. So will they be speaking in Lusaka, but for all this strong and frank talking it will be in a friendly and informal spirit and I am equally sure that the meeting will contribute not only to a greater understanding of Commonwealth problems but to an understanding and a practical solution of major international issues which perplex the whole world.

My noble friend Lord Hatch of Lusby asked me what we were doing as a Government and as a member of the Commonwealth to prepare for the next Heads of Governments conference in Lusaka and what contribution Britain was making to what is likely to be a major discussion there of Southern African and North-South issues. Of course the preparations for the Heads of Government meetings in Lusaka or elsewhere are in the hands of the Commonwealth Secretariat in consultation and co-operation with a host government—in this case, Zambia. The agenda is a matter for the Commonwealth Secretary-General in consultation with Commonwealth Governments, including that of Britain, but I think we can expect the usual wide-ranging discussion of world political and economic trends, including the problems of Southern Africa and North-South issues, and we in this country shall certainly play a full and constructive part in discussing those issues.

The Heads of Government meeting of course is only one part of the total Commonwealth relationship which is nowadays practical and down to earth. For example, a meeting of Commonwealth Ministers to discuss co-operation in promoting increased industrialisation in the developing countries of the Commonwealth has just taken place at Bangalore in India. The British delegation was ably led by my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe. I have already had reports that Ministers found that meeting valuable, not only in discussing an action programme on industrial co-operation but also in exchanging views on their industrial experience and on the potential for promoting joint ventures and other collaborative action. This is entirely in the spirit of that historic meeting a few years ago in Kingston, and my noble friend Lord Brockway referred to the importance of the continuing North-South dialogue. Kingston was a breakthrough. One is in parts disappointed with the results of these movements forward but nevertheless movements forward they are, and Kingston in particular showed how the Commonwealth could show even the United Nations how to make progress on this vital question. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brockway for having reminded us of this fundamental aspect of the Commonwealth effort. Much of the best and much of the most practical work in preparing for what he called a new economic order and what I would call a better international economic order owes a good deal to its Commonwealth origin.

Here the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, went into some detail as to practical suggestions—and I repeat, full note will be taken of what he had to say. Before I leave that particular point I should like to refer also to another specific point made by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. He quite rightly referred—and I am glad he made this point—to a certain disappointment in New Zealand, a Commonwealth country, because the United Kingdom had perhaps not responded to the opportunities of co-operating with that country in the matter of deep sea fishery development. I can assure him that we shall continue to encourage the British fishing industry to help to develop New Zealand's deep sea fisheries, although this is of course essentially a matter for industry to decide. It is not only a question of Governments, it is also a question of industrial enterprise and we shall do everything we can to help as a Government.

As to Russian participation, so far as we know New Zealand has not sought Soviet help. There would be nothing wrong in that of course. New Zealand does permit Soviet vessels to continue to fish in her 200-mile zone under an agreement signed on 4th April 1978, and similar agreements have been reached with Japan and the Republic of Korea. It is not for me to comment on the way in which the Government of New Zealand organise these participating arrangements. They are entirely within their rights and I am glad that they are doing it in an international way. But I am quite sure that in coming to these agreements the New Zealand Government and people keep a very firm grip on their own essential interests and that there is nothing to fear in any strategic sense from these developments and much to welcome in an economic sense.

An example of the Commonwealth at work at a practical level is of course the assistance given to member countries by the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. It is not all a matter of flags. A tremendous amount of hard, practical work, yielding practical results, goes on through many agencies, and I am only giving one or two examples this evening. The CFTC has provided for the training of people from five member countries in rural development, schools broadcasting, family planning and the like. It is arranging a course for the training of diplomats in the Eastern Caribbean. It is advising the Government of Tanzania on a wide range of mineral policy issues. These are but a few of the many activities of the fund.

Certainly, I need not go into detail about all the Commonwealth does, except to emphasise that it does a good deal, and a good deal that is practical. There is very effective co-operation across the board in the fields of education, finance, health, law, food production and rural development, youth matters and technical co-operation. There is the Commonwealth Institute, which fosters knowledge and understanding of the modern Commonwealth by information and education, and the Commonwealth Foundation, with its task of furthering professional links, a point specifically raised during the debate. Of course, there are many more Government and non-Government organisations in the Commonwealth. They do much of the detailed and constructive work, and I should like here and now to pay a tribute to their admirable efforts. And at the centre, providing focus and continuity, there is the Commonwealth Secretariat, now in its second decade at the service of all member Governments. Mr. Ramphal, the Secretary General, and his staff work tirelessly and, if I may say so, with imagination and intelligence to coordinate the manifold areas of Commonwealth activity, and I join with those noble Lords and the noble Baroness who expressed appreciation of the splendid work rendered to the Commonwealth by Mr. Ramphal and his assistants.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in this connection referred to the need, as she and the rest of us see it, for housing the Commonwealth Secretariat in one building. We are well aware of the Secretariat's difficulties over accommodation and have undertaken to see what we can do to help. We are at present awaiting details of their needs, into which they have been ca0rrying out their own special study. The will is there. There is at least one member of the 40-strong Commonwealth—that is the United Kingdom—that fully understands the difficulties that the Commonwealth Secretariat is faced with, and is anxious to help.

May I close by referring to two other speeches. I have referred already to the speech of my noble friend Lord Pitt. If I may say so, it is particularly inspiring to hear him on the subject of the Commonwealth; nobody can speak with more convincing eloquence about this love of the Commonwealth and his devotion to it than Lord Pitt. We are grateful to him for both calling our attention to the grave and dangerous difficulties that confront us in the heart of the Commonwealth itself, especially in Africa, and warning us once more about the need to place the highest priority on the solution of the problems of disillusion and of conflict that beset the modern world, not least in the Commonwealth.

My noble friend Lord Segal spoke eloquently about a part of the Commonwealth he knows well and in which he has served well: he spoke of St. Lucia. Certainly, I note what he said about presentation of this occasion in the media, and I am quite sure that the BBC will read with great attention what my noble friend has had to say; in particular I think Mr. Martin Bell, who has a deservedly high reputation as an analyst and commentator on international affairs, will wish to examine very carefully what my noble friend said about his performance. I should like to he there when Mr. Bell and my noble friend get together to discuss the matter.

May I close, however, by quoting from the Declaration of Commonwealth Principles approved by the Heads of Government at Singapore in 1971: The Commonwealth of Nations is a voluntary association of independent sovereign states, each responsible for its own policies, consulting and co-operating in the common interests of their peoples and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace". It goes on to say this: We believe in the liberty of the individual, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed or belief". I say to the House that an association of free nations founded on such principles cannot but survive and succeed.

8.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that the most effective way of expressing my appreciation to those noble Lords who have taken part in this debate would be straight away to ask leave to withdraw the Motion. That I will do in one minute, but before that I should like to say how greatly I have appreciated the many courtesies that have been extended today and the very wide range of knowledge that has been brought to bear on this debate. I want, too, to thank my noble friend the Minister of State, not only for the reassurances he gave—and I knew he would give—about the three territories on which I questioned him, but also for the way that he treats your Lordships' House. There is no one who makes himself more thoroughly master of the facts; his research combined with his sense of history and his long experience make him a most acceptable spokesman for Her Majesty's Government.

The last thing I want to say, my Lords, is how strongly I endorse the praise which has been lavished on Mr. Arnold Smith and Mr. Ramphal. Mr. Arnold Smith I have known for very many years. I came to know Mr. Ramphal pretty well when we had the Guyana constitutional conference. Day after day I sat opposite Mr. Burnham and Mr. Ramphal, and as Mr. Jagan at that stage had decided not to come to the discussions I felt it was my duty to see that his point of view was not ignored. Therefore, day after day I put Mr. Jagan's point of view, and Mr. Burnham or Mr. Ramphal replied. I had already lost the friendship of Mr. Jagan, and I came very close to losing the friendship of Mr. Burnham and Mr. Ramphal as well. But nevertheless it survived, and I am full of admiration for the way that Mr. Ramphal is fulfilling his duties. If anyone would like proof of that, may I once again refer them to the report of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference in Kingston. With those few words and with many thanks, my Lords, I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.