§ 5.16 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow rose to call attention to the future of the Commonwealth; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In the light of the great changes in the international scene, I believe that it is an appropriate time to test the opinion of the House on the future of the Commonwealth. Interest in this matter is rising. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Alport, raised the issue in the debate on the Address on 13th November. I had hoped that in this debate this afternoon he would enlarge on his remarks, but I am sorry to say that he is unwell and will not be speaking.
§ Although it might be more useful to seek the views of a younger group of persons than this House, there are Members who are particularly well qualified to speak. I want to look at the questions from a purely British point of view. I am no expert on the Commonwealth but at one time or another I have visited and travelled in the larger members of the Commonwealth.
§ In this country opinion on the Commonwealth, without doubt, has become increasingly divided. I daresay that to a greater or less extent that division is shared by several other member countries. In this country interest has certainly declined. I am told that in Canada it has somewhat increased in the wake of the development of closer US-Canadian trade relations. But everywhere the generations and leaders who witnessed the birth of the Commonwealth have passed from the stage.
§ Shortly before the recent Commonwealth conference in Kuala Lumpur last year, a headline in one of the leading British papers read: "The Commonwealth: a network of friends or a forum of phoneys". It was the realisation that there is such confusion that led the heads of government at the conference in Kuala Lumpur to set up a working party to prepare a report for their meeting next year in Harari. Just as the European Community invented Eurospeak, the Commonwealth is using a special Commonwealthspeak.
§ The working party is called a high level appraisals group, just as the earlier unsuccessful mission to South Africa went under the name of the Eminent Persons Group. I mention that because I find much of the writing on the Commonwealth uses an obscure and woolly language of its own. The high level group is 1000 meeting again next week in Malaysia, and the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, is appropriately the United Kingdom representative. He apologises for his absence this afternoon and greatly regrets that he cannot speak today, and so do we. He has asked for Hansard to be sent to him in Malaysia soon after the debate.
§ How the Commonwealth has evolved is familiar to your Lordships. It arose with the natural coming together before the war of the independent English-speaking dominions, including South Africa. Throughout World War II members of the Commonwealth formed an essential and a notably gallant element in the allied forces and were among the first to respond in Korea and in the present Gulf crisis.
§ Immediately post-war, the Commonwealth group struck out on a new and unprecedented course with the inclusion of republican Pakistan and India. Their inclusion was a necessary factor in the peaceful settlement of their independence. It seemed a natural and proper thing to do, especially to those who had served in the Middle East and in South-East Asia alongside forces from the Indian subcontinent. The happy device of Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth made it all the more acceptable to British opinion.
§ It can be argued that it might have been better if expansion had stopped there, and, if so, the United Kingdom might have commercially and industrially been brought face to face with the reality of its post-war situation and therefore competed more strenuously for a change in our pattern of trade. No one anticipated the rapid run-down of the Empire, nor the continued call for the expansion of the membership to over 50 now, which, without too much thought, changed the whole position of the United Kingdom. More than a quarter of the world's population is now included, stretching right across the globe, and the proportion is increasing. No one should underestimate the mutual value of such a network of friends, if, indeed, they are true friends.
§ We must ask ourselves whether it makes sense to belong to, and to develop, such a grouping at a time when we are assured that our true friends are not necessarily the English-speaking world but those nations of Europe with whom we have been in conflict for far too long. Does our first loyalty lie with them or with our Commonwealth partners? Do we need to make a choice at all? There can be little doubt that the future organisation of Europe must inevitably be of more importance materially to us than the Commonwealth can ever be, but that does not mean that the Commonwealth must be neglected or abandoned.
§ The aim of the European Community is to match, politically and economically, the power of the United States and Japan. Our cultural and family links with many of the Commonwealth countries are strong and those links will remain and be made firmer by facilities for world travel. Can we not have it both ways? I believe that we can, and that it is in our interest to do so.1001
§ I should guess that the great majority of young people in this country will have little difficulty in reconciling worldwide friendship across the Commonwealth with whatever form of European union emerges from the coming negotiations. But the Commonwealth cannot go on just as it has in the past. We have been made well aware of its imperfections. In international affairs our partners have done much to try to embarrass us; for example, in the days of decolonisation debates at the United Nations and over our policy of confrontation East/West. Some of them have waged vicious war among themselves, and many members have conducted their affairs with systems of government far divorced from democracy and with features repugnant to us.
§ The world is changing dramatically, and if the Commonwealth is to survive it must make fundamental changes for the future. Despite events, it has not withered away and indeed has held together and attracted new members. The fact that it is doing so owes a great deal to the dedication and beneficial, and frequently decisive, role played by Her Majesty the Queen and members of the Royal Family. The respect and affection in which our monarchy is held is one of the strongest bonds which unites it. Her Majesty's reception at the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand last year was convincing evidence of that.
§ We have now reached a critical point in our relations with Europe and the promise of greater understanding between the power blocs. Can the Commonwealth play any practical role over a wider field than the European Community? The Community may eventually share the advantages of a common currency, but the Commonwealth now enjoys the advantages of a common language, a shared culture and a long history of many friendly and intimate contacts at all levels.
§ It is that question we should now address. My conclusion is that it is worth taking more than a casual interest and a limited investment only in that unique group which includes countries of growing wealth and potential political importance. We should remember that within a generation the population of Pakistan and Nigeria together will far exceed an expanded European Community. We should usefully proceed without delay along the following lines: first, there is a requirement from the British point of view for the Government to make clear their unequivocal support for the Commonwealth, if necessary, by a statement on an appropriate occasion. Any such statement has been lacking in recent times.
§ In summing up during the foreign affairs debate on 13th November, the noble Earl, Lord Arran, said that we were "committed" to the Commonwealth. The word "committed" is used when one is sent to prison. Something more enthusiastic is required. Such a statement might commend itself to the new Prime Minister, who in the past has worked in some Commonwealth territories. Secondly, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the lead department in Whitehall for Commonwealth affairs, but all departments of state, especially trade and industry 1002 and environment, must also be involved. I understand that in the recent past the Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who concerns himself with those matters tries to combine them with the Middle East—a rather one-sided portfolio. What is required is someone who regularly visits the member territories and shows our interest and learns theirs. Mrs. Lynda Chalker of the ODA has done splendid work in that respect, but there is room for another Minister who is not concerned primarily with aid and has a wider brief.
§ Thirdly, the number and purpose of Commonwealth meetings should be reconsidered. As well as the formal meetings between heads of government every two years, there should be meetings at lower levels on practical problems of mutual trade, poverty, indebtedness, human rights, environment, medical and scientific problems and democratic organisation. Some such meetings take place, but are they followed up?
§ The area in which the most useful initiatives can be taken is education, in its widest sense, both by governments and non-governmental organisations. There are many Members of the House who know about that, and in the academic world there are people such as the noble Lord, Lord Briggs, and Professor Dilkes of Leeds University who have skills and ideas ready to be applied. Some will cost money but expenditure will be an investment with a high return. The aim would be to create as many mutually profitable links as possible in the widest variety of subjects.
§ Lastly I turn now to the Commonwealth Secretariat here in London. It has never quite fulfilled expectations and has sometimes ventured too far into British politics. Now we have the good fortune to welcome a new secretary general. He is Chief Anyaoku of Nigeria, a man of talent and experience who deserves our full support. He will have his own ideas on how to discharge his responsibilities. He is particularly suited to exercise a healing touch on many problems within the Commonwealth. Indeed, he has already taken an interest in South Africa, which may well become a subject that unites the Commonwealth where once it divided it. The secretary general is supported by his secretariat. It does good work but perhaps it is too much inclined to hide its light under a bushel. The British Government give it considerable financial support and should continue to do so.
§ The sum allocated by the ODA to technical assistance runs into tens of millions per annum and compares favourably with the new know-how fund for Eastern Europe, with which I am afraid in due course it must compete. The secretariat can, I am told, find great scope for expanding its co-operation with the non-governmental organisations, and this should be encouraged.
§ Finally, no doubt the Government will want to wait for the report of the high level appraisal group. The discussion of its recommendations next year at Harare will be important. We must remember that this country is only one voice among many of our partners.1003
§ In summary, I believe this country has a historic responsibility to energise Commonwealth co-operation at this time. I hope that many of your Lordships share this view and can suggest constructive ways in which it can be achieved. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, has done a considerable service to the House and to the Commonwealth by raising this subject this afternoon. This House frequently discusses Europe, but it is a lamentably long time since it has discussed the Commonwealth. Therefore, it is good to make a contribution towards restoring the balance. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, will not take it amiss when I say that a two-and-a-half-hour debate is a wholly inadequate period for discussing this immensely important and complicated subject. I hope that the Government Whips will decide that before too long we shall have a whole day in which to discuss the Commonwealth. The subject is so important that it is better to spend a day discussing the affairs of the Commonwealth than, for example, having a blank Monday from time to time. I hope that the Whips' Office will bear that in mind.
There is little that one can say on this immense subject in so limited a time. The British Commonwealth is one of the most remarkable organisations that the world has seen. It contains an extraordinary mixture. There are wealthy, modern countries such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. There are huge Asian countries such as India and Pakistan. There are large and small African countries and tiny outposts such as the Seychelles, the Falkland Islands or Gibraltar. All are united by certain common ideas and by the English language. The Commonwealth is a remarkable example of international co-operation between countries at totally different levels of economic wealth, civilised advance, living standards, and so forth. Surely it must make an enormously valuable contribution towards the working of the world.
However, it is not only that. The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, mentioned the fact that when this country has been involved in war the Commonwealth has come to our assistance. Without wishing to make too invidious a comparison, I believe that the Commonwealth's contribution to our victory in 1945 was infinitely greater than that of the present members of the European Community. Some of them were on the other side and most of the rest were defeated. Therefore, there is not merely a sentimental and emotional feeling towards the Commonwealth—although that exists—but there is also a practical feeling that our being at the centre of it adds considerably to our physical power and influence in the world. It would be the greatest pity if the Commonwealth were allowed to decline or to decay. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, that it must evolve and change. However, it is most encouraging that, for example, Pakistan believes it worthwhile to return to the Commonwealth. I hope 1004 that similarly Fiji will return before too long. Both are extremely interesting countries with considerable influence in their parts of the world.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, mentioned (and I wish to emphasise this fact) that the strength of the Commonwealth and its survival derives from the personal efforts of the Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty the Queen. Her Majesty has spent a great deal of time and effort in attending Commonwealth Prime Ministers' conferences in all kinds of inconvenient parts of the world. It is probable that she knows personally more of the leaders of Commonwealth countries than do any of those leaders. She has paid great attention to her role as head of the Commonwealth, and as such has made a major contribution to the history of the world. It is fitting that your Lordships' House should recognise that and seek to express its real gratitude.
I hope that the Commonwealth will continue. However, I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, that the Government should state publicly that they attach the greatest importance to the Commonwealth. The fact that they are involved with the EC does not in any way detract from their concern with the Commonwealth, their desire to co-operate with it and to see it prosper, grow and strengthen. For one reason or another, there has been a lack of government statements on the subject. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Caithness will make appropriate comments this afternoon. However, it calls for the new head of the British Government to state firmly that the Commonwealth is important to us and that the British Government will do their utmost to secure that it continues, develops and prospers. Furthermore, that we shall try to bring together that variety of countries, co-operating with a good civilisation, high standards, increasing contacts with each other and shall ensure that during the next century the British Commonwealth contributes something of what it contributed during the past century.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Bottomley
My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. My first government appointment was as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions. Before entering Parliament in 1945 I had gained vast experience in local government. When I could speak freely to the Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, I said that with all my local government experience I could not understand why he had not sent me to a local government department. He said that the explanation was simple. It was time that I got away from drains and dustbins, and he wanted a young Minister to specialise in the Commonwealth.
Soon after I was appointed, I joined the United Kingdom delegation to the United Nations. My job was to sit on the committee dealing with the colonies and to keep in touch with other Commonwealth delegates. On the committee I sat next to Field Marshal Smuts and the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Mr. Gromyko. My private secretary was John 1005 Hunt, now the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who I am pleased to see is here this evening. He was the ex-secretary of the Cabinet.
At the end of the United Nations meeting, Field Marshal Smuts said that he was very pleased that a young Labour Minister was so interested in southern Africa. However, he said that I could not understand a problem unless I was face to face with it at first hand. He said that he would ask the Prime Minister to send me to South Africa to see things at first hand. In due course, Prime Minister Attlee told me that Field Marshal Smuts was sending me an invitation and I could accept and go to South Africa. John Hunt (as he then was) accompanied me and we spent some weeks in South Africa. Not only did we visit the Union, but also the protectorates and Southern Rhodesia. That visit served me well in facing up to Commonwealth problems, especially in handling the rebellion in Southern Rhodesia.
I have taken an active part in the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, having been chairman of the UK branch and treasurer of the whole organisation. The CPA brings together members of parliament from all countries in the Commonwealth. There is an annual meeting when about 300 members of parliament assemble to discuss current affairs and items affecting the Commonwealth.
The United Kingdom branch also organises a seminar each year when about 30 members of Parliament come together to talk politics generally and particularly as regards their own countries. Many who attended in the past are now distinguished prime ministers and ex-presidents. The President of Kenya is still in office. The Prime Minister of St. Lucia is still in office. All told there have been over 30 speakers attending the seminar.
The United Kingdom branch also organises an annual parliamentary visit. The members of parliament, who come from all over the Commonwealth, go to different parts of the country. They meet together here, visit one of the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man and usually visit a local authority in this country. The seminars have established personal contacts throughout the Commonwealth.
When I was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, I took an active part in creating the Commonwealth Secretariat. A Canadian civil servant, Arnold Smith, was appointed and he was followed by Shridath Ramphal whom I knew as foreign minister for Guyana. He has just retired having given 15 years excellent service to the Commonwealth. He has been followed by Chief Emeka Anyaoku who received his education not only in this country, but also in France and in his own country. At the secretariat he was a director of international affairs. I am sure that we wish him many years of happiness, good health and success.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is responsible for organising the biennial heads of government meeting. 1006 Those are held in different Commonwealth countries. Summit meetings are private and are known for their frankness and lack of formality.
Over the 40 years of its existence at all levels of economic development and embracing peoples of many different races, religions, and cultures, the Commonwealth has been able to bridge racial, ideological and economic divides and inequalities assisted by a common language and heritage.
In 1971 Commonwealth governments set up the Fund for Technical Co-operation. That fund has low overheads and can provide experts at less cost than other agencies. The fund provides expertise and training in all areas of economic and social advance. Science and technology today are the basis for an improved quality of life.
The Commonwealth Science Council has been established. Its main emphasis is on the application of science. Commonwealth scientists work together in such areas as biological resources, agriculture, energy, mineral and water resources and environmental planning. The majority of Commonwealth countries are in their first generation of independence. The Commonwealth began when the independence of the dominions of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa were given legal expression in the Statute of Westminster 1931. It is the only international group outside the United Nations to form a cross-section of world community by bringing together developed and developing countries across the globe. Over one quarter of the world's population—1 billion people—live in the 50 countries which make up the Commonwealth. It is an example to the wider international community that there can be co-operation and understanding across the major divides of the world.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord Shaughnessy
My Lords, the last general debate on the Commonwealth in your Lordships' House was held more than 11 years ago in March 1979. That is an inordinately long interval, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said; and I should like to join in expressing gratitude to my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow for giving us the opportunity to discuss what has transpired in Commonwealth affairs during that long interval.
In introducing the debate, my noble friend, with his long experience of these matters, gave a characteristically trenchant summary of where the Commonwealth now stands in world affairs. At the time of the 1979 debate, membership of the Commonwealth was 40 countries and has now increased to 50. That indicates that as an association of independent nations, the Commonwealth continues to be seen as a potent factor in the resolution of world problems.
It is also significant that its membership includes no superpowers and consequently provides a forum for smaller nations to express their aims and aspirations free from the overshadowing presence of world-power diplomacy. Furthermore, the geographical diversity of the Commonwealth, spanning as it does some seven 1007 continents and sub-continents and almost all the seas and oceans, brings together nations of a vast variety of races, colours and religions.
Regarding the possible directions in which the Commonwealth might go to make future contributions to the developments in this expanding technological world, I should like to refer briefly to two specific institutions within the Commonwealth. They are making valuable contributions to the dissemination of learning; the pursuit of democratic government and the advancement of global un-derstanding in this technological world.
At their meeting in Vancouver B.C. in 1987, the Commonwealth heads of government agreed to the creation of the Commonwealth of Learning. This was to be an agency to create and widen access to education and to improve its quality by using distant education techniques and associated communication technologies to meet the specific requirements of member countries. This proposal grew out of the anxiety felt by governments at the introduction of economic fees at metropolitan centres of education to which students from developing countries had traditionally gone for higher education.
The agency became operational in 1989 with its headquarters in Vancouver, and with the noble Lord, Lord Briggs of Lewes, —who headed the committee to study the problem—as its founding chairman, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. Dr. James Moraj is the founding president. Funds to carry forward the enterprise have been pledged by a number of Commonwealth member countries, including generous contributions from the Province of British Columbia. A modest staff is in place in Vancouver, and in a number of participating countries. I hope that this imaginative initiative will prosper, since it provides an excellent example of the role the Commonwealth can play in the promotion of education on an international level.
The second institution I should also like to applaud is what might be termed our own trade association; namely, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to which the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, referred earlier. The CPA has been around for a long time. It has played a pre-eminent role in strengthening parliamentary democracy and democratic institutions, and in cementing friendship and understanding among members of elected Commonwealth parliaments, not only at the national level but reaching down to state and provincial legislatures within member countries. By means of its regional conferences the CPA facilitates a dialogue between members of the legislatures of smaller countries and dependencies. It also has the existing machinery to fulfil additional responsibilities; in particular, the strengthening of democratic institutions by the provision of observer missions to supervise and report upon the electoral process. That is a function which I hope the CPA will be increasingly called upon to perform where the appropriate need arises.
Finally, I should like to suggest some other endeavours with which the Commonwealth could be usefully and legitimately concerned, and which I 1008 believe it is well equipped to perform. I mentioned the Commonwealth of Learning. However, there are other social world problems which must be addressed if we are not to destroy this planet with our own rapacity. Time does not permit me to elaborate. But I believe the nations of the Commonwealth could usefully act together in attacking the international drug trade which continues to erode the social fabric of so many countries. There is also the serious ecological problem of preserving the world rain forests, many of which are located in Commonwealth countries. Lastly, there is the spread of the scourge of AIDS which is reaching epidemic proportions in many countries of the developing world.
I am satisfied that because of the diversity of its members, many of which are facing the depredation of these menaces, the Commonwealth is in a unique position to take concerted action to help arrest the damage they are doing to mankind.
§ 5.55 p.m.
The Earl of Selkirk
My Lords, after three very powerful speeches I find it difficult to know what points to deal with. We are all fortunate to be members of the most remarkable political organisation this world has ever known. I challenge anyone to contradict that. I do not believe that going back to the earliest history anything else of this character has ever existed. People all over the world are still proud and happy to know each other and learn from each other.
Perhaps I may say that the origin of the Commonwealth was the growth of standards which rested originally in this country. Members are always eager to come back and speak with us, and indeed we are delighted when they do. They sent some superb young men in the Second World War. I was perhaps fortunate in that they came mostly to the Royal Air Force. I remember being on one station when we had the pleasure of a royal visit. I was able to take people from 23 different parts of the world to be introduced to the Duke of Gloucester—I believe it was he. That is the quality of the Commonwealth. The people live in many places but mean an awful lot to each other.
I do not wish to speak for too long so I shall be brief. There used to be a curious antagonism between the Americans and India. I shall relate a story. There was a bit of trouble in the Himalayas. Two Americans from the embassy were driving through the Punjab and saw two Indian soldiers on the road. They thought it would be interesting to speak to them. They said, "Tell me, what do you really want?" They were thinking of guns, weapons and stuff like that. The reply was, "Give us British officers". That astounded the Americans. They did not believe it possible in the face of what they used to think of as our ill-treatment of the Indians.
That is an interesting difference between the European Community and the Commonwealth. We ruled. It was life which brought us together. The Community is full of regulations of every kind. This is the third time the topic has been discussed in the past week or so. I am tempted to give a German quotation from Goethe: 1009"Grau alter Freund ist alle Theorie and GrÜn des Lebens goldener Baum".That means,The theories are all dead, but life is what gives us the green and golden world in which we live".That is one thing we must try and do. We must attempt to bring the Commonwealth and the Community closer together so that they begin to understand each other and can benefit by each other. That is a great task. Let us remember that we believe we live in a peaceful time—in spite of what my noble friend referred to this afternoon. But we have lived through probably the bloodiest century this world has ever known, littered with all kinds of dictators which alas we see still growing up. That is the world in which we live. We must not count on continuing peace in the world.
I was watching a programme on television the other evening in which they showed how the little animals, ants, beetles and wasps all fight. Fighting is not unusual in any form of life. If we are to have peace we must work hard to ensure that those things which can be drawn together are drawn together. The theorists of the European Community will probably say that it is impossible: I believe that it can be done. The versatility and ease of the Commonwealth will enable a close and valuable connection to be formed.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Pitt of Hampstead
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, for giving the House the opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that we are better served discussing the Commonwealth than having the day off, because the Commonwealth is of the utmost importance in this world.
It has already been said that the Commonwealth today consists of 50 countries—four developed countries and 46 countries in various stages of development. Two of the developed countries—it is important to note this—are members of a group of seven industrial countries that now meet each year at summit level in effect to seek to manage the world economy. The problem of development, therefore, has loomed, and will continue to loom, large in the concern of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth will need to increase its activities in this field.
The Commonwealth's stand on racism is equally important. The Commonwealth is multiracial and must therefore have a multiracial ethic. The Commonwealth has had to face the racism which was prevalent in southern Africa, and will continue to have to do so. It is a great pity that there has been a difference between this country and the other members of the Commonwealth on the question of sanctions against South Africa. I hope that the change of Prime Minister will lead to a change of attitude on this issue. I also hope that developments in South Africa will make the issue unnecessary.
The post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth was established in 1965. As we have 1010 been told, Arnold Smith, a Canadian civil servant, was the first secretary general and held office until 1975. He had to build the secretariat from scratch. He did a very fine job in laying the foundations for its future development. Sir Shrideth Ramphal was secretary general from 1975 until June of this year. He has been an outstanding international civil servant. During his period of office the Commonwealth grew in stature and importance as it endeavoured to come to grips with its obligation to seek to bridge the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" and to combat racism. He has been succeeded by Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who has been deputy secretary general and therefore at the centre of activities in the Commonwealth during the whole of the 1980s except for a short period in 1983 when he was Foreign Secretary for Nigeria. He is therefore well fitted to continue the programme of work initiated during that period, to build on the foundation laid by his predecessors and to carry the Commonwealth into the next century.
In that respect Chief Emeka Anyaoku has been assisted by the decision taken in Kuala Lumpur to have a high level group under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister of Malaysia to consider the role of the Commonwealth in the 1990s and beyond. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, that we shall await the group's report with interest. In the meantime, the Commonwealth will continue to have to cope with the problem of South Africa by giving as much support as it can to the parties negotiating a new constitution in order to create a democratic society in that country and to enable it to rejoin the Commonwealth.
There is also the question of Europe and 1992. In that respect, this country has an important role to play. The single market is not a threat to the Commonwealth; it is an opportunity. The Commonwealth's original trade links with Britain will become links with the largest unified market—larger even than the United States—and thus provide opportunities for the Commonwealth. Therefore, our efforts towards the creation of a single market should be accompanied by policy measures to provide support to poor members of the Commonwealth so that they may be able to take advantage of those opportunities. The structures of Lomé provide one such method, but it is not the only one.
As we work towards the completion of a single European market there is increasing concern on the part of some members of the Commonwealth as to whether the existing bilateral protection, or import guarantees, can be made compatible with a common market in which there are no controls on the movement of goods across its frontiers. There is particular concern about the future of the special arrangements for such products as bananas, rum, beef and rice. The current arrangements for the import of sugar from Commonwealth countries into the EC may also be affected. Clearly, these are matters of deep concern to our Commonwealth partners, who look towards Britain to take the lead in addressing these issues.
1011 The future of many poor peasants and small farmers depends on the skill of the British Government in negotiating on their behalf with the EC. I hope that the Government will remember that.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Moran
My Lords, I must apologise to the Minister and to the House as I shall have to leave before the end of the debate to attend a long-standing engagement.
I am glad that my old chief, my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow, for whose views I have the greatest respect, has given the House an opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth. I intend to speak mainly about the view of the Commonwealth in this country. Despite one or two losses—the Republic of Ireland, South Africa and Fiji, and some former British territories which, on becoming independent, decided not to join: Jordan, Burma, the Sudan and some others—the Commonwealth is unique, remarkable and still very much in being, as some noble Lords have said. Although more than half of its members are republics the Commonwealth has the Queen at its head as a symbol of unity—no mere symbol but the most tireless and dedicated of its supporters.
The Commonwealth is, of course, a loose association of countries—so much so that two members (India and Pakistan) fought a small but bitter war in 1965. However, it has a dense and elaborate network of relationships: meetings of heads of government every two years; meetings of Commonwealth finance ministers, other ministers and officials; Commonwealth parliamentary conferences; the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation; Commonwealth scholarships, and much else. A great deal of that activity is of real value.
As a tiny part of that network I used to enjoy the regular lunchtime meetings of Commonwealth high commissioners in Ottawa. They were lively occasions with only three white faces—our Australian and New Zealand colleagues and myself. My wife found the parallel meetings of high commissioners' wives even livelier. Nevertheless, the sad fact remains that the public attitude in this country to the Commonwealth is now, it seems to me, one of indifference. All three candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party were asked in the past few days about their attitude to Europe. No one thought of asking what they thought of the Commonwealth. Effectively, the people of this country have turned their backs on the Commonwealth. If it were not so, the signs directing incoming passengers approaching passport control at Heathrow would not divide passengers into those holding EC passports and others, thus lumping Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders together with Libyans or Iranians.
Why has this happened? I believe it has happened for two reasons. First, when the present Commonwealth was devised after the Second World War, replacing the former British Commonwealth of Nations, we rolled together the old Dominions, largely inhabited by our own people with whom there was a very close family relationship (they had fought 1012 with us in two world wars) and the recently independent former colonies and dependencies with which we had a new, very important but quite different relationship. We insisted that all should be treated exactly alike.
That arrangement was not grounded in reality. It inevitably caused some resentments in the old Commonwealth. What was originally an ingenious arrangement to keep India in the Commonwealth when it became a republic ultimately became a source of weakness. Secondly, Commonwealth heads of government meetings became the occasion, as we all remember, for ferocious and sustained attacks on the British over Rhodesia and South Africa. At the posts where I served we looked forward to them with about the same enthusiasm as we looked forward to visits from British football teams.
The British people do not react vigorously to such attacks; they just shrug their shoulders and go down another road. That is what they did. There is some danger now of the same thing happening with Europe. Some of our partners are making the same mistake as our Commonwealth partners. It is a little ominous that, after the departure of Mrs. Thatcher, they are expressing the hope that her successor will be more flexible. If they go on criticising the British Government the British people's enthusiasm for Europe will go the way of their enthusiasm for the Commonwealth and, as we are one of the two main contributors, that may be sad not just for us but also for them.
Although during my time in the diplomatic service I had a lot to do with Commonwealth countries, particularly in Africa, I served in only one. I had three very happy and interesting years as high commissioner in Canada. I did not find the job different in essentials from that of an ambassador. The only real difference was that an ambassador represents the Queen and looks after visiting members of the Royal Family whereas a high commissioner represents the Prime Minister. In Canada officials went to surprising lengths to prevent visiting members of the Royal Family encountering the British high commissioner.
However, I was immensely struck by the close networks of family relationships; the Scots in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, the Irish in Newfoundland, Quebec and Ontario, including, notably, the family of my noble friend Lord Shaughnessy. The English and Welsh are all over. Where else would one find a minister for external affairs who spoke fluent Gaelic. When we brought Mr. MacEachan to Edinburgh we had to scour the Western Isles for Gaelic speakers to talk to him.
I had the good fortune to encounter an amazing demonstration of this family relationship during the Falklands War. The Canadians knew then that we were in the right, defending a small territory with a mandatory United Nations resolution behind us. They could give free rein to their feelings. I shall never forget the letters and telephone calls that flooded in offering help, and the practical help that we had from so many Canadians from Mr. Trudea a down. It was a marvellous demonstration of solidarity. I believe 1013 that it owed everything to the family and historic relationships and hardly anything to common membership of the Commonwealth.
Nevertheless, I believe that we should hold on to what we have. In practical terms there is a good deal to be said for the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill. I hope that they will be seriously considered.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, the House is deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, not only for initiating this debate but for a most impressive speech. Where are our priorities? We have had debate after debate on the European Community, and I have no quarrel with that. It is an extremely important organisation at the present time. However, after 32 years in your Lordships' House I think I can count on a finger the number of debates about the Commonwealth. I shall be rather partial in discussing primarily one country in the short time at my disposal.
Many of your Lordships have strong links with the Commonwealth. I have strong links with New Zealand. I was there last March. Like the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, I have the honour of being a vice-president of the Great Britain in New Zealand Year 1990. It is a year which has brought New Zealand to the fore. The Treaty of Waitanki has been a historic occasion. As a result of it, in the current year much money has been raised for the foundation of an educational research establishment in New Zealand.
I am also a long-standing member of the New Zealand Society and chairman of the Anglo-South Pacific Group of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I join in the hope that Fiji, which my wife and I visited in 1971 prior to an official visit to the city of Auckland, will return to the Commonwealth. I have had the privilege recently, through the good offices of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, to visit both Australia and New Zealand. Anyone who goes to the Domain in Auckland and sees the names of 4,000 New Zealanders who fell in Crete, and who visits the war graves centre in Canberra, will realise the debt that we owe to the Commonwealth.
We owe a debt particularly to the Maoris. I have had the privilege of three Maori welcomes in New Zealand. The Maoris have contributed enormously not only to the fight for freedom but in the education and general running of organisations in New Zealand. If ever there were an example of good race relations it is between the Maoris and what they call the Pakeha, the white population in New Zealand. There are shortcomings, but if one looks at race relations generally that is something to be commended.
While I was in New Zealand in March the delegation which comprised five Members from the other place and myself visited the Bay of Islands, Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, all within seven days. It was a fairly heavily organised trip but well worth it. We saw a country which has strong links here. There may be a distance of 13,000 miles, but 1014 there are few families in this country who have not a friend or an acquaintance living in either Australia or New Zealand.
The time has come for the Government to spend far more time on the subject of the Commonwealth. Trade with New Zealand and Australia continues to flourish but there are many problems. I confess to never having been a very enthusiastic supporter of the European Community. I acknowledge, as do the Commonwealth countries, the need for collaboration between Europe and the Commonwealth, particularly New Zealand. However, having visited a kiwi fruit farm in Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands last March, I am appalled to see in our shops kiwi fruit imported from Italy. I do not know whether my noble friend has any information as to what preferences are given to the Commonwealth over the European Community, particularly concerning butter and fruit. That is vital.
I have also had the privilege, through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, of visiting Jamaica, another country to which we owe an enormous debt in two world wars. Noble Lords with far more knowledge than I of the Commonwealth have been allocated six minutes to speak. I shall say no more but I plead with the Government to allow proper time to discuss matters with our real friends.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Lord Hunt of Tanworth
My Lords, I have personal reasons for welcoming the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, in introducing this debate. I began my Civil Service career in 1946 in the old Dominions' Office. Very shortly afterwards, as the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, has said, I had the pleasure of carrying his ministerial bag around parts of the world. Over the following 35 years I had regular contacts with my opposite numbers in Commonwealth countries and I accompanied four different Prime Ministers to heads of government meetings in different parts of the world. I mention that simply because experience over a long period gives one a feeling for what the Commonwealth is and what it is not.
The Commonwealth is often talked about as a club, despite the fact that it has as its members more than a quarter of the world's population, people from large and small countries and from developed and developing countries. It certainly belies Groucho Marx's famous remark: "I wouldn't want to belong to any club which would have me as a member". The Commonwealth has no rules of membership and is based only on the principles of partnership and equality. Despite very great differences of size, prosperity and culture, all its members seem to value the association and want it to continue. The club connotation perhaps relates to the informality and the chemistry of its proceedings.
We should remember what the Commonwealth is and what it is not. It is not a regional grouping, a security network or a trade area. All its members belong to other regional, political and economic bodies. It is as much a red herring to say that our membership of the Commonwealth is inconsistent with our primary role as a member of the European 1015 Community as to say that the Commonwealth's Caribbean members should not belong to the Association of American States. The real question is whether the Commonwealth stands for good or for bad and whether it is in our interests to continue an active membership of it.
We should remember that it is the only international grouping outside the United Nations which brings together developed and developing countries from across the world, irrespective of power or culture. Unlike members of the United Nations, these different countries have certain things in common. In what is now an association of 50 independent countries, Her Majesty the Queen, in her role as head of the Commonwealth, is the only formal link with the past. But the fact remains that all 50 independent Commonwealth countries share certain things derived originally from the United Kingdom. We should not be ashamed of that. They derive from us their independence, their common language, much of their legal, educational and parliamentary systems, and so on. That is why they share so many interests and find it so easy to communicate. It is also why there are so many thriving unofficial Commonwealth bodies which owe nothing to the promptings of the Commonwealth Secretariat or governments.
But if this legacy—I deliberately say "legacy" rather than memory—of a shared colonial past makes it easy for them to find community in diversity, it also means that in this country we have a major interest in the Commonwealth's health, not as a buttress to our prestige or in thinking of it as a British Commonwealth still instead of a Commonwealth of Nations, but as a cross-section of the world in which we have special links and through which we can influence, learn and, in the case of undeveloped countries, help.
None of this is very dramatic stuff. The Commonwealth is at its best when pursuing educational co-operation and mobility rather than issuing high-flown declarations which may sound fine to those who sign them but are often forgotten. The danger is that because of the emphasis on Europe people in this country are growing up without some of the old links and do not understand what the Commonwealth means, what it is and why it is to our advantage still to be an active member of it. I very much hope that the high level group, which is preparing the report to be considered at the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting, will concentrate on what I call the practical rather than the high-flown side of the Commonwealth. I hope the Government will reassure us not only today but in their subsequent actions that the Commonwealth, despite all its imperfections, still matters to them. There is a great reservoir of friendship in the Commonwealth which we should not neglect.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I have personal reasons for thanking the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, for introducing the debate. As he knows, I have been involved for most of my life in Commonwealth 1016 activities of one kind or another. I look back with great affection to my work with the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, and before that, with Clem Attlee, Jim Griffiths, Nye Bevan and Jim Callaghan. At that time—the time when the modern Commonwealth was being created—there were passing through my office Pandit Nehru, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Dr. Evatt, Seretse Khama, Lee Kuan Yew, Norman Manley and many others. This was the formative period of the modern Commonwealth. I have been covering Commonwealth conferences ever since, either writing for the New Statesman and other magazines or acting as adviser. I draw the attention of the House to the statement of principles on which the Commonwealth has been based since 1971. I have a particular prejudice in favour of that statement because I was author of the first draft.
In this short debate I want to concentrate on two issues concerning the future of the Commonwealth. One has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Pitt. I refer to ethnic relations. One hardly need say it but in no institution or organisation in the world can the relations between ethnic communities be better worked out than in this multi-racial Commonwealth. The focal point is the attitude of the Commonwealth to South Africa. The decision to impose sanctions on South Africa has borne fruit. As Mr. de Klerk and his colleagues have admitted, it was largely the imposition of sanctions which brought the South African Government to the negotiating table with Nelson Mandela. The Eminent Persons Group of a few years ago played an immensely constructive role in pointing the way forward although its recommendations were turned down by the Government.
The Commonwealth played a vital part in the creation of the new Zimbabwe. The tie I am wearing was presented to me as one of those who collaborated with the Commonwealth delegation to the Rhodesian elections of 1980. The Commonwealth played a vital role during those elections and during the transition period. Can it not do the same or something similar in the new situation in South Africa? I believe that it can. I believe that it can help to give confidence in the building of a new constitution in that country.
However, there is another vital aspect in the future of South Africa which concerns the Commonwealth. I refer to the fact that apartheid has left that country denuded of skilled workers and with half of the black population illiterate. Where are we to turn to supply the skills which will be needed in a new democratic South Africa, and how are we to rectify that discrimination against the black population? The Commonwealth has already set up an expert group on education to undertake precisely that task. I do not believe that any other institution in the world is capable of effectively doing so.
The second issue is that of population and resources. As has already been pointed out, the present Commonwealth consists of about one quarter of the entire population of the world; that is, 1.48 billion people. It is estimated that by the year 2025 the number will have increased to 2.8 billion. That is nearly one third of the total population of the world. 1017 What does that mean as regards the use of the resources of the world? At present the top billion of the people in the world uses about 70 per cent. of the total energy of the world and the bottom billion uses virtually nothing. However, the situation will change; but if it is to be changed without causing disaster to the planet, it can only be changed by the use of cleaner technologies, by energy efficiency and by resource conservation.
Last year the Commonwealth secretariat produced its analysis entitled, A Climate Change. I was in Jamaica last year for the Finance Ministers' conference when the then Secretary General Sonny Ramphal made a rousing speech in the midst of the hurricane season in the Caribbean on the dangers of climate warming and the responsibility of the Commonwealth. The secretariat has now taken that factor on board and is making what I believe to be an essential contribution to this immense, crucial problem which faces us all: how to help the developing peoples of the world to create a standard of living which will just sustain life, without destroying the planet.
Mention has already been made of the fact that we are concentrating upon our membership of the European Community. We are in the Community and we shall not leave it. However, let us not forget our long-standing membership of the Commonwealth. Let us echo what has been said from all Benches this afternoon and plead with the Government to make an unreserved statement that they will constructively contribute at all times to the development and expansion of Commonwealth work in association with the European Community and not as an alternative to it.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, introduced the vital question of the race between resources and population in the context of the Commonwealth relationship. Later in my brief remarks I shall return to that issue as I believe it to be of foremost importance.
I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we must try to clarify what the Commonwealth is and what it is not. Like the noble Lord, I have experienced a certain immersion in Commonwealth affairs. The vast majority of our relations with Commonwealth countries, and the relationships between those countries, are conducted on a bilateral basis on broadly similar lines to those of our diplomatic relations with other foreign countries.
The collective side of the Commonwealth relationship is something which in relative terms has always been very small. I do not mean to diminish in any way the significance of what we share; indeed, this is in some ways the decade of networking—I believe that is the "in" word. The Commonwealth is the supernetwork. It has a web which criss-crosses across every type of relationship—that is, commercial, professional, governmental, parliamentary, and so on. As noble Lords have said, this side of the Commonwealth is 1018 immensely important and I hope that the Government will put their shoulders to doing everything they can to develop this admittedly rather tenuous and intangible field of effort.
The Commonwealth is not some kind of treaty organisation. It is not an association for defined legal, political, commercial or security commitments; it is a totally different area of international affairs. That is what makes the antithesis with the European Community a false one. I agree with the view which has been expressed that our increased sharing of sovereignty in Europe provides an opportunity and not a threat to Commonwealth countries, provided that we can bring about a greater understanding and sympathy among our European partners with the problems and interests of other Commonwealth countries. Alas, in the past that consideration has been very much ignored, although I shall not mention any names.
I return now to the issue of the main global problem of our time; namely, the race between population and resources. I believe that this is an area in which a collective Commonwealth effort could make a significant contribution. At present, under the umbrella of the Commonwealth secretariat, a modest effort is being made in the field of education and technical assistance. It covers a wide range of valuable exchanges but on a modest scale. Most international aid and most of our aid—rightly, in my view —flows on a bilateral basis or through international agencies.
The particular kind of easy, informal relationship and the collective framework which we have in the Commonwealth provide a good opportunity for pilot projects. It is timely that at this juncture the senior Commonwealth officials are focusing on the potential and the possibilities of future Commonwealth collective effort.
I have no doubt that the answer to the problem of resources versus population lies in the educational field. A crash programme of accelerated education must be introduced to enable the peoples of the developing Commonwealth countries to help themselves. No amount of available resources from the West can meet the needs of Africa and Asia, leaving aside the new claims of Eastern Europe.
It is by helping the developing countries to acquire the skills themselves in fields of agricultural techniques, health and family planning that a solution can be found, and I hope that the studies being made by this high-level group will identify this area of education as a suitable point for collective effort. Studies are at present being made at the London Business School in this particular field. When concrete plans are available, I hope that the Commonwealth collectively will come behind them.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords, this is the first opportunity I have had of speaking about the Commonwealth since becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. I am therefore most grateful to the 1019 noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, for having initiated this debate. I strongly support the valuable suggestions he made at the end of his speech.
During a period of 20 years I had the privilege of visiting over 40 Commonwealth countries in the service of the head of the Commonwealth. I was always deeply moved by the sight of tens of thousands of English-speaking peoples in all five continents coming out into the streets to cheer the Queen. It is not possible to undergo this experience without pondering long and hard on the significance of such a remarkable phenomenon, surely unique in the history of international politics.
I came to the conclusion that there is enormous underlying strength in the Commonwealth. Shared history, common institutions and traditions, the English language, economic links and the stature of the Queen as head of the Commonwealth—all these have contributed towards making the Commonwealth a constructive and stabilising influence in world affairs. The problem that arises is how, in this fast-changing world, to make the best use of the Commonwealth in Britain's interest, in the interests of other Commonwealth countries and as an international organisation.
By and large the Commonwealth has not received a good press in Britain in recent years, largely due to the view that Britain's future lies only in the European Community. We must answer the question: what is the relevance of the Commonwealth to a Britain committed to membership of a free trade area in Europe and being pressed to join a more closely knit economic and political union?
Political integration does not seem to me to be a starter. The history of political federations is a story of disappointed hopes. Language, history and geography all make it very unlikely that Britain will join a federal political union in Europe; but, economically, the European Community is vital to Britain. Since Britain joined, the Community's share of our trade has risen from about one-third to one-half—a very significant shift. However, we have to remember that the balance of our trade with the Community is negative whereas the balance with the Commonwealth continues to be positive. In other words, what we sell to the Commonwealth enables us to buy more than we could otherwise from Europe, and our ties with the rest of the world are becoming more important to Europe as the centre of gravity in the world economy moves towards the Pacific. Our links with Australia and New Zealand, as well as with Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Brunei give us special opportunities to play a part in the dramatic growth of trade in that region.
So there is no need for Britain to choose between the Commonwealth and the Community. Our ties with the countries that share our history can help us to maintain our individuality and identity in an increasingly integrated Europe and to make our own contribution to this evolving community of nations. But the Commonwealth will not prosper in the 21st century unless there are new and constructive initiatives. It was heartening that in Kuala Lumpur the heads of government decided to set up a high-level 1020 appraisal group to bring the Commonwealth more into play on current world problems. I sincerely hope they will produce some new ideas to be considered at Harare next year, with, I trust, the British Prime Minister playing a prominent role.
However, this is not only a commonwealth of governments. It is also a commonwealth of peoples. We need much closer co-operation between governments and voluntary organisations working together and sharing responsibility. Sometimes one wonders whether Commonwealth governments fully appreciate the enormous potential of the non-governmental organisations and the spirit and drive which motivate them. An excellent lead has been given by the Commonwealth Foundation in the setting up of Commonwealth liaison units to co-ordinate the activities of non-governmental organisations and to underline the regional interdependence of Commonwealth countries.
Some of the NGOs are well known and have for long been carrying out invaluable work, many on shoestring budgets. To mention just one or two, there is Commonwealth Day, organised by the Joint Commonwealth Societies Council, with the Queen's Commonwealth Day Message to young people. That is marked by a variety of Commonwealth Day activities throughout the Commonwealth. There is the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council, which does invaluable work. Then there is the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind, now called Sightsavers, the Commonwealth Press Union, and many others. All do very important work.
Do not imagine, my Lords, that the NGOs are all London based. Non-governmental organisations are emerging all over the Commonwealth. I give just three examples. There is the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, which is a formidable body; the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya and, a particularly interesting one, the African NGO Environmental Network, which is seeking to bring home to African countries the dangers to the environment of ill-considered development. These voluntary organisations are the lifeblood of the Commonwealth. Much of what the Commonwealth is able to do would be more effectively and persuasively done if the unofficial Commonwealth were mobilised and enabled to play its full part.
The Commonwealth heads of government meeting at Harare next year has a wonderful opportunity to establish a new relationship with the NGOs. The Commonwealth Foundation has already taken a valuable initiative in setting up an NGO forum, the first meeting of which is to take place in Harare some months before the Commonwealth heads of government meeting. I trust that the heads of government will give serious consideration to its recommendations. NGOs can help governments to bring the Commonwealth into the mainstream of world development and can help to build a constructive and creative partnership without parallel in the world's history. I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will be able to confirm that Her Majesty's Government 1021 intend to play a leading role in giving encouragement and help to the non-governmental organisations of the Commonwealth.
§ 6.49 p.m.
§ Lord St.John of Bletso
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow for introducing this debate and endorse the sentiments voiced by the noble Lords, Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Pitt of Hampstead, that it is a pity we could not have had much longer to debate this extremely important subject today. Certainly my speech was planned for around 12 minutes and to curtail it substantially to six minutes gives me quite a problem.
My noble friend in drawing attention to the role and future of the Commonwealth has also drawn attention to the need for a collective refocusing of the energies of its members. I am encouraged that these objectives have been echoed by the new Secretary General to the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who has committed himself to the strengthening of democracy in the organisation which over the last few years would appear to have devoted itself to a large degree to combating apartheid in South Africa.
It is on the subject of South Africa that I wish to concentrate my remarks today. As noble Lords may be aware, I have spent most of my life based there and thus have the benefit of first-hand experience. At the outset I wish to voice my total support for the objectives and existence of the Commonwealth and join in welcoming the recent membership of Namibia.
That being said, some of the contradictory elements in the nature of the Commonwealth were highlighted in the events of last year and particularly at the Kuala Lumpur heads of government meeting. The organisation's public face emerged as one which sanctimoniously decried the evils of apartheid in South Africa while, in my opinion, ignoring the contempt shown by some prominent and vocal members for the principles of democracy and individual liberties and freedoms in their own countries. I am encouraged by the extremely balanced approach taken by the new secretary general, particularly to the establishment of a Commonwealth expert group, on human resources and development needs for a post-apartheid South Africa, a point which was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby. It is noteworthy that this group includes a member of the ANC and a prominent South African economist.
In August this year, at the 10th anniversary summit meeting of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Committee (otherwise known as the SADCC) in Gaberone, Botswana, the secretary general said:The Commonwealth stands ready to provide all the practical assistance towards the success of the negotiations and thereafter to contribute to the socio-economic construction of a post apartheid South Africa".I do not know how he managed to get all that out in one breath!
1022 Since the Kuala Lumpur meeting last year we have seen dramatic political change in South Africa, particularly following State President de Klerk's momentous speech on 2nd February. Indeed, most of the preconditions to the lifting of sanctions laid down in the Eminent Persons Group report in 1986, and following last year's Kuala Lumpur meeting, have been met. The Commonwealth Heads of Government statement last year said, when justifying sanctions:Their purpose was not punitive, but to abolish apartheid by bringing Pretoria to the negotiating table and keeping it there until that change was irreversibly secured".I would argue that South Africa is now well on the road to irreversible change. While I would not expect a total lifting of sanctions, I believe that now is the time for selective international sanctions to be lifted. This would promote much needed economic growth in the country.
All the political parties in the negotiating process for a new constitution in South Africa agree that the key to a successful and secure post-apartheid state is a strong and stable economy. This is particularly pertinent in respect of the startling demographic characteristics of the country which I have often mentioned in previous speeches in your Lordships' House. I shall repeat them briefly. It has a population growth rate in excess of 3 per cent. Over 60 per cent. of the population are under the age of 23; over 1 million blacks are migrating into the towns every year; and unemployment is over 50 per cent. These factors place considerable strains on the infrastructure and the economy.
I understand that in recognising these challenges facing South Africa, as well as the recent political reforms, the ANC will shortly ease its stand on sanctions. Clearly, however, even if sanctions were to be lifted totally now, it would not precipitate a major inflow of foreign investment into the country.
World attention has recently focused on the tragic violence in the townships. There will have to be not just a cessation of violence but a visibly stable economic, social and political environment before committed funds will flow back into South Africa. In my recent speech in the foreign affairs and defence debate I outlined what I believed were the key reasons for the unrest in South Africa. Without repeating myself, I believe that the root causes for the violence can be overcome. Just as with the rest of Africa, education, housing and health care are major issues to be addressed in South Africa. It is noteworthy that the South African Government have this year allocated substantial extra funds to tackling these matters.
To bring our focus back to the issue of this debate, I firmly believe that a non-racial, democratic South Africa can be achieved out of the current process. Such an outcome would place the country as one of the future powerhouses of the continent. Even in its beleaguered state, South Africa currently accounts for 4 per cent. of the continent's population yet produces 54 per cent. of Africa's energy, 50 per cent. of the motor vehicles, 81 per cent. of all rail freight and 30 per cent. of the continent's exports.
1023 In conclusion, while the possibility of South Africa applying to rejoin the Commonwealth is not high on its agenda, I endorse the secretary general's stated wish to see the return of South Africa to the Commonwealth by the end of his term of office; that would be by the middle of 1995. In that event, I can foresee the rather ironic outcome whereby a country which has been the cause of so much division within the Commonwealth will ultimately be able to provide an example of democracy and racial harmony, thereby becoming a major contributor to the strengthening of the Commonwealth.
§ 6.56 p.m.
My Lords, first, I apologise to my noble friend Lord Greenhill for missing the first few minutes of his speech. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I warmly welcome this opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth. I shall confine my remarks entirely to Uganda because it is the country in the Commonwealth that I know best. I have addressed your Lordships on it on several occasions.
I was recently given the opportunity to visit the country again thanks to a warm invitation from the Ugandan Government which came in the name of the President himself. The Government welcomed me most warmly; it was an extremely worth while and interesting visit. I must record my warm thanks to the Government for their invitation.
On previous occasions when I spoke in the days of Obote and Amin the situation in Uganda was pretty black. There was a great deal of torture, terrorism and so on. Now I am glad to say—I wish to make this point as strongly as I can—the situation is much better. President Museveni is firmly in control and I formed the overall impression of growing peace and prosperity.
The only area of which your Lordships may have heard where there is a certain amount of trouble is in the north, in the province of Teso. I shall speak about it in a minute.
I started my tour in Kampala, where I spent four days at the Sheraton Hotel—an excellent place, well up to the standard of Sheratons all over the world. I would say that it is even better than the best hotels in Nairobi. In 1971, the year in which I left Uganda, there was a great deal of trouble caused by armed bandits known as Kondos. It was difficult to walk around in Kampala without being conscious of these people. On one occasion I saw two half-dead men lying by the roadside; it was quite a normal occurrence. No one bothered about it at all. Now I am glad to say that one can walk the streets of Kampala without any difficulty at all, even at night. That contrasts with the situation in Nairobi, where I was warned not to walk even 200 yards at half-past six in the evening for fear of being beaten up.
I was received warmly in Entebbe by the President. He told me how pleased he was that Great Britain is now the leading aid donor to Uganda to the tune of £28 million annually. That is a substantial sum. Unfortunately inflation is running at 25 per cent. and the currency situation is also serious. There are now 1024 1,200 Ugandan shillings to the pound sterling and there is no note larger than a 100 shilling note. Consequently one has to carry a whole sack of money about.
The President is anxious to develop what used to be called the three "C"s and the three "T"s. The three "C"s stand for coffee, cotton and copper. The copper is now exhausted but the other two commodities are being developed. The three "T"s stand for tourism, tea and tobacco.
After my stay in Kampala I was taken up by air to the north to Gulu, where I met a most active and energetic Minister who is in charge of the north of the country. That Minister, Mrs. Betty Bigombe, has many of the qualities that Ministers in your Lordships' House have. The situation there is peaceful, and under the Minister's active guidance everything is being done to refurbish and develop those areas that have been devastated by the war. Various agricultural projects are in hand and projects have also been established to help the former boy soldiers to obtain employment. One such project comprises the manufacture of bowls and similar metal objects.
The standard of living unfortunately remains low. In one area that we visited by helicopter people were appealing for blankets. Blankets are a pretty basic commodity and it is sad that people have to appeal for them. Even officials find it difficult to make ends meet. An excellent senior official showed me around. He was a man of great intelligence and he spoke perfect English. Nevertheless, he has to run a farm just to keep himself going.
I was also taken to Jinja to see various industries, particularly the fisheries industry, which is going very well. I also saw the textile and sugar factories, among others. Ugandans hope that in two or three years time they will be independent in the production of sugar. I hope with the start that has been made under such Ministers as Mrs. Bigombe and others Uganda will be able to take its place in the Commonwealth. It always has had the reputation of being the jewel of East Africa as it has an abundantly fertile soil and an able and active population. We look forward to a bright future for this country. I recommend British businessmen to invest in it, if they can find the opportunity to do so, particularly in the sphere of agricultural machinery.
§ 7.4 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, for initiating the debate. I thank him particularly for taking less than his allotted time for his speech. He and the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, were two of the few speakers who did so. I wish to echo the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, on the Royal Air Force when he said that it was a particularly good place to study members of the Commonwealth during the war. I served in bomber command during the war, and every crew that I flew with contained a member of the Commonwealth. I remember with great affection and joy their vigour in flying, and afterwards in the various 1025 bars around East Anglia which the Royal Air Force frequented. However, that was the old-style Commonwealth. That Commonwealth has done us enormous good. We were all familiar with that Commonwealth and had relations with it.
As regards our present position in Europe, it must be obvious that we should remain in Europe as it should be a base from which we can do an enormous amount to increase our wealth and use it in the Commonwealth. At the present time the most important thing that we can do to help the Commonwealth is to reduce the agricultural surpluses which we dump on the world market at prices which ruin many third world farmers. I say that as a farmer. I expect to see the income of farmers and of the population in the countryside kept up by using the money in the budget in a wiser way.
We are neglecting the enormous areas and the enormous populations that exist throughout the Commonwealth. There are 110 million people in Nigeria, 100 million people in Pakistan and 800 million people in India. As every speaker has said, that represents an enormous proportion of the world's population. By a happy chance I had lunch today with a distinguished lawyer from Nigeria who is an old friend of mine. He gave me a lot of information on the current situation in Nigeria. We are neglecting that great country.
I have a certain knowledge of the French as I am married to a French lady. They are carrying out a far greater number of projects in Nigeria than we are. They are developing the gas industry. Elf and Dutch Shell have established projects in that country but there has been no move from British Gas. That is extraordinary in my opinion. In addition, the French are cultivating the Nigerians in all areas of the country. People who help France are rewarded with French decorations. We appear to be falling behind, even in education. The Government did a great deal of harm when they cut the grants for overseas students and forced up their fees. The Government forced students to seek courses in other parts of the world. The Government can and should put that position right. I hope that the Minister can give us an assurance on that. My friend also told me that some army officers now go to West Point in the United States for training rather than to Sandhurst. That is an instance of the many areas where we need to make improvements in order to improve the whole situation.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is situated in London. Compliments have been made from all sides of the House to both the past and present secretaries general of the Commonwealth Secretariat. That body is being used to enormous advantage throughout the whole Commonwealth. However, I know that this country does not provide the entire budget for the secretariat. I understand that the budget for the running of the secretariat is about £7.9 million. The budget for the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation which is an enormously important body, is about £30 million. In this country the Rural 1026 Development Council —an excellent body—has a budget of £34 million. The Highlands and Islands Development Board has a budget for administration alone of over £6 million. While nobody wants to encourage bureaucracy, a body of such immense value, which represents over a quarter of the world's population, should be given the tools to do the job, particularly in the field of technical development.
Many noble Lords have mentioned the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Its work is enormously valuable. It has probably done more good through its contacts than the meetings of the heads of states. There are also many other non-government bodies which ought to be encouraged. I attended a conference in Kenya organised by the Society of Royal Agricultural Societies, which is headed by and was started up and encouraged by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The goodwill and knowledge engendered in such conferences offers an example of what can be done with this enormously valuable Commonwealth to which we belong. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us today not of the Government's commitment but of their enthusiastic support for the growth of good feeling and contact between all members of the Commonwealth.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, must be very satisfied with the very positive response that noble Lords have given to his Motion today. He must also be happy with the proposals that have been put forward for its future.
The noble Lord has chosen a very appropriate time for the debate: first, because of the imminent meeting of the High Level Appraisal Group; and, secondly, because the role of the Commonwealth is growing and developing and its existence is of the greatest importance in the world today. Many people are grateful for its existence.
I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the recent membership of Pakistan and, more recently, of Namibia. I look forward to the day when changes in South Africa's political system make it possible for it to return to the Commonwealth. In that context, I was very interested by the very positive speech made by the noble Lord, Lord St. John, today.
It is important to recognise why the Commonwealth is such a key international organisation. As noble Lords have said, it does not receive much press attention. That may be because things are going quite well. I believe that the Commonwealth's unique position was very well expressed in the words of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Anyaoku, when he addressed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Harare:a central attribute of the Commonwealth is its ability to bridge racial, ideological and economic divides and inequalities, assisted by its common language and common professional and institutional heritage. It is an attribute that will be of increasing value to a world in which new tensions within racially and culturally mixed communities and new threats to the stability and cohesion of established nation states are appearing".1027 Like other noble Lords, I should like to pay tribute to the secretary general and wish him great success in his work. I should also like to pay my respects to the secretariat.
It can be argued that the style adopted by the Commonwealth of negotiation, consensus and networking is a more appropriate and effective style than that of the majority vote and political power game characteristic of many regional and international organisations which are also trying to solve world problems.
The relationship between the United Kingdom and her partners in the Commonwealth has had its up and downs in recent years. It must be said that Commonwealth countries have been supportive of Her Majesty's Government over European Community matters, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said quite rightly is Britain's main preoccupation. The Commonwealth also showed loyal support to the Government in the Falklands war. However, looking back at recent meetings of Commonwealth heads of government it would appear that the United Kingdom was out of step with the other members, particularly appearing not to share the other members' sense of vision and confidence in that body. That has sometimes meant that Britain has looked isolated within the community. Therefore, I should like to join other noble Lords who have asked for a very strong commitment by the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, tonight.
I believe that it would be true to say that the Labour Party has had a more positive attitude towards the Commonwealth. It sees the Commonwealth in terms of a modern Commonwealth rather than a British Commonwealth. It sees it as made up of free and independent nations with diversity as its great strength. It should be borne in mind that it is a group of countries which could probably survive without Britain.
I should like to put forward two ideas for the future of the Commonwealth and how its framework could be used further. The first concerns the burden of debt from which the least developed members of the Commonwealth suffer. I suggest that there might be a debtors' forum as part of the Commonwealth mechanism. As the Commonwealth is made up of countries from both the North and the South, unlike other international bodies, it is well placed to take the initiative to set up such a body and to assist those debtor countries. After all, the donor countries of the North have the World Bank to represent them. I see the establishment of a debtors' forum for the countries to the South of the North-South divide as a helpful and necessary initiative.
Secondly, the West has shown a great deal of interest in democracy in Eastern Europe. Why have we not shown so much interest in the countries of the Commonwealth which are struggling with democracy? I believe that we should show more interest in how they could achieve that rather than merely castigating them when they fail. The communiqué of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting held in Kuala Lumpur stated that: 1028one of the Commonwealth's contributions to strengthening democracy might be the provision of Commonwealth assistance in helping member countries to reinforce their election and other constitutional processes through a facility for mounting observer missions at the request of member governments".I believe that that would be a very helpful way not only of assisting those countries in running fair elections but also of confirming that those governments have conformed to the democraiic process and are thus legitimate. I should be grateful if the Minister would say whether Her Majesty's Government support the idea of a permanent service which might be offered by the Commonwealth Secretary-General to provide a team of observers carrying his authority to oversee elections when requested.
While on the subject of human rights, a more significant role that the Commonwealth could play in upholding and developing human rights, which would be seen as an important move forward, would be to recognise the significance of the NGOs concerned with human rights. They have a very important role to play, improving awareness of and education in human rights. Also the Commonwealth Foundation should respond to the grant applications of the NGOs, as has been mentioned today. I feel that that is a very important role. Moreover, as proposed at the Kuala Lumpur meeting, it is vital that all governments which have not ratified the international covenants on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights should do so as soon as possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, has allowed us a few extra minutes so perhaps I could ask the Minister a few questions. Will he say what recommendations Her Majesty's Government will be making at the forthcoming group meeting in Kuala Lumpur to review the future of the Commonwealth? Following the recent meeting of Commonwealth education Ministers in Barbados, can he give us the extent of Her Majesty's Government's commitment to the new higher education support scheme? Can he tell us whether the Government will increase funding to raise basic education standards in the Commonwealth? Can he say whether he is satisfied with the level of overseas students from the Commonwealth countries and does he accept that they have decreased since 1980?
To conclude, we on this side of the House wish the Commonwealth continued strength. My honourable friend George Robertson, in a speech in All Souls, Oxford, describing the Commonwealth, said that it was not some formal, stiff institution but:a permanent living network of people of common background enriching each other, teaching and learning from each other and broadening the minds and experience of each other".I should very much like to support that concept of the Commonwealth.
§ 7.21 p.m.
The Earl of Caithness
My Lords, this has been a well-informed debate on a very important organisation. We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, for giving us an opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth 1029 occupies a unique place in Britain's affairs. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for their interest and ideas. I shall give them careful study.
The creation of the Commonwealth out of Britain's colonial past was indeed a proud achievement. At the prime ministers conference which established the modern Commonwealth 41 years ago only eight countries were present. Since then the organisation has grown into maturity with a current membership of 50.
The Commonwealth has always been an entirely voluntary association of sovereign nations. Their common denominators are historical links to the United Kingdom and recognition of Her Majesty the Queen as the head of the Commonwealth. It was the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Wolvercote, who reminded the House of the admiration in which Her Majesty is held and indeed the excellent and admirable way in which she performs her duties.
The principles on which the Commonwealth is based and which we wholeheartedly support are set out in the 1971 Singapore declaration. They include the promotion of representative institutions and guarantees of freedom under the law, the fight against racial discrimination, the importance of economic development to narrow the gap between rich and poor and the fostering of international co-operation in the cause of peace, tolerance and justice. Approximately one quarter of the world's population lives in Commonwealth countries. Therefore we must not lose sight of the fact that ties between peoples, be they linguistic, cultural, educational, institutional or sporting, are as important as the ties between governments. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, said—I hope I quote him accurately—there is a reservoir of friendship from which all members can learn and benefit.
The last 12 months have seen massive changes in the world. A period of adjustment in international relations is inevitable. The Commonwealth was among the first of international organisations to recognise the need to set a new course for the future. As the shackles of communism were being discarded in Eastern Europe in the autumn of last year, the Commonwealth heads of government were meeting in Kuala Lumpur. As the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, reminded the House, Commonwealth leaders agreed to set up a high level group to identify possible roles which the Commonwealth might need to play in the 1990s and beyond. The review would also examine whether Commonwealth institutions, including the secretariat, were adequately equipped for the task.
The 10 heads of government of Australia, the Bahamas, Britain, Canada, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Nigeria, Singapore and Zambia were invited to form a high level appraisal group. Under Malaysian chairmanship they will meet early in 1991 to prepare a report for presentation to the Commonwealth heads of government next autumn. In the meantime a group of senior officials on which the United Kingdom is represented by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of 1030 Ilminster, has been meeting to prepare draft recommendations for consideration by the 10 heads of government. Noble Lords will not expect me to try to pre-empt the report, but the Government hope that certain areas of activity will figure in their recommendations. Our top priorities are democracy and human rights. We welcome the strong endorsement of observance of human rights given by the Commonwealth governmental working group of experts in their report published last July. I shall have something to say later about the way in which the Commonwealth can help in that area.
Our other priorities include economic and social development with special emphasis on the need of small Commonwealth states, the problems arising from trafficking in narcotics and the illicit use of drugs, the future needs of South Africa, the problems of the third world and the environment. The noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, will be pleased to hear that my right honourable friend Mrs. Thatcher, when Prime Minister, wrote in a paper to the previous secretary general of the Commonwealth:First amongst the practical problems is the threat to the global environment".The House is clearly concerned about the Commonwealth's future role. We believe that that role in the 1990s should be built on the success of its first 40 years. The Commonwealth should not try to duplicate the work of other international organisations. It should continue to provide a forum in which countries from many different regions of the world come together to discuss international issues. It should provide help and mutual support to members in tackling the practical problems which face them and should encourage the network of contacts between professional, educational and voluntary organisations throughout member countries.
It surprised me that very few noble Lords mentioned costs. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, did so when he mentioned our aid programme in his interesting update of the situation in Uganda. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, wanted us to do more but did not offer any idea of where the money should come from to carry out the programmes that he wished to see. The noble Lord will therefore be interested to know that at present we meet 30 per cent. and will continue to meet 30 per cent. both of the secretariat's running costs and its multilateral aid programme.
Our contribution to Commonwealth institutions currently amounts to some £15 million per annum. In addition, our bilateral aid to Commonwealth countries in 1989 was over £700 million—nearly three-quarters of our total bilateral aid. We also contribute substantial sums to Commonwealth countries through our multilateral aid programmes. Britain's contribution to the European Development Fund and the Lomé IV loan will be £1.36 billion over the next five years, a good proportion of which will go to help those 35 Commonwealth countries which are parties to the Lomé Convention.
1031 Over the years the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has provided the means for parliamentarians from Commonwealth countries to meet and exchange views. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, that the CPA's United Kingdom branch, through its seminars and visits programme, has made an important contribution to parliamentary democracy throughout the Commonwealth. It was my noble friend Lord Selkirk who reminded us that recent events might lull us into a false sense of confidence in the inevitable triumph of democracy. We must not fall into that trap. Its institutions must be guarded carefully.
We were all deeply shocked by the traumatic events which began on 22nd July this year in Port of Spain when a minority group under Abu Bakir attempted to overthrow the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Robinson. The Trinidad and Tobago security forces and those Ministers not held hostage coped admirably with a difficult situation. Democracy was upheld. The Abu Bakir affair demonstrated the vulnerability of small states to a determined attack by a small band of well armed and well organised extremists. To counter such incidents there is an urgent need for closer regional co-operation between security forces and the police of those small countries. That is especially important when one considers that many countries, unlike Trinidad and Tobago, do not have the benefit of a standing military force.
I have mentioned that democracy and human rights are our top priorities. We therefore welcome the decision of President Hoyte of Guyana to invite the Commonwealth, together with the Carter Centre of the United States, to monitor the forthcoming Guyanese elections. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, will be pleased to hear that we have offered to make a significant contribution towards the costs of the Commonwealth observer team. Agreement has now been reached on Opposition demands for a preliminary count at the place of polling and the compilation of a new voters' list, based on a house-to-house enumeration survey. Those developments give cause for optimism that the forthcoming elections will be held on an open and democratic basis.
The Commonwealth profile has been highest in recent years in connection with events in southern Africa. As the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, reminded us, we welcomed Namibia as the Commonwealth's 50th member earlier this year. The Government of Namibia have made a sensible, pragmatic start. The new Administration include and reconcile elements formerly at odds with one another. Britain has made a major contribution to the stability of Namibia through the training of the defence force and the police. We intend to continue military training for a second year. We have pledged an additional £10 million in development aid which will be devoted to police training, English language training, education and health. We understand that Namibians intend to 1032 negotiate the important question of the administration of Walvis Bay bilaterally with the South Africans. If asked, we stand ready to provide diplomatic support.
On South Africa, the Commonwealth has yet to take sufficient account of the remarkable changes which have taken place this year. President de Klerk's bold steps to restore normal political life and begin the ending of apartheid have opened the way to constitutional negotiations. We believe that the Commonwealth should acknowledge what he has done and help to achieve more. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said, we believe that the time is right to reduce sanctions.
The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, was of course right to say that economic growth is essential if the reform process in South Africa is to be successful. For that, South Africa needs outside help, but sadly the Commonwealth has yet to implement the heads of government decision taken at Kuala Lumpur last year to ask international financial institutions to study the help that they may give South Africa in the future.
On the positive side, I am glad to say that the Committee of Foreign Ministers has set up an expert group to study the human resource needs of post-apartheid South Africa. The noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, and the House will be pleased to note that that is a priority for our £8 million bilateral aid programme this year.
The Gulf crisis has had a severe impact on Commonwealth countries in Asia. Many tens of thousands of workers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Malaysia have had to flee from Iraq and Kuwait. Many of them suffered real hardship as refugees trapped in the region until their evacuation could be arranged. By the end of October more than 700,000 refugees, mainly from Asian Commonwealth countries, had left the area. That is not just a human tragedy: it is a financial catastrophe for some of the countries concerned.
The political response of the Commonwealth countries has been unanimous in support of the international coalition against Iraq and the full implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Gulf crisis. My noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter reminded the House of the special role that Commonwealth countries played in the Second World War. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, reminded us of their role, which we shall not forget, in the Falklands. Let us also not forget their present contribution. A. number of Commonwealth countries have contributed to the multinational forces in the Gulf. Australia, Bangladesh, Canada and Pakistan currently have forces deployed in the Gulf region, and others have offered their help. In addition to the practical benefits, those contributions, especially from Islamic countries, will have sent important signals to Iraq to reinforce the message that the crisis is not divided along social, economic, political or religious lines but merely concerns perceptions of right and wrong.
1033 I should like to answer one or two other points that were raised. My noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Auckland both said that they would like to see Fiji returned to the Commonwealth. Having just had the pleasure of visiting the country, like the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, to learn at first hand how some of the countries work—I also went to Tonga and Vanuatu which are currently members of the Commonwealth—I can only endorse their remarks and say that I hope that Fiji will soon return to the Commonwealth.
A number of your Lordships mentioned Britain's role in the Community and in the Commonwealth. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Tanworth, that there is no incompatibility in membership of both. He asked how our membership of the Community could help Commonwealth countries. The right thing to say at the moment may be that we can offer enormous help by bringing the Uruguay round of the GATT negotiations to a successful conclusion. We have the advantage of being in the Community and possessing the knowledge of how the Commonwealth feels. Having lunched at New Zealand House today, I am well aware of how strongly New Zealand feels about some parts of the GATT round.
We must keep trade free. We must not resort to protectionism. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, the best thing that we can do for developing countries in the Commmonwealth and outside is to keep trade free because protectionism will harm them today just as it harmed them before the Second World War.
The noble Lord, Lord Moore of Wolvercote, mentioned the excellent work being carried out by NGOs and the Commonwealth Foundation in encouraging closer links between Commonwealth NGOs, especially through the establishment of national Commonwealth liaison units. In Kuala Lumpur, the Commonwealth heads of government welcomed the proposal to establish a regular Commonwealth forum of NGOs to discuss matters of mutual interest and concern. We are pleased to note that the first such forum is to be held in Zimbabwe in August 1991 at the invitation of the Government of Zimbabwe. Such initiatives can help only to develop closer Commonwealth understanding and cooperation to the benefit of all member states.
The Commonwealth agenda is a long and complex one. Senior officials are meeting today in Port Moresby to discuss those issues. It is a regular meeting which takes place between Commonwealth heads of government meetings. Next year's heads of government meeting will of course take place in Harare as many of your Lordships have reminded the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, asked me to take on board a number of his suggestions. He asked for a clear statement of the Government's support for the Commonwealth. I make that gladly now. He asked about a Minister for the Commonwealth. I can assure him that although my honourable friend Mr. Hogg is much preoccupied, 1034 and rightly preoccupied, with the situation in the Gulf, he has not forgotten his responsibility for the Commonwealth. He asked that we reconsider the number and purpose of Commonwealth meetings. That is one of the tasks of the high level appraisal group.
I join all of your Lordships in welcoming the appointment of Chief Anyaoku. His efforts to meet the challenges of the next decade have our full support. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, will agree that our commitment is not a burden, a sadness, to us. We are not committed by the judge of history to a gaolhouse called the Commonwealth. Rather we support willingly and fully one of the most dynamic international organisations in the world today.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his informative summing up. I thank also the many Members of the House who have taken part in the debate. Its most useful result has been to establish the need for a further full-scale debate on the subject next year, well in advance of the meeting in Harare. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.