HL Deb 27 April 1994 vol 554 cc680-747

4 p.m.

Viscount Waverley rose to call attention to the role and future of the Commonwealth; and to move for Papers.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we are here today to listen to an exchange of views on the role and future of the Commonwealth. We are privileged to be addressed this afternoon by two maiden speakers—the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, and my noble friend Lord Wright of Richmond, a former head of the Diplomatic Service and an undoubted specialist on Commonwealth and other matters involving the national interest. I am confident I echo your Lordships' sentiments when I say how much we are looking forward to their contributions.

The Commonwealth has grown from a few dominions to 50 members in the past 40 years. It is the largest multilateral organisation other than the United Nations, spanning a quarter of the world's land area. Its peoples derive from all five continents and from every major regional bloc and economic zone, uniting large and small, developed and developing nations, as equals on common ground. This common ground consists of a complex web of essential principles and values.

Hallowed principles include democracy and democratic processes, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government and fundamental human rights. These often repose cheek by jowl, sometimes even in conflict with, such bedrock values as a common commitment to equality for women, universal access to education, sustainable development, the alleviation of poverty in member countries, protection of the environment and the promotion of international consensus on major issues.

The Commonwealth is the first and only organisation to recognise that small states are a special category which merit separate consideration and action. Its seminal expert group report on the vulnerability of small states has been adopted by the United Nations as an official document. The Commonwealth, through the Secretariat, continues to liaise with the United Nations and NGOs to rescue from the morass of definitions of "human rights" a workable solution reflecting the disparate cultural and economic conditions of its members. Human rights are actively promoted by providing training and assistance to countries, designed' to assist institution building, a recent example being human rights workshops and institutional development in the Gambia.

It has also responded in a practical way to the need to promote democracy more vigorously by developing a niche for its experts in the electoral process of its members. Top Commonwealth observers are dispatched to monitor elections in their entirety, most recently in Pakistan, Lesotho, Guyana and Kenya among others. The interactive nature of the "Commonwealth way" shares the expertise of eminent Commonwealth citizens, not least of which have been Members of your Lordships' House, with potential or fledgling legislators. Their presence helps to restore much-needed confidence in the electoral process and in multi-party democracy. The success of this three year-old endeavour can be measured by the reduction in non-democracies among its members; from nine at the 1991 Harare CHOGM to four at present, of which Malawi has elections in May and Sierra Leone has made a commitment to a return to democracy.

The flagship of Commonwealth work—perhaps its most public face—has been the task of bringing. apartheid to world attention. We have witnessed the unleashing of pent-up passions in that former Commonwealth member country with trepidation. Yet we welcome this day and hope that it marks the beginning of the new democratic South Africa.

Much-needed Commonwealth assistance with violence, crowd control, policing and mediation has been provided in the run up to today's elections. Five Members of your Lordships' House are in that country, assisting as Commonwealth election monitors in the transition to a non-racial democracy.

The Commonwealth has recognised the need for pragmatism and progress; once its sanctions programme was ended, immediate steps were taken to tap into multilateral funding sources to train and empower South Africa's new citizens. It may be that the Commonwealth work in this area has really just begun.

It has been a long, tortuous journey for that country. We bid God speed, and look forward to its re-entry into the Commonwealth family at the earliest opportunity. A stable South Africa will have benefits for other nations in a region of the world dominated by Commonwealth member states.

In addition to activity at government levels, there is a unique informal network of tens of thousands of people in non-governmental organisations, promoting contacts and exchanging knowledge, skills, information and ideas between professionals of different countries facing similar problems; the so-called "unofficial" Commonwealth. They are the cement, keeping the brickwork in place. Co-ordination is facilitated by the Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation.

I should like to turn briefly to three familiar pillars of the infrastructure. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association would benefit from active support by Members of both Houses of Parliament. The UK branch does a useful job at Westminster arranging conferences and meetings with visiting members from Commonwealth Parliaments. Parliamentarians everywhere have an essential responsibility to safeguard democracy by ensuring that good governance prevails. It is argued that its effectiveness could be enhanced if its status were altered from that of a UK charity to an international organisation, under the provisions of the International Organisations Act 1968. Perhaps the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, will share his thoughts on the merits of such a development.

The Commonwealth Institute was set up to promote awareness of the Commonwealth throughout Britain. Appropriate changes need to be made to the institute, in the light of withdrawal of government support after 1996. These changes could include a decentralisation of the institute to all member countries as part of an effort to enhance awareness. The institute has a vision of its work for the future, which explores ingenious self-financing schemes through partnership with the private sector. If decentralisation to all member countries occurs, I believe there will be a justifiable basis for an equitable formula for contributions to the institute's budget from Commonwealth governments as well. Certainly, the Secretary-General, Mr. Stephen Cox, is doing an excellent rearguard job, and deserves your Lordships' support.

The Commonwealth, through the Secretariat, plays a substantial role in the combating of drug trafficking and abuse, attempts to help the waves of refugees, problems of third world debt, technical and medical co-operation, environmental strategies, and much more. It serves its members' interests as far as its budget allows. It is prudent, however, for it to continue to operate chiefly in those areas where it has "comparative advantage". For instance, concern for the environment expressed in the Langkawi Declaration of 1989 was followed by pioneering action such as Guyana's offer of nearly 1 million acres of its rain forest for a sustainable forestry project, and the pace-setting pre-Rio conference on sea level changes, hosted by the Maldives.

Multi-faceted action to improve the plight of its poorer members is channelled through the operational division of the Secretariat, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, where marketing, export promotion, training, health, agriculture and even specialised legal, industrial and technical expertise is made available. A notable example has been the specially developed debt management system which has benefited more than 35 countries and which is sought after by many non-Commonwealth countries.

The Commonwealth Secretariat is relatively small and sparsely financed compared to other international organisations. It has been re-structured into a leaner and fitter organisation, though its overall tasks have not become lighter. It is recognized that in a fast-changing world all institutions need to be examined every few years.

The programmes of the Commonwealth are widely acclaimed to be effective and, by international standards, economical. Members pay very little in comparison to all the returns. Greater recognition of its exemplary benefits is hampered by a poor, out-dated public image. Few people realize just how much of practical value is accomplished annually. While a low profile is consistent with the Commonwealth's behind-the-scenes methodology, it rather plays into the hands of its detractors.

Many tangible advantages accrue as a result of membership. One of the most important is access to 49 friendly countries who share certain common traditions, language and outlook. The Commonwealth's diversity is its strength, and its unity is built on acceptance of this. The development of understanding between, for example, Islamic Pakistan, Christian Caribbean, Buddhist Sri Lanka, and the commitment to opposing the sort of racial prejudice which has once again appeared in Europe, underpin the Commonwealth approach.

Does Britain's foreign policy include a decisive, well thought-out role in Commonwealth matters? I believe we grossly under-sell the importance of the Commonwealth and it should command greater attention in discussions of foreign policy issues in Britain. We have an enormous stake, and asset, in the Commonwealth. We must avoid the danger of giving the impression that Britain attaches less and less significance to the Commonwealth as new circumstances emerge; for example, our membership of the European Union. We have an important role to assume as respected broker for both organisations.

It is said a sense of apathy and indifference exists, displayed by the lack of public support from Her Majesty's Government. And yet I discovered that Britain has the Commonwealth near to the centre of its aid programme because 66 per cent. of bilateral aid goes to Commonwealth countries. However, it is necessary to ask: how much is that in real terms? If aid is tied, do British industrialists and exporters see appropriate returns? Our bilateral trade with Commonwealth friends totals £10.3 billion, some 20 per cent. of our worldwide performance. We cannot afford to see this figure diminished.

For her part, Britain certainly derives many advantages from membership. Political credibility with European partners and North Atlantic allies is enhanced, and influence within the Commonwealth partly justifies our place on the United Nations Security Council. United platforms can be forged to address world issues, and coherent action pursued within the United Nations system. This link in turn gives Commonwealth members direct access to a Security Council member.

Commonwealth students bring experience and diversity to UK universities, colleges, and to the wider community. Benefits accrue when these students take up positions of influence in their home countries.

And what of the future? The Harare Commonwealth Declaration was a turning point, and clearly defined the nature of things to come. Heads of government reaffirmed their confidence in the Commonwealth as a voluntary association of sovereign independent states, each responsible for its own policies, consulting and co-operating in the interest of their peoples, and in the promotion of international understanding and world peace. They expressed their determination to renew and enhance the value and importance of the Commonwealth as an institution, which can and should strengthen and enrich the lives, not only of its own members and their peoples, but also of the wider community of peoples of which they are a part. This was reaffirmed at Limassol.

The Secretary-General, Chief Anyaoku, through whose commitment and dexterity the organisation has performed well and grown in stature, has ensured that the Commonwealth is uniquely equipped, both by virtue of its character and through its activities, to help its membership and the wider international community, by responding to a number of the challenges of today and tomorrow. I believe that this House should pay tribute to him. He has outlined clear goals, endorsed by heads of government, for the 21st century. The divisive potential of plural societies forced to accept arbitrary borders with scarce natural and financial resources; faced with threats to their identity, culture and way of life, with many elements often denied a sufficiently active role in governance mechanisms, is all too often the reality of the new world order; and the Commonwealth, through the good-offices of the Secretary-General, is a practised peacemaker.

The challenge of human resource development to assist its members is another area. An important practical step has been the signing last week of a memorandum of understanding with Singapore, aimed at improving management structures and systems in government and public enterprise. The programme has been designed to assist other Commonwealth governments as they embark on the task of administrative and managerial reforms.

The Commonwealth as a whole must try to solve difficulties and problems among two or more members on the basis of consensus. Should difficulties arise with no such consensus, perhaps individual countries would submit to arbitration by the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is ideally suited to provide its good offices for conflict prevention and resolution, given the discreet way in which it can operate. Twice in the past three months those good offices have helped to defuse tensions in Lesotho. There is potential for their use elsewhere. Indeed, there may be scope for the Commonwealth to play a role in the area of peacekeeping, in a way which supports and reinforces the obviously pre-eminent role of the United Nations in this field.

Human rights recognition for all citizens of the Commonwealth seeking to defend their civil and other liberties is needed. A specially convened panel to hear complaints and empowered to require Government's to respond would perhaps go some way towards satisfying the expectations of your Lordship's House.

Finally, I trust our deliberations here today will reveal the wisdom of Mr. Arnold Smith, the first Secretary-General, when he remarked: A hundred years from now, historians will consider the Commonwealth the greatest of all Britain's contributions to man's social and political history. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

4.18 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I must begin with an apology. Owing to a very longstanding commitment I shall not be able to be here to listen to the winding-up speeches. In all my years in your Lordships' House I believe that this is the first time that I have sought such an indulgence. I hope that I may be excused on this occasion.

I would like to pay tribute to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for his thoughtful and interesting speech. He has provoked a very timely debate, taking place as it does in the week of the historic South African general election. I listened last night to Mr. de Klerk saying that a new South Africa has been born. I listened to Nelson Mandela, who spent most of his adult life in prison, speak without a word of bitterness and looking, even at the age of 75, only to the future. I believe that the world is fortunate to have two leaders on either side of what has been such a deep racial divide with such courage and vision. Now, as the noble Viscount said, the general election in South Africa opens up a new chapter for the Commonwealth, with South Africa now in a position to rejoin the Commonwealth family.

I speak as the last Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs in a British Government. I have always regarded the post-war transformation of Empire into Commonwealth as a truly great British achievement. It is true that not all the high hopes and visions that some of us had in days now past—that the Westminster model might be more exportable than it has sometimes proved to be; that there might be a Commonwealth defence identity, a Commonwealth economic identity and perhaps a Commonwealth court —have not always proved realistic or realisable. But the hope of successive British Governments in building on the great achievement of the Commonwealth has been bedevilled in the past by two great post-Imperial problems: South Africa's retreat into apartheid and repression and the Rhodesian rebellion. The latter was finally resolved by the statesmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and my old friend and colleague the late Lord Soames. Now, as we have said, South Africa can rejoin the Commonwealth family.

The fact that the Commonwealth has survived as a positive multi-racial group in world affairs, described in such useful detail by the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in the face of those divisive pressures is due, I think, in large part to the role that Her Majesty the Queen has played over many years. Nobody has done more in a quiet and dignified way to provide a personal focal point for all the members of the Commonwealth in the face of many conflicting tensions.

I had the privilege and responsibility when the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, whom I am glad to see in his place, was Prime Minister of travelling round the Commonwealth at his request to seek to prepare the Commonwealth heads of government for a meeting that was to take place in the Queen's jubilee year. It was a time of great difficulty for Britain in the Commonwealth and we wondered whether all members of the Commonwealth would be equally enthusiastic about joining us on what we hoped would be a very notable occasion. I discovered that no head of any Commonwealth state needed any persuading at all to come here to London at the invitation of the Queen. The only problems that I had were whether certain dietary problems of a special nature would create any difficulty at the state banquet in Buckingham Palace! That illustrated to me how the Commonwealth was still very much alive and how much it owed to the Queen as its head.

As the noble Viscount said, as well as being a group of independent sovereign states with historic links from having been part of the British Empire, the Commonwealth enjoys in a very important sense an international, multi-racial, personal relationship fortunately going very much deeper than the ephemeral disputes of politicians. The noble Viscount rightly referred to the many non-governmental links in the professions and among students, teachers, doctors, lawyers and many other groups of people. I think, for example, of the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, in which I remember being involved from the Opposition Benches many years ago. That has now lasted for 33 years and very nearly 20,000 Commonwealth scholars and fellows have enjoyed the multi-lateral experience of going to another country in the Commonwealth for a further stage of their education. I should like to pay tribute, first, to successive United Kingdom Governments who have throughout played a major role in the scheme, as in other forms of aid. I believe that more than 60 per cent. of those Commonwealth scholarships are provided by Her Majesty's Government. I should like to pay tribute also to the quiet and constructive work of the Commonwealth Secretariat in this area and to the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

I echo the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that the Commonwealth Secretariat might take a rather higher profile and be seen to be more active in some of its operations. I think, for example, that it would be useful if the Commonwealth Secretariat, reflecting, as it does, one of the great groupings in the world, established a closer relationship with the European Community and the European Commission in Brussels. I may be misinformed but I believe I am right in thinking that no Secretary General of the Commonwealth Secretariat has ever paid an official visit to Brussels and the European Commission. That could be productive in terms of overseas development aid.

The change in South Africa presents a new challenge. In our global economy, Africa is the only continental economy suffering an absolute decline in its GDP and with an increasing level of poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, spoke movingly of that in a debate in your Lordships' House not long ago. I hope that South Africa, with its human and natural resources, properly helped and harnessed, can play a big part in reversing that trend in sub-Saharan Africa.

I conclude that the Commonwealth, with the Queen at its head, has still a useful and reconciliatory role to play in our troubled multi-racial world.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on the manner in which he opened the debate.

I came into Parliament in 1945. Soon afterwards, I was sent on a parliamentary mission with the noble Lords, Lord Wyatt and Lord Aldington, to inform the Indian leaders, Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah, that the Labour Government intended to transfer power to them. Soon afterwards, a Cabinet mission went there, composed of Pethick Lawrence, Stafford Cripps and Alexander. Soon after that independence followed. Thus was created the new Commonwealth.

Eventually I became the Commonwealth Secretary and had the opportunity to visit many of the Commonwealth countries. Most of the past and present Commonwealth leaders I know well. They all take a close interest in the well-being of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is made up of an extraordinary mixture of countries like the UK, Canada, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. There are the West Indian islands, the African countries and the outposts like the Seychelles, the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar. The Commonwealth is an example of international co-operation among countries of totally different levels of economic wealth, civilised advance and living standards.

I joined the European Movement and the Empire Parliamentary Association at the end of the last war. I saw nothing contradictory in doing so. We are linked with the European Community. The aim is to match politically and economically the power of the USA and Japan. The Commonwealth enjoys the advantages of a common language and a long history of many friendly and intimate contacts at all levels.

Lee Kuan Yew once asked me, "Why don't you British take the lead in Commonwealth affairs?" He said, "You should hold your heads high and stick your chests out". When I said to him that the days were gone when Britain had the military might or economic strength to strut the world, he replied that it was not military might or economic strength that were needed but moral leadership, which the British could give not just to the Commonwealth but to the world. It is very encouraging that such an intelligent statesman should think so highly of us.

I have talked at length with some of the Commonwealth leaders and suggested to them that they should follow the democratic traditions of the Commonwealth. When I was Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs, the Commonwealth Secretariat was created to co-ordinate the work of Commonwealth countries and to organise formal meetings every two years between heads of governments. Meetings are also organised to deal with practical problems of mutual trade, poverty, indebtedness, medical and scientific problems and human rights. The Secretary General is Chief Anyaoku, a man of talent and experience.

There is then the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, whose secretary general, Arthur Donahoe, is doing an excellent job. Three hundred or more Commonwealth Members of Parliament meet in one Commonwealth country or another. They are not selected by governments. They come as individual MPs to debate and give guidance to governments as a result of their deliberations. The UK branch plays a special part in the work of the CPA. The secretary is Peter Cobb, a very hard worker who is backed by a most efficient staff. The office is open for the welcome of Commonwealth MPs, and scores of visiting Commonwealth MPs are entertained to lunch in the Houses of Parliament.

A parliamentary seminar on parliamentary practice and procedure is held each year, and usually about 24 delegates, representing 24 legislatures, attend. Race relations is of great concern to the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Secretariat and the CPA pay particular attention to that problem. Field Marshal Smuts once told me that peace and security would be ensured only if there were equality of the races. To my query as to how he would try to bring that about, he said that he was trying to bring the Indians into the administration but that they had declined. The white population was incensed and voted against him. The Nationalist Party came into being, and apartheid followed.

It is fashionable in some quarters to deride the Commonwealth as a body which has no relevance in the modern world, but the fact that over 50 nations, most of them of considerable importance in the world, still wish to preserve that multi-racial society speaks for itself.

4.34 p.m.

Lord Selsdon

My Lords, it is often difficult to speak when one is sandwiched between experts. With the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, following, I know that I dare not speak on anything to do with foreign policy or foreign affairs, and I shall probably steer clear of all politics. Therefore, there is nothing left for me to do except perhaps to speak as a rather faded merchant. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for presenting so well and in such an informed and dispassionate manner the scenario of the Commonwealth as it is today.

My intervention will begin with the past and go on to the future where, undoubtedly, I may be provocative. I begin by saying to myself, "What is the point of the Commonwealth? What value does it have? What does the United Kingdom get out of it, and what does it get out of us?" I go back to the past, and it is always a mistake to go back beyond the day of one's birth. I go back to some 14 days after my birth in 1937 when the Admiralty produced an excellent chart that one will find in the Department of Transport today. It shows the position of the ships of Her Majesty's merchant marine at 12 noon on a particular day in the second week of November.

There were 1,500, or more, ships at sea; 750 in harbour; and a further 250 or more on lakes and rivers. The map or chart is simple. It has two colours: red and black on white. The ships' flags, naturally, were all red, and a large part of the world was red: it was the greatest empire the world had ever seen. Today, not so long after, there are some 450 ships in Her Majesty's mercantile marine, of which I think, 320 are at sea, flying the red flag. There are few countries left which are part of the empire and they are called dependent territories. The word "dependent" makes me think. Only 10 years after that chart was produced we had been through a major war; the break up of the empire began; and the Commonwealth rose up from it.

If one considers the transition period of many of the Commonwealth countries, it was not particularly easy. They did not have a good deal in common. It began with what might today call the fundamentalist terrorist activities of beating up the British, followed often by putting in British troops or arresting the leading terrorists who would then be locked up for a number of years as extremists. The leader would then be let out, and there would be democratic elections. He would be duly elected and become a great friend of the United Kingdom and, in particular, of Her Majesty.

One wonders why that transition of such stress was necessary. Would not it have been possible to manage that change more easily? Those stresses and strains helped to build and strengthen relationships. We and our fellow members of the Commonwealth know well how great those problems have been, but they caused one major piece of damage to the world economy. From what was basically political stability, came political chaos and a breakdown in the economy. No one was prepared to invest in or trade with countries where such chaos existed, and their economies collapsed. I suggest that the reason our empire was created originally was economic, not necessarily political. There were political moves when we took Aquitaine and parts of France with the longbow, which I gather even today has a range of over 800 yards and will always outdo a crossbow—nothing of course like a super gun! But we had steam and we could take over countries that were nearer to us in a direct line rather than have to rely on the sailing boats which had been responsible for the development of other people's empires.

What happened? Economically, if we look at it now, as a trading partner the Commonwealth is not of particularly great significance to us, and we are not of particularly great significance to it. Perhaps in joining the EC we destroyed the preferential trade with the Commonwealth and destroyed those relationships, but that would have come any way with the market economy. There were two things that caused the greatest break up of all. One was the floating of currencies where suddenly, almost over night, the softer currency countries had no reference point and no stability. The second was obviously the tremendous hike in oil and energy prices which, combined with the devaluation of their own currencies, left them unable to trade and reliant more and more upon aid. With that reliance upon aid came more and more demands: "It was the fault of the British. It is your fault. You should help us. You have put us in this mess. It is you who drew the lines in the sand in the wrong places". But the people who were responsible for that are either long since dead or out in some very peaceful pastures.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, pointed out, some 30 per cent. of United Nations countries are members of the Commonwealth. The number of countries seems to be growing fast. I always thought that there were about 210 countries but I checked in the Library and there are now 244 in the world. That seems to be the biggest growth of all time. As greater independence comes, so more countries seem to emerge.

Does the Commonwealth have an economic role as a major trading partner? No, it does not because it is a collection of individual trading countries and each country will be assessed and examined in terms of its own trading potential and the stability of its economy. But it does have a role because without political stability there is no economic growth and no trade. I believe that countries which are members of the Commonwealth should have a better credit rating in relation to stability and should be regarded as more reliable and trusted as trading partners. Those matters are beginning to develop almost through—I hate to say it—the old boy network or the usual channels.

We sit here today and ask what our own future is to be. If we remain an isolated island, it is not a bright future. Most of my international friends say, "You have a great future. You are the nicest, safest and most attractive country in which to live", although it is not necessarily the best place in which to work or develop. But we are a nice country made up of nice people. We have brilliant people at the Foreign Office who are capable of boxing way above their weight.

We have a role. There are no Commonwealth territories in the United States or in the former Soviet Union. With certain small exceptions, there are no Commonwealth territories within the EC. We are there perhaps as the leader of what I hate to call the third world and what I prefer to call the developing world. I believe that we can play that role well. I believe, too, that we should give consideration to extending the Commonwealth. Why should we not extend membership of the Commonwealth to all those countries which have an historical relationship with the United Kingdom? There are many such countries and I have visited some recently.

Some of the most difficult countries regard us as having tremendous power and influence over the Commonwealth. In fact, it is often the other way round. If one considers the Gleneagles Agreement, and others like that, the Commonwealth has far greater influence over us. But the Commonwealth has a role to play in the world and in the creation of political stability. It is not a mini-United Nations. I believe that successive governments have done their best. Above all, I pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen, who is one of the best-informed people in the world.

4.43 p.m.

Lord Wright of Richmond

My Lords, in asking for your Lordships' indulgence this afternoon, I hope that it is proper for me also to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on his timely initiative in calling for this debate today. He is, as your Lordships may know, in a real sense, more wedded to the Commonwealth than any of us.. Indeed, I should like to add my personal congratulations to him and to the High Commissioner of Belize on their recent marriage.

But I must dissociate myself from the noble Viscount's over-generous remarks about my so-called expertise on the Commonwealth. I have noticed, with the help of the Librarian, that a number of your Lordships have compared the experience of a maiden speaker to that of a new boy at school. That is exactly how I feel, particularly following two former Commonwealth secretaries. Any maiden speaker must feel daunted when speaking for the first time in an assembly where so many of the senior prefects, as it were, have much greater experience of whatever subject is under debate.

I certainly felt daunted but also I felt immensely honoured and privileged to be summoned to join your Lordships' House. I was also very surprised, although not quite in the same way as my 90 year-old and rather deaf mother who, on being told, just before the New Year honours list was published, that I was moving to the Lords, expressed astonishment that I should be mowing the lawn in late December.

It is a happy coincidence that today's debate falls on the very day on which South Africans of all races go to the polls for the first time in history. Today's election is a reminder of an important new role which the Commonwealth has assumed in recent years; namely, to provide observer missions at elections—with the help and participation, I might add, of Members of this House. I understand that, in the past three years, Commonwealth missions have been sent to observe elections in nine countries, but none of them has been of the size or complexity of the mission which the Commonwealth Secretary-General has mounted for South Africa, in co-operation with the United Nations, the Organisation of African Unity and the European Union. The fact that the Commonwealth stands at the forefront of this mission to assist South Africa's momentous process of transition is, as Chief Emeka Anyaoku put it in a recent speech, evidence of its reputation and rich experience, with the problems of pluralism". South Africa's problems will not end the day the new government are installed. I hope that the Commonwealth will be able to help out in the difficult period which follows the election, as it has done in Namibia and Mozambique. It can help by re-establishing links which have withered since 1962: in the academic world, in the professions, in medical and charitable organisations. South Africa's return to the Commonwealth, if that is what the new South African Government want, would allow the Commonwealth itself to move into a new phase.

For too long, Commonwealth meetings in the 1970's and 1980's concentrated on South Africa and sanctions, while overlooking the issue of accountable government in many Commonwealth countries. At Harare in 1991, under President Mugabe's chairmanship, the Commonwealth rose to the challenge. In the clear language of the Harare Declaration, which owed much to the input of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, the Commonwealth declared what it stood for. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, has already summarised parts of it, but I think it may be worth quoting more fully. It states: the protection and promotion of the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth: democracy, democratic processes and institutions which reflect national circumstances, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, just and honest government, and fundamental human rights, including equal rights and opportunities for all citizens regardless of race, colour, creed, or political belief". It is not only the South African elections which make this debate timely. For too long, attitudes in this country towards the Commonwealth—the noble Viscount referred to it as its public image—have been adversely affected by three misconceptions. The first has been to see the Commonwealth merely as an attempt to freeze Britain's past relationships with our former dominions and dependent territories rather than as a forward-looking and pragmatic association of friends, with a common language and a common heritage but with a wide and rich diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

The second misconception, sadly encouraged by ministerial experience, was that many had come to regard Commonwealth heads of government meetings as little more than an opportunity for others to lecture the British Government on sanctions against Rhodesia and, later, South Africa. As of today, that should happily be a thing of the past. The third was that Britain's membership of the Commonwealth was in some way in contradiction to, or in competition with, membership of the European Union or the Atlantic Alliance. This, in my view, largely arose from a misunderstanding of the Commonwealth's role. I firmly believe that we can, and should, revive our commitment to the Commonwealth, without in any way derogating from our position in Europe or as good NATO allies.

The Commonwealth no longer monopolises, if it ever did, the attention of any of its members. But a common history, and a shared set of values cart keep a family together, even if that family meets only irregularly. I believe that the Commonwealth is that sort of family, under the same head of the family in Her Majesty the Queen, and that the Commonwealth, in all its guises and entities, is the stronger for it.

Let us not underestimate the value—for all members of the Commonwealth—of maintaining and developing the whole nexus of Commonwealth bodies and associations, governmental, non-governmental and parliamentary, in helping each other through our various social, political, ethnic and economic difficulties; and, perhaps most importantly, in broadening our outlook on the world. I hope that today's debate will do something to correct the misconceptions which have, I believe, weakened those family links in recent years.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, I am deeply honoured to have the privilege of congratulating the noble Lord on his maiden speech which, if I may say so, was really brilliant. The noble Lord compared himself to a new boy. Well, of course, he is a new boy; but he is a new boy who not only has great ability, but one who also has plenty of knowledge. I hope that he will give us the opportunity to listen to him very often. I am sure that we shall all do so with great pleasure and that we shall derive great benefit from it.

I, too, must thank the noble Viscount for giving us the opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth. I agree with what has already been said; namely, that it is particularly important that we should be discussing the Commonwealth today when the people of South Africa are voting in their first truly democratic election. The Commonwealth has played its part in bringing that about. It is not merely that it is monitoring the election: it played a major part in the stages that preceded it. I especially remember the Eminent Persons' Group and other activities within the Commonwealth which have been instrumental in making today possible. Of course, it is a great joy to all of us.

We hope that the election is a prelude to South Africa's return to the Commonwealth which it left in 1961, following criticism of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference as regards its racialist and political philosophy. However, South Africa will not be the first country to return to the Commonwealth. If noble Lords remember, Pakistan once left the Commonwealth and then later returned. Therefore, South Africa must not feel that there will be any difficulty in returning; indeed, it will not be the first Commonwealth country to do so.

As has been said before, since the inception of the Commonwealth in 1963, the association has been viewed, and has viewed itself, as a voluntary body comprised of independent sovereign states each responsible for its own policies, but with consultation and co-operation in their common interests and in the promotion of greater international understanding. That is very much the essence of the Commonwealth.

Over the years, Commonwealth members have shared many experiences—indeed, many of them were former colleagues —which range from de-colonisation, national and individual liberty, democracy, racial equality to the objectives of minimising poverty and maximising international co-operation. I believe that members of the Commonwealth share all those interests.

Although the Commonwealth developed from the Empire, it is a new concept. As Her Majesty the Queen once said, it is built on friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace. The Harare Summit has already been referred to by previous speakers, so I shall not dwell on it. However, it was a most important declaration. It underlined the principles that were already stated in the 1971 Singapore Declaration.

More recently, the Cyprus Communiqué dealt with trade. That, too, was of the utmost importance because bridging the gap between the developed and the developing countries is one of the roles that the Commonwealth needs to play. It may well be said that the Commonwealth has those objectives, but that one is not so sure whether it can achieve them. I am not one of those who share that view. I believe that the Commonwealth is well placed to influence such matters in the world.

The Commonwealth consists of large and small nations, both rich and poor, and it is represented in every regional economic and political grouping. Two of the G7 countries—namely, the United Kingdom and Canada—are members of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is represented in Europe by the United Kingdom and it is represented in the North Atlantic free-trade area by Canada. It is represented in the Organisation of American States by several countries in that region and it is represented in the Organisation of African Unity by many countries in the area. It is also represented in the Association of South East Asian Nations. Indeed, it is well represented in all groupings. Moreover, although Britain is a permanent member of the Security Council it will be found that, nearly always, one of the other 14 members is also a member of the Commonwealth. Therefore, that gives the Commonwealth an opportunity to play a role in every discussion and in every activity that takes place around the globe.

I should like to pay tribute to Canada. I am sure that noble Lords will forgive me; but coming as I do from the Caribbean, I know about the part that Canada plays in helping countries in that area. One of the reasons why I felt like making such a tribute was that I suddenly discovered the part that Canada has played in helping Botswana to develop its mining industry. That is the sort of role that I believe the developed countries of the Commonwealth can play. So far as concerns the Caribbean, Canada has had trade agreements with those states which allow one-way free trading where certain Caribbean products remain free of duty. Now that Canada is part of the North Atlantic free-trade area, the gradual removal of tariffs on Caribbean goods over the next few years will certainly be of great value to those countries.

I know that the United Kingdom also helps the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries in the European Community through the Lomé Convention. However, I have a little criticism to make about Britain. Whenever the Lomé agreement is being discussed, I find that it is Britain which fights for the lowest level of the Lomé development fund. Therefore, although Britain does fight for the least developed countries in the Commonwealth in Lomé, it is always dragging its feet about the extent to which it really helps.

I note the noble Viscount mentioned the part the Commonwealth is playing in encouraging democratic governments around the globe. I feel that I am more critical then he because I believe we ought in fact to be stronger in our condemnation of dictatorships within the Commonwealth. One of the principles of the Commonwealth is democracy. The democratic ethos is very much one of our principles and we should not tolerate non-democratic governments within the Commonwealth. We should in fact be indicating as firmly as possible our non-approval of these dictators. If I am to criticise our Commonwealth leaders, I want to say that they should be doing much more in that particular field.

If South Africa is to succeed—and we all pray that it will —then of course it must demonstrate that people of different races and different cultures can live together in equality and friendship. That is the biggest problem confronting the world today. I also want to say to your Lordships that we in this country also have an opportunity of showing how this can be done and done successfully, and that by doing it here successfully we will be aiding other countries like South Africa to do likewise. I really do hope that that is one of the resolves that we will make here.

My speaking time is up and I conclude by saying that I hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to tell us that the Government have the Commonwealth in the forefront of their thinking and that the Government envisage a strong, effective and influential Commonwealth and are determined to play their full part in making sure that that is so.

5.2 p.m.

The Earl of Courtown

My Lords, it has been 15 years since I first took my seat in your Lordships' House. I do hope that your Lordships will consider that this, my maiden speech, was worth the wait. For the past few months I have attended regularly and I have to admit that at times I have felt rather like a bullock; that is to say, a beast that can be overweight, has a tendency to be inquisitive but is in fact somewhat incapacitated.

My recent experience of this House has made me realise that the excellent reputation of the debates and speeches in your Lordships' House is well founded. This, coupled with the surroundings, has led many a maiden speaker to use the word "trepidation" in describing their feelings. I think that I would describe mine in slightly stronger terms. I understand it is the custom of the House to thank the noble Lord who proposes the debate and I do this in thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this very topical subject.

It has been 63 years since the birth and inception of the Commonwealth from the Statute of Westminster in 1931, which gave legal status to the independence of former colonies. From an initial handful of countries, there are now 50 members, with the possibility of a further two joining in the near future. The point I wish to make is that the Commonwealth is still growing and a future does exist for this loose collection of countries originally bound together by a common colonial history.

I think that in many cases people do not comprehend the breadth and size of the Commonwealth. The population total is 1.5 billion, close to a quarter of the world's population. It is made up of many different races, religions and cultures from many varied geographical regions. Another fact that tends to be overlooked is the influence of the Commonwealth. Member countries belong to numerous worldwide organisations such as the UN Security Council and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. I could add to that list but a number have already been mentioned before, but what I intend to show is that the spheres of interest are worldwide. In January 1971 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Singapore a Declaration of Commonwealth Principles was made. This was the beginning of the organisation as we know it today. This declaration was a statement of core beliefs which were meant to be calls for action with certain guidelines. These help to define the future role of the Commonwealth.

Since 1971 there have been biennial meetings of the CHOG at which further declarations have been made. Many of these have concentrated on the existence of racism and in particular the apartheid system that was found in South Africa. This started with the Gleneagles Agreement, with additional declarations on the same subject made in Lusaka, Nassau, Ottawa, Kuala Lumpur and Harare. It culminated with the Commonwealth lifting all remaining trade, investment and financial sanctions against South Africa in September 1993 following the establishment of a transitional executive council. I feel that the Commonwealth must take a considerable amount of credit for the first fully democratic elections being held today in South Africa. In addition, the Commonwealth Observer Mission has been operating in South Africa for the past two years with its valuable expertise in the areas of community relations, diplomacy, politics, law enforcement and legal and judicial matters. The Commonwealth has also supplied an observer group to help oversee the election numbering 120 from 30 different countries.

Where to now? For two decades the Commonwealth has concentrated in the main on ridding South Africa of the apartheid system. Of course racism still exists both inside and outside the Commonwealth and it must be vehemently resisted. But the removal of apartheid makes it possible for the focus of concentration to shift.

There is, for example, the continuing poverty in developing countries. There should be concentration upon improved rural policies and programmes as well as specific poverty alleviation measures. So often action takes place only after we see the headlines in the newspapers or after the television footage is shown on the nine o'clock news. Only then are nations shocked or shamed into action. I believe that the Commonwealth is supremely positioned to co-ordinate action quickly and effectively.

The environment is another area in which it has a role to play, particularly with reference to sustainable development. Protection must be given to the rain forests. This is easy enough to say from here, but where timber is the main currency earning export it puts immense pressure on the governments of the countries concerned.

The Commonwealth can and does have a policy relating to international crime such as money laundering and drug trafficking. But more action is needed at the root of the problem. Alternative crops are required in those countries where drug production is the main form of agriculture. So effort must be put into giving rural populations alternative sources of income.

These are only a few of the areas where the Commonwealth can expand its many roles and these can be carried out through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. The fund gives help in foreign debt management, creates export-marketing systems, helps in the rehabilitation of industries and also provides training, consultancy and expertise. In the year 1991–92, it had a budget of £22.6 million, with the United Kingdom being the second largest contributor after Canada. In 1992–9–93 our contribution went up to £7.5 million, but on top of that there were 205 training places and 23 long-term experts.

In some member countries republicanism is being considered, but this is no bar to membership. In Australia the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, has stated that Australia's path lies towards more involvement in regional trade and economic groupings and less towards the Commonwealth, but he agrees that Australia will give full and active support to the Commonwealth programmes in every respect.

The Commonwealth has contributed to one of the most important events in recent times, the death of apartheid. It still has many important roles to play. Now is the time for it to look forward towards the future and redefine its role, making full use of its vast bank of enthusiasm and expertise.

5.10 p.m.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield

My Lords, it falls to my good fortune to be the one to congratulate the noble Earl on his maiden speech and on having broken a silence of 15 years. We were all very glad to hear it broken and hope that we shall hear much more of him during the next 15 years and thereafter.

I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on having instituted this debate on the role and future of the Commonwealth because that is a matter which is given insufficient consideration. Normally we hear about the Commonwealth only when there is a row going on among its members or when they are attacking us. When we do hear about it we are inclined to hear more about the row than the friendliness and good sense with which it is normally settled.

I fear that nowadays many people are a little bored with the Commonwealth. They are inclined to discount its value for the present and the future, even if they recognise that in the past it has had a valuable part to play.

I should like to begin by saying something about the past. The Commonwealth began in 1931 as a small group of what might be termed the white dominions —Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada, to which was added Rhodesia as a kind of honorary membership, largely because everyone was so fond of Godfrey Huggins. Now it has developed into the present large, multi-racial, multi-coloured group of 50 independent countries which were all once part of the British Empire. As each territory has been given its independence it has applied for membership of the Commonwealth club. With the exception of South Africa, all are still members. Pakistan has been in and out of membership. It is greatly to be hoped that South Africa, under its new multi-racial government, will reapply for membership and once more become a respected member of the Commonwealth.

Whatever anyone may think about the future role of the Commonwealth, I believe that all will acknowledge that its development and existence represent the most civilised method yet devised in the long course of history for dismembering an empire. I believe that history will look upon the metamorphosis of empire into commonwealth as a product of the British genius not greatly inferior to the development of parliamentary government.

What is the value of the Commonwealth today, and what role has it in the future? Winston Churchill once described Ramsay Macdonald as a "boneless wonder". Many people might consider it not unreasonable so to describe the Commonwealth. It has no common policy, political or economic. It has no homogeneity. It is multi-racial, multi-coloured and multi-religious, and it has no common territorial boundaries, being scattered across the oceans and the continents. There is no parliament which controls its destiny and, to say the least, some of its members are more democratic in their forms of government than others.

It is boneless all right, but I believe that it is also a wonder, and not just because of its lack of a cohesive structure. It is a wonder because these 50 independent countries, held together only by a shared history and a common use of the English language, have decided that the association is of real value and worth continuing.

Noble Lords who have already spoken have described in some detail what the Commonwealth provides for its members, and I shall certainly not repeat what they have said. They have made the case very clearly that the Commonwealth has a very real value, particularly for the smaller members and those new to independence. It must be a great comfort for a small country which has just become independent to feel that it belongs to this great association. It must be a great source of comfort and encouragement for the leaders of the countries to meet every other year at Commonwealth heads of government meetings, those great get-togethers for the members of the club known as "CHOGMs".

We are now so preoccupied with Europe that the Commonwealth may appear an irrelevancy, but I am sure that it is a very different matter for the small countries. For them the Commonwealth is of real value. I cannot avoid the reflection that had Burma been able to become a member of the Commonwealth on gaining independence, that country would be far less isolated than it is today, and, I suspect, in much better shape than I believe it to be. Unfortunately, when Burma became independent the inspired decision to allow India to remain in the Commonwealth in spite of becoming a republic had not been taken.

It was when India became a member of the Commonwealth, although also becoming a republic, that the position of Head of the Commonwealth was first invented. Having had the honour to serve in the private secretary's office of the Head of the Commonwealth for nearly 30 years, I hope that your Lordships will consider it in order if I say something about the way the Queen has performed as Head of the Commonwealth and the significance this has had for the Commonwealth.

It is worth noting that the Queen is almost certainly the longest serving servant of the Commonwealth, if I may so describe her. She has served the Commonwealth for 42 years. Her presence at the CHOGMs, where she receives each individual head of government for an audience of 20 minutes or so, and the fact that she entertains them all, has in my opinion added great significance to the meetings and to the atmosphere of family friendship which is generated at them. I believe that it is of some significance that the one really bad-tempered CHOGM—the one which was held in Singapore in the early 1970s—is the only CHOGM which the Queen has not attended.

I am certain that the service given to the association by the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth has had a profound effect upon its development. I do not believe that without her it would have held together in the remarkable way it has, nor do I believe it would be what I am sure it is, a real source of good in the world.

5.18 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for the speech that he has made to us today. In relation to his final point, I cannot refer to such an exalted person as he mentioned. I believe that the Commonwealth is a reflection of the strength of our character. In that connection, in the coming together of the two sides in South Africa, character has been the making of the agreement which they have now reached. That is of enormous importance. We have something to give and we should not be ashamed of making it available.

I have found the debate this evening extremely stimulating. I was worried about what would happen. I was frightened that those holding high appointments and with command over assets which they could make available would not make them available as was hoped. I believe that much could be done by help from our Government and elsewhere.

I wish to record my experience when in the Royal Air Force in the war. I was in 36 Group. We trained people who came from outside this island. We trained them to be useful as pilots. Between 1,000 and 1,500 people were involved. When the great D-Day took place, those people landed with their small air boats somewhere on the edge of France. They came from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, India, South America and, of course, Canada in large numbers. They wanted to work with us and were willing to do so. I am afraid that some of them undoubtedly lost their lives in so doing. But they were men of great character. They came willingly and happily to fulfil the role of helping us.

Why should such people come from halfway around the equator to help us? They did so and we should express our thanks to them for so doing. I believe that we have sufficient leadership to encourage other people to lead the ranks, perhaps in politics. I must confess that I was frightened that the Government of this country would not do enough to help Canada and other places. We must ask and press them to do so. If the Government do not help the Commonwealth countries, they may collapse. If they collapse, we may collapse, so perhaps I am being a little selfish—as everyone in this world tends to be. With that thought in mind. I sit down.

5.21 p.m.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and the noble Earl, Lord Courtown, on their maiden speeches. We look forward very much to their continued contributions to our deliberations. If the noble Earl will allow me to say so, I am particularly glad to welcome to this House my noble friend and ancient colleague—I use the term "ancient" in the French sense—Lord Wright of Richmond. He is a welcome addition to the diplomatic firepower in your Lordships' House. I am glad to note that the carrying power of his voice has not diminished since we shared an office together in 10 Downing Street 20 years ago.

My experience of the Commonwealth, like his, has largely been at governmental level, from inside the Government. I attended seven CHOGMs between 1971 and 1991. Those have not been easy years for the Commonwealth. At times there must have been many of us who wondered whether there was any useful role for the Commonwealth to play in the world and whether it had any future. I believe that the answers to both those questions can now be more positive than at any time within my memory.

The first point is that by the Harare CHOGM of 1991, the first generation of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, many of whom had brought their countries through from being colonies to independent status, had in various ways left government and the new, second generation of leaders are men and women who are less concerned with the historical struggle for independence from Britain than with the present problems and pressures of governing and managing the economy of a developing country. In that situation, Britain is no longer suspected as the potential enemy but seen as a potential source of friendship and assistance.

That was perhaps the second great change over the period. Britain increasingly came to be seen not as the former colonial power but as another member of 'the Commonwealth, admittedly one of the larger ones., whose membership of the Security Council and of other international organisations enabled her to represent the needs and aspirations of the Commonwealth and Commonwealth countries in those organisations.

Of course, the third great change affecting the Commonwealth —it is especially relevant as we meet today—has been the ending of apartheid in South Africa. In one way or another, to a greater or lesser extent, issues surrounding apartheid dominated and divided the Commonwealth from 1971 to 1987 or 1989. There was indeed no fundamental difference of principle: the politics and practice of apartheid were abhorred no less by the British Government than by the governments of other Commonwealth countries. But there were profound and often acrimonious differences on the ways in which and the extent to which other countries should seek by their actions to bring pressure to bear on the South African Government to end apartheid. In those differences, the British Government too often found themselves in a very small minority —and sometimes seemed to revel in the fact.

By the time of the Harare Conference, all that had changed. The issue was no longer whether we should impose or intensify sanctions on South Africa: it was how soon the sanctions already in place should be lifted, and how the Commonwealth and its members could best assist the development of multi-racial democracy in South Africa.

In that connection I should like to join those who have paid tribute to the contribution which is made by the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku. His deep commitment, and the skill of his quiet and unflamboyant diplomacy, have earned him the trust and confidence of all those involved, and have enabled him to ensure that the Commonwealth has been positively and actively contributing in a number of ways to the progress that has been achieved in South Africa.

The fourth great change that has affected the Commonwealth, as it has affected every aspect of international affairs, is the ending of the cold war. So long as the cold war lasted, the Commonwealth seemed inevitably somewhat peripheral to the main issues of East-West relations. In the new order following the end of the cold war, full as it is of regional uncertainties and disagreements, the capacity of the Commonwealth to be a unifying force becomes easier to see.

It is an extraordinary institution. When the Heads of Government meet, there are representatives of a quarter of the world's population—50 countries sitting around a table together, able to communicate directly with each other, without the mediation of interpreters, coming from a great diversity of regions and countries, each with his or her own national culture but all sharing a common culture derived from their association with this country.

The Commonwealth has no written constitution or charter. It has been endowed by its members with no formal powers. Its decisions and conclusions are arrived at by consensus. The capacity of the Secretary-General for action derives partly from mandates laid upon him by Heads of Government and other ministerial meetings, partly from the willingness of member countries to provide the resources it needs and partly, and especially, from the confidence which member governments place in him.

But the very flexibility and informality of those arrangements enables the Commonwealth to adapt more easily to changing needs and circumstances. In the new and so far confused post-cold war world order, there is increasing value and importance in an international body which is not fettered by formal documents but is able to respond flexibly; in a body whose members come from the developed and the developing countries and from all five continents of the world.

All are independent sovereign states, each with their own national cultures, interests and regional groupings. But when they come together, for instance at a CHOGM, one is conscious not only of their diversity but also of what unites them, in particular the English language in which they can converse directly with each other, the elements of common culture which they have inherited from the past, in many cases the practices and precedents of the common law, and often shared educational links.

The Commonwealth has long been, and I hope long will continue to be, an important channel for economic aid and support from the developed countries to the Commonwealth's developing members. But now with the divisive issue of apartheid behind it, the Commonwealth is able to turn its attention to principles and causes to which it has been committed, as we were reminded earlier, for over 20 years and which have resonances across the world. I refer in particular to the encouragement of democratic values and institutions in member countries, the strengthening of good governance, the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, the principles and practices of equal opportunities, irrespective of differences of racial origin or gender, and improvements in educational and health opportunities. The Commonwealth renewed its commitment to those values and principles in the Harare Declaration of 1991, in which, as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, said, I had some small part to play. It is possible for the Commonwealth to be increasingly active in these areas without excessive calls for increased resources. The Secretary-General has been reviewing and modifying the organisation of the secretariat in order to strengthen its ability to respond to the calls upon it.

If there is one thing that I particularly urge upon the British Government, it is that they should do everything in their powers to increase and strengthen the educational links that should bind the members of the Commonwealth. On a recent visit to this country, the Prime Minister of Singapore reminded us that, unlike previous generations of leaders in Singapore, he and his contemporaries had received their higher education in the United States and not in this country. That is a tendency which we should seek to reverse if we care about the future of the Commonwealth.

Finally, I should like to say a word about the Commonwealth Institute. Eighteen months ago the Government invited me to undertake a review of the Commonwealth Institute. I was impressed to find that it does not live in the past but lives in the present and looks forward to the future. It is housed in Kensington in a building of considerable architectural merit, but the building is liable to fall down. It needs many millions to be spent on restoration work. The institute has been largely dependent on public funds, but the public funds available to it—about £3 million a year—enable it to conduct only a restricted pattern of activity and oblige it to raise funds from other sources. The grant makes no contribution to the funds required for the restoration of the building.

The institute does good and valuable work. I am sorry that the Government have felt obliged to give notice of a decision to discontinue public funding in two years' time, in March 1996. The institute has responded to the challenge with spirit, by developing a new vision and a new strategy which will enable it to continue to play a useful and imaginative part in promoting the significance of the Commonwealth, not least through a newly developed education programme.

The value of its work and the sturdiness and imaginativeness of its response to the proposed withdrawal of public funding deserve your Lordships' consideration and support. I hope that the House will join me in urging the Government to consider very sympathetically the institute's case for the financial and other support which it will need if it is to be able to implement its strategy and secure its long-term future.

5.32 p.m.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, it is usually in keeping to make some reference to the previous speaker and I do so with pleasure, congratulating him on the constructive way in which he spoke. However, that has not always been the case this evening with some speeches. I was somewhat upset when the comment was made: "What can we get out of the Commonwealth if it gives nothing to us?" I also wondered when we heard the opening speech in the debate; I suspect some of the comments dealt with the Secretary-General to the Commonwealth and representations made to him by some of our Commonwealth states overseas. I am not in a position to comment on that and it seems to me difficult for anyone to do so in the circumstances.

It is difficult to keep one's speech on the role and future of the Commonwealth within reasonable bounds because it is a tremendous theme to debate and consider. As regards my experience, I was involved in giving effect for 30 years overseas to the policies of His Majesty's Government in a Commonwealth country—Malaysia. I got the impression that the policies were pretty good and that they were well received by people out there. The policies were constructive and easy to follow and if any complaint was made it was dealt with quickly. When there was trouble in the formation and re-introduction of the rubber industry after the slump, the Government—I think that a Labour Government was in power at the time—sent out people from this country, union leaders, to contact the people who were complaining. That was accepted. It was constructive and showed that in those days we were dispassionate and wanted quickly to get to the bottom of difficulties.

I was 22 years old when I left these shores to take up an appointment in the British Colonial Service in Malaysia. My service was in that country, which was known at the time as the Federated Malay States, and it was one of the Free Associations of Sovereign States within the British Commonwealth of Nations; comprising Great Britain and a number of its former dependencies who chose to maintain ties of friendship and to practise co-operation with Britain. It has not been mentioned sufficiently tonight that that country acknowledged the British monarch as the symbolic head of the association for the period from 1931 to 1946. A previous speaker mentioned that when India became a republic and chose to remain within the Commonwealth, the phrase "Head of the Commonwealth" was substituted for "Emperor of India" in the royal title of Queen Elizabeth II. That WETS in 1953.

I have covered those points because feel it necessary to set out the constitution applicable to Her Majesty the Queen on the Throne today in relation to the style followed by her father and grandfather in earlier years. That constitution has been in force ever since, for the whole of that period. At that time, various colonies were evolving from states subordinate to the United Kingdom into an association of equal partners. In that respect I should like to comment on life in the Commonwealth as it evolved and as it appeared to me and to mention my views on the constitutional situation. I wish to state that I consider it necessary to maintain royalty and the services it gives to the nation and the Commonwealth. I cannot see that there is any other constitution or system capable of rendering the service it gives and has given to the nation and the Commonwealth I shall give my reasons in greater force later on.

I should like to refer in this connection to a broadcast made by Her Majesty's grandfather, when I was 12,000 miles away from this country, in the early days of overseas broadcasting. I was in the Federated Malay States, with others, on that great day, waiting to hear a speech by King George V to his empire. First, we were able to hear an account of the cheering of the British crowds on the King's drive from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall. Having heard the King as he spoke, people with me were of the opinion that, from the effect, he seemed near to them, very human. He spoke about the First World War. He seemed very tired at the approaching end of a long reign and he spoke of the war's terrible casualties. The reaction was indicative to me of what the people felt, listening to what the King had said. One of them jumped up and said: "Tuan, having heard the King speak has made me feel I must do something better with my own life".

Let us look at that. All the time from those early years, great value was given in the broadcasts of the BBC to the cohesion of Britain with the Commonwealth states which brought Britain and those countries ever closer to one another. The distance was shrinking by the speed of air travel, as well as the BBC's efforts in letting people overseas know what was happening in England.

Secondly, I remember the great air flights that took place between this country and Australia. Notification was given by wireless or telephone (I do not know which) of the time and dates when certain planes would land in a certain area to refuel. That caused great excitement to people who lived overseas, and who admired those people for the risks that they were taking. But not only that; the flights again demonstrated that through air power, development and production, the Empire, or the Commonwealth, was drawing nearer and nearer through a reduction in the time of travel between one country and another. I remember (I hope that I am right) that the people who carried out those flights were Jean Batten, Amelia Earhart, Cobham, and Amy Johnson. I do not know whether any of them is alive today, but they were household names at the time. It would be quite impossible to overlook the excitement that the air race to Australia caused. Great service was given by that demonstration of the way in which distance was "being reduced" at that time.

Earlier still in that period of air development, two British pilots succeeded in flying across the Atlantic from America and landing in Ireland. They were John Alcock and Arthur Whitten-Brown. Both pilots were knighted by the Queen for their achievement.

Another person who captured the admiration at that time, about whom we read in the British newspapers, was the American, Charles Lindbergh. He flew solo from America to France—and flying solo was considered a very brave thing to do in that particular instance.

I cannot cover everything in this debate and I shall make no attempt to do so. But I want to mention the attack by the Japanese on Singapore in 1942 and what happened to the people there and the civil servants after that attack. On a certain day instructions were given that the High Commissioner and the Governor of Singapore were to meet with all the white Europeans and people serving in that country, together with other people. They were to assemble and be led on foot by the Governor, Sir Sharton Thomas, marching the nine miles from that city to Changi gaol. It was the intention on that day that we should see many hundreds of Singapore citizens lining the streets. The reason that the Japanese—or our conquerors, whatever one likes to call them—did that was to cause a loss of face to the Europeans. The Japanese also realised, given what the Government of Britain had been to their territories overseas —incidentally there were 1,000 civil servants on that walk —that if we were allowed loose during the Japanese occupation we would be a danger to the way that they governed. The Japanese had not come there to enjoy themselves; they had come there to—

Lord Annaly

My Lords, I remind my noble friend that this is a timed debate. Perhaps he will draw his contribution to a conclusion.

Lord Gridley

My Lords, I regret that I have lost time on this matter by diverging. I should just like to mention our constitution. The broadcasts that reached Singapore from Britain on our constitution—that is, on royalty, our democracy, and so on—were used when people were dying in the jail. The daily reports that we received from the BBC kept people alive who would otherwise have died. That observation is justified this evening. I cannot elaborate any further and give noble Lords the explanation as it would not be fair for me to do so.

5.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield

My Lords, in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on initiating this debate, I should also like briefly to contribute an experience from the rather more recent past. It is one that I can never forget, and I hope that it will be of some interest in this debate. I shall never forget the experience, stretching over several years, of living and working in an African Commonwealth country during the nightmare years immediately following that country's transition to independence. I refer to Uganda's early years after gaining its independence in the early 1960s, during Dr. Obote's first administration, and then the years of Amin's reign of terror.

It was precisely through living through those years that those of us who were there were able to see at close range the various political, legal and cultural norms and values that were inherited from Uganda's experience, first as a British protectorate and then as a Commonwealth member. We were able to witness during those years that inheritance coming under the most intense pressure.

In particular, and most vividly, as Members of this House will remember, we saw the whole tradition of freedom and security for individuals under the rule of law being eroded by General Amin's terrifying attitudes of greed, violence and contempt for those human rights and liberties which Uganda's past experience had indicated should be preserved. I remember, for example, the executions that regularly went on in the police barracks just below the theological seminary where it was my privilege to teach.

On another occasion I remember a small group of African and European children who were travelling to school by car being ambushed by Amin's thugs. They were hurled into the road at gunpoint and the vehicle was stolen. There was nothing that could be done to prevent it.

A particular incident remains in my mind. A visiting British trade official was suddenly seized—again by Amin's henchmen—while eating his breakfast in a Kampala hotel. Her Majesty's Government responded swiftly by submitting a writ of habeas corpus to the Ugandan high court. That placed the Ugandan chief justice of that time in a position both of grave judicial responsibility and of radical personal danger. Yet, as Members of this House may recall, that chief justice, who had spent a number of years here in England practising the disciplines and standards of English law —and who, I might add, would often pay tribute to the inheritance that he learnt here—made arrangements swiftly to hear the case. He released the British trade official, who I am glad to say is now safe in this country. The chief justice was never seen again and is buried anonymously in some unknown banana garden near Kampala.

The point of this example lies in its sequel. A few days later, a not inconsiderable group of younger students asked to see me. They were concerned to let me know that the chief justice's "costly stand", as they said, would never be wasted or forgotten. Rather, they were sure that their generation would continue the struggle for justice and the rule of law in forging their country's future. That is not nostalgic, anecdotal memory. It is rather to suggest that those facts in the history of the Commonwealth have a present, living force. Like other noble Lords, I could add other examples from the educational record of the Commonwealth. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and other noble Lords emphasised that aspect. Our own Anglican Archbishop of Uganda died, probably under the hands of Amin himself, for a similar form of resistance.

My point is that the role and future of such a Commonwealth country are still in the melting pot. They are still being forged. On a recent visit to Uganda, I had the privilege of meeting a few members of the Ugandan Cabinet and the legal commission, which is presently travelling throughout that country and struggling to gain understanding and assent for a new democratic constitution. In that struggle the experience and support of the Commonwealth is a not unimportant factor. In fact, without the help of the neighbouring country of Tanzania, Uganda would not be in its present slate of being on the way to greater well-being and stability.

The Speaker of the Canadian Parliament once used a splendid image of the Commonwealth, with which I should like to conclude. He said that when geese migrate, they fly in formation and help each other. Each goose, as it flaps its wings, creates an uplift for the goose that follows. All the geese, as they make their individual contribution, give the whole flock a 70 per cent. greater flying range than would be the case if each goose had to fly alone. Furthermore, when a goose begins to lag behind or gets out of formation, the others honk it back into position.

I hope that your Lordships' House will show no sign of lagging behind in enthusiasm for supporting the noble Viscount's Motion. Rather, let us fly together in a flock and go farther in this uncertain and turbulent world.

5.53 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, at lunchtime today I was asked by an interviewer from Wales Radio whether any discussion of the Commonwealth could be anything more than an exercise in nostalgia. In reply, I made many of the points which noble Lords have presented tonight about the current activities and prospects of the Commonwealth. I concluded by saying that at any rate there was quite enough in the Commonwealth for the House of Lords to have a very good debate for a full five hours. That statement has already been borne out, thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the two maiden speakers in particular.

Even so, there have been one or two items in the list of elements that bind the Commonwealth together which have been omitted; for instance, cricket or—until we heard the very moving speech from the right reverend Prelate—the law. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster; but it seems to me that one ought not to underplay the importance which the British system of common law has had in forming the attitude toward law in most Commonwealth countries. Now of course appeals to the Privy Council are fairly rare and only a few countries preserve that practice. Also, there are few countries now in which British lawyers may be heard before their courts. But I still feel that is a very important additional element.

My own experience has been in the academic sphere, a field which several noble Lords have mentioned. I began studying the Commonwealth in any depth some 30 years ago. When preparing some lectures in the University of Delhi I remember looking out of a window and being distracted by the gorgeous sari clad female students of that institution; then, writing the lectures in Canberra, and being equally distracted by the even more colourful parrots around the campus; and finally, delivering the lectures in snowbound Montreal—all within a matter of weeks. The Commonwealth is a very varied place.

When one tries to forecast what is likely to happen, it is useful to remember that the process of change has been constant. Several noble Lords indicated that there is a kind of birthdate for the Commonwealth, which is either the Statute of Westminster or some other, similar fixed point. In fact, the embryonic idea of an association of self-governing countries goes back to the time when the empire was still at its greatest; namely, before the first world war. When I wrote my book, The Dream of Commonwealth, I was thinking of the attitude taken in the inter-war years to the possibility that there could be a free association of self-governing countries. At first, as one noble Lord pointed out, it was envisaged as the original dominions plus Rhodesia, to which other countries which were still dependencies could be added as they achieved measures of self-government.

I suppose that the question is why, after the war, although the association remained, much of the substance—which from the military point of view had been important during the war—disappeared and, from the economic point of view, became much less significant. Nonetheless, I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, slightly underestimated the importance of some Commonwealth trade and its importance even today.

I have no doubt that the turning point was our decision to seek association with the European Communities. Much as I appreciated, as I am sure did all noble Lords, the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, I cannot agree with him. More and more I believe that there is a fundamental inconsistency between the idea of the Commonwealth and our membership of a supranational organisation. In its nature, the Commonwealth is an association of independent, sovereign states. The objective of the European Community, which we are now told to call the European Union, is to subordinate Britain into becoming simply a unit in a federal system. I cannot see why the other countries of the Commonwealth, which have preserved and attach great importance to their independence, should be prepared to regard as an equal a country which has no more constitutional status than that of, let us say, an American state or a Canadian province. Whether or not the economic arguments—and perhaps to some extent the defence arguments—for making that choice were inescapable at the time will be for future historians to decide. Like many people, I thought we were right; I am now coming round gradually to the view that we were probably wrong.

I believe that the increasing interest in the Commonwealth, of which this debate is an example, is not only because it has been relieved—as we were reminded constantly in the course of the debate—of the burden which the South African issue introduced into Commonwealth affairs over some 20 years, but also because of the growing questioning regarding the way in which "Europe" is now going. So there are new possibilities before us. We may not be able fully to find a solution. But it is indicative that when the Commonwealth countries last met in Cyprus, among other things they declared their determination that the GATT agreement should be ratified—that is to say, they expressed themselves collectively in favour of a world trading system and to some extent by implication repudiated the view that regional blocs would now come to dominate everything. It is because the Commonwealth is a world system of ideas in education and in law as well as in trade that those like myself, who are on record as having despaired of the Commonwealth a quarter of a century ago, now find a debate like today's of great interest and importance.

6.3 p.m.

Lord Craig of Radley

My Lords, it is always fascinating to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and I should like to join with others in thanking my noble friend Lord Waverley for bringing forward this subject for debate. Also, I associate myself with those others who congratulated the two maiden speakers who contributed so well this afternoon.

Forty years ago—I noted that it is fashionable today in your Lordships' House to turn to the past—when I was preparing for a promotion examination the Royal Air Force sent me to Birmingham University for a week, where I and fellow officers were given a crash course to help prepare us for the current international affairs paper of the exam. I am afraid the details of the week are now lodged only in my subconscious, well beyond recall. But our excellent professor gave us one most useful tip. He said that when answering or discussing questions about foreign policy and international affairs we would do well to marshal our arguments under three separate headings: political, economic and military. I passed my exam, so I assume that it was good advice. Today I thought that I would make just one point about the Commonwealth under each of my professor's three headings.

With such talent and experience in your Lordships' House I have heard and confidently expect to hear more interesting political issues raised. The point that I wish to comment on may even lie beyond, and certainly lies above, the normal run of political comment. I refer to the position of the Monarch as Head of the Commonwealth. It is a remarkable feat, as my noble friend Lord Charteris so cogently pointed out with such unique authority, that that arrangement has continued over many years when so much else in the world has been changing, not least the political make-up of the nations of the Commonwealth.

It is certainly debatable whether we could still have the Commonwealth if we did not have the Monarchy. Can anyone conceive that the Head of the Commonwealth might become some sort of rotating or even elected position? Like so many of our historic institutions, it is easier and probably better to leave matters as they are than to try to find a new arrangement. All who value the Commonwealth ideal have much to thank Her Majesty for in her leadership and commitment over the years. Were some future Monarch ever to lose the sureness of touch or the respect of the citizens of the Commonwealth, or worse, were we ever to become a republic, I fear that the binding mortar of the Head of the Commonwealth would soon crumble and the Commonwealth itself could fall away. It could fall away because so much else has happened since the days of empire and old dominions beyond the seas to weaken the original ties. Let me choose just one economic and one military point to illustrate that.

Commonwealth preference going back to the old empire days, but kept alive for some years thereafter, is now relegated to the history books. We have cast our lot with Europe and GATT, too, has its influence on our trading patterns. Surely, the pessimists were forecasting, such a betrayal of old trading patterns, such a selfish and narrow perception of our national economic self-interest, would deal a death blow to the Commonwealth. But it has not killed it off. Perhaps the outcome of such profound economic change has yet to emerge. So far it has not and the omens are not all bad.

But if economic self-interest is acceptable, what of our security needs? Twice this century Commonwealth countries sent their finest men and women to fight to save this country from invasion and defeat. Many lost their lives or were gravely wounded in those wars. Would the Commonwealth turn out again with such a demonstration of support and loyalty if we were ever to find ourselves in mortal danger once more? We seem to have judged the answer to that in no uncertain way. No longer do we look to our old dominion and other Commonwealth nations to strengthen our resources. We have cast our lot with NATO, with the WEU and with our European neighbours. Sound arguments abound for making allowances for such economic and military co-operation with former European enemies, so that it is inconceivable for any of those former adversaries, and now allies, to turn against us.

We have made sure that our concentration in Europe is not misunderstood or overlooked around the Commonwealth. Virtually all our military presence—our garrisons and overseas bases—have been given up. What confidence has any Commonwealth country that the United Kingdom would come to its aid if threatened? They too have drawn their conclusions.

Of course, some will argue that the world security situation has changed so much that the idea of such mortal threats to this country or to any other Commonwealth country is inconceivable. To such ostriches all I would say is look at the former Yugoslavia. Man is still a fighting animal with the veneer of civilised behaviour. We hope and pray that the veneer will not peel off. I doubt that we have or will ever reach such a happy state of security. But of course we must all keep trying to reach that heaven on earth.

What, then, is left to bind our Commonwealth together? One idea which is neither new nor untried is the interchange of training exercises that our Armed Forces and those of Commonwealth countries have enjoyed for many years. Some of that has been eroded by shrinking defence budgets; some have been affected by attitudes like New Zealand's to nuclear matters. But the scope for high grade training with our all professional forces is still extensive. I was delighted that South Africa is reportedly turning to us for help with its restructured services. Perhaps that will prove to be one of the first steps towards a return of that beautiful country to the Commonwealth. What a boost that would be for the Commonwealth. What a putdown for the Jonah s who say that the days of the Commonwealth are numbered. I for one hope that they are not.

6.10 p.m.

Lord Elibank

My Lords, I too should like to begin by thanking the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for giving us a chance to have a look at this often low profile but often very effective institution. When I was trying to clear my mind before the debate on my views of the Commonwealth it seemed to me that one's approach depends very much on one's age. I can remember being a schoolboy before the war, as many of your Lordships must have been, and looking on the old British Empire with the greatest pride, covering as it did, or so we were told, a fifth of the world's surface and a quarter of the world's population. Most families had fathers, brothers or uncles in either the Indian Army or the Colonial Service. The general feeling among us boys was that we were unquestionably top nation. This was the source of greatest pride to us as we looked back through some 200 years of our history and looked forward with great confidence.

Of course in 1939 came the Second World War and within weeks most of our dominions and our colonies had rallied to our cause. At that point it was no more than a European conflict, the apotheosis, one might think, of the Empire, and the dawn perhaps of the Commonwealth. At the end of the war there was a quite remarkable change. Within about two decades the old dominions had become noticeably more independent in their foreign policy and outlook on world affairs and the colonies had become for the most part independent. Someone of my age cannot but look back with a certain nostalgia to that past which I suppose will remain with me as long as I am alive.

So much for what I might loosely call the older generation. But what of the young? By "young" in this context I would take those born after the end of the Second World War. What do they think? I have no extensive survey on this matter to rely on but I have consulted a limited number of the young and the early middle-aged on the subject. I think it is fair to say that to most of them the old British Empire is a historical fact like the Roman Empire but of course much more recent; but nonetheless a part of history. They look forward either with enthusiasm, or with diminished enthusiasm, to our approach to Europe. To them there is a certain inevitability about the call of Europe which will take us into that continent in closer and closer alliance.

On this point I agree with my noble friend Lord Beloff that there is a latent conflict between the old Commonwealth and our involvement with. Europe. It is very difficult to see the two marching hand in hand together. When we launched ourselves into our European commitment we took the decision that Europe was the way for this island to go in the future and that contacts with the old Commonwealth would be of a sentimental and perhaps utilitarian nature. It is an obvious cliché that the future belongs to the young and the prospects for our remaining as a united association for any great length of time are rather limited.

But we are looking at the position in 1994. What should we do now? What bonds do we have with the Commonwealth that we should strengthen and acclaim as far as possible? One point that weighs quite heavily with me is the moral obligation that we have towards our old colonies, and I suppose to a lesser extent towards our old dominions. For up to 200 years they produced men to fight our wars and materials to feed our factories. We in turn gave them what we think of as benign government. But we owe a moral debt to them which will continue into the future for quite some time.

There is no doubt that being also members of the Commonwealth and being the mother country—I suppose primus inter pares—we are able to exert an influence around the world out of all proportion to our economic and military strength. The Commonwealth's influence goes into all corners of the world. We can exchange ideas and bring pressure to bear whenever we think that is advantageous to world peace or world prosperity. The other members of the Commonwealth seem to appreciate this institution. As was pointed out earlier in the debate, they even wish to return to it when for political reasons they have in the past departed. As long as there is that degree of enthusiasm on the part of the other members of the Commonwealth there seems to be a considerable burden of responsibility upon us to keep it going.

I have one caveat which relates to power. Power resides in very few places in the world—in the United States; in the United Nations perhaps; maybe in due course in Europe. But it does not reside in the Commonwealth. It is an association which can exert influence. We should not seek to press it beyond that limitation. All in all it seems to me that for the immediate future, and perhaps for the medium-term future, the Commonwealth is a benign institution. It has been useful to us and we have made a useful contribution to it in the past. As long as we have the modest resources which we do to support it, we should bring those resources to bear as fully as possible.

6.18 p.m.

Lord St. John of Bletso

My Lords, as most noble Lords have already mentioned, it is opportune that today's debate takes place on the occasion of the first non-racial elections in South Africa—a day which we all welcome. The South African debate, perhaps more than any other, has been a central, and yet extremely divisive, issue within the Commonwealth for almost three decades. Following the demise of apartheid—and anticipating South Africa's imminent application to rejoin the Commonwealth which it left in 1961—it is to be hoped that that wealthy and diverse country will again become an active contributor to constructive development within the organisation, particularly within Africa.

In my brief nine-minute contribution to today's debate I intend to focus on South Africa's application and to discuss the general role of the Commonwealth. I heard the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, refer to the birth of the Commonwealth before the First World War. To my understanding, the earliest recorded us of the phrase "Commonwealth" was in your Lordships' House by the Earl of Rosebery, who in 1884 declared: the British Empire is a commonwealth of nations". The concept of consultation and co-operation between equals was later formalised by the Statute of Westminster in 1931. Noble Lords last called attention to the future of the Commonwealth in the debate which my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow initiated in November 1990. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Waverley has again raised this issue before your Lordships today.

There is a growing perception—and one which I hope is mistaken—that Britain's commitment to the Commonwealth is waning and that we are less concerned with our Commonwealth links than with our European ties and our ties with the United States. It has been argued that the Government's decision to cut their grant-in-aid to the Commonwealth Institute from March 1996 is an indication of their decreasing esteem for the entire organisation. I hasten to stress that I do not believe that this is the case, particularly in view of the fact that Britain has always contributed well in excess of 30 per cent. of the secretariat's running costs, quite apart from the support which it continues to provide to a broad variety of Commonwealth initiatives and programmes.

However, while the basic concept of the Commonwealth is sound, I believe that there is scope for sharpening its agendas and goals. If it is to realise its full potential, the Commonwealth must be more than merely a talking shop laden with fine language and good intentions. It must act; but, more importantly, it must be seen to act. As both maiden speakers have already mentioned in their most commanding speeches today, for much of the past decade successive heads of government meetings have been occupied —I should rather say "preoccupied"—with the issue of applying pressure through sanctions on the minority government in South Africa. The discussion was certainly lively—and in many respects those sanctions did produce the desired effect of what we are seeing today—but the organisation often seemed more ready to condemn the system rather than to constructively assist in redeveloping South Africa. The dawn of a new, fully democratic South Africa now, as I mentioned at the start of my address, offers the Commonwealth an opportunity to address a more positive agenda towards the more global issues such as the recurring famine in most parts of Africa, civil wars, trading relationships and, of course, what my noble friend has already mentioned, the whole awareness of the global environment.

My own belief is that the Commonwealth can and shall always play an important role in the broader dissemination of information on subjects such as recent technological advances, education and farming. Here I should like to refer to one of the developing countries, Zimbabwe, which suffered last year from a catastrophic famine. I certainly feel that Zimbabwe would derive significantly greater long-term benefit from, for example, a Commonwealth group of advisers on the latest agricultural methods than it would from just another cash hand-out, which often has found its way into the wrong hands. There is, in fact, a well-worn African saying that if you give a man a fish you will feed him for a day whereas if you teach him how to fish, you will feed him for life.

I believe that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Ameka Anyaoku, has played a pivotal role in re-focusing the aims of the Commonwealth, in unifying its members and, specifically, in expanding the Commonwealth's role in the monitoring of elections around the world. This crucial role is one which has been undertaken, as we all know and as we speak now, at the polling stations in and around South Africa. The Commonwealth observer mission has been active throughout the country for more than a year, assisting local officials in the nervous transition to democracy. The Commonwealth has also provided invaluable assistance in the training of mediators and marshals specialising in crowd control.

Many noble Lords may be aware that Nelson Mandela told the Secretary-General in November last year that one of his new government's first policy decisions would be to apply to rejoin the Commonwealth. There are a number of reasons for that. In the first place, the ANC is acutely aware that the political and economic world is increasingly made up of powerful blocs. They realise that if a country wants economic growth, it should join a bloc; and that political reform should encompass a free market.

One of the ANC's fears is that, in this fast-changing world, attention appears to be drifting away from the continent of Africa. Its recent foreign policy document discussed the urgent need to reinsert South Africa into the regional and world economy. They believe that the country should be up front and a major and visible player in international forums, signing treaties, affirming conventions and relearning the global liturgy and litany.

Here I agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead. The Commonwealth has often been vulnerable to the charge that while it has advocated democratic freedoms globally, it has often condoned their absence among its own members. It is to be hoped that South Africa, once it has rejoined the Commonwealth, will assist in upholding the moral high ground.

In practical terms, renewed membership of the Commonwealth will give South Africa access to a wide range of specialist services, such as training and advice. It will also, possibly, result in a number of bilateral trade deals. South Africans are aware that the Commonwealth recently interceded on behalf of its members over the GATT talks. A joint Commonwealth-UN donors' conference on management and skill training is scheduled to be held in the aftermath of the elections. South Africa will also welcome the opportunity to compete shortly in the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada, in August this year.

Thabo Mbeki, the likely Minister of Foreign Affairs in the new ANC Government, attended the heads of government meeting in Cyprus last year and was eager to stress the importance of improving economic and political links with Asian Commonwealth members as well as with Australia and Canada. He added that South Africa's reacceptance by the Commonwealth should send a signal to the IMF, the World Bank and international investors, that South Africa once again is keeping respectable company and can be trusted to play by the rules, one of which is to remain a multi-party democracy. Here I conclude by saying that "respectable company" is the key. The Commonwealth may rarely scream and shout these days, but I believe that it goes about its business calmly and efficiently. That is surely to be encouraged.

6.27 p.m.

Lord Desai

My Lords, as many speakers have said, today is a special day for the Commonwealth. The holding of multi-racial elections in South Africa as far as the Commonwealth is concerned is equal to the fall of the Berlin Wall for the world at large. If there was one issue which divided the Commonwealth it was the issue of South Africa. That is out of the way and the Commonwealth can go back to what it was intended to be; namely, a Commonwealth of nations which can live together in harmony.

I wish to return to the analogy of the Commonwealth and the United Nations, but before doing so perhaps I may make one or two historical allusions. The origin of the Commonwealth has been traced back to at least 1884. There is one thing which I wish to say in addition which is not quite about the word "Commonwealth" being used. India was taken over from the East India Company by the British Government in 1858. As far as I know, it is in Queen Victoria's declaration that for the first time the words "protection of rights regardless of creed, colour or religion" are used. Those words of 1858 anticipated the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. I do not mean that facetiously. If one reads the life of Mahatma Gandhi, who visited South Africa, one discovers that he decided that he had to intervene on the side of the British in the Boer War because he was a staunch Empire loyalist and believed in Queen Victoria's declaration. He was disappointed in practice, but that is what started him off. He believed that the rights of the Indians in South Africa were guaranteed by that declaration and he insisted on those rights. These matters have a long history and, although things have mutated and changed and we are clearly far from those days, it has always been the case that membership of the Commonwealth is independent of religion, race or colour.

I should also add that the history that was taught in India was that the post-war new Commonwealth was possible because Mr. Nehru, a Harrow and Trinity graduate, invented the formula whereby India could stay in the Commonwealth and Her Majesty could be redefined as Head of the Commonwealth rather than as Empress of the British Empire. In the discussions that were held in 1947–48, that was a crucial breakthrough in creating the Commonwealth.

One dimension that has been missing from the debate is that we still tend to regard the Commonwealth from the British point of view and to ask, "What is in it for us?", rather than, "What is in it for all of us, mutually coming together?" The reality of the Commonwealth is not merely Britain's exports to and imports from the Commonwealth. We must remember that Commonwealth countries export to each other. It is not an asymmetric system whereby the UK helps everybody else and nobody helps the UK. Various countries, such as Canada, Australia, the UK and New Zealand, play lead roles in various matters. It is an achievement of the Commonwealth that a number of countries that were formerly dependent territories now play major and leading roles in a variety of matters such as human rights, the monitoring of elections or development aid. One should see the Commonwealth not just as a family of nations headed by the mother country, but more as a genuine free association of countries.

One of the most remarkable things about the Commonwealth is that its total expenditure on all bodies such as the Secretariat is only £35 million per year. That is an extremely small sum of money. One of the reasons why people tend to ignore the Commonwealth is that it is terribly cost-effective. If it spent anything like the amount of money that the United Nations spends, or even its proportionate share thereof, it would be spending several billions of pounds and perhaps people would take more notice of it; perhaps we would complain more about it because we would see our money being wasted. It is because money is not being wasted that we ignore it. The Commonwealth Secretariat spends £9 million per year. I dare say that more money is stolen from the Mogadishu office of the United Nations in a day than is spent by the Commonwealth Secretariat. We have to say proudly and positively that the Commonwealth is an extremely cost-effective international system. I would call it a "global sub-system" because, as many noble Lords have pointed out, its reach is global. It has a membership in many different countries, north and south, developed and less developed. The Commonwealth is in every continent.

The Commonwealth almost parallels the United Nations, but on a smaller scale. It is not a regional treaty. It is not a trading area. It is not a rich man's club, or anything like it. However, in a very quiet and effective way, the Commonwealth performs certain of the tasks that the United Nations tries to do—be they in the areas of human rights, aid or intervention in quarrels between member nations. It would be a very good thing for us on another occasion to concentrate on asking whether the Commonwealth is not a very good model for the United Nations to follow. If the United Nations could behave like the Commonwealth, the world could be much better off.

Finally, many noble Lords have mentioned the importance of South Africa. I think that the Commonwealth could perform a major task if many countries showed some willingness about enabling it to do so. The last frontier of poverty and underdevelopment happens to be sub-Saharan Africa. In the mid-1960s we used to worry about India and China being able to feed themselves. We do not worry about that now. South Asia has gone off the agenda of urgent development problems. The urgent development problem today is in sub-Saharan Africa and it is in exactly that region that the Commonwealth has a major presence. The Commonwealth could do something tremendous there, starting from the Trinidad Conditions and other things. We should urge and enable the Commonwealth, through the Secretariat and the joint action of many nations, perhaps at the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting, to tackle the urgent problem of relieving African poverty. Now that South Africa could become part of the Commonwealth, there is an even greater need to do so and to do so urgently.

6.36 p.m.

Lord Alport

My Lords, I join other speakers in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on the timing and subject of his Motion.

For many years past, the importance of the Commonwealth has been obscured by the controversies surrounding our membership of the European Union. I was a very late convert to the ideal of a united Europe because I believed that it would eventually damage Great Britain's relations with the Commonwealth, which to me was the greatest achievement in our history. Now our commitment to the European ideal has been undermined by what is known in the media as "Euro-scepticism" which is really a brand of narrow, bloody-minded Anglo-Saxon nationalism, the like of which has never been afoot in this country since King Harold's Anglo-Saxon army was defeated in 1066 and all that.

Yet the Commonwealth still exists. It may well be, as other noble Lords have said, that before the end of 1994, South Africa (under a new name) may wish to rejoin, just as Pakistan wished to do a year or two back.

The significance of all this is that despite Britain's membership of Europe, she is still the founder member of a world organisation covering every continent and comprising 50 members of all races, cultures, and religions—great and small—which believe that that membership is of benefit to them. The design and effectiveness of other international organisations has been brought into disrepute in recent years, yet systems of international co-operation and mutual help are more important today than ever before. Surely it is time that Great Britain, with its special relationship with fellow members of the Commonwealth everywhere, should consult them on how the Commonwealth can play a more effective and constructive role in world affairs. Should there be a Commonwealth bank? Should there be a Commonwealth conciliation commission to help to resolve disagreements between Commonwealth members? How should the present system of Commonwealth consultation through periodic Commonwealth conferences be reorganised? And how should Commonwealth countries get help to resolve the internal problems which so many of them from time to time have to face?

What those of us who have believed in the Commonwealth over recent years have been concerned about is the obvious failure of several Commonwealth conferences, for instance, Singapore in the 'seventies and Cyprus last year. That has been partly due to the personalities of the British Prime Ministers of the day, but more because areas of controversy have obscured the many problems with which the Commonwealth could help to deal. In spite of the end of the Cold War, this is not a safe world for any country, and to be the member of an effective group of nations is important to everyone, but it must be effective within the inevitable limitations of geography and national interest.

In considering how the Commonwealth can become politically more effective, I suggest that consultation between members should be based on regional interests and that observers from all members of the other regions should be entitled to attend each regional conference. The regions should be: first, Asia and Australasia; secondly, the Americas; and, thirdly, Africa south of the Sahara. Those regional conferences should take place in successive years, and there should be a full Commonwealth conference every fourth year. There should also be agreement to call a regional conference if members feel that a matter of great urgency has arisen.

I am thinking now particularly of Africa. If as I hope —and I think everyone in the House hopes—South Africa again becomes a member of the Commonwealth, its influence and problems will dominate the continent and require the understanding and support of the Commonwealth to a far greater extent than any other issue Commonwealth statesmanship has had to face during recent years. Help there cannot come from other international organisations such as the United Nations or NATO or the OAU. Whatever may be the outcome of the election and the events of subsequent months in South Africa, I hope that the Government of Great Britain and other members of the Commonwealth will be ready to provide the effective help that South Africa will need, after years of isolation, to become a stable, multiracial, prosperous and democratic country for the future.

What is now most important is that there should be a thorough review of the role and organisation of the Commonwealth as a result of the immense changes that have taken place in world affairs during the past few years. I urge the Government, in consultation with other members of the Commonwealth, to set in motion a wide-ranging review, designed to make the Commonwealth a more effective organisation of international co-operation in a dangerous world. I believe that taking such an initiative is our duty, and that that would be very much in the interests of all members, not least those of Great Britain itself.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, it is good to be having this debate on the Commonwealth and to be reminded of its unique character and significance in a still divided and troubled world. For that we should all be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley. The Commonwealth is neither an empire nor a confederation; it possesses no centralised government, no common currency, no common defence system. It comprises kingdoms and republics, sovereign states and dependencies. To some it may seem illogical and unwieldy, but the point is, of course, that it works.

Despite all the pressures of this terrifying century, the Commonwealth continues to hold together. Each successive challenge to its existence finds it as resilient as ever. One reason for that may be that the Commonwealth is dedicated to the service of ideas greater than itself. But, whatever the reason, it provides all its members with an example of how free peoples can live and work together for the common good. It consists, as we know, of two parts. On the one hand stands a loose association of independent sovereign states, of which the United Kingdom is but one, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another, staunch comrades in war, reliable friends in peace—an association which might be defined as an experiment in co-operation among sovereign peoples.

Here the United Kingdom may generally rely upon a common sympathy and understanding, but in no circumstances can it command adherence to its policies. There are then the remaining colonial territories—dependencies still, but moving at varying paces away from dependence upon the mother country towards partnership with her within the Commonwealth.

Opportunity beckons hopefully to us as we prepare to enter the 21st century, not just in the fully self-governing Commonwealth countries but in the remaining dependencies where there are still untapped resources and great potential markets. Nowhere will British capacity for leadership, example and understanding be tested more severely in the years ahead than in this remarkable evolving system, for here we are engaged in one of the most exciting and inspiring ventures ever undertaken by a single nation—that of helping millions of relatively poor people to stand on their own feet and to take their place among the free, self-governing nations of the world. It should be a matter of immense pride that the crucial election now taking place in South Africa is being monitored by a team from both Houses of our Parliament.

Let us make no mistake. Ours is a Herculean task, for no two dependencies are truly alike. Their peoples are at almost every conceivable stage of social, political and economic development. Some are now well advanced along the road to full self-government; others are not. Some are relatively well endowed with natural resources and are now capable of fairly rapid economic development; others are faced with the dark prospect of an increasing population outstripping the means of subsistence.

I speak as one who for many years was chairman of the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. My predecessor was the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, who spoke earlier with his usual wisdom, and with whom for many years I was always proud to work in a noble cause. I hope that it follows from what I have said that awareness of the Commonwealth and its potential in a still greatly troubled world is vital to our people.

That brings me to draw your Lordships' attention to a matter which should be of great concern to Parliament, and now appears to be of growing concern outside; namely, the announcement last September—I hope that it will not matter that in this context I sound a little critical—that the Government would 'withdraw their funding of the Commonwealth Institute in London in March 1996. That was despite the recommendation in the Government's own review last year, led by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, who spoke with such distinction earlier, that the institute has an important role to play as, a significant demonstration of the Government's commitment to the idea of the Commonwealth". The noble Lord recommended that it should remain open.

There is every possible objection to the Government's proposal, and, rightly, it has provoked considerable opposition. I shall not go into detail about the institute's contribution to teaching young people about the Commonwealth, both at the institute and in the schools, save to say that it is formidable. It has been highly praised by educationists all over the country. Last year the institute was the winner of the prestigious Gulbenkian Award for the most imaginative contribution to education work.

There is no need for any of us here to speak of the work of the CPA, which maintains close links, as we all know, with parliamentarians from all over the Commonwealth, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, reminded us at the outset of his excellent opening speech.

I feel strongly about the Government's decision to withdraw funding from the Commonwealth Institute, and I hope that my noble friend will take note and that there will be second thoughts.

6.50 p.m.

Lord Acton

My Lords, I too wish to congratulate the maiden speakers on their splendid contributions. I am especially indebted to my noble friend Lord Waverley for introducing the debate for I am a child of the Commonwealth. I was brought up in what was Southern Rhodesia and later lived for some years in independent Zimbabwe. I have reason to have great gratitude to the Commonwealth because of the part that it played by ending the terrible civil war in that country and by bringing it to independence.

During the interim period in early 1980, when the late Lord Soames was Governor of Rhodesia, had some dealings concerning that country with Chief Anyaoku who was then Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General and is now, of course, Commonwealth Secretary-General. I am delighted to have this opportunity to pay tribute to Chief Anyaoku's courtesy, kindness and wisdom.

Since South Africa left the Commonwealth 33 years ago, my noble kinsman Lord Cranborne and I have not always seen eye to eye about every single development in southern Africa. However, today I am confident that, along with other noble Lords, we are united in rejoicing at the prospect of South Africa returning to the Commonwealth.

The new era in South African history will bring new problems. A permanent constitution has yet to be negotiated and it may well be that the Commonwealth will be able to help in resolving the amount of power which the provinces should have in future. Externally, an important priority for South Africa will be its relations with other countries in the region. Undoubtedly, it will join the Southern African Development Community—SADC—which the Commonwealth played a major part in founding. Indeed, the Commonwealth continues to provide considerable assistance to the SADC secretariat.

The 10 countries of SADC—eight from the Commonwealth together with Angola and Mozambique —will welcome South Africa's partnership. Doubtless the Commonwealth can help diplomatically to ensure that that partnership does not become domination.

As many other noble Lords have said, for many years white minority rule in southern Africa has been a major preoccupation. The dawn of majority rule in South Africa makes this a good time at which to take stock of the Commonwealth and look to its future. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, to some extent the Commonwealth glues together a large number of countries across the globe. In the dangerous world which has developed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, such glue is an invaluable commodity.

The report of the Secretary-General in 1993 shows the astonishingly heavy and wide burden that Ministers impose on the secretariat. I wish to pick out three areas which I suggest should form the nucleus of the future endeavours of the Commonwealth.

The first area is political. In the spirit of the Harare Declaration of 1991, the Commonwealth has sent observers to monitor multi-party elections in Zambia, the Seychelles, Guyana, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Pakistan and now South Africa. In addition, the Secretary-General has sent missions in advance of elections to provide advice and expertise in various areas of law and electoral procedures. After elections, the Commonwealth is well aware of the danger of one-day democracy. Therefore, it follows up elections with technical assistance in constitutional and electoral reform and the strengthening of electoral commissions. That vital democratic work will continue as more countries move to democracy. For example, the Commonwealth should soon be monitoring elections in Malawi.

The second area is economic management. I stress the example of the Commonwealth Secretariat's debt-recording and management system. This is a computerised system developed in response to the debt crisis during the 1980s. It has proved a brilliant success. This month Swaziland and Lesotho have become the two most recent of no less than 36 Commonwealth countries to be trained in and use the system. Fiji, Laos, Mozambique, Thailand, and Bulgaria have also installed this brain-child of the Commonwealth, and several eastern European and French West African countries are likely to do so soon.

The third area lies with trade and following up the Uruguay Round of GATT. The Commonwealth worked hard to get the Uruguay Round accepted. Now that it has been, small Commonwealth countries without the necessary legal expertise will need Commonwealth assistance in modifying their laws to conform with the changes in GATT. The Commonwealth can also help them in identifying new markets for their products as a result of the Uruguay Round.

Those who think the Commonwealth is a fading organisation should think again. Cameroon has applied to join and South Africa is expected to apply. Fiji appears to want to return and Mozambique has indicated it may seek to join. Countries do not join dying clubs. This one is thriving.

Some people think the Commonwealth should be a sort of competitor to the United Nations, operating on a very wide basis and adopting the old Avis commercial slogan, "We're smaller, so we have to try harder."

I believe that the Commonwealth should identify narrower goals, including the political, economic management, and trade areas that I have outlined. Thus, I believe that the Commonwealth slogan should become, "We're smaller, so in those things we select to do, we are even more successful."

6.56 p.m.

Lord Shaughnessy

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lord Waverley for providing us with this opportunity to discuss what to many of us is a most important subject, particularly in view of recent developments and the prospect of future opportunities.

I have said before in a previous debate that we have devoted little time in the deliberations of this House to the affairs of the Commonwealth in recent years. Happily, that condition was put right two-and-a-half years ago when my noble friend Lord Greenhill of Harrow moved a Motion on the future of the Commonwealth. But prior to that debate, there had not been a general discussion of Commonwealth affairs in this House since 1975, when my noble friend, the late Lord Garner, who spent a considerable part of his life serving the Commonwealth, initiated a debate on the value of the Commonwealth, shortly after the referendum reaffirming Britain's decision to join the European Community.

It is perhaps worthy of note that at that time the Commonwealth comprised 34 member states. Perhaps, also, it has been the natural preoccupation with European affairs that has inhibited more discussion of Commonwealth affairs in the interim. But that condition has certainly been corrected today and we have had a splendid number of excellent speeches on the subject.

In the debate nearly 10 years ago, Lord Garner postulated the view that despite Britain's entry into Europe, there was no reason that it should stand in the way of our Commonwealth relationship. He was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, who said that he saw nothing incompatible between British membership of the European Community and British partnership in the Commonwealth. I believe that those predictions of those far-sighted statesmen have been amply justified, as the noble Lord, Lord Craig, pointed out.

Despite the optimism of those of us who are champions of the Commonwealth, it would be idle to deny that it has had its problems. The departure of South Africa in March 1961 was a regrettable but inevitable event in view of the abhorrence of the apartheid regime by the large majority of member countries. But, as the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, said, in the intervening years, both individually and collectively, significant efforts were made at heads of government meetings, and otherwise, to bring about the abolition of apartheid. Much of that activity was more or less "off stage" and received no general public attention; but I think it is fair to say, as indeed other speakers have, that the influence of the Commonwealth exerted by individual members and through the Commonwealth Secretariat has had a clearly beneficial effect in bringing about the marvellous event that we are celebrating today as South Africans go to the polls in their first all-race election.

The work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has been mentioned by many speakers. Of course, the association is, indeed, the trade association of parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth. Apart from its role in monitoring elections, it provides an important focus in all 50 member countries for legislators to exchange information by means of parliamentary seminars and annual conferences which are invaluable to the improvement, extension and preservation of our democratic parliamentary system —not only at the national level but also at state and provincial level. In that connection, perhaps it is worth noting that the concept of a scrutiny committee on delegated legislation, which now exists in your Lordships' House, had its origin in a brief presented by members of the Australian Senate at the Commonwealth Conference on Delegated Legislation held in London in 1989.

I refer to those specific matters because, although members of that international organisation do not have —nor, indeed, was it ever intended that they should have—a distinct political cohesion, its members have demonstrated over the years that they share an amorphous and often totally pragmatic sort of democratic confraternity, at least enough to bring their leaders together every two years to exchange ideas and promote causes. On occasions, they differ. But whatever differences of opinion may develop, they all return in two years' time to go at it again. To me, that indicates a certain commitment to the continuation of the organisation.

However, as beautifully described by my noble friend Lord Charteris, the greatest commitment of all has been that of Her Majesty the Queen, whether in her capacity as head of state or head of the Commonwealth. Her dedication to the preservation of the ideal of an international family of nations and the support of other members of the Royal Family have been a pre-eminent factor in keeping the whole thing together. One only need read the reports of the recent visit of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh to the Caribbean to be smitten with the affection and respect that she enjoys in that region.

For those reasons, I believe it is fair to conclude, as the Motion begs, that the 'Commonwealth is alive and well and ready to meet new challenges.

7.4 p.m.

Lord Harlech

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Waverley for the invitation to contribute to this most interesting and, in my view, very important debate. The countries of the Commonwealth cover just under a quarter of the world's land mass and have just over a quarter of the world's population. Perhaps I may put that into perspective. The population of Commonwealth countries is about the same as the population of all non-Commonwealth countries in Africa, the United States, Europe, the former USSR and., indeed, in Europe and in Asia combined. It includes some of the largest and some of the smallest, some of the richest and some of the poorest and some of the most developed and some of the least developed countries on earth.

Despite that extraordinary diversity, the member states of the Commonwealth are bound together of their own free will and, as we have heard, are pledged under the Harare Commonwealth Declaration to democracy, the rule of law, good government and human rights; the promotion of equality for women; the provision of universal access to education; the promotion of sustainable development and the alleviation of poverty; action against disease and illegal drugs (which have all been mentioned by my noble friends); help for Commonwealth states; and support of the United Nations in the quest for international consensus on key issues of global importance, which is vital to the whole fabric of that voluntary arrangement. Those goals as set out in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration are important and a great force for good. I believe that they form a sound and civilised base upon which the further development and modernisation of the Commonwealth for its own benefit and that of all its members can be built.

Until now Britain, as a former imperialist power, has quite naturally been in a difficult position. Too much enthusiasm to be among the leaders and moulders of the Commonwealth could have been interpreted by other members as as a desire to return to its imperialist past; but too hesitant a support for the Commonwealth could be read as a rejection of old friends in favour of the European Community. I believe that the time is now right for us to put aside that shyness —guilt almost—and grasp the nettle.

I should like to touch very briefly on just two aspects of the Commonwealth—trade and the alleviation of poverty. Trade, by way of education and skills, is the life blood of this country and it was in the interests of trade, as well as for other political and security reasons, that many of us felt that our ties with Europe should become closer. Two world wars, with 60 million people dead in less than 30 years is not a good record. I have never believed that we should see trade in terms of either Europe or the Commonwealth; or, indeed, the rest of the world. We must make the most of our opportunity. Trade depends on contacts and links with other nations. In the Commonwealth all member states, including Britain, can take advantage of the unique links that history has provided.

In one sense, it is the infinite variety of the Commonwealth, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, that is of particular benefit to all its members, for it is the nature of successful trade that unlike deals with unlike. For example, if I produce eggs and my neighbour produces eggs, together we may well have a surplus. On the other hand, if I produce eggs and my neighbour produces sugar, with a little ingenuity we may indeed have meringues.

If I were to list the main exports of Commonwealth countries, excluding Britain, it would probably take me a week to do so. However, a list of some of the purely agricultural products of Commonwealth countries is impressive. I ask noble Lords to bear with me for a moment while I read an impressive list which will not take me a week. It includes arrowroot, avocado pears, barley, bananas, beef cattle, breadfruit, cabbages, canola, carrots, cassava, cashew nuts, cauliflowers, clove oil, cloves, cocoa, coconuts, coffee, copra, cotton, flax, flowers, fruit, goats, grapes, groundnuts, jute, lemons, lime juice, lime oil, maize, mangoes, marrows, millet, nutmeg, nuts, oats, oil palm, oil seeds, onions, oranges, peanuts, pineapples, potatoes, pulses, rice, rubber, sorghum, sea island cotton, sheep, sisal, spices, sugar cane, tarrow, tea, tobacco, tomatoes, tropical fruit, vanilla, wheat, wine and yams. That was precised by the way. All these things we need and they touch all of us every day. We can provide few of them ourselves. We must trade but trade must be fair if it is to create wealth in the interests of all. It must not be exploitative.

Fairness between the developed and the developing nations is essential if the world is to survive successfully some of the pressures that the next few decades will bring. Already 780 million people in the world have insufficient food. Three million children—by UNESCO's January 1994 figures —die each year of starvation and of diseases which would be survivable but for malnutrition. The world population doubles every 50 years.

Meanwhile the countries of Europe and North America, where 70 per cent. of the most productive farmland lies, pay their farmers not to grow food. By what right can we criticise those governments that allow tropical rain forests to be commercially exploited—we have every right to criticise them—when in the developed world we artificially, and some would say cynically, manipulate the world's food supply? Is that fair? Is it right? Can we not do better? Have I not explained the outputs of the Commonwealth countries?

The Commonwealth, like any other institution of course, must be prepared to adapt, change and redefine its role in a rapidly changing world. I believe it is in Britain's interests and that of the Commonwealth as a whole that we take an active and enthusiastic part in that process. However, the Commonwealth is unique. It provides an opportunity for problems such as those that I have touched upon to begin to be tackled. Their solution does not lie wholly within the Commonwealth itself, but what other organisation is better able to give a lead?

I believe that in the coming years dialogue and understanding between nations over the fundamental human issues of our globe and how we are to survive on this planet and make it work for us, as well as preserve it, will become more important than ever before. The Commonwealth is a central force for those issues. The chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation, Sir Richard Luce, made an interesting statement in The Times on 29th October 1993. He wrote: no one should underestimate what all this contact can do for greater understanding in a sorely troubled world. This is truly a people's Commonwealth—the value is unquantifiable and unsung but it is priceless". In conclusion, they say that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing properly. I believe that helping to define the role of the Commonwealth and our contribution to it is a job very well worth doing.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harlech, and I am very much of his persuasion that the job is worth doing and that we must try to help the Commonwealth take its rightful place in the future deliberations in the world. I begin by saying that I wish to join with all other speakers who have thanked the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this discussion. I also wish to thank the two maiden speakers for their splendid contributions today. Like everyone else I, too, look forward to hearing from them many times in the future.

I am afraid I cannot see the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in the Chamber. I worry whenever I cross swords with the noble Lord, as when we have lunch together I always lose the argument. The same is true of the noble Lord, Lord Elibank. The people that I come into contact with at Cambridge are all absolutely delighted with the idea of preventing wars by uniting Europe so that the people from the Commonwealth will not have to bleed to death on the battlefield to defend us. I believe the first thing we must do is to get the war situation under control in Europe as far as we can, as Europe has been a cesspit for wars. That is when the spirit of the Commonwealth can break out and, I hope, win hearts and minds everywhere.

I warn noble Lords that I wish to spend a few moments discussing three topics. The first is frankly concerned with nostalgia. The second concerns the success story of the Association of Commonwealth Universities. We have been hearing about education and I believe that it should be placed on record in Hansard what the Association of Commonwealth Universities has achieved. If I have time to reach my third point, I shall discuss a personal failure. I am sorry that I cannot see the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, at the moment but my personal failure was inspired by a speech which he gave to the Cross Benchers.

I wish to start by saying what a marvellous concept the Commonwealth was for so many of us at Oxford. Cecil Rhodes made his money and started his wonderful scholarship scheme. Incredibly mature young men came from all parts of the world, including, in my time, Germany and many came from America. Those young men were role models for leadership and role models for a part of the university's development which is, perhaps sadly, now less influential in forming the lives and attitudes of the young people who pass through our institutions of higher education.

I acknowledge that when I was an undergraduate at Oxford I was one in 2.000 young people of my age who received a university education. Now there are more university places. By contrast, a young man who gained a Rhodes scholarship constituted one person in 2 million. Of course those young men were remarkable people. I can think of—without bringing myself close to tears—the remarkable young men who influenced me through their examples of leadership when I was an undergraduate. I am not talking just of their leadership qualities on the rugby or cricket field. I was impressed by their orderly manner of conducting themselves. One such young man was a remarkable half blue ice hockey player at Exeter College named Robertson who became secretary to the Canadian Government. Another was a wonderful American called John Palmer who became the doyen of Yale University. He was a remarkable scholar of the English language.

When we are thinking of the Association of Commonwealth Universities, we must not forget the important impact of the Commonwealth and of Cecil Rhodes's great vision. That vision had an impact on many of us who were studying at university. The Rhodes Trust began in 1883. Thirty years later a group of people who were concerned with the Empire met in London. Over the years that group developed into the Association of Commonwealth Universities.

I asked the secretariat of the association to provide some facts and figures. It is a remarkable organisation. It covers 427 universities in 32 Commonwealth countries. They meet in the same spirit as the politicians meet. The organisation finds scholars both to come here and to go from here to the Commonwealth. It finds medical researchers. It finds ways and means of encouraging women in education across the Commonwealth. It is a rather sad reflection that we have only one lady speaker—the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton—in today's debate. There needs to be a greater role for women in the debate about how the Commonwealth can help in the future.

One of the most important functions of the association is its meetings. These are held every two-and-a-half years for vice-chancellors and executive heads and every five years for the universities generally. I have attended three quinquennial meetings. I attended one in Edinburgh, which was somewhat marred because apartheid was just beginning and the people from India, for example, were very cross with the British university staff for not taking off their academic gowns—and perhaps even their shoes—and marching through the streets of Edinburgh shouting "Down with apartheid". The British wanted a quieter approach to the subject. Now, years later, one can see that the quiet approach has produced an impressive victory in South Africa.

There was a great meeting in Perth, Western Australia. The theme of that meeting was the contribution of the universities to national development. That was very important to the universities in the developing countries. Last summer in Swansea the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn—who is sorry not to be here today—gave a splendid welcoming speech. The theme that we went at hammer and tongs was preserving the environment.

The universities touch upon many topics. One which I should like to mention in particular is the development of distance education. One of the problems in the developing countries is cost. Distance education provides a means of bringing the best lectures to everybody. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Perry, is not in his place because he is part of the world movement on this.

Perhaps I may finish with my failure. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, from the Cross-Benches told us about the most recent Commonwealth Conference in Cyprus. I was very much struck by the contribution that Her Majesty makes to the cohesion of the Commonwealth. I am jealous of the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, for having been involved in that at such close range.

I talked to my friends in the Association of Commonwealth Universities and asked whether each of the 427 universities could send a contribution—a piece of wood or metal—which we could put in an urn and send to Her Majesty as part of her 40th jubilee celebrations. Unfortunately, we were not able to do that. I still regret that the universities did not add some tangible sign of their appreciation of Her Majesty's remarkable service to the idea of the Commonwealth to show that the young people feel that way.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Slynn of Hadley

My Lords, a long-standing engagement of a committee of your Lordships' House which I chair to hear evidence from witnesses from abroad made it impossible for me to be here during the whole of the debate. I regret particularly that I was not present for the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, and the noble Earl, Lord Courtown. Nevertheless, I feel that it is not inappropriate that a member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council should say something in a debate about the Commonwealth.

The debate has already shown that the Commonwealth has many strengths. Not the least of those strengths, indeed, apart from the personal role and dedication of Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, perhaps one of the greatest and most enduring strengths of the Commonwealth, has been the fact that so many of its members share the common law. Those of us who believe that one of Britain's most important actions in the past was the introduction of the common law into many areas of the world do not exaggerate. I am still moved by an inscription in a book given to me by an Indian Supreme Court judge who wrote after my name: whose country has given India its most precious possession, the rule of law". The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, who introduced this excellent debate, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referred to the importance of the common law as a feature of the Commonwealth. I seek to stress the reality of the Commonwealth from the point of view of the lawyer.

Initially this was largely a one-way traffic, decisions of the courts of this country being followed by courts in other Commonwealth countries and the legislation here being modified but followed in those countries. That position has now radically changed. The change constitutes one of the strengths of the Commonwealth. There is now a remarkable cross-fertilisation of ideas between judges of the higher courts of all of the Commonwealth countries. Today decisions of the courts of Australia, New Zealand and India —and, in view of the hopes expressed today by your Lordships, I add South Africa—are frequently cited to the Judicial Committee of your Lordships' House and the Court of Appeal. We do not follow each other blindly, but we have learnt a great deal from each other and we have much to learn.

It is not only judicial decisions, the decisions of the courts which have contributed to this factor. In recent years there have been extensive exchanges between lawyers of the Commonwealth countries, through lectures and through writing. Occasionally British judges go out to Commonwealth countries and, increasingly, their judges come here. In recent months the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Presidents of the Courts of Appeal of New Zealand and New South Wales and a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada have participated in lecture programmes in this country. Again, it is not only the judges, but practising lawyers and academic lawyers are also actively engaged across the Commonwealth in the development of the common law as applied throughout the Commonwealth.

I recall a minute of a meeting of the law faculty at Cambridge last week. That minute records the names of five professors of law. It struck me this morning that two were Australian, one was a New Zealander and the other two were from South Africa.

The Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London runs courses for young Commonwealth lawyers and government legal advisers to strengthen links between the legal professions and legal services of the Commonwealth. The Nuffield Fund for Commonwealth Fellows at that institute and the Nehru scholarships from India at Cambridge do much to strengthen and spread the ideas and development of the common law.

All of these lawyers come together in the Commonwealth Law Conference, which is a splendid forum in which that process may develop. At a law conference of the Commonwealth in Jamaica I remember the remarkable vitality of the discussion and the warmth of comradeship which existed.

However, at the pinnacle comes the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. At one time its jurisdiction was very extensive. In 1930 Norman Bentwich could write that, the sphere of jurisdiction in the Privy Council now encloses more than one quarter of the world". The extent quantitatively has diminished and many of the major countries have abolished appeals; but appeals still come to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council from a significant number of the Commonwealth countries. The opinions of the Judicial Committee—they are in the form of advice to Her Majesty in Council—have particular relevance to the developing jurisprudence even of those countries which do not allow appeals to the Judicial Committee. In some 60 appeals a year, a wide range of subjects, ranging from important constitutional matters down to issues involving landlords and tenants of modest property are considered by the Judicial Committee.

One may ask oneself the question. Does the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have a real role and a real future? One development indicates in part the answer. Some of the Commonwealth countries which after independence became republics could not continue to appeal to Her Majesty in Council. They decided to retain the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council as a final court of appeal whether as of right or by leave. During the Recess I spoke at a conference on constitutional changes in islands in the Indian Ocean. I was very surprised by the interest of people who came from countries not in the Commonwealth in the role and function of the Privy Council. Certainly lawyers, judges, the chief justice and his colleagues who were there from Mauritius gave every indication that they found its existence useful and valuable.

The Judicial Committee provides a Supreme Court which is detached from the detail of local issues in which sometimes feelings may run high. It is a court with wide experience of the common law both here and in other Commonwealth countries. Its decision gives a cohesion, a uniformity, in matters of law which are common to the whole of the Commonwealth. It is a valuable feature of that committee that Privy Counsellors from other Commonwealth countries from time to time sit on the committee.

Finally, there is a new development which it is right to mention. Many of the Commonwealth countries have adopted written constitutions which include parts of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Judicial Committee has been much exercised with the interpretation and application of those written constitutions. I believe that its decisions have had a far reaching and important effect. It is only necessary to refer to our recent advice to Her Majesty in Council that it was inhuman punishment and treatment to keep persons on death row for long years and then to hang them. I believe that that advice will be looked at in states even outside the Commonwealth where executions are long delayed.

I believe that the role of the Commonwealth so far as concerns the law is today of great importance. Its future is inevitably subject to change but it is capable of being important in the future. I see the common law as the cement of the structure of the Commonwealth. The common law is enriched and developed by the contact which now exists between all kinds and conditions of lawyers. Long may it flourish.

7.34 p.m.

Lord Cheshanit

My Lords, at this stage of the debate it is difficult to come up with anything new so I do not plan to talk for long. I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for braving the channels of your Lordships' House and moving the Motion before us today.

Having spent many years in the far reaches of the Commonwealth, I make no apology for my comments having a somewhat antipodean flavour. It is appropriate that the debate should be occurring two days after Anzac Day—the day of commemoration of the participation of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli (on the side of what was to become the Commonwealth) and of the service of the men and women of those two countries in subsequent confrontations, large and small, in support of the ideals of the Commonwealth; a day of reminiscence and thanksgiving.

It is important in the debate that we look at the Commonwealth not only from the British point of view but from the purview of how the Commonwealth is seen from other Commonwealth countries.

I should like to clarify that I have absolutely no intention of addressing the republican issue in Australia, and now in New Zealand, which has been used as a politically expedient trick to divert minds away from real issues in those countries and which are in any case for those countries to determine individually. In Australia, which has a written constitution only capable of amendment by referendum, Her Majesty is Queen of Australia. This, therefore, has little relevance to the Commonwealth issue. In any case a number of members of the Commonwealth are republics, as has been frequently mentioned, and they are all happy that Her Majesty should be head, in which role she does such a wonderful job.

The extent of self-congratulation that we have heard in your Lordships' House today about the achievements of the Commonwealth glosses over the necessity for revitalisation of the institution in the public mind both in this country and in other Commonwealth countries. There are indeed misconceptions as to what are the role and activities of the Commonwealth. Steps must be taken for people to learn about the activities of the Commonwealth and what it means if it is to continue.

Other than the Commonwealth Games (which I am amazed have not been mentioned yet today but which give sports-mad Australians their best chance of seeing their athletes winning more medals than in the Olympics or world events, as also applies to other Commonwealth countries) I believe that most Australians today consider the Commonwealth anachronistic and of little value. I know that Australians are renowned for having chips on their shoulders, and at times it is difficult to understand their attitudes. However, who decided to call Commonwealth passport holders aliens? Who decided to align its trade with near neighbours to the detriment of its traditional trading partners? Who restricted the free movement of Commonwealth citizens within its borders and then gave rights of free admission and residence to some 200 million non-Commonwealth citizens? It is totally wrong to dismiss the effect of Britain joining Europe.

The demise of the Commonwealth in its traditional role of trade and immigration—again, that has not been referred to today—is clearly placed at Britain's door 'via the European treaties. I am actively pro-Europe and do not believe that we had arty option other than to join Europe. But, equally, I believe that we should understand our responsibility for the diminution in the perceived value of the Commonwealth in other Commonwealth countries. If there is to be any of the traditional role of the Commonwealth in trade or immigration I do not see how there can be a role for Britain in the Commonwealth, bearing in mind its obligations elsewhere.

I see a role for a revamped Commonwealth. I believe it important for all members that that role should continue. We must enable the average person to understand what the Commonwealth stands for. Perhaps we should look for a new name for the Commonwealth and relaunch it, as it was launched years ago.

7.39 p.m.

Baroness Wharton

My Lords, I too would like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this debate on the role of the Commonwealth today. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, that as one of the last speakers in the debate I find it extremely difficult to come up with something new, so I shall be brief. I apologise for being slightly repetitious at times.

Many of us in this country find it difficult to describe exactly what the Commonwealth stands for, yet its membership keeps growing. In 1944 when the Commonwealth was founded, it had five members. Now it has up to 50 member countries, the most recent being Namibia. Soon South Africa will be making its application to rejoin. The Cameroon is on hold until the next Commonwealth heads of government meeting in 1995. Former Portuguese colonies Mozambique and Angola and also Eritrea are knocking at the door. As the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and others have already said, more than a quarter of the world's population live in the Commonwealth, amounting to in excess of 1½ billion people. Twenty-four members have a population of less than 1 million each, while India, the largest member, has 832 million people. In its nearly 50-year history, only three countries have left; namely, South Africa in 1961, Pakistan in 1972, and Fiji in 1987. Pakistan has returned to the fold and I very much hope that South Africa will do so shortly.

One of the Commonwealth's strengths is its capacity to understand and grapple with the issue of diversity. That is a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. This is a paradox in a post-Cold War world, where many countries have been split on ethnic issues while other countries have committed themselves to setting enforceable international political standards. The international community's failure in Bosnia and Somalia should not obscure the fact that the world is moving inexorably towards a role as an international policeman, even if its present operational arm, the United Nations, is currently confused and erratic. Many believe that the Commonwealth could play a decisive role in the reform of the UN. A Commonwealth expert, Derek Ingram, was quoted recently as saying that major changes to the structure of the UN and the fundamental thinking about its response to conflict and the limits to sovereignty have to be faced sooner rather than later. He firmly believes that the Commonwealth could play this decisive role.

Although the Commonwealth suffers a poor image among many in Britain who consider it to be a relic of the empire, its popularity remains strong in Africa where poverty and isolation have led some countries to seek membership of a club which has influence. Some Commonwealth officials have said that a connection with the Crown is no longer a necessity, the only requirement being that the applicant member speaks English and that minimum standards of democracy are observed. As noble Lords have already mentioned, a central unifying issue over the past three decades has been a joint commitment to put pressure on South Africa to bring the country to non-racial democracy. I join the many who are delighted that today marks the day when at last free and fair elections are taking place in that country. Under the stewardship of the Secretary-General, the Commonwealth is continuing to play a vital role by providing observers to this election.

I have a particular interest in South Africa as I spent my youth there and still have many friends in the Cape. I hope that the Commonwealth will continue to play an important role in the new South Africa, where clearly the expectations of the majority for improved education, housing, health care and employment are extremely high. In 1976 education was made compulsory for white, coloured and Asian children from the ages of 7 to 16. However, for black children the ages ranged from seven to only 11. So it is not surprising that there is a high illiteracy rate among that group. There is a great deal of catching up to do in order to improve employment prospects for the future. I have to admit that I have some reservations as to whether, in the short term, these expectations can be met. But it is encouraging that a joint Commonwealth and United Nations conference will soon be held in South Africa on management and skills training.

With its sound and developed infrastructure, the success of South Africa, economically, politically and socially, will clearly play an important and vital role with regard to the prosperity and success for the recovery of the rest of Africa, which over the years has been savaged by civil war and famine. South Africa has much to gain by renewing her membership to our Commonwealth of Nations and by the same token she has much to offer the other 16 members of the African continent.

There have been many speakers in the debate. I accept that much of what I have said has already been covered by other noble Lords. But I should like to conclude by saying that I believe that the Commonwealth is a force for good, and long may it remain so. I look forward to the Minister's assurance of our continued support.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, I am glad to have the privilege of following the only noble Baroness who has contributed to our debate. We are grateful to her. Perhaps I may add my thanks to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, for introducing this extremely useful debate after a long gap. As the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, said, 1990 was the last occasion of such a debate and there was an even longer gap before that. It is extremely timely that the debate should take place on this historic day. I was much impressed by the clarity and comprehensiveness with which the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, sketched the outline of what the Commonwealth is today and what it is not.

I also wish to add my tributes to our two maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Wright and the noble Earl, Lord Courtown. The former struck a note which has been common to most of the contributions this evening: the critical change that is taking place today with the emergence of a pluralist democratic South Africa. To my mind, it holds out the potential of changing the character of the political consultations of the Commonwealth in the years ahead. It seems to me that this is a necessary and overdue change.

The noble Lord, Lord Wright, referred to the three misconceptions about the nature of the Commonwealth. Those have been fed to some extent by the negative nature of much of the proceedings at the top level of consultations. Those in turn have derived from the shadow of apartheid and the South African problem, with the UK quite wrongly being regarded as the Aunt Sally. That has poisoned the whole atmosphere. We have now emerged from that and we can achieve a new, freer kind of relationship with our partners without any of those misconceived stigmata.

Before turning to the possibilities for the future, I wish to add my congratulations to the Commonwealth secretariat, and in particular our distinguished Secretary-General, who has made a personal contribution of a quite exceptional kind. I took the precaution of going to Marlborough House a month ago, with this debate in view. After nearly 40 years at the coal face of the conduct of Commonwealth relations in every different continent, I was literally amazed by the extent of the network of projects that have grown up under the secretariat's auspices in the past 20 or 30 years.

I do not suppose that many noble Lords have had the advantage that I have had as a result of my visit, of seeing the last report of the Secretary-General. It is an amazing document. But beneath the scale of the whole thing there lies what is to me the great asset of its having been conducted with a very low profile. That is important. It is important that the secretariat should remain a low profile affair. When it was set up, we in the Commonwealth Office hoped that it would be a useful, practical, pragmatic, low profile organisation. Consequently, it has had very extraordinary practical results. But that does not mean to say that the Commonwealth should have a low profile. I endorse very strongly what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, and other noble Lords have said; namely, that the time has now come for a more active political profile for the Commonwealth. One of the reasons why there has been such denigration and running down of the Commonwealth in the media is, I believe, because certain problems have dogged the high level consultations, especially at the heads of government meetings.

For many years—partly of course because of the shadow of South Africa—the heads of government meetings have had relatively little practical political impact, except in authorising and baptising what the secretariat has prepared and asked for authority to carry out. There are structural reasons for the relative failure of the political impact of those meetings, and for (let us face it) the derision that they have tended to attract. That derives from the inflation of the number of members of the Commonwealth.

The noble Baroness took us back at the start of her speech to the days when there were only five members of the Commonwealth. I remember taking part as a humble assistant to the Cabinet Secretary in the secretariat at one such meeting. The essence of the occasion was free and frank discussion, the free exchange of views. You cannot have that sort of thing in an assembly of 50 heads of government, with 50 or more officials milling round in the background. That is a parliament; it is not an intimate, free exchange. How can we get back, how can we restore, something of that extremely valuable asset that those small meetings used to have? They were a reality.

In 1990, in a debate in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, reminded us that there was reality in the discussions in those days; and there is an element of unreality in the recent discussions of heads of government. How do we get back to that? We need a restructuring. I suggest—and others will have their views—that we should set up a small inner group, a steering committee, which would meet for a day before all the other members arrived, consisting of the original older members and India, Pakistan, perhaps Nigeria, perhaps Malaysia, and perhaps one rotating member from the smaller countries. Let the substantial members of our group again have a small round table meeting where they can have a really frank discussion. Such a meeting would introduce and steer the proceedings of the subsequent meetings.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, like all noble Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on having opened this debate with power and eloquence. It has proved to be an extremely fascinating and wide-ranging debate, with various different insights into the value of the Commonwealth and a variety of different ideas as to how the present situation might be improved—although I do not go along with the last contribution that was made. That idea is replete with difficulty and danger. But that is another matter.

During the course of the debate we have heard two former Commonwealth secretaries, a former permanent under-secretary, a head of the Diplomatic Service, a high commissioner, a former Father of the House of Commons, three noble Lords who have lived and worked in southern Africa and others from various parts of the Commonwealth. Not least, we had the very distinguished contribution from a Law Lord. We have had two quite remarkable maiden speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Wright, and the noble Earl, Lord Courtown. Very rightly, during the course of all that tributes were paid to the present Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. But it is also right that we should pay tribute to his very distinguished predecessor Sir Shridath Ramphal, who held office for so long and with great distinction.

This debate has given us the opportunity to reflect on the present and future role of the Commonwealth. We do that most particularly against the background of the extraordinary events that have taken place in South Africa. If we are looking for revitalisation—to use the word that was used by the noble Lord, Lord Chesham —it lies perhaps in the potential that the situation in South Africa will give to a specific role on the part of the Commonwealth.

We have witnessed a very remarkable collapse in a very short period of time of what seemed for so long to be an invincible regime which had debased a whole people, had disfigured the law in pursuit of the warped ambitions of those who believed in apartheid and had robbed the vast majority of people of dignity and self-respect. In its place we hope we shall see emerging a united nation, under the leadership, almost inevitably, of President Mandela—a man who spent 27 years in jail and whose return to the political scene has been marked by a quite extraordinary generosity of spirit towards those whose victim he had been. He has shown a determination to lead a new South Africa towards a peaceful and democratic future. I believe that to be little short of a miracle, even in an age of convulsive and miraculous political change such as we have witnessed in Europe and elsewhere.

While one cannot deny the immensity of the problems that confront the new South Africa—encapsulated not least in the horrendous, bestial acts of violence that we have seen over the past few days—today surely (a point which I think has been reflected in the debate here) we must all share in the rejoicing of the overwhelming majority, black and white, who are determined in their resolve to see a government of national unity, led by Mr. Mandela but with (up to now, and still) President de Klerk standing by his side. It will be a government who seek to consign the malignity of apartheid to the dustbin of history where it appropriately belongs.

Inevitably, some of today's euphoria will pass. Regrettably, I fear that some violence will almost certainly continue at the cost of more lives and dreadful injury. Overcrowding, intolerable housing conditions, dreadful levels of unemployment, food shortages, child malnutrition and many other health problems will continue to scar life in the townships. Wholly inadequate health care, waste disposal and other environmental hazards will continue to blight those township dwellers. They will still have to walk miles to work and work unacceptable hours for low wages in poor conditions. That will go on today, tomorrow, the day afterwards and the following weeks—even perhaps for some years ahead. No doubt that may be accompanied by even more violence as part of the display of crude suspicions that still exist. Expectations of swift rescue from all those horrendous situations will not and cannot be fulfilled with ease. It is possible that some disillusion could follow. I fear that those are certain political realities.

But today there is a new quality and a new element in the lives of those who have suffered so much for so long. There is a new measure of hope. Hope existed before, often amid some disbelief, but it is now freshly and excitingly kindled. There is a belief that the problems, difficult though they may be, can be tackled if the spirit of today can linger on.

I believe that the Commonwealth is able to play a large part in enabling South Africa to achieve its potential for sustainable growth and pursue democratic values for the first time. I also believe, as the noble Lords, Lord St. John of Bletso and Lord Alport, said, that Britain has a pivotal role. But, in order to fulfil that role, we have the job of building up new relationships and new confidence. We have to display that we are capable of learning from the mistakes of the past.

Too easily too many in this country, in business and in politics, adopted the comfortable illusion that the evil system of apartheid would disappear if only economic growth somehow or other could be sustained, although it would perhaps take decades to effect such a radical change. So, under the government of Mrs. Thatcher, frequently the idea put forward by members of the Commonwealth and others that sanctions should be applied was resisted. Relatively minor concessions were applied, seeking to appease the force of world opinion.

Catastrophic misjudgments, compounded by deep prejudice, persuaded the British Government of that time to regard Chief Buthelezi as the answer to Mr. Mandela and the ANC. Indeed, there was even the vain hope, the ridiculous hope, that the ANC could be consigned to the sidelines. Let us remember the message given at the Commonwealth Conference in 1987 that the ANC was: a typical terrorist organisation … Anyone who thinks that the ANC is going to run the government in South Africa is living in Cloud-cuckoo-land". That was the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, in those days.

As we now know, the sanctions that she imposed played a decisive part in securing the radical changes that are now taking place. The virulence of the diseased germ of racism was underestimated and even ignored, as was the deep rumbling of discontent which was the thunder of the discontented masses of South Africa. Who, then, was living in cloud-cuckoo-land?

I believe that there is a change. Yesterday, I heard the Prime Minister, Mr. Major, in the other place asserting, with obvious pleasure, that South Africa was facing a new future—a real future of hope. I believe that he said that passionately and sincerely. I hope that it will be evidenced by a change of heart, which I think is true now, on the part of this country. But to help achieve change and open a new chapter in our relationship with the new South Africa, we have to recognise the failures of the past. We must now seek to play a prominent role in assembling positive support for South Africa, not least through the European Union and the Commonwealth.

Today, in the context of this debate, we must concentrate on the Commonwealth. I believe that it is a remarkable association. Together with all noble Lords, I hope that membership will soon be extended to and accepted by South Africa. But what aid programmes have been contemplated? What technical and technological help or economic and financial assistance are to be provided by the Government? I understand that the Government have plans in place in concert with other members of the Commonwealth. It would be as well to have that on record in the course of this debate. Are the Government satisfied with the adequacy of the funding of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation? How will the Government go about seeking to encourage inward investment from the United Kingdom into South Africa and increase trade with that country?

I turn briefly to some other issues which affect the Commonwealth. I have given notice to the Minister of some of the points that I want to make. In my judgment, and judging from most of the speeches that we have heard tonight, it is quite clear that the Commonwealth has a continuing value. It has gone through a history of decolonisation based largely on democratic principles. That point was made very effectively by my noble friend Lord Pitt. The strength of the influence of the Commonwealth is in its 1.5 billion people and 25 per cent. of the seats at the United Nations General Assembly. It has unparallelled links with the third world. I believe that it can play and has already played a crucial role in agreeing to and implementing the Lomé agreements with the European Community.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, poured scorn on the relationship between this country and the European Union. He said that it was incompatible with our role as a member of the Commonwealth. That view was echoed by others. I do not believe that to be the case. Not only are the Lomé agreements a complete counterclaim to that point; more emphatically—this was a point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn—the bonding that is provided by the law, by the cross-fertilization of judgments and the meetings that go on among lawyers in the Commonwealth, including judges, has been of extreme importance and will continue to be so.

Despite some warts, many countries see the Commonwealth as a source of real good. It enjoys real prestige, notably in Africa. Hence, there is a clear desire on the part of countries such as Angola, the Cameroons and Mozambique to follow the path of Namibia in seeking membership, albeit that none of them in the past was part of the British Empire. I should like to know from the Minister the current state of those applications.

Let me make a different point about Cyprus. So far, the Commonwealth and nobody else has succeeded in asserting the rights of Cyprus for independent sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity. United Nations' resolutions have been ignored and Turkish forces remain there. What is this country and the Commonwealth proposing to do to help to assert the rights of the Cypriots?

At the last Commonwealth meeting in 1993, the question of money laundering was raised. That matter was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Courtown. It was seen to be a threat to international financial systems. It was agreed that the Secretary-General and the appropriate Commonwealth Ministers should examine how best the 40 recommendations which were provided could be advanced by the Financial Action Task Force. What is happening? Also, what is happening about the idea that was then raised of an international criminal court? I believe it was mentioned at paragraph 46 of the recommendations.

Another point made by the same noble Lord in his maiden speech related to improved poverty alleviation measures associated with rural policies and programmes. I should like to hear from the Minister something about that also. I gave him specific notice of that point and I shall not embroider upon it now.

Little was said—though the noble Earl can be acquitted of any charge of that kind because he did refer to it—about the environment. That was another matter raised at the Commonwealth conference. In the wake of the Rio Conference it would be as well to know what the Government have in mind not only on their behalf, but also on what the Commonwealth is doing in that regard to embrace the ideas set up at that conference.

The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation needs to be adequately resourced. There have been severe cuts in the budget. Is there any plan to restore those cuts ? Educational opportunities in Britain can win friends and lead to business opportunities in the future—a point made with force by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, during the course of his contribution.

Finally, I want to say a word about the Commonwealth Institute. I do not need to go into the argument again. We heard it put with great force by the noble Lord, Lord Braine. But it is as well to note that already 28 members of staff were made redundant this year and a further 16 recently received notice of redundancy. Three employees on fixed term contracts have not had them renewed. That is serious news. Surely this is a time when, above all, that institute is needed. I hope therefore that the Government will review the position in the light of what has happened in South Africa.

It was a privilege to participate in the debate and I congratulate once again the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, on making it possible for us to debate these matters today.

8.12 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, I found this evening's proceedings exceedingly interesting and valuable. Before I endeavour to answer as many of the points raised by your Lordships as time and your Lordships' patience will allow, perhaps I too may congratulate our two notable maiden speakers. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, even by the high standards of that great department of state, was an ornament to his position as Permanent Under-Secretary —a post he filled with the greatest of distinction. One only had to listen, as your Lordships did with the keenest attention, to what he had to say this afternoon to realise that he will be an equal ornament to your Lordships' House and we greatly look forward to hearing him on many future occasions. The patience of my noble friend Lord Courtown in sitting and listening to your Lordships for 15 years was a patience which was rather overdone, particularly in view of the remarkable contribution he made to our debate today. I too greatly look forward to listening to him over the coming weeks and not waiting another 15 years before he addresses your Lordships again.

Her Majesty's Government greatly welcomes this debate. I too congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, upon introducing it. I can only assume that his recent wedding has merely confirmed him in his attachment to the Commonwealth and I congratulate him on his good taste and political judgment.

I want to take this opportunity to reassure a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord St.John, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, and my noble friend Lord Gridley, in particular—of our unequivocal support for what the Commonwealth can and does do to contribute to comity between nations. The noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, spoke for the whole House when he acknowledged the important role that the Commonwealth played. I am glad to find that all your Lordships agreed. I am grateful too for the opportunity to amplify to this House the ways in which we in the Government believe that the Commonwealth can best continue to do so in the future.

At this point I want particularly to support the noble Viscount in what he said regarding the priority that the Commonwealth can give to the needs of the smaller nations. I need not add in any way to what he said or., indeed, to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, in that regard. They seemed to me to more than fully cover the point. I want to emphasise also the point made with his unique authority by the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, regarding the contribution of the Queen to the Commonwealth. It would clearly not be the institution it is today without her dedication. I know that that is appreciated by all other Commonwealth countries and I am delighted to find that from all parts of your Lordships' House appropriate tributes were paid to Her Majesty.

As a number of noble Lords observed, we last debated the Commonwealth in this House in 1990. As was observed also, the Prime Ministers' conferences in Harare in 1991 and in Limassol, Cyprus, last October redressed the balance of Commonwealth activity from a disproportionate preoccupation with South Africa and sanctions towards assisting accountable government throughout the Commonwealth. Naturally we greatly welcome that change. It shows how the Commonwealth has adapted and can adapt. I was delighted that so many noble Lords stressed the importance of that ability to adapt as a characteristic fundamental to the continued existence of the Commonwealth. I suggest that it is a quality that has been one of the Commonwealth's hallmarks since 1947, when it adopted its modern form to allow India as a republic to join. Naturally, too, I agree wholly with what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and my noble friend Lord Braine said: that to be effective and useful the Commonwealth needs first to live up to its own principles. There are exceptions but, by and large, that is what it is increasingly now doing.

I was particularly interested by the account given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn of Hadley, of the activities of the Judicial Committee and the important part it still plays, and the remarks of my noble friend Lord Beloff regarding legal traditions, which were entirely complementary to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Slynn, said. Surely, too, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Shaughnessy, and others about the activities of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association are also complementary in this regard, for the CPA is a vital part of the machinery for keeping those traditions in the order in which they deserve to be kept.

I took careful note of the observations made by noble Lords in their speeches and shall endeavour to come to them a little later. If I may, I should like to tell noble Lords a little of what we in Her Majesty's Government are contributing both to collective Commonwealth endeavours and to individual Commonwealth countries. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, and to my noble friends Lord Courtown and Lord Selkirk that we are doing fully our fair share. I was particularly grateful in that regard to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that he considered that the Commonwealth expenditure is wholly cost effective. From such a distinguished economist that is a judgment on which we can surely rely.

We are the largest contributor to the Commonwealth Secretariat and provide 30 per cent. of its funding. We also provide 30 per cent. of the funding for the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation—of which more anon—and that amounts to nearly £7 million a year. In fact, about 65 per cent. of our bilateral aid goes to Commonwealth countries. We provide over £14 million a year for Commonwealth scholarships. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong—who I know cannot be here this evening—will take note of that fact (as if he did not know it already). We contribute generously to the Commonwealth Foundation which funds Commonwealth professional and other nongovernmental organisations. We provide Marlborough House for the Commonwealth Secretariat, and noble Lords will have observed that it was recently renovated at considerable expense. We would like to do more, but it is right to point out that Commonwealth organisations and Commonwealth developing countries have a special place in our priorities. Nevertheless, I clearly hear the message from a number of noble Lords that the Commonwealth needs to evolve. And that, I am sure, it will do.

I should like to answer a number of the specific points put to me before I come to what perhaps has been the dominating theme of the debate today, and dominating for very understandable reasons. I refer to the question of South Africa. If I do not have time to cover all the matters raised, I hope noble Lords will forgive me and will allow me to write to them.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked me about new applicants. Cameroon has applied. The application is so far on hold. Mozambique and Angola have not applied. Their applications have been talked about. As your Lordships will know, whether to apply for membership of the Commonwealth is entirely a matter for the countries concerned. Equally, of course, it is for the Commonwealth collectively to decide whether they should be allowed to join.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, also asked about Cyprus. I could speak at some length on this tedious, I sometimes feel, but extremely important subject—tedious only because it has been going on for such a long time. The package of confidence-building measures proposed by the United Nations Secretary General which is currently the subject of talks in Cyprus would bring important benefits to both communities. Both sides have accepted the package in principle. The Greek Cypriot leader, President Clerides, has accepted the United Nations proposals for implementing the package. Unfortunately, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Denktash, continues to have objections to certain aspects of the United Nations plan. We have urged him to adopt a more constructive approach to the negotiations and indeed have urged the Turkish Government to press Mr. Denktash to the same effect. The Secretary General is due to report to the Security Council of the United Nations at the end of this month. At that stage the Council will have to decide how to proceed. If the Turkish Cypriot side has continued to object to the United Nations plan, the Security Council will have to consider alternative ways of ensuring the implementation of the United Nations resolutions on Cyprus. However, in the context of this debate, your Lordships will also remember that all Cypriots are members of the Commonwealth, on whichever side of the green line they happen to live. That may be of some help in the context of the negotiations to which I have referred.

The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and my noble friend Lord Courtown asked me about money laundering. This important question was covered at the recent Commonwealth heads of government meeting. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister launched a major initiative to encourage all Commonwealth members to take steps to criminalise money laundering and to protect their banking and financial sectors. We have been greatly encouraged by the response. Heads of government at the meeting agreed to work towards implementation of the 40 recommendations of the financial action task force, which was set up by the G7 summit as long ago as 1989. I believe that the Commonwealth, particularly through the Secretariat's commercial crime unit, is ideally placed to advance this work and naturally we are working extremely closely with it.

The international criminal court was discussed at the Limassol meeting and, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, observed, was covered in paragraph 46 of the communiqué. We believe it is a good idea in principle. The United Nations is looking at what I am told is called in the trade the modalities of this. I think your Lordships will agree that we need to proceed by general agreement if it is to work. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, agrees.

I should like to confirm Her Majesty's Government's continuing support for the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation. In the financial year 1994–95 we expect to make a similar contribution to that made in 1993–94, which amounted to some £6.2 million. At this stage we cannot make any commitments about future years but I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that there appears to be no question of additional funds at the moment. Perhaps I may emphasise to your Lordships that the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation should demonstrate that its programmes give value for money. I suspect that some redefinition of existing priorities may be needed. Nevertheless, we enormously value the work of the Commonwealth Youth Programme and we commend the new strategies for addressing youth problems in economic, political and cultural areas that they contain.

The noble Lords., Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Pitt, mentioned the question of poverty alleviation. I should like to confirm that the reduction of poverty is central to the purpose of our overseas aid in low income countries. All our priority objectives are therefore concerned with poverty reduction. In 1992–93 some £58 million, or 10 per cent. of our bilateral aid, was targeted on direct poverty reduction. That figure rises to more than 25 per cent. if humanitarian assistance is included as well. If one includes the indirect effects of all our aid, much more than that figure is implicated in this area. It is important that governments should include poverty reduction measures in their planning. We have been helping with the development of social policies in a number of Commonwealth countries, including Ghana, Malawi and Tanzania, to give just three examples.

I was particularly pleased, if only in my capacity as the Ministry of Defence's green Minister, that my noble friend Lord Courtown and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, mentioned the environment. The United Kingdom is committed to global environmental assistance. That has been evidenced by our contribution of £130 million to the global environment facility and of £27 million to the Montreal Protocol fund to help developing countries reduce CFCs. The United Kingdom is also working closely with other Commonwealth countries on environmental issues. Perhaps I may give two examples. First, we have the forest management agreement with Malaysia. Secondly, we have made a £60 million grant to India for energy efficiency and pollution control and there are some environmental forestry projects as well. Perhaps it is also worth mentioning, in view of the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, on this matter, that the United Kingdom is taking part in negotiations for a convention on desertification as well.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, my noble friend Lord Braine, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, and, particularly in view of his involvement in the matter, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, mentioned the question of the Commonwealth Institute.I must emphasise that Her Majesty's Government emphatically do not want to see the institute close. The decision to withdraw our grant-in-aid after March 1996 was taken with great reluctance against a tight Foreign and Commonwealth Office budget. What we want to see is the institute using the fine building in Kensington High Street, which was provided by the Government, to continue to promote the Commonwealth, but drawing after 1996 on non-government funds to do it. I know that many of the institute's supporters feel that its facilities and programmes could still have a useful function. The Foreign Office is giving the institute a full grant for the next two financial years to enable the institute to develop its relaunch programme. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for his description of the way it is responding to what is a difficult challenge and I am only sorry that my answer will disappoint so many of your Lordships who have lobbied so hard and so passionately for what I know is an important institution.

A number of noble Lords also mentioned the question of trade. My noble kinsmen Lord! Acton and Lord Harlech made extraordinarily interesting speeches in which they made powerful points on this subject. It is worth mentioning rather than boring your Lordships more than I usually do on what is a highly complex and difficult subject, that, as my noble kinsman Lord Harlech said in his inimitable way, many Commonwealth countries are net agricultural exporters so that they will benefit from the greater stability in world markets for food and agricultural products which will flow from the completion of the Uruguay Round. I underline the statement of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, that the developing world earns three times as much from trade as from aid. Therefore developing countries in the Commonwealth will also benefit from the boost to world trade that the Uruguay Round will bring.

I was also extremely interested in the remarks of my noble friend Lord Alport and his suggestion for regional conferences. As I am sure he knows, such conferences have been tried in the past. They may be worth reviving. Perhaps the heads of government could discuss his suggestion at their meeting in Auckland in November 1995.As regards the interesting idea of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, for a steering committee, I am not sure how popular it would be with other members of the Commonwealth. I am sure that he does not need me to remind him that senior officials meet every off-year to propose an agenda for the following year' s meeting. That may give him some comfort. Such a meeting might be an opportunity to perform the sort of work that the noble Lord suggested.

After a period when Rhodesia and South Africa distorted priorities, as many noble Lords have mentioned this evening, we see the Commonwealth as having reverted to its earlier and more rewarding character. My right honourable friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary put it extraordinarily well in his speech, "The Commonwealth and a Changing World", to the English Speaking Union last October. He said: It would be exceptionally stupid now to let the Commonwealth gather dust in a museum when there is a new task staring it in the face". I detect that a number of your Lordships probably agree pretty fully with those sentiments. My right honourable friend went on to say: good governance and democracy cannot be imposed by imperial means". No doubt he had in mind the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, when my right honourable friend said, Democracy must be home grown. But if we cannot impose democracy by imperial powers, we do need ways of persuading countries to live by democracy". I believe that the sentiments expressed by my right honourable friend are all characteristics of the Commonwealth and that is perhaps where its tasks for the 1990s could usefully lie.

I was particularly pleased by the tributes which a number of your Lordships made. I refer to my noble kinsman Lord Acton, the noble Lord, Lord Bottomley, and the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, in particular as regards the tributes which they paid to the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, whose diplomatic skills and strong sense of the value of the Commonwealth have been used to the benefit of a great many Commonwealth countries over the past four years. He has played a major part in putting the Commonwealth on to a new track. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, also acknowledged his contributions in that respect.

Nowhere can the Commonwealth make a greater impact than in Africa. Very understandably, a large number of your Lordships who have spoken this evening referred to the dramatic events which have been occurring over the past few days and which continue to occur in South Africa. They paid tribute to the contribution from your Lordships' House and the other place of observers of the election as part of the very large team of observers. There are over 100 official observers from the United Kingdom, including five Commonwealth and 20 parliamentary taking part in the international observation exercise. Naturally we hope that they and others will give the necessary support to the election process.

I was particularly struck by the remarks made by a number of your Lordships, particularly from the noble Lords, Lord Desai, Lord Thomson and Lord St. John of Bletso, about the capacity of South Africa to influence the development of sub-Saharan Africa to become the "economic motor" of the continent. That is a view to which I emphatically subscribe. It is for that reason that we have tried to target our aid so carefully. Here I come to the question which I was asked a little earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Our aid to South Africa is substantial and increasing. We spent £11.7 million last year and this could rise to £15 million this year. The United Kingdom share of EC aid under the positive measures programme amounts to about £11 million. This point was made by a number of noble Lords; namely, the projects were planned and implemented directly with community groups and non-government organisations.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wharton, that some 55 per cent. of our aid programme to South Africa is spent on education. We fund about 1,000 black South Africans on courses in the United Kingdom and in South Africa. We have projects as well in the fields of health, agriculture and small business development. Poverty reduction is a priority. I was particularly interested in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, about distance learning. We acknowledge that there is an increasingly important role for that, particularly in increasing education opportunities within the Commonwealth developing countries. We are considering future support, but we are not in a position to decide yet. I am sure that your Lordships' interest will have stimulated interest in what we have done.

Perhaps I may add a couple of points about South Africa. A number of your Lordships have emphasised the importance which they attach to South Africa rejoining the Commonwealth. I have no doubt whatever that an application from the new government to rejoin would be met with a willing and warm welcome. I hope that that application will not be long in coming. We greatly look forward to voting for the readmission of the new South Africa into the Commonwealth.

The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley, mentioned military assistance. At the moment we have seven military personnel, including a military coordinator and two policemen, with the Commonwealth peacekeeping advisory group. They are helping in training the national peacekeeping force. I hope that the best traditions and the fine achievements of the British Armed Forces will make a distinguished contribution to the introduction of new methods of government and management of armed forces in that country.

At the risk of appearing unduly in a sucking-up mode to my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, perhaps I may end by referring again to what he said in his speech last October. In particular I hope that the noble Lord, Lord St. John, and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, will agree with what my right honourable friend observed. He said that there are some who would dismiss the Commonwealth as a legacy of the past. He went on: I do not disagree with the description. But legacies from the past can often be strengths in the present. Britain—its people, its government, its companies—would not have a global view without that legacy. Nor would the Commonwealth have the potential to play its part in consolidating democracy in the world without its legacy of post-colonial friendship between nations who happen, by chance, to have shared histories". I believe that the warm approval which your Lordships have given this evening to the future health, prosperity and success of the Commonwealth in the developing and rapidly changing world in which we live, will give a great boost to all of us who are keen that the Commonwealth should not be consigned to the dustbin of history. For that reason I thank your Lordships very kindly for the contributions which you have made during the course of today's debate.

8.39 p.m.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, this has been a most informative debate and many interesting points have been raised. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have contributed and my colleagues on the Cross Benches, without whose support today's debate could not have taken place.

I should like to excuse myself for not summarising individual contributions, first because that has been admirably done by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, for which I thank them, but also in part because of the late hour. However, I should like to single out for praise the two excellent maiden speeches.

It was fitting that we in this House should have considered this important matter in such depth. It is without surprise that we have heard a broad consensus of support for the Commonwealth. It cannot be overlooked that much needs to be done, however. I trust that our friends around the world will consider what has been said here today and realise that we in Great Britain do care.

Her Majesty the Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth and symbol of free nations, whose guiding influence has matured the Commonwealth, identified in her Commonwealth Day message the essence of the matter: Our lives are a race we have to run. Sometimes the track is rough and, if we are running on our own, it can look like an impossible obstacle course, but by helping each other along we can make it an easier and fairer race … We can combine our resources and abilities to make life better for everyone. That is indeed a prize worth winning". I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.