HL Deb 01 November 1995 vol 566 cc1421-3

2.55 p.m.

Viscount Waverley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proposals they will table for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Auckland.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, no formal proposals have been tabled. However, the Commonwealth Secretary-General has proposed that the theme for the Heads of Government meeting in Auckland should be "Fulfilling the Harare Declaration". That should be considered under three headings: advancing Commonwealth fundamental political values; promoting sustainable development; and facilitating consensus building.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. The Commonwealth has gained an enviable reputation as a powerful tool for good. Given Britain's policy of matching secretariat contributions at 30 per cent., does the Minister accept that there is a double negative effect if contributors reduce their pledges? What can be done to encourage the new rich members of the Commonwealth to increase their contributions?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the Government pay 30 per cent. of the secretariat's assessed budget. The ODA contributes 30 per cent. towards the cost of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation, which is the aid wing of the Commonwealth secretariat.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will work with his fellow heads of government for practical proposals under each of those headings and in particular for Commonwealth support for enhanced co-operation between Commonwealth governments to promote good government in all member states.

I am sure that the noble Viscount will concede that the Commonwealth is not only about money.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the role of the UK in the Commonwealth conferences remains important? Will he tell your Lordships' House what action Her Majesty's Government will take in bilateral contacts at the Auckland meeting in order to persuade Gambia, Sierra Leone and, above all, the Government of Nigeria that continuing membership of the Commonwealth is consistent only with making real progress on the Harare Declaration?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, the Government are totally against any countries which are militarily directed. However, it is felt that there is a greater chance of improving government by assisting through the Commonwealth rather than by refusing such assistance.

Lord Callaghan of Cardiff

My Lords, I do not press the Minister for a substantive reply. However, will he convey to the Prime Minister that many of us believe that as regards Nigeria, a constructive proposal should be put forward rather than sitting back and doing nothing? A possible proposal could be to send a Commonwealth delegation—we sent such a delegation to South Africa some years ago—in order to seek to discuss with General Abacha the requirement that Nigeria should return to democratic rule and to proper civil rights within a lesser period than the three years now proposed.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that suggestion. I shall relay it to the Prime Minister.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will there be consideration at the Auckland summit of new members coming into the Commonwealth who have not hitherto had any connection with it? If that is so, will such membership involve accepting Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth? What will that entail; and what are the figures?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, we have received a number of applications from other countries for membership of the Commonwealth. We believe that the Commonwealth should contain only countries which have some historical link with either Britain or other Commonwealth countries; it is not a totally British preserve. If there is no historical link between that country and the Commonwealth, the matter will need careful consideration.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, reverting to the Minister's earlier supplementary answers regarding this Question, does he agree that the financial measures which the Government take in support of strengthening the Commonwealth are a fraction of the money that is wasted in the European Community?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, as regards Europe, we limited our contribution in Edinburgh, which was a great achievement.

Lord Judd

My Lords, the Minister has placed emphasis on the importance of shared values in the Commonwealth. Will he accept that for the Commonwealth to continue emphasising the importance of human rights while doing nothing effective about the situations in Nigeria, The Gambia and Sierra Leone and, worse, actually admitting to membership at this juncture the Cameroons with its human rights record is diminishing the concepts both of human rights and shared values?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I believe that we can do more through the Commonwealth by not cutting off those countries from the Commonwealth and trying as best we can to improve good government.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, will the Minister ask his right honourable friend who is to represent the United Kingdom at the conference to approach the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in order to seek the inclusion on the agenda of a proposal to obtain the agreement of the Heads of Government to press the United Nations Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, what further steps can be taken to implement the Security Council's recommendations in Resolutions Nos. 541, 550 and 939 on the problem of Cyprus?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, while the situation is primarily the concern of the United Nations, representations may be made to the Secretary-General by anyone for a matter to be included on the agenda.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I may have misheard the Minister but will he emphasise the importance of keeping channels of communication and dialogue open at all times?

Lord Chesham

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, is it not worth thinking twice about the idea of refusing entry to the Commonwealth countries which do not share the history of the British Empire? Now that Namibia has joined the Commonwealth, would it not make good sense if Mozambique were also to apply to join? That would make a complete Commonwealth bloc across the bottom of southern Africa, with South Africa itself and the states immediately to the north.

Lord Chesham

My Lords, Mozambique's application raises a major issue of principle. There is no precedent for accession to the Commonwealth by a country which has no direct or indirect historical links with Britain or another Commonwealth country.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in this country there is continuing great support for the Commonwealth? Is he further aware that on two occasions in the past year—the arrest of the Spanish fishermen by Canada and the French nuclear tests—the impression has been given that the views of the Commonwealth have not been properly taken into account? The impression has also been given that this country has supported policies which may be inimical to the Commonwealth itself and to certain countries of the Commonwealth. Will the Minister try to ensure that this matter is addressed and, we hope, resolved at the conference?

Lord Chesham

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government take the Commonwealth very seriously, are supportive of it and will do everything that they can to help.