§ 3.17 p.m.
§ The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos)
My Lords, I would like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows: "With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which took place in Abuja, Nigeria, from 5th to 8th December. Copies of the communique and declaration have been placed in the Library of the House.
637 "Her Majesty The Queen attended the meeting in her role as head of the Commonwealth and also paid a state visit to Nigeria. She was warmly welcomed by the Nigerian people. The outgoing Commonwealth Chairman in Office, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, paid tribute on behalf of all Commonwealth members to the Queen's dedication and commitment to the Commonwealth. I know that the whole House will wish to join me in echoing that tribute.
"Nigeria itself returned to the Commonwealth only in 1999, after a turbulent period of military rule. The Queen's visit, and the holding of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting there, underlines the progress made since then in rebuilding a democratic and prosperous Nigeria. Britain is committed to supporting the reform programme led by President Obasanjo, on whose chairmanship of the summit I gave sincere congratulations. In a difficult situation he managed matters with great skill.
"Commonwealth Heads of Government last met in Coolum, Australia, in March 2002. At Abuja, we reviewed developments since then. We agreed on the urgent need to relaunch the world trade talks which stalled at Cancun in September, and underlined our collective commitment to a successful Doha Development Round.
"That commitment is significant. The Commonwealth represents one-third of the world's population; developing and developed countries; large and small states; and agricultural, service and manufacturing-based economies. All have different perspectives and interests. The fact that all of us agreed on the need to relaunch the Doha Development Round, and on the need for all parties to show flexibility in the search for agreement, shows that a global deal is possible. Everyone will gain if the talks succeed, but the biggest winners will be the world's poor; and if the talks fail, they will be the biggest losers too.
"We discussed other development issues. Heads of Government agreed on the need to accelerate progress to meet the millennium development goals, which aim to halve the proportion of people living in poverty by 2015. I reaffirmed the UK's own strong commitment to that goal.
"Heads of Government also underlined their concern at the spread of HIV/AIDS. It now threatens not only Africa, but increasingly Asia and other parts of the world. Three million people will die of the virus this year alone. Two in three people infected live in Commonwealth countries. It poses one of the gravest threats to sustainable development.
"We agreed on the need to redouble our efforts to fight this threat. Britain is playing its full part, including through our own "Call for Action" on World AIDS Day, and we are now the second largest bilateral donor in the world on HIV/AIDS after the United States of America. Our bilateral aid 638 amounted to more than £270 million in 2002–03 alone, a real demonstration of commitment on behalf of the people and Government of Britain.
"The last Commonwealth summit was postponed following the terrorist attacks of 11 th September 2001. Since then the terrorists have continued their indiscriminate campaign. We agreed in Abuja that terrorism threatens everyone, regardless of nationality or faith; and that all Commonwealth members would stand together to meet and defeat this challenge.
"The meeting considered the situation in the two countries that have been suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth: Pakistan and Zimbabwe. On Pakistan, Heads of Government welcomed the progress made back towards democratic governance. They expressed the hope that the Pakistan Parliament would soon pass the necessary measures to allow the lifting of Pakistan's suspension.
"Where Pakistan has moved forward since Commonwealth leaders last met, Zimbabwe has gone backwards. The country was suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002, shortly after elections, which the Commonwealth's own observers concluded were neither free nor fair.
"Since then there has been more violence and intimidation against the opposition MDC; against lawyers and human rights activists; indeed, against anyone speaking up against President Mugabe's oppressive policies. Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, the Daily News, has been closed down, despite court orders in its favour.
"Meanwhile, ZANU-PF's ruinous economic policies are driving the country further and further into chaos. Inflation is more than 500 per cent. Zimbabwe's GDP has halved in five years. The IMF decided last week to begin procedures to expel Zimbabwe due to its appalling economic policies. Half of the population now needs food aid. Britain remains the leading cash donor for the UN's humanitarian programmes in Zimbabwe. Over the past two years, we have given 100 million dollars in food aid.
"In those circumstances, I and others argue that it was inconceivable that Zimbabwe should be readmitted to the councils of the Commonwealth and that, on the contrary, it should remain suspended until we saw concrete evidence of a return to democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law—the very principles on which the Commonwealth was founded.
"I am glad to say that this approach was agreed. It was decided that Zimbabwe should indeed remain suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth; that President Obasanjo as Chairman in Office, together with the Commonwealth Secretary-General, will seek to facilitate progress inside Zimbabwe; and that if sufficient progress is made on the issues of concern he will report, via a representative group of six Commonwealth members, to Heads of Government. Heads will revisit the issue in the light of that report, and take any decision on the lifting of the suspension by consensus.
639 "This is the outcome we wanted. It is also the outcome that President Mugabe worked assiduously to avoid. It gives the lie to one of his most outrageous claims—that the Commonwealth's approach to Zimbabwe is a white conspiracy led by the UK against black Africans. The fact is that every single Commonwealth member signed up to the Abuja statement on Zimbabwe—including the other 19 African members of the Commonwealth, despite the strongly held doubts of some of those countries. Nor did any African member of the Commonwealth take up Mr Mugabe's invitation to boycott the summit meeting. The outcome in Abuja was hard fought, but in the end was a victory for Commonwealth values.
"Mr Mugabe's reaction—to withdraw Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth—shows clearly that he does not accept Commonwealth principles. It was a decision taken without regard for the wishes or well-being of the Zimbabwean people. ZANU-PF's isolation will be increased. But the strong bonds that exist between the Zimbabwean people and the rest of the Commonwealth remain. There will always be a place for a democratic Zimbabwe in the Commonwealth.
"The summit also re-elected the present Commonwealth Secretary-General, Don McKinnon, for a second and final four-year term. We welcome that outcome. The Secretary-General has done an excellent job in his first term. He will continue to have our full support in his second.
"Finally, I participated at the Commonwealth sports breakfast. We looked back to Manchester's successful hosting of the last Commonwealth Games in 2002, and forward to the next in Melbourne in 2006. 1 highlighted the UK's future sporting priorities.
"At this Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, a group of more than 50 countries came together to discuss the issues that matter most to their peoples—prosperity, security, sustainable development, the fight against terror—and agreed a common approach on all, in the interests of all.
"They discussed more controversial issues such as Zimbabwe, where it is no secret that there were and remain a range of differing views among member states. But here, too, through serious discussion and debate, the Commonwealth was able to reach a consensus on the way forward. I commend the outcome to the House".
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Lord Strathclyde
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to reaffirm the powerful support that Members on these Benches have always given and will continue to give to the Commonwealth. It is a unique international organisation, bringing together nations of all continents, of all creeds and races, united—most of them, at least—by the values that we in this House 640 stand for: a hatred of tyranny and racism, and a common commitment to freedom, equality for all, democracy and the rule of law.
I was interested to see that the conference also underlined the importance of maintaining the independence of the judiciary, so I hope very much that the noble Baroness will take this opportunity to send a copy of paragraph 8 of the communique to her noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, whose plans have aroused such widespread fears for judicial independence.
In the communique and in the Prime Minister's Statement, there were strong signals pointing to lifting the suspension of Pakistan from the Commonwealth. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what obstacles, if any, she sees to what would be a welcome return by Pakistan?
Perhaps I may welcome something that was not mentioned in the Statement: the support for the United Nations programme of action on the illicit trade in small arms. Can the noble Baroness explain what review mechanism the Government have put in place to monitor compliance?
Perhaps I may also welcome the depth and clarity of the Commonwealth condemnation of terrorism. I am sure that the noble Baroness will join us in expressing her conviction of the quality of the international leadership of President Bush, Prime Minister Howard and, of course, her right honourable friend the Prime Minister, on this issue.
The Statement did not report to the House the concerns expressed by some countries, and reflected in paragraph 35 of the communique, about travel advisories. Will the noble Baroness give the House an unequivocal assurance that the Government never have been and never will be deflected by diplomatic niceties from issuing advice for the protection of British citizens?
We agree that much more needs to be done on multi-lateral trade to help to relieve the poverty of too many Commonwealth members, and to push forward the Doha development round. Is not the noble Baroness, as I am, dismayed by the wretched record of the protectionist European Union in this respect? Does this not underline the scale of the failure of our efforts at Cancùn? Why are the Government not doing far more to secure a lowering of the EU tariffs that hurt small and poor countries?
I also welcome the commitment to combating corruption, something that has impoverished too many nations in the past. Can the noble Baroness tell the House how many Commonwealth countries have so far signed and ratified the UN convention against corruption?
I also note that the 2007 Heads of Government meeting will take place in Uganda. Are the Government satisfied that the Ugandan Government fulfil all the terms of the Harare declaration?
641 Can the Minister explain to the House the basis of the opposition from some countries to the re-election of Secretary-General McKinnon?
We welcome the strong and realistic statement on the tragic and appalling scourge represented by the spread of HIV/AIDS. Are the Government aware that we on this side support strongly action taken by the Government to support effective action against AIDS in Commonwealth countries and outside?
Finally, I turn to the question of Zimbabwe, which under Mugabe has become a ghastly scar on the face of Africa. In March 2002, the noble Baroness told the House that,the decision that was taken not to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth undermines the credibility of the Commonwealth".—[Official Report, 19/3/02; col. 1231.]Does she agree that the actions of some nations in seeking to lift the suspension of Zimbabwe undermine the credibility of the Commonwealth, and that those nations have some very hard soul-searching to do about the reasons for their stand?
Before the recent promotion of the Leader of the House, she managed this country's policy towards Zimbabwe. Time and again, she stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House that she was talking with international colleagues about possible action, insisting that quiet diplomacy would solve the problem. In the past two years, I have heard more than 30 Starred Questions on Zimbabwe. This House has not been backward in showing its concern in calling for more determined and effective action from her Government. On our Front Benches, my noble friends Lord Howell of Guildford, Lord Astor of Hever, and Lady Rawlings, and, on our Back Benches, my noble friends Lord Blaker and Lady Park of Monmouth, and many others around the House, have been tireless in their efforts to persuade the noble Baroness to take firmer, faster and crisper action against the Mugabe regime.
For all the fine words in the Prime Minister's Statement today, there is an abiding sense that too little was done too late. The result of the policy that has been pursued, which showed too much tolerance to Mugabe until his predictable crimes turned into predictable reality, is that today in Zimbabwe there is more violence, murder, insecurity, starvation, corruption and tyranny than even three years ago. The British Government's policy of moving only at the slowest rate allowed by international organisations has been a failure.
Many noble Lords will find it baffling for some Commonwealth leaders, even now, to be calling for constructive engagement with Mugabe. Can the noble Baroness tell them, in the light of the failure of the policy of weakening Mugabe, that this is the last time to be softening the stance against him? Appeasement of dictators has never succeeded, and it will not do so now. I hope that the noble Baroness will at least agree with that.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. We on these Benches strongly agree that the Commonwealth is a unique and important association. In that context, it is of course troubling that the staff of the Commonwealth Secretariat has dropped by nearly a third in the past 20 years and that the amount of money available to the Commonwealth to use for aid has also dropped significantly. Today it is only about £20 million, which means that the association lacks the clout that it had perhaps a generation ago. That may be a tragedy, because it is one of the very few associations of developed and developing countries in the world.
I echo what the noble Baroness said about the significant role of the President of Nigeria, who deserves considerable praise for the way in which he handled a very difficult Commonwealth Heads of Government conference, and the whole of the Zimbabwe question. It is important that he has emerged as one of the figures in Africa most willing to stand up for democracy and the rule of law in a country where that is not easy to do. In that context, can the noble Baroness tell us anything about the continual request from the Nigerian Government for co-operation from the British Government in the pursuit of money laundered out of Nigeria, which amounts to many billions of dollars? The Nigerian Government have repeatedly said that they are not getting the co-operation that they believe that they deserve from our country. That seems to go against the claim of Commonwealth co-operation that was made so strongly in the Statement.
I agree with the Leader of the Official Opposition that the position of western countries on Doha is absolutely central. He mentioned the EU, and we would certainly not defend the common agricultural policy; but he could also have mentioned the recent very substantial increase in agricultural subsidies by the United States. The western world must recognise that it bears a major responsibility for the imbalance of world trade and, in World Trade Association discussions, a very unfair measure of agricultural protection, which harms Africa and the developing countries above all. Until it does so, we are not in a very strong position to sing of the beauties of freer world trade, since we ourselves are very much part of the problem.
I turn briefly to three particular cases. First, can the noble Baroness tell us how much practical help the Commonwealth Secretariat is now able to give on the AIDS problem in terms of health structures in the Commonwealth? As we all know, while the question of the provision of less expensive drugs is being addressed, that is only a small part of the problem. The solution depends heavily on the health structure of paramedics and others who can ensure that the drugs are properly used, without which money spent on drugs can to some extent be money down the drain.
Secondly, the noble Baroness mentioned that there was a probability or possibility that if Pakistan continues to extend democratic measures, which it has started by 643 holding local government elections, it might be welcomed back into the Commonwealth. Many of us would welcome that. However, is the Commonwealth assuring itself that measures are being taken to cease to train a substantial number of infiltrators and terrorists in Pakistan? I recognise that President Musharraf has limited powers in the tribal areas, but the country is a great source of major terrorism in the area, which has to be tackled sooner or later.
Lastly, with regard to Zimbabwe, the leader of the Conservative Party was rather hard on the Leader of the House. There is a real problem with the solidarity felt among many African countries with a man who was at one time a hero of the liberation movement. We may regard that as foolish or sentimental, but it is a real fact of life. It carries with it too much solidarity, but the Leader of the House in her other capacity has had to deal with it. We should be realistic; it is questionable whether through the Commonwealth or the United Nations we could carry a majority of developing countries with regard to much tougher action against Zimbabwe.
I refer finally to one area in which we in the United Kingdom carry a substantial responsibility. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that those who are perceived to fight for democracy, freedom of expression and the rule of law—including Zimbabwe's judges, the brave editor of the Daily News and his staff and many other people who are active in trying to bring democracy to Zimbabwe—will cease to be deported back to Zimbabwe if they escape and seek asylum in this country? Is the noble Baroness assured that the Home Office is aware that that kind of deportation is contrary to the efforts that all of us want to see to bring Zimbabwe back to democracy?
§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for their welcoming of the Statement. I shall seek to address their points.
I am slightly surprised by the initial question asked by the noble Lord with respect to the independence of the judiciary. It seemed like a rather desperate attempt to bring in the debate that we are going to have in this House with respect to constitutional reform. The noble Lord is well aware that the Government remain committed to the independence of the judiciary. That has always been our position, and it has been the touchstone of the reforms that are proposed.
As for the other points raised by the noble Lord, the Commonwealth members welcomed the progress that has been made on Pakistan. In particular, they welcomed the holding of elections and the formation of national and provincial assemblies, and noted in particular the role of women and of minorities in the legislature. A timetable was not given for Pakistan's re-admittance to the Councils of the Commonwealth, but further progress in those areas and greater democratisation are required from Pakistan and Pakistan is clear about that.
644 On the illicit trade in small arms, the noble Lord may be aware that a conference in the UK looked at those issues. A mechanism has been put in place to ensure that there is international support on that issue, but if I am able to find any further information for the noble Lord, I will happily write to him.
The noble Lord will be aware that our travel advice is focused solely on the need to provide timely information to our citizens. That will continue to be the main aim of our travel advice.
On trade, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, referred to the failure of Cancun and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, spoke about the disappointing progress on the trade agenda. Noble Lords will recall that we strove hard to reach agreement at Cancun and were disappointed not to be able to do so, particularly as we had thought that the reform of the common agricultural policy would be the basis for an agreement. We remain committed to the Doha development agenda. As noble Lords may recall, the European Union had dropped its commitment to two of the four new issues on the trade agenda. One important agreement to be reached at the Commonwealth meeting was that the Commonwealth would send a group of Ministers around key capitals to stress the importance for both developing and developed countries of an early resumption of the round. We will continue to work within the European Union and in the wider international community for improvements on trade. I entirely agree with the points that were made about the differentials in trade between the developed and the developing world.
I do not have an answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about corruption. If I can find a figure, I shall write to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, will know that concerns have been expressed about the need for Uganda to move swiftly to multi-party democracy. The United Kingdom will continue to press for that. The Secretary-General was re-elected by a majority at the meeting.
On Zimbabwe, I should point out to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the outcome of the Commonwealth meeting was significant. There were clear differences of opinion, but the noble Lord is well aware that the Commonwealth works ultimately by consensus. That means that all countries signed up to the declaration and to the communique, which is important for the values and principles that underlie the Commonwealth.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that Zimbabwe is viewed in very different ways by some countries in Africa. The role that Robert Mugabe played in the independence movement stirs emotions, as does the issue of land reform in Zimbabwe. Many Africans feel that the United Kingdom paid no attention to historical injustices and woke up to the issue only recently, when a black government came into power. We have taken strong action. We were the first country to put an arms embargo in place. We worked hard for EU sanctions; we worked hard for Zimbabwe's suspension from the Commonwealth last year. I do not agree with the noble Lord that we 645 showed tolerance to Zimbabwe. It is significant that the United Kingdom has been singled out by Robert Mugabe for vilification. Our High Commissioner and his staff in Harare have had to put up with a great deal of abuse. The noble Lord will know that all members of the British Government are banned from going to Zimbabwe, so I do not accept the noble Lord's point on that. Nor do I agree that our policy has been one of appeasement. I have asked noble Lords opposite on many occasions from this Dispatch Box what they suggest that we should do that we have not done. The noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, wrote to me on that point and I answered every point that he raised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said that President Obasanjo deserves praise. I agree with that. It has undoubtedly been a difficult CHOGM and he handled the meeting with considerable skill and sensitivity.
We have tried to do all we can to assist the Nigerian Government's pursuit of money launderers. I know that from my own meetings with the president this year, but he has also discussed the issue with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Officials have discussed ways of taking the matter forward. The issue is a great deal more complex than it appears. That became clear when our officials began their talks earlier this year. However, there has been constant contact between them.
On support for health structures, particularly in relation to HIV/AIDS, the Commonwealth is able to offer technical assistance and to share people and expertise. Through its bilateral development assistance programmes, the UK is able to help countries strengthen their fragile health systems. We have paid particular attention to that matter, because there is no point in putting money into drugs if the health systems are not in place.
The issue of terrorism remains very important for Commonwealth members. It was agreed that the Commonwealth would continue to give countries greater support, particularly smaller countries that do not have the resources and expertise to put anti-terrorist measures in place. In response to the noble Baroness's question about Zimbabwe and deportations, I shall write to her so that I can give her the latest information.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Lord Howe of Aberavon
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness not only for the Statement but also for the comprehensive competence with which she has answered every one of the points raised from the two Front Benches. I also endorse the points made both by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde and by the noble 646 Baroness, Lady Williams. I shall try to draw them a little closer to each other by saying that the common agricultural policy, which was condemned so robustly by my noble friend, and the misbehaviour in that field by the United States, require parity of contempt. They both deserve to be treated with equal vigour and lack of enthusiasm.
Perhaps I may join noble Lords also in congratulating President Obasanjo on his management of the conference and in welcoming the fact that the next conference is to take place in Uganda, where President Museveni, it should be remembered, has brought that country back from the brink following the chaos to which it had been reduced by President Obote and President Amin. If we wanted to be critical, we may all have modest criticisms of both President Obasanjo and President Museveni, but both deserve commendation— President Museveni for his achievements in Uganda and President Obasanjo for having restored democracy in his own country. The latter deserves to be commended also for the role that he played in the combined Commonwealth onslaught on apartheid in South Africa. He was a member of the Eminent Persons Group there.
Does the noble Baroness accept—I am sure that she will—that the most important aspect of these CHOG meetings is the unique candour with which the Heads of Government from this immense diversity of nations are able to speak to each other, quite unlike anything to be found in any other international meeting? It is that quality that enables them to achieve a surprising degree of unity, as they have done at the end of this conference. Will she therefore encourage that candour to be maintained and sustained?
Surely the crucial pressure to bring about change in Zimbabwe will ultimately have to come from those front-line states led by Ministers such as President Museveni and President Obasanjo. The interesting parallel is that, at the end of the day, probably the most decisive voice in pushing South Africa toward the ending of apartheid was that of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. The shock of hearing the candour with which she was finally condemning apartheid, joined with all the other efforts that had been sustained over the years, was one of the key factors that made the difference.
So will the Minister give us the assurance that our Government will continue, candidly as always, to press the leaders of the front-line African states to address this question as vigorously as she knows they must? She has done well so far. Will she please ensure that the effort is maintained with the utmost vigour?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, for his comments. He has, of course, a great deal of experience in these areas and I know that the House will have listened to his words of wisdom. I entirely agree with him about the need to support the work of Presidents Obasanjo and Museveni. In Nigeria we saw for the very first time since independence the successful transition from one civilian administration to another. We really must recognise that. I agree with the noble and learned Lord about the role that President Obasanjo 647 played in that transition. President Museveni, in the leadership role that he has played, has not only brought Uganda back from the brink; he has played an absolutely critical role in ensuring that the HIV/AIDS infection levels in Uganda have fallen dramatically.
I agree with the noble and learned Lord about the importance of Commonwealth meetings. They are the only international meetings of leaders from such diverse countries in which they work by consensus and each has an equal voice and where candour, as the noble and learned Lord said, is an important ingredient. We have argued consistently that, after the people of Zimbabwe themselves, it is Zimbabwe's neighbours—particularly in SADC, which includes the previous front-line states—that will have the major impact on bringing about change in Zimbabwe.
§ Lord Hughes of Woodside
My Lords, if I may, I should like to reiterate the fact that although so many African countries took a different view from ours and were able to argue their case very vigorously, ultimately they were able to reach a unanimous decision on the suspension of Zimbabwe. That is a tribute to the strength of the Commonwealth and indeed a vindication of the Government's policy on this matter. However, can the Minister say whether Zimbabwe has actually left the Commonwealth? We have heard that it is leaving, but has it left? For my part, I take no joy, exhilaration, vindication or satisfaction in the fact that Zimbabwe is leaving the Commonwealth. One wonders whether the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has a view on the matter. He seems to suggest that if we had acted quicker or done more, Zimbabwe would have left earlier. I am not quite sure whether that is the Opposition's policy.
If Zimbabwe has left the Commonwealth, what happens now? What happens to the remit of President Obasanjo and his group of six who are to look at the situation? Is that now a dead letter? Who is to try to take the matter forward? Is the whole matter to be left in limbo? Like many other noble Lords, I am sure, I do not think that it is a question of who is in or out of the Commonwealth—the important point is what happens to the Zimbabwean people. If the situation gets even worse as a result of President Mugabe leaving the Commonwealth, there is no reason to be satisfied. Can the Minister please tell us what will happen? Which aid programmes will be affected by Zimbabwe's departure? Does she agree that it is extremely serious? Does she agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, that we must impress on the African states—whose view we must understand; we cannot simply ignore their deeply held views—that they must do their bit as well to bring this situation to a resolution?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, my noble friend, as always, gets to the heart of the matter. Has Zimbabwe left the Commonwealth? Mugabe says that Zimbabwe has, but the Secretary-General has not yet received a letter informing him that Zimbabwe has done so. Once Zimbabwe formally leaves the Commonwealth a number of practical implications will have to be addressed. My noble friend asks, for example, about 648 aid programmes. Although Zimbabwe would no longer have a right to technical assistance through the Commonwealth, the type of humanitarian aid programme that the British Government are giving to Zimbabwe would continue. Our development programmes are not only with Commonwealth countries.
As for what happens now, assuming that that letter arrives, and I have no doubt that it will, there will be no remit for the group of six, because Zimbabwe will no longer be in the Commonwealth. However, President Obasanjo has made it clear that he intends to visit Zimbabwe, not necessarily wearing that Commonwealth hat but as a concerned African leader. I think that it will have to be African countries which take this matter forward. I entirely agree with my noble friend. I regret that Mugabe has chosen to take this action because it further isolates Zimbabwe. At the heart of it, it hurts the people of Zimbabwe, not the ruling elite of Zimbabwe.
§ Lord Steel of Aikwood
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was in Kenya last week and saw for myself the devastating effect that the advisory travel bans have had and are having on the important tourist industry in that country? Does she agree that that is particularly unfortunate at a time when the new democratic government of Kenya are striving to put the economy back on a sound footing? Does she also agree that if she were an American citizen she would be a lot safer in the middle of the Masai Mara than in the streets of Washington or New York at the present time? More to the point as regards government responsibility, is she aware—because I certainly was not—that although the British travel ban was lifted some time ago, British insurance companies are still not granting travel insurance to people wanting to visit that country? Will she get the appropriate government department to speak to the British insurance association to ensure that we do not have private travel bans in addition to the government ones which have a still more devastating effect on those economies?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I recognise that our travel advice can have a devastating impact on countries that have fragile economies. I have seen it myself, not only in Kenya, but in Tanzania, particularly the impact on Zanzibar. I saw it when I visited Bali last year. However, as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, we need to provide timely information to our citizens and to take on board the information that we receive. It is a very difficult balance to get right. Noble Lords will recall that the Government were accused of not taking information seriously enough in relation to Bali. When I was consular Minister, I had very many families in my office making accusations that the British Government were not telling them the truth. We have to give information that is as clear and accessible as possible while recognising the possible wider economic impact.
649 On the issue of insurance companies, of course it is a commercial decision. However, I shall pass on the noble Lord's concerns. We have ongoing discussions with insurance companies and I shall ensure that his concerns are recognised.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the last time a state left the Commonwealth was when Hendrik Verwoerd took South Africa out in 1961—company that Mr Mugabe may not relish being associated with? Does she also agree that Mugabe could hardly be less amenable to persuasion after he has left the Commonwealth than he has been up until now? While we all welcome the news that President Obasanjo will shortly visit Harare, that will not be a substitute for mechanisms that will bring additional pressure to bear on Mugabe. What mechanisms has the Commonwealth for oversight of any moves that Mugabe or ZANU-PF may make in the future towards democracy, because surely if the supposition is that African countries will bring additional pressure to bear on the Zimbabwe regime, we shall need to know about it and we shall need to have people on the spot who can report back to us and tell the Commonwealth Secretariat what news it can convey to member states?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that it is extremely difficult to budge Mugabe. We have followed the situation in Zimbabwe and have become more and more concerned about it. It is clear that this is a president and a government who do not care about what is happening to their own people. They leave it to the United Kingdom and the United States to try to halt the terrible famine that will occur in Zimbabwe next year. At the same time, they roundly abuse both countries.
As regards mechanisms and oversight, a set of bench-marks were developed by the Commonwealth Secretariat against which to judge Zimbabwe. I have no doubt that those bench-marks still exist. Once Zimbabwe withdraws from the Commonwealth, Commonwealth countries will have embassies rather than high commissions there. I am sure that human rights organisations and others will continue to monitor the situation very carefully indeed, as they are doing at present.
§ Lord King of Bridgwater
My Lords, in welcoming the comments made on the fight against terrorism and the important contribution that the Commonwealth can make in that area, can I take it from the noble Baroness the Leader of the House that particular recognition is given to the fact that a number of Commonwealth countries have a particularly valuable role to play in the whole intelligence challenge that is faced in the fight against terrorism at the present time?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I am afraid that I did not catch the actual question in the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord King.
§ Lord King of Bridgwater
My Lords, do the Commonwealth Heads of Government recognise 650 the value of an area which may not have been so important to the Commonwealth in earlier times; namely, the sharing of intelligence and working together in the fight against terrorism, which is now crucially important? Do they also recognise that certain members of the Commonwealth that have not perhaps been closely involved before in the intelligence field now have a particularly valuable role to play?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord King, for that clarification. The Heads of Government made it absolutely clear that it was vital that all Commonwealth members ratify and implement the conventions covering terrorism. Some Commonwealth countries already share intelligence. We are doing that increasingly, particularly with respect to the implications this has, for example, for travel advice. I have no doubt that this is an area where co-operation will continue. The UK is also increasing our bilateral counter-terrorism assistance to key countries in the Commonwealth, and the Commonwealth Secretariat is helping other countries with counter-terrorism legislation. Therefore, a number of measures are being implemented, some related to intelligence sharing but some more broadly linked to the broad international counter-terrorism agenda.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, turning away for a moment from the divisive problems created for the Commonwealth by President Mugabe's Zimbabwe, will the Minister say what consideration was given at CHOGM to the Commonwealth education Ministers' education action programme for the Commonwealth that was conceived at the recent conference in Edinburgh, and what reference may there be in the communiqué—which I have not yet seen—to the degree of acceptance there was for those proposals?
§ Baroness Amos
My Lords, I recall that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, asked that education should feature in the communique. In fact, it features strongly in the declaration. There is an affirmation that education, whether formal or informal, is central to development in any society. There is also a reference in the communique to the Commonwealth education Ministers' conference and the initiative that came from that. Commonwealth Heads of Government clearly listened to the noble Lord.