HC Deb 18 November 1999 vol 339 cc8-9W
Mr. Stuart Bell

To ask the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in South Africa. [98662]

The Prime Minister

I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, which took place in South Africa from 12–15 November.

The meeting welcomed Nigeria back into the Commonwealth and Nauru as a full member.

The meeting took significant decisions on the future of the Commonwealth, the promotion of democracy and human rights, Pakistan and debt, trade and development.

Commonwealth Heads agreed my proposal that we establish a high-level group, under the Chairmanship of President Mbeki, to review the role of the Commonwealth in the 21st Century. In addition to South Africa, the UK, Australia, Fiji, India, Malta, Singapore, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago and Zimbabwe will be on the group. It will report to the next Heads of Government Meeting in Australia in 2001.

Commonwealth Heads re-affirmed the fundamental political values enshrined in the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. We sent a strong message to General Musharraf in Pakistan calling for a speedy restoration of democracy and the immediate release of Nawaz Sharif and the others detained with him. We agreed that Pakistan should remain suspended from the Councils of the Commonwealth.

Heads discussed the special theme of "People-Centred Development: the Challenge of Globalisation". We agreed the Fancourt Declaration, which provides a broad agenda to which all Commonwealth countries agreed to work. Heads agreed that globalisation should bring benefits to all, provided it is a genuine force for liberalisation and is accompanied by structural reform and improved competitiveness. We agreed that the new round of WTO trade negotiations should have a development focus, should cover agriculture, services and industrial products and should be balanced.

Heads expressed concern about the impact of HIV/AIDS, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. I announced over £22 million of UK assistance for HIV/AIDS related projects, including:

  • £14 million for development of a low-cost vaccine;
  • £7.5 million for the implementation of an HIV/AIDS strategy in Southern Africa; and
  • £1.2 million to train more than 700 VSO volunteers to raise awareness of HIV/AIDs in Southern Africa.

The Second Commonwealth Business Forum was held in Johannesburg immediately before the Heads meeting. It highlighted the importance of links between Government and the private sector throughout the Commonwealth.

Heads elected Don McKinnon to succeed Chief Emeka Anyaoku as Commonwealth Secretary General. We paid warm tribute to Chief Anyaoku's service over the last 10 years.

I held formal bilateral meetings with President Clerides of Cyprus, President Obasanjo of Nigeria and Prime Minister Vajpayee of India, had a meeting with Caribbean Commonwealth Heads and had the opportunity for informal discussions with many of the other Heads present.

I have arranged for copies of the Durban Communiqué and the Fancourt Commonwealth Declaration on Globalisation and People-Centred Development to be placed in the Library of the House.