Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Colin Shepherd: I must put the record straight; the gentleman is the former Speaker of the Nova Scotia provincial assembly.

Sir Ivan Lawrence: Our family is so wide, and we have so many cousins, that I sometimes forget what their allegiances are. Canada is and always has been a great part of the Commonwealth; whether Arthur Donahoe comes from Nova Scotia or Ontario is of little importance to us, although no doubt of great importance to him. The metamorphosis from an empire with obligatory membership to a Commonwealth where membership is freely entered into, and even sought after, is astonishing. It is a sign of how long- established ties can evolve to become relevant even in a hugely changed world. However, to compliment the Commonwealth must not be the end of the story. We must continue to ensure that it remains relevant to its members and that we in Britain--in the mother of Parliaments--play a central role in developing and strengthening a very great institution. How can we do that?

First, we must develop our own economic links with Commonwealth countries. Our recent preoccupation with Europe may at times have blinded us to the fact that, whereas that institution commands less than half our total overseas earnings, the Commonwealth commands well over half. To the great markets of Asia, especially India, Hong Kong and Malaysia, we hope to add additional investment, and therefore earnings, in the great sleeping economic giant of South Africa. In order to justify our involvement in these great economies, we have to be willing to stimulate the development of those countries with help in the form of training and aid and the development of their human resources, police, military establishments, public administration and their management skills, especially in the private sector. There is a tremendous reservoir for mutual economic development in the Commonwealth, and we must take these markets very seriously in the years ahead.

Secondly, we must keep bright the beacons of parliamentary democracy, the rule of the law and free enterprise capitalism--beacons lighted, let it be said, in

Column 1103

the Thatcher years. Without those beacons, the emerging nations may lose heart and revert--so delicate may some of the new states be--not to totalitarianism of the left but perhaps to totalitarianism of the right. With naked nationalism always comes racism, and that is the reverse of the multicultural, multi-ethnic society for which the Commonwealth stands. We must so resource ourselves that no invitation to advise, no request for guidance based on our wide experience and no invitation to visit or be visited, can be refused.

I know that the Government value the work of the CPA and will ensure that it remains properly financed. It is a very small price to pay for the great good it does to the very infrastructure of the international society. I remember especially the pleasurable help that many of us were able to give in the South African elections almost a year ago.

Thirdly, we must be aware that the new world order is throwing up enormous and potentially cataclysmic problems, and that the small emerging nations are especially vulnerable to the horrors of drugs, with which comes organised crime. Money laundering and economic crime is now becoming so widespread, with consequences so frightening, as to make our concerns about strengthening democracy seem almost as irrelevant as shifting the deck chairs on the sinking Titanic. Three cases of serious fraud in the United Kingdom alone currently allege deficiencies exceeding by several hundred million pounds the total annual figure for burglaries in England and Wales. When one considers that most fraud is never investigated or its perpetrators caught, let alone brought to trial and convicted, one gains some idea of how grave the situation is in this country--and, of course, other countries.

Millions of pounds can be moved from one country to another in the twinkling of an eye without any police force being aware of how, where, why or when it happened until long after anything can be done about it. The smaller developing nation states of the Commonwealth are especially vulnerable to exploitation in this respect, and we must share our knowledge, intelligence and police with them. The value of the worldwide cocaine trade alone has been put by those who know at several hundred thousand US dollars--as much as the entire gross national product of a country such as Britain. With such money, land is bought and developed, factories bought and constructed, and businesses, including banks, set up. They process the laundered money and invest it in legitimate businesses, where it grows and inevitably forms a significant part of national economies. Some Commonwealth countries are very vulnerable, and need all the help we can give them.

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York): I agree that a number of small Commonwealth countries that have active offshore financial industries are vulnerable in the way that the hon. and learned Gentleman outlines. I am sure that he shares my pleasure in the fact that Britain gives help in the form of technical advice on banking regulation and policing, but does he share my concern that some

Column 1104

of the offshore economies have that help paid for in part out of the Overseas Development Administration budget?

Does he believe that the relatively small sums of money involved--tens of thousands, or, at most, hundreds of thousands of pounds--could be met by increasingly slightly the fees for offshore businesses that register in states such as Montserrat and the British Virgin Islands?

Sir Ivan Lawrence: The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable intervention, but it would better be directed to my hon. Friend the Minister who will be summing up. I would rather not discuss fees and their scale, but the hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We must pull out all the stops and share our knowledge, expertise and influence, and also the information that the Commonwealth countries, including the smaller ones, can provide for us.

Cocaine is not the only problem. Pakistan and India have enormous problems with heroin, as does Hong Kong. Cannabis is a problem in the Caribbean islands such as Jamaica. There are millions and millions of addicts, and billions and billions of dollars are being made by drug-trafficking operators looking for financial systems to infiltrate, Governments to buy and economies to undermine. How long will pure, uncorrupted democracies last, even if we help to make them more representative and responsible by the influence that we can exert through our Commonwealth parliamentary associations? What will happen if we do not, as parliamentarians of the Commonwealth, take the lead in fighting the terrifying evils of drug and financial crime by genuine international co-operation? The members of the Commonwealth can work together in an effort to wipe out drug crops by providing farmers in Commonwealth countries and others with alternative livelihoods. We can act by encouraging stronger laws and stronger policing to trace, seize and freeze the assets of drug traffickers. We should help to ensure that Commonwealth countries sign the United Nations conventions against drugs, implement the 40 recommendations of the G7 summit financial action task force, which set out best practice, and implement also the 21 recommendations of the Caribbean financial action task force under the chairmanship of Trinidad and Tobago.

Many activities are taking place. We must use all the force and persuasion we can within the Commonwealth to try to ensure that the maximum advantage is taken of the work that is being done. We hope that, in future, our CPA seminars will target world problems of the sort to which I have drawn attention, rather than holding general seminars on general matters of interest. If we home in on some of the problems, we may be able to achieve more mileage in dealing with needs and opportunities.

Fourthly, I so agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford that we must build up the knowledge and understanding of our children about the Commonwealth. They must learn in our schools what the Commonwealth stands for, and why it is such an important part of world society. They must understand why it is something in which we in Britain can take so much pride. In a sense, it is almost a national organisation. Britain has been so

Column 1105

much at the centre of the Commonwealth. We continue to play our part, but no longer as the head of the empire. We are sillt one of the important players.

We have all rightly sung the praises of the Commonwealth this evening. Its vital role in the world--I hope that this encapsulates my theme--must not be underrated. It cannot be denied that the Commonwealth is a great force for good in the world, and a vital part of Britain's inheritance.

8.12 pm

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead): I shall resist the temptation to join battle with the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) on the contribution made to the well-being of the 1.5 billion people of the Commonwealth--the vast majority of them extremely poor--by free-market capitalism, let alone by the Thatcher years.

I add my congratulations to those already directed to the Leader of the House for organising the debate. It has been a fine debate and we must hope that seven years will not pass until the next one. Such debates should be annual parliamentary events. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber who have made that point, or similar points, will be listened to by the Leader of the House. Britain can be justifiably proud of the way in which it has made the adjustment from being primus inter pares as the head of an empire to being a member of the family of the Commonwealth. Having lost our empire, we have, as the hon. and learned Member for Burton said, found not one but many roles in the world.

We have a Commonwealth upon which the sun never sets. I was once upbraided by an old man in a poor village in central Africa. He said, with what I thought was great prescience, that the sun never set on the British empire because God would never trust an Englishman in the dark. I do not know quite what he meant. It is true, however, that we have adjusted to a new role with some distinction.

It is true also that the Commonwealth is held in much greater affection elsewhere within it than it is here in the United Kingdom. That is one of the reasons why we should have an annual debate. It is also one of the reasons why, as has been said, we need to be more innovative and more generous in our support for institutions such as the Commonwealth Institute. Generally, we should seek to put more power at the elbow of the Commonwealth.

Bearing in mind the good nature of the debate, I say with some trepidation that it has been slightly too self-congratulatory and has pictured the Commonwealth in just a little too rosy a way. I declare an interest because I have recently returned from a visit to Pakistan over the new year holiday as a guest of the Prime Minister of Pakistan. It is a country with which I have close links. I hold its highest civil award, and I take a close interest in its affairs, as do other hon. Members.

Having just returned to the Commonwealth fold, Pakistan is extremely sore about the apparent lack of interest of the Commonwealth, and of the United Kingdom as a leading player within it, in the dreadful problems that are afflicting its fragile democratic Government. The burden of my remarks will be on that

Column 1106

subject, on relations between Pakistan and India and on ways in which the Commonwealth could play a constructive part in resolving some of the problems.

During an interview with the International Herald Tribune , Benazir Bhutto said:

"Pakistan today is the frontline state against the forces of extremism and fanaticism. It is a wall of modernity against all those values that undermine global stability. Pakistan has a constitutional and democratic government. It ought to be strengthened and supported".

I agree with her. Pakistan is in the front line. It is under tremendous onslaught from the forces of darkness. It is incumbent upon the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth to do everything possible to buttress the democratic system in Pakistan and to help it to deal with the many problems that it faces.

The problem of drugs has been alluded to by several hon. Members. No other country in the world, with the possible exception of Colombia, is more afflicted by the big-time, big-business, organised drug trade. There are drug barons who are vastly wealthy with huge, feudal armies at their disposal. They are extremely heavily armed. That is something to which I shall return.

Pakistan is afflicted by the awful sectarian disaster of Karachi. In 1994, more than 1,000 people died as a result of political violence. In the first three months of this year, many hundreds more have perished, including, over the past week or so, two diplomats from the American mission in Karachi, with 15 people dying in a mosque here and a dozen at a mosque there. People are being gunned down from passing cars and up alleyways in political violence that is showing every sign of spiralling out of control.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan was right to say in Karachi the other day that to some extent violence is being encouraged and, in part, financed by foreign powers. Iran is involved, for sure, in the new Shi'ite-Sunni conflict in Karachi. Involved also is India, which has recently had its consulate closed in Karachi because of the role being played by Indian secret intelligence agents in fomenting communal violence.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan was right to say that the west had flooded Pakistan and Afghanistan with high-tech armaments for the holy warriors, the mujaheddin, who were fighting the holy war against communism and the Soviet Union, and that has led to a situation where, in Karachi alone, there are 100,000 illegally held automatic arms capable of absolute devastation in the crowded marketplaces and mosques in which they are increasingly being used.

There are millions of weapons in the wrong hands in Pakistan and they are now spreading throughout the country. They are in the hands of those noble warriors who used to be lauded by Sandy Gall and others on "News at Ten" when they were doing the bidding-- [Interruption.] I see that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has returned to the Chamber. They were fighting for a world safe for free-market capitalism, in which it could flourish. However, those people are now using their weapons to undermine the very existence of the democratic state in Pakistan. They are murdering people on a daily basis and they pose an armed threat to the existence of democracy itself.

Column 1107

Then there is Kashmir. It just will not do for Britain to walk away from the question of Kashmir. It will not do for the Commonwealth to say, "It has nothing to do with us." Kashmir is a legacy of the end of empire. It is a legacy of the failure of the British Government at the time--yes, a Labour Government--properly to manage the partition and all that flowed from it.

A reign of terror exists in Kashmir. Six hundred and fifty thousand Indian soldiers occupy illegally, in breach of United Nations resolutions, the tiny state of Jammu and Kashmir. Atrocities of a horrifying kind are an everyday occurrence there. That is happening in the Commonwealth--a point that has not been touched upon in the debate so far, except tangentially.

On my last visit there, I interviewed women who had been raped by Indian security forces. A woman of 18 had been raped by more than 100 soldiers in a little village on the outskirts of Srinigar. I took photographs of men whose feet had been severed by the swords of Indian soldiers in the Commonwealth, in the past 12 months, during this reign of terror in the valley of Jammu and Kashmir.

Atrocities are taking place and we are doing nothing about them. I must tell the Minister that, although he battled bravely to try to recover some of the damage done, the recent visit to India and Pakistan by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs was a disaster for the people of Kashmir and Pakistan. His very definite tilt in respect of British policy, moving it from one of sitting on the fence to one of climbing down on the Indian side of the fence because of the free-market capitalist opportunities which are opening up in the new post-Soviet India, was an absolute disgrace.

The Secretary of State said that the UN resolutions on Kashmir were increasingly irrelevant. Leaving aside the issue of when a UN resolution becomes irrelevant and of sending the message to aggressors that, if they can hang on to their spoils long enough, the UN resolutions condemning them will one day become irrelevant, the facts are that we have an obligation as the head of the Commonwealth and as the former imperial power to try to control the tragedy and disaster in Kashmir.

I shall explain how we can do that. As the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, we are in a unique position. The Commonwealth is in a unique position--because it contains both India and Pakistan and, therefore, Kashmir--to kick-start some kind of negotiating process which long ago ran into the snow in Kashmir. It is no use the Secretary of State saying that the Simla agreement somehow supersedes the UN resolutions. The Simla agreement calls on the matter to be resolved between India and Pakistan, but India will not even discuss the question of Kashmir with Pakistan, claiming that it is an internal matter, when all hon. Members know that it is not.

We are in a position to say, "Well, all right. If it is some kind of internal matter, let's deal with it in-house, inside the Commonwealth family." We can set up an eminent persons group of the kind that worked so well and so effectively over the South African problem. There are plenty of distinguished, superannuated statespeople at large in the Commonwealth family, such

Column 1108

as Bob Hawke of Australia and Kaunda of Zambia. Even the heroine of the hon. and learned Member for Burton, Lady Thatcher, could play a role in this, with her stature in many parts of the world. I am not sure whether it is deserved, but it exists. It is possible to put together an eminent persons group which could play the kind of shuttlecock role between India and Pakistan that could kick-start the process.

I must tell the Minister that the cost of not doing that is not only the continuation of the disaster of massive repression in Kashmir and the inevitable corruption of democratic life and civil liberties and the rule of law in India which that represents. Kashmir is a dagger at the heart of the Government of Pakistan and of democracy itself in Pakistan. The banner that is flown by the fanatics of the Islamic right in Pakistan is that democracy will never resolve the question of Kashmir: only a Pakistan bristling, armed to the teeth and, if possible, nuclear armed, will ever force India to disgorge that which it holds illegally in the form of Jammu and Kashmir.

That is a running sore; ultimately, it will engulf democratic politics in Pakistan unless the issue is grasped by somebody. I argue that it would be better that that somebody was the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom than anybody else, because we are so uniquely placed to fill that role.

The Government of Pakistan deserve the support of all people of good will in this House. The Prime Minister bravely confronted the zealots in the past few weeks over the outrage of the sentencing to death of two Christians for painting slogans on a mosque. The Prime Minister of Pakistan immediately declared that that was completely unacceptable, that she was shocked and horrified by it, and that the verdict must not stand. The higher court in Pakistan, having considered the matter, quashed the sentences.

I hope that the Minister will believe me when I say that great anger and rage was caused among the extremists in Pakistan by the stand that she took, but she took it. They feel great anger when she takes a stand against the drug barons, too, but there is also great anger and frustration in Pakistan when democratic politics yields nothing in the context of the Indian occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.

For several reasons, therefore--for India's sake, for Kashmir's sake and for the sake of Pakistan and of the Commonwealth--we should do something about that situation before it is too late. I hope that the Minister has heard what I have said.

8.29 pm

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington): I speak as someone who today celebrates his 19th anniversary in this place when I say that one of the excellent benefits of attending a debate such as this in the House of Commons is that if one listens carefully to the thoughtful and sometimes passionate speeches, one can learn a great deal that helps to advance one's own thinking. I hope that it will not be Back Benchers alone who derive a useful few hours of adult education from the debate, but that those on the Front Benches, especially Ministers, and their civil service advisers, will derive some benefit too. They would do well to listen to some of the knowledgeable and occasionally

Column 1109

passionate speeches about different aspects of the Commonwealth, such as many of those that have already been made.

I do not have much that is original or even passionate to say, but I want to add my brief contribution because I too attach great importance to the Commonwealth as an institution. I must declare a sentimental interest: I was born in Simla, nearly 52 years ago, at the tail end of the British Raj, and I have watched from afar as India has developed from being the jewel in the crown of the British empire to being a leading and vital member of the Commonwealth of nations, on a par with any other of its members.

I was especially interested, therefore, in what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) said about the tragic and needless continuing conflict in Kashmir and Jammu. I shall say a few amateur words of my own about that later.

I could not possibly match the encomium of the Commonwealth as a whole delivered by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence), who also spoke powerfully and interestingly about combating international crime, especially drug-related crime. I hope that the Minister and his colleagues in the Government will do everything possible to follow up my hon. and learned Friend's advice, because it seemed to me that he spoke with great knowledge of the law and order issues involved.

From what little I know about such matters, I realise that Britain has a great deal of expertise in this matter, which could be applied to such problems. For example, MI6 seems to be able to spend a large sum on its new headquarters just across the river, and the press tell us that it is seeking a new role in the world now that the Soviet Union has collapsed. No doubt my hon. Friend the Minister will not be able to speak about this publicly, but one new role for MI6 might be playing a constructive part in what must be global efforts to counter the international drugs trade and all the racketeering that goes with it.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) a strong interest in ensuring that the Commonwealth Institute survives, transforms itself and prospers in its new public-private partnership, especially as by 1999 it is scheduled to be devoid of all direct public support. Like my hon. Friend, I have seen the exhibitions mounted by the admirable Stephen Cox and his colleagues showing what they intend to do with the site. I too have visited the site and seen its great potential, which remains despite the fact that, alas, the building was constructed at a time and in a way that makes it fiendishly expensive and difficult to maintain.

I agree with my hon. Friend that there should be a contribution towards that necessary transitional expense by my former Department, the Department for Education, which obviously has a clear interest in ensuring that the Commonwealth Institute performs its tasks well in future. I hope that there will be no needless and sterile talk of fighting over departmental boundaries, because it is both in the Government's interest and in the national interest that the institute should make the transition.

One has only to ask oneself the rhetorical question: how would the French handle the situation if a question arose concerning a comparable institution with a potentially important role to play in supporting and

Column 1110

popularising the francophone community? They would grasp the opportunity with both hands, and they would be right to do so. This country should not be afraid to emulate such an example.

I have said to the managerial people at the Commonwealth Institute that in the fund-raising efforts that I believe that they are to make, they should make a serious effort to look for "high net worth" individuals, of which there are many more now than there were in 1979, courtesy of the policies of the Government as well as other factors. Those people should be sought not only within Britain but throughout some of the more dynamic and prosperous Commonwealth countries. The institute should approach them and appeal to their sense of altruism and their wider sense of civic responsibility, so as to secure an injection of private money into what is obviously a worthwhile institution.

I have a couple of questions to ask the Minister concerning the Commonwealth in general. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he may be able to say something about each of them in his winding-up speech. I agree with all the hon. Members who have either explicitly or implicitly underlined the fact that the Commonwealth, rather like the Pope, does not have all that many divisions directly in its own name. It has a history and considerable moral authority in all parts of the world, and it should use those to exert a constructive influence, especially with regard to the problems that have led to intractable difficulties such as those in Kashmir described by the hon. Member for Hillhead.

The first question that I should like to ask my hon. Friend, and about which I should like to hear a little more, is: what precisely have the Government sought to do within the context of our Commonwealth role to assist in conflict resolution in Kashmir, the example that the hon. Gentleman gave? Just as important, in my view, is the example of the internal difficulties in Sri Lanka. From time to time, I talk to sixth formers in my constituency, as I suspect that other hon. Members do. At a recent meeting, I exchanged views with lower sixth form girls at Wallington high school for girls in my constituency, and I was struck by the fact that three or four questions were asked from different quarters about the situation in Sri Lanka. I was asked why the Government appear relatively impotent in taking effective action to influence that situation, and those young idealistic girls specifically asked me whether we could not do more through the Commonwealth connection to help to resolve the dispute.

That is especially relevant because, as the House will know, the situation is not, strictly speaking, an internal matter for Sri Lanka, as the Indian Government have played a considerable role in supporting the Tamils. The House would like to know that the Government take issues such as Kashmir and Sri Lanka seriously and are using their best endeavours to exploit all the opportunities and all the contacts and networks of the Commonwealth to bring about a peaceful solution to those tragic problems.

My second question is about another problem that has concerned me for years --the non-proliferation regime. Of course, that has a connection with the India-Pakistan dispute. A review of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty is to take place shortly. I

Column 1111

understand that Her Majesty's Government strongly support the indefinite renewal of the treaty, and that is all to the good; but it is important for us to give an earnest of our intentions. We must subscribe to the spirit of the comprehensive test ban treaty, which in the minds of many is linked with progress on non-proliferation. We must set an example to "threshold" states--and even states such as India and Pakistan, which are way beyond the threshold. Those states have demonstrated their capacity to cause nuclear explosions, and, for all I know, have the ballistic capacity to deliver nuclear warheads. We cannot assume that, just because the cold war is over, the threat to the people and environment of the globe has diminished.

If anything, the dangers are greater rather than less in the new multi- polar, fragile world, because the condominium between the United States and what was the Soviet Union no longer exists. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something

reassuring--something that would reassure my young constituents who want to believe that they can grow up and, in their adult lives, make their contribution in a time of peace and prosperity.

I am glad that the Commonwealth now provides such a wide and rapidly growing range of trade and investment opportunities, not only for this country but for the countries in which we invest and with which we trade. Over dinner the other day, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Trade, paying one of his rare visits to this country--obviously, he performs his duties abroad on behalf of Britain, and rightly so--reminded me that Britain is now the second largest exporter to India.

Everyone thinks of China as the world's monster market, but we should consider India's natural resources, as I have done from afar. We should consider its human capital--its skills, its links with Britain, its academic achievements, its scientific expertise and the commitment to free markets that has followed from the new Indian policy. All those assets bring great benefits not only to this country, in terms of trade and payments, but to the Indian people. They desperately need the lubrication of growing prosperity to counter extremism, develop their country and, hopefully, limit the dangers of fundamentalism--Hindu fundamentalism or any other kind. Limiting fundamentalism will not only lessen the risk to the future of India--India's very existence is a miracle, given the problems of the Punjab and so forth--but help, at least at the margin, to reduce the dangers of a polarised attitude to critical questions such as the future of Kashmir, on which I strongly agree with the hon. Member for Hillhead.

I bring no special expertise to the debate, but I have enormous sympathy with our friends and fellow family members in the Commonwealth nations. I believe that the Commonwealth has a great future--indeed, probably a greater future in the 21st century than it had in the second half of the 20th. It is up to us, as the mother nation of a great institution, to help to take it forward on a basis of equality, mutual respect and adherence to altruistic policies of the sort that I have described. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to reassure us all.

Column 1112

8.43 pm

Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): Let me begin by paying tribute to Sir Charles Kerruish, president of the Tynwald, who will shortly celebrate 50 years of continuous service to his island legislature. He is the father of that House, and almost indisputably the father of Commonwealth parliamentarians. When I met him and other fellow parliamentarians on the Isle of Man on Commonwealth day, I realised the importance that members of both large and small jurisdictions attach to the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It was with great pride that the Tynwald Members commemorated their island's membership of the Commonwealth. As others have pointed out, the United Kingdom is probably unique in not celebrating Commonwealth day to any great extent, or at least to the extent that it is celebrated in other parts of the world. On that day, I was able to renew my acquaintance with friends from the Isle of Man Parliament whom I had met at the CPA conference in October. It was a privilege to be part of the United Kingdom delegation on that occasion, and I shall always remember the re-entry of the South African delegation to the plenary session, which was very moving. I reflected, however, on the fact that there is still one great void in the membership of the Commonwealth. I refer to the Republic of Ireland.

The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) mentioned Ireland, but he may have overlooked the fact that Ireland was a member of the Commonwealth until 1949. I think that it is time that it returned to the Commonwealth. About a year ago, in parliamentary questions, I suggested that the Government--along with Heads of other Commonwealth Governments-- should take the initiative in extending an invitation to the Irish Republic to rejoin the Commonwealth. I was disappointed to receive the reply, "Invitations are not extended; people or countries apply." I thought that a rather disingenuous and churlish approach; strictly speaking, that may be the position, but surely indications should be given that the time is now appropriate for Ireland to rejoin.

Irish men and women live in every corner of the Commonwealth, and they--or their children and grandchildren--play a full part in the Administrations and lives of Commonwealth countries. An Irish team would enrich the Commonwealth Games, for instance. Let me also remind those in the Irish Republic--if they read our deliberations--that it is no longer the "British" Commonwealth but the Commonwealth. That may reassure those who are beginning to contemplate Ireland's return. In his discussions with Lloyd George, Eamon De Valera tried to persuade him that an Irish Republic could exist in what was then the British Empire, and by what he termed "external association". The head of that external association, he argued, could be George V, but Ireland would participate as a republic. Lloyd George threw up his hands in horror, and said that it could not possibly be done: it was alien to the whole concept of the British Empire. It was a great lost opportunity.

Column 1113

In that regard, De Valera was ahead of his time: exactly the same formula was used by Pandit Nehru in 1949. India remained in the British Commonwealth as a republic and, indeed, the majority of states in the Commonwealth are now republics. It is a great irony that, as India joined the Commonwealth with republic status, Ireland was taken out by the Costello Government. As things have bedded down, as there is a majority of republics in the Commonwealth and as the Commonwealth is demonstrably a powerful player for good in the world, it is time that Ireland came home to this family of nations. Ireland has a proud record of working in international organisations, brokering peace in the world and contributing to peacekeeping forces. Its readmission would complement the work of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and many other countries. It is significant that the External Affairs Minister of the Irish Free State, Kevin O'Higgins, played an important part in the discussions that led up to the Statute of Westminster Act 1931. Unfortunately, he was assassinated before enactment. I mention him because the Under-Secretary gave a limited history of the development of the Commonwealth in his opening remarks. He overlooked that major and important constitutional milestone, the Statute of Westminster, which settled our relationships with the Commonwealth as it then existed--Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the Irish Free State. Broadly, it stated that those were countries of equal status with the United Kingdom. It has been a significant statute. It has given good service to the evolution of the Commonwealth. I have, however, sought to make the point in the House for some time that the Statute of Westminster is now old. It needs to be reviewed with a view to the development of a new constitutional relationship between those countries in the Commonwealth mainly but perhaps inappropriately described as the "old Commonwealth" and those which still have as head of state Her Majesty the Queen. I raise the point because, sooner or later, we--when I say "we" I mean the 16 countries in the Commonwealth of which Her Majesty the Queen is head of state--will have to deal with the matter. It is better to do so now than at a moment of constitutional crisis.

I shall explain why I believe that we need to re-examine the Statute of Westminster. Three constitutional issues could arise which would create major problems for the Governments and Parliaments of the countries of the Commonwealth of which the Queen is head of state. One is the issue of the primogeniture rule, under which the heir to the throne is the first-born son of the monarch.

It is conceivable that in 20 years' time or more the first child of the heir to the throne or the monarch will be a girl and the second child a boy. Under our existing rules, the boy would become the heir to the throne. It is my understanding that this would create dissatisfaction, if not be unacceptable, to some of the countries in the Commonwealth that share the United Kingdom monarchy. That is one scenario that could create an immediate conflict. I venture to suggest that, if Canada and New Zealand are still monarchies at that time, they will find it unacceptable that a girl who was

Column 1114

the first-born of the monarch or the heir to the throne should be passed over in favour of the second child, who was a boy. Secondly, it is conceivable that there could be a need for regency legislation at some stage--for example, if the monarch or the heir to the throne was incapacitated. That would require simultaneous and parallel legislation in 16 independent Commonwealth legislatures. The third scenario is the divorce of the Prince of Wales. Legislation is not necessary for a divorce, but special legislation would be needed as a consequence of that divorce. If there was a subsequent marriage and if there was issue from that marriage, what position would those children have in the line to the throne? Those three scenarios could arise and they need to be considered now, before there is a crisis. The first test of the Statute of Westminster Act was in 1936 when Edward VIII wished to abdicate. The Prime Ministers of Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa used their powers under the Statute of Westminster to ask the United Kingdom Parliament to legislate for the abdication. It would now be impossible for the Canadian Prime Minister or Parliament to ask the United Kingdom Parliament to enact the necessary legislation consequent on any of the three scenarios to which I referred; they are constitutionally unable to do so. In addition, it is arguable that they would have to alter their constitutions in any of those scenarios; it would not be simple for them to do so.

The Parliaments and Governments of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and St. Kitts and Nevis have equal status in relation to the monarchy. In some parliamentary questions, I asked the Foreign Secretary about the mechanism by which Her Majesty the Queen can be given collective advice by the Prime Ministers of the 16 countries of which she is head of state. He said that there was not one. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, constitutionally the Prime Minister is the principal adviser to the Queen in the United Kingdom.

I assume that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth is the adviser to the Queen as head of the Commonwealth, but there is a gap. There is no collective mechanism by which the Prime Ministers of the 16 countries of which the Queen is head of state can give collective advice. Her Majesty's Government must deal with that point. They must take the initiative with Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the other countries to hold a conference so that those joint issues can be raised. There should be some mechanism whereby collective advice can be tendered to Her Majesty the Queen.

I wish to refer again to Ireland in the context of the scenarios that I have outlined. In 1936 the Prime Ministers of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa agreed that Westminster should enact His Majesty's Declaration of Abdication Act 1936 on their behalf, but the Prime Minister of one dominion declined. The Prime Minister of the Irish Free State, Eamon de Valera, said, "Hang on a moment. Westminster is not going to enact the head of state legislation for me." He used that occasion to abolish the post of governor general by legislation in the Dail and created the post of president. Effectively, and

Column 1115

legitimately from his point of view, he moved the Irish Free State one more ratchet towards his objective of a republic.

I have to issue a warning. If the points that I have raised regarding the 16 monarchies and the collective advice is ignored, and if any of the three scenarios to which I have referred occur, there will be trouble in the Commonwealth. For instance, Prime Minister Keating may take a leaf out of the book of Eamon de Valera. He may say, "I am going to go to the House of Representatives in Canberra and legislate for our own head of state." That could create many problems and ricochet throughout the Commonwealth because it would have all been done hastily, rather than in a considered way. We need to work out some mechanism whereby the countries of which Her Majesty the Queen is head of state reach a collective agreement about monarchical succession, so long as that system endures.

One other point occurs to me, which is relatively minor but which flows from my previous point. I asked questions some time ago on what contribution the 15 other states of which the Queen is head of state make to the civil list and to the funding of the monarchy. I was told that they fund the monarchy's functions in their own jurisdictions, which I understand. When the Queen visits one of those countries, the Government of that country host her visit. I think that as a principle it would be good if, on a population basis, the other 15 states made some contribution to the running of Buckingham palace and the costs of the head of state.

Such a principle is especially significant in the debate about a new royal yacht. Apart from once a year, when Her Majesty the Queen visits the islands in Scotland, the royal yacht is primarily a symbol of her Commonwealth function, and she uses it when she visits countries around the world. The cost of the royal yacht should be shared, certainly between the 16 states of which she is head. Arguably, other countries may want to contribute too.

How about having a crew drawn from Commonwealth navies? I should have thought that that would be extremely attractive to the navies of the Commonwealth, especially those of countries of which the Queen is head of state. Since our armed forces are stretched, we should also develop further another practice that occurred in the past. Some of the ceremonial duties at Buckingham palace should be carried out more frequently by representatives of the armed forces of the other 15 states to which I referred.

I intervened on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and said that I would mention the empire. The vast majority of Commonwealth countries are fully independent, but some 14 jurisdictions, containing a total of almost 200,000 people, are not independent but are colonies. They are headed by a governor who is appointed by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. We have an obligation to those 200,000 people to ensure that they are subject to good governance. Here at Westminster, we need to find a way in which we can monitor, probe, scrutinise and examine the administration and stewardship of the governors who are appointed by the Foreign Secretary.

Column 1116

In the 1950s and 1960s, the issue of the colonies was much more important in this place, and I venture to suggest that, as a result, the colonies were more closely scrutinised. As the big colonies have gained independence, there is a real danger of our doing a disservice to the 14 other jurisdictions and forgetting about them. I have excluded Hong Kong because, regrettably, it will soon be leaving the Commonwealth. In those 14, apart from Hong Kong, there are about 200, 000 people.

Those jurisdictions are peppered around the globe and we should try hard to provide some machinery whereby we can study their Administrations and provide them with some representation. We ought to consider what happens in the United States, where comparable jurisdictions can send non-voting Congressmen to Washington. They have the opportunity to speak in debates and to put questions exclusively on matters that relate to their jurisdictions.

Mr. Forman: The hon. Gentleman is canvassing a novel idea. Would not a simple solution to the dilemma be to encourage the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs to establish a Sub-Committee, that could have some oversight over our remaining dependencies?

Mr. Mackinlay: I thought about that. My suggestion is not instead of that, but complementary to the concept of the Select Committee having a scrutiny role. We are talking about a group of people who are dispersed around the globe and it is impossible for the Select Committee to ensure the scrutiny to which I referred, or to ensure that messages are brought to this place about any unhappiness, criticism or need for remedies that might exist in those colonies. Some limited form of representation at Westminster for those jurisdictions is required. What on earth could be wrong with that? I have felt somewhat frustrated. If the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman) and I were to take an interest in those jurisdictions, we would have no way of getting there. Great distances and enormous costs are involved. We might be included on delegations, but they are not the best vehicles for scrutiny.

I take an interest in Gibraltar. The first time that I went there was at the invitation of the Government of Gibraltar, who had noticed that I had taken an interest. It would have been much better if I had been able to go without an invitation. When one goes as a guest, there is always the potential for embarrassment. We need to provide some opportunities for spot visits--

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow): During the recess.

Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend has a point.

Today I had lunch with a representative of the Australian Northern Territory. The Australian state Parliaments--let alone the federal Parliament--have a breathtaking travel budget. I am not advocating that, but there should be some opportunity for representatives of this place to visit the remaining colonies for which we have some responsibility without notice so that proper scrutiny can take place.

Like other hon. Members, I have painted a broad canvas of interests with regard to the Commonwealth. I was recently in the company of one of my hon. Friends, discussing my thesis that Ireland should return

Column 1117

to the Commonwealth. He said, "Why on earth would it want to do that?" I was shocked by that response and explained why I thought it would be to the mutual benefit of the Commonwealth and Ireland if it re-entered.

He expressed the view that the Commonwealth was unimportant, which deeply depressed me, because I acknowledge that it has been a force for good in the world--albeit a very silent force. It has done a great deal in brokering some ceasefires and has intervened where there has been bloodshed. Some hon. Members have referred to its failures, but it is important for us to acknowledge that it has also played a great part in trying to achieve some stability. In some cases, it is a ratchet against military takeovers.

Through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and other agencies, we are able to aid and assist the fragile and emerging democracies in the Commonwealth. I should like the CPA to develop as a limited parliamentary arm that supervises the work of the Commonwealth secretariat and other agencies.

At the conference that I attended with the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley in October, I welcomed the innovation whereby the Secretary-General agreed to present a report to the assembly and then answer questions. I believe that the hon. Member for Hereford had a hand in that welcome development of parliamentary scrutiny of the important Commonwealth secretariat's work.

Mr. Colin Shepherd: The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth has been a fervent supporter of that development. I take no credit for it but hand the credit to him, because he has always gone out of his way to ensure that he is available to exchange views with us.

Mr. Mackinlay: I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the position. That welcome development should be continued in subsequent conferences, because the Commonwealth agencies and secretariat are of considerable interest. It would be educative to a number of Commonwealth parliamentarians and show the democratic principles behind the Commonwealth if what Chief Anyaoku did in Canada were continued at future conferences.

I add my name to the list of hon. Members who proclaim the Commonwealth as a proud and valued institution, and I wish it well in its further development.

9.11 pm

Next Section

  Home Page