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2.3 pm

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: I am grateful to the Minister for her remarks. I am grateful, too, for the many excellent contributions by Labour Members, for the silent support of so many of my hon. Friends, and for the contributions from Opposition Members, in particular the reference to the Swansea City supporters trust, which I have recently joined.

I recognise the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) and by the Minister. I will take those points on board and see whether I can satisfy them. I hope that on that basis the House will be willing to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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Commonwealth Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

2.4 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I had hoped that the House was so crowded on a Friday to support the Second Reading of my Commonwealth Bill. However, the Industrial and Provident Societies Bill seems to have attracted greater interest than my own, and I am pleased that that Bill has secured its Second Reading.

The purpose of my Bill is very modest. Having come 17th in the ballot of private Member's Bills, I had no illusions that I should use my lowly place in the ballot to push forward a controversial measure or tweak the Government's nose. This measure goes back to decisions taken by the Conservative party when it was in government, but I hope that it is supported by both sides of the House. I am pleased to see the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw), on the Front Bench.

The Bill aims to tackle two practical problems concerning the future of the Commonwealth. My party is strongly committed to that, as are Members on both sides of the House. The Bill essentially tidies up the statute book and severs the Government's statutory link with the Commonwealth Institute, although the Government will continue to support its work. It also makes provision for the recognition in the United Kingdom of the admission to the Commonwealth of Cameroon and Mozambique, which happened in 1995.

Before I briefly describe those two important parts of the measure, let me pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). He is involved with the Commonwealth Institute and approached me to suggest that I bring forward such a measure when I had secured a place in the ballot for private Member's Bills. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his encouragement and advice.

The first part of the Bill concerns the Commonwealth Institute. I should explain that the Commonwealth Institute in Kensington has nothing to do with the Commonwealth Club in Northumberland avenue, now an outrageously trendy restaurant, which I am sure is the Minister's spiritual home. That is a separate organisation.

A decision has been taken, which we strongly support, to provide that the management of the Commonwealth Institute no longer be under the direct control of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Bill repeals the statutes that provide for the management of the Commonwealth Institute as a Government-supported body. I know from letters that I have received from those at the Commonwealth Institute that they have been pressing for this measure for some time, and strongly welcome it.

The Bill would change the law following the severance of the institute from the FCO's responsibility and its establishment in January 2000 as an independent charitable company. In particular, the Bill would transfer the balance of the institute's trust fund—some £50,000—from the trustees to the institute, and terminate the Government's statutory responsibilities for the institute.

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If I called this privatisation, I would be in danger of stirring up controversy, when that is not the Bill's purpose. However, we all welcome the fact that the institute, which has for a long time been under the direct control of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, will have a greater independent existence as a free-standing charitable body. It has done great work in the past to promote learning across the Commonwealth. It is an independent agency, and we strongly believe in it in its new form.

As a free-standing charitable body, the institute will be able to flourish and expand. It delivers education programmes to schools and offers exhibitions and events at its centre in London. Its mission is

It is aimed particularly at spreading understanding of other cultures around the Commonwealth, which I strongly support.

The second part of the Bill acknowledges in United Kingdom law the admission of Cameroon and Mozambique to the Commonwealth. That decision was taken when my party was in government and Baroness Chalker was the Minister with responsibility for the Commonwealth. That was in 1995, and all the practical steps to ensure full membership of the Commonwealth for Cameroon and Mozambique have been taken, but sadly, various parts of British law have not yet caught up with the new reality. The Bill ensures that all legislation on the Commonwealth fully takes account of the new position. That involves amending and correcting legislation that previously would not have covered those countries' membership.

For example, the Bill amends the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 to include Cameroon and Mozambique in the definitions of "Commonwealth force" and "Commonwealth country". Other legislation is amended to ensure that the forces of Mozambique and Cameroon can be treated as visiting forces from a Commonwealth country under those statutes.

It was an entirely correct decision to admit Cameroon and Mozambique to the Commonwealth. It was encouraging to see countries that did not have the same historical links with the Commonwealth as most members asking to be admitted. That shows the strength and power of the Commonwealth. Having taken that decision back in 1995, it is important that we now have the legislation to make a reality of it.

I should explain that citizens of Mozambique and Cameroon already have the status of Commonwealth citizens for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981. That Act has already been amended, so the Bill contains no provision on nationality. It ensures that in other respects the legislation for the Commonwealth takes account of the decision that those countries should enter.

I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to give the Bill a Second Reading. It is intended to be uncontroversial. It is difficult to see how people could oppose two practical measures that ensure that the statute book gives greater freedom to the Commonwealth Institute to conduct its affairs as an independent charitable

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body, and that legislation governing our affairs fully reflects the decision that Mozambique and Cameroon should join the Commonwealth. I therefore hope that the private Member's Bill that I have great pleasure in bringing to the House today will secure a Second Reading.

2.12 pm

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) on choosing this topic for his private Member's Bill. As we have heard, it is a technical measure and it does a job of tidying up the statute book. It will remove the Government's statutory link with the Commonwealth Institute. It makes provisions to acknowledge Cameroon and Mozambique as members of the Commonwealth in several UK Acts of Parliament.

During the 1999 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Durban, the then Foreign Secretary, who is now the Leader of the House, announced the agreement between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the institute that it was to become an independent, pan-Commonwealth agency. At the time, David French, director general of the institute, welcomed the decision, suggesting that it was

In February 2000 the Minister for Europe stated in response to a written question:

I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing that work for the Government. Although the institute has been operating as an independent agency since January 2000, until today there has been no sign of the legislation to repeal the Acts in question.

I notice from the Bill that my hon. Friend has not stopped at the two Acts referred to in the written answer. A list of Acts will be repealed in part by the Bill, and that list is almost a catalogue of all the countries in the Commonwealth.

The institute's mission is a worthy one, and it plays a valuable role. From the list of successes noted by the chairman David Thompson in the institute's annual review 2000, it is clear that its role is being taken forward with relish. Among those successes, Mr. Thompson states that the education team has secured more than £1 million in new project funding, and that more than 750,000 people have visited the website to browse the information contained on it.

As a consequence of making the institute an independent body, the Bill also deals with the disposal of the endowment fund referred to in the Imperial Institute Act 1925. That is the last remaining asset held by the old trustees for the benefit of the Commonwealth Institute. The capital fund will be transferred, free of restrictions, to the Commonwealth Institute in its reconstituted form. If the Bill becomes law, the old trustees will have no remaining functions and will cease to exist.

The second purpose of the Bill, as we have heard, is to recognise in United Kingdom law the fact that Cameroon and Mozambique were admitted to the Commonwealth in 1995. In particular, the Bill contains a provision—although, as my hon. Friend has said, many measures have already been taken—to allow forces from Cameroon and Mozambique to be treated as Commonwealth forces.

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The final provisions, in clause 3, repeal the enactments relating to the Commonwealth Institute, which will cease to have effect under the provisions that I have already highlighted. I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the Bill and doing some of the work that the Government possibly should have done earlier. I wish him and the Bill well in its passage through Parliament.

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