Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from The Rt Hon the Lord Luce KG, GCVO

Introduction

This is the right time to take stock of the Commonwealth and its value to the UK. Britain is no longer the dominant but now an equal partner. The Empire and arguments over sanctions over South Africa are long since over. The Eminent Persons Group has produced a remarkable range of recommendations designed to strengthen the Commonwealth and this is the year of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, alongside which a Diamond Jubilee Trust has been established. Moreover, we have a Government which is strongly committed to the Commonwealth.

It is true that the Perth CHOGM demonstrated that there is a varied level of commitment to the Commonwealth though, at the same time, no country wants to leave and many want to join.

My Experience

My experience of the Commonwealth spans a period of 50 years having served as the last British Administrator in Kenya (1961–62), the Minister for Africa at the FCO (1979–82) and Minister of State at the FCO (1983–85) with Ministerial responsibilities for the Commonwealth for part of that time, the only British Chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation (1997–97), Governor of Gibraltar (1997–2000) and now President of the newly formed Commonwealth Youth Orchestra and of the Royal Over-Seas League. The Commonwealth also featured in my role as Lord Chamberlain (2000–06).

General

I do not need to rehearse the uniqueness of the Commonwealth in its composition, level of trade, range of cultural, religious and economic diversity as the Committee will have all this evidence at your disposal. We are the envy of the French who wonder why we are not more imaginative in our participation. We have a common bond through history, culture, language, development and trade.

Britain is no longer an Empire nor indeed a major power. But since it is in our interests to play an active role in the world for the sake of our security, stability and prosperity, the Commonwealth connection happens to exist (as “a happy accident”) and gives Britain a special opportunity to exercise soft power and to add value to our international role. It is complementary to our membership of organisations like the UN, the EU and NATO. It is informal, pragmatic and voluntary. It is entirely up to us what we make of it.

There are two aspects to the Commonwealth which can benefit the UK. Firstly, the network between people, professional and voluntary bodies. Second, the relationship between member governments. The two complement each other and interact.

The EPG Report sets the scene very well and makes a large number of recommendations covering both the intergovernmental aspect and networking at non-government level. I will confine myself to highlighting a few points:

1. Good Governance and Values

If the Commonwealth is to serve any purpose and to have any value then it must practise what it preaches. The commitment to the rule of law, free press, the plural society, human rights and democracy, must be demonstrated. Over the years a number of countries have been suspended for not living up to these standards and values. The EPG Report rightly recommends strengthening this area. A test case will be how the Commonwealth handles the alleged abuse of Tamil human rights leading up to the next CHOGM.

2. Conflict Resolution

It is also in Britain’s interests to work within the Commonwealth for conflict resolution. The CHOGM plan for strengthening the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should be encouraged.

3. Young People

60% of the Commonwealth population is under 30. The EPG recommendations should be supported. In particular I emphasise the value of

(i)school twinning

(ii)teaching the history of Empire and Commonwealth in schools

(iii)maintaining and strengthening Commonwealth scholarships, especially in the post-graduate area

(iv)examining whether there could be a Commonwealth gap year exchange scheme

(v)encouraging British entrepreneurship for the young

(vi)the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra—music strengthens international understanding. The European Youth Orchestra has been a success. This new Orchestra is supported by CHOGM and I would welcome the encouragement of the Committee (I attach a background brief on the Orchestra)

(vii)the Diamond Jubilee Trust – the emphasis of this Trust should be in creating a legacy for young Commonwealth people

4. Networking of People and Organisations

The EPG recommendations on this should be fully supported. The Commonwealth Foundation does play an important role as an enabler and a catalyst for contact. The work of the over 80 professional bodies should be encouraged together with the contact between NGOs and civic society bodies to strengthen the backbone of democratic societies.

5. DFID and Development

Since the Commonwealth is a UK priority there is a strong argument for examining the proportion of development assistance which goes to the Commonwealth and increasing it if possible. At the same time, DFID should ensure that such assistance buttresses self-reliance rather than aid dependency.

6. The Diaspora and Professional Skills

Since the Second World War over twenty million people have migrated from the African continent, mainly to the western world. Millions have acquired professional skills. It is welcome news that the Royal African Society is working with DFID and Comic Relief to generate more knowledge about the Diaspora in Britain. I recommend that the Committee support the idea of developing a Commonwealth Diaspora scheme to encourage, if possible with the help of DFID, those who would like to contribute to their country of origin, if invited to do so. The constructive channelling of remittances should be encouraged to help in the reconstruction of their countries of origin. Remittances to Africa are larger than DFID aid to Africa.

7. Profile of the Commonwealth

I support the EPG recommendation for strengthening the profile and knowledge of the Commonwealth and its opportunities through, for example, universities, schools and voluntary organisations.

8. The Secretariat

I support the EPG recommendations for a strengthened Commonwealth Secretariat and for the Secretary General to be given the remit to speak up more forcefully on behalf of the Commonwealth and its values.

9. UK Overseas Territories

There is a natural affinity between the Commonwealth and UK Overseas Territories. I recommend that the Chief Ministers of each of these Territories should have an opportunity to meet the Foreign Ministers of the Commonwealth every other year, when their planned meetings take place. For example, the Caribbean Commonwealth nations would have much in common with the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories.

10. Diplomacy

For the UK the Commonwealth is what we make of it. Imaginative diplomacy by Ministers and officials in HMG can achieve a great deal for our country. It requires clear political leadership.

27 January 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012