Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Rt Hon Frank Field MP DL

1. For the Commonwealth to survive it must have a purpose, for nations to believe in that purpose, and for people in these nations to drive forward that vision. Over the past 60 years that vision and drive has been led by the head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty The Queen. It would be a fitting tribute to Her Majesty’s extraordinary public service for the Select Committee to produce an action based blueprint that the House, the country and the Commonwealth would wish to implement.

2. The Commonwealth’s purpose has always been centred on a belief that a body, whose membership takes in countries stretching across every continent, and encompasses all races, could be a force for increasing both human understanding and happiness. But the Commonwealth, with just over 30% of global population, has also offered a hard political edge to its activities. The 54 Commonwealth countries, for example, comprise just under 30% of the United Nations’ membership. It is obviously better to have this group on one side rather than in opposition. A block united by ties of history and friendship has already proved an important force for good in world affairs. How best might this force be strengthened?

3. The question the Committee has to consider is not only whether there is a future for the Commonwealth. Here I agree with the emphatic yes that Professor David Dilks gave in his submission. The Committee also has to ponder how the Commonwealth maybe transported safely into the future.

4. I also agree with Professor Dilks’ proposal that a good route to achieve this end would be to establish a new Queen’s Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme. For this scheme to have maximum impact, when planning the Commonwealth’s next stage of its life, it would be important to engage the interest and enthusiasm of the younger members of the immediate Royal Family in this task, and for them to take a personal responsibility for the scheme’s success. This particular scheme of scholarships should be awarded to Commonwealth students wishing to study at British Universities and the scheme could run alongside the proposal that John Major has made for inter-Commonwealth studentships.

5. Entry to British Universities is currently skewed against citizens from countries that have loyally fought with this country through two world wars. Our immigration policy reflects a similar bias. The role of The Queen’s Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme should be to so overcome the adverse differential fee system that Commonwealth citizens now face when they consider coming to this country to study.

6. The aim of the Queen’s Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme should be to build close links between the next generation of economic, military, cultural, social and professional elites of Commonwealth countries and for this elite to see themselves as natural allies and trading partners.

7. The scheme could be financed entirely from DfID’s growing budget. Such a move would involve a long term commitment by British tax payers and would offer them the opportunity of insuring that their aid was safeguarded from the opportunities for fraud to which DfID’s budget is so subjected.

8. It is difficult to think of a more effective tribute to her Majesty for her stewardship of the Commonwealth over the past 60 years than to ensure that the next stage of the Commonwealth’s life will be one which will build on its own momentum.

1 March 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012