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I speak in the context of the imminent collapse of Zimbabwe, only prevented so far by the extraordinary courage of its civil society. The UN has failed, despite the urgent representations of Anna Tibaijuka and Jan Egeland, in its responsibility to protect, both within the country where it was inhibited, and still is, from

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any intervention, and in New York, where it has allowed the African Union to prevent any discussion of Zimbabwe in the Security Council, the General Assembly or the Human Rights Council in Geneva. The African Union’s policy of peer scrutiny, because it is voluntary, has effectively inhibited any action, and we have chosen to respect this. There is, however, one potentially powerful and entirely legitimate source of support for Zimbabwe’s civil society, and that is civil society in the Commonwealth. The SADC countries, Zimbabwe’s neighbours, are members of that Commonwealth. Their economies are deeply vulnerable. We do not know the result of the economic report that they were mandated to make at the Tanzania conference in March.

We should be encouraging the lawyers, trade unionists, teachers, doctors and students within Zimbabwe by funding initiatives—some of which are already contemplated—to take them to Commonwealth countries for training. Those initiatives could be used to encourage Commonwealth leaders to move to the next, vital step of putting Zimbabwe on the agenda in Uganda in November. Nothing could send a clearer signal to the people of Zimbabwe, and to the world, that we believe that their country has a future. Our country and the US are generous givers to the many aid programmes inside Zimbabwe. Let us now give for the future of a country well able to restore its economy and its society by its own efforts, once it is free.

The Commonwealth, in words cited by Judith Todd, left the candle in the window for the people of South Africa when Verwoerd took his country, but not his people, out of the Commonwealth. As my noble friend Lord Blaker said, both the Harare declaration and the Millbrook agreement require us to do the same for Zimbabwe. Let us not forget that the Commonwealth countries united could do much to secure action in and by the UN, as they did at the time of the Falklands. I rejoice to hear that our Prime Minister has already sent one encouraging signal by telling the Portuguese Prime Minister that if President Mugabe is invited to the conference in November, he will not be there. Today, a country is being destroyed from within before our eyes. The Commonwealth must now set a bright light in the window for the people of Zimbabwe to see.

9.51 pm

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I want to talk about the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in safeguarding the fundamental political values of the Commonwealth, which are democracy, development and diversity—the three Ds. Recently, there have been problems that seem to indicate that CMAG is becoming less effective. Many noble Lords have mentioned Zimbabwe, so I shall not, except only to say that I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said in his opening remarks about that country.

There was hope that President Obasanjo in Nigeria would consolidate democracy there and tackle corruption, but the recent national election showed serious problems in the Niger delta, which was considered too dangerous for the Commonwealth observer group

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to visit. Should not the action group of Ministers be automatically engaged when an observer group gives a negative report following an election?

The main thing that I want to talk about in this debate is the need for the Commonwealth to pay attention to Pakistan, which was readmitted to the Commonwealth in 2004. That country is walking a tightrope between its own extremists and the demands of America and is still under military rule, which we reluctantly condone. Its close neighbour is Afghanistan and the warlords. I was condemned by my party and many others in 2001 when I said that we should be dropping food and aid on famine-stricken Afghanistan, not bombs. It seemed to me then and now that bombs would make a poor country even poorer and more dangerous, and that bombs would scatter Osama bin Laden and his merry men all over the world, but especially to the northern territories of Pakistan. Of course, that has happened. Pakistan is now in great danger.

Economic development and aid are the way to win hearts and minds in Pakistan and Afghanistan. That should be the Commonwealth’s greatest task in Pakistan and it should be NATO’s greatest task in Afghanistan. Properly fed and educated people with hope for their children’s future are less likely to become extremists. A Taliban-controlled Pakistan with nuclear weapons is the alternative, and is one of my nightmares. Urgent economic development must go hand in hand with the steps towards democracy that we want Pakistan to take. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group should make support for that country its priority.

9.55 pm

Baroness Prashar: My Lords, I begin by welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to the House, because she is a true Commonwealth person. I am delighted that she will be responding to this debate and I greatly look forward to her speech. In making my contribution, I declare an interest. I am the chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Luce.

There is now increasing recognition that the modern Commonwealth is ideally suited to meeting some of the challenges of the 21st century. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, recently argued that the Commonwealth,

In a visionary speech on e-connectivity, the President of India said that, through the integrated evolution of the Commonwealth knowledge grid, we can address many common challenges of development. Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, in a debate in this House two years ago, said that we as a nation were in great danger of missing a great opportunity to continue “to champion the Commonwealth”. Champion the Commonwealth we must, but we must also be an active catalyst for change within the Commonwealth, because we are well placed to help to revitalise it, to rebuild its capacity to contribute to multilateral diplomacy and trade, and to develop new and imaginative ways of dealing with some development issues.

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Change in the leadership of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the forthcoming publication of the Sen commission report and the report on the new membership rules for the Commonwealth, and of course our new leadership in the UK under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as the upcoming 60th anniversary in 2009 of the London declaration, all provide an excellent opportunity to consider the future role of the Commonwealth and that of the UK within it, particularly in the context of our own international priorities. This is an opportunity to make an unsentimental assessment of where the Commonwealth can make a difference. It is an opportunity to review the factors that may stand in the way of a better understanding of its benefits and potential, and its relevance to our internal, national concerns, because these overlap with our external concerns.

There are several areas in which the Commonwealth can make a difference. The first is as a consensus builder. As my noble friend Lord Luce said, this was very well put by the former Secretary-General, Shridath Ramphal, when he said:

The Commonwealth’s diversity is an advantage. It provides energy and dynamism not just in the international context but also nationally, because it provides a healthy framework for complex societies grappling to work with difference. Its core values and attitudes provide the ability to develop consensus through dialogue and ideas rather than a quest for power politics.

The Commonwealth is unrivalled among international organisations because it can realistically aspire to be a Commonwealth of democracies. Time is running out. We have heard about the Commonwealth’s economic advantage in the sense that it has within it the 13 fastest-growing economies along with the poorest 14. It can make a difference in these areas, as it can in development. I would like to suggest that we in the UK should take steps to make a realistic assessment of the potential and develop an agenda for meaningful engagement with the Commonwealth. To that end, I should like to know whether Her Majesty’s Government would consider undertaking such an assessment through a process of wide consultation in preparation for the 60th anniversary in 2009.

9.54 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for the debate. It is altogether good to see the Minister on the Front Bench. Previous Ministers have set a big challenge to meet with their powerful contributions. My noble friend brings with her great qualifications and very useful experience, not least—if I may say so as a former director—her effective role as a trustee of Oxfam.

The Government are firmly committed to multilateralism. The Commonwealth has considerable potential as a catalyst for building global consensus. It is globally representative and culturally and ethnically diverse, but its effectiveness depends on the will of its member Governments to use it and support it. It

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needs not only a strong secretary-general but one with a clear mandate to lead proactively and imaginatively.

To generate the international understanding and global solidarity that is so essential to security, education at all levels is vital. That includes informal education. On this, there has been a recent, very exciting development. It emerged at the Commonwealth People’s Forum in Malta in 2005, was taken up by the Commonwealth Education Ministers meeting in 2006 and is to be developed further at the next People’s Forum in Kampala, where it is hoped that it will cover inter-faith work. It is led by a new British inter-organisational NGO called BUILD. It promotes effective partnerships between schools, professional organisations, hospitals and medical schools, with great mutual support in both directions.

Recently, I was privileged to chair a BUILD meeting at Marlborough House at which Archbishop Tutu was a keen participant. It was deeply impressive, especially to hear the proven evidence of what is already being achieved. I hope that this and similar practical initiatives, not only at ministerial level but at grass-roots level, will attract all the priority and attention possible.

10.01 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for the debate. There are some very positive cases of how the Commonwealth has among its membership some of the most influential countries in the world, such as Canada, India, Australia and New Zealand. These countries have sustained economic growth and have established long-standing democratic processes. While it is true that these are the success stories, unfortunately the cases of countries not succeeding should and must remain a worry to the United Kingdom.

Can the Minister tell the House what plans the Government have to strengthen the voice of the Commonwealth? It is time that we considered aiding the poorest of our Commonwealth members by looking beyond monetary aid as the solution. It clearly is not working, as we are told that there are still over 660 million people in the Commonwealth who are living on less than a dollar a day. Life expectancy for the poorest of the world in the Commonwealth is in decline, and fewer than 35 per cent of children are receiving complete primary education. The millennium development goals are becoming distant dreams, as the targets for halving poverty and eliminating preventable infant deaths are unlikely to be met by 2015, as previously predicted.

The obsession with setting and meeting targets is failing. The restructuring and empowerment of these failing countries must be in local development by local organisations, supported fully with structures, leadership and accountable systems. Corruption is rife in many of the sub-Saharan Commonwealth countries, and we must act carefully and in a measured way when we offer assistance to our Commonwealth friends in helping them to overcome the challenges that they face.

Africa has suffered particularly from a lack of good governance and is continually subjected to

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corruption, with the people in power abusing the status that they hold and taking advantage of the weak and crumbling states that they govern. We need to ask how we assist Africa with aid programmes that reach its people and how we support the restructuring of the infrastructure and ensure that we do not tolerate dictators who take advantage of the poverty and chaos that is prevailing in these countries.

As mentioned, Zimbabwe presented a defining moment for the Commonwealth, as it was left grievously wounded and unable to deliver the principles on which it rests. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has sunk his country and its people into atrocious inflation and desperation. The aid that we provide needs to be tracked. Development and accountability are key factors that should be linked with aid. Capital flight should be curbed, and powerful individuals in Africa should be prevented from transferring money into foreign bank accounts. Keeping money in Africa is crucial in assisting funding with local investment and development and health and education programmes. As it stands, preventing capital flight is a key part of achieving some of the millennium development goals on reducing poverty.

The Commonwealth has a duty to ensure that measures are in place to prevent further debt and human loss in Africa. While there are obvious difficulties, would the Minister assure the House that the Commonwealth will be given greater recognition for the contribution that it makes and can make to the rest of the world?

10.05 pm

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, CHOGM has a lively website, which is already predicting the weather forecast for Uganda in November. What it cannot forecast is the precise agenda. I am one of those who would like to see a Commonwealth initiative on Zimbabwe.

Today, I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich in expressing the concerns of many ACP countries about the effects of the new EPAs under the revised Cotonou agreement. They fear unfair competition from globalisation, displacing local producers and capping industrial development. They expect a loss of revenue from the removal of import taxes, inevitably leading to cuts in public services. Article 1 of the Cotonou agreement stated:

It is an unequal partnership. The EU is not only the biggest trading partner but the biggest aid donor. That was recognised by DfID last time we debated this. As I recall, it was an uphill struggle for the UK to remind the Commission of its stated objectives. However, it may be that, since then, DfID has had to give way to other foreign policy considerations. I am therefore much looking forward to hearing in due course about the UK’s latest position. Meanwhile, I welcome the Minister to the House and to the debate, for which I also thank my noble friend Lord Luce.

According to the NGOs, the European Commission is negotiating the EPAs in a way that fundamentally breaks the letter and spirit of Cotonou. The Commission has dismissed pro-development proposals, forced the

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Singapore issues back on to the negotiating table and linked future development assistance to concessions made by the ACP, in direct contravention of the EC’s obligations to provide at least equivalent market access on 1 January 2008. These are serious charges, which show the degree of exasperation on both sides. These concerns have been voiced by ACP officials on numerous occasions; the Commonwealth Secretariat has provided legal advice in their favour. The African Union, in Accra on 29 June, urged the EC to consider putting in place transitional measures that would safeguard the continued entry of African exports beyond December 2007. Would the UK, therefore, in view of its previous support for the ACP, now support the latest appeal of the AU heads of state and put in place transitional measures? That would also be in line with the UK’s own position in 2005, which was that the ACP should have alternatives available if requested.

These are matters of great concern to Commonwealth countries, which include the least developed countries among their number. The CFTC, which my noble friend mentioned, is especially involved through its hubs-and-spokes project, its trade facilitation and its export development strategies. This is all likely to come up in Uganda in November.

10.08 pm

Lord Jay of Ewelme: My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, to this House and to her ministerial job. We worked closely together in preparing the G8 summit at Gleneagles, particularly on poverty reduction in Africa and on development issues more generally, to which I know she is deeply committed. I welcome her to this House.

In my last appearance before the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, before I left the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, I was rightly taken to task for agreeing an annual report of the FCO that made no mention of the Commonwealth. I pleaded guilty with genuine contrition, because I share others’ views that the Commonwealth has a crucial role to play and that its role is frequently and usually underestimated.

I want to make three short points, one political and two developmental. The political point echoes the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, about the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, CMAG. I was very struck, upon attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane in 2002, by the number of Commonwealth countries, often small and isolated, which showed huge appreciation of the peer group pressure put on them for good governance by the Commonwealth Secretary-General and by CMAG. Britain is a member of CMAG, and I share the hope of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that the Government, both in the run-up to and after the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Uganda, will give real impetus to CMAG’s work.

The first of my two development points is as follows. Last week I was in South Africa and Zambia, two Commonwealth countries in which the positive effects of good governance, effective economic management and economic growth are clear to see. I

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would welcome the views of the Minister and of DfID on the importance they attach, as I do, to economic growth as a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for poverty reduction in the third world, and to the need for Government, business and civil society to work together to meet the millennium development goals. In that context I should declare an interest as chairman of the trustees of Merlin, the NGO that provides essential medical help to many of the poorest people in the world, including in Commonwealth countries.

My third and last point is on Zimbabwe. The contrast between South Africa and Zambia, which I saw last week, and the situation in Zimbabwe could not be more striking. Others have spoken about the politics of Zimbabwe. I hope that DfID will, albeit discreetly, be making the necessary preparations to work with others, particularly Commonwealth neighbours of Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth Secretariat, to ensure that, when the Mugabe regime finally ends, that country can realise its economic potential and we can end the wholly unjustified and unnecessary misery of its people.

10.11 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I also warmly welcome the Minister. I congratulate the noble Lord on his initiative, and thank him particularly for mentioning the sterling work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the UK branch of which I had the privilege to chair for four years.

Time permits only to mention some of the leftovers from the Valletta CHOGM two years ago and to ask what new initiatives Her Majesty’s Government propose for that. The consensus is that Valletta was very positive on the political agenda and on good governance and democracy, as well as in trade and development, but questions still arise from it. First, we think of the Commonwealth as a wonderfully informal organisation, yet at Valletta we had the longest communiqué ever: 103 clauses. Who bothers to read those? Is it worth the effort? I hope we can bear that in mind.

Secondly, the Commonwealth is not just about governance but about peoples. The 85 Commonwealth civil society organisations have already been mentioned. What further proposals do the Government have at Kampala to engage civil society, remembering that civil society has been increasingly mainstreamed? One of the excellent initiatives at Valletta was the valuable meeting between the Foreign Ministers and the business and civil society forums.

Three matters were leftovers for the Secretary-General. One was paragraph 26 of the communiqué, asking the Secretary-General to explore initiatives to provide mutual understanding and respect among all faiths. We look forward to the Sen commission report on that. Another of those matters was paragraph 101, on future membership. CMAG has been something of a disappointment. Do the Government now see that there should be limits on new members? Lastly, with regard to paragraph 17 of the Valletta statement strengthening intra-Commonwealth dialogue and networking collaboration on trade and economic issues, what progress has been made and what input has there been from the Government?

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Brave promises were made about increasing the contributions to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-Operation by 6 per cent per annum in real terms over the next five years. Has anything happened further to those promises?

One postscript: at Kampala, the Commonwealth will be saying goodbye to Don McKinnon, the Secretary-General. Someone at least should pay tribute to the sterling work he has done in his term.

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