I have always been a firm supporter of the Commonwealth; likewise, I have always been a firm supporter of the European Union. I therefore strongly disagree with those—not in this Chamber this afternoon—who yearn for isolation from the European Union, believing that enhanced links within the Commonwealth would strengthen our position in the world. That is both wrong-headed and romantic. Our membership of a single market of almost 500 million citizens, a powerful global trading block, must never be undervalued. Both organisations fulfil different and distinct roles, but they share common values, which include democracy, human rights, good governance and the rule of law. At a time when there has been an ever-accelerating movement of wealth and power from north to south, from west to east, and geopolitics is in a constant swirl, it is our key relationships with both that help to define our place in the world.

A couple of weeks ago, when the Prime Minister visited Amritsar, he rightly described the massacre, the atrocity of 1919, as,

“a deeply shameful event in British history”.

Churchill described it at the time as “monstrous”, as indeed it was. It brought home the injustices of imperialism, episodes in our history of which we should be deeply ashamed—although clearly we did many good things. For me, it also encapsulated the complexities of the Commonwealth and our shared history.

I was attracted by the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, about further radical reform of the Commonwealth, for example by the introduction of regional hubs. I also welcome the Commonwealth Charter, which defines an impressive project, and agree that it is an important statement of what the Commonwealth stands for. It will ensure that the organisation renews itself and remains relevant in the 21st century, while retaining its values—that is, as long as its declarations are translated into actions, as the noble Lord, Lord Black, said.

There are many who question that relevance. I recall difficult discussions with Indian parliamentarians last year during an excellent visit organised by the

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Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Some of our interlocutors saw the Commonwealth only as an organisation born out of Empire, and believed that our position within the European Union was of much more interest to them. I have no doubt that there will be many successful outcomes following the recent trade mission to India led by the Prime Minister. Although the business potential is enormous, it is clear that we cannot rely on our historic ties and our powerful diaspora for business preferment. I should add that mixed messages about visas do not help. I endorse the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester about the damage being done by our restrictive visa policy to intergenerational relationships and to our soft power, which is rightly celebrated by the Government.

The charter provides an opportunity for the Commonwealth to restate its role in a fast-changing world, but for that opportunity to be truly grasped, the core values and principles have to be adhered to. It is a voluntary association of independent, sovereign states which celebrate diversity while sharing history and traditions; we share a culture but have many cultural differences. However, those differences must not be allowed to override our shared respect for human rights, as clearly stated in the charter in a gloriously robust paragraph that ends:

“We are implacably opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds”.

Like my noble friend Lord Watson of Invergowrie, I therefore have to wonder why, in the 21st century, the Commonwealth still tolerates not only the criminalisation of homosexuality in many Commonwealth countries, but the fact that in northern Nigeria the maximum punishment for same-sex sexual activity is death by stoning, and in Uganda, legislators are considering an anti-gay Bill that includes a death penalty provision.

I would be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that in all Commonwealth gatherings, we will raise these issues, which are an affront to our declared commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is, or at least should be, one of the great strengths of the Commonwealth. It brings together countries from North and South, developed and developing, and should enable us to discuss the most difficult issues and to find solutions to problems such as tax transparency. In too many of our discussions in the past on development and migration, we have looked for north-south solutions. However, within the Commonwealth, matters can be resolved though south-south dialogues, and the Commonwealth.

On the issue of human rights, like other noble Lords, I look forward to hearing from the Minister a proper update on the Government’s support for the holding of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka later this year—a country where there are still horrific abuses of human rights. In my view it is clear that the host of CHOGM must uphold the Commonwealth values of good governance and respect for human rights; this is, indeed, a litmus test. Like my noble friend Lord Anderson, I regret that the CHOGM held in Perth last year did not adopt the proposal from the eminent persons group to create a commissioner for democracy, the rule of law and

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human rights. I know that the arguments against it were that it would duplicate the roles of the secretary-general and the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, but I take a very different position. In my view, it would have strengthened the Commonwealth’s institutions and the democratic institutions and the rule of law in all the member states. Democracy is fragile; it needs constant nurturing and vigilance; and the appointment of a commissioner would have helped.

I am sure that we all look forward to free, fair and transparent elections in Pakistan in a few months’ time. This will be the first transition from one democratically elected Government to another in the country’s history. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell the House what arrangements are being made to monitor the elections. While welcoming the elections, I have deep concerns about the fact that more that 12 million women will not be able to participate in them because they do not have an identity card and therefore cannot register to vote. That says much about the status of women in our Commonwealth, although some wonderful advances are being made by women in Pakistan, which I will briefly mention in due course if time permits.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the work that it does in bringing together parliamentarians and facilitating discussions and exchanges of best practice. Sometimes the deeper understanding and new relationships have very practical outcomes: for example, in developing partnerships between organisations and institutions in the UK and other Commonwealth countries. There are also many examples of links that have been forged between small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK and other countries, providing trading and employment opportunities. Again, this is very much a two-way process, with benefits to developing and developed countries.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating in a CPA visit to Pakistan to continue a dialogue that we had begun with women parliamentarians from Pakistan and Afghanistan. During our visit, we met inspirational women who are working in Parliament, NGOs, communities and the home to lift people out of poverty and to ensure a more equal society. As we heard in our earlier debate, thanks to the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, there have been stunning successes in getting rid of deeply discriminatory laws. It has also produced laws against, for example, acid throwing and has many more in the pipeline on domestic violence and many other issues of critical importance to women. The greatest challenge now is changing mindsets and culture to ensure the application of those laws. Our discussions focused on women’s economic empowerment, and many of the issues raised were exactly the same as those which I discussed with the Forest of Dean Businesswomen’s Network last Friday. The potential for women’s economic and social empowerment throughout the Commonwealth is mighty and it is right that we recognise that on International Women’s Day.

The CPA and all other organisations and networks that bind the Commonwealth together must never become a mere talking shop, a travelling merry-go-round.

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They must be effective partners, working together in friendship to protect and support human rights, build the capacity of democratic institutions, respect the rule of law, work for peace and reconciliation and contribute to the millennium development goals. In undertaking these tasks, there are vast opportunities to enhance our relationships in education, business, industry, healthcare and so much more. In our fast-moving, ever-changing world, in which the sustainability of our natural resources grows in importance by the day, it is to our mutual benefit to grasp those opportunities in what should and must be a vibrant global network.

5.17 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this has been a very valuable debate. We covered only a little bit of the Commonwealth, which is a highly diverse, very complicated network. In reading up for this, I become conscious that the value the Commonwealth provides is often extremely different for different members. The smaller states in the Commonwealth find it a huge extension to their global engagement and an opportunity for them to express their strong concerns. For example, in developing a Commonwealth perspective on climate change, the small island states of the Pacific had a major role in explaining to their neighbours and Commonwealth partners just how vital the issue of climate change was for their future viability.

I was struck by the interpretation of the Commonwealth from the noble Lord, Lord Luce, so I will start with that. The Commonwealth is not like the EU or NATO. It is a very different organisation of networks, links, soft power as opposed to hard power, aspirations rather than obligations. That makes it very difficult to assess and to judge and very easy to get deeply frustrated with the moderate lack of progress. It is a loose and diverse association that has to be judged by criteria different from those we currently use to assess the EU, the transatlantic relationship or NATO. I say, as someone who occasionally reads the Europhobe blogosphere, that the Commonwealth is not an alternative to the EU and NATO. It is a very helpful complement to it, which the British Government and other members of the Commonwealth should do their utmost to develop to the full.

Some states fall some way short of the values that we have now agreed in the Commonwealth charter. A few sometimes fall a long way short and, as noble Lords will be well aware, every now and again a Commonwealth member falls so far short that its membership is suspended for a period. That is the way the Commonwealth works, but it works by consensus, not by qualified majority voting. Organisations that work by consensus move unavoidably and necessarily slowly. That can give rise to the more critical perspective presented by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, but we have different sorts of frustrations with the European Union and other tighter organisations than we do with the Commonwealth. We must make the best of what the Commonwealth is and not get too frustrated that it is not something else.

As noble Lords have suggested, there are several dimensions of the Commonwealth relationship. Shared values, shared heritage and shared approach to the

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rule of law are crucial and it is a major step forward that we have managed to agree the Commonwealth Charter. Alongside good governance, the rule of law and human rights, there is a commitment to development and assistance for sustainable development in particular that has taken us into the area of climate change in which, as a network that crosses regions and the developed and developing world, the Commonwealth has a very useful role to play.

The Commonwealth has brought us all sort of human links between Britain and other Commonwealth countries. I spent a day canvassing in Southwark at the last election and was amazed by how many different Commonwealth countries I discussed with people I met on the doorstep. We have human links like dual citizenship and intermarriage and there is also increasingly a two-way link. Tata owns major British companies; we invest in India, the Indians invest in us. That is something else that we should exploit. This leads on to economic and commercial ties that we should be developing as much as we can. It is a concern that only 10% of Britain’s exports currently go to the Commonwealth. It ought to be a great deal more. It is excellent that they are increasing, but that is not to say that we should be reducing the quantity of exports that go to the European Union; we should be exploiting Commonwealth markets as much as we can.

Then there is the global intergovernmental network, which brings together diverse states to discuss problems of common interest such as financial regulation, tax avoidance and tax havens, which again gives us the opportunity to talk to other important states. In recent years, the Commonwealth has necessarily been discussing renewal and modernisation. We have now agreed a limited reform agenda. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has been strengthened and Her Majesty’s Government are committed to ensuring that the reforms agreed by Commonwealth heads of government are now implemented. We will monitor this closely, assess the impact of the adopted reforms and keep both Houses updated.

A key part of the reform agenda will be ensuring that the Commonwealth Secretariat sharpens its focus. The secretariat’s new strategic plan is important to refocus Commonwealth programmes on the areas where it can add more value than other organisations. I note with interest the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar, that we should be thinking about regional hubs for the secretariat in the future. That is probably something that needs to come from regional groups within the Commonwealth, but Her Majesty’s Government would welcome such a development if viable proposals were put forward.

A number of noble Lords have spoken on the Commonwealth Charter, the aspirations that it spells out and by how far a number of Commonwealth countries fall short of those aspirations. The noble Lord, Lord Black, spoke about problems of press freedom in a number of Commonwealth states, which are very much a matter of concern; the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, spoke about religious freedom and freedom of minorities; and a number of noble Lords spoke about the persecution of homosexuals, the death penalty and so on. I can assure noble Lords that Her

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Majesty’s Government do raise those issues bilaterally and multilaterally within the Commonwealth. As I read diplomatic telegrams within the Foreign Office, I frequently see reports that Ministers have vigorously addressed these questions when talking to other members of the Commonwealth. We of course hope that other Commonwealth Governments do the same, and we work with them as much as we can.

It is one of the tragedies of where we are in the world that when we talk about the protection of religious minorities, we have to admit that part of the surge of persecution of homosexuals in Africa at the present moment is being driven by competition among Pentecostal churches in some African countries, as well as by competition between Muslim and Christian churches on the great boundary between Islam and the world. However, Her Majesty’s Government indeed raise these issues and work very hard to counter pressures in the opposite direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Luce, asked what was being done to strengthen the Commonwealth Foundation. DfID gives about £1 million a year to the foundation, which promotes democracy, good governance and sustainable development by strengthening links and dialogue between civil society organisations. The foundation has just agreed a new strategic plan that provides clear lines for its future action within civil society. We see the foundation’s role at the People’s Forum taking place in parallel with CHOGM as a useful and important supplementary role. The Foreign Secretary made a keynote speech in support of civil society at the People’s Forum at CHOGM in 2011.

Noble Lords also mentioned the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, an independent trust to which a number of Commonwealth Governments have so far pledged support. Its intention is to promote additional Commonwealth scholarships, not just between Britain and other Commonwealth countries but—I am glad to say that this is beginning to develop—between different Commonwealth countries, not always including Britain. The Indian Government have, I am told, begun to develop in their own direction Commonwealth scholarships for students from other Commonwealth countries. That is how the Commonwealth should operate as a network.

The Diamond Jubilee Trust will run for five years, fundraising until October 2013, then distributing the funds and supporting the implementation of programmes for a further four years. It will focus on tackling avoidable blindness and youth leadership. It is now working out the detailed design of its programmes in both areas and aims to work with a broad coalition of partners.

The most difficult area that has been raised is the forthcoming CHOGM in Colombo. The Government of Sri Lanka face considerable challenges and Her Majesty’s Government continue to raise questions about how well they are doing in post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. My honourable friend Alistair Burt was in Colombo some weeks ago and, as well as the capital, he also visited Tamil majority areas in the north of the country, to see what was happening on the ground. Some progress has been made, for example on economic development, demining and the rehabilitation of child soldiers.

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On the other hand, we are distressed by the arrest of the chief justice and what that means for the rule of law within the country. We are clear that more needs to be done, such as on the demilitarisation of the north, political settlement and accountability, and we continue to consider our position on what sort of representation we will provide for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting when it takes place.

A number of other countries were mentioned. The Gambia also concerns us to a considerable extent. I note that the Gambian Government have accused not Britain but the European Union of neocolonialism. There are severe problems in terms of how far one can bring pressure to bear on small countries. Apart from the United Kingdom Government and the European Union collectively, few other countries appear to be actively concerned about what is now happening.

There were a number of questions about election monitoring. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, that we are not aware of a request from the Government of Pakistan for the Commonwealth to monitor elections there. The Commonwealth responds to invitations to monitor, it does not invite itself and there has to be an invitation from the Government concerned. I entirely agree that these are key elections and we would very much like to see a Commonwealth monitoring mission. I am sure that everyone is aware that there is a Commonwealth electoral monitoring mission now in Kenya that is doing its best to monitor the elections there. In 2012, the Commonwealth observed elections in Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Lesotho and Ghana, so this is an active element in what the Commonwealth does.

My noble friend Lord Hussain raised the question of Kashmir. We all recognise the importance of finding a solution to the situation there. It is the key to reconciliation between India and Pakistan and is also an issue on the streets of a number of cities in Britain. We welcome the renewed engagement between India and Pakistan, but recognise that the reconciliation has to be led by those two countries above all. We are willing to provide all necessary resources to assist that process.

We are also concerned with what is happening in the Maldives. My extremely hard-working honourable friend Alistair Burt has just returned from the Maldives where he spoke to the President, opposition leaders and others and is best to assess the current situation. Both the Commonwealth Secretary-General and its special envoy, Sir Don McKinnon, have spoken of the importance of free, fair and inclusive elections in the Maldives, but the situation is still developing. We welcome the engagement of the Indian Government, but we are not entirely sure what the outcome will be.

The noble Lord, Lord Empey, spoke passionately and pleasingly about relations between Ireland and the Commonwealth, with perhaps the prospect of Ireland joining. Her Majesty’s Government would of course welcome such a prospect, but the initial request would appropriately come from Dublin and would be made to the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth as a whole, not to the United Kingdom. After all, Ireland has a very strong record in international

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peacekeeping since the Second World War, and a long tradition of development assistance to Africa, so it has many of the links that one would wish to see, and it self-evidently meets all the criteria for Commonwealth membership.

When Ireland joined the European Union, Garret FitzGerald said to me that joining the European Union was like gaining an additional dimension to Irish independence because it began to have a whole new set of international relationships. I suspect that if Ireland were to join the Commonwealth, it would extend this network even further. I hope that noble Lords have noted the innovation of a small joint UK-Irish military training team in Mali, which is another small but significant step: British and Irish military personnel working together in a peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction operation.

I rather hoped that the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was going to ask about the Sandwich Islands. He asked about South Sudan. I do not think one can talk about an undue delay to South Sudan’s application. There has to be a consensus among the 54 member states. South Sudan is a very new and still slightly fragile state. I have friends and relatives who are working there and I am aware of just how difficult they are finding it to reconstruct a governmental apparatus after the end of the conflict. There are major efforts by Her Majesty’s Government and by agencies of other Commonwealth Governments, including South Sudan’s southern neighbours, to assist.

I have touched a little on trade and prosperity. We are committed to strengthening trade links with partners across the world, including those in the Commonwealth. The enormously useful and important delegation that the Prime Minister has just taken to India is part of that process. We see this Commonwealth Week’s theme of “Opportunity through Enterprise” as part of that process in which we build on our existing economic links with the Commonwealth. Commonwealth countries can also make excellent springboards into Asia and Africa. For example, Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia link the Commonwealth to ASEAN—the Association of South-East Asian Nations—and Canada, of course, represents an important gateway to North America for many countries.

The Government are focused on building stronger links within the Commonwealth and strengthening the Commonwealth as a network of networks. We are taking a number of practical steps to strengthen our engagement in the Commonwealth, including strengthening our diplomatic network. We opened a new deputy high commission in Hyderabad in India last year; another will follow in Chandigarh. We are strengthening our commercial capacity in countries such as Canada, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Papua New Guinea and Guyana. Here in London we have increased the number of staff working on the Commonwealth.

Our renewed focus has also involved a change in approach and in the way we work by seeking to make the most of our Commonwealth contacts. In the past 12 months FCO Ministers have visited around 20 Commonwealth countries. This has left us in a strong position to build on the progress we have already made on our Commonwealth agenda.

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I am conscious that a number of noble Lords have mentioned the visa issue. We all recognise how delicate and difficult this issue is at present. I will take that away and feed it in to our continuing conversations.

This has been an invaluable debate. If I go on for more than another minute, I shall lose the rest of my voice, so let me sum up by saying that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, again, for all the efforts he put in to raising the visibility of the Commonwealth as an issue in British foreign policy. I know that there are many in this House who have spent a good deal of their time and careers working on the Commonwealth connection. I hope that there will be many more and that the Commonwealth, with the efforts that we and

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many other Commonwealth countries will make, will remain a vital, vibrant and values-based international network.

Motion agreed.

Supply and Appropriations (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill

First Reading

5.39 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.

House adjourned 5.40 pm.