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House of Lords

Thursday, 17 December 2015.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Introduction: Baroness Brown of Cambridge

11.07 am

Dame Julia Elizabeth King, DBE, having been created Baroness Brown of Cambridge, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridgeshire, was introduced and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Baker of Dorking and Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Royal Assent

11.11 am

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

National Insurance Contributions (Rate Ceilings) Act 2015 European Union Referendum Act 2015 European Union (Approvals) Act 2015

Nigeria

Question

11.12 am

Asked by Baroness Cox

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the northern states of Nigeria.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, the security situation in north-east Nigeria has improved over the past six months, with Boko Haram being driven from key towns. However, Boko Haram remains a threat, launching regular suicide attacks, often using children. We estimate that more than 20,000 people have been killed, more than 2.2 million people displaced and more than 14.8 million people affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very sympathetic reply and important information. Is she aware that I returned just last week from areas affected by Boko Haram and found the scale of killing, kidnapping and destruction to be far worse than that reported in the media? As indicated, a reign of terror persists, with continuing kidnappings and killings, despite the Nigerian army regaining some territory, and families trying to return home find everything destroyed, mines on their land and severe shortages of food. In Borno state alone, 875,000 people face emergency levels of food insecurity. What contribution are Her Majesty’s Government and the United Kingdom making towards urgently needed provision of security and means of survival for victims of this Islamist terrorist regime?

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for her work in such war-torn areas. She sees at first hand the devastation that these depredations by Boko Haram cause to individuals. She is right to point out the terrible position that people face when they seek to go back to what has been home.

In the 2015-16 financial year, the UK has already planned an additional £4 million of humanitarian support to north-east Nigeria, including through the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The UK development programmes in the north-east of Nigeria are supporting civil society organisations and NGOs that are working to reduce intra-community conflict, promote community governance and security dialogue, reduce violence against women and girls, and improve access to schooling in an area where 600,000 children are out of school.

Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale (Lab): My Lords, given the importance in the new aid strategy announced in November by the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for International Development of conflict and development and the link between the two, will the forthcoming bilateral aid review for Nigeria take account, first, of the impact of these troubles in northern Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Cameroon, and secondly the key role that Nigeria plays in ECOWAS not just in economic regeneration and activity in the area but in conflict resolution and conflict prevention?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Yes, my Lords. The noble Lord is right to point out Nigeria’s position in ECOWAS and how important it is that it plays a strong role there and appreciates the position it ought to take. The advantage of the Conflict, Security and Stability Fund is that now we can have project funding on a four-year cycle, which makes it more certain.

Lord Chidgey (LD): My Lords, Boko Haram systematically attacks education provision in the northern states of Nigeria, which now have exceptionally low levels of enrolment in primary, secondary and further education and where many schools have been closed for three years or more. With literacy levels falling to less than 60%, will the Government make representations to the Nigerian Government to prioritise education provision in these northern states? Will they also stress the importance of consistent, regular payment of teachers’ wages in state schools, improved teacher training and a focus on reopening closed schools and making them secure learning environments?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Lord is right to point to the importance of education, because it provides security for children that they can be with their families and have a future. We have stressed to President Buhari that the work carried out militarily to defeat Boko Haram is only one part of the process. It is crucial that we work to ensure that there is reform of the constitution and the way it tackles and respects minorities. It is also crucial to support education systems for the future security of that area.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, did the Minister hear from her colleague, Tobias Ellwood, about the testimony given by Victoria Youhanna at a recent meeting here in Parliament? Victoria had escaped from Boko Haram. Given that hundreds of girls are still enslaved, abducted, forcibly converted, entrapped in domestic slavery, used as fighters and denied education, will the Minister—referring to the point the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, just made—tell us more about what can be done to ensure that girls are able to go back into education and that they are rehabilitated and given help in dealing with trauma? The words “Boko Haram” mean “destroy western education”, and it is therefore important that we show the importance that we attach to education.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have not heard the witness of that victim. I clearly sympathise with her experience. I have had the opportunity to hear witness from others about the appalling violence they suffered and witnessed. We regularly raise with the Nigerian authorities rescuing people being held by Boko Haram. We also work to support women and girls in northern Nigeria as part of our general humanitarian response. That includes helping the safe school initiative in north-eastern Nigeria. As part of our work on the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, we help to fund a UNICEF programme which supports the reintegration of victims of conflict-related sexual violence.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, what is DfID doing specifically to help those internally displaced persons who simply cannot return home and are forced to languish in deplorable conditions in camps?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, DfID is providing a substantial package of security, development and humanitarian support, including a £6.5 million humanitarian programme and a £5.4 million development portfolio in Yobe state. The funds are used to provide humanitarian support in the protracted food and nutrition crisis. It is important to note that it is not just Nigeria that faces this; it is a matter that reaches across the Sahel.

Sudan: Human Rights

Question

11.20 am

Asked by Lord Chidgey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the current human rights situation in Sudan.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, the human rights situation in Sudan remains of serious concern, particularly regarding reports of violations of international humanitarian law and the use of sexual violence in conflict. We consistently raise our concerns with the Government of Sudan and armed opposition groups and, where relevant, in the UN

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Security Council. In addition, we supported a renewed mandate for the UN independent expert on human rights at the Human Rights Council this September.

Lord Chidgey (LD): I thank the Minister for that response. In 2004, Gayle Smith, the respected US analyst on Sudan, wrote in the Washington Post, in terms, that the efforts of the US Administration to end Sudan’s conflict would have been wasted if they allowed the Sudanese Government to continue to commit crimes against humanity. They would have demonstrated to Khartoum that it could act with impunity against its own people. Eleven years later, Gayle Smith has been appointed head of the US International Development Agency. In the mean time, 2.5 million people have been displaced in Darfur and 300,000 killed. Some 500,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition and will die without emergency action. Will the Government remind Gayle Smith of her prophetic words and urge the US agency to join the UK in taking the strongest lead in the Security Council, and in the UN as a whole, to bring to an end Khartoum’s record of human rights abuse and denial of humanitarian aid access?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, we take a very strong position with the Government of Sudan on all those matters, and we work closely within the troika with our colleagues, the United States and Norway. Sudan has suffered now for decades in a situation where its Government appear to ignore the needs of their own population. We work within the United Nations, and of course the Human Rights Council is part of that body. In particular, we support the work of the UN panel of experts to document breaches of the sanctions regime, breaches of international humanitarian law and offences against individuals, which can be followed up because of course no one should be able to claim immunity or impunity for those crimes.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead (Lab): My Lords, is the Minister aware that the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has strongly condemned the United Nations Security Council for its failure to bring high-profile indicted people, such as the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir, to trial for mass rape and other war crimes in Darfur? Will the Minister confirm that as a member of the Security Council the UK is pressing for justice and the arrest of those who continue to commit atrocities in Darfur?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: Indeed, my Lords, we press very hard to ensure that those who commit atrocities in Darfur are not able to achieve impunity in that matter. That is important, not only there but around the world. With regard to Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor to whom the noble Baroness referred, of course I do not interfere in her work but I watch her very closely. Much earlier this year I met her and discussed the matters to which the noble Baroness referred. So I assure the noble Baroness that we not only watch; we also press.

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Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, are we collecting systematic evidence to ensure that material goes before the International Criminal Court to bring to justice those who have been charged with genocide in Sudan? Reverting to the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, what humanitarian access is now available both in Darfur and in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where humanitarian agencies have been prohibited from reaching the desperate people in those places?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am aware that the UN independent expert has not yet returned to Sudan since his reappointment in October 2014, so we have not been able to test out whether he is able to gain access to Blue Nile and South Kordofan. We will watch to see what happens there. Humanitarian access across the border into the two areas is still judged to be so dangerous that very few organisations are able to commit to carrying out work. It is therefore difficult for Governments to fund them because it is difficult to judge what needs they are meeting and to be able to hold them to account. This is a matter on which we continue to press.

With regard to collecting information, we work with NGOs that are very brave human rights defenders, and we provide assistance where we may, using tools such as the international protocol on the collection of information that may later be used for prosecutions.

Baroness Cox (CB): My Lords, is the Minister aware that the regime in Khartoum continues to carry out aerial bombardment of the peoples in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan’s Nuba mountains? They are living in terrible conditions, hiding in snake-infested caves and riverbanks, they cannot harvest their crops and, as noble Lords have already indicated, their humanitarian needs are enormous. The noble Baroness says that it is difficult to find agencies to take the cross-border aid but our own experience is that we work with organisations that are highly respectable. Will the Government continue to consider ways of providing that cross-border aid for the 750,000 people who are dying from lack of food and medical care?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Baroness has seen at first hand the appalling violence against people in the two areas. I well remember her description of people trying to seek refuge in a dried-up riverbed infested with snakes, and I am aware that the violence now extends to bombing at night as well as by day. I assure the noble Baroness that we will keep our policy under constant review as regards providing assistance to those who wish to go across the border and that we will lobby both sides to allow humanitarian access to all parts of the two areas from within Sudan.

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, the Chinese have been very active both in Sudan and in South Sudan in this area, and have taken quite a forward involvement in the policy problems of the area. Have the Government had any liaison with the Chinese authorities, because they seem to have enormous resources which they can apply, particularly in this

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kind of area, and might be of assistance in solving the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, rightly raised?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, of course we had the Chinese state visit very recently, during the course of which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed the matter of human rights widely with the Chinese President. So we keep the matter under review. In the first instance we want to ensure that any aid provided is provided within international humanitarian law as well as international law itself.

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, what further progress has been made in restricting the small arms trade, given that every community in Sudan is awash with small arms? Obviously, this is an extremely difficult problem, but international efforts were being made. What further progress can the Minister report?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The noble Baroness points to a serious problem, not only in that area but elsewhere. We have made clear to the Government that it is important that they improve their own attitude towards the security of all minorities, part and parcel of which is indeed the restriction of the amount of arms that are available. But I am under no illusions about the difficulty of trying to pursue that.

Airport Security

Question

11.28 am

Asked by Lord Rosser

To ask Her Majesty’s Government which airports used by flights to and from the United Kingdom have been the subject of a security review leading to enhanced security arrangements since the end of October.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport and Home Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con): My Lords, since the tragic loss of the Metrojet aircraft we have been urgently reviewing security at a number of airports with flights to the UK and we are working closely with the countries concerned to address any shortcomings that we identify. Noble Lords will of course understand that we do not comment in detail on security arrangements.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, and obviously I accept what he said about not revealing details of security arrangements. However, can he say whether these reviews that are carried out are related simply to whether required procedures and processes are in place or do they also look at whether in reality those procedures and processes are being thoroughly adhered to and properly carried out? Obviously, the effectiveness of security arrangements at airports is also dependent on the attitude and approach of the people responsible for applying and implementing them. Secondly, are these reviews of security arrangements at airports around the world, which the Government have said are conducted in conjunction with the sovereign authorities, done on a pre-announced basis as far as the airport is concerned or on an unannounced basis?

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Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Lord raises an important point about the details of the checks. I assure him that we work very closely with all sovereign authorities on security and security arrangements across the board. He raised the question of culture and people, and that is an important element of our reviews of those countries. We work very closely with the authorities concerned because we are dealing with sovereign nations, which are primarily responsible for the security of their airports.

Baroness Randerson (LD): My Lords, Monarch Airlines and Thomson Airways have recently extended the cancellation of their flights until towards the end of January. Can the Minister give us an outline of the discussions that the Government are having with the UK airlines that would normally fly to Sharm el-Sheikh? Do the Government have any knowledge of when it is likely that flights of this nature will resume?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: I assure the noble Baroness that we are working very closely with UK airlines. Indeed, I pay tribute to them for the extent to which they co-operated to ensure that more than 16,600 UK citizens left Sharm el-Sheikh efficiently and effectively over a small period of time. We continue to work with them. We are also ensuring in all respects that we work closely with the Egyptian authorities to resolve the security issues at Sharm el-Sheikh as soon as possible.

Lord Geddes (Con): Can my noble friend assure the House that the review and the discussions that his department is having with airports in this country include the smaller regional airports, which have a reputation of being somewhat porous?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: We have a very strong regime in terms of our security arrangements. The events at Sharm el-Sheikh raised issues on an international basis, but I assure my noble friend that we continue to review our arrangements not only internationally but, as he was right to refer to, domestically across the airport network in the UK.

Lord Mawhinney (Con): My Lords, of course the Government are right not to share security information, but can my noble friend tell your Lordships what arrangements are in place to brief airlines that fly into international airports on any findings that might be helpful to them in determining whether they should continue those flights?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: My noble friend raises another important point about the relationship with airlines. I assure him that we work very closely with all international partners and, where we can, we share important information with the airlines. They play an important role in areas such as advance passenger information, which in the UK is also shared with, for example, the Border Force.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, does this scrutiny extend to private airports and heliports? I was looking at the Channel Islands, for example, as a place which, formally speaking, is within our borders. Some

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months ago I looked at the helicopters flown between Brecqhou and Monaco. I am not aware that the Guernsey police ever visit Brecqhou, for example, but when passengers arrive there—it may just be the Barclay brothers and nobody else—there are no border controls. Do we make sure that private flights are covered? A considerable number of these come in and out of the United Kingdom, both to the mainland and to the Crown dependencies.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Lord raises an important point about private flights. I assure him that security arrangements are in place at those airports. I will write to him on the specific airports that he mentioned.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, with regard to the concentration of interest on Sharm el-Sheikh and on Egypt more widely, it was recently reported that the preliminary investigation into the incident that gave rise to the most recent security anxieties showed that it was unlikely that that incident was caused by a bomb on board the aircraft. Can the noble Lord give the House the latest information on the status of the investigation into that incident?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The noble Baroness is, I believe, referring to the recent reports of the provisional investigation by the Egyptian authorities. Certainly we are clear that the Russian authorities have retained their view that it was an explosive device, and our actions were based on our own assessment and the intelligence reports we had, to ensure that we took effective action to ensure the safety and security of UK citizens. We continue to monitor the situation and we will not restore flights until we are satisfied that new arrangements are in place.

Lord Rosser: I inquired whether the reviews of security arrangement at airports around the world, done in conjunction with the sovereign authorities, were done on a pre-announced basis as far as the airport itself is concerned or on an unannounced basis. I do not think that the Minister responded to that point.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: What I was alluding to is that we are dealing with sovereign authorities. Of course we will work in conjunction with how they see fit to monitor their airports. It would be inappropriate for a UK agency to demand access based on unannounced procedures that the sovereign authority had not agreed to.

Syrian Refugees

Question

11.36 am

Asked by Lord Roberts of Llandudno

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will follow the example of the government of Canada in welcoming further Syrian refugees.

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The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, we have committed to resettling 20,000 refugees during this Parliament. As part of this, the Prime Minister gave a further commitment in September to resettle 1,000 Syrian refugees by Christmas. With the arrival of two further charter flights yesterday, into Belfast and Stanstead, this target has now been met and exceeded.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno (LD): I thank the Minister for his reply. However, we have been shocked this morning to hear of the situation in Sudan and Nigeria, and of the hundreds of thousands of children who are in need there. Is not there something we can do, perhaps by responding to Save the Children’s request and admitting 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children and giving them some hope? I ask the Minister to seriously consider how we could respond positively to this. We cannot respond to the situation in Sudan and Nigeria, but we can respond to the situation on our doorstep.

Lord Bates: The programme we are talking about is the Syrian vulnerable person relocation scheme. Of course, there are other schemes, such as Mandate and Gateway, which are not country specific and therefore people would be eligible to apply through that route. The noble Lord has been consistent in drawing attention to this. Under the previous Government, he would chide us that the Syrian vulnerable person scheme was too little, dealing with only 160 people in the first year. But in the past three months we have added another 1,000 to that. That is something to be proud of, as is our committing to a further 20,000 by the end of the Parliament, and the fact that we are the second largest cash donor. There is always more that can be done, but I think that we can hold our heads up high, particularly at this time of year.

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, many local councils have made generous offers to receive Syrian refugees. Has the Home Office considered publishing the figures so that councils can encourage one another to welcome and receive these refugees? It seems to me that there is a lack of information between the councils, and this should be put right.

Lord Bates: Richard Harrington, my colleague in the Home Office, is responsible for that and is working with the more than 50 councils that have come forward. Because these are sensitive issues, councils have asked that they choose whether to disclose this information themselves; we do not disclose it on their behalf. On looking into this, there is one issue that has come up. The basis on which people come into this country is that they are given five years leave to remain on international humanitarian assistance. A lot of the accommodation that is provided is short term. The idea is, of course, that we want the people coming in to find work and their children to find schools and, because they are in high need, to have access to medical support. That is one reason why it is slightly more difficult to ensure that the right accommodation comes forward. However, the evidence of the past few months, with over 1,000 refugees arriving here, shows that that is beginning to work.

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Baroness Warsi (Con): Are there any specific criteria that the Government use, over and above the recognition of these individuals as refugees, in the selection of the people arriving in the United Kingdom? While I am always cautious of trying to prioritise one set of refugees over others, would the Government consider, in the light of the United Kingdom’s expertise in preventing sexual violence in conflict, whether there is any way we could take in men and women who were subjected to sexual violence before they fled Syria?

Lord Bates: When we set up this scheme we chose, unlike some other countries, to work through the UNHCR. We set certain criteria as to the type of people we regarded as most vulnerable, including those in acute need of medical attention that they could not get locally, women and girls who were vulnerable, and victims of torture or abuse. The UNHCR identifies those people and brings them in. That is one of the great strengths of our scheme—it meets the very issue that my noble friend is right to raise.

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the first 1,000 refugees being brought in. I hope that this will continue apace. On the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, which draws on the experience of Canada, since 1979 the Canada private sponsorship programme has enabled 200,000 refugees to be settled in that country. Privately sponsored refugees are likely to make up around 40% of those coming in over the forthcoming months. It is a good example of big society, whereby churches and community groups are given responsibility for working with resettlement programmes. Have Her Majesty’s Government looked into the experience of Canada, and are they considering developing similar programmes in the UK based on that good experience?

Lord Bates: We have looked at that programme, which is impressive but unlike ours is not focused on those in greatest need. We are having discussions at present: the Home Secretary is meeting with NGOs and we are talking to them and to church groups and faith groups about setting up a similar community sponsorship scheme, but perhaps not for people in urgent need of attention. That might not be appropriate, as it could not give the care they need. However, going forward, as the scheme expands, we would want to follow that up.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): The Minister will be aware that there are many people in this country of Syrian and Iraqi origin, who are settled and pay tax here, who are desperate—I do not think that is putting it too highly—to bring in their own family members from the affected countries and care for them. Are the Government considering relaxing the restrictive rules on family visas to allow these people to play their part in helping their own families and the whole situation?

Lord Bates: We are not looking at that particular point—we are quite strict on that. Visas are restricted to spouses and dependent children under the age of 18; we will look sympathetically at exceptional cases involving dependent relatives. One of the reasons why the Syrian vulnerable persons scheme is so appropriate

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is that the UNHCR looks at trying to bring the whole family group to the UK, rather than just one member of it. Therefore, the chances of the situation mentioned by the noble Baroness arising will hopefully be less in the future.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement of Recess Dates

11.43 am

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a short Statement about recess dates for Easter. To save Members reaching for their diaries, as is the custom there will be a printed copy of the dates in the Printed Paper Office. I stress that I make this Statement with the usual caveat that these dates are subject to the progress of business; they are provisional dates. We will adjourn at the end of business on Wednesday 23 March and return on Monday 11 April.

House of Lords: Strathclyde Review

Statement

11.44 am

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to make a Statement on the review of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde on secondary legislation and the primacy of the House of Commons.

On behalf of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, who commissioned the review, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and to the expert panel who assisted him. Before coming on to the review itself, it is perhaps worth rehearsing briefly the circumstances in which it was commissioned.

We have a clear purpose in this House as a revising Chamber, and in so doing, we complement the work of the other place. When we consider primary legislation, the conversation between the two Houses is clear. We can ask the House of Commons to think again through the process of ping-pong, but ultimately the will of the elected House can prevail, with the Parliament Acts available as a backstop.

Secondary legislation works differently. This House can only give or withhold its approval and there is no dialogue. If your Lordships’ House refuses to give its consent, the whole process grinds to a halt. It means that, unlike on primary legislation, we are able to exercise a veto, a very significant power, and so by convention we have exercised that power only in exceptional circumstances, doing so on only five occasions since the Second World War.

So withholding agreement to a statutory instrument is rare enough. To take that step on a Budget measure, as we did in October, was unprecedented, and to do that on a Motion where different sides of the House still disagreed as to its effect took us into uncharted territory. Yet only a day after the House exercised its veto, it was invited to do so all over again in respect of an order made under the Electoral Registration and

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Administration Act 2013. What had happened previously on two occasions in 13 years very nearly happened twice in two days. The exceptional was becoming a little less rare.

These events put a long-established convention in doubt and raise constitutional questions about the primacy of the elected House which needed to be examined. My noble friend was asked to examine whether there is a better way to handle secondary legislation in order that the elected House of Commons could have the decisive say, just as it does on primary legislation. My noble friend did that in his customary way, with careful thought and extensive consultation with parliamentarians in both Houses from across the political spectrum. The result is a considered report with three aims in mind: to provide clarity, simplicity and certainty in the passage of secondary legislation.

My noble friend outlines three options as to how the other place can be given the decisive say. Option 1 would remove the House of Lords from the statutory instrument procedure altogether, as already happens in respect of some categories of SIs. Option 2 would retain the present role of this House in relation to secondary legislation, but seek to codify the convention that has been put in doubt by clarifying the restrictions on how the House’s powers to withhold approval or to annul should be exercised, whether by resolution or changes to our Standing Orders. The third option would create a new procedure in statute. It is a compromise option that in exchange for removing the power of veto would give this House a new power to ask the House of Commons to think again. But the other place would have the final say, allowing it to insist on its primacy and override a rejection by the House of Lords.

My noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in submitting his review to the Prime Minister, has clearly recommended the third compromise solution as the way forward. I should add that he has recommended that the Government, with the involvement of the House of Commons Procedure Committee, should review the circumstances in which statutory instrument powers should be subject to already existing Commons-only procedures, and he recommends that the Government should ensure that both primary and secondary legislation are used appropriately.

My noble friend’s report is thoughtful and measured, and deserves proper consideration by the Government before we respond fully. That is what we intend to do. Of course, noble Lords will have views as to the best way forward. We want to listen properly to those views, and to those of Members of the other place, as we decide on our preferred approach. That begins today with this Statement and it will continue with a full debate on my noble friend’s report in the new year before the Government respond in full.

As we consider the way forward, it is important that we do so with those aims of clarity, simplicity and certainty in mind. All Governments require and indeed benefit from a strong Parliament holding them to account and providing scrutiny and, as my noble friend’s report highlights, the House of Lords has long played its scrutiny role very effectively. But in providing that scrutiny and challenge, it should be the elected

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House that has the decisive say on secondary as well as on primary legislation. It is by ensuring that balance that we can complement the other place and best serve the core purpose for which we are here.

I commend the Statement to the House.

11.50 am

Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab): My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and his team for the uncharacteristic speed in which it has completed a government review. However, it has not taken long, has it? This is the first wholly Conservative Government for nearly 20 years and it is the first ever Conservative Government without an automatic majority in your Lordships’ House, yet within months they are already trying to change the rules, on the pretext that this House has exceeded its powers.

From the outset, I want to be clear: we do not set our face against change and improvements. It is Labour Peers who have proposed immediate changes in how we operate. We have also proposed significant change through a constitutional convention. The Government have declined to hold such a convention. Instead, we have today’s announcement on the Government’s growth area of legislation—statutory instruments.

At this point, most normal people’s eyes will glaze over, but SIs are the Government’s secret weapon. Traditionally, they were not used for issues that should be in primary legislation or for major policy changes where there should be full scrutiny and consideration. But their use has grown over a number of years and, more significantly, at a faster rate since 2010. The tax credits changes originally proposed were a major policy shift, and it would have been entirely appropriate for them to have been considered in primary legislation. But the Government chose to use an SI.

We will want to consider the report from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in more detail, but I say to the noble Baroness that the process he recommends is a very significant change. First, it is a major departure to use legislation to address this issue. Secondly, in terms of procedure, a statutory instrument is not sent to your Lordships’ House from the House of Commons but from the Executive—from the Government. It is not like legislation where proposals are considered and sent from one House to another.

In terms of statutory instruments, both Houses separately consider measures proposed by the Government. Either House can accept or reject, and rejection by either House is in effect a veto. That is why this House has so rarely rejected a statutory instrument. Since 1999, it has happened just four times in 16 years—approximately once a Parliament. The noble Baroness referred to this, but let us be clear that in this Parliament three attempts at a so-called fatal Motion to reject an SI have failed.

The recommendation from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is that your Lordships’ House could send an SI back to the Commons, but there is no guarantee that the Commons will have considered it first and there is no indication of the timescale. This proposal denies your Lordships’ House the opportunity to ask the Government to reconsider. It instead sends it to

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the House of Commons. I know that other noble Lords share my concern about the degree of scrutiny for statutory instruments in the other place. We know that any Government with a majority would just ensure that a small committee will consider and pass the SI.

Why do the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the Prime Minister consider such change is needed? We are told that it is because of the tax credits vote. This House fulfilled its duty in scrutinising secondary legislation. Contrary to some reports, we overwhelmingly declined to block the measure through a fatal Motion but supported asking the Government to reconsider and bring forward changes. That is the right and legitimate role of a second Chamber. Indeed, it allowed the Chancellor to reconsider and to bring forward even more substantial changes than suggested by your Lordships’ House.

We are also told that the Labour Opposition and the Lib Dems are ganging up on the Government and forcing through legislative change. The evidence for that assertion is feeble. There have been 42 votes in your Lordships’ House since the election. The Government have lost 23 and won 19. But, significantly, 16 of those government defeats were on Bills that started in your Lordships’ House with no pre-legislative scrutiny and no prior consideration by the other place. We would have been failing in our duty as a second Chamber if we had not appropriately scrutinised that legislation. Those concerns were raised by the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee.

The Government’s collective memory is at fault. Between 2005 and 2010, the Labour Government lost 105 votes, including a Second Reading and a fatal SI Motion. Between 2001 and 2005, we suffered 245 defeats, and that was with an elected Commons majority of 167. That was when the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was Leader of the Opposition. I think there are two Lord Strathclydes: there is the one who used to do my job as Leader of the Opposition, who would make, and I am sure has made, the very points that I am making now, and then there is the new version that we see today. The only difference is this Government.

The other point is that we lost major and very serious votes on terrorism and security legislation. I cannot recall a single vote that this Government have lost that is of that magnitude or seriousness. It has to be taken into account that we vote far less than the other place. They have voted 143 times in this Parliament; we have voted just 42 times. That is because, in recognising the role of a second Chamber, we are more selective and cautious in choosing when we vote.

So let us be honest with ourselves: this is not about tax credits or any other issues on which your Lordships’ House has disagreed with the Government. If it was, it would be a massive overreaction. It is far more serious than that, so let us look at these changes in the wider context of: the misnamed lobbying Bill, or the gagging Bill as it was nicknamed, which has made it so much harder for charities and campaigning organisations to be effective in their campaigning and lobbying; the weakening of freedom of information legislation; and the fact that, for the first time ever, a Government have instructed the Boundary Commission as to how many constituencies there should be, knowing that the reduction

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favours Conservatives over Labour; and at the same time appointing Members of this House at a faster rate than any other Prime Minister in our history, with the greatest ever proportion of government Peers.

The Government are also making it harder, through individual electoral registration, to register to vote, and we have had English votes for English laws—who knows where that will lead? Also, leaping in where the late Lady Thatcher chose not to tread, there is the Trade Union Bill. Not only does that Bill make it harder to fund and to campaign for trade unions, but it will also completely undermine the funding of the Labour Party, while keeping very quiet about Conservative Party funding.

All this paints a very unattractive picture of a Prime Minister and a Government who will not tolerate challenge. They loathe scrutiny; they fear questioning. The evidence base for the changes proposed today are weak. I guarantee and assure your Lordships’ House that we are very open to genuine suggestions for clarification, modernisation and changes, but that has to be in the context of fulfilling our duty and our legitimate constitutional role, not just because the Government and the Prime Minister did not like losing a vote.

I ask the noble Baroness four key questions. When will the Government respond to the report? Does she accept the assertion on page 23, and, indeed, throughout the report by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that too much legislation is being undertaken by statutory instruments and that that should be changed? What consultation will there be prior to a decision by the Government, other than a debate in your Lordships’ House? And can she comment on suggestions that the Government intend to use the Parliament Act to force through any legislative change?

Lord Dholakia (LD): My Lords, I add my thanks to the Leader of the House for making the Statement and giving us advance sight of the report from the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I also add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and his team. The noble Lord promised the report before Christmas and he has delivered.

My party believes that both Houses should be examining better ways to work together to achieve more comprehensive, more informed and more effective scrutiny of government legislation and the actions of the Executive. We continue to reject the notion that any Government achieving a majority in the Commons should have the absolute power to prosecute their business without the burden of proper checks and balances, particularly as voter turnout declines and Governments are elected by a smaller and smaller share of the vote. We believe that a second Chamber, however it is constituted, should not be a mere echo of the House of Commons. We are interested in ways to strengthen the role of Parliament as a whole, not to convert the House of Lords from a revising Chamber to an impotent debating society.

We firmly believe that there is a strong case for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of secondary legislation. This is particularly important when the primary legislation introduced by the Government is a skeleton Bill, with

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the statutory instruments flowing from it containing provisions which are more suitable for primary legislation. Already in this Parliament, the Government have introduced two such bills: the Childcare Bill and the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. If Governments make increasing use of skeleton Bills, it stands to reason that the SIs stemming from them should be afforded much closer scrutiny.

To that end, my party submitted formal evidence to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, suggesting two different mechanisms by which this House could propose amendments to statutory instruments. We firmly believe that such a mechanism would allow the House of Commons to think again and would, in fact, reduce the incidence of this House withholding its approval of a statutory instrument—which, incidentally, has occurred only six times in the last 50 years. We do not believe that this House should be required to give up its power of veto, when this is such a rare occurrence. To do so would change the arrangements agreed by both Houses following the report of the Joint Committee on Conventions in 2006.

Does the Leader of the House agree that this is not simply a matter for the Prime Minister and the Government, but for Parliament? As there are wider implications, not least for the Parliament Acts, does she recognise that a simple amendment to the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 is clearly not sufficient to deal with this important issue? Does she agree that the proper way to proceed would be to reconstitute a Joint Committee of both Houses to ensure that the matter is fully debated?

We will have a further opportunity to discuss this issue and we will certainly have more to say at that time.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for not rushing to their own conclusions on the report of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, which was published today. I was encouraged by what the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said about how she and the Opposition are very much interested in change that helps this House fulfil its purpose, because that is what I am interested in, too. This House has a very important role in the legislative process and in Parliament. We are here to scrutinise, challenge and hold the Government to account, and I say that as a member of the Government. I know that that is what this House is here to do, and I want it to be very effective at doing all those things. I want its purpose to be fulfilled properly.

Where I differ from the noble Baroness is about what happened in October. That is the problem. We are now confused as a House. We do not quite know how to deal with secondary legislation because the procedures that we have before us have become confusing. We have this massive power of veto and we have a convention which says that we should not use that veto except in exceptional circumstances.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Absolutely, my Lords, we should use it in exceptional circumstances. However, back in October, a new process was introduced concerning

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how this House exercised its veto. We have debated in this Chamber whether the amendments were fatal or non-fatal. We exercised that veto on something that related to taxation and spending; we have never done that before. That was unprecedented.

As a House, we need to look at—what my noble friend Lord Strathclyde was asked to look at—how we could provide certainty and clarity so that we carry out our role of scrutinising and challenging the Government more effectively and remove this confusion. He has set out in his report three options and has recommended one. His recommendation is, if you like, a compromise solution. It means that instead of that theoretical power, which we do not use very often, the House will have a new power to ask the House of Commons to think again. That was what a lot of noble Lords had been asking for recently, after the events of October. I urge the House to consider very carefully what is in my noble friend’s report. He has canvassed widely in this House and the other place and has come forward with a set of proposals and one that he is recommending. It merits our strong consideration before we rush to any decision.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, asked me some questions. She asked specifically when the Government will respond. We will do so in the new year, as I said, but we will not do so until we have had a substantial debate. We can discuss in more detail the contents of my noble friend’s report.

The noble Baroness made reference to the use of secondary legislation. My noble friend’s report does not say that this Government, or previous Governments, have been using secondary legislation more than in the past. The graph in his report shows that the use of secondary legislation has been quite consistent over about 20 years.

The noble Baroness asked whether we would be consulting further. Clearly, we are listening; I want to hear from noble Lords today and we will again hear what noble Lords have to say in the debate in the new year.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned that he and his party do not want to give up the veto of this House. He suggested that there should be a Joint Committee to look at this matter. He referred to the Joint Committee on Conventions, which the noble Lord, Lord Cunningham of Felling, chaired back in 2006. There was a convention in this House—the Joint Committee reviewed it when it did that important work in 2006—but, regrettably, that convention has now broken.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: We are now looking for a way forward that provides that certainty and clarity, and I hope very much that we will be able to achieve that soon.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, we now have a period for Back-Bench questions and I hope that noble Lords will recognise that there is a lot of interest in this matter. As my noble friend said, there will be an extensive debate on this early in January, when noble Lords will be able to make their comments.

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It would be helpful if this period were used for brief questions, so that the maximum number of people can participate.

12.08 pm

Lord Butler of Brockwell (CB): My Lords, will the Leader agree with me that, for many years now, there has been dissatisfaction in all parts of the House with the binary choice that is open to us for either accepting or rejecting statutory instruments? Will she also agree that it is relevant that the procedure recommended by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, is very similar to that which was recommended by the all-party royal commission under the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, by the Leader’s Group in 2011 and by the Hansard Society and others? It would therefore be unfortunate if the circumstances in which this issue has arisen were to close people’s minds to positive consideration of the procedure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has recommended.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am hugely grateful to the noble Lord for that very important contribution. My noble friend has drawn on some of the extensive work done over the past decade or more by the commission chaired by my noble friend Lord Wakeham. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, is right; my noble friend Lord Strathclyde has come forward with a recommendation that deserves proper consideration, and I really hope that that is what this House will give it.

Lord Wakeham (Con): The noble Lord, Lord Butler, has pointed out that we recommended something like my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s third consideration. I was on the Opposition Benches at the time of the report, if I recall rightly. We made that recommendation because we wanted a better way for this House to discuss statutory legislation. It was deliberately designed to do that and, from talking around the House, I know that a lot of people believe that such a proposal is right. While I understand that Front-Benchers have their role in these matters, there is a great deal more support in this House for a proposal of this sort; my noble friend Lady Stowell can take comfort from that. I hope that she will consult widely with people before we finally reach a decision.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I am grateful to my noble friend for his remarks, and I very much take on board his advice about my approach over the next few weeks.

Lord Grocott (Lab): As something of an expert—if I may modestly say so—on government defeats in the House of Lords, can I put it to the Leader of the House that this is no way to effect a substantial constitutional change that would strengthen Government in relation to Parliament, and fundamentally affect the relationship between the two Houses?

The Leader of the House refers constantly to the events in October. They were bizarre. A Government propose a reduction in the income of people in the lowest-paid families. The House of Lords says, “We

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think you should think again about this”. The Government say—amazingly—“We are thinking again, and we’ve decided that we agree with the House of Lords”. Yet the Government persist in what can be seen only as a malevolent way to set up a committee like this to cut the wings of the House of Lords.

This is a significant suggestion to the Government, I hope: if you want to effect change of this sort, do it in the proper, conventional way. That is by proper scrutiny—for which we have the 2006 example readily to hand; it came to conclusions not helpful to the Government, I may say—putting to both Houses the proposal of the Joint Committee of senior Members of both Houses, and then for the Houses themselves to decide whether they want to go ahead with this substantial change. A government-inspired report with no witnesses listed, no evidence taken in public, no calls for evidence in a way that we can understand—this is no way to effect constitutional change.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: My Lords, I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and I listen carefully to what he says. The key thing that I am trying to identify in my remarks today is that we are in disagreement about what happened in October. That is what I find regrettable. It means that the important convention, which stood the test of time for so long, has been broken. He refers to the Joint Committee of 2006, which predates my time in the House but I understand from all my reading and research how important and respected it was. That committee reinforced the convention, but the convention that it reinforced has now broken. So what we have done is come forward with something which offers that clarity and simplicity. It draws heavily on previous work that has been done by other groups, such as my noble friend Lord Wakeham’s distinguished royal commission. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has come forward with a proposal and all I ask at the moment is that the House considers it—as indeed we in government are considering it.

Lord McNally (LD): My Lords, I sat on the Cunningham committee and I remember the background to it being set up, which was the irritation of the then Labour Government at the behaviour of the House of Lords. The phrase then used was that part of the intention was to clip the wings of the House of Lords. The truth is that Governments do get irritated by this House. I think that I may have expressed the odd irritation myself occasionally from the Dispatch Box. But where the noble Baroness is misleading herself is that the convention laid down by the Cunningham committee has not broken down, because in that convention it very carefully and clearly states that the House of Lords must retain the right to say no. That was a red line for me. The reason for it was that put by my noble friend Lord Dholakia: that without retaining the right to say no, used sparingly, carefully and rarely, we become a debating society.

The noble Baroness has been a very good Leader of this House but I urge her to recognise that the Leader has those responsibilities, beyond government, to lead this House in a way that protects its powers. We must

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let go of that right to say no only with very strong arguments to do so. They have not been made today. Go back to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and perhaps even consider the fourth option: that statutory instruments could be amended by this House. That would be a way forward.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I have huge respect for the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and enjoyed working alongside him in government. I understand how seriously he takes these matters but I am afraid that I also disagree with his description of what happened back in October. In considering that piece of secondary legislation, we did two things: we overruled the House of Commons on a matter of taxation and finance, and we used a type of amendment to a Motion that has never been used before. That is referred to in my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s report.

The point about the power of veto is that we should retain it if we retain our convention not to use it except in very exceptional circumstances. What I am arguing is that we are no longer clear what those circumstances are and by what kind of method we would use that veto. So I am afraid that I feel that we need to be able to reach some agreement and come up with a convention with which we all agree. We have to understand that conventions require all parties to agree. At the moment, I am afraid that we do not agree.

Baroness Meacher (CB): My Lords, I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his report, and in particular the recommendation in his third proposal, which could be a useful way forward. I also support strongly the words of the noble Lord, Lord Butler. But the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, repeatedly refers to confusion: she says that we have a disagreement, that we have broken a convention, and so on. I remind the House that on the tax credits issue, we did indeed have a very exceptional set of circumstances. The Chancellor of the Exchequer used a statutory instrument—regulations—to introduce £4.4 billion of cuts affecting very large numbers of extremely poor people across the country. The second aspect of this completely exceptional situation was that we in this House knew that the Government no longer had the support of the elected House of Commons on the issue, now that Conservative Back-Benchers understood the enormity of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was attempting to do.

Could the Leader of the House agree that this House acts in the way that we did on that occasion only in completely exceptional circumstances? Can she therefore honour this House with a recognition that the House acts very properly and, indeed, acted properly on that occasion in offering the Government an opportunity to listen to the elected House?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: Like the noble Baroness, and as I have already said, I feel very strongly and care passionately about this House having the right to scrutinise and challenge the Government and to do what it is here to do as far as primary and secondary legislation, and policy more generally, are concerned. I welcome what she said about my noble friend’s report.

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However, by her contribution she has also illustrated what I am trying to say to the House. I do not want to debate the substance of the policy, because we are talking now about procedures. Back in October, the noble Baroness was at pains to tell the House that her amendment was not a fatal Motion but that it would allow the Government to think again. But it was never established in fact that what she was doing did not amount to a fatal Motion—we were in disagreement about it. There is no definition of these things in the Companion. We have a choice: we either withhold our consent or we give our consent. It was not possible for this House, using the method that the noble Baroness chose, to ask the Government or the House of Commons to think again, because we do not have that facility. We either approve or we do not.

If the noble Baroness is arguing for this House to be able to ask the House of Commons to think again, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, in his paper, is suggesting a way which would provide the very thing that the noble Baroness is arguing for today and argued for back in October.

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords—

Lord Richard (Lab): My Lords—

Baroness Hayman (CB): My Lords—

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Earl Howe) (Con): My Lords, I am sure the House would wish to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Richard, but it is the turn of the Conservative Benches.

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am most grateful. I am sure we are all grateful to my noble friend for what she has said, but I would ask her two things. First, it is right that we should have a full and extensive debate. However, as this report has been produced on the eve of the Christmas Recess, can we have a week or two after we come back where we can talk together informally, across the House, and then have a well-informed debate? Secondly, can that debate be informed by the fact that it is the Government who are answerable to Parliament—not the other way round—and by the fact that we are in this mess largely because of the appallingly inefficient way in which the other place deals with secondary legislation? It is therefore crucial—I ask my noble friend to talk to her colleagues in Cabinet about this—that the other place also debates this matter in detail, so that we have a more satisfactory balance in the way both Houses look at secondary legislation.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: As my noble friend may not have had an opportunity to study my noble friend Lord Strathclyde’s report, he might not yet have spotted that it includes a reference to the other place and its role in secondary legislation. My right honourable friend the Leader of the House of Commons is also making a Statement today in the other place about this same topic.

As for when we will schedule the debate in January, clearly we will have to consider the timetabling of it alongside other matters when we return. However, my

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main commitment to this House is that there will be a substantial debate; it will be in government time; and we will do so early in the new year.

Lord Richard: My Lords, will the Government kindly recognise, if they have not already, that a balance has to be struck between the existing powers of this House and the way in which government carries out its business? There is a good case for this House giving up its veto—I accept that—but there is an undoubted quid pro quo that has to be demanded for it, which is that the Government stop playing games with statutory legislation. The reason why we got into this mess in October was because, on a major issue of government policy, not just a minor financial issue, they chose to do it by statutory instrument rather than by primary legislation. There has to be a recognition on both sides in this argument that, if this House is asked to give up a power that it has got but very rarely exercises, the Government and the other place must recognise that in matters that are proper for primary legislation that is how they should do it. I am fortified in that by remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, when this matter was last raised in this House. If the Government can give that sort of assurance that they will not have these wheezes and play the silly games that they have been playing, I am sure we can make progress.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The noble Lord, Lord Richard, makes an important point about the use of the proper legislative vehicle. I agree with him on that, and it is referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his report as a recommendation as well—and that is why I refer to it in my Statement, because it is important that we acknowledge that as well as his other proposals on the powers of this House. I am not sure that I agree with the noble Lord’s description of what is happening in the use of secondary legislation by this Government or, indeed, other Governments, but I accept the argument that he makes, and I accept that we have to be constant and vigilant to make sure that we always choose the right vehicle when we bring our measures to Parliament.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I have long supported improving Parliament’s scrutiny of statutory instruments. In that spirit, I say to the Leader of the House that this is certainly a useful report and we should give it proper scrutiny. I have to say also that that proper scrutiny will not be enhanced by the constant repetition of the idea that the convention was somehow broken. It will not be enhanced by suggesting that the tax credit scheme was killed off by this House, when it was killed off by the Chancellor of the Exchequer after this House gave him the opportunity to think again. It is important that we do not allow a mythology to grow around this issue.

Would the Leader of the House agree that, if this House is asked to give up the power to negate in favour of a power to delay, it has to be in circumstances that that delay can be effective, as it was effective in this case? Therefore, there has to be adequate time for the House of Commons to re-examine. Furthermore,

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the Government have to take into account what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said, that,

“it would be appropriate for the Government to take steps to ensure that Bills contain an appropriate level of detail and that too much is not”—

as it was in that case—

“left for implementation by statutory instrument”.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston: I do not want to rehearse again the events of October. When the noble Baroness has had an opportunity to study the report carefully, she will see that it refers to delay. My noble friend Lord Strathclyde recommends Option 3, and in it he sets out his argument about why delay should not feature as part of his recommendation. That will be something which we will no doubt debate further when we have the debate in January, which I have already committed to.

Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Motion to Take Note

12.30 pm

Moved by Lord Luce

That this House takes note of the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta on 27–29 November.

Lord Luce (CB): My Lords, just over two years ago, the Royal Commonwealth Society concluded in a report that by 2050 the Commonwealth would either be a total irrelevance or a vibrant global entity. Are we doing enough to ensure that it is a vibrant entity? Despite many recent Commonwealth debates in this House with excellent and enthusiastic contributions, many of us feel that successive British Governments have not grasped the opportunities available to us through collaboration with our friends in the Commonwealth. We can now take stock of the latest Heads of Government meeting in Malta. I am delighted that we have many noble Lords who will make their distinctive contributions to this debate and, in particular, that the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, has chosen this subject to make her maiden speech. I am very grateful to the Minister for replying and look forward to her assessment of the outcome of the meeting.

There are a number of reasons to be enthusiastic. There is no doubt that the Maltese Prime Minister, Mr Muscat, and his team have shown leadership and commitment to move things forward. That valiant island has taken on responsibility in recent weeks for an African Union/EU summit on migration, the Commonwealth meeting and, shortly, the presidency of the EU.

The fact that our Government have agreed to host the next CHOGM in 2018 gives an excellent chance to give a constructive lead. We must start working now to ensure a high level of participation by Heads of Government at that meeting. We can best do that by signalling our wholehearted commitment to the value of closer Commonwealth co-operation.

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Above all, we offer the warmest congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on her appointment as Secretary-General from next spring. She was nominated by Dominica, the land of her birth, and is rooted in the Caribbean. We are very proud that she is a Member of the House of Lords. I am certain that she will give dynamic leadership and bring benefits to all 53 Commonwealth countries. We wish her every success.

It is important to see this debate in context. Europe’s role and influence in the world is currently weak. The eurozone is struck by economic paralysis. Putin’s Russia is striking out dangerously in our region and in Syria. In Britain, we wait in a state of uncertainty to determine the nature of our future role in Europe. Meanwhile, the Middle East is in turmoil, posing a serious threat to world stability and bringing massive migration and refugee problems.

Despite all this, Britain is still able to play a constructive role in the world. Our economy is expanding. We have the second-largest defence budget in NATO and spend 0.7% of our national income on development assistance. The British Council, the World Service and our universities give a strong measure of soft power. The Minister made a significant point in the debate last week on NATO and the European Union, showing that we are the only nation to have such a wide range of membership of international bodies, from the UN Security Council, NATO and the EU to the OECD, the IMF and the World Bank.

To cap all this, we have the Commonwealth. It is a unique association of 53 nations sharing a common history and language and aspirations for good governance, the rule of law and increased prosperity. It contains more than 2 billion people, covers a cross-section of the globe from the Pacific to Africa and the Caribbean and includes big states, such as India, and small states, such as Trinidad. Other nations are longing to join it. At a time when civilised values and ways of life are being challenged, it is significant to note that the Commonwealth embraces 1 billion Hindus, over 620 million Muslims, over 32 million Buddhists, 440 million Christians and, of course, thousands of Jews and Sikhs, among other religions.

Let us be clear: this association does not replace, but rather complements, our roles in NATO, the EU and the UN. It provides an exceptional opportunity for all its members to use the soft-power benefit of membership to our mutual advantage. Subject to correction by historians, I know of no other empire that has successfully transformed into a Commonwealth of equal nations. We are part of a family whose circumstances constantly change. My own experience demonstrates this transformation. I served as one of the last district officers in Kenya, did my Army service in Cyprus and was later Governor of Gibraltar, then vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham with its many Commonwealth students, and, later, chairman of the Commonwealth Foundation. I am also present of the Royal Over-Seas League.

Britain has moved from the paternalism of empire to the equal partnership of the Commonwealth, where we try to solve differences through dialogue based on a culture of personal rapport. It was Nehru in the late

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1940s who proposed a formula to end the empire but to allow our links to develop by accepting our monarch as head of the Commonwealth. Without any doubt, it is the Queen who has provided the framework for the links between us through her personal relationship with Commonwealth leaders. She is now ably supported by the Prince of Wales. As Lord Chamberlain, I was able to witness the Queen’s deep commitment to and love for the people of the Commonwealth.

Contact between people is the heartbeat of the Commonwealth. Modern technology gives added momentum to this, transforming contact and networking between people and organisations on an unprecedented scale. It is the young who lead the way in networking, and people under 30 constitute 60% of the Commonwealth. The annual Commonwealth Observance Day in Westminster Abbey is full of young people, and this year’s theme is “A young Commonwealth”. Yet we have clear evidence that we in Britain are failing significantly to teach the majority of our schoolchildren their Commonwealth history and background. I ask the Government to take a lead in changing the curriculum to rectify this.

I welcome the lead by the Commonwealth Secretariat, in partnership with the BBC and the British Council, to promote greater understanding of the values of the Commonwealth Charter through the Commonwealth class project for seven to 14 year-olds in thousands of Commonwealth schools. Following the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Malta, I welcome the encouragement by Heads of Government to promote entrepreneurship, vocational training and initiatives to help young jobseekers. I applaud the dynamic leadership of the Commonwealth Youth Programme, motivating young people to engage with a range of issues in a pan-Commonwealth context. The excellent Commonwealth of Learning uses distance learning to promote education, working, for example, towards eradicating child, early and forced marriage.

I welcome the support from the Heads of Government for the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. Since the scheme began in 1959, 30,000 people have held awards, the vast majority of them in the United Kingdom. A notable example among their distinguished alumni is Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England. While it is inevitably Heads of Government who provide the framework and leadership, it is the non-governmental aspect that can generate networking and enthusiasm. The Commonwealth Charter, to which all Governments are committed, was signed in March 2013. Can the Minister tell us what progress was made in Malta on measures to implement our Commonwealth commitments?

How are we strengthening the commitment to international peace and security? I understand that the Government are contributing financially to a new Commonwealth unit to support efforts to counter extremism and share expertise. How are we contributing to tackling the radicalisation of young people? Are ways being found to help to heal gender issues, to provide respect and protection for transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people? Sustained dialogue is surely the best way forward in this area.

On governance and the rule of law, CHOGM announced proposals to tackle corruption and promote co-operation between law agencies in anticipation of the 2016 anti-corruption summit. However, what progress

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was made in strengthening judicial independence, building legislative capacity and election monitoring? The Commonwealth model of collaborative and mutual support between Governments and other partners surely deserves encouragement and greater investment. Can we be reassured that officials, especially at DfID, are sensitive to the distinctive benefits and unique strengths gained from working with and through the Commonwealth in this way?

We need a proper system of accountability to ensure progress on the implementation of decisions taken by Commonwealth Heads of Government. For example, the agreement on climate change, concluded in Paris, reflects the Commonwealth leaders’ priority for protecting the more vulnerable small island states.

I cannot emphasise enough the importance of interaction between the government and the non-government sectors. We need far greater encouragement for the flourishing of the private sector, ranging from the growth of trade, business and investment to the ever increasing value of civil society and the 85 or so professional Commonwealth bodies.

CHOGM launched a new publication on the advantages of intra-Commonwealth trade, an excellent, well-researched piece of work by the secretariat. Trade between Commonwealth areas, which is estimated at more than $680 billion, is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020. Can the Minister say something about the Hub & Spokes II Programme, which is destined to increase trade opportunities? I further welcome the launch of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, which focuses on trade and investment, led by the noble Lord, Lord Marland, who is speaking in this debate.

There are over 80 Commonwealth-associated and affiliated professional bodies, which cover every walk of life: universities, local government, architects, judges, magistrates, the press, musicians, medical people, dentists, and the very valuable Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Study Conference are examples of successful professional bodies. These bodies need encouragement by best-practice stories and seed-corn finance to strengthen their work. I welcome the encouragement by Heads of Government of stronger interaction between the secretariat, the Commonwealth Foundation and these professional bodies. I understand that there were successful forums at Malta for women, civil society, youth and business, and that Heads of Government were able to encourage their work. This shows the vast reserves of good will and expertise on which we can draw through the Commonwealth.

HMG now faces a very real opportunity to work strongly and effectively with our friends and partners in the Commonwealth. This will bring benefits to all members, as well as to the United Kingdom. However, that requires leadership from the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary. I should pause and say, in fact, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I know that the Minister of State, Hugo Swire, has given excellent support. All Secretaries of State must be told to think and act Commonwealth. The Secretary of State or senior Ministers must attend Commonwealth meetings on finance law, education

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and health, for example. They must be involved and get to know their Commonwealth counterparts. The Secretary of State for Education must take a lead in ensuring that all schoolchildren are taught about the Commonwealth.

The new Secretary-General will be her own person and must decide herself whether the Commonwealth Secretariat needs to be restructured to fulfil the requirements of the Malta CHOGM. With limited resources, she will have to decide on priorities. The Secretary-General and Commonwealth Governments must take hard-headed decisions about their priorities, and if the Commonwealth is to make progress, the message to all Governments must be the Churchillian “Action this day”.

We all participate in one form or another in the Commonwealth. It provides exciting opportunities for us all. However, perhaps above all we should be reminded that we have a special role which is best expressed in the words of Nehru, which the Prince of Wales spoke of in Malta, that the Commonwealth can best deal with problems with a “touch of healing”. Is that not just what this vulnerable world so badly needs? I beg to move.

12.44 pm

Lord Howell of Guildford (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on promoting the debate and on his excellent opening speech, which speaks for us all and covers many issues.

I declare my interests as president of the Royal Commonwealth Society, which has 70 world branches, and as chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies. I am not quite sure how in 180 seconds or fewer your Lordships are going to be able to make their distinctive contributions covering 53 nations, 2.3 billion people and 33 Heads of State. I think that there is something very wrong with a system that places this constraint on us. However, I shall confine myself to three points.

First, the Malta Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was brilliantly organised by Malta and its very vigorous Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, and it went extremely well. It got miserable coverage in the British press but that is another matter. It is excellent news that we will have a new Secretary-General who is a Member of this House. She has great talents and an enormous task ahead, which I am confident she will successfully perform.

The Malta meeting was vastly enhanced by the liveliness of the Commonwealth Business Forum, which preceded the Heads of Government meeting. It was organised with huge efficiency and energy by my noble friend Lord Marland. It should be no surprise that this was such a successful affair. Of course we must get our relationship right with the European Union, but the big economic prizes in the future are going to be outside Europe, very largely in the huge new rising markets of the Commonwealth and their neighbouring countries. That is where we have to succeed, or fail.

It is time for us to understand that the nature and rules of the entire world trading system have changed radically, putting us in the position where the markets

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and interests of the Commonwealth are of enormous significance and importance to this country. The Commonwealth is not just another international institution to be kept happy; it is in fact a huge engine of soft power, trust and, indeed, security. One recent encouraging sign was that that was recognised to some extent in the recently published strategic defence review and in the national security objectives, so there is a dawning understanding of the huge significance of the Commonwealth in our own future and affairs.

However, to the sleepy officials and commentators who still have not quite grasped that point, I end my 180 seconds by echoing what Cicero said to the Roman people. We have heard about Nehru; I now add Cicero into the game. Cicero asked, “How long will you go on being ignorant of your own strength?”. That is the message I would like to send to the policymakers of Whitehall.

12.47 pm

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen (Lab): My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on securing this debate and on putting CHOGM and the Commonwealth on the Floor of this House. I join the many people who have congratulated my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland on her election as Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. It is very good news for the Commonwealth. She is a brilliant choice and will strengthen the organisation enormously.

I want to confine my brief remarks to highlighting to the House the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust. The trust was set up with the blessing of the 2011 CHOGM in Perth, Australia, and under the chairmanship of Sir John Major, to celebrate and mark Her Majesty the Queen’s unrivalled 60-year contribution to the Commonwealth, and indeed her whole life of public service.

I declare an interest because I am privileged to be a trustee of the trust, whose mission is to enrich the lives of people from all backgrounds within the Commonwealth. It does so in ambitious programmes and alliances, working towards eliminating avoidable blindness in people of the Commonwealth and empowering a new generation of young leaders. Sir John reported to the Malta CHOGM on the record so far, and it is a hugely impressive record. The Heads of Government, in their communiqué, recognised the valuable work the trust is doing. It is funded by Governments, corporate partners, trusts, foundations, community groups and indeed individuals across the Commonwealth, and it has made remarkable progress on its objectives.

The fact is that four out of five people who are blind today need not be so. There are simple and affordable means to prevent it and to treat victims, and that is what the trust seeks to address. Because of the trust’s work, already 37,000 people have had surgery to prevent trachoma blindness and 5.5 million have had antibiotic treatment. Diabetes is forecast to increase by 60% across the Commonwealth by 2030—a quite staggering and depressing figure. But with early detection and treatment, it is possible to reduce the risk of diabetic retinopathy, a major cause of blindness, by some 90%. The trust has a programme for that, and another addressing blindness in premature babies.

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Finally, under its Queen Young Leaders programme, launched by Princes William and Harry, the trust aims to, and already has sought to, discover, celebrate and develop young leaders in every one of the 53 countries of the Commonwealth. I assure the House that this is a remarkable and inspiring group of young people.

The trust, with is mission to celebrate the Queen’s truly remarkable reign, has already made its mark. It was a proud point in the Heads of Government list of achievements that was broadcast from Malta.

12.51 pm

Lord Steel of Aikwood (LD): My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for introducing this debate. He reminded us that he began his distinguished career as the district officer in pre-independence Kenya, where I was simply a humble schoolboy. I think that our joint appreciation of the Commonwealth stems from that experience.

I also very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about us having only 180 seconds. That is a ridiculous way to proceed in this House and I hope that it changes. I feel particularly sorry for my noble friend Lady Featherstone, who has to make her maiden speech in this truncated time, despite all the benefit of her having been a distinguished Minister in the Department for International Development.

By far the most significant outcome of the Malta CHOGM was the election of a new Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. I join others in welcoming her election. I hope she will follow her distinguished Caribbean predecessor, Sir Shridath Ramphal, in being really effective. A couple of years ago, I happened to meet him in the Caribbean and, to my astonishment, he gave me the proof copy of his book, Glimpses of a Global Life, to read and comment on. His tenure as Commonwealth Secretary-General was certainly a very vigorous one, not always to the comfort of Her Majesty’s Government.

The fact that we need a breath of fresh air is typified by what the Foreign Affairs Committee in the other place said in its 2013 report:

“The Commonwealth has appeared less active and less publicly visible in recent years and there is evidence that it is missing opportunities to influence events. The Commonwealth Secretariat must sharpen, strengthen and promote its diplomatic performance”.

The committee is right. Before the Malta CHOGM, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said that she hoped they would find a new Secretary-General who would be assertive, proactive and willing to invoke the charter with all its emphasis on human rights, democracy and tolerance. She certainly got her wish. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, having begun by noting that 40 out of 53 of the Commonwealth member countries still criminalise gay people, is going to be very active on the human rights front.

Another important aspect of the Malta CHOGM was that Canada became re-involved in the Commonwealth. That is very important. I last met Mr Justin Trudeau when he was a boy of 10 or 11, when his father introduced me to him. He seems to have developed very well since then. Canada has an important role to play.

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We have only 180 seconds, and I want to conclude by quoting from an article written this week by 92 year-old Harry Leslie Smith, who visited the chaos of the jungle refugee camp at Calais:

“The world has changed since I was young. It has not grown harder: just more foolish and selfish. I have seen camps like the Jungle before—at the end of the war. But back then, there was a desire among ordinary citizens and their leaders to alleviate the plight of refugees. Today, it is different. The common will to do good, or at least maintain a decent society for all, has vanished. Our politicians—and we, the ordinary people—are ignoring our moral, political and human responsibility to be our brothers’ keepers”.

In an unstable world, soft power organisations are extremely important to stress the common values of the Commonwealth. It is uniquely placed to bridge, and not increase, divisions in our world.

12.55 pm

Lord Janvrin (CB): My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Luce for securing this debate, and I pay tribute to his unstinting support for the Commonwealth over many years.

My noble friend recalled, as do I—I speak as someone who attended nine CHOGMs—years gone past when the UK Government seemed to be less than focused on the Commonwealth. It was perhaps seen as something of a minor legacy issue to be managed. I hope that this is no longer true. The United Kingdom cannot afford to take this unique organisation for granted—indeed, the reverse.

The essential case for the importance of the Commonwealth has been made and spoken of: 53 countries, some 2 billion people in a digital, globalised world. We only have to look at the outcome of the Malta meeting to realise how relevant this organisation remains to the United Kingdom in 2015, whether at the political, economic or wider civic level.

At the political level it is, above all, an essential networking forum—in Malta addressing the urgent issues of terrorism, migration, climate change and sustainable development. Perhaps less prominent in the headlines, but no less important, is the continuing role of the Commonwealth in promoting human rights, good governance and the rule of law.

At the economic level, I, too, draw attention to the impetus given by the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council to the Commonwealth Business Forum, which met in advance of CHOGM. The council has a unique opportunity to make a vital contribution to Commonwealth trade and investment in the years to come. The potential for intra-Commonwealth trade is huge and UK companies are well placed to benefit from this.

Bit it is at the civic—or people—level that the Commonwealth works best and gives the organisation its unique character. By this I mean the work of the Women’s Forum, the Commonwealth Science Conference, the Commonwealth of Learning, the Commonwealth Games and some 80 accredited Commonwealth organisations that give this extraordinary club its real meaning.

The Commonwealth is, of course, about politics and economics—but for the citizen it is about sport, learning, science, technology and culture. It is about

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people building relationships, greater understanding and shared values. So I hope that the Minister can assure us that we will never again take the Commonwealth for granted but, rather, build on the success of the Malta CHOGM to advance our political, economic and soft-power objectives.

The omens are particularly good, as has been mentioned. The new Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, is an inspired appointment and I welcome it wholeheartedly. The next CHOGM meeting will be here in the United Kingdom in 2018. We have a huge opportunity to make a real contribution to the Commonwealth over these coming years. The more we put in, the more we will get out. We have everything to play for.

12.58 pm

Lord Marland (Con): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, who has kept the Commonwealth flame alive for so long for his kind words towards me and the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, which I chair, and other noble Lords who have referenced us.

I declare my interests. As I have already said, I am chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, I chair the Commonwealth Business Forum and I am president of the Commonwealth Youth Orchestra, which has not yet been mentioned.

At the beginning of the Commonwealth Business Forum I asked all the delegates the question: why are we here? It was a good question at the time because to many of us the Commonwealth was in inertia. However, by the end of our three days of conference, there was a clear answer. We had the leadership of the Minister of State, Hugo Swire, who I am delighted to see is attending this debate. We had my noble friend Lord Howell, with his energy for a man of his age, if I may say so, constantly at the forefront of our initiatives. We also had the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, with his health initiative making incredible strides. Put with that the energy of our new chairman, the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat, who at 42 has excellent drive, along with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, who is now engaged fully in the initiatives. The appointment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, has already been referred to, which is great news for us all, while of course the rock of this foundation is Her Majesty the Queen, who has kept the show on the road. There is now an opportunity for renewed optimism and enthusiasm.

In the Business Forum alone, where else could you get 1,200 people from 70 countries, including 25 Ministers, 15 Heads of State, the Lord Mayor of London and the Prince of Wales attending an event on the small island of Malta? That in itself is incredibly powerful for people in the business community. In three minutes I cannot tell noble Lords all about what our organisation is up to on anti-corruption and on developing and helping SMEs, but I am available to Members of the House, and indeed to anyone for that matter, for private meetings to describe what we do.

The key initiative to come out of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was the $1 billion

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Commonwealth Green Finance Facility. This is the most ambitious thing the Commonwealth has done for a long time. It is being led by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Prime Minister Muscat, and is supported by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Malaysia and Canada; in other words, the big Commonwealth countries are supporting the island states in their green and blue economies, which is vital. I had the honour to co-chair the facility with the head of the Prince of Wales’s International Sustainability Unit, Justin Mundy. It is going to be a real focus for us over the next 18 months, about which I hope to report more to the House in due course.

1.01 pm

Baroness Featherstone (LD) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I am so very honoured to be here and to have a continuing platform from which to pursue the political passions of my life. But first I thank noble Lords across the House for the warmest of welcomes. I have been utterly charmed and beguiled by the doorkeepers, Black Rod’s Office and the police, all of whom I thank for their kindness and courtesy, and not infrequent rescue from a wrong turn. I am delighted to make my maiden speech on the recent Commonwealth meeting, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for bringing forward this opportunity to me.

The Heads of Government emphasised the need to protect individuals from all forms of violence and discrimination. Violence and discrimination abound across the world. From the almost two women a week here in the United Kingdom who are killed by their partners or former partners, as you go across the world it just gets worse: acid attacks, female foeticide, breast ironing and rape as a weapon of war. I have raised these issues at the very highest levels in countries where women have no rights and in those where there are laws, but no implementation. However, there is nothing more totemic to illustrate the lack of women’s power in this world than female genital mutilation. I am proud to have introduced and spearheaded the campaign in the coalition Government to address FGM both here and abroad.

What I found as I went across the world is that where they oppress and suppress women, they do even worse to homosexuals, and the Commonwealth has a very, very long way to go on this. That brings me on to LGBT rights and same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is my happy place in politics. In case not all noble Lords are aware, I am the originator and architect of the same-sex marriage law. I should like to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords on all sides for their contribution to the safe passage of that Bill, with particular thanks to my noble friends on these Benches, to the noble Lord, Lord Alli, for his stupendous efforts, and indeed to the noble Baroness, the Leader of the House—and I say to George Clooney that he chose the wrong woman.

I went on to push international LGBT rights as a DfID Minister, and this will be one of my ongoing passions, as will disability in the developing world and, indeed, the contaminated blood scandal. But my main focus will be on my role as energy and climate change spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats. The

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extraordinary feat of agreement in Paris last week, when the world came together to address climate change, was a totemic, hope-giving, heart-stopping moment, but it will be actions rather than words that deliver. From wild child to the heart of the British establishment, I am delighted to be here and delighted to serve.

1.05 pm

Lord Kakkar (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Featherstone, and to congratulate her on a powerful, thoughtful and compassionate maiden speech. Her remarkable contribution to this Parliament in the other place and her service in two government departments, the Home Office and the Department for International Development, are highly regarded, and her further contributions on many important issues that are deeply held in your Lordships’ House will be greatly welcomed in the years to come.

I also thank my noble friend Lord Luce for introducing the debate, and in so doing I declare my own interest as chairman of the advisory board of the Commonwealth Health Hub within the Commonwealth Secretariat and as chairman of the Healthcare Business Group of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. I should also declare an interest as chairman of UCL Partners because some of our organisations are involved in the work of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust.

The recent Heads of Government meeting reaffirmed the importance of a focus on healthcare in the Commonwealth. There is great disparity in what is currently achieved. Life expectancy in Lesotho is 48 years while in Australia it is 82 years. A woman is 300 times more likely to die of complications in childbirth in Sierra Leone than she is in Singapore, and in Malta there are 300 times as many doctors per 100,000 population than there are in Tanzania, so there are great opportunities. It is reassuring to see how the Commonwealth is now mobilising itself to address this vitally important issue, one that is of significance to every Commonwealth citizen.

Within the secretariat, the health hub has now created a platform that will provide the opportunity for communication and contact across the largest single grouping of healthcare professions in the world. Those professionals are serving a population of some 2 billion people. But it is thanks to the support of the noble Lord, Lord Marland, and the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council that a further group has been established to bring forward a broader base of partners to address important Commonwealth opportunities. This group of partners, which is drawn from Government, the independent commercial sector and the charities sector, will address four important issues as agreed at the recent Commonwealth Business Forum. These are to develop new methods for financing healthcare projects across the Commonwealth nations, to aggregate those opportunities for development into large enough pools that independent finance can be brought to bear and is attractive to those who are prepared to make long-term commitment, to ensure that appropriate methods of regulation of healthcare systems are achieved across the Commonwealth nations, and to ensure that opportunities for education and training are delivered

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to a similar standard in order to drive improvements in outcomes and thus improve the long-term prospects of all Commonwealth citizens.

1.08 pm

Baroness Prashar (CB): My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this debate. In introducing it he spelled out the remarkable advantages of the Commonwealth for Britain. The CHOGM in Malta was by any standards a success. Thankfully it has succeeded in re-energising the Commonwealth and instilling a stronger sense of purpose. Equally successful were the meetings of the Business Forum, the People’s Forum, the Youth Forum, and the first ever Women’s Forum—and above all, as we have heard, the Commonwealth has elected its first ever female Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. I send her my warmest congratulations and I wish her well in this very important and challenging role.

I am pleased that the next CHOGM will be held in the UK. It will be an opportunity to build on the success of the 2015 Malta CHOGM, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and it will be our opportunity to provide leadership. This success must be built upon and the momentum for reform kept up. No doubt it will be the intergovernmental Commonwealth which will be the driver for change, but the non-governmental Commonwealth is a crucial partner if the Commonwealth is to become an effective force for good.

The professional, social, cultural and personal connections of peoples are the Commonwealth’s enduring features because they are embedded in people’s hearts, identities, experiences and memories. They are now vastly strengthened by the information revolution and modern communications. Commonwealth Governments and the official Commonwealth machinery must now catch up with the real network of relationships. The Commonwealth Secretariat must become less top-down.

Two changes are needed to do that. In 2013, in a debate in this House, I suggested that the Commonwealth Secretariat should aim to have three regional offices—in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean—with the Secretary-General retaining the leadership and overall responsibility for implementing decisions by Commonwealth Heads of Government and acting in accordance with the Commonwealth charter. These centres would channel impetus and initiative from the regions and would be guided and supported by the secretariat.

These regional offices would not only increase visibility but would help to build strong, purposeful partnerships and links with the non-governmental Commonwealth. At present, the relationship with non-governmental sectors is far from satisfactory. Steps need to be taken to bring more closely together the significant and representative Commonwealth organisations in partnership with the secretariat. The Commonwealth Secretariat would be better supported and more effective if the major non-governmental bodies representing civil society, professions and interests were engaged in a routine, constant dialogue and exchange, and worked together to tackle the challenges facing them in the 21st century. It is about a different way of working to maximise impact, which is why I was very pleased that

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the Prime Minister mentioned civil society, youth and education bodies when committing £1 million each year for five years to counter extremism. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to encourage the secretariat to involve the non-governmental sector more meaningfully and urge reforms to make the secretariat less top-down and more inclusive?

Finally, does the Minister agree that it is in Britain’s national interest to be fully engaged with both the Commonwealth and the European Union, and that it is not a binary choice as suggested by some? It was significant that when talking about migration, which is now a global problem, Heads of Government noted the outcomes of the Valletta summit on migration.

1.12 pm

Lord Tugendhat (Con): My Lords, I, too, thank my noble and very old friend Lord Luce for launching this debate, and I join in the congratulations to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on becoming Secretary-General of the Commonwealth. I was particularly heartened to see that she has already said that an important commitment is to promote the decriminalisation of homosexuality and same-sex relationships in the Commonwealth.

Forty-two of the 54 member states have laws against same-sex relationships. When one considers that, it is very hard to understand the words in the communiqué of the Heads of Government that emphasise the need to protect individuals from all forms of violence and discrimination. There really is a disconnect on that point. It is an important point because if we are to sustain support for the Commonwealth and encourage it, that support will be eroded if there is this big distinction between the way in which we look at things in this country and in other countries, and what happens in those countries which have these criminal offences.

According to the Human Dignity Trust and Commonwealth Lawyers Association, the Commonwealth accounts for more than 60% of HIV cases worldwide, although for only 30% of the world population. So it is not only a moral issue; it is also a public health issue. Again, I see a profound disconnect between the words in the communiqué and the reality. I note that in the communiqué, there is a public health paragraph that particularly mentions malaria and polio but has no mention of HIV.

I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will turn her attention to the way in which the Heads of Government meetings are organised and the frequency with which they take place. They are supposed to be Heads of Government meetings. Yet at the Malta meeting, there were only 31 Heads of Government. In particular, the Prime Minister of India, who found time to go to Paris, was unable to go to Valletta. In Colombo, there were 27; in Port of Spain, there were 34; and in Perth, there were 35. That is not a very good turnout and if you compare it with a European summit, a G20, an ASEAN or almost any other international gathering, it is a very poor turnout indeed. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will turn her attention to whether this could be improved, whether the sequence should be altered or whatever other changes are required.

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I said that the Indian Prime Minister was not there, which was particularly important. Trade in the Commonwealth is increasing, which is very encouraging. But if trade in the Commonwealth is to increase further, India will be crucial. India will be the powerhouse. Therefore, the engagement of India in the Commonwealth is of the greatest importance. That, too, I hope the noble and learned Baroness will turn her attention to.

1.16 pm

Lord Judd (Lab): My Lords, like others I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for having introduced this debate today. I am very glad that in doing so he emphasised the role of the Queen. It would be impossible to overestimate the role she has consistently played in holding the Commonwealth together, which comes from her personal dedication to the objectives of the Commonwealth and her vision in seeing its potential relevance. Her contribution to Britain’s relationships with the world as a whole should also never be underestimated. I might just add that I saw this in action when I had the privilege of being the Minister accompanying the Queen on a visit to the Gulf right back in 1979. I have admired her ever since.

It is important to remember—I think that our debate has emphasised this—that it is not the British Commonwealth and has not been for a long time. It is the Commonwealth, of which we are privileged to be a member. We will be judged by the positive contribution we make to that and not by relying on history and status.

I hope that my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, whom I warmly congratulate on having got this post—I also congratulate the Commonwealth on having the good sense to appoint her—will see, among other things, the potential that Britain brings in its membership of the Commonwealth to strengthen relations between the European Union and the Commonwealth. That should be a very high objective.

Above all, the Commonwealth will be judged by its effectiveness. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, was right to say that she should look for examples in this context. I am quite certain all of us would agree that Sonny Ramphal was second to none in his vision, determination and drive. His would be a very good example to follow.

In saying that the Commonwealth must be effective, I hope that it will establish clear priorities on the importance of its work with youth and education in our totally interdependent world. I also hope that it will emphasise its work on human rights and I endorse every word of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat. It is a cruel contradiction that we have this rhetoric about freedom and democracy, to which I hope most of us and most members of the Commonwealth are completely committed, and the reality of what is happening in the field. It must be effectively addressed.

1.19 pm

The Earl of Sandwich (CB): My Lords, this is always a happy occasion. There is nothing quite like the Commonwealth to bring that essentially British sense of satisfaction that we are bringing good into the world. I have been reading letters home from

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Sir Edwin Lutyens 100 years ago. He was the very British architect of New Delhi, who at first could not be doing with the extravagance and romance of Moghul styles. He had to compromise. That is what Britannia must continue to do: accept a diminished role in world affairs while sharing her experience and high standards with 52 other nations. It is a remarkable achievement, although still a work in progress.

Undoubtedly, CHOGM at Malta has made progress in many areas, such as education, human rights, gender balance—as demonstrated by our Secretary-General—small states, climate change and the new forestry initiative. Yet, rifts within countries remain. Cyprus is one example. We should expect the Commonwealth to be more of a place of reconciliation. I would like it to look outward again, to countries such as Burma, South Sudan and Nepal. Unfortunately, South Sudan has had more than its fair share of violence and conflict. I have advocated its membership, but until it restores unity, there can be no question of that.

Nepal, on the other hand, remains an obvious candidate because of the many associations with Britain over the last 200 years, including the Gurkhas and tourism—although sadly, in my view, no longer the monarchy. In the last few months Nepal seems to have emerged from the political turmoil that followed the civil war. There is now a new constitution after many years of discussion, a new Parliament, and a new Prime Minister, president and speaker, the last two being women. The time seems ripe for a new attempt to bring Nepal into the Commonwealth, not least to help resolve the fuel blockade on the Terai border with India, which has so damaged the economy. I wonder whether noble Lords recognise the extent of the current humanitarian crisis in Nepal, originating from the two earthquakes this summer and now considerably worsened by the blockade. Our strong links with India surely require us to make much more effort to bring the main parties together, as well as the Nepalese people directly affected.

Finally, there is our own monarchy. The Queen’s close involvement will of course give the Commonwealth added value, which we all hope and assume will continue. I have one request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is unfortunate that the villa in Valletta that is the Queen and Prince Philip’s former home is at the mercy of developers, when it could become an important heritage site for Malta. Perhaps the FCO, in the name and spirit of the Commonwealth, could make a further effort to put this right—I boldly suggest even making it a gift to Her Majesty after so many years of service.

1.22 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on initiating the debate. I will use my limited time to focus on the need to build our overseas trade relationships.

There is great demand across the world for the establishment of regional trade agreements to help individual economies without putting sovereignty at risk. The Commonwealth is essentially a ready-made trading network. It comprises a healthy mix of large and small, developed and developing, landlocked and island economies. It also contains some of the most promising emerging markets, such as India, Malaysia

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and South Africa. In 2013, Commonwealth members’ combined exports of goods and services were valued at $3.4 trillion—about 15% of the world’s total exports. Around half of this comes from developing countries. Given the growing significance of developing countries in the world economy, this presents vast trading opportunities for the Commonwealth.

I recently held in your Lordships’ House a debate on bilateral trade with Africa. One-third of African countries are Commonwealth members, including Mozambique and Rwanda, which are both members of the 7% club in Africa. I believe that the Commonwealth as a whole should be looking to capitalise on the many opportunities provided by the African continent. Trade within the Commonwealth must also be considered. Intra-Commonwealth trade now stands at $600 billion and is projected to pass $1 trillion by 2020. It is estimated that when both bilateral partners are Commonwealth members, they tend to trade 20% more and generate 10% more foreign direct investment inflows. It is thought that our historical ties, shared values, familiar administrative and legal systems, the use largely of one language and a strong diaspora community all contribute to these benefits.

With all this in mind, I welcome the new trade financing fund that will boost trade capacity for smaller and developing Commonwealth countries. This will in turn benefit us all. I would like to see greater exposure for the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and proper recognition of the important role it can and should play.

There are of course challenges, one of which is climate change. Many Commonwealth countries have high export concentrations in a range of climate-sensitive sectors, including agriculture, resource extraction and fisheries. Some countries also need assistance with unlocking the full potential of their private sector. This includes issues such as infrastructure, access to finance and developing trade strategies. Commonwealth countries must work together to find solutions to these challenges.

1.26 pm

Lord Watson of Richmond (LD): My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for initiating this important debate. I suppose I should declare two interests. One is that for six years I chaired the Council of Commonwealth Societies, in which role I was succeeded by the ever-young noble Lord, Lord Howell. I also chair the Commonwealth publisher, Nexus.

In attracting the attention it deserves, paradoxically, the Commonwealth—and, indeed, CHOGM—is challenged by some of its greatest strengths: its global reach of 53 countries; its diversity; and its highly developed economies, right the way through to, for example, India. But it also has less-developed, hard-pressed economies—in many cases in small island states—that are vulnerable to the impact of climate change. There is then the extraordinary fact, referred to several times in the debate, that 60% of the 2.2 billion inhabitants of the Commonwealth are aged under 30.

Diversity makes the Commonwealth somewhat hard to describe and its interests hard to define. It is not

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easy copy for the media. Television finds it simpler to cope with Davos in January than it does with CHOGM in December. In the United Kingdom the Commonwealth is generally regarded as a good thing, but what is its clout? Uniquely, the Queen has given it its face and identity. Her commitment to the Commonwealth is one of the greatest achievements of her reign, but maybe her contribution peaked at Marlborough House when she signed the charter. It is interesting that on the very first page of the charter, the Commonwealth is described as,

“a compelling force for good”.

Who can really explain why? The answers are of course there—a shared language, shared values and many shared legal systems—but “compelling”?

I will briefly focus on two facets that can prove to be truly compelling in the years ahead. The first is the Commonwealth’s support and advocacy for what the Prime Minister has described as,

“judicial independence, legislative capacity building and election monitoring”—[

Official Report

, Commons, 30/11/15; col. 3WS.]

In all these, the secretariat—now to be headed by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who is a wonderful appointment—acts with discretion and a great deal of effectiveness. It is becoming more and more important. We are all depressed by the advance of extremism and the violence attached to it—of course we are. But the fact is that the thrust of history is not with that violence, nor that extremism. South Africa’s transition from apartheid, in which the Commonwealth played a vital role, illustrates that. Although Myanmar is not currently in the Commonwealth, the elections held there point in the same direction. What is greatly important is the monitoring of elections and the effectiveness of transitional jurisprudence. The Commonwealth can indeed play a compelling role in that.

Secondly, and finally, there is the Commonwealth’s unique network of small island developing states, to which I have referred. Given their importance in the Paris agreement on climate change, CHOGM was a kind of curtain-raiser for Paris. It was no accident that the President of France attended CHOGM. The potential of the Commonwealth is indeed compelling. It constitutes one of the greatest assets for good in our dangerous world.

1.30 pm

Lord Hylton (CB): My Lords, the excellent Library Note on the Heads of Government Meeting made no mention of India and Pakistan. I seek to make only one point about them—namely, the need for détente. These Commonwealth members have the two largest populations and are immediate neighbours. They have fought several wars and for too long have coexisted in a kind of cold war. Attempts at “cricket diplomacy” have not brought a real thaw. They share a long frontier, but I understand that there is only one land crossing point for travellers.

The need for détente and for the maximum person-to-person and group-to-group contact is surely obvious. I am glad to say that the young parliamentarians in both countries have led the way. Links between schools,

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universities and civil society at all levels should be made. Dialogue and exchanges of all kinds would create the right climate for intergovernmental negotiations and agreement. Their Governments can hardly fail to know that huge increases in trade, services and investment in both directions could be had; it just needs a modicum of good will and a strong desire to find the common good of both countries.

As has been mentioned, we all welcome the recent appointment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, as Commonwealth Secretary-General. I urge her to put inter-Commonwealth détente at the top of her agenda.

1.32 pm

Baroness Berridge (Con): My Lords, living in Manchester during the 2002 Commonwealth Games was my first real exposure to the Commonwealth brand. I think that I was a product of the lack of focus in our education system to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred, but it was odd as I have lived in both Trinidad and Ghana. So it has been the work of your Lordships’ House, through the focus of my noble friend Lord Howell, that has illustrated for me the importance of, and the future for, the Commonwealth.

With only three intergovernmental structures—the secretariat, the Commonwealth of Learning and the Commonwealth Foundation—there is, unlike with the EU and the UN, not a huge bureaucracy. The Commonwealth could be a nimble network of equals that gets things done; and in Malta it certainly got things done. The vision and commitment of the Prime Minister and President of Malta were inspiring. There was no better advertisement for the first ever Commonwealth Women’s Forum than the chair of the Malta CHOGM task force holding the whole thing together—the inspirational Ms Phyllis Muscat, who is no relation to the Maltese Prime Minister. The steely focus of my noble friend Lord Marland, who ran the Commonwealth Business Forum like a troop commander, also saw the revitalisation of the Commonwealth’s business focus. However, business needs stable government, the rule of law and respect for human rights. One has to accept the gulf between the values of the Commonwealth charter and the reality of the lives of many. However, the huge change in Sri Lanka since it hosted CHOGM is remarkable. The UK made the difficult but, with hindsight, correct choice to attend that CHOGM. The voters of Sri Lanka, some of whom have told me that they were publicly shamed by the focus that CHOGM gave to their country, have, I hope, changed the course of that nation for good.

I declare my interest as the project director of the Commonwealth Initiative for the Freedom of Religion or Belief at the University of Birmingham. It was vital to see that human right stated in the communiqué as the cornerstone of democratic society. The key Commonwealth priority of countering extremism is noted by Her Majesty’s Government as being connected to this human right. While many in the Commonwealth will look to us to see how, in countering extremism, we uphold the values to which the Magna Carta gave birth, especially freedom of expression, the Commonwealth is a network of equals. There is no magic bullet for countering extremism, as more than 10 years of the

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Prevent programme have shown. The Commonwealth is a network where we can humbly think and analyse together the best policy solutions to this pressing global issue, especially for young people.

Many Commonwealth roles are already held by bodies in the UK such as the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which now chairs the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, and the new, most impressive Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Secretary-General, a British Guyanan FCO director, Akbar Khan, and, of course, the new Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who will not only inject energy and clear leadership but will pour herself out tirelessly, I am sure, to enhance the Commonwealth for its citizens. For the next two years, Malta chairs the Commonwealth and then the baton will pass to the UK. I join the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in asking my noble friend the Minister to outline how it is proposed to promote the Commonwealth among British young people, so that in 2018 they have more awareness of the Commonwealth than I did in 2002 in Manchester.

1.35 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Luce, on this initiative and on becoming the Chancellor of the University of Gibraltar. We rejoice with him at the appointment of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. She will be a consummate diplomat, as Chief Emeka Anyaoku was, for example, in relation to South Africa.

The Secretary-General has been mandated to review the governance of the Commonwealth Secretariat—yet again—but nothing was said about the resources of the secretariat. The secretariat is a poor relation, with very limited resources, whatever is concluded about governance. The last figures I have suggest that three countries—the UK, Canada and Australia—pay two-thirds of the budget. India contributes only 4% and Nigeria only 1.4%. This surely represents a lack of commitment. Again on the subject of commitment, at the Colombo CHOGM only 26 Heads of Government attended. How many actually attended the Malta CHOGM?

I pose two questions to the Minister. Over the past 10 years there have been serious discussions about welcoming new members. Rwanda came in in 2009, but the Islamic Republic of Gambia is out. Some other countries have been mentioned. What, for example, is now happening about South Sudan, which has been on the table since 2011? I do not believe that Ireland has yet been mentioned. There are, of course, major burdens of history to overcome. The time may not yet be right, despite the highly successful visit there of Her Majesty the Queen. May I suggest to Her Majesty’s Government that we should consult Ireland about possible attendance at the London CHOGM in 2018, in whatever capacity it finds acceptable? Clearly, President Hollande did not worry about his national sovereignty in attending the Malta CHOGM.

Secondly, paragraph 52 of the communiqué drew attention to special guests such as the United Nations Secretary-General, which illustrates the status they accord to the Commonwealth, and there were many

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representatives of international and other organisations. President Hollande was present. That was relevant, of course, in relation to preparation for COP 21, and as a representative of La Francophonie. It is important that the two organisations, though very different, work together.

As a senior member of the European Union—of course, Malta and Cyprus are members of both organisations—we must clearly show that it is absurd to talk of a choice between the European Union and the Commonwealth. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will fully consult the Commonwealth in general, and the overseas territories in particular, as we approach the referendum debate? The Minister will well know, for example, the very deep concern in the Falklands and Gibraltar at the possibility of exit. Both would lose a very powerful advocate in Brussels in the shape of the UK.

1.38 pm

Baroness Flather (CB): My Lords, everybody has expressed delight at the election of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, to the post of Secretary-General. I am sorry but I have to do the same. I like to think that it is good to have friends in high places. I hope that the noble and learned Baroness will be very successful.

I think that I have spoken in every Commonwealth debate that the noble Lord, Lord Luce, has initiated. It is wonderful that he keeps on bringing these debates to your Lordships’ House, thus giving us the opportunity to think about the Commonwealth more seriously than we normally do. Once again, I thank him for that.

We were so delighted that CHOGM had a women’s meeting—we should be delighted, because it was the first time. It has even been said that there should be a women’s meeting every time CHOGM takes places. Can you think, though, of a men’s meeting where women do not attend? We have a women’s meeting where the men do not attend. Who holds the power? Who holds the decision-making? It is the men, but they do not attend the women’s meeting—they do not listen to what women have to say about the issues that concern them. This bothers me greatly.

I believe it is the first time that there has been more general agreement between all the attendees that they will do something about climate change. It is really amazing that there was an agreement. When, however, do we think they will have an agreement about working on violence against women or about population and access to family planning? The Commonwealth does not have to fall in with Saudi Arabia, which is not part of the Commonwealth. Nor does the Commonwealth have to fall in only with Catholics. There are Catholics within it and they do not have to practise family planning, but it should be available to everyone else. I wonder whether it will ever happen.

On a previous occasion, I said that, without rule of law, nothing can change in a country. We have to think about that. Corruption is endemic, we all know that. It will not go away just by our waving a little piece of paper saying, “We will tackle corruption”. I am from India and, although I have lived here more years than I lived in India, I know India well because I go there

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every year. Corruption is endemic and I do not know what the present prime minister is doing. So far, there is no sign of anything except that people come to work on time. That is the only thing that anybody has noticed.

We have laws on the treatment of women. Somebody mentioned about making them work—they do not work, nobody bothers about the laws. Women suffer all the way through. Unless we deal with the needs of half of the population of developing countries, we cannot be called civilised.

1.42 pm

Lord Rana (CB): My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for initiating this important debate. I also congratulate the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on being appointed to that very important position. I am a great believer in the Commonwealth, which is a unique, multicultural, multi-institutional organisation spanning six continents of the world, bringing together nearly one-third of the world’s population and promoting multi-identity.

I welcome the Government’s pledge of £5 million for a new Commonwealth counterextremism unit. I anticipate that other countries will follow the lead of the UK and Australia. Since last year, I and some of my colleagues have been talking to the Commonwealth Secretariat about establishing such a unit. The biggest threat to the world today is terrorism, and its legacy in the Commonwealth is far too visible, from the Troubles in Northern Ireland to the Kashmir dispute. Just yesterday, Boko Haram left another 30 dead and 20 wounded in terrifying attacks on three villages in Nigeria, adding to the 6,644 lives that it has already claimed, according to the Global Terrorism Index.

Speaking from my own personal experience, the best way to counter terrorism and civil unrest is through a twin-track approach, with dialogue and education and with the use of force against those who are not interested in talking. Some 60% of the Commonwealth population are under the age of 30, and the majority of them live in developing countries. The role of education in promoting peace, democracy and respect for each other is essential in shaping these young minds—they are the future of our world. At an educational complex that my trust funded in Punjab, we have 130 students from the Kashmir Valley, who grew up in that troubled space. Through education and by mixing with other children, it is amazing how the mindset changes.

I am also in the process of establishing a new Institute for Conflict Studies and Resolution Strategies in Punjab and in Northern Ireland. The intention is to put into practice the recommendations of the 2007 Commonwealth report Civil Paths to Peace, which were reaffirmed in Malta this year. I attended the CHOGM and my colleagues and I had the opportunity to give a presentation on the importance of setting up a unit, such as the one I mentioned, on resolving conflict, studying and opening the debate while these things are happening.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred to Ireland. I have been talking to people over the past few years and encouraging dialogue on Ireland

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rejoining the Commonwealth. I am glad that, in April this year, the Royal Commonwealth Society set up in Dublin for the first time and had support from senior members of the Dublin City Council.

1.46 pm

Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl): My Lords, I, too, would like to thank to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and I refer to the stated aims of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s commitment to,

“support member countries to prevent or resolve conflicts, strengthen democratic practices and the rule of law, and achieve greater respect for human rights”.

I was reminded in August as we passed the 182nd anniversary of the introduction of the Slavery Abolition Act that, just yards from this Chamber, in Victoria Tower Gardens on Millbank, sits the Buxton memorial fountain. This monument, built in 1866 and originally housed in Parliament Square, was created in commemoration of the abolition throughout the British Empire of the transatlantic slave trade and in recognition of the efforts of a significant group of parliamentarians and other prominent citizens who dedicated their lives to the cause. This subtle neo-Gothic construction is, sadly, among only a handful of monuments that recognise the pain, torture and suffering of an estimated 30 million black men, women and children whose forebears were kidnapped in chains from their homes on the coast of western Africa. They were destined for lives of servitude, brutality and enslavement or were often thrown overboard en masse en route to the slave markets in Europe and the Americas in order to achieve greater profitability from insurance claims.

The African slave trade was introduced to Britain by Drake and Hawkins in 1567 and was to continue for the next 300 years. This trade in human misery was to bring, shamefully, untold wealth and prosperity to our lands. The Royal African Company is noteworthy: its principal business was in African slavery and many of its shareholders sat in this House and the other place.

Is it not a tragedy that, to this day, we have not made any attempt to properly recognise the real victims of the slave trade? Is it not a stain on our history and the history of the Commonwealth that, to date, not a single penny of compensation has been paid to restore some of the injustices committed to the real victims of what must be defined as one of the greatest crimes against humanity and what many refer to as the “Holocaust of Empire”? I should like to place on record there has been an abject failure of creating any monument to recognise the role played by those who were themselves enslaved in undermining and challenging the brutal system that cruelly punished them for several hundred years.

The other point I wish to draw to the House’s attention is the imperative of the Commonwealth’s role in peacebuilding and, in this context, I draw attention to the war of independence between Pakistan and Bangladesh. It ended 44 years ago yesterday, but protracted tensions remain. Since 2010, I have spoken in this House of the more than 300,000 women raped as a weapon of war by the Pakistani army. Nothing can compensate for the violent deaths of loved ones, torture, slavery and rape, but reparation and

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uncompromising apologies might begin the process of acknowledgment of the wrong done, and even assist in the healing process for the nation and its people.

We have a strong first woman in our new Secretary-General, my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, who will take charge of the Commonwealth. I wholeheartedly salute her. She has campaigned robustly on justice and peace, and I hope very much that she will make time to integrate reparation and apology in her priorities for the greater peace among Commonwealth members.

1.50 pm

Lord Lexden (Con): The communiqué issued at the end of the Malta meeting included a ringing reaffirmation of the Commonwealth’s commitment to human rights, declaring them to be,

“equal, indivisible, interdependent … and universal”.

However, we were entitled to expect those fine sentiments to be accompanied by an explicit indication of the need for determined action in an area to which I am glad that Members of this House and the other place now regularly return, as has happened in this debate—I refer to the criminalisation of homosexuality in the overwhelming majority of Commonwealth countries. Gay people in both Houses of our Parliament have a responsibility to encourage change among our Commonwealth friends and partners.

Gay people in this country have witnessed a transformation in their position in our society, securing an acceptance, understanding and legal status that they have never had before in our history. It is natural for us to want to extend the benefits of change that we have gained over the last 50 years to gay people in Commonwealth countries, united to us by ties of kinship, affection and history.

This is not a question of seeking to impose British liberal values on other countries where earlier intolerant, illiberal British values were planted in days of Empire. The values that we promote are universal and international, embodied in the UN charter and, more recently, in the Commonwealth’s own charter. It was good that, in Malta, the issues that concern LGBT people so deeply were discussed in the Commonwealth People’s Forum; it would be better still to have them drawn into the main sessions of the conference itself.

It is now four years since the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group unanimously recommended that,

“Heads of Government should take steps to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws”,

against homosexuals. This matters not just as a fundamental human rights question, but as a precondition for relieving so many Commonwealth friends from the pain and suffering of AIDS, to which my noble friend Lord Tugendhat made reference. The EPG was quite explicit on that point, saying that,

“discriminatory laws … impede the effective response of CW countries to the HIV/AIDS epidemic”.

I repeat the statistic that my noble friend gave us: countries of the Commonwealth comprise 60% of people living with HIV globally, while representing 30% of the world’s population. It is a statistic to keep always in the forefront of the mind. CHOGM adopted the important EPG report in 2012. What has become of it?

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We all know that change is unlikely to come quickly everywhere throughout the Commonwealth, but gay people hope and pray for the creation of sustained, serious momentum for change.

1.54 pm

Baroness Barker (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for his debate, which reminds us of the importance and power of the Commonwealth as a forum for economic, social and political dialogue of nations around the world. Today it was particularly inspiring to listen to my new noble friend Lady Featherstone, speaking in her characteristically determined way about her commitment to pursue equalities throughout the Commonwealth; we have all seen it over the last five years, often in times and places where it was difficult and dangerous to do so. Similarly, we have seen her commitment to the rights of disabled people around the world. I am delighted that she will henceforth take part in our debates; she will be a great addition to this House.

Like many others, I congratulate the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. She has an outstanding record of commitment to human rights, and a unique ability to talk to a diverse range of people at different levels of society. She is an outstanding choice for her job. I am pleased that, since she became Secretary-General Designate, she has talked of the need to begin a respectful and constructive dialogue around LGBT rights, because I wish to follow many others in this debate on that subject. I do not want to repeat what they said, but 40 of 53 Commonwealth countries criminalise consensual gay relations. In some countries, the situation is getting worse. Using the blueprint of Section 28, Nigeria introduced a draconian law in 2014 that does not just criminalise gay people but carries the threat of prison for 14 years. Brunei is phasing in a new penal code that will apply the death penalty—stoning to death—for consensual gay sex.

It is in that context that I ask the noble Baroness how much progress was made in Malta on the long and difficult journey towards building consensus around gay rights in the Commonwealth. In particular, what work was done to take those people from the Commonwealth who are interested in pursuing economic progress and link the two? We now have a growing body of evidence that, when individual workers are frightened for their lives and of being arrested and do not have access to appropriate healthcare, their ability to be productive in competitive businesses is demonstrably impaired. It is not just that we have to share with the countries of the Commonwealth the need to give people appropriate political rights; we have to present to them the economic evidence from which we have already learned. That way, the millions of people throughout the Commonwealth—those who are gay and those who are not—will benefit greatly from our experience.

1.57 pm

Lord Taylor of Warwick (Non-Afl): My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for securing this timely debate. Of course I add my congratulations to

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the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, on being appointed as the next Commonwealth Secretary-General.

Many compelling and positive facts about the Commonwealth have been eloquently stated today but, in addition to the facts, the Commonwealth is a family, as was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Luce. My father came to Britain in the late 1940s after serving as a sergeant in the British Eighth Army in the Second World War. As a Jamaican, he was a member of the Commonwealth and, in coming to England, he did not see himself as travelling to foreign parts; he was coming home to the motherland. Sadly, although he was a qualified accountant, the only job he could get was as a toilet cleaner at a factory in Birmingham. His fortunes changed when Warwickshire County Cricket Club discovered that he could play cricket. The headline in the local Sports Argus was “Warwickshire sign Jamaican immigrant”. But the following year, in 1949, when he scored 121 runs against Leicestershire, the headline then read “Warwickshire saved by local Brummie Taylor”.

My father’s story, and that of many immigrants to Britain from the rest of the Commonwealth, builds on that concept of family, but what kept him going was a belief—his Christian faith. Although the Commonwealth heads meeting was essentially a political and diplomatic event, it recognised that the various faith groups in the Commonwealth had a role to play in its future. In Britain, as in other Commonwealth countries, there are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other faith communities that are networks of leadership and expertise. There needs to be more of a partnership between Commonwealth Governments—including this one—and these groups in tackling such issues as terrorism, migration, human rights, poverty and equality.

In Britain alone, there are nearly 5,000 black majority churches. The black Pentecostal churches have more than 300,000 members. Black churches such as Glory House, KICC and the Redeemed Church of God attract thousands of people to each service. The congregations there are mainly from Africa and the Caribbean, and many of those people are successful professionals. They are part of the wider Commonwealth diaspora that is keen to help with the ongoing problems highlighted by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In recognising the faith groups, we must not let the fruits of the spirit go sour.

2 pm

Lord St John of Bletso (CB): My Lords, I join in thanking my noble friend Lord Luce for taking this opportunity yet again to discuss the value of the Commonwealth and the outcome of the recent CHOGM. That meeting had many successes and certainly raised many challenges. One of the great successes was the establishment of the Commonwealth climate finance access hub, which was timely ahead of the COP 21 meeting in Paris. The CHOGM was also timely because it was ahead of this week’s WTO meeting in Nairobi, where the Commonwealth Secretariat and the United Nations conference on trade met to address trade and development issues.

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