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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Commonwealth Bill

Commonwealth Bill

Standing Committee C

Wednesday 10 July 2002

[Mr. John Cummings in the Chair]

Commonwealth Bill

11.45 am

The Chairman: I remind hon. Members that adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule I do not intend to call starred amendments.

Clause 1

Commonwealth Institute

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant): Thank you, Mr. Cummings. The clause is one of the Bill's two main clauses. Perhaps I should explain to the Committee that the Bill is uncontroversial. Having come 17th in the ballot for private Members' Bills, I knew my place: I knew that the only prospect of legislating lay in a measure that both sides of the House would support. I am grateful to hon. Members who have come to support the Bill.

The clause repeals the statutes that provide for the management of the Commonwealth Institute as a Government-supported body, following the severance of the institute from the Foreign Office's responsibility and its establishment as an independent charitable company. The Commonwealth Institute is thriving under its new arrangements. It strongly supports the provisions, which are bipartisan and tidy up the remaining aspects of the legislation to ensure that it can function properly as an independent charitable body.

Clause 1(1) repeals the Imperial Institute Act 1925 and the Commonwealth Institute Act 1958, which provided for the management of the Commonwealth Institute under Government supervision. Those Acts have become otiose, given the new dispensation, and need to be repealed. Subsections (2) and (3) deal with the disposal of the endowment fund, which is the last remaining asset held by the old trustees for the benefit of the Commonwealth Institute. I am told that the capital in that fund amounts to approximately 50,000 and that it will be transferred free of restrictions to the Commonwealth Institute in its reconstituted form under the clause.

The clause sets the Commonwealth Institute free as a charitable body and tidies up the law so that it is untrammelled by the remaining restrictions on its activities. I hope that it will find support from both sides of the House.

Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove): Welcome to the Chair, Mr Cummings.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) on coming 17th in the ballot for private Members' Bills and for introducing a Bill that is uncontroversial. I hope that it will receive the support of the Committee this morning; it certainly has the

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Government's support. I place on record the apologies of the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien). Had he not been engaged on other Foreign Office business, he would have been here this morning. I know that he has written to you, Mr. Cummings, and to the hon. Member for Havant.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Bill repeals the statutes that provide for the management of the Commonwealth Institute as a non-departmental public body under the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, following the severance of the institute from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's responsibility and its establishment as an independent charitable company in January 2000. The Commonwealth Institute played a significant role in the golden jubilee celebrations, not least by leading the parade in the jubilee procession in the Queen's honour in the Mall on 4 June.

Mr. Willetts: What about the hell's angels?

Mr. Caplin: I am afraid that the answer to a detailed question like that.

As has been explained, clause 1(1) repeals the Imperial Institute Act 1925 and the Commonwealth Institute Act 1958. I hope that the clause will have the Committee's support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Commonwealth: provision in connection with Cameroon and Mozambique

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willetts: The clause is very different from clause 1, which deals with the Commonwealth Institute, but they have in common the purpose of further strengthening the Commonwealth, to which Cameroon and Mozambique were formally admitted in 1995. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee welcomed that decision. However, some tidying up remains to be done so that various Acts are amended to record that those countries are to be treated as Commonwealth countries. That is long overdue, given that they have been welcome members of the Commonwealth for seven years.

The provisions amend the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 to include Cameroon and Mozambique in the definitions of ''Commonwealth force'' and ''Commonwealth country''. They also amend other provisions so that the forces of Cameroon and Mozambique can be treated as visiting forces from a Commonwealth country under those statutes.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston): I agree that the measure is long overdue and congratulate the hon. Gentleman on proposing it. Will he clarify whether other countries applying to join the Commonwealth will have to go through a similar

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process, or does the Bill tidy up the position once and for all?

Mr. Willetts: I believe that the provisions apply specifically to Cameroon and Mozambique, but the Government Whip may want to elaborate on that. We would need legislation if a country that did not have the same historical links to us wanted to join the Commonwealth.

Mr. Caplin: I confirm that the provision relates only to Cameroon and Mozambique.

Mr. Willetts: I thank the Government Whip for his clarification. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) for his inquiry, and to hon. Members who are here because of their links to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I appreciate their effort to attend the debate as a practical way of showing their support for the Commonwealth.

Mr. Caplin: The Government fully support the clause as a tidying-up measure following the admission of Cameroon and Mozambique to the Commonwealth in 1995. I clarify that citizens of Cameroon and Mozambique already have the status of Commonwealth citizens for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981 by virtue of the British Nationality (Cameroon and Mozambique) Order 1998. Therefore, no further provision is necessary in that respect.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): Following the question asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston, I understand that the provision relates to the current situation and to Cameroon and Mozambique. Will any subsequent changes in Commonwealth membership require primary legislation, or an Order in Council?

Mr. Caplin: I am advised that further primary legislation would be necessary. I hope that the Committee will agree the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 3

Repeals

Question proposed, that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willetts: This minor clause repeals some of the specific provisions relating to the Commonwealth Institute, to which clause 1 refers.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4

Short title and commencement

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Willetts: This is a totally straightforward clause, which I am sure the Committee will support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3

Repeals

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Willetts: This may be my last opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Cummings. As I so discourteously failed to welcome you to Chair at the start of our deliberations, I now thank you very much for chairing the Committee. I also put on record my appreciation of the support and assistance that I have received from Foreign Office officials and Ministers during proceedings on the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose at four minutes to Twelve o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Cummings, Mr. John (Chairman)
Austin, John
Caplin, Mr.
Francois, Mr.
Marshall, Mr. David
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prisk, Mr.
Smyth, Rev. Martin
Starkey, Dr.
Willetts, Mr.

 
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Prepared 10 July 2002