6 The future membership of the Commonwealth |
117. A number of countries have applied to, or are
considering applying to, join the Commonwealth. Rwanda is the
newest member of the Commonwealth, having joined at the 2009 CHOGM.
Witnesses were divided on whether this addition to the 'family'
had been a positive step for the Commonwealth, or for Rwanda.
Lord Howell observed that Rwanda's leader had told him that joining
the Commonwealth had been the best thing it had ever done; it
was "attracting all sorts of interest" and was "a
powerful pressure for political reform inside the country".
On the other hand Professor Philip Murphy was not convinced, saying
that it had been a mistake to allow countries like Mozambique
and Rwanda to join when they lacked "an historical constitutional
link with Great Britain".
The FCO has expressed continuing uncertainty about Rwanda's commitment
to certain Commonwealth values, stating in a September 2012 update
to its 2011 Annual Human Rights Report that "Freedom of expression
and association have remained issues of concern in Rwanda during
118. An expression of interest in membership by South
Sudan was received in August 2011, and the Secretary-General,
on behalf of the Heads of Government, is making an appraisal of
South Sudan's "eligibility and readiness for membership".
Lord Howell told us of the interest he had encountered from non-members,
including Algeria and Suriname. He noted that on a recent visit
to Kuwait, the first question that he was asked was about the
119. Membership is only granted under certain conditions.
In 2007 the Patterson Committee on Commonwealth membership came
to the view that, "provided an aspirant member was a sovereign
state, had a historic constitutional link with an existing member
or a group of its members and adhered to the Commonwealth's fundamental
principles, values and norms, a modest expansion in membership
would be in the interest of the Commonwealth's strategic engagement
with the wider world". 
Emphasising the need for these fundamental principles and values
to be the core criteria for new members, the Committee proposed
the following basic conditions to be met by an applicant country:
(a) an applicant country should, as a general rule,
have had an historic constitutional association with an existing
Commonwealth member, or a substantial relationship with the Commonwealth
generally, or a particular group of members, for example, in a
common regional organization;
(b) an applicant country accepts and complies with
Commonwealth fundamental values, principles, and priorities as
set out in the 1971 Declaration of Commonwealth Principles and
contained in other subsequent declarations;
(c) among the criteria an applicant country must
meet would be a demonstrable commitment to: democracy and democratic
processes, including free and fair elections and representative
legislatures; the rule of law and independence of the judiciary;
good governance, including a well-trained public service and transparent
public accounts; protection of human rights, freedom of expression,
and equality of opportunity;
(d) an applicant country should accept Commonwealth
norms and conventions, such as the use of the English language,
as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations and acknowledgment
of the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth;
(e) new members should be encouraged to join the
Commonwealth Foundation, and to promote vigorous civil society
and business organizations within their countries, and to foster
participatory democracy through regular civil society consultations.
120. Senator Segal urged an expansive approach to
membership, suggesting that the Commonwealth should have an "expansion
plan", which should be to look at countries that have had
"a similar historical evolution" to current members.
He argued that "Whenever you decide that you have reached
your plateau, that often produces the Sleepy Hollow effect, which
is deeply unhelpful."
Stuart Mole was also "generally supportive" of the idea
of the Commonwealth developing its membership, but cautioned that
with expansion there might come a point at which it would be increasingly
difficult to maintain the intimacy of Heads of Government meetings
and other gatherings. Among Mr Mole's "obvious candidates"
for new (or returned) members were Ireland and Burma.
121. But we also heard voices cautioning against
expansion to countries that had never been part of the original
Commonwealth 'family'. Professor Murphy said that too often in
discussions about membership, "the very immediate historical
links" between long-standing Commonwealth members were played
down too much.
122. We welcome
the fact that the Commonwealth continues to attract interest from
potential new members, and see advantages in greater diversity
and an extended global reach for the Commonwealth. However it
is crucial that the application process is rigorous and that any
new members are appropriate additions to the Commonwealth 'family',
closely adhering at all times to its principles and values. The
UK Government must ensure that these membership criteria are fully
observed with every application, if necessary employing its veto
in suitable cases.
THE STATUS OF THE CROWN DEPENDENCIES
AND OVERSEAS TERRITORIES
123. Our inquiry considered in particular one special
aspect of Commonwealth membership: the status of the Crown Dependencies
and the UK Overseas Territories. These are two different groups
of constitutional entities, but in some cases the arguments about
their relationship with the Commonwealth are similar.
124. The Crown Dependencies are the Bailiwick of
Jersey, the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Isle of Man. The Bailiwick
of Guernsey includes the separate jurisdictions of Alderney and
Sark. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man are not part of the
UK but are self-governing dependencies of the Crown. This means
they have their own directly elected legislative assemblies, administrative,
fiscal and legal systems and their own courts of law. The Crown
Dependencies are not represented in the UK Parliament. The Crown
Dependencies have never been colonies of the UK.
125. There are 14 Overseas TerritoriesAnguilla;
Bermuda; British Antarctic Territory; British Indian Ocean Territory;
Cayman Islands; Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia
in Cyprus; Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn,
Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands (commonly known as the Pitcairn
Islands); St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; South Georgia
and the South Sandwich Islands; Turks and Caicos Islands; and
Virgin Islands (commonly known as the British Virgin Islands).
While after the Second World War most British colonies and dominions
became new independent states and members of the Commonwealth.
A number of small territories retained links of various kinds
to the UK, including some territories directly dependent on the
UK for budgetary aid, linked to the UK as the FCO says, "because
of the wishes of the inhabitants or, in some cases, maintained
as military bases or for their longer term strategic value".
Although many of the Territories have very small populations (and
some are uninhabited), others, including Bermuda (with nearly
65,000 people) have larger populations than a number of independent
126. The FCO told us that, as the only category of
membership in the Commonwealth is that of a sovereign state as
full member: "The Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
are not therefore members of the Commonwealth in their own right,
although they are associated with it through their connection
to the UK." The FCO points out that "there are already
linkages between the Territories and Crown Dependencies and the
Commonwealth." For example, they have their own branches
of the CPA and the Commonwealth Games Federation, and they send
teams to the Commonwealth Games. They attend other meetings such
as the Commonwealth Finance Ministers' and Sports Ministers' meetings,
and other Ministerial meetings, as part of the UK delegation.
127. The Government told us in written evidence it
was "keen to re-open discussions with the Commonwealth Secretariat
and member states on different categories of membership, such
as observer status." It said that there were "some clear
advantages for introducing observer status", including "the
benefits of a more diverse membership bringing a greater breadth
of expertise to the Commonwealth" and "enabling countries
seeking full membership to gain experience of how the Commonwealth
128. In particular, the FCO says that Overseas Territories
and Crown Dependencies could "benefit from increased engagement
with the Commonwealth".
The FCO Memorandum concludes by saying that the UK will re-open
discussions on this issue by approaching Australia as Commonwealth
Chair-in-Office, and the Commonwealth Secretariat, before opening
the discussion up to other member states.
129. Stuart Mole argued for a fresh look at the
relationship between the Commonwealth and both the Crown Dependencies
and Overseas Territories, and criticised the Patterson inquiry
for its "very conservative" approach to expansion. He
believed the Commonwealth "could be much more imaginative
in looking at different layers and levels of engagement".
For example, he urged greater involvement of territories such
as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and Gibraltar in hosting Commonwealth
130. Professor Philip Murphy however urged caution,
explaining what he saw as the reasoning behind the principle that
Commonwealth countries should be sovereign and independent. His
argument was based on "ongoing concern" among Commonwealth
members that Commonwealth membership might seem in some way to
subordinate them to the British Government.
What they have always been able to say is, "That
is not the case because a key criterion is that we are completely
independent." It would not be popular within the Commonwealth
to allow states in like the Falklands that are not properly independent.
131. The Editorial Board of The Round Table
also underlined the importance of sovereignty as a defining characteristic
of a Commonwealth state. It believed that the bar of sovereignty,
rather than nationhood and self-determination, as a condition
of Commonwealth membership was unlikely to change.
The Round Table also raised some other constitutional questions,
first putting the issue in the context of the debate about the
future of the United Kingdom. It told us that:
short of independence, it would be difficult to contemplate
a higher status for the Turks & Caicos Islands within the
Commonwealth, for example, than for the Scottish nation (due to
host the Commonwealth Games in 2014). The devolved institutions
of the United Kingdom have also begun to demonstrate a larger,
more independent role within the Commonwealth, although would
undoubtedly wish for more. They certainly would not want an inferior
status to anything that might be secured by the Overseas Territories.
132. The Round Table also pointed out that
a new status would have wider implications for other Commonwealth
countries. It argued that creating a new category of membership
which included the provinces of Canada, the states of India, South
Africa, Malaysia and Australia, as well as Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland (and the overseas territories and crown dependencies)
"would involve considerable challenges for limited benefit".
133. The Crown Dependencies are not sovereign states
and the UK Government is responsible for representing them internationally
and for their defence. The Ministry of Justice is responsible
for the UK Government's relationship with the Crown Dependencies,
but the responsibility for their international representation
is shared across the UK Government. Our evidence clearly demonstrates
that there is unhappiness within some of the Dependencies with
the working of this arrangement.
134. In international negotiations the UK has to
represent both the interests of the UK and those of the Dependencies.
The States of Jersey argued that this was an unsatisfactory arrangement,
which "does not reflect the increasing role that Jersey plays
in international affairs". The fact that the Island depends
on the UK representative to make its contribution presents "inherent
difficulties". The States argued that this was because, given
that the UK has far more extensive national interests than Jersey,
its representative may not place the same weight on issues affecting
the island as a Jersey representative would "and might choose
to focus his/her energies on matters more important to the UK".
In evidence to the Justice Committee of this House in 2009 and
2010, the then Minister responsible for these issues in the Ministry
of Justice acknowledged that, where there was a conflict between
those interests, those of the UK would take precedence.
135. The UK has agreed with each Crown Dependency
an "International Identity Framework" (similarly worded
in each case) in which the relationship between the UK and each
jurisdiction is set out.
Among the key principles of the Guernsey framework for instance
- The UK will not act internationally
on behalf of Guernsey without prior consultation.
- The UK recognises that the interests of Guernsey
may differ from those of the UK, and the UK will seek to represent
any differing interests when acting in an international capacity.
136. In its evidence to us, the UK Government recognised
that in light of their growing international identity, the Crown
Dependencies might legitimately seek to deepen their connections
with the Commonwealth. The FCO said that "Should the Crown
Dependencies want to seek any changes in how they are represented
at Commonwealth events, the UK would be willing to discuss this
However the FCO also said that: "The Crown Dependencies have
made no request to join or have greater engagement with the Commonwealth."
137. We were surprised to see this categorical statement
from the FCO, in light of the fact that the three Crown Dependencies
have argued for just such greater engagement in their evidence
to us. The most detailed case was made by the States of Jersey,
which urged that the Foreign Secretary should request that the
Commonwealth Heads of Government "consider granting associate
membership to Jersey and the other Crown Dependencies as well
as any other territories at a similarly advanced stage of autonomy".
The States of Guernsey and the Government of the Isle of Man made
similar, if more modest, suggestions for closer Commonwealth connections.
138. Our predecessor Committee recommended in 2008
that "the Government should give consideration to whether
it would be appropriate to support wider participation of Overseas
Territories in Commonwealth meetings and conferences, including
the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting".
In its response, the Government noted that it "actively supports
and invites the Overseas Territories, where appropriate, to participate
in Commonwealth meetings as part of the United Kingdom's delegation",
The Commonwealth is an association of sovereign member
states who are equal in all respects. Full participation in all
Commonwealth meetings is based on membership of the Commonwealth.
The Overseas Territories are not member states of the Commonwealth
although they are associated with it through their connection
to the UK.
139. The Government set out for us in written evidence
its approach to the relationship between the Overseas Territories
and the Commonwealth. This was based on ensuring that the Territories
were able to make the most of the opportunities offered by the
Commonwealth, including both formal and informal bodies. The FCO
told us that the Government sees an opportunity to "redefine
and establish more tangible and beneficial links between the Territories
and the Commonwealth." This was because:
The range of issues faced by some of the Territories,
such as good governance, climate change and economic diversification,
are also being faced by several small Commonwealth nations whose
experience could be usefully shared, for example through the Commonwealth
Secretariat's assistance to Small States. This would benefit the
UK through the gradual reduction in our liability, and improved
self-sufficiency for the Territories.
140. In giving evidence to this Committee, Lord Howell
said that "Whether we should talk about status change is
not something we have considered for the moment. The Foreign Secretary
has stated our commitment to increasing OTs' engagement in the
Commonwealth and all sorts of ideas are around: associate status,
observer status and generally ensuring that they get a very good
welcome and their voice is properly heard."
141. In a White Paper of June 2012 the Government
again set out its vision for the development of these connections,
reiterating the UK's desire to strengthen links between the Commonwealth
and the Territories. It repeated that it was "exploring the
possibility of creating observer or associate member status of
the Commonwealth from which the Territories might benefit".
142. We conclude
that there are substantial arguments in favour of stronger connections
between the Commonwealth and the Crown Dependencies and Overseas
Territories, all of which can benefit from closer relationships,
especially with the smaller independent states of the Commonwealth.
We note the apparently increasing interest in the Crown Dependencies
in stronger connections with the Commonwealth, in some cases including
we are also aware of the constitutional objections, both in the
UK and in other countries across the Commonwealth, to the institution
of a wholly new category of Commonwealth member. We are currently
conducting an inquiry into the foreign policy implications of
and for a separate Scotland, and some related issues will be considered
during the course of that inquiry.
144. The main
objective of Government policy towards the Overseas Territories
on Commonwealth matters is clear; it wishes to strengthen the
capacity of the Territories to run their own affairs and thereby
to reduce their dependence on the UK and the financial and other
liability that they incur. This is a reasonable objective, but
it is disappointing that the Government's discussions with the
Commonwealth over an enhanced status for Overseas Territories
have continued for some time, with no concrete outcome as yet.
The FCO should update the Committee on progress on these discussions
by the end of December 2012.
163 Q 185 Back
Q 46 Back
FCO Human Rights: Quarterly update: Rwanda, 30 September 2012:
Q 143 Back
The Committee was convened in 2006 by the Commonwealth Secretariat
and chaired by Mr P J Patterson, former Prime Minister of Jamaica.
There were seven other members. Commonwealth Secretariat: Membership
of the Commonwealth: Report of the Committee on Commonwealth Membership,
November 2007, p. vi Back
Q 17 Back
Q 69 Back
Q 49 Back
Foreign and Commonwealth Office: The Overseas Territories:
Security Success and Sustainability, June 2012, Cm 8374,
p 11 Back
Ev 94-95 Back
Ev 89 Back
Ev 90 Back
Q 69 Back
Q 72 Back
Q 46 Back
Ev 70 Back
Ev 70 Back
Ev 144 Back
Justice Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2009-10, Crown
Dependencies, HC 56, Appendix 4 Back
Ev 95 Back
Ev 146 Back
Ev 129-32, Ev 151-55 Back
Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08,
Overseas Territories, HC 147, para 144 Back
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Response of the Secretary of
State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to the Seventh Report
of the Foreign Affairs Committee Session 2007-08: Overseas
Territories, Cm 7473, September 2008, p 18
Ev 95 Back
Q 183 Back
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The Overseas Territories,
p 83 Back