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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, it was a supportive decision. The Government have made it clear that they support the work carried out by the Hopscotch Asian Women's Centre in providing training, education and childcare facilities for Asian women, and have provided, and are committed to providing, more substantial financial support to enable it to continue its work.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is, of course, regrettable if offence has been caused to those who are involved in that worthwhile project, but because Labour-controlled local authorities so often seem to give financial support to what perhaps I may call "eccentric" projects anything can be believed?
Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, the noble Baroness keeps on referring to "the Chairman of the Conservative Party", but the Chairman of the Conservative Party can be anybody. My Question referred to a Minister without Portfolio who is a Cabinet Minister. Do the Government accept responsibility for the tone of those comments by a Cabinet Minister or do they not?
Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Minister without Portfolio was speaking at a Conservative Party conference in his capacity as the party chairman. All sorts of things are said at conferences. The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was there and knows that it was an excellent conference. Perhaps we shall be able to welcome him onto our Benches.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we welcomed the announcement by the Commonwealth Secretary General on 16th October, We share the view of our partners in the Commonwealth, based on the report of the Eminent Persons Mission, that sufficient progress has been made in Cameroon, consistent with the principles of the Harare Declaration, over the past five years. The decision in favour of membership has been welcomed by the vast majority of people throughout Cameroon.
Lord Rea: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer which was largely predictable. Is it not a rather strange paradox that Nigeria and Kenya should be roundly and correctly condemned for their human rights violations, with even the suggestion that Nigeria should be expelled from the Commonwealth until it restores civilian rule and the rule of law, while the Republic of Cameroon, which has an appalling human rights recordthe Minister will surely agree with that statement if she reads the annual report of Amnesty Internationaland a very bad history of electoral fraud, should be invited to join the Commonwealth just when those other countries are being condemned? Can leopards change their spots so quickly? Would it not have been better, as in South Africa, to have seen an internationally monitored, free and fair election take place in Cameroon before admitting it to the Commonwealth?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the whole question of good governance in Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries is a matter of continuing concern. However, it is quite clear that the Eminent Persons Mission, which was so outstandingly led by my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, found that real progress had been made over the past five years. Since the requirement on Cameroon set at the Larnaca Commonwealth Conference was that Cameroon should have made significant progress before the matter was discussed again, and given that Cameroon first applied to join the Commonwealth in 1989, I am not surprised at the decision, which was supported by members of the Commonwealth, because the process gains pace all the time. Indeed, the Cameroon Government are funding their own national commission on human rights and freedoms and are inviting monitors to help them with it.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the admission to the Commonwealth of countries with slightly dubious credentials will impose any financial burden on the United Kingdom?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, there will be no further financial burden as a result of their joining. Other members of the Commonwealth may perhaps give Cameroon the sort of support which we have been giving in a small way for some considerable time.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, how does anybody know how the Eminent Persons Mission reached its conclusions when the report was not published? Is it not a fact that the group inquired into four particular matters: the postponement of local elections; the appointment of ambassadors of southern Cameroon origin to Anglophone countries such as Nigeria and the United Kingdom; the publication of the annual reports of the government-appointed human rights commission; and the mechanisms for accommodating the declared views of people of the southern Cameroon? Can the Minister say in what respect progress has been made on any of those four issues?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, to the best of my knowledge the Eminent Persons Mission went into all those matters and others besides. The democratic process in Cameroon requires that country to address a number of areas still further. That is what the Commonwealth mission highlighted. Those areas include further constitutional reform, local elections, press freedoms, human rights and the independence of the judiciary. In July this year the President of Cameroon said that he hoped to hold local elections before the end of this year or soon after and that the draft constitution would be presented soon. Therefore, there is progress, but we shall continue to keep up the pressure on Cameroon, together with our Commonwealth partners, to make sure that the reforms take place.
Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: My Lords, as one of the membersbut certainly not the leader of the Commonwealth mission, which was led by Dr. Kamal Hossain from Bangladeshinvited to Cameroon on behalf of the Secretary General to report on the current situation relating to Cameroon's application for membership of the Commonwealth, may I ask my noble friend whether she would agree that it is the Anglophone community, who claim to feel marginalised and discriminated against by the present Cameroon Government, who would achieve the greatest benefit from Cameroon's entry into the Commonwealth, although I accept that some of the evidence that we received, particularly from those who claimed to speak on behalf of the peoples of southern Cameroon, was strongly opposed to Cameroon's entry at this time?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend not only for giving us that information but for correcting my error. I meant to say that he was a leading member rather than the leader of the Eminent Persons Group. What is important is that, although some Anglophone politicians did, as he said, oppose membership on a timing basis, we know that they are not opposed to membership in principle. We believe that their tactics were for purely local political reasons. Of course we know of the demands for greater regional autonomy which are often being made, and not only by the Anglophone provinces. I hope that the
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, has the Minister read the report of the UN Human Rights Committee of only last year? Is she saying that when a country applies to join the Commonwealth the country's human rights record is of minor relevance only? If not, how much worse than the record of the Cameroon would it have to be to justify a rejection?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, as one who has taken up the issue of human rights in the Cameroon over a period of 10 years, I can only say that real progress has been made. I have been to many parts of Cameroon, and I have seen the changes that are beginning to take place. I made it clear in answer to an earlier question that one of the issues which the Commonwealth mission declared must be followed up, and which will be monitored by the Commonwealth, is human rights, because the situation is by no means yet good enough. Much of the evidence put to a number of the previous inquiries dated back some time. The more recent evidence is very much better. I agree with the noble and learned LordI believe that he knows this alreadythat adherence to human rights, whether it be in Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, The Gambia or anywhere else, will be a matter of concern for all members of the Commonwealth and something upon which we must take a very firm stand.
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