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The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, will there be consideration at the Auckland summit of new members coming into the Commonwealth who have not hitherto had any connection with it? If that is so, will such membership involve accepting Her Majesty the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth? What will that entail; and what are the figures?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, we have received a number of applications from other countries for membership of the Commonwealth. We believe that the Commonwealth should contain only countries which have some historical link with either Britain or other Commonwealth countries; it is not a totally British preserve. If there is no historical link between that country and the Commonwealth, the matter will need careful consideration.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, reverting to the Minister's earlier supplementary answers regarding this Question, does he agree that the financial measures which the Government take in support of strengthening the Commonwealth are a fraction of the money that is wasted in the European Community?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, as regards Europe, we limited our contribution in Edinburgh, which was a great achievement.

Lord Judd: My Lords, the Minister has placed emphasis on the importance of shared values in the Commonwealth. Will he accept that for the Commonwealth to continue emphasising the importance of human rights while doing nothing effective about the situations in Nigeria, The Gambia and Sierra Leone and, worse, actually admitting to membership at this juncture

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the Cameroons with its human rights record is diminishing the concepts both of human rights and shared values?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I believe that we can do more through the Commonwealth by not cutting off those countries from the Commonwealth and trying as best we can to improve good government.

Lord Stallard: My Lords, will the Minister ask his right honourable friend who is to represent the United Kingdom at the conference to approach the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth in order to seek the inclusion on the agenda of a proposal to obtain the agreement of the Heads of Government to press the United Nations Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, what further steps can be taken to implement the Security Council's recommendations in Resolutions Nos. 541, 550 and 939 on the problem of Cyprus?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, while the situation is primarily the concern of the United Nations, representations may be made to the Secretary-General by anyone for a matter to be included on the agenda.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I may have misheard the Minister but will he emphasise the importance of keeping channels of communication and dialogue open at all times?

Lord Chesham: Yes, my Lords.

Lord Kennet: My Lords, is it not worth thinking twice about the idea of refusing entry to the Commonwealth countries which do not share the history of the British Empire? Now that Namibia has joined the Commonwealth, would it not make good sense if Mozambique were also to apply to join? That would make a complete Commonwealth bloc across the bottom of southern Africa, with South Africa itself and the states immediately to the north.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, Mozambique's application raises a major issue of principle. There is no precedent for accession to the Commonwealth by a country which has no direct or indirect historical links with Britain or another Commonwealth country.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in this country there is continuing great support for the Commonwealth? Is he further aware that on two occasions in the past year—the arrest of the Spanish fishermen by Canada and the French nuclear tests—the impression has been given that the views of the Commonwealth have not been properly taken into account? The impression has also been given that this country has supported policies which may be inimical to the Commonwealth itself and to certain countries of the Commonwealth. Will the Minister try to ensure that this matter is addressed and, we hope, resolved at the conference?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Government take the Commonwealth very seriously, are supportive of it and will do everything that they can to help.

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Air Traffic Control Incident, 6th October

3.5 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have inquired into the failure of the air traffic control computer system in southern England on 6th October.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen): My Lords, the national air traffic services have investigated the incident and have ascertained that the failure of the air traffic control system on 6th October was caused by a computer software problem relating to the printing of flight data.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his reply. Is he aware of the replies given on the subject to my Question some years ago by my noble friend Lord Brabazon, the then Minister concerned, that expensive new equipment was about to transform the situation? Is he further aware that the situation was duly transformed later? Is there no standby reserve system to eliminate the great inconvenience imposed on the travelling public in perfect flying conditions, including great congestion at the airports and missed connections?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, my noble friend was right in quoting the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Brabazon. There has been ongoing and continued investment, in both computer hardware and software systems as well as in radar services training. That has culminated in the construction of an entirely new all-route centre at Swanwick. The sums involved have been considerable. We continue to place great emphasis on having an extremely reliable air traffic control system, as I believe we now have. Instances when that system fails, in however small a way, are extremely rare.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is idle now to talk in this day and age of a national air traffic control system? Europe is only a regional issue, but in Europe there are 34 systems; 52 air traffic control centres; 18 hardware suppliers; 20 operating systems; and 70 programing languages. Is it any wonder that European air traffic control is in a shambles? Would not the best way to deal with the matter be carefully to investigate the possibility of a unitary system?

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there are a number of systems and of administrations responsible for air traffic control across Europe. Considerable emphasis has been put into harmonisation and integration programmes. One notable programme, EATCHIP, which has been heavily supported by the United Kingdom, has produced considerable results. Since 1990 we have seen a 25 per cent. increase in the traffic which can be accommodated and a decrease of 20 per cent. in the length of delays. Those are considerable achievements. We see the value

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of harmonisation of systems across Europe, but I do not believe that that necessarily means one overall master system.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that EATCHIP—yet another of those awful acronyms for European Air Traffic Control Harmonisation and Integration Programme—is a far better way towards safer skies in this rapidly expanding area which affects millions of travellers, especially during peak holiday times, rather than the proposed single European authority? That would be just another authoritative centralising body which would be seriously vulnerable to disruptions.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that harmonisation programmes have shown what can be done. Considerable emphasis is put on harmonising the systems and there would be real difficulties with having one system. However, we have shown that with considerable political will we have achieved reduced delays and increased air traffic control availability. Those should be our aims and we shall continue to pursue them.

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, will the noble Viscount give the House an indication of the attitude of Her Majesty's Government to the extension of Eurocontrol? It has been in existence for some time; but, speaking of only 10 years ago, its development was obstructed by the Government at that time.

Viscount Goschen: My Lords, Eurocontrol has played a considerable role, and I am sure that it will continue to do so.

Criminal Case Sentencing: Public Reaction

3.10 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the proposal of the Minister without Portfolio in his speech at Blackpool on 10th October 1995 that members of the public should let judges know if they are dissatisfied with sentences in individual criminal cases now represents the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern): My Lords, I consider that, in the passage referred to, my right honourable friend was not seeking to express a policy of Her Majesty's Government. To achieve the appropriate balance, I should point out that my right honourable friend included reference to expressions of praise and not dissatisfaction only. My right honourable friend also cautioned that, before reaching a view, the public should remember that the judge will have heard all the evidence in a particular case.


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