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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, I join with the Leader of the Opposition in thanking the Lord Privy Seal for repeating the Prime Minister's Statement in another place. I do not wholly join with him in his remarks about the character of the conference. I noted that the Prime Minister reported that other heads of government had declared the conference to be one of the most harmonious Commonwealth Conferences for many years. I freely concede that as someone who 20 years ago played a reasonably active part in connection with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference held in the United Kingdom at that time. It was certainly a great deal more harmonious than the one I helped to plan.

Having said that, I express a sense of deep disappointment from these Benches that there was not a more decisive view taken on Nigeria by the Commonwealth heads of government.

I echo the words of the Leader of the Opposition. Will the Lord Privy Seal tell us something about what the heads of government did about human rights in other parts of the Commonwealth? I think, for example, of Kenya and the Cameroon. My other question on that front is to ask what was done and what rules were laid down about the applicants who are rather encouragingly queuing up to become members of the Commonwealth, but whose membership would present certain problems to us.

We welcome the fact that the Commonwealth Action Group is to be turned into what might be called a standing committee. I could call it a kind of Nolan Committee on human rights in the Commonwealth. It will be important for the British Government to give that action group the maximum support, because, in our view, the Commonwealth is nothing if it is not these days about human rights.

We support the thrust of the communique on world trade. I agree fully with what the Leader of the Opposition said on that matter. We welcome also the Government's initiatives on the relief of debt for the poorest of the Commonwealth countries. I hope that there will be, as mentioned in the communique, an effective special dispensation within the world trade pattern for the Commonwealth banana producers, and other similar groups, affected by the changes in the pattern of world trade.

I make two final points. The first relates to a matter that was raised on the margins of the conference; that is, the Lockerbie air disaster. From these Benches we support fully the Foreign Secretary's persistence in the view that those alleged in Libya to have had complicity in that disaster should face their trial in Scotland, where

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the Scottish judicial tradition could assure the rest of the world that there would be an absolutely fair trial. I hope that we shall stand firm on that position.

Finally, I join with the Leader of the Opposition in his tribute to Her Majesty the Queen who, in my view--I speak as Britain's last separate Commonwealth Secretary of State--over the many years of her reign has done so much to keep the Commonwealth meaningful in a modern world--a multi-racial community of nations, promoting human rights and seeking to erode human poverty.

Lord Richard: My Lords, I am obliged to the Leader of the Opposition and to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, for the partial welcome they gave to the Statement. I listened with great interest to the noble Viscount, as indeed I always do. I started by taking somewhat copious notes of what he had to say. Then predictably he said, "I must carp a little". If your Lordships will forgive me, at that stage I stopped taking such detailed notes of what he was saying, because, I am afraid, it was woefully predictable.

The fact is--the noble Viscount may not wish to recognise it--that not only do we think that this was a highly successful heads of government meeting, but all the other heads of government who were at Edinburgh thought that it was a highly successful heads of government meeting. The picture that the Leader of the Opposition painted of an arrogant British Government going around upsetting the rest of the Commonwealth, is frankly unrecognisable from what took place.

Viscount Cranborne: Did he apologise?

Lord Richard: My Lords, some solid achievements came out of Edinburgh. I am glad that in part of what he had to say the noble Viscount recognised that. I was asked three questions by him. The first was about further negotiations with the WTO. Surely the important fact is that the economic communique clearly endorsed moves towards freer trade. I am not here to disclose the details of the negotiations that led up to the communique. It would be foolish were I to do so. The noble Viscount saw fit to lecture us on how to conduct international conferences. I will say one thing to him: the way not to conduct international conferences is to disclose what goes on in the negotiations when conferences are concluded. There is a clear commitment in the communique towards freer trade. The noble Viscount asked that transitional measures should not be protectionist. I concur.

I was asked about Nigeria both by him and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson. Perhaps I should read what was said in the communique about Nigeria. I was asked also about the terms of reference and operation of the CMAG. I shall deal with that first. The communique states:

    "Heads of Government reviewed the composition, terms of reference and operation of CMAG. They decided that CMAG should continue its work as a standing ministerial mechanism to address serious and persistent violations of the principles of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. They agreed that CMAG should, in the two-year period after the Edinburgh CHOGM, consist of the following countries".

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It is interesting to note the membership of that group:

    "Barbados, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Ghana, Malaysia, New Zealand and Zimbabwe. They further agreed"--
and this, I think, is the answer to the noble Viscount's point--

    "that in future CMAG's remit should extend to member countries deemed to be in serious or persistent violation of the Harare principles, on the basis of established guidelines. They decided that the Commonwealth Secretary-General, acting on his/her own or at the request of a member government, should bring the situation in question to the attention of the CMAG membership, which would then include it or otherwise in its work programme in the light of its guiding principles".

That is new. With the greatest respect to the noble Viscount, it is important. It means that the Commonwealth Secretary-General is being given, so to speak, an interventionist role which he did not have before to the CMAG which consists of that large and diverse number of countries.

I shall deal with Nigeria itself. What is it that we want to see so far as concerns Nigeria? I believe that it is clear. As a minimum, as my right honourable friend said in another place, we want to see the release of all political prisoners, including Chief Abiola, General Obasanjo and the others. We want to see the early resolution of the case of the 20 Ogonis facing the same charges as Mr. Saro-Wiwa and others. Most importantly, we want to see a free and fair transition to civilian democratic rule in a way that allows all those who wish to do so to participate. We will work closely with the CMAG and our EU partners to keep pressure on the Nigerian regime to reform. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said that we had not done enough. Perhaps he will forgive me if I describe what powers the CMAG now has in relation to Nigeria. The communique states:

    "Heads of Government also empowered CMAG to invoke, in the period before 1 October 1998, Commonwealth-wide implementation of any or all of the measures recommended by CMAG if, in CMAG's view, these would serve to encourage greater integrity of the process of transition and respect for human rights in Nigeria. These included: visa restrictions on members of the Nigerian regime and their families; the withdrawal of military attaches; the cessation of military training; an embargo on the export of arms; the denial of educational facilities to members of the Nigerian regime and their families; a visa-based ban on all sporting contacts; a downgrading of cultural links; and the downgrading of diplomatic missions".

In other words, that is what can be done between now and 1st October 1998. The communique continues;

    "Heads of Government agreed that, following 1 October 1998, CMAG should assess whether Nigeria had satisfactorily completed a credible programme for the restoration of democracy and civilian government. They further agreed that if, in that assessment, Nigeria had completed a credible transition to democratic government ... then the suspension will be lifted and if not and it remained in serious violation of the Harare principles, Heads of Government would consider Nigeria's expulsion from the association and the introduction of further measures in consultation with other members of the international community... Such measures would include a mandatory oil embargo, a ban on air-links with Nigeria and the freezing of the financial assets and bank accounts in foreign countries of members of the regime and their families.".

With great respect, I believe that that is a sensible way to proceed. Certain sanctions can be applied between now and next October if, in the opinion of the ministerial action group, that would assist the transition to democratic rule. The heads of government have

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accepted that no such transition could well result in Nigeria's expulsion from the Commonwealth and the introduction of further sanctions.

I was asked a specific question about criteria for membership of the Commonwealth. It remains the same. There must have been a constitutional association between the country applying and one of the other members. In addition, there must be compliance with the Harare principles. As regards Palestine, if in accordance with the Oslo settlement it moves to independent sovereignty and there is such a thing as a sovereign Palestinian entity, an application to the Commonwealth from such an entity would be considered in accordance with the basic principles, just as any other applicant country would be considered.

4.31 p.m.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Lord Privy Seal agree--and I am sure that he does--that the Commonwealth Conference, with its emphasis on investment flows and market access, marks the continuation of the process which has evolved during the past two years of a steady upgrading in the Commonwealth of the priorities of British foreign policy? That is most welcome. Indeed, the process has evolved since a Select Committee in another place recommended that it should be the procedure and I am glad that that has been the response.

Does the noble Lord further agree that far from the Commonwealth being an outdated grouping it is quietly evolving as one of the most fascinatingly modern networks in modern world conditions? It provides a trans-regional set of connections and a common business culture which are not available from the United Nations or any particular trade bloc. That, too, is welcome.

Given the new opportunities and the fact that we are seeing the Commonwealth as a resource and not as an old-fashioned reunion, and given that we want Commonwealth members to speak up for us in the world's new trade groupings--for example, APAC and ASEAN--what are we doing to speak up more effectively for the Commonwealth in the European Union, as we have in the past and as I believe we should?

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