Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

DfID lends support in its White Paper to the private sector's role in achieving middle-income status, but its support is hedged with qualifications. The basic and enabling conditions need to be put in place by poor country Governments, corruption has to be eliminated, and the environment has to be wholly protected before it is possible to expect private sector development progress. This caution leads DfID to fund other bodies whose purpose is to study development but not to do it themselves.

It seems that DfID has yet to decide the old-fashioned riddle of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. Is it ideal conditions for the private sector or the nerve to get on with it? Both questions need an answer. However, in development there have been answers. For example, Abraham Darby and his Quaker partners did not wait for government approval at Coalbrookdale; they would not have known that such a precondition could exist. Cecil Rhodes and his free-wheeling contemporaries-who attract the disapproval of today's development pundits-contributed a great deal to modern South Africa's economy. This leads me to ask why economic development does not come top of DfID's priorities.

What plans do we have for four sub-Saharan African countries-the Gambia, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Zambia? All are Commonwealth countries, all are

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1171

near the bottom of development indices and all have around half or more of their people living below the world poverty line. These countries need to achieve more than poverty alleviation. There is, indeed, a vital temporary place for poverty alleviation, but it is only a second best; it is no long-term solution.

If we have the ambition to see these countries become middle-income countries, what needs to happen? The first necessary condition for any significant development will be partnership between the country concerned, and the private sector within it, and offshore players. For example, in large-scale sugar production, both Malawi and Zambia produce sugar from cane; Sierra Leone most probably could; the Gambia probably not. The international sugar market is complex. It is full of multi and bilateral agreements; there is competition from beet sugar; some markets are growing, driven by rising populations and incomes, and others are inaccessible. The agronomy is complex-there are many varieties of cane. Is the soil suitable? Is the right amount of land available? Shall we have a large group of outgrowers? Is the cane to be rain-fed or irrigated? An experienced team of professionals is needed to assess the prospects of success. Sugar cane needs immediate processing at harvest time-it goes into a capital-intensive mill, demanding management and maintenance skills-and both the technology and the finance needed are scarce resources.

There will be housing, medical and schooling needs, and food supplies will probably need supplementing. I stop there to ask, where in DfID's plans does hands-on management of major development opportunities feature? If the Gambia is again to become the shipping entrepĂ´t it once was, a similar set of partnership imperatives applies. Ports need modern equipment.

Finally, daunting as these ideas may seem, they have been successfully tackled many times in the past. It is just that at some point, perhaps through lack of confidence or mistrust of business, we went off into the safer havens of poverty alleviation, abstract nouns and political correctness. Development solves many of the perceived problems which worry the bureaucracy-witness Malaysia, which was such a worry to the aid pundits as it achieved middle income-and we have to get down to the concrete realities of scientific and global detail to achieve development. As things are, there will be more people below the poverty line next year than there are today. Only private sector partnerships will turn the tide.

12.56 pm

Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, on initiating such a valuable debate. Having listened to the contributions so far, much of value has been said which will need, in due course, to be answered by the Minister.

We should be proud of the Commonwealth. We should also be proud of our contribution to the Commonwealth. The admission of Mozambique and Rwanda, whatever the problems, particularly of the latter, may be, at least shows how well regarded the Commonwealth is among many other countries internationally. It continues to have the potential to

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1172

play an important part on the world stage although it may not yet have found its voice-or, perhaps more accurately, its role for the future.

I shall focus on an area that has not so far been referred to, and it will not surprise your Lordships that, as a former judge, I shall be commenting on the judiciary within the Commonwealth. The promotion of the common law of England and Wales has, over the past two centuries, crossed the world and forms the basis of the legal systems of many Commonwealth countries. It brought with it the immense importance of the rule of law, which is one of the pillars of a civilised and representative society. The Commonwealth law conferences held in different parts of the Commonwealth have shown the extent to which the principles of English law still play a part, even in countries which have totally different traditions such as in the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia.

I was recently involved in a training programme in Kuala Lumpur and found, without surprise, that I was talking exactly the same language as the Malaysian judges-and, I am glad to say, they did it all in English. However, one has to recognise the problems the judiciary has in the administration of justice in some parts of the Commonwealth. This is very worrying. Rwanda clearly needs help. Kenya has problems in respect of its competency and suitability amid allegations of corruption in the judiciary. I recently met some members of the Kenyan Parliament when I was taking part in a conference, in this building, of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association-of which I am a member-and they were very concerned about corruption among the judiciary. However, the Kenyan Government have responded to an international request to set up a court to try cases of international piracy and they are to be much commended for doing so. They have also set up an interim judicial commission to do what a judicial studies board would call an appraisal of the judiciary. They hope to do that over the next 12 months.

Kenya is not alone in having problems with the judiciary. There are difficulties in preserving or even setting up a system of genuine judicial independence and impartiality. Not all Governments recognise the need for the judiciary to be independent. Some Governments see the judiciary as civil servants and, consequently, subject to control.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is doing excellent work in helping developing democracies to strengthen their legislatures. United Kingdom judges are involved in projects within and outside the Commonwealth, generally through the Judicial Studies Board. The Commonwealth Magistrates' and Judges' Association, of which I was a member, is very supportive of judges in the Commonwealth who have difficulties. But there remains a pressing need for provision within the Commonwealth, particularly within the United Kingdom, to give as much support as possible to judges and the administration of justice in order to sustain competent, properly trained, independent and impartial judges and to uphold the administration of justice throughout the Commonwealth. The theme of this debate is the goals of democracy and development. An absolutely essential element of those goals is a

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1173

strong, well respected judiciary which can be trusted by its citizens. As I said earlier, one of the pillars of democracy is the rule of law.

1.01 pm

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord on initiating this debate on the linkage between governance and development. It is being increasingly recognised, perhaps first by the World Bank and, over the past few years, by DfID that unless rulers are challenged and made accountable, there will be corruption and inefficiency.

I follow the noble and learned Baroness in saying that, rather like Monsieur Jourdain and prose, the Commonwealth has been doing it all the time from the very start. One thinks of the contribution of the common law-which has been touched on-and of the contribution over the decades by Lincoln's Inn, not just in the substance of law but also in procedure, which has had a major effect on Commonwealth development.

It is important to be realistic about what the Commonwealth can and cannot do. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, made this point as did the current Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, in an excellent speech on human rights at the November CHOGM, where he drew the distinction between the rhetoric and the reality. The rhetoric is the Harare Declaration; the reality is that, often, perhaps because of bureaucratic problems, many Commonwealth countries are unable to implement even the Convention on Torture or the two major UN human rights conventions. Fourteen members are yet to ratify the two 1966 conventions. We can help in that.

In terms of governance, part of the Commonwealth's strength is negative: the response to peer reviews in respect of the Harare principles; the role of the CMAG over the fluctuating membership of Fiji and Pakistan; and now Zimbabwe being self-excluded. It is also important that at the recent CHOGM it was decided to hold the next CHOGM not in Sri Lanka, because of repression and human rights problems, but in Australia. That also has some effect.

The strength of the Commonwealth in part derives from the informal Commonwealth, a point made by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young: the Commonwealth People's Forum-in the genesis of which we in the UK had a major part in the Gleneagles CHOGM-and the networks of non-governmental organisations. Concerning South Africa, I have enormous respect for the civics which flourished in the apartheid years and which may now be a bulwark against authoritarianism in South Africa, challenging the Executive and asking the Government to explain themselves and the pretensions of power. All those are intermediary bodies which are part of the informal Commonwealth. I think, too, of the way in which the very diversity of the Commonwealth that we saw in the November CHOGM perhaps paved the way for Copenhagen by reaching informal agreements on financial support for poorer countries.

But the major contribution of our Commonwealth, as has been rightly said, in terms of Parliament and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, is vital.

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1174

It is the parliamentary dimension which can profitably be strengthened. Much useful work is being done by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association generally, headquartered here in London, and by our own UK branch. For example, the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association organised the International Parliamentary Governance Seminar held in London in November, looking at the role of Parliament in governance, parliamentary democracy, the role of the press, the role of opposition and so on.

I shall make two quick points on this. First, there are a number of other organisations in the field; for example, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the European Union, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the foundations in the US and Germany and so on. There is an important role for co-ordination. I make a specific case for co-operation with France, particularly in west Africa. That was symbolised by the appearance of President Sarkozy at the CHOGM in Trinidad and Tobago. A number of the Commonwealth countries are now bilingual; for example, Mauritius, Cameroon, Canada and Rwanda. La Francophonie, which has 53 members-and the lusophone members, which are eight in the world-can usefully work with the Commonwealth in this area to promote democracy and good governance.

In the current climate of this Parliament being vilified by the press in the UK, many parliamentarians in the UK feel under threat by taking part in the overseas work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to strengthen democracy. Perhaps our press fails to appreciate the hard and valuable work done by parliamentarians in terms of seminars and conferences worldwide.

Finally, I praise the initiative of the Royal Commonwealth Society and of our Foreign Secretary on the Commonwealth Conversation. The key question asked is whether the Commonwealth is spreading itself too thinly. In so many of the other things that it does, many other international organisations do the work perhaps in some ways more professionally and with more money. It is perhaps in governance that the Commonwealth can make the most important contribution. The Commonwealth Conversation reported back to CHOGM last month. I understand that a full report will be made by the Royal Commonwealth Society in January. It would be helpful to have an interim assessment by the Government today.

I have attended many Commonwealth conferences. I value the family spirit, the instant rapport and the fact that small countries can walk tall. It is important that many countries are still seeking membership. The Commonwealth can add value not only to their democracy but also to their development, as the mover of the Motion said.

1.08 pm

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, whom I last followed in a debate on Sierra Leone in the other place, which presages some degree of continuity. I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Sheikh on celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Declaration of London via the vehicle of this debate.



10 Dec 2009 : Column 1175

I am grateful to him for causing me in this context to take stock of my own travels. I find that I am short of two or three countries in the European Union to visit. In the United States, I am short of the states of Nebraska and North Dakota. However, in the Commonwealth, I have visited less than 40 per cent of its complement: seven countries out of the eight signatories of the 1949 Declaration of London; seven other African countries besides South Africa, including Mozambique; two islands in the Caribbean; one in the Indian Ocean; an archipelago in the Pacific; and strategic crossroads in Cyprus and Singapore. I have lived and worked twice in the United States, once in the European Union and once in what was then EFTA for a total of six-and-a-half years. I have never worked in the Commonwealth outside this country and have spent at most, in a single visit, a couple of months in Australia, a month in New Zealand, three weeks in South Africa and, in composite terms, six weeks in Canada.

Overall, therefore, I have much greater physical familiarity with Europe and the United States, and count myself as a European and an Atlanticist, yet it is within the Commonwealth that I feel most naturally at home. Why? It is the language, for one-and the very terms of my noble friend's Motion, for another. For the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, one might add the rule of law. Then there are the historical connections, when we were generally on the same side, and what might be termed political wisdom in terms of our elision from imperial power to friendly partner, not least through Her Majesty's superb response to her role. Never in the Commonwealth have we practised our historic role in Europe of an offshore holder of a balance of power.

If political wisdom has been one of our country's most significant contributions to history, lyric poetry has fulfilled the same role towards civilisation. Those two strands come together in the game of cricket, one of the few games to have Laws with an upper-case "L" rather than rules with a lower-case "r", and one in which lyricism is its essence and joy. It is also one in which generally the rule of law prevails. The epitome of its universality is that it is a game in which temperaments as diverse as the West Indian and the English find common cause. My noble friend on the Front Bench implied the other day that Rwanda's entry into the Commonwealth from Belgian ancestry might have been lubricated by their newfound attachment to cricket. To echo the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, it seems conceivable that Afghanistan, which has already beaten an MCC side led by Mike Gatting, might apply to join, too.

The particular practical contribution that cricket has provided in the Commonwealth is a lexicon of metaphors on which debaters can draw in our mutual councils, which one can rely on to be understood. I made the same point in an alternative way, by saying that as our EU budget Council Minister for four years, I could rely on this same regard only on metaphors from classical mythology, and even that was unfair to the Scandinavians. However, above all, as my noble friend so often and rightly reminds us, it is the Commonwealth's global reach and universality that is

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1176

its greatest asset and potentially greatest strength. I say "potentially" because, even after 60 years, which exceeds the average lifespan in too many Commonwealth countries, we have not between us realised that full potential.

The Commonwealth has supreme successes in sport and education, both practised multilaterally throughout the Commonwealth and often bilaterally as well. Our mutual capacity to maximise our collective contribution to world equilibrium-and, yes, in the Motion's terms, to development-has not yet been properly exercised and is already the test and challenge for the next generation. My noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, were wholly correct to emphasise the global importance of the semi-slumbering giant of India developing as it is, but much more patient thought needs to go into how the Commonwealth can exploit our mutual relationships in future and, indeed, as India stretches itself. Batons need to pass; we are not yet pulling our full weight in the world.

In the context of the rule of law, the Commonwealth can pride itself on the justice with which expulsions from the Commonwealth have occurred. I am not going to rehearse all the cases, but South Africa and Zimbabwe on one continent and Pakistan on the sub-continent were as much as anything expelled because they had offended against the spirit of the club, and the rest of the club did not want that to be condoned. The spirit is in the same vein a preoccupation of cricketers.

In conclusion, I cite a humble career long ago-that of a 19th-century Manchester non-conformist missionary, who spent a lifetime in the Admiralty Islands teaching his congregation the Commandments of God and the laws of cricket. When he died, full of years, his flock were too poor for a permanent monument, but planted his wooden leg upon his grave, and so fruitful was the local soil that the wooden leg took root and flourished and provided them with an inexhaustible supply of cricket bats. That is not a bad symbol for the Commonwealth. It is our responsibility within it to help to make its fertility blossom even more productively, commercially and politically.

1.14 pm

Lord Janvrin: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for initiating this timely debate on the Commonwealth. What a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville.

I support so much of what has been said about the achievements of the Commonwealth in the fields of democracy and development, and would like to add my emphasis on three points. First, while the organisation's involvement in development has been vital and important since its inception 60 years ago, the Commonwealth's activities to promote democracy and champion democratic standards, human rights and the rule of law have really now begun to come into their own in the post-apartheid world, and with the creation of the mechanism of CMAG in 1995. This means of applying political pressure by members acting in concert, along with the provision of vital practical and expert assistance, for example at election time, has been a potent force for good in the past 15 years. The Commonwealth does

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1177

not always get enough credit for that quiet diplomacy, as it tackles some of the very delicate political and governance issues among its members. However, much still needs to be done-and I welcome one outcome of the recent CHOGM meeting in Trinidad and Tobago-to look for ways in which to strengthen the role of CMAG in dealing with violations of the Harare principles, examples of which we have been given today. I hope that the Minister will let us know how the British Government will support that outcome of the CHOGM meeting.

Secondly, the Commonwealth seems to be of growing relevance in the 21st century and not a throwback, as some mentioned earlier. With increasing globalisation in all our lives, it becomes more not less relevant. The great challenges of economic growth, trade, climate change, water management, food and energy security are all global issues requiring global solutions. A grouping like the Commonwealth, brought together, unusually, by history rather than geography, has a unique contribution to make to the wider understanding of some of these issues. We must never forget, as some noble Lords have said, the priceless asset that the organisation has of a common language. It has a contribution, too, in brokering solutions that reach beyond and across regions, across the developed and developing world and the divides of size or situation. In other words, the Commonwealth is an organisation that is fit for purpose in a globalised world. I hope that the Minister will touch on how the Government may use the Doha round and negotiations that continue on climate change.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly for the vast majority of the people of the Commonwealth, the organisation does so much of its best work at the sub-political level-namely, among the non-governmental or civil society organisations. I certainly associate myself with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, on the importance of the Commonwealth People's Forum. The work of these organisations in bringing people together, whether cricketers or dentists, businessmen or academics, to consult and exchange views, can be seen to be a good example of what is known as soft power. I hope that the British Government will continue to look for ways to use and support this aspect of Commonwealth activities.

The organisation in its 60 anniversary year still has a lot going for it. If there is an obvious challenge, it is in engaging the interests of people, particularly younger generations, in the value of the organisation and, in this country, in retaining some interest in the organisation which for years has been taken for granted.

If, however, the media have long since lost interest in the Commonwealth, let us take comfort in the importance that the people of this country attach to these links. If anyone doubts this, let me leave your Lordships with one thought. A fortnight tomorrow we shall be celebrating Christmas. On that day, business and political telephones, e-mails, twitters and texts will fall briefly silent, but the people of this country will be communicating in every way possible with kith and kin, friends and families, overseas. Certainly some of those contacts overseas will be in the United States and some in Europe, but I would wager that the

10 Dec 2009 : Column 1178

overwhelming majority of the calls made on Christmas Day will be to the countries of the Commonwealth. Let us never underestimate the importance of the Commonwealth as we reflect on the long-term interests of the people of this country.

1.20 pm

Lord Selsdon: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh, who has made one of his very professional speeches. Underneath, he is a real trader. He speaks most of the Indian languages as well as Swahili. While he may appear to be rather a serious man, he suffers from the disadvantage that he has to share an office with me, and I am never sure when I am serious or not.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page