Lord Oates introduces debate on Zimbabwe's re-entry to the CommonwealthLord Oates: "Ensure that the core principles of the Commonwealth are not fundamentally undermined by Zimbabwe’s readmission." [picture: ParliamentLive TV}

A debate on Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth took place on 12 January, 2023 at the House of Lords Grand Committee.

The question, laid by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oates stated: To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to work with other Commonwealth nations to block Zimbabwe’s readmission into the Commonwealth until it is compliant with the principles of the Commonwealth’s 1991 Harare Declaration.

Lord Oates stated in opening that he had requested the debate “to emphasise the severe damage that I believe would be done to the reputation of the Commonwealth, to the Zimbabwe people’s struggle for democratic and human rights and to the upholding of such rights throughout the Commonwealth, if Zimbabwe were to be readmitted while its Government remain in flagrant violation of the Commonwealth charter and of the Commonwealth’s 1991 Harare Declaration.”

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Lord Swire (former Minister of State in the Foreign Office) pointed to the most recent visit of the Assistant Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Professor Luis Franceschi, in November 2022.

Lord Swire said:

“as part and parcel of the eventual rehabilitation of Zimbabwe into the international community, the Zimbabwe national trade and investment arm, ZimTrade, joined the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council in November 2022 and participated before CHOGM in the business forum that we ran in Rwanda in June, indicating that it was open to discussion and I think is seeking rehabilitation.

Clearly, there are some underlying problems that sit uncomfortably at odds with almost everything the Commonwealth purports to stand for.

All is not perfect within the Commonwealth. Some countries get expelled when they fall short of Commonwealth values, most recently Fiji, the Maldives and so forth. They then have to reapply by complying with Commonwealth standards. At the end of the day, Zimbabwe is looking at Commonwealth Africa and the opportunities afforded by a £13 trillion market. It is a question of how much more carrot and how much more stick; it is a mixture of them both.”

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Lord Leong (Labour)

The Commonwealth can more effectively influence and change hearts and minds, and ultimately national laws, by working with the countries within rather than outside our family of nations. If we are too intransigent, we risk driving Zimbabwe to look elsewhere for international allies.

Lord Loomba (Crossbench)

The Commonwealth is a key channel for raising awareness of issues concerning democracy and human rights. I therefore urge the UK Government to engage constructively towards that end and support the readmission of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth.

Baroness Hoey (Non-Affiliated)

It said that a detailed report would later be submitted to the Commonwealth Secretary-General for review. I have written and asked whether we will see that report, because it is quite important that the Commonwealth itself gets serious about transparency and openness. We have seen nothing about who they saw when they were in Zimbabwe.

Conservative peer Lord Goldsmith wrapped up the discussion

The UK wants to see Zimbabwe prosper for the benefit of all its people, including by rejoining the Commonwealth. We will continue to engage constructively with its Government wherever we can to help Zimbabwe achieve its ambitions, but meaningful reform is needed to achieve them.

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Hansard account of the debate 

Video: Debate on Parliament Live TV