Lord Howell has welcomed what he called an “orderly” process for the election of a new secretary-general at the Commonwealth, as agreed at the recently-held Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali.
Launching a 30 June House of Lords debate on the 2022 CHOGM and the future of the Commonwealth, he said: “I welcome the outcome that the change of Secretary-General will be orderly and in two years’ time. This prevents further division and gives a chance to the current Secretary-General, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, to overcome her past difficulties and help lift the evolving Commonwealth to its new level of significance in both economic and security world affairs.”
David Howell, Lord Howell of Guildford, the President of the Royal Commonwealth Society and Chairman of the Council of Commonwealth Societies since 2013, has regularly focused the attention of the UK’s upper house on Commonwealth matters following CHOGMs and other major developments.
Lord Howell, also known for his continuing probing of the direction of the organisation, told the House of Lords that the question of the Commonwealth’s purpose still needed to be asked, but said, “It now has 54 members and is about to increase with two more; several other countries indicate a desire to join,” adding “that is hardly a sign of a declining system or a fading association, as ill-informed critics like to keep claiming”.
He said: “Although some Governments may not see eye to eye and some may blatantly disregard the values embedded in the Commonwealth charter, which is always very regrettable, at the non-governmental level, the level of civil society, business and everyday life and work, a binding and integrating process nevertheless continues apace.”
Lord Howell spoke of a “new picture” on the trade side and a new geopolitical and security priority emerging over China, small island states and the situation in Ukraine.
He said that while Britain and the Commonwealth could not match “all Chinese inducements”, it should certainly “be containing Chinese ambition”.
On the challenges facing the Commonwealth today, Lord Howell concluded: “Are we up to it? We should be straining every muscle of diplomacy to ensure that we work as closely as possible with the Commonwealth family.”
“But this family needs to move from being seen sometimes by British officialdom as marginal and a slightly tiresome legacy to being a central component of our strategy, direction, role fulfilment and future security. That is the assurance we need from ministers: that they understand what is happening and where we are going. As to the vision and presentation of our story in this new world we have entered, I admit that that needs some brushing up, but the time for doing that is now—before it is too late.”
A number of peers took part in the two-hour debate, tackling issues including India, Pakistan and Kashmir, future British foreign policy, increased Commonwealth co-operation, Brexit, trade, Rwanda, Prince Charles’s comments at the CHOGM opening, the royal family’s role in the Commonwealth, republicanism, human rights, freedom of expression, the Commonwealth’s associations, its new members and the future of the organisation.
You can view the House of Lords debate at https://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/de630ea5-8b9a-42e6-82cd-9ceb7763595d?in=14:53:13 and the transcript of the debate at https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/2022-06-30/debates/E7E89AA1-8219-47F7-BFC6-F1FFD61667CF/Commonwealth .
Lord Howell at a Round Table discussion on Britain and the Commonwealth
Debbie Ransome is the web editor of the Round Table website.