Speech at opening of Lusaka Commonwealth Meeting
|Source:||House of Commons Library: press release|
|Editorial comments:||1000 local time. A section of the text has been checked against BBC Radio News Report 1800 1 August 1979. The speech was "elegantly delivered" in the course of fifteen minutes ( Guardian , 2 August 1979).|
|Themes:||Commonwealth (general), Economy (general discussions), Energy, Foreign policy (Asia), Commonwealth (Rhodesia-Zimbabwe)|
Mr. Chairman, fellow heads of Government, Mr. Secretary-General it is an honour to speak at this opening session. And it is a particular pleasure, Mr. President, to meet here in Zambia under your chairmanship.
You yourself have for many years played a notable rule in Commonwealth affairs. Your country is deeply involved in some of the most difficult problems the Commonwealth faces today. I look forward to interesting and useful days in Lusaka. And, Mr. Chairman, to enjoying your very generous hospitality. We are all very conscious of the unsparing efforts which you have made for our comfort and of the meticulous preparations to which the Secretary-General and his staff have devoted so much time.
Mr chairman, can I begin by joining in the welcome for the four Commonwealth countries represented here for the first time: the Solomon Islands, Dominica, St. Lucia and Kiribati. And may I say how glad I am to see Uganda resume her place with us.
Mr. Chairman, you and many of our colleagues have attended Commonwealth heads of government meetings in the past. Although I have attended other Commonwealth gatherings. This is the first heads of government meeting in which I have taken part and I look forward to adding, in Lusaka, to my experience of how the Commonwealth works. Together, our countries make up a quarter of the world's population and of its nations. Our peoples come from different religions, races and cultures. They live under very dissimilar political and economic systems. What is it that brings us together?
The first and obvious answer is: history. History brought our nations together in the past. It was a random process and each of us may interpret it in different and sometimes incompatible ways. Our shared history has given us some common ideas about politics and a common language in which to communicate. No other international gathering of comparable size has these advantages.
But shared history and shared language are of little use on their own. I doubt whether any of us come here merely out of sentimental regard for the past. Moreover, it is not enough for us just to exchange views on the issues of the day. It is not enough for the Commonwealth to operate simply as a worldwide communications network.
Nor is it enough that the Commonwealth should be merely one of the many international bodies for the provision of economic aid between developed and developing countries—although ninety per cent of our Commonwealth members belong to the latter category.[fo 1]
Important though all these functions are, the Commonwealth must stand for something more if it is to endure. Our predecessors publicly committed the Commonwealth to the ideals of democracy, individual liberty and equality for all under the rule of law. It is not the exclusive perogative of any one constitutional system to promote these ideals.
They can—as I hope they do—exist within the wide variety of political arrangements under which we have variously chosen to live. But in a world in which these beliefs are under constant attack, I believe that the Commonwealth has a duty to proclaim them, to protect them and to practise them.
Mr Chairman, I should like to refer briefly to some topics which concern us all and which will be central to our discussions this week.
First, the world economy. Here the prospects are not encouraging. We face slower growth, rising inflation, persistent unemployment and balance of payments problems. [Beginning of section checked against BBC radio news report 1800 1 August 1979]
Our difficulties have been made worse by the latest round of oil price increases. And by recent sudden arbitrary action which will affect the oil market and prices.
The developing countries will be doubly hard hit. In the first place, directly: but then, too, because many developed countries will be less able to give help or to provide the expanding markets which the developing countries need for their prosperity. [end of section checked against bbc radio news report 1800 1 August 1979.] in the short term, we each need to adopt sensible domestic policies, and to make the best use of existing international institutions for economic cooperation.
In the longer term, we must find ways of using the world's limited supplies of fossil fuel more effectively, and to develop alternative and preferably renewable sources of energy.
The Tokyo summit was an important step. Our discussions here could take the process further.
Second I refer to the tragic plight of those caught up in the latest example of man's inhumanity to man: the refugees from Vietnam.
Refugees are nothing new to some members of the Commonwealth, who have for years grappled with the problems they pose.
Now others, too, notably Malaysia, are faced with very heavy social burdens not of their own making.
Both the Commonwealth and the world community must constantly focus on the real source of the crisis, which is the policy pursued by the Vietnamese government.
Only if there is a genuine change of policy there can we hope to stop the appalling suffering.
In the meantime we have a practical as well as a humanitarian and political problem to solve.
That is why Britain proposed to the United Nations that a[fo 2] conference should be convened which would cover all these aspects. The Geneva conference at which a number of Commonwealth countries were represented marked an important first step.
But there is much more to do. And it is vital that the international community should maintain the solidarity it displayed at Geneva in following up the decisions reached there.
Third, the problems of southern Africa. We are all conscious of the ever more urgent need for a settlement of the Rhodesia problem.
My colleagues and I have greatly benefited from the consultations we have been pursuing within the Commonwealth and with other African governments.
I am grateful to all those who have given us their advice and have expressed their views so clearly. I shall listen with the greatest attention to what is said at this meeting in Lusaka.
The United Kingdom has pledged itself to exercise its constitutional responsibility for Rhodesia. The aim is to bring Rhodesia to legal independence on a basis which the Commonwealth and the international community as a whole will find acceptable; and which offers the prospect of peace for people of Rhodesia and its neighbours.
I should like to make it clear, as I said in the House of Commons last week, that the British government are wholly committed to genuine black majority rule in Rhodesia.
The value of these days in Lusaka will lie not only in the outcome of our discussions round the table. It will lie equally, or perhaps even mainly, in the friendships which we are able to renew and in the fresh contacts which we are able to make during our time together.
The informality of the Commonwealth style is its great strength. By this time next week there may, I dare say, still remain some differences of view between us, and on more than one issue. But I know. Too, that we shall—each one of us—be confirmed in our recognition of the sincerity of purpose of our Commonwealth partners and of their fundamental goodwill and commitment to the Commonwealth's ideals.