by Sir Alan Haselhurst
(Text of the he Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecutre 2012 delivered by Sir Alan Haselhurst M. P. Chairman of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Executive Committee on 12th September 2012 at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute)
It was a huge surprise, but a great honour to be invited to deliver the sixth Lakshman Kadirgamar Memorial Lecture. I feel very flattered to be the next in line to the distinguished figures who have preceded me.
I am conscious too that the lives of Lakshman Kardirgamar and myself have not been exactly intertwined. Our actual connection spans only a few years when we were at Oxford together.
We both chose to engage in what might be described as the incubator for aspiring politicians, namely the Oxford Union. That is where I met Lakshman and that is where I first began to admire him. I had reached membership of the Standing Committee when Lakshman became President of the Union. In my several dealings with him, some of a sensitive nature, I knew I was dealing with a truly honourable man.
I have to admit that thereafter our paths diverged. He was the Union President; I held the three other officer posts, but was beaten for the Presidency by Peter Jay, who later became the British Ambassador in Washington. Unlike Lakshman, I was never good enough to play cricket at anything other than a comic level. Instead I have taken to writing comic
novels about the game. Unlike Lakshman, I never rose to ministerial rank,remaining throughout my political life a backbench Member of Parliament apart from the period when I served as Deputy Speaker.
Our separate paths did not cross again. But I watched from afar as Lakshman grew in honour and esteem espousing a philosophy for humankind with which I could readily identify. I must now confess a great regret. My duties as Deputy Speaker denied me the opportunity to accept the invitation to attend in Oxford the unveiling of Lakshman’s portrait in 2005. I fully recognised how important a gesture this was on the part of the Union.
I wrote to Lakshman in these words:-
“I am delighted, but not surprised, that you have reached your present eminence in the government of your country. I send you my warmest greetings. I am sorry that I cannot be in Oxford for the ceremony at the Union. I am delighted that you are being so honoured. You were a most upright president and you have proved to be one of the Union’s most distinguished sons”.
I will always treasure the reply which he took the trouble to send me. My sorrow to have missed the event became the more profound when, within weeks, he was so cruelly cut down. In some small way I hope that my words today will be a modest recompense for that earlier omission. I say before you all that I am so very conscious of the inspiring legacy of principle and integrity in all his achievements.
I was a boy of seven at my first school when we were told that German prisoners of war were being employed on the neighbouring farm. On no account were we to stray from the school grounds. So, of course, a small group of us did. Everything seemed the same. We stopped by a barn door and asked a blond-haired young man who was forking hay where the Germans were. When he replied it was clear from his accent that he was one of them. My immature mind had some difficulty reconciling this smiling good-looking person in front of me with the images which wartime propaganda had drilled into me. I found it hard to associate him with the appalling destruction which I had seen in the city of Sheffield. He looked just like my cousin.
As I became more politically aware, I was influenced by the speeches of Churchill, Schumann, de Gasperi and Adenauer who were calling for a closer union of the European peoples. I began to see the glorious history of my country which I had been taught at school was precisely that: history. Successes to be cherished maybe, but mistakes to be acknowledged too. There was at last recognition that we lived in a world of interdependent nations.
My voice was raised in support of what was known as the European Movement. I was clear in my mind that divisions between peoples and communities could easily be deepened to the point of hatred and death: what was far more important was to identify and promote what people had in common. Understandably therefore the concept that was known colloquially as the Common Market spoke loudly to me.
Looking at Europe today you might be tempted to accuse me of a large dose of naivety. I do not despair. However, there is a lesson to be learned from what we have seen so far. It is unwise in such great affairs to hasten. Political leaders desirous of carving their place in history have a compulsion to hurry. So in Europe leaders have continually reached out towards the next objective and then the one after that.
Very commendable, it might be argued. Unfortunately less trouble has been taken to explain and persuade electorates about what is being done. Doubters, if not outright opponents, of the direction of travel are thus more easily fired up by suggestions that one country is taking advantage of another. Breath is blown into images of old rivalries. I dare say that, if each member of the European Union was obliged by its constitution to hold a referendum on a further transfer of powers, there would be real difficulty in obtaining an affirmative vote.
I believed in the European project because my country had every good reason to end the wars intended to end all wars. We can rejoice in some success. The last half century in Europe has been infinitely better than any that have gone before. But there was another reason which drew me to the cause of creating greater unity amongst the European peoples. It was the recognition that Britain unchanged could not fairly expect the countries grouped in its empire to continue to be the obliging customers for its goods and services or the submissive suppliers of cheap food and other products. A new adult relationship was mutually necessary.
My generation therefore did not share the hang-ups of some of my fellow citizens as progress towards independence took hold. Harold Macmillan’s ‘Wind of Change’ speech in Cape Town was very meaningful to me. As a student I had actively supported the decolonisation policy of his government. I welcomed the concept of Commonwealth and was encouraged by the wish of newly independent countries to stay linked together in a friendly association which gathers more meaning as the years pass and its numbers grow.
Personally I cannot recall ever being conscious of wearing or wanting to wear the cloak of empire. The nation of my birth may be the United Kingdom, but I am proud to be a citizen of today’s modern Commonwealth. It is in that demeanour and in that spirit that as the elected Chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s Executive Committee I stand before you to offer some thoughts about the role of parliamentarians in nurturing our Commonwealth and its ideals.
I am probably laying myself open to a charge of vainglory if emulating a preacher who uses a biblical or other text as the basis for his sermon I borrow some of my own words. They formed the message which I was asked to publish for Commonwealth Day this year. I doubt whether they have become widely familiar and so I will repeat them here.
“Commonwealth Day is a time for reflection and renewal. This year its celebratory aspects are enhanced by recognition of the Diamond Jubilee of the Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She has epitomised the centrality of the Commonwealth’s achievement of binding together peoples from across the globe in a free association which seeks to uphold the rule of law, freedom of speech, respect for human rights and parliamentary democracy.
“So far so good. Yet in looking forward we recognise that many challenges still face our parliamentarians if the primacy of good governance is to be asserted. Wrongs need to be addressed and standards raised for the full potential of our Commonwealth to be realised. Knowledge of what we are capable of achieving should spur us to multiply our contacts and deepen our mutual understanding.
“Above all we must excite and enthuse that vast proportion of our peoples who are under the age of 25. Their impatience for advancement must be allied to a belief that good governance is the indispensible requisite for economic, cultural and social progress. In our free association of countries we can all help each other and thereby gain strength. Not just this year, but on future Commonwealth Days our aim should be to swell the chorus of approval and the number of those who gain hope from our continued cooperative efforts”.
I spoke about Europe because for all that still troubles us in that continent there has been progress. I have not had to go to war unlike my father and grandfather before me. Nor has such a spectre confronted my children. Within the Commonwealth for all that binds us – around ninety organisations with a Commonwealth-wide dimension – there are too many places where a similar assurance is not available. War and its acolytes, starvation, malnutrition, disease, poverty, unemployment and lack of education, continue to inflict their scars.
Violence takes other forms. Men and women will continue to live in fear if their human rights, not least freedom of expression, are denied. It is easy to criticise so long as we all recognise that when the mirror is held up to our own countries imperfections can be found. The question is what we can do to help each other escape the past and reach out to loftier goals. Whilst I admire the great work done by individuals and organisations to better the lot of those who remain in peril it requires much more. At governmental level whatever the intensity of diplomacy, there is always the risk of a clash of national wills.
So that is why I attach huge importance to the role of parliamentarians in creating more fertile ground for an increase in cooperation and deepening of understanding. It is in that cause that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is gathered here in Colombo for its 58th Conference.
Let me say something first about the Association itself. Founded originally as the Empire Parliamentary Association and supercharged by becoming the organisation for parliamentarians from across the five continents over which the Commonwealth extends, it is now 101 years old. Our objectives can be most completely and efficiently expressed as parliamentary strengthening and parliamentary diplomacy. We exist to bring members of parliament – and clerks and officials – together to meet, greet, listen and learn.
As the years pass this becomes increasingly and enrichingly a two-way process. By talking with colleagues from other parliaments and assemblies great and small, you learn that you have a surprising amount in common. You find that other people in dealing with a common problem have adopted an approach which had not occurred to you. You can debate, in private session or in social conversation, points of difference in a non-threatening way. Friendships are formed. Trust develops. We call it soft diplomacy.
In the CPA we believe that good governance is the key to everything; a robust representative parliamentary system lies at the core of any democracy. There is no identikit model, but there are common characteristics: balanced procedural rules, guaranteed freedom of speech, absence of corruption, effective scrutiny of the executive, free and fair elections, universal adult franchise.
Neither can it be said that any country has attained perfection. Even the longest-established parliaments remain restless to improve themselves. The job of the CPA is to disseminate best practice. Probably this is done most potently when members of parliament and their advisers can meet face-to-face in either bilateral or multilateral exchanges.
The CPA holds all its 180 branches in parity of esteem. Only in the grossest cases of sustained contempt for our fundamental principles will a branch be suspended and that would usually follow action initiated by the Commonwealth Secretariat itself.
I have been asked questions about holding this year’s CPA Conference in Sri Lanka. The fact that I am here now indicates how those questions were answered. It would have been contrary to the approach which I have stated for us to have reneged on our acceptance of the invitation issued by Sri Lanka over two years ago. Many countries go through turbulence from time to time. Sri Lanka’s agony lasted too long.
It is particularly tragic that Lakshman Kadirgamar did not live to see the end of the internal conflict and the start of peace-building to which so much of his life was dedicated. I am sure he would have welcomed the progress being made by the Government of President Rajapaksa towards the resettlement of the Tamil population displaced during the conflict. He would surely have approved the lifting of the state of emergency and the rapid economic growth now being achieved.
It seems certain that he would have been encouraged by the setting up of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission in May 2010 with its implied public commitment by the Government to address the issues of accountability and reconciliation.
The Government in July approved an implementation plan and timetable for the LLRC’s recommendations. This is a welcome move. Sri Lanka’s friends in the Commonwealth and the wider world will wish to see it reinforced through continuing progress to civil governance. It is also important to your friends to see thorough, equitable and satisfactory resolution of any outstanding concerns over human rights.
The ultimate goal must be legal entrenchment of protections for the rights and political freedoms of every citizen of this country. All this requires the continuance of courageous and farsighted leadership. But something else is needed too.
I represent what might be described as the parliamentary column of the Commonwealth structure. It will perhaps be understood why I would place great emphasis on the role of parliament and parliamentarians in the process of reconciliation. Indeed they should be at the heart of it. Parliaments alone have the mandate to question and investigate the actions of government ministers and officials, to goad and encourage them to make progress and to legislate as necessary.
As an institution parliament is best placed to shine a continuing light on the recommendations of the LLRC, ensuring that there is adequate focus on and commitment to its findings. Parliament is also the body capable of ensuring that all parts of Sri Lankan society are engaged in the reconciliation process. As a representative assembly it has a better chance than possibly any other constitutional organ of winning the hearts and minds of the most isolated and hard to reach communities.
I do not wish to appear to be trespassing on sovereignty. I recognise without equivocation that reconciliation and accountability will not be successfully achieved if the process is not led by the Sri Lankan Government and other institutions of the state. However, I would be failing in my own responsibilities if I did not talk up the Commonwealth resources on which Sri Lanka could draw in smoothing the path forward.
Sri Lankans have not been and are not alone in having to meet and overcome the challenges of post conflict reconciliation. There are Membersof Parliament in South Africa, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Northern Ireland to name but four, who have firsthand experience, albeit in different circumstances, of peace building and reconciliation. They could advise and encourage their colleagues in the Sri Lankan Parliament if that advice and encouragement were sought. Many Commonwealth countries have been through difficult periods of transition. There is much experience to share.
The journey from internal conflict to stable democracy often has to be undertaken along a rocky road. No-one should regret the defeat of the LTTE, but the wounds of such a long and bitter war are slow to heal. Economic development is an obvious help, but on its own is insufficient. A sustainable peace requires genuine reconciliation between peoples and that in its turn depends on an understanding and redress of grievances.
The peace process in other countries has proved to be most effective where governments have taken their own actions to ensure that they can be held to account by parliamentarians and organs of civil society.
This therefore emphasises the value of the LLRC report and underlines the importance of the implementation of its recommendations. The Commonwealth as a whole and the CPA through its parliamentary network stand ready to support. Between us, I emphasise your friends in the Commonwealth, we boast no inconsiderable resource, possessing expertise in promoting reconciliation between communities, addressing issues of land rights, providing constitutional and legal assistance and advising on models of devolution and local government.
CPA’s presence here in conference is testimony to our belief in your intent to embed our Commonwealth values deeper into your constitution as your settlement progresses.
The Sri Lankan Government has received another vote of confidence in the decision of the Commonwealth Heads of Government to hold their next gathering in Colombo. This was originally proposed when they met at Port of Spain in 2009 and the choice was confirmed last year in Perth. However, what will convince its friends is the Government’s continuing determination to address in a transparent way outstanding post-conflict issues. In addition, its willingness to demonstrate at home and abroad a clear timeframe that peace will be accompanied by equality of treatment for all the peoples of this country.
Simply put, transparency, peace and equality must be bolstered by democratic stability. Within the framework of our Conference, Commonwealth parliamentarians will look for assurances in these respects. A good outcome here will help to unite the fifty-four member states in support of Sri Lanka at the 2013 CHOGM.
I would be less than frank, however, if, as a friend of Sri Lanka, I did not point to concerns should the progress for which we all hope not be made. It would be singularly unfortunate if the international community was to lose faith in the will and ability of the Sri Lankan Government to resolve peacefully and collectively its domestic challenges. This might put the Commonwealth itself in a delicate position for it would give ammunition to those critics who claim that it lacks the influence necessary to define itself as a major intergovernmental force.
That said, I continue to share the confidence of the Commonwealth Secretary-General and so many others that Sri Lanka will succeed in its task.
Indeed the CPA believes it can help. I have stressed the role of parliamentarians in the overall Commonwealth framework. It is my firm conviction that Commonwealth parliamentarians must establish themselves in a more influential position than they have achieved to date.
I sense the door is now open for CPA to assert itself as a pre-eminent force for good. Indeed the Ministerial Action Group has signalled that the Commonwealth Secretariat should remit its parliamentary strengthening work to CPA. Specifically there is an opportunity to establish a legacy from our meeting in Colombo.
CPA can work discreetly with Sri Lankan Members of Parliament in a structured programme embracing capacity-building, post-conflict reconciliation and constitutional and electoral workshops to help them maximise their role in the delivery of peace and accord. Your friends, not without experience of similar issues, are ready to help.
A Commonwealth for our Future in which Sri Lanka stands proud and strong. A Commonwealth for our Future in which together we will grow in respect and influence. A Commonwealth for our Future in which the values of free speech, human rights and democracy are extolled and enhanced. And the Parliamentary Dimension of my title? This is to recognise that representative parliamentary democracy is the only reliable guarantee of freedom. Parliament is the bridge between government and the governed.
Above all is the need continually to convince people that it is the best means by which their voices can be heard and ultimately in the face of deep scepticism, when privations appear overwhelming, it is still the best hope of their needs being met.
A Commonwealth for our Future which has a network of parliaments at its heart. That way we can reflect, renew and build on what we have in common – those basic values which we share over a large part of this globe. Let us face the challenges with combined confidence.
Let us keep faith with the young. Let the desire for unity grow strong in Sri Lanka, in all parts of our Commonwealth and in the wider world.
It is my earnest wish that the sentiments I have expressed would have won the approval of Lakshman Kadirgamar whose life and work I continue to honour.