• Jim Bolger
Prime Minister


Prime Minister, Mrs Blair, Heads of Government, Ministers, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted this evening to respond to the address of our host, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and to offer a toast to Her Majesty.

It is good to be here in Edinburgh - an ancient seat of government at the onset of renewing its authority within the United Kingdom.

I should, however, draw attention to a developing trend associated with hosting CHOGMs.

In New Zealand's case, we reformed our electoral system prior to taking up the Chair.

The United Kingdom has gone further - devolving significant governmental authority back to Scotland.

If this trend continues then we may all need to think twice before offering ourselves as hosts!

For all that, it is good to be back in Britain this year.

With biennial meetings, this CHOGM is as close as we will get to the 50th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth.

For it was in 1948 that the old style Commonwealth was joined by the first wave of new members reclaiming their nationhood in an association of sovereign and equal States.

It has been a demanding 50 years which has often tested the unity of our organisation.

How to help bring freedom and democracy to South Africa was a challenge to Commonwealth unity.

How to deal with States which are no longer democratic, challenges us for a response which adds value to the Commonwealth and to individual member States.

CHOGM has often been a forum of vigorous debate as leaders saw issues from different historical and cultural perspectives.

Winston Churchill spoke optimistically in a 1943 address looking forward to a post-war Commonwealth.

He spoke of a shared heritage of law, language, common conceptions of what is right and decent, a sentiment for impartial justice and a love of personal freedom.

Despite difficulties in living up to such noble aspirations and despite failures, the Commonwealth has given strength to those who seek to advance the rights and freedoms of those who are oppressed.

The Commonwealth is a unique organisation which is difficult to define but many want to join.

Naturally, CHOGM meetings have changed; perhaps not always for the better.

Our predecessors, in 1948, met for a leisurely 11 days.

And, as a result of their labours, they produced a communiqué of nine crisp paragraphs.

I am sure, Mr Chair, that in your capable hands what we may lose in brevity will be more than offset in quality!

For there is a special quality - a distinctiveness to CHOGMs - that marks them out from other gatherings on the international calendar.

In chairing the CHOGM in 1995, I was reminded of the Commonwealth's unique influence in developing concepts of better government.

We don't rely on courts or armies to enforce our decisions, we depend on the force of ideas, the power of persuasion and the sense of responsibility that arises from shared values that are worthwhile for our people, and relevant for us, personally, as leaders.

The two years since the Auckland CHOGM have seen some changes around the Commonwealth table.

I extend to you Prime Minister Blair, on behalf of the other leaders here, a warm welcome.

Your address this evening has challenged us to look anew to the task of working together for the common wealth and well-being of us all.

The task, which falls to you as Chair, of advising 50 or more leaders that consensus has been reached, and they may therefore cease contributing to it, will, I am sure, rest lightly and expertly in your hands!

I also welcome back to the Commonwealth my Pacific colleague Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji.

It's good to see Fiji return to the Commonwealth so a special welcome to you and, together, a warm welcome to all those for whom this is a first CHOGM.

Our meeting this year, of course, marks not only the 50th anniversary of the new Commonwealth.

It also marks the 50th wedding anniversary of Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh.

As Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty has contributed dignity, insight and, above all, a warm and friendly concern for each and every member of our association.

That we should be meeting as Commonwealth Heads, in the year that marks our and Her Majesty's 50th anniversaries, makes this Edinburgh CHOGM all the more a golden occasion.

And so I invite you, friends and colleagues, to charge your glasses in a toast to the Head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty The Queen.