I have long had an instinctive sense of the value of the Commonwealth. It encourages and celebrates cultural diversity and makes no attempt to homogenise - and in this it teaches those of us living in multi-racial societies like Britain or Trinidad and Tobago a valuable lesson.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your welcome. Vice Chancellor, thank you for your kind words.

It is a great pleasure to be here, on my first visit to Trinidad and Tobago. The University of the West Indies is one of the great successes of the region. I want to begin by paying a heartfelt and, I hope, not too belated fiftieth anniversary tribute to it, and to all of you who give it its life. You can be justly proud of all your achievements. I want, too, to add my best wishes for the future; I trust that the University, on all its three campuses and at all its outstations - like Discovery Bay which I shall visit later in my tour - will continue to thrive, giving the young people of the Caribbean the very best of higher education.

I must say as well that I was delighted to hear about your plans for collaboration with University College in London. Work on the sustainable use of the Caribbean's natural resources and the economic valuation of its environmental assets is urgently needed. Both that and the work in which the British Council is involved in Trinidad and Tobago to develop vocational education are close to my heart.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this tour of mine is not only to three countries with which Britain has the closest of relations. It is a chance for me to visit a part of the Commonwealth I have seen little of in recent years. And that is a particular joy. For me, the Commonwealth is something rather special - and worth cherishing. It is as old as I am, and so has been present throughout my life, as something to which The Queen and other members of my family attach great value.

Coming to this region, and to a country like Trinidad and Tobago, reminds you of a number of its qualities. This country is an ethnic microcosm of the Commonwealth, embracing people from the same regions of the world - Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas - with several of the same faiths. And arriving from Britain dramatises the nature of many of the relationships between Commonwealth countries, with their strange mixtures of similarities and differences.

But the fact that the Commonwealth embraces North and South, developed and developing countries, and so many races and religions, is repeated so often that I sometimes feel that we are just meant to assume that this is a good thing. Why? On the face of it, it is a recipe for ineffectualness. Why is an informal association sometimes more valuable than one which is treaty-based? Why can moral sanctions sometimes be more persuasive than Chapter Seven resolutions?

I have long had an instinctive sense of the value of the Commonwealth. It encourages and celebrates cultural diversity and makes no attempt to homogenise - and in this it teaches those of us living in multi-racial societies like Britain or Trinidad and Tobago a valuable lesson. But it was reading Professor Huntington's notorious Clash of Civilisations recently that I found the clearest arguments I have seen to underpin this sense. We live in a world where the old ideological allegiances have fallen away. People do band together, increasingly, on the basis of shared cultures or civilisations - built on the great religions or systems of belief, and the loyalties to them created over centuries. In such a world, bridges between civilisations are at once more important and more rickety.

We have the good fortune to have inherited a set of values which co-exists with the core values of our Christian or Hindu, or indeed Caribbean, culture and serves as the strongest of such bridges. It has to do with a particular understanding of parliamentary democracy, of the law, and of the importance of virtues which are hard to define, but easy to recognise - a particular kind of decency and humanity. The Commonwealth still exists because its members have decided for themselves that these values are worth cherishing - and that voluntary commitment is partly why I consider it to be such an asset. It is remarkable, for instance, that Mozambique, never administered by Britain, should have wanted to join, and that other countries continue to show interest in doing the same.

But what use is this asset? In spite of what people sometimes imply - and all of us find it easier to think in concrete terms - I think the Commonwealth is more like the wiring than the current. As in an old house, you may sometimes wonder why the wiring goes where it does; but wherever, it is there to be used.

The current can only be us, the people of the Commonwealth, choosing to use it; our energy and our ideas. I am thinking of the NGOs which gather in increasing numbers around both CHOGMs and the Secretariat; the professional and parliamentary associations; the Games; projects like the Iwokrama rainforest, which I shall visit in Guyana; and organisations like the marvellous Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, of which I am Patron.

On this campus you also think, of course, of young people. I remember talking to the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Edinburgh in 1997. It was only as I entered that room full of young people that I realised what I wanted most to tell them. It was to nurture the contacts they were making, not necessarily with specific purposes in mind, but as a wonderful resource to be drawn upon when- and how-ever.

Recently, my faith in the robustness of the wiring has been lifted by my experience with the Youth Business Trust concept. Much of my work in Britain over the last twenty-five years has been with the disadvantaged young, who most need the help of those of us with time and skills to offer, using my Princes Trust to give them another chance after they have been written off by the rest of society.

We began to notice that while micro-credit schemes, about which I am also enthusiastic, were popular right around the world, mentoring - the 'unique selling point' of the Youth Business Trust concept - was largely confined to Britain. Half the population of the Commonwealth is under twenty-five, so it seemed right to use it to try to spread ideas about helping the disadvantaged young - and to stimulate the energy and desire to do so.

The Commonwealth has proved the perfect means. Since the High Commissioners of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica came to my home last summer and heard about what we were doing in Britain, Youth Business Trusts have been conceived in all three countries. There is a real demand for this sort of private sector, self-help solution to some of the challenges Britain and the countries of the Caribbean share, and which government should not have to deal with alone.

Youth Business Trusts make small loans to young people with business ideas whom the banks regard as too great a risk. They also give each young person a 'mentor' - somebody who has already succeeded to whom they can turn for advice and guidance. It is this mix which has helped us to establish over 40,000 young people in business in Britain since 1983; the top sixty businesses turn over more than £112m and employ more than 1000 staff. It has worked in India and South Africa, and other Commonwealth countries. And I hope it will work here.

In Trinidad and Tobago, there is now a Board of Trustees and an Executive Board, represented here today. Funding from both local and British businesses is being put in place and I wanted to use this opportunity to thank them all for their willingness to become involved. The business people involved believe, as I do, that this can make a real difference in time to the prospects of some of the many young people who do not get as far as this university - or finish school.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is an important time for the Commonwealth. Following in the footsteps of your distinguished Chancellor (Sonny Ramphal) and Chief Anyouku - to whom I should like to pay the warmest of tributes for all his work - Don McKinnon was chosen as our new Secretary General in Durban in November. I wish him every success in this role.

At Durban, the Commonwealth also set up a High Level Group to look more formally at its role and its future. I think there is broad consensus as far as the aims are concerned - in the fields of trade, the environment, young people and education, and the strengthening of democracy. I would like to end by suggesting that the house does not necessarily need rewiring in order to achieve them. So much can be done by stimulating the enthusiasms and bright ideas of the people of the Commonwealth, re-energising all these informal networks. It is this which will give it the vitality and relevance at the start of this new century that I, for my part, try to work for and hope to see.