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The Commonwealth

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 3rd May 2011.

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Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon 2:30 pm, 3rd May 2011

What progress he has made on his proposals to reinvigorate the Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

What progress he has made on his proposals to reinvigorate the Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

There has been a visible uplift in our relationship with the Commonwealth, and we have been working with key partners to reinvigorate this unique organisation. In particular, we support the work of the eminent persons group, and I look forward to its recommendations on how to build up the role of the organisation ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in October.

Photo of Julian Smith Julian Smith Conservative, Skipton and Ripon

Following the stunning showcase of Britain last Friday, does the Minister agree that diplomats and ambassadors should have a massive spring in their step as they promote trade and investment in the UK, to the Commonwealth and beyond?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

I agree completely with my hon. Friend. Last Friday was a remarkable event; it was Britain at its very best. I was in Guinea at the time, which is not yet a member of the Commonwealth. I watched part of the royal wedding on France 24 on a television in the deepest and darkest part of Guinea, and there was huge interest from everyone who watched that programme.

Photo of Stephen Metcalfe Stephen Metcalfe Conservative, South Basildon and East Thurrock

Does my hon. Friend agree that given that there is more than $3 trillion of trade each year inside the Commonwealth, the organisation should be recognised as a beacon of trade globally and UK companies of all sizes should be encouraged to seek out commercial opportunities within the Commonwealth?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Since the election nearly a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and his ministerial team have been to more than 30 Commonwealth countries, of which I have visited seven. I assure my hon. Friend that on the agenda for those meetings were trade diplomacy and building up business and enterprise with those countries. The Commonwealth has a vital role in pursuing the Doha development agenda.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

The Minister will know that the Commonwealth Secretariat, which works for more than a third of the world’s population, is run on a shoestring, yet we give billions to the European Union. Would our money not be better spent on maintaining our links with all the small countries and other Commonwealth countries, which have close links, deep loyalty and close family ties to the UK? In other words, should we not put the Commonwealth before the European Union?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

The Commonwealth does a first-class job, and it is exemplary in providing excellent value for money from its Secretariat here in London. I am delighted that the multilateral aid review by the Department for International Development concluded that the Commonwealth has a unique place in the international system and can play an even more significant role in development.

Photo of Virendra Sharma Virendra Sharma Labour, Ealing, Southall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Commonwealth is to be reinvigorated and live up to its ideals, it needs to take a tougher line against member countries such as Sri Lanka, which committed war crimes against its Tamil civilian population according to the recent UN report? Should the Commonwealth not call for an independent international investigation into those war crimes, and suspend Sri Lanka from the Commonwealth unless it co-operates with such an investigation?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

We supported the setting up of the report, and it is essential that the Sri Lankan Government respond to it in a timely fashion.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Chair, Administration Committee

Does my hon. Friend agree that the forthcoming centennial conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association provides an admirable platform for my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary to expound this Government’s positive view of the Commonwealth and the CPA’s role in it?

Hon. Members:

Yes.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

A resounding yes. An organisation that concentrated originally on Anglophone countries now attracts a keenness to join from countries outside the Anglophone sphere. Recently, Rwanda, a Francophone country, joined, as did Mozambique, a Lusophone country. Countries are queuing up to join this excellent organisation.