The Modern Commonwealth: Opportunities and Challenges

Part of International Women’S Day – in the House of Commons at 3:39 pm on 7th March 2019.

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Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Commons) 3:39 pm, 7th March 2019

I thank my hon. Friend for that and extend thanks to Jon Davies and his team of 30 people who work here in the UK, off Westminster Hall, and overseas.

To give an idea of the volume of activity, in 2017-18 there were 15 outbound delegations, 35 inbound delegations and nine multilateral delegations. As I look around the Chamber, I see people who have been involved in inbound and outbound trips in the last month. There have been trips to Fiji, the Seychelles, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The CPA was also very much involved in election observing, particularly in the overseas territories. As a committee, we have formed our strategic priorities. We decided that we could not do everything exceptionally well, so we are concentrating on five key themes: women in Parliament, public finance scrutiny, modern slavery, trade and security.

This debate is about opportunities and challenges facing the modern Commonwealth in its 70th year—“modern” because the Commonwealth existed in various guises before the 1949 London declaration, but it was a free association of independent member countries. Quite how we got away with that as part of the European Union, I do not know. Crucially, the Commonwealth gave an equal say to all its 53 members, regardless of size—at one end is India, with a population of 1.3 billion, and at the other is Nauru, with a population of only 13,000. Of the states, 31 have populations of fewer than 1.5 million and five have populations of fewer than 1 million.

They are nations all around the globe. There are 19 in Africa, which I know and love well, and others are in parts of the world that I know less well, with seven countries in Asia, 13 in the Caribbean and the Americas, three here in Europe and 11 in the Pacific. It is so popular, and it is expanding, to Cameroon, Mozambique and Rwanda—more of Rwanda later. It was good to see the Gambia come back into the Commonwealth in February 2018, and I was able to travel there.