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

Absolutely. That shows the strength of the Commonwealth. It is of course Her Majesty who leads the Commonwealth and makes the final decision, before they come in, on whether such countries share the same values, but it is certainly an expanding and very diverse organisation. I have mentioned that Her Majesty the Queen is the head of the Commonwealth, and we also have the secretary-general, Baroness Scotland, leading its work.

It is Commonwealth Day on Monday. It is always in the second week of March each year, and I asked myself why? It was the Canadians’ idea. They wanted the Commonwealth to be about the future and about young people, and they wanted it to be celebrated by schoolchildren. They worked out that we have different term times all around the world, but the most likely time when all children will be in school is the second week of March, and that is why we celebrate it at that particular time.

Here in the UK, there will be a week of celebrations, including at Westminster Abbey and Marlborough House. There will be cultural events, civic events and school events. Flags will be raised across the United Kingdom, and there will be some street parties. Anyone who has not invited me to their street party should feel free to email me at the House of Commons.

One of the big issues in the Commonwealth recently has been the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, where all 53 members come together. There are normally one or two that, for various domestic reasons, cannot make it. It was particularly good to see Prime Minister Modi of India at CHOGM here. CHOGM is not a one-off event: the country that hosts CHOGM is then responsible for the operations leading up to the next one in two years’ time. We are passing the mantle from London to the Rwandans in Kigali.

One of the things I very much hope to do is to work with the Rwandans to have a Commonwealth forum. CHOGM is dominated by the Executives, and we in the UK felt that parliamentarians should lobby the Executives. Parliamentarians from around the Commonwealth came together to talk, and then went back to our Executives before CHOGM to lay out the issues we cared about, and that was powerful. It was not perfect, and we have lessons to learn on what we did with the parliamentary forum. Almost 50 parliamentarians met about a month before CHOGM here in the UK, and this is something we would like the Rwandans to do.