Commonwealth - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:02 pm on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Mobarik Baroness Mobarik Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:02 pm, 16th March 2017

I have it on good authority that we are meeting with a large number of civil society groups and we believe that the Kaleidoscope Trust is one of them. We believe the Commonwealth’s experience would be particularly relevant in promoting the golden thread of good governance, transparency and the rule of law, as set out in UN sustainable development goal 16.

My noble friend Lady Berridge asked about the involvement of the Commonwealth diaspora and parliamentarians in the forthcoming summit. In planning for the Commonwealth summit, we will engage with a full range of stakeholders, including the diaspora and parliamentarians. We value the work of CPA UK and CPA International. My noble friend Lady Anelay was pleased to recently meet both CPA UK chief executive Andrew Tuggey and CPA Secretary-General Akbar Khan. British high commissioners around our diplomatic network have regular discussions with parliamentarians and civil society across the Commonwealth, including in Kenya, Fiji and India.

My noble friend Lady Berridge rightly raised the role of religious leaders and the importance of advocating for human rights in the Commonwealth. The Government agree entirely and believe that good governance and respect for human rights are the foundation of the inclusive and sustainable development we all wish to see around the Commonwealth. Stronger trading relationships open up channels for engagement with partners. We will continue to use these opportunities to make this argument.

My noble friend also asked about support for the Commonwealth not appearing to be a UK-only project. Partnership and collaboration between all member states need to be at the heart of a successful Commonwealth. Every member has a different experience to offer and an equal voice in the Commonwealth family. As host of the next Commonwealth summit, it will of course be for us to work with the Commonwealth Secretariat to set the agenda and format but we will actively encourage all the other 51 member states to put forward their views and priorities as part of this. As part of this engagement, Tim Hitchens is meeting with all high commissioners next week in smaller regional groupings to discuss the summit.

My noble friend Lord Goodlad asked about Zimbabwe pensions—we might have the right topic here. We frequently raise this issue with the Government of Zimbabwe. Last October, our ambassador in Harare secured written agreement from the Government of Zimbabwe that payments would resume when the economic situation allows. This issue will remain a key strand of the Government’s dialogue with the Government of Zimbabwe.

My noble friend Lord Popat asked about a Commonwealth bank. Commonwealth countries are already well served by the current set of multilateral development banks. We are currently developing policy options that will deliver for the collective interests of member states and achieve real impact across the Commonwealth. I reassure my noble friend that the Government are considering options for building inclusive prosperity across our family of nations.

To the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and the noble Lord, Lord Hussain, I say that the Government welcome the good offices of the Secretary-General in mediating on protracted conflicts. As my noble friend Lady Anelay said at the start of the debate, this year’s theme of a peacebuilding Commonwealth is an opportunity to look at what the Commonwealth can bring to bear in this area, through the sharing of experience and expertise.

My noble friend Lady Hooper spoke about the overseas territories. The UK is committed to strengthening the links between the overseas territories and the Commonwealth. Although the overseas territories are not able to attend CHOGMs and annual ministerial meetings in their own right, ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Summit we will consult them on the agenda and will ensure that their views and interests are taken into account in our policy planning.