Commonwealth Day 2006

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:32 pm on 16th March 2006.

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Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 5:32 pm, 16th March 2006

As the most recently appointed member of the Scottish committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I am to some extent the new boy on the block. I congratulate Sylvia Jackson both on securing the debate and on the excellent speech that she made. I did not go to Malawi. I have never been to Malawi, but I have learned more about Malawi in the past 33 minutes than I ever thought I would, so I congratulate all the members who have spoken on their excellent speeches.

I will concentrate on the first part of the motion, which mentions the role of the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. It is worth reminding ourselves that the modern Commonwealth of nations, to give it its correct name, evolved as

"an international partnership of countries dedicated to co-operation and governed by mutual respect".

Today, it consists of no less than 54 member countries throughout Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean, North America and the Pacific. Up to 1.7 billion people—more than a quarter of the world's population—live in the Commonwealth and more than half of them are young people aged 25 or under. At the core of the Commonwealth are the notions of equality, justice and democracy. They are reflected in the decisions of Commonwealth heads of Government and ministers and in the activities of the various Commonwealth organisations and agencies that other members have mentioned.

Every year, the second Monday in March is Commonwealth day, when the beliefs, principles and diversity of people from different countries are celebrated. It is worth remembering that, at the 1992 summit at Harare in Zimbabwe, the Harare Commonwealth declaration prioritised the promotion of democracy, good governance, human rights, the rule of law and sustainable economic and social development. I point that out merely to remind members of some of the guiding principles and purposes of the Commonwealth.

It is interesting to note that the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was founded in 1911 as the Empire Parliamentary Association and that there are active CPA branches in no less than 170 national, state, provincial and territorial Parliaments and legislatures. Believe it or not, the organisation has a total membership of almost 14,000 parliamentarians. One can appreciate the importance of that linkage. Every member of the Scottish Parliament is a member of the CPA, which fosters co-operation and understanding and promotes the study of, and respect for, Parliament as an institution. Those aims are endorsed regularly by heads of Government and parliamentarians throughout the world.

My belief in the value of the Commonwealth is linked to my belief in the purpose of Europe, which I share with colleagues in my party and in many other parties. Along with every other family, my family lost members in the first world war—two great uncles of mine were shot. European integration is an important way of ensuring that we work together. I put it to colleagues that the Commonwealth stands for exactly the same thing—the promotion of peace, understanding, co-operation, welfare and health. I applaud Sylvia Jackson for securing the debate.