Commonwealth Day 2006

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:36 pm on 16th March 2006.

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Photo of Mike Pringle Mike Pringle Liberal Democrat 5:36 pm, 16th March 2006

I, too, congratulate Sylvia Jackson on securing the debate and on using one of her small number of opportunities to select a topic for a members' business debate to discuss the Commonwealth. I am sorry that I will not be able to attend the reception afterwards because I have a long-standing engagement at a school in my constituency this evening.

I congratulate not only Caitlin McClatchey and David Carry, but Chris Hoy, who I am sure is disappointed that he won only a bronze medal when he had hoped to do better. Scotland is sitting second in the medals table. I have not had time to research whether that has happened before at a Commonwealth games, but it certainly represents a great achievement on the first day of the games. I wish the rest of the Scottish team in Melbourne all the best and hope that they come home with many more medals.

I hope, too, that the First Minister has every success in bringing the 2014 Commonwealth games to Glasgow. He is in Melbourne to discuss that issue and I wish him success in his efforts. Hosting the games would benefit the whole of Scotland and I am sure that we can show that we have the experience and expertise to hold such a wonderful event again.

I have always been a supporter of the Commonwealth, perhaps because I was born in what was Northern Rhodesia and is now Zambia, which meant that from a very early age I was aware of the close ties that existed with the UK. I remember that when I was a small child, the late Queen Mother visited my home town of Luanshya in Northern Rhodesia. That was a huge event, which I still have a record of through my father's cine films.

I will not repeat the history of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which Jamie Stone has outlined. How that organisation has grown and how successful it has become. It is always good to welcome Commonwealth delegations to the Scottish Parliament, but the group that came from Malawi was, for me, the most significant. The two-day conference that was held in November 2005 was a great success. I was particularly impressed by the address that was given by the President of Malawi, Dr Bingu wa Mutharika, whose honesty and openness—which I found refreshing in an African politician—can only bode well for the future of Malawi.

Along with Karen Gillon, I was extremely fortunate to be part of the delegations that visited Malawi in 2005 and 2006. There can be no doubt that both visits had a profound effect on those who went on them. Many people—not just members— have asked me what differences we noticed and what improvements had been made since 2005. The sun shone for the duration of the two-week visit in 2005. Members might think that that was good, but they would be wrong. The result was that starvation occurred throughout Malawi at the end of last year and the beginning of this year because the rains should have come in February, but they did not. This year we had some sun but, boy, we had lots of rain, which means that the prospects for the maize crop in 2006 are good. The irony is that the improved rainfall has resulted in considerable flooding in some parts, which has damaged much of the crop in the affected areas.

I am pleased that the Executive has focused on Malawi, but given that it is putting in £3 million when the Department for International Development is providing £65 million, choices must be made. Along with the other members of our group, I saw some of the projects that the Scottish Executive is supporting. For example, at the Mulanje Mission hospital, we met the only local doctor who qualified from the medical school in Malawi and who is still working there; all the others have gone abroad.

The project that I most want to highlight is the maternity unit at Bottom hospital, which we visited on both trips. The Scottish Executive has given funding to ALSO—advanced life support obstetrics—which is a training programme for midwives. The programme, which in turn develops midwives into trainers, is being delivered over three years by Graeme Walker and a group of midwives from across Scotland, who have also raised considerable funds for the hospital. Those of us who visited the hospital on both trips saw the improvements that have been made as a result of that funding and fundraising. We could see that Grace and Taliq Meguid, who run the maternity unit, were definitely in better spirits. Although there is still a lot to be done, they are looking forward to better times for Bottom hospital.

The long-term aim is to rebuild the maternity unit at Bottom hospital. If anyone who is listening to the debate, either in the chamber or elsewhere, knows where I can get my hands on $2 million, I would be extremely pleased to hear from them.