It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank the hon. Members for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) and for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) for their contributions on this important subject, which is worthy of discussion with the Minister today.
The subject of the debate is the Commonwealth and visas, and it is important that we begin, as the hon. Member for Romford did, by recognising the crucial importance of the Commonwealth to the history of the United Kingdom and our close ties with countries across the Commonwealth.
Yesterday was Australia day. Today, we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; the second world war saw members of armed forces from across the Commonwealth join soldiers from the United Kingdom in the fight against fascism. Last year, we celebrated the start of the first world war. My grandfather, who was from the Lancashire area, fought his first battle in March 1915—almost 100 years ago—alongside thousands of Indian troops at Neuve Chapelle.
We have a long history with the Commonwealth, which we need to celebrate and recognise. As a member of the executive of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for five years now, I know how important that link is and how valued our parliamentary democracy is by the 53 nations of the Commonwealth across the world.
As the hon. Member for Romford said, what is important is not just historical ties, parliamentary democracy or the history of empire translated into a modern partnership. The Commonwealth is also a crucial economic driver, which we need to look outwards to. I have been to Australia on holiday, and I have been to New Zealand with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. What struck me on both occasions was that those countries are beginning to look towards the east, because that is where their market is. We need to look at how we can cement and develop our ties in a strong, effective way.
With a combined population of 2.3 billion people, the Commonwealth is a significant market, and there are significant transferable skills that we may want to work with and develop. As the hon. Gentleman also said, there is also the potential for export, tourism, business, family and education links, and we should look at how we can facilitate and build on those, while maintaining the integrity and strength of our borders. The hon. Member for Romford took the route I expected—of querying why we are cosying up to Europe while partly shutting the door on our historical Commonwealth links. My view of the European Union is slightly different from his. He can speak for himself, but I recognise that we are still part of a family of nations in Europe, and have historical ties to a range of those. Portugal is our oldest ally, for example, never mind the other countries that we have worked with.
I mentioned that, 100 years ago next month, my grandfather was fighting in the trenches of France with Indian soldiers, against Germans. He would be happy today that we are part of a family of nations in Europe as well as the Commonwealth. Relatives of mine who lost their relatives in the second world war, when the Commonwealth fought side by side with us, would also welcome our present economic partnership with Europe, in addition to the fact that we look out to the wider world. The hon. Member for Romford raised conflicts in talking about tightening our relations with Europe and relaxing them with the Commonwealth, but I do not share his view. I think there is potential in both areas.