Future of the Commonwealth — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 2:30 pm, 21st March 2018

The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. The question of standards and regulatory resource capacity and implementation, which ultimately boils down to the rule of law, is critical. If we say, as we often do, that among the shared values of the Commonwealth are those of democracy, language, the rule of law, accounting standards and so on, we should not be complacent about assuming that they are all the same in every Commonwealth country and that they are equally well implemented. That comes back to one of the issues from the report by the Eminent Persons Group in 2013, which the Minister will remember well because he was in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at the time. A commissioner was going to be appointed to look at the quality and the implementation of democracy in its widest sense, including—in my interpretation anyway—the rule of law. The business of standards is absolutely critical. The Minister may want to comment on that when he speaks.

We are hearing from across the Chamber an enthusiasm for more business, and not just for business’s sake but as a catalyst for improving living standards for millions of people across all continents. We in the United Kingdom may want to look at what more we can do with our resources. It was mooted in a recent House of Lords debate that perhaps we should have more trade envoys with Commonwealth member responsibilities. I think there are seven of us at the moment who are trade envoys for the Prime Minister with Commonwealth countries, but there may be a case for increasing that number, to see whether the team would benefit from further recruits, especially from those with close links to the Commonwealth countries to which they might be appointed.

There could also be a real effort by the United Kingdom to open doors and opportunities through our large, thriving financial sector. For example, we have great fund managers such as Standard Life Aberdeen or Schroders, but I am not aware of any investment opportunity into a Commonwealth-branded fund. That would be an obvious potential opportunity. Perhaps it should be done by one of our smaller and nimbler venture capital or private equity outfits, but a Commonwealth fund could have real emotional appeal and could attract a large amount of funding that, if focused on venture capital, could encourage a resurgence of Commonwealth entrepreneurs.

At the same time, with our new and invigorated UK export finance, where we have announced huge sums of money available, particularly for the region of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, where I have trade envoy responsibilities, surely there is an opportunity at this CHOGM to make an announcement that UK export finance will provide a large fund of perhaps £2 billion to £5 billion of finance available as insurance credit for business partnerships around the Commonwealth. That would be a good start and would demonstrate our commitment to promoting greater intra-Commonwealth trade.

Behind that, there are what I might call the two step-brothers that are critical to every country across the Commonwealth: cyber and FinTech. In these sectors, the UK can offer a huge lead for, and partnership with, other Commonwealth countries. We already do so, particularly with Singapore in the far east, but there must be greater opportunities for doing so with Commonwealth partners, particularly in Africa.

I recommend that the Foreign Office—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, rather; let us not forget the C—proposes to the Commonwealth secretary-general, my former fellow trade envoy, Baroness Scotland, that she considers setting up a new Commonwealth cyber body as soon as possible to bring together expertise from the UK and other member states, and considers ways of increasing capacity for the protection of all digital facilities, Government and non-Government, in member states.