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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Bowie Andrew Bowie Conservative, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 3:00 pm, 21st March 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on bringing this important debate to the Chamber. I also pay tribute to him for his obvious passion for eradicating malaria and for the education of young girls across the Commonwealth.

In the Commonwealth’s near 70-year history, it has been an incredibly difficult organisation to define. That is understandable. It is not, as some might have us believe, a remnant of empire. It is not simply an organisation that organises brilliant sporting events every four years. It is not a military organisation like NATO, it is not a free trade organisation like the North American Free Trade Agreement, and it is not a political, economic and monetary union like the EU. Instead, it is a free association of member states including some 54 nations, with more than 30 republics, five separate monarchies and 16 Commonwealth realms lucky enough to have Her Majesty the Queen as Head of State. It is scattered around the globe on all inhabited continents. It is 11,566,870 square miles—20% of the world’s land area. It has an estimated population of 2.4 billion people—and growing—which is nearly a third of the world’s population, and in 2014 it produced a nominal GDP of $10.45 trillion, representing 14% of gross world product.

In researching for the debate, I stumbled upon this quote from Wisma Putra, Malaysia’s Foreign Affairs Minister. He said:

The Commonwealth has played a catalytic role in strengthening society’s capacity to manage disparity and diversity through its emphasis on the shared values and principles as enshrined in the Commonwealth charter, its good offices role, various programmes and activities as well as assistance in building democratic institutions, good governance, credible and transparent elections.”

Mr Putra has summed up in one sentence what the Commonwealth is and stands for: shared values and principles; managing disparity and diversity; and encouraging sound democratic institutions and good governance. Above all, the Commonwealth fosters dialogue and discussion where otherwise, in many cases, there would be none. For the last 70 years, that has been the case. These disparate states, bound by a common history and shared endeavours, encouraged, supported and—most importantly—talked to one another.

That is the present and the past, and today we are talking about the future. Britain today is at the beginning of a new chapter of its island story. As we leave the European Union and look to foster alliances around the world with allies old and new, we look to strike trade deals and partnerships in Africa, Asia, South America, North America and Australasia. I put it to hon. Members that no country has ever been in so fortunate a position—or had a better starting point at such a juncture—as the United Kingdom today. We are a member of an organisation that spans every corner of the globe and encompasses some of the fastest growing economies in the world; that comprises 54 nations that share our values—we believe in free and fair trade as a means to grow prosperity and eradicate poverty—and our desire to build a better world for our children and our children’s children. For far too long—for understandable if regrettable reasons—this country has paid far too little attention to the organisation. I am glad that, through the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and beyond, we will begin to right that wrong.

It will not be a smooth ride—nor should it be. We do not and never should engage with Commonwealth member states as some sort of imperial master. They are bound to us by nothing but good will, a shared history and common values. We go to them as equals, but we do so from a terrific starting point. In the next few years together, the Commonwealth, with common cause and purpose, and with Britain—for the first time for far too long—at its true heart, can be the forum where, through trade, common endeavour and dialogue we build a better future for all our peoples and make the 21st century truly the Commonwealth’s century.