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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Paul Sweeney Paul Sweeney Shadow Minister (Scotland) 3:04 pm, 21st March 2018

Thank you for your patient chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Richard Graham on introducing the debate. This is a timely discussion about the role of the Commonwealth in relation to the United Kingdom as we look to the future.

My most endearing memory of involvement with the Commonwealth was as a volunteer at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth games, where I participated in the medal ceremonies. That was a fantastic experience. Aside from getting a free kilt out of it, I had the chance to work closely with Prince Tunku Imran, who was involved with the Commonwealth Games Federation and the presentation of medals to numerous teams. It was wonderful to see the diversity of participants, from world-class athletes such as Usain Bolt to people who were participating in formal competition in their sport for the first time. It was marvellous to see that diversity imbued in the Commonwealth. That is what gives it its unique flavour: it is not just a series of diplomatic member states in a secretariat but a huge synthesis of human relationships that go much deeper and build a great degree of influence and good will across the world.

That is vital in today’s globalised world, where we face major challenges and huge global inequalities. The Commonwealth’s structure transcends that remarkably and provides a great forum and mechanism through which Britain can contribute to improving the condition of mankind across the world. That is why it is so relevant and critical today.

I hope that at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting we will see a reaffirmed, firm commitment to achieve the UN sustainable development goals through Commonwealth action by the target date of 2030. Recently, I was pleased to meet the high commissioner from Malawi who came to the House of Commons to discuss Malawi matters and how vital Scotland’s contribution has been to promoting development in Malawi. That was a great, heartening discussion. We had a debate on that topic in Westminster Hall recently, too. The depth of good will in the Commonwealth and the huge commercial trading and developmental opportunities that exist are clear. That is critical, and we must reaffirm our efforts to improve them and their resilience in the years ahead.

It is wonderful that as of last month Gambia has rejoined the Commonwealth. I offer my congratulations. I also hope that Zimbabwe will rejoin in due course; I believe discussions are ongoing to that effect. It is great to see the restoration of members within the Commonwealth, and that countries such as Mozambique, which were never part of the British empire and did not have a previous imperial relationship with the United Kingdom, saw the benefits of the Commonwealth and have joined it. That is a wonderful demonstration of what the Commonwealth now represents. It is not a hangover from empire but a relevant organisation. It is important that it continues to adapt and prove its relevance.

One of the key ways in which it can do that is by looking at how we deal with the challenge of AIDS and HIV across the world. We must be robust with other countries in the Commonwealth—particularly around anti-LGBT laws and how they adversely affect access to the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS across the world—and use Commonwealth mechanisms to make headway against that epidemic. I hope the Minister will raise those issues with his counterparts in the Commonwealth as part of our effort to deliver on the global goal of a world free from AIDS.

Many Members and previous leaders such as Gordon Brown have made the point about the relevance of the Commonwealth, particularly in dealing with huge global inequalities. Natural disasters contribute to $8 billion of economic losses per year in the Commonwealth, and the combination of many of the smallest nation states in the world with many of the largest and fastest-growing nation states gives us a huge opportunity to use the Commonwealth to redistribute wealth and power globally in favour of the most marginalised people in the world. That is where our focus should be: how we use forums such as the Commonwealth games, diplomatic networks and development networks to see a redistribution of opportunity, wealth and power in favour of the weakest people in the world today. With 2.4 billion people—a third of the global population—and the fastest growing cities in the world, there is a huge opportunity to be grasped.

Engagement with the Commonwealth is vital for Britain. We must look at how we can redouble our efforts. We see opportunities for close relationships between states such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand—the more developed nations of the Commonwealth with which we share a common language and other cultural links—and we must use that wealth to redistribute across other nations of the Commonwealth and ensure global redistribution of wealth and power. That is where the Commonwealth can re-establish and reaffirm its relevance in the 21st century.