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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:08 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Caroline Spelman Caroline Spelman The Second Church Estates Commissioner 3:08 pm, 21st March 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on securing the debate. We are on the eve not only of CHOGM—for the first time in 30 years it will be held in this country—but of the Commonwealth games. As a recently appointed non-executive director of Commonwealth Games England, I want to dwell a little on that aspect and the importance of the games in bringing interaction between very different nations that are part of the Commonwealth family.

There are key strategic objectives over and above winning a lot of medals, which we hope our sportsmen and women will do. We need to deliver that success not just at the Commonwealth games, but at the Youth games that follow, which often give smaller nations an opportunity to host and benefit from everything that the Commonwealth games have to offer.

One of our key objectives is to create an English Commonwealth movement to promote personal achievement and our core values of equality, diversity and inclusion. Precisely because so many Commonwealth members are of such a young age, it is a very important opportunity to promote those values with successive new generations of citizens throughout the Commonwealth. Another objective is to be one of the most effective, respected, best-governed and well-managed sports associations in England and the Commonwealth.

As a west midlands Member of Parliament, it is a particular delight to note that Birmingham has stepped up to take the baton, which unfortunately had been dropped in the preparation for the 2022 games. The whole of the west midlands region will benefit from the opportunity to host the games and to bring many Commonwealth citizens to that part of our country. I am confident that we can do a good job.

It is significant that sport gives the opportunity to promote the benefits of Commonwealth membership. The sheer sight of two countries, North Korea and South Korea, taking part in a sporting event together under a single flag is the most recent demonstration of the opportunity that sport affords of bringing people together, which can be replicated at future Commonwealth games. It gives me the opportunity to touch on one important example of the way in which, coming together as sportsmen and women, we can also explore quite difficult subject areas together on such occasions.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which does such a splendid job in this place, is currently delivering a modern-day slavery project: a two-year multilateral project funded by the Home Office. Through seminars and workshops, the project is designed to support Commonwealth parliamentary colleagues in developing and strengthening modern slavery legislation in their own countries. I chaired a seminar on that very subject and I found it informative to hear from MPs from other Commonwealth countries what they are doing to tackle the very difficult problem of modern-day slavery. It was significant that a Nigerian MP who took part in the seminar went back to his own country and in February introduced legislation in the Nigerian House of Representatives to start to tackle the problem of slavery both at home and abroad.

There are also challenging messages that we have to be prepared to hear from other Commonwealth members. The Ghanaian Member of Parliament said that in his view the Italian Government were doing a better job of trying to tackle trafficking at source from his country than our own Government were prepared to do. We have to be willing to listen—it is a two-way conversation in the Commonwealth—and to explore where there is best practice in terms of tackling such a difficult problem as modern-day slavery. We may have been the first country to introduce legislation, but the problem is by no means sorted. Working together across the Commonwealth, which contains some of the most populous countries in the world, where, sadly, trafficking is a problem, we have a chance of dealing with it.

I hope that hosting the Commonwealth games will give us an opportunity to promote the best of British values across the Commonwealth and that at the same time we will tackle some of the difficult issues that beset all Commonwealth members at whatever stage of their development. Together we can produce a better outcome for all the countries involved.