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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:24 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative, Stirling 3:24 pm, 21st March 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on obtaining the debate and on an excellent and thought-provoking speech.

This is an important time for our future as members of the Commonwealth. There is little doubt that the United Kingdom is at something of a turning point in its relations with the world, as several hon. Members have mentioned. It is at times of strife and change that we look to our steadfast and historic Commonwealth allies to provide some sort of security. Those nations represent peoples around the world with whom we have an affinity and share a history, and whose values are similar. Our shared history makes our shared future, through our dealings with the Commonwealth in the years to come, uncontroversial. We have a bright future in which to work with new and old alliances around the world, to secure our future place in it. I contend that we must be careful that we do not look to the Commonwealth only in extremis. We must not become known as a friend who calls only when they want something. It is not in crisis or strife that we want to build our future together; it is on the basis of a conscious decision to change our view of the world from a European perspective to a more global identity.

The potential for the UK to forge ahead in global terms offers significant advantages to the economy in the shape of new emerging markets in the Commonwealth, to sell our products to and to buy from. It offers investment opportunities in economies of all shapes and sizes, in which we can place investments, and where we can seek investors in our economy. House of Commons Library research states that the Commonwealth is already a significant and important part of our economy, representing £21.6 billion of exports in 2017. In Scotland, where we have strong affection for the Commonwealth, the figure is £2.7 billion. That is not a small part of our economic mix.

However, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester did not miss the mark when he pointed out the challenge of creating a mix between mature consumer economies such as Canada and Australia and developing economies, and other Members also commented on that. There is huge benefit for all concerned to be gained by working together. Beyond that, there is also immense potential for us to develop cultural and social links. As I mentioned in an intervention on my hon. Friend, more than half of the Commonwealth population of more than 2 billion is under the age of 25.

I want to end by returning to the words of Her Majesty the Queen that were quoted earlier, which I find inspirational. She recently said in Westminster Abbey:

“By pledging to serve the common good in new ways, we can ensure that the Commonwealth continues to grow in scope and stature, to have an even greater impact on people’s lives, today, and for future generations.”

In the spirit of that idea of the common good, I want to ask the Minister two questions about the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. How do the Government intend to use CHOGM to raise the profile of the preventing sexual violence in conflict initiative, which they have championed? Also, how shall we raise the principle of freedom of religion and belief through CHOGM? Sadly, it is not universally observed in the Commonwealth in accordance with article 18 of the United Nations declaration of human rights.

I hope that in the spirit of Her Majesty’s remarks we shall now turn as a faithful friend to our friends in the Commonwealth, nurture friendship and family connection with the Commonwealth, and reverse the neglect that we have shown for decades. In doing so, we can fulfil Her Majesty’s stated hopes and aspirations for the Commonwealth and further enhance her wonderful and lasting legacy.