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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:28 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon 3:28 pm, 21st March 2018

I draw attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council.

I want to join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend Richard Graham. My old friend is a stalwart proponent of all things Commonwealth. It is very good that we have Commonwealth debates from time to time. When I was the Commonwealth Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, it became difficult, at times, to persuade officials and others of what an important opportunity the Commonwealth was, although people are finally waking up to that. I agree with my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames: the Commonwealth cannot replicate the EU, but it is certainly a vital bolt-on part of Britain’s future, in terms of our economic and trading development.

The debate is timely, coming on the eve of the Commonwealth games, which will start in Brisbane shortly. I was the Minister when the games were hosted by the British Government and the city of Glasgow—the Labour city of Glasgow—which hosted them so well on behalf of us all.

As we look forward to CHOGM in just under a month’s time, I am sure there will be a huge turnout from Heads of State, not least because Her Majesty is entertaining at home. Indeed, I would not be at all surprised—this is all I will say—if there is an extremely high level of participation by all members of the royal family.

In the time remaining, let me give an unashamed plug for the work of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and the stalwart job our small team is doing. We will have 800 senior businesses in London, and we will hold a series of sessions, including on accessing modern financial services, easing the pathway for business and growth, harnessing Commonwealth technology and innovation, creating a new attitude to sustainable business, mobilising an export economy, and attracting inward investment. Those things are important not only to the United Kingdom, but right across the Commonwealth.

The combined GDP of the Commonwealth will reach $14 trillion by 2020. Intra-Commonwealth trade was $525 billion in 2015, and that is set to rise to $1 trillion by 2020. We have heard a lot of statistics today about what the Commonwealth stands for, but I believe they are worth repeating. The Commonwealth is currently a group of 53 countries. I echo the desire for Zimbabwe to return to the Commonwealth fold one day soon, after having been thrown out because of Mr Mugabe. In a rather different way, the Maldives exited itself from the Commonwealth, and I very much hope that it, too, will return to the Commonwealth family, where it surely belongs. There is a road to redemption, as evidenced by Fiji, which was out of the Commonwealth for a while but now plays an increasing role within it. I suspect it will play an even bigger role in the years ahead.

It is worth bearing in mind when we talk about the Commonwealth that we are talking about a quarter of the world’s GDP and a third of the world’s population, 60% of whom, as we have heard, are under 30. At 1 billion people, the middle class of India alone exceeds the population of Europe. These are huge numbers.

I think that the Commonwealth has a rosy future. We are looking forward to the business forum that will take place over three days from 16 to 18 April, just before CHOGM. I think that will set the pace for a good Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. When it is all over, hopefully we will all congratulate ourselves, but that is when the real work begins. I hope that we can persuade colleagues in the Government to give the same attention to the Commonwealth after the Heads of Government meeting as they have suddenly been giving it in the last few weeks, in the run-up to that meeting.