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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 3:33 pm, 21st March 2018

I am pleased to be able to begin the summing-up. I commend Richard Graham for securing the debate and for his knowledgeable and informative introduction to it.

I am pleased to see so many people from Scotland here, because that accentuates the place that the Commonwealth has, and will continue to have, in the hearts of the people of Scotland. It also explains why, for the first time since I have been in Parliament, and possibly for the first time in recorded history, the Chair actually increased the time limit for a speech. However I noticed, Mr Davies, that you waited until two of the Scots had spoken before you did so. I will try to leave time for them to get an extra minute each before the debate concludes.

My hon. Friend Patrick Grady made a well-informed speech, as would be expected given his long and dedicated track record of service to Commonwealth countries. A number of Members have mentioned the fantastic experience that was the Commonwealth games in Glasgow. When the world’s friendliest sporting event pitches up in the world’s friendliest city, we can be sure there’s going to be one heck of a party. I was pleased to attend, although unlike some Members, I did not get a uniform and I had to pay for my own ticket, but I enjoyed myself just the same.

I do not have time to mention the contributions from all the Members who have spoken, but I will pick up one or two points. I commend the dedication of Dame Caroline Spelman in taking on another commitment and promoting the success of the Commonwealth games, but I must take issue with the idea that winning medals matters a jot at the games. The Commonwealth games are a much greater spectacle and common humanity event than the Olympic games because, although the vast majority of spectators want to see the best, there is no jingoistic determination to get more medals than the next person. It would be a tragedy if we allowed the Commonwealth games to be soured by that mentality. We expect everybody who turns up to do the best they can.

Some of the most excited people I saw in Glasgow were the bowls team from Niue. It has a population of 2,000, but it managed to find a bowls team that gave Scotland a heck of a hard game. They and their compatriots went home without a medal between them, but they had a brilliant time and made a lot of friends. That is what the Commonwealth is about. Once that was what the Olympic games were about, and we are all poorer for the fact that that does not happen.

My deep worry is that there seems to be a thread running through the debate that the purpose of the Commonwealth after we leave the European Union might be about restoring our trading links. The Commonwealth is not there just for us to trade with to enrich investors and business owners in the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North pointed out, this should be about “common wealth”, and the big problem with the Commonwealth is that, despite the benefit of hundreds of years of benign colonial intervention from the mother of all democracies, the vast majority of it is still a desperately impoverished place.

Half the GDP of the Commonwealth comes from the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia—they have barely 5% of the population, but half the GDP. Two thirds of Commonwealth citizens live in countries whose GDP per head of population is less than a 10th of the world average. If we were to use one description to characterise the lives of the vast majority of citizens of the Commonwealth, it would be “desperate, desperate poverty”. Surely, in the name of God, if we are looking to achieve something with new trade links and by expanding world trade links, lifting those 2 billion people out of poverty must be more important than further enriching investors who hide their money in tax havens elsewhere.