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 do not have time to take too many interventions—I apologise.

I have a deep interest in the Commonwealth. My mum was from a very large family, and a lot of her younger sisters took the £10 single ticket to Australia. As happened in those days, they all changed their name when they got married, so none of them bears my grandad’s name. However, I am delighted that the descendants of the “Mighty Quinn”, a humble plumber from Newarthill in Lanarkshire, now run into the hundreds and contribute to the economic and social wealth of the great country of Australia. When I was putting my notes together, I actually forgot that my wife is the daughter of an Asian Commonwealth immigrant—perhaps that is what happens when we think of people as who they are, rather than where they came from and what colour their skin is.

As I said, Commonwealth countries collectively comprise some of the poorest citizens in the world. If we want to keep our entitlement to talk about the Commonwealth, we must do something to make it a bit more common to all. Some of the suggestions about the way that trade can be used are beneficial, but we should be careful about some of the others. One thing that most Commonwealth countries have in common is that their people were once exploited for the benefit of Great Britain. We cannot and must not allow that to happen again. If we want to contribute to the future of the Commonwealth, we must talk honestly and openly about its history. Some parts of that history do not make Britain or its constituent nations look particularly good, and I include Scotland in that, because the role that it played in the oppression and exploitation of citizens in other countries is something that none of us can be too proud of.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North mentioned the close links with Malawi—an example of how the new relationships can be made more positive. I am happy to place on record the extraordinary contribution to that link that was made by Jack McConnell, the then Labour First Minister of Scotland. His drive and determination created what is now probably the closest and best-developed bilateral link between any two nations on the planet. An astonishing 46% of people in Scotland know somebody with direct personal involvement in Malawi. Much of that is due to the fact that Malawians are eternally grateful for the part played by David Livingstone in abolishing the slave trade in their part of Africa and in helping to lead to its abolition elsewhere.

I cannot mention Malawi without singing the praises of the astonishing Mary’s Meals organisation. If hon. Members have not heard of it, they should hear about it. From literally nothing a few short years ago, it is now feeding over 1 million starving children every day—an extraordinary achievement by some extraordinary people. I hope that is the kind of spirit that can lead to the Commonwealth going from strength to strength.

The Commonwealth is not particularly a trading organisation, and I do not think it ever should be. It is not just about the Commonwealth games, but if the only thing the Commonwealth did was the Commonwealth games, it would still be worth celebrating. As I have mentioned, I was delighted when the games came to visit the city of my birth.

Leaving aside seeing the team from Niue, one of the things that we sometimes forget about the Commonwealth games is that it is not just 53 countries that take part, but 71. The Commonwealth Games Federation recognises the status of countries that are not officially countries according to the United Nations or the International Olympic Federation. For example, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man can compete in their own colours. The Commonwealth games are the only major competition in the calendar where world-class track or field athletes from England can compete in the colours of England. I think that is great.

The spirit of the Commonwealth games was best demonstrated by the lad from England who finished 10th in the marathon—didn’t he get a medal? His doctor said to him 18 months earlier, “You’re 6 stone overweight. Exercise or die.” So he exercised and exercised and exercised, and finished up the best-placed competitor for his country in the marathon in that great city. If the Commonwealth and our membership of it can inspire us all to put that amount of dedication into contributing something, whether to the Commonwealth games, the Commonwealth Heads of Government summit or Commonwealth-based organisations, the Commonwealth very much has a future ahead of it. I am proud to stand here as a citizen of the Commonwealth, and I hope to remain a citizen of the Commonwealth for the rest of my days.