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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 3:42 pm, 21st March 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to follow the Scottish National party spokesman, Peter Grant. I am grateful to Richard Graham for securing this debate. We have heard many excellent speeches today; it has been an interesting debate.

Like the hon. Member for Glenrothes, I think there have been too many contributions for me to acknowledge every single one, but I was particularly struck by Dame Caroline Spelman and her words about the importance of the Commonwealth games. I know the benefits they brought to my home city, Manchester; I look forward to the upcoming games in Australia and wish Birmingham all the best for 2022.

There were many important points made. My hon. Friend Mr Sweeney also spoke about the importance of the Commonwealth games and the pleasure he took in participating and obtaining his free kilt, which maybe we will see him wearing one day. He also spoke clearly about the serious challenge of AIDS and HIV and how that is influenced by anti-LGBT laws. That is an area we need to look at in our relationships with the Commonwealth.

Many hon. Members have spoken about the benefits of trade arrangements with the Commonwealth. While I appreciate that in this post-Brexit world we are looking toward increasing our trading relationships with our Commonwealth partners, at the heart of the Commonwealth, as so many have said, is good will and co-operation, shared values and shared legal systems. We must remember that, and we must keep the sustainable development goals at the heart of everything we do. That does not preclude trade arrangements—sustainable development goal 9 talks about industry, innovation and infrastructure—but we must balance those things with reducing inequality, eradicating poverty, zero hunger and the important goal of ensuring that girls have access to 12 years of education by the year 2030, which the hon. Member for Gloucester referred to in his speech.

The question of who should be the next Head of the Commonwealth has arisen; I was interested to see that referred to in the House of Commons Library research paper, because I was not aware that it was in dispute. According to the House of Commons Library, it is not a foregone conclusion that Prince Charles will become the next Head of the Commonwealth, and that will feature in the CHOGM discussions in April. It will be interesting to keep an eye on developments there; I was not aware of the matter, and I had assumed it was a natural succession, but it seems some Commonwealth countries are saying they would like to elect a different Head. That will be an interesting one to keep an eye on.

It is particularly apt, as many hon. Members have said, that we are having this discussion prior to the CHOGM meeting in April. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association hosted the Commonwealth Parliamentarians Forum here in Westminster at the end of February, which gave parliamentarians an opportunity to engage with the overarching CHOGM theme, “Towards a common future”, with its key objectives of a more sustainable future, a fairer future, a more secure future and a more prosperous future, and its cross-cutting themes of youth, gender and inclusion.

The Commonwealth abides by the Latimer House principles, which guide governance, Parliament, the judiciary and the law-making process. It is also guided by its own charter, which commits to democracy, human rights, international peace and security, as well as recognising equality, the role of civil society, sustainable development and the importance of young people, who, as already mentioned, make up 60% of the 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth.

To summarise, in an era of uncertainty, changing economic circumstances, new trade and economic patterns, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and a surge in popular demands for democracy, human rights and broadened economic opportunities, the potential of, and need for, the Commonwealth as a compelling force for good and an effective network for promoting development and co-operation has never been greater.