I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Valletta, Malta, between 27 and 28 November. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Minister of State for the Commonwealth (Hugo Swire), the Minister for Trade and Investment (Lord Maude) and the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for International Development (Baroness Verma) also attended.
The Government took office this May with a manifesto commitment to strengthen the Commonwealth’s focus on promoting democratic values and development. I believe firmly that the Commonwealth has unique strengths rooted in its global reach, its diversity and its shared legal systems, language and values. Combined with the 60% of the Commonwealth’s population under 30, these are foundations on which the Commonwealth can build as it takes on the challenges of a modern world.
The challenges have never been greater. This meeting provided an opportunity for leaders to discuss in particular extremism, climate change, the challenges faced by small states and sustainable development. Leaders were united in condemning the recent terrorist atrocities in Paris and elsewhere. They agreed that the Commonwealth has an important role to play in broadening international efforts to counter extremism, including by working through its civil society, youth and education networks to reduce the appeal of poisonous ideologies. To help the Commonwealth to take practical action, I announced that the Government would be committing £1 million each year for 5 years to establish and run a new Commonwealth unit dedicated to supporting efforts to counter the causes of radicalisation. A number of Commonwealth states face significant challenges and the unit will coordinate the sharing of expertise.
I also announced £200,000 of seed funding to expand a recently established European counter-radicalisation youth network to the countries of the Commonwealth. The initiative will support moderate youth voices in their efforts to counter violent extremist messaging.
Heads also met in a Special Session to discuss climate action. This was timely, coming just ahead of the UN Climate Conference in Paris. President Hollande, as host to the climate negotiations, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed Heads, as did HRH the Prince of Wales. I spoke to encourage unity and ambition ahead of Paris and to set out UK priorities for a climate deal. Heads adopted a Climate Action Statement setting out what they wanted the Paris climate negotiations to achieve.
I also announced a number of practical initiatives demonstrating UK support for the Commonwealth’s small island developing states, many of which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and have a major stake in the Paris conference. The initiatives I announced include £20m to allow more small island states to access disaster risk insurance and to aid disaster risk contingency planning. I also pledged £5.6 million of technical assistance to help small island states develop their maritime economies, and a further £1m for expert assistance to access development finance. I also highlighted: up to £400,000 from existing budgetary contributions to support a new Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub; UK support for a new working group within the Commonwealth to identify ways to lever private sector investment for green projects; and £50,000 to the Commonwealth Small States Offices in New York and Geneva.
Heads also observed, in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, that good governance and respect for the rule of law are vital for stable and prosperous societies, as well as for efficient, effective and accountable public institutions. At the Foreign Ministers’ meeting, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs encouraged the Commonwealth, with its record of support for judicial independence, legislative capacity building and election monitoring, to make a strong contribution to Goal 16. I also chaired a side meeting on anti-corruption, which provided welcome momentum ahead of the UK’s Anti-Corruption summit in 2016. Heads agreed to strengthen efforts to tackle corruption including through increased transparency and coordination between law enforcement agencies.
On the wider values agenda, Heads resolved, through the Communiqué, to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to support the empowerment of women and girls. I spoke about the importance of the Commonwealth seeking to narrow its divisions on LGB&T issues and announced UK support for reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka, as part of a £6.6 million wider programme of support. I was also pleased, in this regard, to note that Northern Ireland will take on chairmanship of the Commonwealth Forum on National Human Rights Institutions, with our support. I welcomed the report of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the decision to put the Maldives under formal consideration, and to visit there in early 2016. The Commonwealth has an important role to play in helping its members adhere to its values. It is vital for the organisation’s integrity that it acts to uphold the values and principles of its Charter.
I am grateful to Baroness Verma for attending the first ever Commonwealth Women’s Forum and for chairing a session on LGB&T issues at the pre-CHOGM People’s Forum, where she urged the Commonwealth to do more to defend LGB&T rights.
On business and trade, Heads agreed to advance global trade negotiations and in particular ratify the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Lord Maude and Mr Swire both spoke at the Commonwealth Business Forum. Mr Swire also spoke at an event to mark the Magna Carta’s presence in Malta, as well as an event to highlight the progress made to eradicate polio – where he drew attention to the UK’s £300m contribution to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative since 2013. He also attended an event with Commonwealth Scholarships alumni.
I congratulate Baroness Scotland on her appointment as Secretary General. The UK wanted the strongest possible candidate to steer the Commonwealth through reform, to ensure that it has a voice on the most pressing global challenges and to unite its members behind the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I believe Baroness Scotland is the right person to do that and look forward to working with her in the years ahead.
Finally, leaders agreed the UK’s offer to host the next CHOGM in 2018, and welcomed Malaysia’s offer to host in 2020. In hosting CHOGM, I believe that we can build on the excellent progress made in Malta to continue to increase the Commonwealth’s stock and standing in the world.