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Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Volume 534: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

I attended the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Perth, Australia, which took place from 28 to 30 October. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Ministers of State (Lord Howell and Lord Green) also attended.

Her Majesty the Queen opened the meeting in her role as Head of the Commonwealth.

The Government believe strongly in the relevance of the Commonwealth and its networks, and the role that it can play in global issues of the day. It is unique in that it brings together a diverse range of countries, economies, and a predominantly young population looking to the future. In our programme for government, we expressed commitment to strengthen the Commonwealth to promote democratic values, development and prosperity.

The UK strongly supported the work of the eminent persons group (EPG) and the Commonwealth ministerial action group (CMAG) to make the Commonwealth more effective. Leaders adopted a series of reforms, the most significant in recent Commonwealth history, to ensure the organisation can better protect its core democratic values, and retain its credibility on the global stage. This included agreement on CMAG reform and to have a Commonwealth charter. Thirty of the 106 recommendations of the EPG were adopted at Perth. Discussions of the others will continue, and Foreign Ministers will meet again during 2012 to conclude these discussions.

Leaders welcomed Rwanda to its first summit as a full Commonwealth member and noted South Sudan’s application for membership. Ongoing interest in membership further demonstrates the continued relevance of the Commonwealth and its role supporting democratic development in members and applicant countries. In this regard, leaders urged the interim Government of Fiji, currently suspended from the Commonwealth, to restore democracy without further delay, respect human rights and uphold the rule of law. Leaders also looked forward to the conditions being created for the return of Zimbabwe to the Commonwealth and encouraged the parties to implement the global political agreement faithfully and effectively.

Leaders noted the threat that climate change poses to security, prosperity, and economic and social development and committed to advocacy leading to legally binding outcomes at the UNFCCC conference in Durban and beyond. They also urged the G20 to take the necessary steps to address current economic instability and to take concrete steps to put open trade, jobs, social protection and economic development at the heart of the recovery.

To mark Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee, and as a gift to the Commonwealth people, Leaders welcomed the establishment of a Queen Elizabeth diamond jubilee trust. This will support charitable projects and organisations across the Commonwealth, focusing on areas such as tackling curable diseases, promotion of all forms of education and culture, and other Commonwealth priorities. It will be funded by private donations and voluntary contributions from Governments.

To strengthen the Commonwealth’s ability to meet the development needs of member states, leaders agreed the Perth declaration on food security principles and discussed the inherent development challenges facing small, vulnerable states.

I believe that the outcomes achieved in Perth will help reinvigorate this unique organisation. The Commonwealth can help contribute to the UK’s foreign policy and trade objectives not just through the intergovernmental links, but also through its networks of civil society and professional associations. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in a speech to the Commonwealth people’s forum, made clear the UK’s desire to see homosexuality decriminalised and the death penalty abolished across the Commonwealth. Lord Howell and Lord Green both addressed the biggest Commonwealth business forum to date, which will lead to increased intra-Commonwealth trade, and trade with the UK. Ministers also engaged with participants of the Commonwealth youth forum—tomorrow’s leaders and the future of the Commonwealth.

Leaders noted the decision made in 2009 that Sri Lanka would host the 2013 summit, Mauritius in 2015, and welcomed Malaysia’s bid to host in 2019. As host of CHOGM, we shall look to Sri Lanka to demonstrate its commitment to upholding Commonwealth values of good governance and human rights. A key part of this will be addressing long standing issues around accountability and reconciliation after the war.

Copies of the concluding communiqué and the reports of the eminent persons group and the Commonwealth ministerial action group have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

Separately at Perth, the 16 Commonwealth realms agreed in principle that we should modernise the Act of Settlement with regard to the rules of royal succession. This will set in motion a historic process to end the system of male preference primogeniture and the provision that anyone who marries a Roman Catholic would be ineligible to succeed to the Crown. A copy of the agreed wording will also be placed in the Libraries.