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Volume 549: debated on Tuesday 4 September 2012

12. What recent assessment he has made of the state of UK relations with the Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement. (118508)

The United Kingdom remains strongly committed to a reinvigorated Commonwealth. We want to see a relevant and effective organisation that brings strong values, development and prosperity to all its citizens.

In December 2010, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary told the House in a statement that the Government should use the Commonwealth to develop trade and investment opportunities for the United Kingdom. Will he update the House on progress being made on that, especially given that Commonwealth GDP is poised to surpass that of the eurozone and is projected to grow at three times the eurozone’s rate for the next five years?

As my hon. Friend says, the Commonwealth brings with it some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, such as India, Ghana, Nigeria and Mozambique. We are responding with our FCO network shift. We opened a new deputy high commission in Hyderabad on 31 May and are to open another in Chandigarh later this year. We are strengthening FCO and UKTI commercial teams in Canada, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya and Cameroon. I could go on and on, Mr Speaker.

Does the Minister agree that successive British Governments have neglected relations with Commonwealth countries? That is due mainly to the overweening obsession of the Foreign Office with the European Union and relations with Brussels. Will he set out how we will rebuild those relationships, particularly during this year, which is the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are completely committed to a reinvigorated Commonwealth. We feel that it will be one of the most important organisations in the world going forward. That is why we welcome the work being done by the ministerial action group and some of the other initiatives. For example, there is a proposal for a Commonwealth commissioner for human rights. We also want to see the new strategic plan. I pay tribute to the work of the eminent persons group—including my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind), who did so much work on that group—to help to move the Commonwealth in what will be a much more dynamic direction.