Skip to main content

Commonwealth: Trade and Diplomatic Connections

Volume 606: debated on Tuesday 23 February 2016

5. What steps the Government is taking to promote trade and diplomatic connections between the UK and other Commonwealth countries. (903699)

The United Kingdom is committed to strengthening the engagement with the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led a strong delegation to the Commonwealth summit in November, where my noble Friend Lord Maude, then the Minister for Trade and Investment, and I promoted trade opportunities within the Commonwealth.

The renaissance in British manufacturing and engineering is not only testament to the Government’s determination to rebalance our country’s economy, but has greatly contributed to a record 62% fall in unemployment in my constituency since 2010. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our historical links—especially trade links—with other Commonwealth countries are vital to the continued success of those sectors and to the jobs they support?

I am pleased to hear the figures from my hon. Friend’s constituency, and they can be echoed around the country as a result of the Government’s economic policies. We are an open, free-trading state, and we trade around the world. Trade within the Commonwealth is extremely important, and we need to do more to promote it. Trading between two Commonwealth countries is, on the whole, 19% or 20% cheaper than trading outside the Commonwealth. That is something we need to do, and we need to involve Commonwealth Trade Ministers more formally in working out how we can increase intra-Commonwealth trade.

Last year, Prime Minister Modi and our Prime Minister designated next year as the year of culture between India and the United Kingdom. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the British curry festival, which is taking place in New Delhi in March? British chefs from Leicester, London and Reading will be going to Delhi to make curry. Does he not agree that that is a real example of good relations between Commonwealth countries?

At the risk of currying favour with the right hon. Gentleman, let me say that we must all wish our curry chefs every success when they travel to India. We must hope that they make a speedy return, because we would all miss our curry were they not home in our country.

Characteristically—or maybe uncharacteristically—the Minister has more or less answered the question I was going to ask. Leaving aside trade between the UK and Commonwealth countries, the functioning of the Commonwealth will surely be enhanced if there is more trade between all Commonwealth countries. To what extent can the UK play a role in enhancing that intra-Commonwealth trade, particularly in areas where we have substantial Department for International Development, as well as Foreign Office, representation?

It is as well to remember that we are an equal partner in the Commonwealth; we do not run the Commonwealth, and we wish Baroness Scotland every success in so doing. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] She clearly has the universal support of the House, which is manifestly a good thing. We want her to refocus the Commonwealth, and we want to spend much more time—similar issues are being discussed elsewhere in the world—discussing boosting trade, getting rid of tariffs and promoting intra-Commonwealth trade. That we can do. My noble Friend Lord Marland is doing a great job at the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, and he had a great collection of 2,000 businesses at Valletta. We are hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting here in 2018, and business will play a large role in that Commonwealth conference.

May I ask a more serious question about the Commonwealth and diplomatic relations? How many members of the Commonwealth do not have an extradition agreement with this country? Increasingly, people who commit ghastly crimes flee to Pakistan, and we cannot bring them back to face justice. What is he doing about that?

That is a very wide-ranging accusation. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me, or come to see me, about a specific case, I will be happy to look at it. We deal with things case by case.