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Commonwealth

Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2017

The Government are committed to strengthening our Commonwealth engagement, in continuing the theme of global Britain, and we look forward to hosting the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting in March and the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018.

Can the Minister tell me how he believes the inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting, to which he referred, can be used as an opportunity to promote the Commonwealth as a trading network?

We should not forget that the network of 52 states is very important to Great Britain. It has a combined population of 2.2 billion people, including 1 billion people under the age of 25. In the post-Brexit environment, we are looking for trade deals. When we travel across Africa, and indeed the Commonwealth in general, the first question that is asked is, “What are the opportunities for Britain, now that you are liberated from doing business through Brussels?” The ministerial meeting that is coming up is a great opportunity for us to embark on looking towards the trade deals that we need for the future.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the cross-party majority in the vote on the EU-Canada trade deal? What priority is the Minister giving to completing that deal and ensuring that similar arrangements are made with our Commonwealth Canadian friends and cousins post-Brexit?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We are contained until article 50 has gone through, but Canada is another example—along with the United States, of which the Foreign Secretary made mention—of where we can push forward trade deals to the benefit of the United Kingdom.

I congratulate the Minister, who has responsibility for Africa, on visiting nine countries on the continent along with three other Ministers over the recess. May I encourage him not just to look at the existing Commonwealth and at bringing in old players such as Gambia, but to get Zimbabwe back and, off the back of Mozambique and Rwanda, perhaps to look at inviting the Ivory Coast?

My hon. Friend, with his experience, is absolutely right. The Foreign Secretary has been to Gambia, Ghana and Liberia, and I was in Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Again, I stress the opportunities there. As we venture across Africa, there are huge opportunities for Great Britain to advance our trade deals post-Brexit.

Does the Minister agree that increased assistance to promote democracy in countries such as Bangladesh is a vital part of strengthening ties between the UK and members of the Commonwealth?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. These are countries with which we have a history and a relationship. We are trusted, and through organisations such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the British Council and our embassies, consulates and high commissions we can certainly do that work. We hope to embark on such projects with Bangladesh and other countries across the Commonwealth.

With the Commonwealth encompassing 52 members and a third of the world’s population, is it not vital that we set out our stall for Britain by saying that we want a free trade deal with Commonwealth countries, and that the Government put forward a plan for achieving that—not least in tomorrow’s Westminster Hall debate on this subject, which I have secured?

I am sure, after that advertisement, that Westminster Hall will be packed tomorrow. My hon. Friend is right: Commonwealth trade will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, and trade across the Commonwealth is estimated to be actually 20% cheaper because of common legal systems and language and, indeed, trust. Those are exactly the areas to which we need to aspire, given our leadership role in the Commonwealth.

But 90% of those who live in the Commonwealth live in countries where homosexuality is illegal. Tanzania has, only this week, announced that it intends to publish lists of people in the public domain who are meant to be homosexual. That is a massive danger to those individuals, and it poses further risks to others because Tanzania is trying to close down all the HIV/AIDS units and to blame homosexuality for HIV. Do we not need to enter all our negotiations with our Commonwealth colleagues with our eyes wide open and making it very clear that we will not put up with this kind of thing?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very powerful point. I will be visiting Tanzania soon, and I will certainly take that message with me. It is important to understand that, in the trade advances we are making across Africa, we do not miss the opportunity to raise delicate matters such as this, so that 21st-century standards can be met.