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Commonwealth Summit: London

Volume 631: debated on Tuesday 21 November 2017

2. What progress he has made on preparations for the Commonwealth summit in London in April 2018. (901941)

We are delighted to be hosting next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which will be one of the biggest summits that the UK has ever hosted. All the venues have been agreed, all member states have confirmed that they will be sending high-level delegations, and we are discussing an ambitious agenda. We want a great celebration for the Commonwealth that is underpinned by real substance, and we are working closely with young people from across the Commonwealth to put youth at the heart of the summit.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for that response. The summit provides a real opportunity for young people. Given that 40% of the world’s young people live in the Commonwealth, what more can the Department do to nurture aspiration and create opportunity in the interests of prosperity, democracy and peace across our Commonwealth partners?

I thank my hon. Friend for putting his finger on the huge opportunity to focus on young people that the Commonwealth summit provides. We should focus in particular on the education of young women and girls. That presents an opportunity to change lives most dramatically across all Commonwealth countries, and indeed across the world, and to promote the objectives of freedom, opportunity, democracy and peace to which he rightly subscribes.

I am delighted that we are hosting the Commonwealth summit next year. Following the most recent meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council and in relation to our bilateral relationship with Sri Lanka, will the Foreign Secretary take this opportunity to reiterate our Government’s position that the Sri Lankan Government must ratify the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court and that international judges and prosecutors are involved in the prosecution of historical war crimes in Sri Lanka in order to build confidence that war crimes will be properly investigated and prosecuted?

I have indeed raised those questions with my opposite number and with the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that they are making progress, but we will continue to insist that more needs to be done.

23. One sees the huge economic growth of some Commonwealth countries, so does the Secretary of State agree that it is important to use the Commonwealth summit as an opportunity for us to start talking about how we are going to recalibrate our exports policy to focus on the Commonwealth? (901963)

With 2.4 billion people and some of the fastest growing economies in the world, my hon. Friend is entirely right that the 52 countries of the Commonwealth represent a superb opportunity for this country to do free trade deals. However, that does not mean that we will necessarily be in any way relaxing our desire to do a fantastic free trade deal with our European friends and partners. We believe that this can be a win-win.

I wonder whether the Commonwealth summit will be discussing the welcome appointment of an Indian judge to the International Court of Justice at the expense of a judge from the United Kingdom. Perhaps the summit will therefore also discuss how that is another sign of the sun setting on “Empire 2.0” before it has even risen.

On the contrary, I am sure that the whole House will join me in congratulating the Indian judge on his election. I am sure that the House will also agree that it is a fine thing that another common-law judge has joined the International Court of Justice.

I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as the deputy chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a positive way of showing how a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe could be rehabilitated into the international community would be for it to attend the next Commonwealth summit as a rejoined member? To that end, will the Foreign Secretary begin to have discussions with his partners in the Commonwealth and with the Commonwealth secretary-general to ensure that there is a path to new membership for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe?

My right hon. Friend rightly sets out what would be a fine and noble aspiration both for the Commonwealth and for Zimbabwe, but I must caution him that several steps need to be gone through before that can happen. There must be free and fair elections next year, and it then falls to Zimbabwe to apply to the Commonwealth secretariat and to make it clear to the Commonwealth and the world that Zimbabwe fulfils the criteria on human rights, rule of law and democracy that are necessary for Commonwealth membership.

Will the Secretary of State further outline the discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the need for a solidified trade deal between the 52 Commonwealth countries, including Pakistan, India, Australia and New Zealand as four examples? Does he agree that must be a priority for London 2018?

I fully support the hon. Gentleman’s aspiration. Free trade deals and the prospect of increased trade with our Commonwealth friends and partners will, indeed, be at the heart of the summit next year.

Prior to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth will meet in February, organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Will the Foreign Secretary consider hosting a reception for those 150 parliamentarians, either at the Foreign Office or maybe even in No. 10 Downing Street?

I am always grateful to my hon. Friend, who is full of knowledge on these matters. I will certainly consider the possibility of holding just such a reception, and I can think of all sorts of suitable venues.