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The Commonwealth

Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018

We will be having a summit of the Commonwealth in April this year. As I am sure all Members know, that will provide a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase an institution that has stood the test of time. The Commonwealth brings together 52 countries —in fact, 52 of the fastest-growing economies in the world. It is a most remarkable institution. The summit will of course be an opportunity to pay tribute to Her Majesty the Queen for her long years of unrelenting service.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the summit taking place in April represents a major opportunity to revitalise the Commonwealth as an international trading alliance, and that India—with 55% of the Commonwealth’s 2.3 billion population and 26% of its internal trade—should play a major role in furthering that mission?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is therefore a very good thing that Prime Minister Modi will be coming. Of course, India will be playing a major role in the events.

Last time I looked, there were 54 members of the Commonwealth, but perhaps I am wrong. The fact of the matter is that many people I meet from Commonwealth countries are very worried about the diminished role of Britain worldwide as we leave the European Union. What does the Secretary of State say about that? Many fear that we will lose our place on the Security Council.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman—as I am sure he reassures anybody who makes that point—that our position on the Security Council is absolutely secure. In fact, the only thing that threatens our position on the Security Council, as my hon. Friends will know, is the unilateralist disarmament policy that used to be adopted by the Labour party and its leader. It is the retention and possession of an independent nuclear deterrent that guarantees our membership of the Security Council, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

To make the issue of 52 members versus 54 more orderly, could we perhaps increase the number to 54? Although the Foreign Secretary is right in saying that it is 52, I think that by the time that we get to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the Gambia will already be in, making it 53. Could we add Zimbabwe to the list, particularly if that is conditional on the President making progress?

I thank my hon. Friend, who is a great expert on these matters, particularly Zimbabwe and Gambia. The proper solution, as the House will know, is for those countries to apply. The Gambia, I am glad to say, is a long way down the track, and we hope to welcome it back. For Zimbabwe, the prize of Commonwealth membership is once again something for that people to aspire to. That is a wonderful thing.

Among the important issues of human rights, jobs, climate change, poverty, equality, security and so on that the summit will discuss, how much time does the Foreign Secretary expect the Commonwealth countries to devote to the colour of their passports?

Not much. One thing that will be absolutely crucial at our Commonwealth summit is, of course, 12 years of quality full-time education for every girl in the world. That is going to be an absolute core of the summit.

Before CHOGM, will the Foreign Secretary get a chronological list of the countries where UK pensioners overseas get inflation-level increases and how many of those are Commonwealth countries? Should we not hang our heads in shame that for half of pensioners overseas who are in Commonwealth countries, there has been no change? I ask him to do something about that.

I hope so, Mr Speaker. Will the issue of tax avoidance and tax evasion be raised in the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting?