It is an absolute delight to make this statement today to the House as we celebrate Commonwealth Day together. The UK joins our fellow member states in celebrating the bonds between people, organisations and Governments across 53 countries under the theme of a connected Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is a unique organisation, rich in diversity yet connected by a common language, common history and common values. There is much to celebrate. Celebrations of these unique connections are taking place right across the UK today. As head of the Commonwealth, Her Majesty the Queen attended the service of celebration this afternoon in Westminster Abbey. Many other senior members of the royal family, representatives from all Commonwealth countries, the Prime Minister, Members of Parliament, representatives from Commonwealth organisations and over 700 schoolchildren also attended the service. Many councils are raising the Commonwealth flag in celebration, from Dorset to Newport to Glasgow, building connections across the Commonwealth at community level. Indeed, just outside Parliament the flags of the 53 nations of the Commonwealth are flying. Along Whitehall, multiple Government Departments are also flying the Commonwealth flag as a symbol of the UK’s commitment to the Commonwealth.
In her Commonwealth Day message, Her Majesty the Queen highlighted the collective values we share as a family of nations and the networks of co-operation that we both draw on and contribute to. The Prime Minister’s Commonwealth statement, published earlier today, reflects on the UK’s role as chair-in-office, driving forward projects that span the Commonwealth, connecting its citizens in shared aims.
Across our diplomatic network, British high commissioners are celebrating today and this week with a variety of events, programme visits and receptions. Celebrations range from a fashion show showcasing recycled materials in Singapore to the Bangladesh women’s cricket team visiting a UK-funded programme helping women and children to escape domestic violence. Even embassies in non-Commonwealth countries such as Brazil are celebrating by bringing together Commonwealth colleagues to discuss shared values.
So how is the UK delivering on this, our connected Commonwealth? Since hosting last year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the UK has taken on the position as chair-in-office—a role that we will hold until leaders from the 53 member states reconvene in Rwanda next year. It is a role that we take extremely seriously, but what does it mean in practice? We have four objectives as chair-in-office, and these can be summarised in four words: delivery, voice, solidarity and reform.
We want to deliver the commitments set out in the official Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting communiqué, the leaders’ statement, the Commonwealth Blue Charter, the cyber-declaration and the Commonwealth connectivity agenda for trade and investment. We want to promote the voice of the Commonwealth within the rules-based international system; the diversity of the Commonwealth is a strength and an opportunity. We should continue to come together as a collective voice to advocate for the rules-based international system. We want to enhance practical solidarity among Commonwealth members in international organisations by ensuring that we know about one another’s candidacies and by briefing one another on the business of regional and wider bodies to which we do not all belong. We want to reinforce the three pillars of the Commonwealth by supporting continued reform of the Commonwealth secretariat to ensure that it is a modern, agile organisation.
Since taking on the role as chair-in-office, we have been working hard to ensure that the Commonwealth delivers on the commitments made by leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Many Members will be interested in the progress made on the commitments made by leaders—commitments that will benefit all 2.4 billion citizens.
At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in April last year, heads made ambitious commitments to build a Commonwealth that is fairer, more sustainable, more prosperous and more secure. Over the last 11 months, the UK has been working hard to ensure that together, we deliver on those commitments. We cannot do this alone and are working closely with the three pillars of the Commonwealth—our 52 fellow member states, the Commonwealth secretariat and the many Commonwealth organisations and networks. This includes the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, in which many hon. Members here play active roles. These three pillars demonstrate a connected Commonwealth in action.
Her Majesty’s Government have allocated over £500 million towards projects designed to deliver on the Commonwealth Heads of Government commitments. Let me highlight just a few examples of the significant progress that we have been making, from oceans to cyber-security and from trade facilitation to education.
We are building a more sustainable future through our action on the Commonwealth Blue Charter. The UK is co-leading with Vanuatu the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance. Twenty-four Commonwealth member states from every region have already joined this alliance to tackle marine plastic pollution and have committed to concrete action that will reduce the scourge of plastics in the oceans. There are eight other action groups of member states targeted at different challenges to the oceans’ sustainability. In addition, with UK funds and expertise, the Commonwealth marine economies programme is facilitating the creation of sustainable marine economies in 17 Commonwealth island states, promoting growth, innovation, jobs and investment while safeguarding healthy seas and ecosystems.
We are building a more secure future through programmes to strengthen countries’ cyber-resilience. In partnership with the World Bank, we are enabling national cyber-security reviews. In Africa, these have already been delivered in Nigeria, the Gambia, Mauritius and Lesotho. We have established an African cyber-security fellowship network and helped nine African Commonwealth countries to share expertise and build capacity in critical information infrastructure protection. We are also funding training events that will benefit the cyber-security of 37 Commonwealth countries.
We are building a more prosperous future by working with Commonwealth partners to boost intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. Since its launch last year, the UK-funded Commonwealth trade facilitation programme has already increased the capacity and capability of customs organisations in 18 Commonwealth countries. The UK and South Africa recently announced that we would co-lead the digital connectivity element of the Commonwealth connectivity agenda to boost inclusive growth. We are also promoting inclusive and sustainable trade through the SheTrades in the Commonwealth programme. More than 2,300 women-owned businesses have signed up to this initiative, which will also increase women’s participation in international trade.
We are also improving employment prospects for young people through training and skills development programmes. We are building a fairer future through supporting the provision of 12 years of quality education for girls and boys. In particular, we are providing over £200 million of support for girls’ education in nine Commonwealth African countries. During Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister offered to help Commonwealth partners who wished to address legacies of legislation that discriminates against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens. We are supporting collaboration between civil society and Governments that have responded positively to this offer.
The three pillars of the Commonwealth have made important progress, delivering on the Commonwealth Heads of Government commitments, and we will continue to drive this engagement in the year ahead to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting 2020 in Rwanda. This Government are determined to make the most of our two years as chair-in-office. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth next month, we also want to ensure that it can meet future challenges—from climate change to cyber-attacks—and to seize the opportunities from the organisation’s huge diversity and global reach. As I said last week, we will work tirelessly with our Commonwealth partners to build a fairer, more sustainable, more prosperous and more secure Commonwealth. I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Minister of State for advance sight of her statement on this, Commonwealth Day. The Commonwealth is more important than ever in a world where there is currently a grave lack of global leadership, where the credibility and relevance of our great international institutions is under threat, and where human rights and the rule of law are being disregarded by dozens of Governments and deprioritised by dozens of others. In a world like that, we desperately need the global leadership and co-ordinated international action that the Commonwealth can offer. We desperately need a strong and united Commonwealth to demonstrate to the rest of the world why institutions such as this are so important, and we desperately need a Commonwealth that will defend and promote respect for human rights and the rule of law. If the Commonwealth can do all those things, it will remain a vital force for good in our world and a central part of Britain’s multilateral relationships, not because we simply see Commonwealth countries as trading partners, but because we see them as essential partners in all the challenges faced by the world and by each of our nations.
However, even on the day when we celebrate the Commonwealth, we must be honest about those areas where things have gone backward over the past year and where the Commonwealth needs to be a stronger force for promoting peace, democracy and human rights. We think, obviously, of the current tension between India and Pakistan. We also think of the democratic instability that we have seen in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Kenya; of the deteriorating human rights situations in Uganda, Singapore and elsewhere; of the dreadful impunity of the Biya regime in Cameroon; and of the discrimination that continues in far too many Commonwealth countries against the LGBT community. I believe that it was a missed opportunity when the Government failed to put that issue formally on the agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London last April.
Will the Minister make it a priority, when Britain becomes co-chair of the Equal Rights Coalition in June, to seek to persuade more members of the Commonwealth to join that coalition? It cannot be right that a coalition that exists to promote the human rights of the LGBT community should have on it just six members of the Commonwealth and none from Africa, Asia or the Caribbean. We have a particular responsibility to promote that goal across that Commonwealth, along with all our other human rights goals. It is a historical debt we owe to many Commonwealth countries since it is because of us that they have these anti-LGBT laws on their statute books in the first place. The Prime Minister was right to apologise for that fact last year, but it is time for action as well as words.
I will finish with another issue where we literally owe a historic debt to members of the Commonwealth. As the Minister will know, it was recently revealed that when the men of the East Africa Force—hundreds of thousands of black, white and Asian soldiers drawn from Britain’s African colonies—received their demob pay at the end of the second world war, it was strictly calibrated according to their race, with a black African soldier paid a third of the amount given to his white African counterparts of equal rank. Many of the soldiers who faced that discrimination are still alive, but they have yet to receive even an apology from the Government, let alone compensation.
The Opposition have yet to receive any answers to the letter we wrote a month ago asking the Government, first, whether this racial discrimination also applied to the demob pay given to soldiers from the British Indian Army and the Caribbean Regiment in 1945; secondly, whether the Government knew how many men were affected in total and how many were still alive; and thirdly, what they planned to do in response. The Minister may not have those answers right now—I would not expect her to—but can she at least indicate when we can expect those answers and when the surviving men of the East Africa Force and any other affected veterans can expect the official acknowledgement and apology that are the very least they deserve?
Would the Minister not agree that the two secretaries-general—
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, though I cannot imagine what could be distracting you from this celebration.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her comments about the values of the Commonwealth and the power of this association of friendly countries to share the values that she rightly stands up for. I will take her points in turn. I can give some great examples of how the solidarity of the 53 countries can lead to progress on the important topics she raises.
On human rights, she will be aware that not only the Commonwealth secretariat but the associations work closely with member states to raise standards on human rights, including by supporting countries going through the universal periodic review process. I am sure that she knows that, using UK funding, the Equality and Justice Alliance is working to create a fairer, more equal and more inclusive Commonwealth, not only for women and girls, but for the LGBT community, through civil society capacity building. It is working on a project to create a cross-Commonwealth network of high-level champions and offer technical assistance in the reform of laws that discriminate against or fail to protect women, girls and LGBT individuals. It is currently speaking with six countries about the offer of technical assistance for legislative change. That is an update since last year.
On our special responsibility, which the hon. Lady rightly drew our attention to, she will be aware that the Commonwealth charter itself states that members are opposed to all forms of discrimination, whether rooted in gender, race, colour, creed, political belief or other grounds. She will also be aware that the largest ever number of visiting LGBT activists came from around the Commonwealth to attend all four of the official forums and a wide range of special events at last year’s summit. At that event, the Prime Minister expressed her regret at the legacy of the discriminatory legislation in the Commonwealth and committed to supporting those countries that wished to make a change.
The hon. Lady asks about the letter. It gives me the opportunity to put on the record how grateful we are to all those Commonwealth servicemen and women who served with Britain during the war. She will be aware that, from April 2019, UK aid will protect more than 7,000 Commonwealth veterans and widows who served with British armed forces from extreme poverty. It is an £18.2 million programme working with the Royal Commonwealth Ex-Services League and will support 4,500 veterans and 2,500 widows of veterans in the countries eligible for official development assistance. I acknowledge the letter that we received from the shadow Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs, Defence and International Development, and I can assure her that the Government will respond in due course.
I hope that it is worth the wait, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I know the Minister will be delighted to congratulate both Jon Davies and Akbar Khan, the two secretaries-general, and the remarkable teams they lead, as well as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for all the money it has given to the special projects around the world. She rightly mentioned the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which is a phenomenal achievement by the Commonwealth, but will she congratulate all the Pacific islands, especially Fiji, which has gone through difficult times, on the amount of time and work they have put in to come together in very difficult circumstances, with the help of money that we provided to bring them to various organisations in Australia and the United Kingdom, to take part in what is for them a vital and massively important piece of engineering?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words, and I can update the House on the progress of this important work. He rightly draws our attention to the Commonwealth Blue Charter, which I mentioned in my statement, and he will be pleased to know that, further to that charter, nine action groups have been established with 12 countries leading them. I mentioned that the UK and Vanuatu were taking the lead on marine plastic pollution, through the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, but he will be glad also to hear that the UK has joined the coral reef, ocean acidification and ocean change and climate change groups, and intends to join the marine protected areas group. There are 23 member countries: Australia, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Belize, Cameroon, Canada, Fiji, which he mentioned, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, New Zealand, Rwanda, Samoa, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, St Lucia, Uganda, Vanuatu and Zambia. I am delighted that some private sector organisations are also members.
I thank the Minister for her statement and join her in welcoming Commonwealth Day today.
The Scottish National party sees the value in the Commonwealth and the positive relationship that dozens of states happily independent from the UK have with others. It is a partnership built on an equal footing. Can the Minister tell us about her work on the Commonwealth? Can she tell us what work is ongoing in terms of good governance and the rule of law—obviously, very important to democracy—and reflect on any discussions she has had on the return of the Chagossians and the ruling of the International Court of Justice?
What discussions has the Minister had about the status of service personnel? I know from my own experience—of having the Army base in Leuchars—of the fantastic work done by serving Commonwealth citizens, not least those from Fiji and elsewhere. My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) raised this point today in respect of his own constituent.
Climate change—which the Minister has not really mentioned so far—should be the defining challenge of our politics today. Will she tell us about some of the discussions that have taken place about work on the climate crisis, and, in particular, about climate justice?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his constructive words. I do not know whether he picked up on this, but I learnt today that according to the findings of a recent survey, 46% of people living in Scotland are actively involved in the Scotland-Malawi partnership or know someone who is, which is something to be celebrated. He will have heard what I said to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) about the issue of the armed forces and our gratitude to all who have served in them. He refers to last week’s decision by the International Court of Justice. As he will know, we are currently evaluating that decision and will respond in due course to the issues that it raised. He will know that the UK considers this to be a bilateral matter, which we will resolve bilaterally with Mauritius.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the incredibly important subject of climate change. It extends well beyond the 53 countries that we are discussing today, but many small island states are members of the Commonwealth, and I believe that a centre has been set up in Fiji to address the causes of climate change in the Pacific small island nations. The UK itself has pledged, beyond the Commonwealth, to spend £5.8 billion on tackling climate change during the current spending review period, and we have already helped 47 million people around the world to develop their resilience and ability to cope with its effects.
May we Back Benchers record our thanks for the magnificent commitment and work of the head of the Commonwealth over 60 years? It is truly astounding.
Our debates about free trade deals go round in circles. At the beginning of the 20th century, we were talking about imperial preference. Many of us were rather disappointed that in 1972, when we joined what is now the European Union, the Commonwealth was treated somewhat shabbily. May I have a commitment from the Government that they will work full time—as the Government of an independent country that is able to engage in a free trade deal outside the European customs union—to make the Commonwealth the greatest free trade area in the world?
I am sure that the whole House will join me in endorsing my right hon. Friend’s tribute to Her Majesty’s work as head of the Commonwealth. She has performed that duty, among others, in an exemplary way. It was a great pleasure for Heads of State from around the world to be able to spend time with her last year when they attended a private dinner at Windsor castle.
As for the trade matters raised by my right hon. Friend, some very important work is being done. It was announced last year at the Heads of Government meeting that the UK-funded Commonwealth trade facilitation programme would help member states to implement the World Trade Organisation’s trade facilitation agreement. The programme will help the developing and least-developed Commonwealth countries to adopt faster and more efficient customs procedures. My right hon. Friend rightly identified the potential for enormous increases in UK trade and investment activity with the other 52 member states of the Commonwealth, and that is one of many examples that I could give.
The Minister will know that much good work is being done in relation to modern slavery, and she has said that she wants to promote trade. Will she try to marry the two by telling us how she intends to support the increase in fair trade and, in particular, how she intends to support the Fairtrade Foundation’s five-point plan for the Commonwealth to promote and develop fair trade throughout the 53 nations?
I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his work with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. On Thursday, he asked me to give the House quarterly updates on Commonwealth matters, and here I am, only a few days later.
The right hon. Gentleman was right to raise the important work that we do with Commonwealth members in tackling both the root causes and some of the impacts of modern slavery. That is part of a much wider piece of work that is being done across the Government, with many different strands in Commonwealth countries and beyond. I believe that Fairtrade Fortnight has just ended. Let me remind him, wearing my DFID hat, that we give extensive support to a range of fair trade projects and that, more important, we try to ensure that farmers, whether or not they are involved in fair trade, are helped to achieve a sustainable price that will give them a fair livelihood.
Given that the transition from colonial status to independence is often extremely difficult and sometimes downright dangerous, should we not pay tribute to all the parliamentarians and diplomats who had the vision to create the modern Commonwealth system, and should we not take some satisfaction from the fact that so many former colonies are happy to participate—with the United Kingdom—in that system, which has been so successful for so many decades?
I am happy to pay tribute to the work of the diplomatic network in focusing on the modern priorities of the Commonwealth. My right hon. Friend will have welcomed last year’s announcement that the UK is to open diplomatic representation in a further nine Commonwealth countries, thus creating a complete set of diplomatic representations in all the Commonwealth countries.
It is good to celebrate Commonwealth Day today. We are connected by 70 years of partnership and co-operation, but we are also connected by common threats such as the emergency of climate change. I welcomed what the Minister said about the Blue Charter to protect our oceans and, indeed, what she said to the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) about adaptation for the states that are most vulnerable to climate change, but what more can we do to use the forum of 53 countries working together in wider international forums to push that up the priority agenda so that we can tackle the impending climate disaster?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the important role that the Commonwealth can play in ensuring that climate change remains at the forefront of the world’s agenda. Last year, for the first time, the UK Chair-in-Office spoke for Commonwealth members at the United Nations General Assembly. As the hon. Lady will know, the UN has asked our Prime Minister to lead the work of this autumn’s conference on resilience. An enormous amount of work is being done across the Government to establish how we can work with Commonwealth members and others to tackle the important resilience strand of this crucial issue.
On this Commonwealth Day, as well as congratulating all who have helped the Commonwealth to survive and thrive for so long, may I highlight its ongoing role in science? It accounts for a third of the world’s population, but 12% of the world’s researchers and 10% of global research and development—particularly in the key global challenges of food, medicine and energy, where life science has so much to offer. Will the Minister meet me and Lord Howe to look at the potential of genomics? When I was Minister for genomics, we looked at establishing a Commonwealth genomics programme to give the UK scale and leadership in the global values and standards that are key to making sure that this revolution works for the benefit of the whole world.
I am truly in awe of my hon. Friend’s contribution in this area. He led such work before and during his time in Government, and he continues to do so. He has cited some impressive statistics, and I pay tribute to his role in championing such work and its importance to the Commonwealth. I would be more than happy to ensure that he meets the most relevant Minister to take his agenda forward.
I join other Members of the House in celebrating the Commonwealth. I have always been very positive about it, and I think it has huge potential to do even more to unite us. Like all international organisations, however, it is not perfect. In all my years in this place, I have noticed that it is quite difficult to have serious policy discussions with other parliamentarians on issues of common concern. We have much greater influence in the Commonwealth this year, so will the Minister promise to look at how we can facilitate serious policy discussions across the Commonwealth? We need fewer junkets and enjoyable receptions, and more serious work on policy.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Commonwealth is about more than the very agreeable opportunities for Heads of Government to meet up every two years. That is why I alluded in my statement to our important role as chair-in-office, to make sure that everything that was announced at last year’s Heads of Government meeting is taken forward.
I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger) an update on specific developments in the clean oceans work and the Blue Charter, and the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that in my binder there are pages and pages of very specific projects and commitments. Officials from around the Commonwealth are working together with the secretariat to ensure that real achievements are made on the ground. At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.
My hon. Friend would be wise to read the Government’s remarks about the elections in Nigeria. In those remarks, we reflected on some of the points that observers drew to our attention. He is right that the Commonwealth and the secretariat play an important role in Nigeria and elsewhere in providing expertise to election observation missions. Reports on those missions can reflect points that are made and conclusions that are drawn. Commonwealth members and others can learn from those reports—in all our member states, democracy is in the process of continuously improving—to inform future elections.
Glaswegians hold the Commonwealth in particular affection, because the city hosted a successful Commonwealth games almost five years ago. I was privileged to take part as a volunteer and meet hundreds of athletes from around the Commonwealth. One of the most striking things about those member states and the people who came from them was the huge diversity in culture and development, particularly economic development. I remember that a bike shop in Glasgow had to donate bikes for athletes from one country’s cycling team to use in their training regime. That shows the disparity, and the chance for redistribution, of wealth and opportunity in the Commonwealth.
What efforts will be made to equip the Department for International Trade to deal in trade negotiations with the eradication of modern slavery and exploitation from supply chains? The Minister alluded to some general aspects, but it would be helpful to hear about specific projects to enable us to understand exactly what the Foreign Office is doing on that front.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his service as a volunteer at the wonderful games that Glasgow hosted, and I thank all the other volunteers from Glasgow. He is absolutely right to pay attention to the range and geographical spread of the Commonwealth, the members of which include the largest country in the world by population, India, and one of the smallest, Nauru. A wide range of diverse countries make up the Commonwealth.
The hon. Gentleman asked me specifically about our work with Commonwealth countries to tackle modern slavery. He will be aware that when the Prime Minister was in Nigeria last summer, she visited a project that we fund in Lagos that provides help in a community in which children are often tempted into being trafficked. We work closely with such communities to get the message out that such routes are not the right ones to follow, and we have committed to further investment in job creation in countries such as Nigeria.
I very much welcome what the Minister has said, and I wish everyone a happy Commonwealth Day. She mentioned cricket—many things bring happiness to us in the Commonwealth, and one of them is cricket—and perhaps she can clarify an anomaly. In Australia, Sir Don Bradman was knighted, and in New Zealand, Sir Richard Hadlee was knighted, but there has been no knighthood for cricketers from Pakistan, India, South Africa or Sri Lanka, which have produced some brilliant cricketers. From Sri Lanka we had Muralitharan; from Pakistan we had Wasim Akram and Imran Khan; from South Africa we had Jacques Kallis; and from India we had Sachin Tendulkar and Kapil Dev. This is the year when we host the cricket World cup. Can the Minister ensure that we rectify that anomaly so that all our counterparts in the Commonwealth are treated fairly and equally?
Madam Deputy Speaker, have you ever heard such a compelling application to Her Majesty to recognise more cricketers from around the Commonwealth? I am sure that it will have been heard by the relevant people. My hon. Friend is right; I mentioned Bangladeshi women’s cricket. I am also thrilled that in Rwanda, which is one of the newer members of the Commonwealth, cricket is fast growing into a very popular, if not leading, national sport. He is right to make the link between the Commonwealth and cricket.
The Minister is absolutely right to make a statement today, and I wish everyone a very happy Commonwealth Day. As part of our work in the Commonwealth, it is important to be a critical friend. I was privileged to visit Rwanda last November with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and it is quite wonderful to see the progress that the country has made over the last 25 years, particularly in reunifying communities and advancing women’s rights and equality.
The Minister has mentioned that Rwanda is hosting the Heads of Government meeting in 18 months’ time. In our role as a critical friend, it is important to note that the country still has problems when it comes to press freedom and press regulation. What more can the Minister do to make sure that, for example, British journalists from the BBC, The Guardian and various other news outlets are allowed to go to Rwanda and report on that meeting? Press freedom must be a basic principle of all Commonwealth nations.
The hon. Gentleman is right to mention the importance of press freedom. That applies to the Commonwealth as well as to other countries around the world, and it is a leading strand of our work in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this year.
When it comes to Rwanda’s progress, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that this year is the 25th anniversary of the genocide. I am hoping to visit Rwanda soon—it is 10 years since I last went—to see the remarkable progress that has been made. He is absolutely right that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kigali will be an important moment, and the world’s media will want to be there. They will not just want to report on the progress that I have highlighted; media freedom is important to enable the reporting of things on which Ministers are not always thrilled to be scrutinised, and that is all part of being a healthy democracy.
I should like to echo the congratulations to the Queen on her more than 60 years’ service to the Commonwealth. I am also pleased that the Commonwealth chose her son, Prince Charles, to take over from her. I note that the younger royals are taking an interest in the Commonwealth, which is a positive sign of the progression through the family. We have heard many people talking about the things that we are doing to help the Commonwealth, but we must remember that this is a two-way process. The Commonwealth helps us and we can learn from it, particularly through activities such as International Citizen Service. The young people who go out to help in Commonwealth countries come back with a much greater understanding of the wider world, and their activities also give them a lasting legacy in the form of all the things they have discovered while they were out there. It shows them that they can be happy without looking at their iPhones and iPads every second of the day. It is also important to remember that people in the Commonwealth have tremendous family structures, whereas those structures have in many cases broken down in this country. It is a good thing that we are involved in International Citizen Service in the Commonwealth.
I am not sure that I caught a question in there, but I endorse everything that my hon. Friend has said. She rightly highlights the diversity of the Commonwealth as an organisation, the range of countries within it and the way in which we all benefit from that association and learn from each other. International Citizen Service is not specifically linked to Commonwealth membership, but many young people go out and benefit from that valuable programme in Commonwealth countries. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting last year, it was a great pleasure to announce an increase in the number of Commonwealth scholarships to enable young people to come to study in the UK.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), I echo the sentiments that have been expressed on the importance of the Commonwealth. One important aspect of the Commonwealth relates to the strengthening of democracy, so can the Minister tell us which is the only other member of the Commonwealth besides Lesotho in which hereditary chieftains retain the right to make law?
The Commonwealth accounts for one third of the world’s population and half of the world’s top 20 cities, so on Commonwealth Day, should we not celebrate the terrific economic growth in the Commonwealth? For the best part of the last three decades, the Commonwealth economy has grown by some 260%, its growth now averages 3.3% a year and we trade in surplus with it. The Minister might be interested to know that, in contrast, the economy of the European Union has grown by just 120% over the same period, that its average growth is just 1.4% and that we have a massive trade deficit with the EU. Is it not clear that the best future for this country will involve developing our economic ties with the Commonwealth?
My hon. Friend highlights the fact that there are some fast-growing, emerging cities in the Commonwealth. As he says, half of the world’s top 20 emerging cities are in the Commonwealth, and many Commonwealth countries are growing much faster than countries in the EU, including the UK. However, it is important for us to trade not only with Commonwealth countries but with our European Union neighbours. I am sure he will agree that this is a question of doing both, rather than an either/or choice.
International security co-operation can rarely have been more important, and GCHQ in my constituency already has close ties with certain Commonwealth nations through the Five Eyes relationship, but we need to go further. What more can be done to broaden and deepen security co-operation using the Commonwealth?
My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the fact that GCHQ has great skills in the field of cyber-security. That is one of the topics that was discussed at last year’s Commonwealth summit, and the communiqué had a particular focus on working with each other on cyber-security. In my statement, I drew attention to the further work that has happened since that communiqué through working with other countries and learning from each other in order to make the cyber-security realm safer for all Commonwealth citizens.
As the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Ethiopia, I should like to express my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of all those who have lost their lives, and to the Government and people of Ethiopia at this tragic time. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will join me in that, because she was there in Ethiopia with me just a couple of weeks ago and knows a lot about that wonderful country. Turning to the Commonwealth, I am glad that she has mentioned the importance of the programme for jobs and livelihoods, particularly for young people. Will she talk a bit more about that, and also tell us where we are up to with the fantastic commitment that the Commonwealth made last year at the Heads of Government meeting in respect of malaria? The Heads of Government pledged to reduce by half the incidences of and deaths from malaria in Commonwealth countries by the middle of the next decade.
I would like to associate myself with my hon. Friend’s remarks about Ethiopia. It was with great shock that we learned about the accident involving what is an excellent airliner. He and I are both frequent flyers on such airliners. We have obviously offered our condolences, but we have also offered to work with the Ethiopian Government and others to see whether any lessons can be learned for the wider aviation sphere. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work in that country. He also raised the question of malaria, which was identified at last year’s summit as a serious health concern for many Commonwealth countries. We know that 90% of Commonwealth citizens live in malaria-affected countries. The leading role that the UK is taking has meant that we have been able to pledge £1.2 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria over this three-year period. He also mentioned the announcements that were made on jobs, and he will be aware of the very young workforce that exists across the Commonwealth involving tens to hundreds of millions of young people. That is a huge strength, and it also points to the huge opportunity for inward investment for trade among those countries to create the wealth that will sustain employment for all those young people.
When I was out in New Zealand last year with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I noticed not only an enthusiasm to remember the past links between our two countries but excitement at what the future might hold for them. It was also clear that people out there had much more consciousness of the work of the Commonwealth. What plans do we have to promote that work here in the UK, while making it clear that this is about the Commonwealth of today rather than some hangover from imperial times?
I thank my hon. Friend for his work on behalf of the CPA. He highlights the deep links between Parliaments that help to strengthen the Commonwealth. Having the opportunity to celebrate Commonwealth Day, with Her Majesty attending the service in Westminster Abbey and all the flags in Parliament Square, helps to follow what we achieved last year with the hosting of the CHOGM in focusing the minds of this country’s young people on the range of ways in which we have strong links with our Commonwealth friends around the world.
We have heard a lot about the connections between the United Kingdom and the rest of the Commonwealth, and on Commonwealth Day we look forward to some of the opportunities for renewable energy. In April, India will start its first geothermal energy plant, which provides a fantastic opportunity for India to showcase new technology. What are we doing to support such projects, what learnings can be used back here, and what knowledge can be shared between countries around the Commonwealth to strengthen renewable energy in India, the United Kingdom and the rest of the Commonwealth?
That is a great question, and I appreciate the update on the Indian project. I do not know what specific input the UK has had, but there may well be some expertise involved. My hon. Friend will be aware that the UK hosted an event last week for African Energy Ministers, some of whom were from the Commonwealth, about renewable energy investment. The City of London, as a leader in green finance, has already seen over 70 bonds listed on the stock exchange in seven different currencies, raising some $25 billion towards green projects such as the one my hon. Friend mentioned.