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Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting

Volume 782: debated on Thursday 6 April 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to engage United Kingdom parliamentarians in the process and programme for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the United Kingdom, in particular with respect to the expansion and strengthening of international cultural, trade and investment initiatives.

My Lords, this Government recognise the strong contribution of UK parliamentarians to Commonwealth activities, including on enhancing opportunities for trade and investment. We will engage closely with parliamentarians and other Commonwealth stakeholders, including the CPA UK, in designing and delivering an ambitious, creative and innovative Commonwealth summit. We want to make the most of all the Commonwealth has to offer and demonstrate a Commonwealth that is truly relevant for the 21st century.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The CHOGM summit provides a golden opportunity for all Commonwealth parliamentarians to demonstrate their commitment to democracy, transparency, the rule of law and human rights as laid down in the Commonwealth charter. Will the Minister, therefore, press the Government to support the CPA UK’s plan to hold a linked Commonwealth conference prior to CHOGM? Will she press for a parliamentary forum at CHOGM itself, following the example set by many international high-level meetings?

The noble Lord raises important points, all of which we are very much taking into account, I assure him. Indeed, most recently I met Andrew Tuggey of the CPA UK to discuss what shape its plans might take—not only, of course, what deliverables there could be for the event itself, but the participation by CPA UK members more generally in the civil society events.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. Is not one of the best ways of engaging parliamentarians up to CHOGM to boost the current Prime Minister’s trade envoys network, which is cross-parliamentary and has been very successful? Would not my noble friend the Minister agree that a dedicated Commonwealth trade envoy should be appointed, as suggested by the Maltese chair-in-office of the Commonwealth?

Again, those are important points. On the trade envoys, eight envoys currently cover 10 Commonwealth countries. The programme has been recently reviewed and recommendations on the future direction of the programme, including suggested new markets, are with No 10 for consideration. We will certainly take the proposal for a trade envoy or ambassador into consideration.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that parliamentarians across the Commonwealth should also be involved in campaigns for more openness, which should include science and law? This week there was a conference about the openness of legal aspects of the Commonwealth at the University of London.

I am delighted that the noble Lord has raised this issue. We discussed it briefly outside the Chamber and I assure him that his views will be taken firmly into account.

My Lords, would it not be plausible to make full use of the internet and to devise a website to allow for two-way exchanges of opinion among all parliamentarians around the whole of the Commonwealth?

I assure the noble Viscount that, as part of the programmes that we are putting forward and consulting widely on, it is our intention to make the best use we can of the internet and all it can deliver. In some areas around the world, of course, it is more difficult to get the broadband speed. However he is absolutely right that modern communication is important. After all, we have to think of the young age of most people across the Commonwealth.

My Lords, the first principle of the Commonwealth charter is democracy. Therefore my noble friend is undoubtedly right. The second concerns human rights. Will the Minister guarantee that the Government will put as a major theme the promotion not only of women’s rights but of those within the LGBT community?

Again, that is a very important issue; “yes” is the answer to it. However, more particularly, we are working out our plans to ensure that important messages are delivered on LGBTI issues at the summit. I have already had discussions about this and I know that Kaleidoscope and the Commonwealth Equality Network are putting forward an agenda, and we want to see how that can feed into the work that we are doing.

My Lords, I reinforce the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, and my noble friend Lord Marland. Does my noble friend agree that the pathway from here to the Commonwealth summit next April is an immensely important one and that we must do everything we can to strengthen it? Will she accept my very strong welcome for the decision of the Prime Minister to appoint a powerful Cabinet Office unit to carry this work forward? Does she agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Marland that a network of 2.5 billion people using English as their working language is a fabulous potential opportunity for this country? Will she urge all concerned, especially some of the doubters about the potential of the Commonwealth, that they should look to the future of our service-based economy rather than harp on about the past?

As always on Commonwealth matters, my noble friend makes the most important points and I can do no more than thoroughly agree with him.

My Lords, will the Government ensure that educational exchanges at all levels are given a high priority?

Indeed, my Lords. That is the reason the Commonwealth team is cross-departmental, which ensures that we can take all the issues into account.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has outlined the design and creation of an appropriate programme. I declare an interest as the leader of a Commonwealth initiative on freedom of religion or belief. Will she consider meeting, as she has done in the past, parliamentarians and representatives from CPA UK, the Youth Parliament and the Commonwealth Youth Parliament so that everyone can play a part in designing the programme?

My Lords, recently I met a representative of the Youth Parliament and discussed issues around the summit. I assure my noble friend that the important point she has made will indeed be taken into consideration. I am already holding a series of meetings, as are members of the Commonwealth team now based in the Cabinet Office.

My Lords, one important consideration about trade which is often ignored is the need to ensure that we advocate strong minimum standards and support the International Labour Organization. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reassure the House that when we engage civil society in CHOGM, we will also include trade unions and the international trade union movement so that we can advocate strong labour standards.

Yes, my Lords. Yesterday I had the privilege of being able to meet Owen Tudor, who heads the TUC’s international relations office, to discuss how his agenda and the decisions that might be made in June by TUC organisations can feed into the summit process.