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Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting: Update

Volume 652: debated on Monday 14 January 2019

In April, the UK hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The summit was the largest of its kind in our history. Forty-six Heads of Government and 49 Foreign Ministers met and agreed a range of actions to build a Commonwealth that is fairer, more sustainable, more prosperous, and more secure.

As Chair-in-Office, the UK has continued to work with the three pillars of the Commonwealth—the Commonwealth Secretariat, its member states, and its organisations and networks to deliver on commitments made at CHOGM. To support this work, the UK announced over £500 million of projects under the four themes discussed at the summit. An overview of these commitments and projects has been placed in the Library of the House and I am pleased to report progress in a number of areas today.

To build a fairer Commonwealth, the UK is supporting nine Commonwealth member states to deliver 12 years of quality education for girls by 2030. I co-chaired the first meeting of the Platform for Girls’ Education with the Kenyan Education Minister, Amina Mohamed, in September. The Platform will work together throughout the UK’s period as Chair-in-Office and report on progress ahead of the CHOGM 2020 in Rwanda. The UK has also partnered with the Secretariat for Pacific Communities to launch the Pacific Commonwealth Equality Project, which will enable Pacific leaders to champion and advance human rights by strengthening the capacity of their countries to deliver on their international human rights commitments. Reinforcing the belief that effective Parliaments are one of the principal institutions of any functioning democracy, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association launched updated benchmarks for democratic legislatures in November. Following the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, a number of Commonwealth countries have expressed interest in reviewing and reforming outdated legislation that makes it possible to discriminate on the grounds of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The Equality and Justice Alliance has held the first meeting of its Group of Experts, convened the first regional dialogue of high-level champions of reform, and has engaged national and regional civil society to support this work.

To build a more sustainable Commonwealth, the UK is delivering on the Commonwealth Blue Charter by helping member states protect and sustainably develop the ocean. Twenty-three Commonwealth countries have signed up to the UK and Vanuatu-led ‘Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance’ (CCOA) to tackle marine plastic pollution. Two of these countries joined the Alliance at the first CCOA Ministerial Meeting chaired by my noble Friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister of State for the Commonwealth, in the margins of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi in November. During her visit to Kenya, my right hon Friend the Prime Minister also announced a Young Leaders’ Plastic Challenge Badge to help an estimated 100,000 young people in the Commonwealth become leaders in raising awareness about reducing plastic consumption. In response to the challenge of climate change, the UK and New Zealand are also providing support for the establishment of a Regional Pacific Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) hub, which will help Pacific Island countries implement the Paris agreement.

To build a more prosperous Commonwealth, the UK is helping member states harness trade and investment as a means of delivering inclusive economic growth and prosperity. The Commonwealth Trade Facilitation Programme is helping member states implement the World Trade Organisation (WTO) trade facilitation agreement, creating more efficient customs procedures and boosting intra-Commonwealth trade. Scoping missions have already taken place in Eswatini, Tonga and Zambia; and technical support has already been delivered in Sierra Leone and Malawi. In October, Guyana became the first country to partner with the UK-funded Commonwealth Marine Economies Programme to develop a national maritime economy plan. The programme is supporting the sustainable development and growth of 17 Commonwealth small island developing states. To support inclusive and sustainable trade, the UK has partnered with the International Trade Centre to deliver ‘SheTrades Commonwealth’. The project aims to promote women’s economic empowerment by helping women- owned businesses to trade internationally. Following its launch in Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, over 2,300 women entrepreneurs have registered with the initiative and 518 companies have attended capacity building events.

To build a more secure Commonwealth, the UK is enhancing co-operation on cyber security by helping member states identify and address vulnerabilities and gaps in capacity. In support of the Commonwealth cyber declaration, the UK has partnered with the World Bank to deliver national cyber security reviews in a range of member states. We are on track to meet the commitment for every Commonwealth member state to voluntarily undertake a review by CHOGM 2020. The UK is also enabling Commonwealth countries to strengthen their national responses to modern slavery. This will include a legislative drafting seminar in March 2019 that will bring together parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to consider how their legislation and wider national responses to modern slavery can be strengthened. Further training on how to tackle online child exploitation will be provided to 19 Commonwealth countries over the next 18 months.

Finally, we have sought to strengthen co-operation in international organisations. In Geneva, my noble Friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon hosted a meeting of Commonwealth Permanent Representatives to discuss greater co-operation between Commonwealth missions in advance of the Human Rights Council. New Zealand has hosted two similar meetings to discuss WTO reform. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister also included a passage on the Commonwealth in her speech to the UN General Assembly. She spoke explicitly as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office on behalf of the Heads of Government of 53 Commonwealth countries—over a quarter of the UN membership—to reaffirm their shared commitment to work together within a rules-based international system to address shared global challenges.