On Thursday, MPs held a debate on the Commonwealth in Parliament's Westminster Hall. The discussion went on for three hours and contributions were made by a dozen MPs. Here are some of the highlights.
Sir Alan Haselhurst MP opened the debate by recognising the current lack of public awareness of the Commonwealth, something our Co-founder Ralph Buckle noted in his ConservativeHome article last week. Sir Alan's response was:
"I tend to think of the Commonwealth as a work in progress: developing networks, exchanging information, exploring potential, making friends and doing business. The word “family” is often used in connection with the Commonwealth, and I do not think that is entirely inappropriate because the occasional quarrel is not unknown in families."
Our Advisory Board Member Andrew Rosindell MP intervened fairly quickly to question why the Commonwealth flags were not flying in Parliament Square on Commonwealth day as we noted last week:
The Minister explained that it was due to pavement works on the square but this seems like a barrier that could have been overcome with enough planning and intent. After this the debate was quite wide ranging including concerns around visas and immigration:
"Sir Paul Beresford MP: Does my right hon. Friend recognise from his visits to Commonwealth countries and from talking to people from the Commonwealth that there is a feeling over the past few years... that there has been a tightening in the visas and opportunities for people from Commonwealth countries, including young people, to come to this country to work and to contribute? That is particularly felt as they arrive at Gatwick or such places and see that they are aliens."
However one of the contributions that most resonated with CX's aims came from Sir Henry Bellingham MP:
"Does my right hon. Friend agree that a main priority for many young people in the Commonwealth is getting a job and achieving prosperity? Does he share my vision that the Commonwealth must do more on the commercial diplomacy and trade agenda? We want more trade between Commonwealth countries, which share advantages around common language, contract law and legal systems, so that young people can have brighter hopes for the future in terms of trade picking up. Does he agree that the Commonwealth must give that agenda more priority?"
This again echoes our ConservativeHome article which suggested that the Commonwealth needs to be refocused on the trade agenda which it can be most effective in promoting.
A final contribution from Andrew Rosindell perhaps best sums up the current state of affairs:
"I fear that the Commonwealth has been damaged because for decades we have not realised its potential. We should have been building bridges in the past few years with Commonwealth countries in Africa, Oceania, Asia and of course the Caribbean."
The full debate can be read here.