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Foreign Secretary William Hague has set out how the UK has embedded the Commonwealth in its foreign policy thinking and called on the organisation to realise its potential as an inspirational and effective advocate of democracy and human rights.
Addressing Parliamentarians from around the Commonwealth at the 57th meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, Foreign Secretary William Hague outlined the UK’s vision of the Commonwealth as a global advocate for prosperity and democratic values:
“In a world that is dominated by networks and not by the power blocs of old, the Commonwealth is the ultimate network. It has extraordinary reach - across 54 countries, six continents and oceans and two billion citizens.”
“The Commonwealth is a powerful global brand that many millions of people around the world are proud to be associated with, as our Government and our Parliament certainly are.”
“In our first year in office my ministerial team and I have already visited more than 20 Commonwealth countries, including Australia and New Zealand, both of which had not been visited by a British Foreign Secretary for nearly twenty years.”
“We have increased resources devoted by the FCO to Commonwealth issues, we have re-focussed where Britain gives its international development assistance with the result that more than half of the 27 countries that receive our aid are now from the Commonwealth, and we are dedicating more of our Chevening Scholarship programme to Commonwealth students.”
The Foreign Secretary looked forward to the presentation of the recommendations of the Eminent Persons’ Group at the Heads of Government meeting in Perth in October (CHOGM) and called on the Commonwealth to embrace this opportunity to redefine itself and lay new plans for the future.
“We also need to change if we are to ensure that the Commonwealth is as effective and inspiring a standard-bearer of democratic principles as it can and should be.
“We should be inspired and given new confidence by the demand for freedom that is sweeping parts of the Middle East and North Africa, which confirm what our countries have long known, that the desire for political and economic freedom is universal, and which make it more important than ever that we, as individual countries and as an organisation, are seen to stand on the side of freedom, not just in our words but in our actions.”
The Foreign Secretary emphasised the role that the Commonwealth can play as a leading voice in the global economy, working to liberalise trade and break down barriers for international business. The Commonwealth contains some of the fastest growing new economies in the world, with a combined GDP that has more than doubled in the last twenty years. Over the last two decades the importance of Commonwealth members to each other as sources of imports has grown by a quarter, and by a third as destinations for exports. More than half of Commonwealth countries now export over a quarter of their total exports to other Commonwealth members.
57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference
Lord Howell: “This is a reminder that the Commonwealth is a gathering of peoples as well as of governments and a thousand other organisations, particularly of parliamentarians. So I welcome this gathering greatly, and I wish all who come to Westminster well.”
Lord Howell, Minister for the Commonwealth welcomed the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) to Westminster. Speaking on 26 July, Lord Howell described the Commonwealth as the soft power network of the future:
“The sheer breadth and diversity that the Commonwealth typifies is extraordinary and is something to be celebrated.
“We want it to play a key role in the unfolding opportunities and challenges that our increasingly networked world brings.
“We want the Commonwealth to lift the prosperity of all its members through increased free and fair trade. We want the Commonwealth to become a leading voice in the global economy, working to liberalise trade, break down barriers for international business, resist protectionism and contribute to the Doha Development Agenda.
“The next Heads of Government meeting in Perth in October, in now what is less than 100 days, has the potential to be a transformational one for the Commonwealth. We have a real opportunity to shape the Commonwealth network to react, engage and lead on the world stage, a stage on which the Indian Ocean, and all the states surrounding it are increasingly taking a central place.”
The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association fosters cooperation and understanding between parliaments across the Commonwealth, promotes good parliamentary practice and advances parliamentary democracy. 2011 is the centenary anniversary of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. The 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference takes place in Westminster between 21 - 28 July 2011.