The UK Government today marked Commonwealth Day with a renewed pledge to reinvigorate the UK's relationship with the Commonwealth.
Speaking ahead of the Commonwealth Day multi-faith observance at Westminster Abbey, Minister for the Commonwealth Lord Howell said:
“This year’s Commonwealth Day gives us an opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made this year, as well look forward to the challenges ahead.
This is an exciting and pivotal year for the future of the Commonwealth. We have already taken action to put the ‘C’ back into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and are determined to do more ahead of the crucial meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government in Perth in October.
The Commonwealth is an extraordinary association of like-minded states, spanning every continent and includes many of the fastest growing and technologically advanced economies in the world. We stand ready to support the Commonwealth to ensure it realises its fantastic potential and bring the benefits, developments and prosperity to all its citizens. For all its members, and certainly for the UK, the world-wide Commonwealth network can help pave the way to global economic recovery.”
Lord Howell will be answering questions about the Commonwealth and its relationship with the UK on Facebook. You can put a question to Lord Howell here. Please post your questions by Friday 18 March.
Speaking about the Department for International Development’s support for developing Commonwealth nations, Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan said:
“Our review of British aid has revealed that many Commonwealth states are still in need of our aid and support.
“We will match our close and historic ties with the Commonwealth with our determination to end global poverty. Through our aid programme, we will boost the health, education and future chances of millions of Commonwealth citizens who continue to live in poverty.”
Since the General Election, the Government has rapidly upgraded its relationship with the Commonwealth, and is committed to do more still. As the Foreign Secretary said in his speech on the Commonwealth in Australia in January, a reinvigorated Commonwealth has a key international role to play in support of democracy, human rights, prosperity and free trade for all its members.
The Government has taken active steps to ensure that the UK plays the fullest role in achieving this. These steps include:
- Commonwealth Networks: The FCO has established and reinvigorated practical working relationships with key Commonwealth networks and organisations, including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Business Council and the Royal Commonwealth Society.
- Aid to poor members: Following a review of the UK’s aid programmes, more than half of the British Government’s aid for poor countries will continue to be focused on Commonwealth members including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
- Eminent Persons Group: Sir Malcolm Rifkind is now a leading member of this important body looking at reforming the Commonwealth in the lead up to the Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October.
- Scholarships: The Foreign Secretary announced during his visit to Australia that from this year a greater proportion of FCO scholarships will support students from Commonwealth countries.
- Increased resources: The FCO has increased the size of its Commonwealth Unit to mirror its ambition for a revitalised Commonwealth.
Spanning the world’s major faiths and a third of the world’s population, the 54 countries of the Commonwealth celebrate Commonwealth Day at the beginning of March each year. The theme for this year’s Commonwealth Day is ‘Women as agents of change’.