The role and future of the Commonwealth - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents


The moral authority of the Commonwealth has too often been undermined by the repressive actions of member governments. We were disturbed to note the ineffectiveness of the mechanisms for upholding the Commonwealth's values. We support the Eminent Persons Group's proposal for a Commonwealth Charter.

We conclude that continuing evidence of serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka shows that the Commonwealth's decision to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo was wrong. The Prime Minister should publicly state his unwillingness to attend the meeting unless he receives convincing and independently-verified evidence of substantial and sustainable improvements in human and political rights in Sri Lanka.

The Commonwealth has appeared less active and less publicly visible in recent years and there is evidence that it is missing opportunities to influence events. The Commonwealth Secretariat must sharpen, strengthen and promote its diplomatic performance.

It is now nearly a year since the acceptance of many Eminent Persons Group recommendations at the 2011 CHOGM. The lengthy period of consultation and discussion over the EPG since October 2011 must not cause a loss of momentum in the process of implementing those recommendations.

We are not convinced that member states are making the most of the economic and trading opportunities offered by the Commonwealth.

Part of the funding for Commonwealth Scholarships now comes from institutions of higher education. We are concerned that this could develop into an unsustainable burden on the limited funds available to those institutions. We recommend therefore that, recognising the importance of the Scholarships for the achievement of the UK's objectives, the Government should guarantee to maintain at least the current level of funding in real terms. The Government must bear in mind the possibly serious effects of a restrictive student visa policy on the wider interests of the UK.

The UK Government as a whole does not appear to have a clear and co-ordinated strategy for its relations with the Commonwealth. The several Government departments with an interest in Commonwealth matters should work together to develop a strategy for engagement with the Commonwealth, aimed at ensuring that the UK makes the most of the opportunities presented by the Commonwealth.

There is currently much debate about a possible re-evaluation of the relationship between the UK and the EU, and the economic opportunities presented by the Commonwealth certainly play a part in that debate. It is clear that the creation of a free trade area with Commonwealth countries would require a fundamental and potentially risky change in the UK's relationship with the European Union, and the benefits may not outweigh the disadvantages.

We welcome the fact that the Commonwealth continues to attract interest from potential new members, and see advantages in greater diversity and an extended global reach for the Commonwealth. However it is crucial that the application process is rigorous and that any new members are appropriate additions to the Commonwealth 'family', closely adhering at all times to its principles and values.

There are substantial arguments in favour of stronger connections between the Commonwealth and the Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, all of which can benefit from closer relationships. However, we are also aware of the constitutional objections, both in the UK and in other countries across the Commonwealth, to the institution of a wholly new category of Commonwealth member.

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Prepared 15 November 2012