Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs

A. Executive summary

1. The Commonwealth is a unique organisation of extraordinary potential but it needs to sustain its reputation as a values-based organisation.

2. Implementing the agreed reforms recommended by the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), along with other innovations, will be central to the Commonwealth’s renewal.

3. Questions remain as to whether the Commonwealth has the capacity, the collective will or the necessary leadership to implement the change agenda in a timely and effective manner.

4. UK membership of the Commonwealth, if properly used, provides a positive context in which British diplomatic objectives can be pursued.

5. The Commonwealth “effect” is also valuable to the UK in terms of trade and investment, as well as in the promotion of its fundamental political values, particularly human rights and democracy.

6. As the UK’s military and diplomatic reach becomes more limited, the proper use of the Commonwealth can connect the UK to an extensive network of soft power.

7. Recognising the value of Commonwealth connections within the UK can also assist the process of creating a confident, tolerant and unified multicultural society in Britain.

8. The British Overseas Territories, Crown dependencies and self-governing jurisdictions—along with the UK’s devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—make a valuable contribution to the Commonwealth by virtue of British membership.

9. A more distinct identity within the Commonwealth would enable many of these administrations to take greater advantage of what the Commonwealth can offer (whether it be greater understanding and recognition of the principle of self-determination, or lobbying internationally on behalf of small states).

B. Introduction and background to the Round Table

10. The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs welcomes the inquiry by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons into the role and future of the Commonwealth. We value the opportunity to make brief comments on some of the key issues facing the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom’s role within it.

11. Founded in 1910, The Round Table is Britain’s oldest international affairs journal. Published six times a year by Taylor & Francis, the journal is a major source of coverage for policy issues in the contemporary Commonwealth, and provides analysis and commentary on all aspects of international affairs. In addition to overseeing the production of the journal, the Editorial Board also sits as a Moot, or discussion circle. It has periodic dinner meetings and organises seminars and conferences on a regular basis.

C. What is the future of the Commonwealth and what reforms are needed if the Commonwealth is to be successful?

12. The Commonwealth is a growing organisation of extraordinary diversity, with a global reach and a presence in most parts of the world. Its core attributes—a shared history, the use of a common language, experience of similar systems of law, administration and education, for example—encourage a familiarity and ease among its members. This is reinforced by a myriad of non-governmental connections through Commonwealth organisations, professional associations and civil society bodies. Above all, the principal source of the Commonwealth’s unity is its adherence to a common set of fundamental values. These were most recently set out in the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, adopted in Trinidad & Tobago by Commonwealth Heads of Government in 2009.

13. The Eminent Persons Group (EPG), established by the Trinidad & Tobago Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), devoted a significant part of its 2011 report (A Commonwealth of People: Time for Urgent Reform) to reviewing the Commonwealth’s purpose as a values-based organisation, and exploring how Commonwealth activities and networks could be directed towards upholding and supporting more effectively its values and principles and the moral authority deriving from them.

(a) A Charter of the Commonwealth

14. A key recommendation of the EPG was for the creation and adoption of a Charter of the Commonwealth. This proposal was accepted by Heads and adopted in their CHOGM communiqué. Heads stressed that the Charter should embody the principles contained in previous declarations “drawn together in a single, consolidated document that is not legally binding”.1 Heads plan to agree a text for the Charter in 2012, following a process of national consultations, consideration by a Task Force of Ministers, and approval by a full meeting of Foreign Ministers in New York in September.

(b) The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG)

15. In giving substance to any Charter, the principal mechanism for upholding the Commonwealth’s values is CMAG. In recent years CMAG has failed to build on the promise of its beginnings. It has been slow to act and, on key issues such as Zimbabwe, its role has been usurped by the troika of past, present and future chairpersons. This is now set to change. At their Perth CHOGM, Commonwealth leaders approved an expansion of the terms of reference of CMAG beyond its original and limited focus on military regimes and unconstitutional changes of government. Several previous attempts to widen CMAG’s remit have, since 1999, ended in failure. It is therefore particularly welcome that Heads of Government should have agreed the CMAG reforms “in order to enable the Group to deal with the full range of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values”.2 Changes to the composition of CMAG for the next biennium were also agreed in Perth.3

(c) A Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights

16. One of the EPG’s principal recommendations was for the creation of a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights to help give substance to the work of CMAG and to the good offices role of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. It was always unlikely that such a proposal would find easy acceptance among the majority of Commonwealth governments, for a number of reasons. First, agreement on the expansion of CMAG’s mandate was a remarkable achievement, opening up new areas where member countries might expect external Commonwealth intrusion if the circumstances allowed. To agree a further mechanism in support of this was perceived by many as a step too far. Second, the idea of a “Commissioner” was seen by some as unduly threatening, with anxieties about the scope of the new post needing to be addressed in greater depth than allowed for in the summit’s various sessions. Some others felt the position might undermine the powers and authority of the Secretary-General (SG), including his good offices role, and opposed it for that reason.

17. Even so, contrary to the impression given in some parts of the media, the proposal was not rejected. Instead, a mandate was given to the SG and CMAG’s Chair “to further evaluate relevant options relating to the EPG’s proposal for a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human rights”4 and to report back to Foreign Ministers at their New York meeting in September 2012.

18. Of course, the 106 recommendations of the EPG report ranged far more widely than simply addressing matters relating to Commonwealth values. Equally important are proposals designed to tackle other shortcomings, such as whether Commonwealth institutions are “fit for purpose”, including their staffing; Commonwealth priorities and the association’s comparative advantage; the quality, impact and resourcing of its programmes; strategic partnerships within and beyond the Commonwealth; and the quality of Commonwealth leadership. All this amounts to an urgent and substantial agenda for Commonwealth reform.

D. Does the Commonwealth retain a purpose and value? How has the Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting impacted upon this purpose and value?

19. The modern Commonwealth, since 1949, has undergone many challenges. It has established beyond doubt that it is an organisation of political and racial equality. This entailed creating an independent Secretariat (in 1965), and other intergovernmental bodies, and being involved in the sometimes bruising struggles over racism in southern Africa. It has developed—in 1995—a groundbreaking mechanism to sustain its own standards and principles among its membership and to deal with any failure to uphold those values. On issues like debt relief, climate change, HIV/Aids or the vulnerabilities of small states it has led—and helped change—the global perspective. It is not perfect—little is—but its societies are largely open and democratic. The unofficial Commonwealth provides a flourishing civil society dimension to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth literature, art and sport continue to excite and challenge at the highest level.

20. The Round Table believes that the Commonwealth retains purpose and value; and we suspect that this confidence in the association is shared by those countries which would wish to join the 54-member body.

21. That said, many countries currently in membership came to the recent Commonwealth summit with the expectation that certain changes to the association were now pressing.

22. The Perth CHOGM attracted widely divergent reviews. Some (including the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma) counted it a “landmark” summit, firmly setting the Commonwealth on the path of renewal and reform. Others were much gloomier. Richard Ottaway MP, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, called the summit “disappointing”. Others were more damning still.

23. The Round Table devoted much of its recent Cambridge conference5 to analysing the outcomes (or outputs, as one speaker wisely advised) of the Perth CHOGM. The general view was that the meeting had been largely positive, with a raft of key proposals adopted or currently under active review. This strongly suggests that Commonwealth governments—and indeed other parts of the Commonwealth family—do indeed see purpose in the modern Commonwealth, with its value being considerably enhanced providing that the various elements of reform agreed in Perth are fully implemented.

24. The negative perceptions of the Perth CHOGM may well be based on two factors. First, the handling of the EPG report was poor. It was a mistake not to release the report into the public domain before the CHOGM (it having first been submitted to Heads of Government in their capitals). Second, the treatment of this group of genuinely-eminent Commonwealth figures, most of whom had taken the trouble to travel to Australia especially for the meeting, was seen to be cavalier, and consideration of the report perfunctory. That Heads of Government in their Retreat largely rescued what could have been a major public relations disaster by treating the report with much greater seriousness than was evident from the behaviour of Foreign Ministers did not entirely dispel this negative view. With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that a report of this complexity and importance ought to have merited far better preparation and analysis than was apparent in Perth.

25. There is also considerable scepticism that the Commonwealth has the digestive capacity, the collective will or the necessary leadership to tackle the major challenges of implementation facing the association in 2012.

26. There is, first, the fate of the 43 of the EPG report’s recommendations which have been remitted to Foreign Ministers for their consideration and recommendation. Sir Ron Sanders, an EPG member, is not alone in fearing that the proposals will be “kicked into the high grass”.6

27. Second, there is the proposed public consultation over the Commonwealth Charter. Upholding the Commonwealth’s values and principles is essential to the Commonwealth’s credibility and unity. These values are the responsibility and privilege of all, and sustaining them must be the task of civil society as much as member countries and the intergovernmental Commonwealth. This is one sense in which the ownership of the Commonwealth should be in the hands of all its stakeholders.

28. It follows that a genuine process of pan-Commonwealth national consultations will be central to the credibility and authority of the Charter. As of now (mid-January 2012) there is little indication that either the Commonwealth Secretariat or the Commonwealth Foundation is driving the consultative process forward, though the responsibility for each national consultation is in reality the responsibility of the respective member government. By this point, there has been no general notification of national consultations to Commonwealth organisations (who might be expected to play a major part in the process) and there has been no announcement by the UK government of a British consultation. And yet, officers of the Secretariat indicate that consultations must be concluded by March 2012. This is an impossible timeframe for any adequate process of national consultation, even in those member countries where Commonwealth organisations are strong and where member governments are likely to be supportive of the process.

29. Some argue that because the Charter is not intended to be legally binding and will embody principles already enunciated in previous declarations, it will be a drafting exercise only, with little scope for public comment and consultation.

30. In our view, this would be a profound mistake. The Commonwealth’s previous declarations on human rights, democracy and development and the rule of law have been welcome but broad agreement on principles has concealed wide variations in how such values are respected and upheld across the Commonwealth association. The widely divergent approaches to rights based on sexual orientation are an immediate example. Differing attitudes to gender equality, to religious freedom and civic rights are other examples. If the Commonwealth is genuine in its desire to give its citizens a voice, the drawing up of the Charter of the Commonwealth must allow a proper national consultative process in every member county.

31. Third, there is the proper implementation of CMAG’s revised terms of reference. The new CMAG has not yet met and has therefore not yet selected its new Chair. The report of CMAG to Commonwealth Heads has still not been released into the public domain, nearly three months after the event. Without the benefit of the report, it is difficult to be precise about how CMAG might exercise its mandate.

32. There is also the question of how CMAG’s enhanced role will fit with the increased authority given to the Commonwealth Secretary-General (SG) to speak out. The Secretary-General will now be expected to articulate the Commonwealth’s concerns, and be its clear voice of conscience in defence of its values everywhere—within its membership; and in the wider world.

33. Additionally, there is the mandate placed on the Chair of CMAG and the Secretary-General to further explore the options relating to the proposal for a Commissioner for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights. Secretary-General Sharma was reported in Perth to be hostile to the proposal; and many countries recoil from the punitive connotations of a “Commissioner”. Nevertheless, what is surely indisputable is the need for the Secretary-General and CMAG to have a greater technical capacity available to them to investigate and report on areas of concern. Otherwise, it is difficult to see how the expanded mandates of both the SG and CMAG can be properly fulfilled.

34. There is therefore much work that needs to be done before there can be confidence that the Commonwealth will uphold its commitment to its core values in a robust manner.

35. Finally, there is the question of reform to the Commonwealth’s institutions (principally the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation). Both organisations are at something of a low point at present. Both are in need of strong leadership in reshaping priorities, sunsetting redundant programmes, attracting new staff and greater resourcing, fashioning strategic partnership and demonstrating that, as regards the reform agenda, they are not part of the problem but are intrinsic to its solution.

E. How does membership of the Commonwealth help the UK achieve its diplomatic objectives?

36. Membership of the Commonwealth helps the UK in its objective of strengthening the rules-based international system founded on common values. More than a quarter of the countries in the world are Commonwealth members and mechanisms to refine and sustain the core values of the association are helpful in seeking a global consensus in this respect.

37. There are other ways in which the Commonwealth’s ability to connect and communicate through language, shared traditions, experience of common systems in administration, education and law (including some recognition of common citizenship rights), sporting and cultural links and the like all make it more likely that member countries will be open to, and understanding of, the UK’s diplomatic objectives. Most of the UK’s bilateral aid goes to Commonwealth countries. There is also a special connection to the UK through the Head of the Commonwealth and her regular visits (as well as by other members of the Royal Family) to Commonwealth realms and nations. Judging by the enthusiasm with which the Queen has been most recently received in various parts of the Commonwealth, the surprise is not that there are voices in the Queen’s realms raising questions about their countries’ constitutional status in the long-term. The wonder is that these arrangements have so far proved to be as durable as they are.

38. As well as the UK’s bilateral relations, the Commonwealth itself is an effective tool for multilateral relations. This is further explored below.

39. Of course, none of this is likely to cause a Commonwealth country to override its perceived national interest where this conflicts with the UK’s diplomatic objectives. But it does provide a positive context in which these issues can be presented and discussed.

F. What benefits does the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth bring in terms of:
Trade — 

40. The 1996 Foreign Affairs Committee Report on the future role of the Commonwealth7 concluded that, for the UK, the old Commonwealth ties had become the new economic opportunities. Since then, those opportunities for UK trade and investment have only grown. Some of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world are in the Commonwealth. Africa, home to nineteen Commonwealth member countries, is currently an area where there some spectacular examples of growth and development. Some have argued that the use of the Commonwealth’s shared attributes on an economic and commercial level amount to a “Commonwealth effect”, reducing transaction costs and facilitating trade.8 Certainly, Commonwealth trade and investment is considerable, amounting to around 20% of the global total.

The —  promotion of human rights

41. It is no longer the case that the UK is in a position to export the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy to other parts of the Commonwealth. Indeed, in many respects, the UK is now a net importer of democratic innovation, with its asymmetrical electoral systems reflecting an ancient democracy that is still in the process of change.

42. Nevertheless, support for the Commonwealth’s programmes for democratic development, for advancing human rights and for the strengthening of the rule of law are all valuable in promoting internationally those fundamental values which form the bedrock of the United Kingdom’s democracy.

43. The deployment of Commonwealth Observer Groups at national (and sometimes local) elections in member countries has, since 1991 in particular, proved their effectiveness. At the same time, the EPG report pointed up a number of ways for improving current practice. Extending the period of deployment of Commonwealth election observers would be important. In practice, this may require a functional distinction between what are, in effect, Long and Short-term Observers (though they should not be identified as such). There should be no change in the calibre of observers recruited but it might be useful to establish a register of those who are able to give a greater time commitment and therefore be used for longer periods of deployment (within any mission).

44. A welcome development is the apparent acceptance by CMAG that an adverse report by a Commonwealth Observer Group at the national elections of a member country on a significant aspect of the polls should trigger automatic referral to CMAG of the country concerned. A further EPG proposal is for a “Commonwealth Academy of Democratic Development”. This is an attractive and necessary idea. At least initially this might be a “virtual” academy, with services delivered, on a fee basis, by a collaborative network of Commonwealth and specialist organisations.

45. There are other ways in which democratic and human rights values can be promoted, not least through the Commonwealth’s extensive network of Commonwealth organisations, professional associations and civil society bodies. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, the Commonwealth Lawyers Association, and the Commonwealth Journalists Association are just some of the organisations whose work in this field has extended beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth.

The —  promotion of soft power and a positive image of the UK?

46. As the UK’s military role becomes increasingly constrained, and as its diplomatic footprint shrinks, it is important that other ways are found for the UK to achieve its international objectives. In this respect, the Commonwealth is a pre-eminent network of soft power.

47. The Commonwealth’s diversity is a key strength, giving it dynamism and authority on a practical level. This same characteristic provides the Commonwealth with an extraordinary facility for creating and sustaining networks and connecting with member governments at the highest levels.

48. In terms of advancing the Commonwealth’s fundamental values, there have been many examples where, either by example or by persuasion, collective Commonwealth ideals and policies have become accepted internationally. Many regional and international organisations now adopt a similar approach to upholding their values to that pioneered by the establishment of CMAG: and alleviating the debt burden internationally—to take another example—has been greatly advanced by Commonwealth pressure. On both these issues, the United Kingdom played a prominent role.

49. A more recent example has been the support the Commonwealth has been able to give—and the access which it has been provided—to the G20. Five Commonwealth countries—one-quarter of the total—are members, and form significant elements of other international organisations. Commonwealth members constitute nearly 40% of the WTO; and more than a quarter of the UN. The Commonwealth is not just a powerful potential advocate—it is also a significant interest and lobby which can bear on the leadership of such organisations.

UK —  Society and the “Commonwealth within”

50. There are also the many manifestations of the Commonwealth apparent in British society—evidence of “the Commonwealth within”.

51. First, among older generations there are visceral connections forged in conflict, when Commonwealth and British forces have fought together in defence of common values. This “imperial” memory may be diminishing but its effect can still be powerful. When some years ago, Spain and Canada were in dispute about the fishing grounds off Newfoundland, the British public (especially in Cornwall) rallied loudly and unequivocally in support of Canada rather than backing the UK’s European partner.

52. Second, the military link between Commonwealth countries remains strong. Five Commonwealth countries are currently serving in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan; and the main burden of UN peace-keeping operations is borne by Commonwealth contributing countries. In the British Army itself, Commonwealth nationals, together with the Gurkhas from Nepal, make up nearly 10% of the total. Commonwealth soldiers have been prominent among those recognised for outstanding acts of bravery and self-sacrifice.

53. Third, it is not only in the armed forces but in every facet of British society—business, sport, art, culture and entertainment as well as media, transport, education and health—where the Commonwealth connection remains vivid and enriching. For many “new” British citizens, the UK’s full-hearted involvement internationally provides validation for the multiple cultural identities they may possess within the security of a common citizenship. There is also regular movement of families between the UK and other Commonwealth countries (even where some members are now settled in the UK). This contact between contrasting societies can sometimes put to the test notions of religious tolerance and shared values. Generally, however, such contact is likely to be positive. Many Commonwealth leaders continue to have personal links with the UK, either through study or following a period of residence. The current President of Zambia, Michael Sata, early in his life worked in public transport in London. He is by no means the first Commonwealth Head of Government to have lived and worked in the UK before achieving office.

54. While very few Commonwealth countries now provide any kind of concession to other Commonwealth citizens in terms of right of access and abode, at least 11 Commonwealth countries do provide other citizenship rights—particularly the right to vote in local and national elections; and right to stand for office—to those granted residence for any period of time. Recent research has indicated that 24% of Commonwealth member countries grant foreign Commonwealth citizens the right to stand for office, and 30% provide voting rights.9

55. In the case of the UK, eligibility for office and the right to vote in local and Parliamentary (but not European) elections are both provided to Commonwealth citizens during their stay in the UK (political rights which in this respect could be considered superior to those granted to EU citizens). In recent times, the UK government has considered the removal of these rights, but was persuaded not to do so. This, surely, was the right decision, since the existence of these political rights reinforces in a practical way the aspiration of the Commonwealth to be “a community of democracies”.

56. In summary, the domestic manifestation of the Commonwealth within British society is not primarily visible in the weakening links of a distant and half-forgotten organisation; rather, it is a vibrant part of the reality of the UK’s multicultural society. As the Queen, the Head of the Commonwealth, has put it: “it is, in lots of ways, the face of the future.”10

What role and status should the British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and self-governing jurisdictions have in relation to the Commonwealth?

57. The Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and self-governing jurisdictions are all members of the Commonwealth by virtue of their relationship to the British Crown. As such, they play a full part in various Commonwealth activities. Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, along with Gibraltar, Bermuda and St Helena are among the large majority which are members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Bermuda and the Cayman Islands participate in—and have hosted—Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ meetings. The Falkland Islands encourages its school students to take part in the Commonwealth Essay Competition and has run poster competitions for Commonwealth Day. Guernsey, Jersey, Gibraltar and Bermuda all have branches of the Royal Commonwealth Society located in their territories. Nearly all regularly participate in the quadrennial Commonwealth Games.

58. Recent UK governments have displayed a rather more progressive approach to the Overseas Territories and their economic and constitutional development than previously.

59. Gibraltar is a case in point. The territory now enjoys a new relationship with the UK Government, following the adoption of the 2006 constitution. Self-determination under these arrangements has enabled Gibraltar to move beyond the historic issues of sovereignty and flourish as a self-governing and self-sufficient territory. The Tripartite process, with the UK and Spain, under the Cordoba Accords, has given Gibraltar equality of voice in dealing with issues which are directly its concern. On a host of practical issues—improved communications (from air links to telecommunications) and infrastructure development, including the airport—Gibraltar is now able to move forward.

60. This is a far cry from previous negotiations between the Spanish and UK governments where Gibraltar was treated as little more than a colonial chattel, its future traded in discussions from which the territory’s representatives were invariably excluded.

61. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently emphasised this new approach in relation to the Falkland Islands. He told the House of Commons that Argentina was “acting like a colonial power in seeking to re-open the issue of sovereignty”.11 He continued: “The absolutely vital point is that we are clear that the future of the Falkland Islands is a matter for the people themselves”.12 Respecting that principle in respect of discussions of sovereignty is as much an issue for the UK government to honour in the full as it is for the Government of Argentina to recognise.

62. The primacy of self-determination for the territories and dependencies of the Crown is one which can be protected and promoted through their wholehearted involvement in the Commonwealth. The presence of a Commonwealth Observer Group at the 1967 Gibraltar referendum, witnessing a resounding vote for continuing British sovereignty in the territory, served to open the eyes of many Commonwealth leaders.13 They appreciated that national self-determination, rather than colonialism, was the core issue.

63. Similarly, when an overseas territory attends—or even hosts—a Commonwealth intergovernmental meeting, its representatives rub shoulders with their counterparts in fifty-four member governments across the globe. The same effect is true of “people-to-people” Commonwealth initiatives in areas such as sport, education and culture, particularly involving young people. It all serves to internationalise perceptions, broaden understanding and emphasise that all territories and dependencies have a human identity—and a collective will—which is greater than their “Britishness”.

64. It is also the case that the Commonwealth’s long-standing concern for the special problems and vulnerabilities of small states resonates well with a number of territories and dependencies. The Commonwealth’s success in bringing about a more understanding approach to small states by the World Bank, for example, has led some to see lobbying within the Commonwealth as more worthwhile on certain issues than expecting their administration’s policies to be faithfully reflected by the UK government.

65. The question remains as to whether there should be any change of status within the Commonwealth for overseas territories, crown dependencies and self-governing jurisdictions.

66. The Commonwealth is, first and foremost, an association of free and sovereign nations. Thus, in 1997, Palestine’s application for Commonwealth membership was “laid on the table”, rather than being accepted, pending its graduation to full sovereignty. The bar of sovereignty, rather than nationhood and self-determination, as a condition of Commonwealth membership is unlikely to change.

67. Might there be some arrangement short of full membership—such as associate membership—which would give greater recognition and identity to overseas territories? The last review of Commonwealth membership, by an intergovernmental committee under the former Jamaican Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, showed little enthusiasm for the idea.14 Even on the assumption that an associate member would have to meet the same criteria as full members regarding adherence to democratic and human rights norms and practices, there are other obstacles.

68. First, any change in Commonwealth status for British overseas territories would also need to be acceptable to Australia and New Zealand, who also have dependent territories, as well as to the Commonwealth as a whole.

69. Second, short of independence, it would be difficult to contemplate a higher status for the Turks & Caicos Islands within the Commonwealth, for example, than for the Scottish nation (due to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014). The devolved institutions of the United Kingdom have also begun to demonstrate a larger, more independent role within the Commonwealth, although would undoubtedly wish for more. They certainly would not want an inferior status to anything that might be secured by the Overseas Territories.

70. This has wider implications. Creating a new category of membership which included the provinces of Canada, the states of India, South Africa, Malaysia and Australia, as well as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and the overseas territories and crown dependencies) would involve considerable challenges for limited benefit.

71. The answer may lie in greater recognition that the Commonwealth is more than an association of governments; it is also an association of peoples, who are to be found in a wide variety of bodies and associations, from the governmental through to the non-governmental. Properly revealing and celebrating the multiple dimensions of Commonwealth membership may be the best way that overseas territories can reap the full benefits of their place in the Commonwealth family.


72. The current UK government has expressed strong support for the Commonwealth from the outset. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague has made it clear that the Commonwealth is “back at the very heart of British foreign policy”.15 The Round Table applauds this re-kindling of enthusiasm for the Commonwealth by a British government.

73. The Commonwealth is, in many ways, tailor-made for the 21st century, potentially equipped to serve the wider world as well as its members. But it faces immediate challenges of reform and renewal. Our hope is that the UK government—along with other Commonwealth governments—will now make every effort to encourage this process of change, will help secure the implementation of key reforms, and re-fashion the Commonwealth into a global force for good.

26 January 2012

1 CHOGM Communiqué, Perth, Australia (31 October 2011).

2 Ibid.

3 New CMAG members are: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, Maldives, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad & Tobago and Vanuatu.

4 Perth CHOGM Communiqué 2011.

5 “The Commonwealth After Perth: Implementing Change” A Round Table Conference, held at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 9–10 January 2012.

6 Sir Ronald Sanders speaking at the Round Table Conference in Cambridge, 10 January 2012.

7 “The Future Role of the Commonwealth”, Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, released 3 April 1996.

8 “Trading Places: the Commonwealth effect re-visited”, Royal Commonwealth Society, 2010.

9 Tendayi Bloom “Contradictions in formal Commonwealth citizenship rights in Commonwealth countries”, The Round Table, Vol 100, No 417 (December 2011) p 639.

10 The 2009 Queen’s Christmas Message.

11 The Times, Thursday 19 January 2012, p 1.

12 Ibid p 6.

13 Gibraltarians voted by 12,138 to 44 to remain under British sovereignty.

14 The Report of the Committee on Commonwealth Membership 2007, Commonwealth Secretariat.

15 Speech by Rt Hon William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, July 2011.

Prepared 14th November 2012