Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Executive Summary

CHOGM 2011 was positive for both the Commonwealth and the UK. Reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group was fully approved; a Commonwealth Charter was agreed; 42 Eminent Person Group (EPG) recommendations were adopted; and a process was established to reach decisions on the 43 EPG recommendations deferred for more detailed consideration, by the next Foreign Ministers’ meeting in September. Reform remains at the top of the Commonwealth’s agenda.

Building on these successes, the Government will continue its work to enable the Commonwealth to reach its potential.

It is in the UK’s foreign policy and trade interests that we have a strong Commonwealth. This Government will continue to ensure that the UK is at the heart of the revitalisation process agreed in Perth. But responsibility for the Commonwealth’s future is not the UK’s alone.

A number of member states, including emerging powers, remain to be convinced that the organisation can meet their needs. Key to winning over other member states will be the modernisation of Commonwealth institutions, and ensuring it is working only on issues where it can add value. The agreements achieved in Perth give the Secretariat and member states the tools and direction to complete the process.

In an increasingly connected world, the Commonwealth provides a ready-made network to promote UK values, and increase global prosperity. To achieve this, it must be capable of defending the democratic and human rights values it was built on, and focus its energy on areas of comparative advantage.

The Commonwealth’s networks are every bit as important as its formal governmental connections. Business, civil society, and parliamentary links are central to the success of Commonwealth. The networks are reinforced by the combination of a global information revolution and a common language.

The Commonwealth is a living entity which other nations and groups want to join or build trade links with. This should be encouraged. In the case of the UK, the Overseas Territories should be better able to benefit from Commonwealth programmes.


1. The UK Government wants a strengthened Commonwealth focused on promoting democratic values, development and prosperity to benefit all member states. The Commonwealth of the 21st century should act as a recognised force for good on the issues of our times.

2. The Coalition’s “Programme for Government” set out the Government’s objective to “strengthen the Commonwealth as a focus for promoting democratic values and development”. Since then the Government has consistently emphasised its renewed commitment to the Commonwealth and its determination to work with member states to reinvigorate the organisation. The Government demonstrated this renewed commitment by appointing Lord Howell as Minister for the Commonwealth on 14 May 2010, and increasing the size of the FCO Commonwealth Unit from two to six officials. Commonwealth issues are also covered by a wide-range of Departments across Whitehall including, among others, DFID, DECC, and the Ministry of Justice.

“The modern Commonwealth, including countries that were never British colonies, has been transformed. Today’s Commonwealth bridges all of the continents, embraces almost two billion people, and represents all of the world’s major faiths. Its membership includes many of the fastest growing and increasingly technologically advanced economies in the world. These are the great markets of today and tomorrow”.

Foreign Secretary, Written Ministerial Statement, December 2010

3. The UK Government’s approach has been to encourage institutional reform to shape the Commonwealth into an effective multilateral organisation that better upholds its values and promotes prosperity for its members. At the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, this approach had two strands—reform of the organisation through support of the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) recommendations, and reform of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG).

Reform of the Commonwealth

(i) The EPG process

4. The present reform agenda began at the Port of Spain CHOGM in 2009, where the FCO funded “Commonwealth Conversation” led to the creation of the EPG, tasked with identifying measures for reform. The UK Government supported this process to focus the Commonwealth on its strengths and areas of comparative advantage, and prevent duplication of work done more effectively by other multilateral organisations. Securing reform through the EPG process at CHOGM 2011 was a key UK objective.

5. The EPG sent their final report to Heads of Government on 30 September 2011. Despite requests from the UK and some other member states, the report was not made public prior to CHOGM. The report contained 106 recommendations for reform. The recommendations fell broadly into three main categories: strengthening Commonwealth values; increasing advocacy for small states; and creating institutions fit for purpose. The Government agreed with the overall thrust of the recommendations which, if agreed as a package, would strengthen institutions and processes and refocus the Commonwealth on its core values, delivering a more effective and efficient organisation.

6. There were two key EPG recommendations for the UK Government—the establishment of a Commonwealth Commissioner and the creation of a Commonwealth Charter.

7. The Government considered that a Commissioner would strengthen the Commonwealth’s ability to hold itself accountable to its values, and monitor and respond to crises, particularly those affecting human rights, democracy and rule of law, in its member states. The role should support, but be independent of, the Secretary General and CMAG.

8. The Charter would set out simply the Commonwealth’s values and purpose in a single document, which would be used to promote the organisation and, importantly, raise its profile within member states and globally.

9. The EPG tailored their report to address the priorities of all Commonwealth member states, which led to wide-ranging recommendations recognising, for example, work across youth, music, and sport. This approach contributed, in part, to the overly large number of recommendations in the final report.

10. While a number of member states, including the major donor countries Australia, Canada and New Zealand, recognised and supported the need for reform, many other states were reluctant to embrace the EPG process or accept the pressing need for change. The Government acknowledged that achieving consensus of all 53 member states—required to adopt the full package of EPG recommendations—would be a major challenge. Some key partners, including India and South Africa, were vocally opposed to key EPG recommendations, in particular the Commonwealth Commissioner. However, FCO Ministers saw this CHOGM as a pivotal moment for the future of the Commonwealth, and the Government was determined to strive for this ambitious objective.

“Our challenge between now and October is to raise awareness of, and build support for, the EPG recommendations. We are working closely with like-minded partners and the EPG members themselves to do this, identifying opportunities for outreach events in all regions of the Commonwealth.”

Lord Howell, speaking at the 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, 26 July 2011

(ii) Reform of CMAG

11. Reform of CMAG was an equally important objective for CHOGM. The UK considered this vital to secure the Commonwealth’s long term viability on the international stage.

12. CMAG—made up of nine Foreign Ministers who rotate on or off the group for two year terms—is effectively the Security Council of the Commonwealth. Set up in 1995 to monitor member states’ adherence to the Harare Declaration, it is mandated to respond to, and act upon, “serious or persistent” violations of the Commonwealths core values. Its ability to suspend or expel member states makes it unique among international organisations. But the group’s self-imposed restricted mandate meant it could only respond decisively to clear and discrete violations and, in practice, an overthrow of a democratically elected government (eg by military coup) was the only real trigger for suspension. So, while CMAG has currently suspended Fiji, and twice previously suspended Pakistan following military coups, it has failed to act on serious violations of Commonwealth values in other member states.

13. Reform of CMAG was therefore crucial for maintaining the Commonwealth’s credibility. To achieve reform the group needed to: play a constructive role in preventing serious or persistent violations occurring; achieve a better balance between constructive action and punitive reaction; improve its relationship with the Secretary General and his Good Offices programme; consider all breaches of all the core values (not just military coups); and prevent member states on CMAG from vetoing action.

14. Reform of CMAG was led by the Foreign Minister of Ghana, Chair of CMAG. Their report “Strengthening the role of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group” was presented to member states in September 2011. The UK is not currently a member of CMAG, having rotated off in 2009.

(iii) UK support for reform

15. In the months leading up to CHOGM, the FCO supported the reform agenda by funding and assisting in the organisation of a series of regional EPG events covering Southern Africa (held in Mauritius), West Africa (Ghana), East Africa (Tanzania), the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago); and the Pacific Islands (at the Pacific Islands Forum). These events connected the EPG with member states’ Governments (both Ministers and officials) and helped raise awareness of the pressing need for reform. Working through our network of High Commissions, the FCO used these events to raise the profile of the EPG’s recommendations in member states, promoting dialogue within governments and the media. The importance of Commonwealth reform was reinforced through lobbying by our High Commissions, and Ministerial engagement.

16. Ministers publicised our objectives widely in the run up to Perth, through speeches, online articles, meetings with civil society, and interviews with foreign media.

“Acceptance of the Eminent Persons Group recommendations will strengthen the Commonwealth’s core values and reinvigorate this unique organisation . . . We look forward to CHOGM 2011, its potential to re-launch the Commonwealth as the network for the 21st Century, and to the opportunities it will deliver for the UK.”

Lord Howell, 100 Days to CHOGM news article, 20 July 2011

CHOGM 2011, Perth, Australia

17. The Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary and Lord Howell represented the UK in Perth, attending a wide variety of CHOGM events. In addition to the official CHOGM programme, Ministers participated in the Commonwealth People’s Forum (Civil Society), Youth Forum, Business Forum, and other side events. Lord Green also attended the Business Forum and conducted a UKTI programme including meetings with business leaders from other member states.

18. The official CHOGM programme was dominated by discussions on reform of the Commonwealth—an ambition shared by the hosts Australia, who were keen that Perth should be a turning point for the organisation. The majority of the agenda for both Foreign Ministers and Heads’ meetings was therefore dedicated to the EPG report and the reform of CMAG. The Commonwealth Commissioner and Charter (an Australian priority outcome for Perth) were given particular attention.

CHOGM Outcomes:

(i) The Commonwealth Charter

19. The agreement to create a Commonwealth Charter was a major success for Perth. The Charter will set out in one place, and in a straightforward way, the core values to which Commonwealth members are committed. It will help focus the Commonwealth on the areas where it can make the most difference and reinforce the Commonwealth’s global brand.

20. The process for agreeing the Charter text is covered in further detail in “The Future of the Commonwealth” section below.

(ii) A Commonwealth Commissioner

21. Australia, recognising the significance of this recommendation to the future of the organisation, dedicated a specific slot in the Foreign Ministers’ agenda for discussion of a Commonwealth Commissioner. This proposal was, by far, the most contentious of the 106 EPG recommendations. The majority of states objected outright to the creation of such a post, expressing concerns that the role would act as a “Commonwealth policeman”, would duplicate existing human rights mechanisms (both domestic and in other international organisations, eg United Nations Human Rights Council), undermine the role of the Secretary General, and increase costs.

22. The UK supported the recommendation strongly, arguing that the post would strengthen the Commonwealth’s protection of its core values. It would assist, not duplicate, existing bodies by providing independent, expert advice to the Secretary General and CMAG. The Commissioner’s advice would act as an early warning, allowing the Commonwealth to provide timely help to member states where there were signs that violations of Commonwealth values were at risk. The post would also allow the Secretary General to make objective decisions when faced with serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values, strengthening his ability to respond effectively. Concerns around the funding of this post were also unjustified as a large proportion of the running costs would be met from efficiency savings within the Secretariat, and the majority of any additional funding would fall to the four major donors (UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand).

23. Despite lobbying efforts in the run up to Perth, the UK was in a very small minority arguing in support of the Commissioner. However, the UK’s strong support for the role played a large part in preventing outright rejection.

24. Heads agreed that the idea of a Commissioner (or similar role) should be explored in further detail. They referred the recommendation to the Secretary General and CMAG with instructions to evaluate options and report to Foreign Ministers at their September 2012 meeting in New York. We see this outcome as a major achievement for Perth. The Government will continue to work with the Secretariat and other member states to explore options and build further support for such a role.

(iii) The remaining 104 EPG recommendations

25. Following intensive discussions on the Commissioner and Charter, Heads instructed Foreign Ministers to discuss the remaining 104 EPG recommendations with a view to categorising those which could be adopted outright; those with financial implications but which could be adopted in principle; those on which member states wanted more detailed advice; and those which were inappropriate for adoption.

26. The 104 recommendations were considered in detail by Foreign Ministers and a consensus decision was reached for each. Heads approved their Foreign Ministers’ recommendations to:

adopt 42 recommendations (30 outright, 12 subject to financial considerations);

defer 43 recommendations for further deliberation by a special Task Force of Ministers; and

reject the remaining 11 EPG recommendations.

(Eight recommendations mirrored CMAG reforms already agreed and were therefore deemed redundant.)

27. The decisions can be found at The 43 recommendations deferred by Heads for further deliberation will be considered by a geographically representative Task Force of Ministers at a meeting in early June. A background paper, being prepared by the Commonwealth Secretariat, will be circulated to member states in March. The FCO will work closely with other Government departments to develop a strong negotiating position for this meeting.

(iv) CMAG Reform

28. The reform of CMAG was a significant achievement from Perth and received wide-spread support from all member states—a further demonstration of the commitment to reform which the organisation in now embracing.

29. Putting in place the practical changes to CMAG agreed in Perth will be a major focus of the newly constituted CMAG’s next meeting on 16–17 April.

30. CMAG is selected by the Secretary General to represent the diverse geographic footprint of the Commonwealth. The current composition is: Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, Maldives, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and Vanuatu.

The Future of the Commonwealth

UK view on CHOGM 2011 outcomes

31. The Government considers the outcome of CHOGM 2011 positive for both the Commonwealth and the UK. 86% of the EPG recommendations were either accepted outright or deferred for more detailed discussions. The UK strategy to negotiate for agreement of the full EPG package was instrumental in delivering this result.

32. Those recommendations most important for the long term reform of the Commonwealth were either approved or deferred for further consideration. The 11 rejected outright were of low priority for the UK. This result should be seen as a major step forward for the organisation, especially in light of widespread negative rhetoric towards many the EPG recommendations in the run-up to Perth.

33. Despite some negative reaction in the media and civil society in the immediate aftermath of CHOGM, the outcomes of Perth should be viewed positively. The Commonwealth, like any consensus based organisation, cannot be expected to reform overnight. CHOGM 2011 was a significant step in this process and the organisation now has momentum for change.

“The UK therefore came to Perth with high hopes that the Commonwealth would agree to strengthen its role as a standard bearer for human rights and democracy. And we saw some of the most significant reforms in recent Commonwealth history.”

Lord Howell speaking at the Royal Over-Seas League, 10 November 2011

34. That 43 recommendations, including the Commonwealth Commissioner, were deferred for more detailed deliberation, rather than being rejected outright, is a further indicator that the Commonwealth is now moving in the right direction. By choosing not to simply reject recommendations where a consensus could not immediately be reached, member states have demonstrated a real desire for credible reform. A process has been established to continue discussions on reform with an end date—the Foreign Ministers meeting in the United Nations General Assembly in September 2012—agreed. Reform remains at the top of the Commonwealth’s agenda.

Delivering Reform

35. The Government is committed to deliver further progress on Commonwealth reform. The FCO is focussing on three interlinking strands of work: securing adoption of as many of the remaining 43 EPG recommendations as possible; agreeing a text for the Commonwealth Charter; and encouraging support for a Commonwealth Commissioner.

36. The first six months of 2012 will be vital in maintaining the momentum established at Perth. The Commonwealth Secretariat is already working to implement the 30 EPG recommendations adopted outright; and is preparing a report on the12 recommendations with financial implications, which will be circulated to member states before the end of January. We welcome the Secretary General’s swift action in this regard.

(i) The remaining EPG recommendations

37. The next milestone will be a pan-Commonwealth meeting of senior officials in the UK on 12–13 April. This meeting will allow member states to consider the report on the 12 recommendations with financial implications, the 43 recommendations deferred for further deliberations, and the text of the Commonwealth Charter. The FCO will work closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat to support this process.

38. A geographically representative Task Force of Ministers will then meet in early June to consider the recommendations from the April senior officials meeting. We expect the Secretary General to announce the composition of the group soon. The Task Force will report their conclusions to all Foreign Ministers at their annual meeting in New York in September.

(ii) The Commonwealth Charter

39. The FCO will consult its Commonwealth partners across Government and civil society on the draft text of the Charter in the first few months of 2012. Our intention is for the UK consultation to be led by a Commonwealth civil society organisation as we believe this is the most appropriate way to help produce a Charter text for the people of the Commonwealth.

40. In addition to the full Charter text, the UK intends to propose a standalone “summary” for the Charter that would simply and clearly state the values and purpose of the Commonwealth. We consider this proposal a valuable addition to the Charter which could be reproduced as an educational hand-out or poster for schools, colleges, civil society organisations, and governments in all member states. It should be a simple and low cost resource to raise the profile of the Commonwealth domestically and internationally.

41. The outcomes of national consultations will be considered by the pan-Commonwealth meeting of senior officials on 12–13 April, and then by the Ministerial Task Force in June, before being put to all Foreign Ministers at their annual meeting in New York in September. The Charter would then be circulated to all Commonwealth Heads for adoption on a “no-objections” basis.

(iii) The Commonwealth Commissioner

42. The Secretary General and the newly constituted CMAG will discuss the EPG recommendation for a Commonwealth Commissioner at their first meeting on 16–17 April. The outcomes of their discussions will be conveyed to the September meeting of Foreign Minister in New York. Although the UK is not currently on CMAG, the Government remains fully engaged with the group in support of this process.

(iv) Reform of the Commonwealth Secretariat

43. Ensuring that the Commonwealth achieves maximum value for money, and directs its energy to activities that demonstrate a comparative advantage, remains a priority for the UK Government in 2012.

44. A section of the EPG report focussed on reforming the internal institutions and processes to ensure that the Commonwealth remained effective and fit for purpose. These included recommendations authorising the Secretary General to examine existing activities and to identify programmes to be retired where they no longer demonstrate a comparative advantage. These recommendations were among the 43 deferred for further consideration. The Government believes that such recommendations should be adopted as they would provide the Commonwealth Secretariat with the mandate to prioritise their activity.

45. We welcome recent steps made by the Secretary General—including the review of the Secretariat’s strategic work plan—to deliver organisational changes to improve efficiency and delivery, but further progress is needed.

(v) The Multilateral Aid Review

46. In 2011, the Secretary of State for International Development commissioned a Multilateral Aid Review (MAR) to assess the value for money and impact provided by multilateral agencies that receive funding from the UK. The MAR found that the Commonwealth Secretariat has not fully delivered on its potential for contributing to international development objectives, and assessed it as offering poor value for money. Ministers placed the Secretariat under “special measures” which means that its performance needs to improve urgently to address the weaknesses identified by the MAR. DFID’s future funding levels for Commonwealth Secretariat development programmes will be informed by progress made against key associated reforms. DFID is increasing its engagement with the Commonwealth Secretariat to help deliver real improvements, especially in the following areas:

Greater focus on areas of comparative advantage, especially around soft power and convening and networking. DFID expects this to include: the development and implementation of a new Strategic Plan and associated results framework that is clear and robust; better prioritisation and improved performance of Commonwealth Youth Programme interventions; evidence of innovation, drawing on new technologies, in outreach activity and networking.

Improved value for money—driving down costs and making efficiencies. DFID expects this to include: the realisation of measurable efficiencies in administration costs; improved portfolio management and cost effectiveness with Commonwealth Secretariat management challenging partners on issues of cost and value for money; and, better quality policy and cost control systems in key areas including procurement.

Strengthened management and oversights systems. DFID expects this to include: the development and mainstreaming of Results Based Management Systems and practice; improved quality of HR management and systems; and, improved quality of financial systems and financial statements.

47. DFID stands ready to help the Commonwealth Secretariat to take forward its reform programmes. This may include practical support and advice, for example on technical issues such as results based management, and political support for change.

48. As far as DFID support is concerned, Ministers agreed that funding for Commonwealth Secretariat programmes for financial years 2011-12 and 2012-13 should remain at 2010-11 levels. The level of funding for 2013-14 and 2014-15 will be dependent on progress against the reform agenda set out in the MAR. Progress will be monitored through regular reviews, including a “mini-MAR” in early 2013, which will focus on the areas identified above.

49. Assistance to the Secretariat is part of a broader package of DFID support to Commonwealth development programmes, consistent with the Government’s goal of strengthening and deepening relations with the Commonwealth. This package currently encompasses: intergovernmental cooperation through the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) and the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP); local government capacity building through the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF); civil society strengthening through the Commonwealth Foundation (CF); the promotion of open and distance learning through the Commonwealth of Learning; and providing scholarships and fellowships to academics and professionals in the Commonwealth’s developing countries through the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (CSC).

50. The share of UK bilateral aid funding that will go to Commonwealth member countries will rise over the next four years, reaching 56 % in 2013-14. This money will help improve the health, education and basic services for millions of people in some of the poorest countries in the world. 14 of the UK’s 27 countries identified as a priority for future help and investment are from the Commonwealth, with Pakistan and Bangladesh set to become the biggest recipients of British help.

(vi) CHOGM 2013

51. The UK Government looks to Sri Lanka, as incoming Chair-in-Office, to take a constructive role in progressing Commonwealth reform initiatives in 2012, setting the Commonwealth on a strong footing to tackle the pressing issues of the day when member states meet for the next CHOGM in Colombo in 2013.

52. The success of Colombo 2013 will depend on Sri Lanka upholding the Commonwealth’s values of good governance and respect for human rights. We look to Sri Lanka to demonstrate its commitment to these values, both now, and in the run up to 2013. The UK looks to Sri Lanka to fully address longstanding issues around accountability and reconciliation after the war.

The Value of the Commonwealth

53. While the Commonwealth segment of the MAR focussed on the development programmes of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the review presented an opportunity to consider the wider context and to re-examine the contribution the Commonwealth makes to development. The outcome of this part of the review served largely to reaffirm the great value that the UK Government places on the Commonwealth as an important force for positive change, particularly in its role in strengthening democracy, supporting development and in making the voice of small and vulnerable countries heard on global issues.

54. The review found that the Commonwealth’s greatest value can be achieved by using its networks and political processes for advocacy, consensus building on global issues, and in facilitating South-South and North-South cooperation. The MAR described the Commonwealth’s international network, spanning developed and developing countries, as “irreplaceable and noted its unique place in the international system as a network of networks that allows it to share experience and to influence beyond its membership.

(i) Increasing Commonwealth membership

55. One of South Sudan’s first actions on becoming the world’s newest independent state was to apply for Commonwealth membership. This is a clear indication that the Commonwealth is seen as an organisation worth belonging to. Many other countries have expressed an interest. As a values-based organisation it associates member states with democratic principles, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. It provides small states with a voice in international forums, and its networks are an ideal way of sharing expertise and experience on a wide range of issues.

56. The UK Government is open to expansion of the Commonwealth. We were pleased that leaders at CHOGM 2011 welcomed South Sudan’s application for membership. The Government considers that Commonwealth membership is a matter for the government of the state concerned, but we will support an application from any country that meets the criteria for membership.

57. The Government is also keen to re-open discussions with the Commonwealth Secretariat and member states on different categories of membership, such as observer status. There are some clear advantages for introducing observer status, including:

the benefits of a more diverse membership bringing a greater breadth of expertise to the Commonwealth;

enabling countries seeking full membership to gain experience of how the Commonwealth works;

allowing non-members to receive the benefits of engagement with Commonwealth associated organisations (eg the Commonwealth Business Council, Commonwealth Local Government Forum etc);

allowing more countries to benefit from the Commonwealth trade, civil society and other networks and to contribute to these networks;

encouraging political reform in those countries that may not meet the core values criteria; and

The Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies could benefit from increased engagement with the Commonwealth (see section below).

58. These proposals are likely to meet resistance from some member states. The Commonwealth last rejected observer status in 2007 following a two year review. However, this review considered observer status for sovereign states as well as for Overseas Territories. The UK will re-open discussions on this issue by approaching Australia as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office, and the Commonwealth Secretariat, before opening the discussion up to other member states.

Achieving UK Objectives through the Commonwealth

59. The DFID MAR recognised that multilateral organisations are an essential part of the international system for humanitarian and development aid. It also acknowledged that multilateral organisations have a global presence and the legitimacy to work even in politically sensitive contexts where national governments are not welcome. This is particularly true of the Commonwealth Secretariat which is a trusted partner and has much better access at senior levels in member states than other multilateral organisations, enabling it to play an important mediation role and to facilitate South-South networking.

60. The Commonwealth Secretariat undertakes a range of programmes which are relevant to the UK’s high level development objectives. The MAR noted, however, that whilst the Secretariat delivers across the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), its delivery role is small scale. It recognised that the Secretariat’s greatest potential lies in advocacy, influencing and building an international consensus on global issues, including MDGs, and in giving a voice to the priorities of small states in international fora. An example of this is its efforts to represent small states at the G20 development working group.

61. The Commonwealth is underpinned by a set of democratic values as defined in the Harare Declaration, which members are expected to meet. The Secretariat has a good range of mechanisms by which it upholds these values including:

election observation;

the Good Offices work of the Secretary General (including the use of envoys);


the multiple Commonwealth networks, such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Commonwealth Association of Public Administration and Management; and

technical co-operation programmes: these can be broad in scope, including for example judicial reform, public administration reform and work with civil society.

62. The MAR also recognised the potentially critical niche development role that the Secretariat plays, which is not well covered elsewhere in the international system, including support to small states on trade, debt management and maritime boundaries.

The Benefits to the UK of Commonwealth membership

(i) The promotion of “soft power” and a positive image of the UK

“The Commonwealth is the soft power network of the future. The sheer breadth and diversity that the Commonwealth typifies is extraordinary and is something to be celebrated.”

Lord Howell speaking to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, 26 July 2011

63. The huge role non-Governmental networks play in the Commonwealth was demonstrated at CHOGM 2011. The Commonwealth People’s Forum and Commonwealth Youth Forum met for three and five days respectively, illustrating the scope of civil society activity in the organisation. The Government welcomed the opportunity to engage with these networks. The Foreign Secretary delivered the keynote speech at the People’s Forum, attended a separate civil society round table and participated in a youth breakfast. Lord Howell spoke at the People’s Forum, and met delegates at the Youth Forum.

64. There are around 100 associations (70 accredited) in the Commonwealth network working directly for the interests of the organisations’ two billion plus citizens. These associations represent wide-ranging and diverse issues across all member states including, for example: land rights, culture, gender equality, health, humanitarian relief, disability, education and trade unions. This level of civil society participation is one of the network’s key strengths.

65. These organisations play a unique and vital role fostering links between Commonwealth countries and developing, embedding and protecting the Commonwealth’s core values. They help the organisation to maintain and strengthen its identity, and increase the prosperity and prospects of the Commonwealth’s member states and citizens.

66. The Government sees engagement with civil society associations as a vital strand in advancing our foreign policy, and the Commonwealth is an ideal network to achieve this. Working directly with civil society gives the UK the opportunity to extend our reach, influence our priorities at a working level, and to promote UK values on issues which may not gain traction at an intergovernmental level. The Foreign Secretary’s promotion of Lesbian and Gay rights in his speech to the People’s Forum is one such example of the value of working directly with the Commonwealth’s civil society networks.

67. The major proportion of youth in the Commonwealth—50% of its citizens are under the age of 25—presents another valuable opportunity for UK engagement. The Arab Spring showed the world the ever increasing role that youth will play in shaping global politics. The Commonwealth can enable its member states to establish strong links between young people, allowing them to learn from one another’s cultures, foster new young leaders passionate about Commonwealth values, helping to prevent future conflict. Furthermore, a large number of Commonwealth students study at UK universities and higher education facilities. This not only brings revenue to these institutions, but has reputational benefits for the UK and helps forge lasting links between Commonwealth citizens and the UK.

68. The UK will need to maintain and build on partnerships based on shared interests and values in order to deal with global issues that affect us all. A revitalised Commonwealth offers the UK a ready-made network that cuts across traditional UN and regional voting blocks, and which spans six continents and includes all of the major religions. We are already seeing a rise in the influence of a largely Commonwealth-focussed small states grouping who look to the UK and the other four Commonwealth members of the G20 to champion their causes. The voice of developing and small Commonwealth states on major global issues such as climate change and the global economy has already had a positive impact on negotiations in other international organisations. The shifting patterns of global power will mean their influence on the international stage will only increase.

(ii) The promotion of human rights

69. Commonwealth membership is based on the shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Government therefore sees the Commonwealth and its networks as a valuable partner in protecting and promoting human rights globally and in helping to deliver UK human rights policy. We work with the Commonwealth to encourage the implementation of human rights standards, and to strengthen the international response to human rights violations. The Commonwealth is a valuable forum in which the UK can raise sensitive human rights issues, and seek to increase debate on these issues within and among Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth is also a significant partner in promoting respect for democracy, and plays a key role through its election observation work.

70. Sexual orientation and gender identity remains a sensitive issue in the Commonwealth, with many countries reluctant to discuss the promotion and protection of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The Foreign Secretary called for the Commonwealth to do more to promote rights of its LGBT citizens in his speech to the Commonwealth People’s Forum. The People’s Forum and other civil society networks within the Commonwealth offer a useful means of debating such issues, which would otherwise be blocked at the intergovernmental level.

71. The Commonwealth has provided an important forum in which the UK can advocate our position against the death penalty, and to increase international debate on global abolition. The Minister of State for Justice raised the death penalty at the Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting in July 2011, and the Foreign Secretary called for the abolition of the death penalty in his speech to the Commonwealth People’s Forum. While progress and consensus on the death penalty has been as difficult to achieve in Commonwealth discussions, as in other organisations, we will continue to look for further opportunities to raise the death penalty in the future, for example working more closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat.

72. Women’s rights are a key priority in the Commonwealth. The empowerment and engagement of women is central to effective and sustainable development. The Government is working to implement its commitments on the Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action (2005–15). The Women’s Affairs Ministers meeting provides an excellent forum to bring together ministers, civil society and other key partners to discuss critical strategic issues in gender equality and women’s empowerment. The UK Government also works to ensure that progressive language is included in any Commonwealth policy development. At Perth, Australian Prime Minister Gillard hosted an “Empowering Women to Lead” event reflecting the 2011 Commonwealth Theme “Women as Agents of Change”. European Special Representative Baroness Ashton joined the panel of female leaders.

73. The UK has also benefitted from Commonwealth support for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. In 2010, we supported the work of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit in facilitating and strengthening member states’ engagement with the UPR process. We continue to support the Secretariat as they shift their focus away from helping member states to prepare for the review, to helping them implement the recommendations they receive during the review. This includes regional seminars to enable Commonwealth countries to discuss, develop and share good practices and lessons learned. This has helped us secure some changes on the ground, and enter into longer-term dialogues about human rights.

74. The Commonwealth is a significant partner in promoting respect for democracy and plays a key role through its election observation work. The Commonwealth Secretariat regularly sends election observation missions to monitor elections across the Commonwealth. These are well-regarded, and often gain access when others cannot. The Commonwealth has observed over 70 elections since 1990, and last year observer groups monitored elections in Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, Rwanda, the Solomon Islands and Tanzania. A Network of Election Management Bodies has been set up to support election processes through sharing skills and exchange of experience. The UK has worked with the Commonwealth Secretariat to ensure the network’s success. We are encouraging greater emphasis on implementation of key recommendations in member states following these missions.

75. The Government is committed to strengthening the Commonwealth as a focus for democratic values and human rights. Decisions made at Perth strengthened the Commonwealth’s capacity to promote human rights. This included agreement on CMAG reform, the Commonwealth Charter, developing proposals for a Commonwealth Commissioner, and language in the Perth Communiqué.

(iii) UK Trade with the Commonwealth

76. There is a growing economic dimension to the Commonwealth’s success. The recent shift of the global economy towards emerging markets presents a real opportunity for enhanced UK-Commonwealth trade partnerships.

77. From January to October 2011 (the latest available data) the UK total trade with the Commonwealth was £52,979 million: £29,117 million in imports and £23,863 million in exports. This compares with total trade of £44,857 million for the same period in 2010, an increase of £8,122 million or 18.11%. UK imports have grown 11.44% while exports have grown 20.08%.

78. The UK’s total trade with the Commonwealth has been on an upward trend, growing over 65% from 2001–10.

Total Trade











Absolute Total











% change on
previous year










Index (2001=100)











Source: Trademap, *BIS. £bn

(iv) Trade potential

79. The outlook for the Commonwealth is encouraging. Trade worth over $3 trillion happens every year within the Commonwealth and its combined GDP nearly doubled between 1990 and 2009. 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.

80. The Commonwealth is also home to several of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Its membership contains some of the world’s fastest growing economies including India, South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore—countries that will shape the global economy of the future and, with their rapidly expanding middle classes, offer growing consumer markets.

81. The importance of the Commonwealth’s global footprint should not be overlooked. Its membership spans regions of increasing economic importance—the majority of Indian Ocean Rim countries, for example, are Commonwealth members. The organisation therefore presents the UK with a ready-made network to access emerging power markets.

82. The Commonwealth also provides further links to other international organisations. Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia link the UK to ASEAN and make up a quarter of its entire GDP. 44 of the G77 countries are members of the Commonwealth, as are 19 of the 39 African Union countries, 12 of the Caribbean Community and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, 10 of the Pacific Island Forum, and seven of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. This equates to huge opportunities for our partnerships within the Commonwealth to help us to compete in these peripheral markets.

83. There is also evidence that with a common working language, familiar legal systems, and shared values, there is a natural advantage for UK-Commonwealth trade. Entrenched democracy and transparent government also equate to greater investment confidence, and a business environment ripe for commerce to flourish. This is often referred to as the “Commonwealth factor”, and while not a product of the contemporary organisation it plays a major part in the growth of intra-Commonwealth trade.

84. A Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) paper “Trading places: the Commonwealth effect revisited”, published 2011, provided further evidence for a “Commonwealth factor” in intra-Commonwealth trade. The research found that when both trading partners were Commonwealth members, the value of trade was likely to be a third to a half more than when one or both of the trading partners was a non-Commonwealth country. While the true value of a Commonwealth factor is difficult to quantify, the RCS’s findings are consistent with UKTI surveys that show factors such as contacts and common language/culture are key factors for deciding which markets to target. Inward investors also quote the historical, legal and linguistic affinities among their reasons for choosing the UK as a point of access to the EU.

85. The increasing importance of the Commonwealth to trade was in evidence at CHOGM 2011. The Commonwealth Business Forum, at which both Lord Howell and Lord Green spoke, was the biggest business forum in Commonwealth history, attracting 1200 delegates from across the Commonwealth and beyond. The participation of delegations from China and Korea, for example, shows recognition of the strength of trade opportunities within the Commonwealth.

(v) The Commonwealth Business Council

86. The Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) was formed in 1997 at the Edinburgh CHOGM. It works to enhance trade and investment flows between Commonwealth countries. It promotes corporate social responsibility, works to reduce the digital divide and aims to integrate developing countries into the global market. According to its own literature, the CBC “strives to provide a bridge between the private sector and governments, between emerging markets and developed markets, and between small businesses and international private sector.” In practice, the CBC is part think-tank (submitting papers to Commonwealth governments) and part events organiser (around 70 events per year). They also provide limited consultancy services to businesses. The CBC’s largest event is the Commonwealth Business Forum which precedes each CHOGM. The 2011 Forum in Perth was the largest to date.

87. Across the board, the value of the CBC’s work to the UK has been seen by some as limited, although a number of large UK firms recognise the networking opportunities the CBC can offer and are active participants in their events.

88. The UK Government is keen to explore a fuller relationship with the CBC to facilitate UK business opportunities in the Commonwealth and inward investment to the UK. We hope to use the upcoming appointment of a new CBC director general as the starting point for renewed dialogue on cooperation between the CBC and the Government, especially UKTI, both in the UK and through our High Commissions.

89. Renewed dialogue with the CBC would allow the Government to explore how UKTI teams in Commonwealth Posts can further facilitate intra-Commonwealth trade. There should be ample scope for engagement if objectives can be aligned. Using the gateway principle (the UK as the route into Europe; Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia as gateways to ASEAN markets, etc.) this should be possible.

Benefits to Commonwealth Citizens

90. Upholding the Commonwealth’s core values benefits citizens of all member states. They have access to a network of intra-Commonwealth trade and investment flows; can participate in the many professional, educational, cultural and scientific associations and bodies which enable the sharing of skills, knowledge and expertise; and their views can be represented through caucusing in other international fora.

91. Commonwealth parliamentary links, primarily through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), facilitate peer to peer contact, strengthen parliaments, and support democratic processes across the Commonwealth.

92. Through these networks, Commonwealth citizens have a say, and a role, in all Commonwealth resolutions and commitments. The Commonwealth also provides access to rich cultural and social networks, and links between member states are further strengthened by the High Commissioners in London who provide a Commonwealth representation for every member state.

(i) Scholarships

93. The UK contribution to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Programme (CSFP), administered by the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission (CSC), provides support for about 800 people per year from across the Commonwealth to pursue their academic or professional development with UK universities and other institutions. CSC scholarships cover PhD research, including the Commonwealth Cambridge Scholarship; Masters programmes; academic fellowships; split-site Scholarships for PhD students to spend up to one year in the UK; professional Fellowships for mid-career professionals in developing countries; distance Learning Scholarships for developing country students to study UK Master’s degree courses while living in their own countries; and shared scholarships.

94. A high proportion of the scholars from developing countries reside in their home countries on a long-term basis following their awards, thus retaining the socio-economic benefits resulting from tertiary education in countries where the development need is highest. Benefits include: more efficient government policies as a result of employing people in government with public policy qualifications; stronger research capacity; greater institutional strength (manifested by a more robust standard of governance); and improved public services.

95. In addition, tertiary education offers an opportunity for people to lift themselves from poverty and to enjoy better employment and career advancement opportunities. In doing so the same people are able to contribute more to their nations’ tax bases. A softer, but important, benefit also includes possible life-long associations with an overseas culture.

96. While the programme’s main purpose remains that of international development, it also brings more direct benefits to the UK. The results of recent evaluations show that Commonwealth Scholarships contribute significantly to the public diplomacy activities of FCO. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and UK universities also value the role of Commonwealth Scholarships in bringing international students of the highest quality to the UK. This strengthens academic standards and reputation, develops international networks, and promotes UK research and teaching. The Scottish Government regards the programme as an important means to promote Scottish research and education. The value these different parts of government place in the CSFP is demonstrated by the support they provide for scholars from developed Commonwealth countries, which complements the support provided by DFID for scholars and fellows from the Commonwealth’s developing countries.

(ii) Technical assistance

97. The UK, through DFID, also contributes to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC), managed by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The CFTC provides demand-led technical assistance to member states. Key areas of technical support from which member states benefit include:

economic resilience and trade related work with small island states;

supporting member governments in their negotiation of commercial investment agreements for the exploitation of mineral and petroleum resources;

debt management support for small states including through the proprietary CS-DRMS debt recording software; and

advice on the determination and agreement of international maritime boundaries.

(iii) Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust

98. The UK Government has pledged its support for the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, which was announced at CHOGM 2011. Chaired by Sir John Major, the Trust will provide a lasting legacy of the Diamond Jubilee. It will support charitable projects and organisations across the Commonwealth, and will place great emphasis on enriching the lives of individuals, by focussing on areas such as the tackling of curable diseases and the promotion of all forms of education and culture.

99. The Prime Minister announced at CHOGM that the Government would make a multi-million pound contribution to the Trust, to match funding from private donations and other sources. We have encouraged other Commonwealth Governments to support the Trust. We expect Sir John Major to announce more details of the Trust’s aims, objectives and operational plans in the near future.

(iv) Commonwealth Connects

100. At CHOGM 2011 the Commonwealth Secretariat launched a new website for co-operation and collaboration called “Commonwealth Connects”. The website is designed to support initiatives across the Commonwealth network by providing single access point to all associations that carry the Commonwealth badge. This should improve ease of access to information, promote knowledge sharing, and provide a secure online space for pan-Commonwealth collaborative working. The UK Government hopes that this initiative will help raise the profile of Commonwealth associations and enhance the impact of their work.

(v) Other Commonwealth programmes

101. Other programmes and institutions in receipt of UK Government support that provide benefits to Commonwealth citizens include:

The Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) which helps to encourage and empower young people (ages 15–29) to enhance their contribution to development. Young people benefit from CYP initiatives aimed at promoting peace, positive living and increasing opportunities for employment.

The Commonwealth of Learning which provides open and distance learning opportunities in formal education and livelihoods, benefiting teachers, farmers and other groups in Commonwealth developing countries.

The Commonwealth Local Government Forum which shares best practice between local authorities in the Commonwealth’s member states, helping to strengthen governance and improve service delivery to citizens.

British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and Self-Governing Jurisdictions

102. The only category of membership in the Commonwealth is that of a sovereign state as full member. The Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are not therefore members of the Commonwealth in their own right, although they are associated with it through their connection to the UK. There are already linkages between the Territories and Crown Dependencies and the Commonwealth. For example, they have their own branches of the CPA and the Commonwealth Games Federation, and they send teams to the Commonwealth Games. They are invited to participate in the Commonwealth Youth, Business and People’s Forums. In addition, they are invited to attend other meetings such as the Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ and Sports Ministers’ meetings, and other Ministerial meetings, as part of the UK delegation.

(i) Overseas Territories

103. In July 2011, the Prime Minister endorsed the agreement reached by the National Security Council on a new Strategy for the Overseas Territories. One of the key themes of the new strategy is to improve the quality and range of external support to the Territories.

104. It is through this strand of the strategy where we see the greatest opportunity to redefine and establish more tangible and beneficial links between the Territories and the Commonwealth. The range of issues faced by some of the Territories, such as good governance, climate change and economic diversification, are also being faced by several small Commonwealth nations whose experience could be usefully shared, for example through the Commonwealth Secretariat’s assistance to Small States. This would benefit the UK through the gradual reduction in our liability, and improved self-sufficiency for the Territories.

105. In his letter of 26 September 2010 to Richard Ottaway MP, Chair of the FAC, the Foreign Secretary said we would look again at how the Territories interests could be best represented, and said he would explore the possibility of creating observer or associate member status from which the Territories might benefit.

106. We will also improve interaction between the Overseas Territories and the Commonwealth by making greater use of existing channels such as the CPA. For example, we are currently working with the CPA to secure a higher level of participation of Overseas Territories in their March 2012 Westminster Workshop on Public Accountability. The CPA is tailoring the programme for this event to focus on the specific challenges faced by smaller communities such as the Territories.

107. Many Commonwealth countries will be represented at this event. We are also exploring with the CPA the possibility of further involving Overseas Territories in a three-year programme of workshops with smaller states to strengthen cooperation, and improve understanding among participants of the common issues they face. We are also looking to increase engagement with the Commonwealth Secretariat to identify further areas of possible cooperation and funding streams for which the Overseas Territories may be eligible.

108. The Ministry of Justice intends to invite the Territories to participate in the Commonwealth Senior Officials of Law Ministries meeting in London from 30 April to 1 May.

(ii) Crown Dependencies

109. The Crown Dependencies have made no request to join or have greater engagement with the Commonwealth. However, the UK invites representatives from the Crown Dependencies to a wide range of Commonwealth meetings and events where possible. For example, the Attorney General of Guernsey was part of the UK delegation at the Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Sydney, Australia in July 2011. Should the Crown Dependencies want to seek any changes in how they are represented at Commonwealth events, the UK would be willing to discuss this with them.

110. Other member states are more likely to support the Government’s work to increase engagement for our Territories and Dependencies with the Commonwealth through including their representatives in meetings and events, rather than through creating a new status for them within the organisation.


111. Over the last two years, the Government has made significant progress in reinvigorating its relationship with the Commonwealth, and has supported reform of the organisation itself, which will ultimately benefit all its members. But the latter objective cannot be achieved by the UK Government alone; it requires the political will of all member states, strong leadership by the Commonwealth Secretariat, and it rests on its capacity to fulfil the real and growing needs of its members on the international stage. Collectively, we made good progress in Perth, but it is crucial that momentum is maintained throughout 2012. The Government remains committed to taking this forward by: raising the profile of the Commonwealth; supporting the streamlining of its institutions; and engaging more with Commonwealth civil society organisations. In this Diamond Jubilee year—when we celebrate HM The Queen’s 60 years as Head of the Commonwealth—it is fitting that the Government continues to work to ensure that this unique organisation has a clear and coherent role, and can fully realise the value it can bring to all its citizens in the future.

23 January 2012

Prepared 14th November 2012