Foreign Affairs - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 5:32 pm ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Young of Old Windsor Lord Young of Old Windsor Non-affiliated 5:32, 5 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, next Monday, we mark Commonwealth Day, and we look ahead to the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa this October.

It is no secret that the Commonwealth is an organisation that was close to the heart of Her late Majesty the Queen, as indeed it is to her son, now our King, both of whom I was privileged to accompany to many Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings over the years in my role as private secretary. The late Queen put it in a typically enigmatic way when she said:

“It is easy enough to define what the Commonwealth is not. Indeed this is quite a popular pastime”.

None the less, I will make two brief comments about the UK’s present relationship with the Commonwealth.

First, I believe Samoa represents a great opportunity for the Commonwealth to rekindle its sense of purpose, and the UK can play an important role in assisting with that. The fact that world leaders will gather in October in this Polynesian island country is a fitting illustration of the geopolitical importance of the Commonwealth, not least as we contemplate a growing Indo-Pacific focus. One country that has certainly got this message is China. Beijing has reportedly invested more than £685 billion across 42 Commonwealth member states since 2005, and many of your Lordships will have seen first-hand evidence of major Chinese infrastructure projects when visiting Commonwealth countries.

There is much that the UK can do in the run-up to Samoa to influence the Commonwealth’s future trajectory, including in the areas of intra-Commonwealth trade and investment; tackling climate change and biodiversity; youth opportunity and education; and promoting our shared democratic values.

There is a huge inherent opportunity in an organisation which can tap into the ingenuity and imagination of a third of the world’s population, including 1.5 billion people under 30. It is the global strategic equivalent of sending a space probe to Pluto powered just by two Duracell batteries, using the gravitational force of the planets to slingshot us on our way. I detect an increasing appetite within Commonwealth countries for fresh and equitable relationships, which in the long run improve us all. It is an opportunity too good to ignore.

Secondly, I know I am not alone in my concern about the current status of the Commonwealth Games. We all know that these “friendly games” have the benefit of being less commercial than other international contests, give non-Olympic sports such as netball a place on the world stage, and allow smaller countries, including the UK’s home nations, a chance to get their athletes on the scene. In the immediate term, I hope the United Kingdom is doing all it can to encourage the Commonwealth Games Federation to work out a viable resolution for 2026 and 2030. For the longer term, perhaps now is the time to start exploring fresh ideas for the staging of the Games, perhaps—as has happened recently with other contests—different countries, cities or states holding different sporting events during a given year.

We often say of institutions in this country: “If it didn’t exist, we wouldn’t invent it”. With the Commonwealth, it is the other way round. It is an institution you would love to have if it did not exist, but I fear we are somehow in danger of taking it for granted.

I have first-hand personal experience of the Foreign Secretary’s long-standing commitment to and interest in matters relating to the Commonwealth, which are shared by the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad. But I hope we can receive some reassurance today that they will ensure that the “C” in FCDO continues to carry as much weight as the “F” and the “D”.