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UK government backs Commonwealth and Secretary-General

18 March 2017

The UK government expressed its full support for Secretary-General Patricia Scotland’s reform of the Commonwealth Secretariat as the intergovernmental organisation took centre stage in a parliamentary debate.

More than 30 members of the UK House of Lords participated in an almost five-hour discussion on Strengthening the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth, ahead of the UK hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2018.

Describing the Commonwealth as a “21st century ahead of the curve multilateral”, members from the government and other political parties expressed their recognition of the intergovernmental organisation’s relevance, value and its powerful potential to have global impact on trade, human rights, LGBTIQ rights, education, governance and peace building.

Baroness Anelay, Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, kicked off the debate, hailing the Commonwealth as “a truly extraordinary organisation” that can play a greater role on the world stage.

She stressed that, ahead of CHOGM, “reform is a top priority,” adding that an effective Secretariat is vital for the Commonwealth to achieve its full potential.

“That is why,” she said “we fully support the Secretary-General’s reforms and the work she has undertaken. A reformed, leaner and more efficient Commonwealth Secretariat could do even more to meet the aspirations of its people.”

The Baroness went on to say, “I pay tribute to the Secretary-General for her drive and initiative and very much look forward to continuing to work with her.”

The minister also announced that she was working with the Secretariat and other member countries to shape the agenda for the Commonwealth summit in London and Windsor in April 2018. She pledged an agenda that would reflect the perspectives and interests of small states and said that young people would play an integral role.

Quoting the Commonwealth charter, the House of Lords called on the organisation to use its convening power, influence and resources to change the paradigm on economic empowerment, gender equality, corruption, conflict resolution and rights for all citizens.

Lord Howell, a Conservative peer and President of the Royal Commonwealth Society, highlighted the importance of ensuring the Commonwealth plays a central role in global peace and security. He was also among Lords who addressed the recent media reports against the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

“There is absolutely no doubt that there has been a campaign of vilification, largely unfair, against the Secretary-General, when she has been trying to do her utmost to reform and streamline the Commonwealth Secretariat organisation. Those who have indulged in this or gone along with it should examine their motives. We want a free press to print facts and opinions, not vicious and distorted rumours and abuse,” he said.

Conservative peer, Baroness Mobarik added, “We want to see the organisation delivering effectively for its members as well as demonstrating its value and relevance on the world stage. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, was mandated by Heads of Government to reform the Commonwealth Secretariat. We support her plans to modernise and revitalise the Secretariat and to focus the Commonwealth on where it adds distinctive value.”