House of Lords debate the Commonwealth [photo: Parliament TV]

This month, the House of Lords debated the role of the Commonwealth. The debate, called the UK–Commonwealth Trading Relationship, took place on 9 July.

In introducing the bill, the former Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and President of the Royal Commonwealth Society Lord Howell of Guildford criticised those who described the Commonwealth as an anachronism. He spoke of informal, sports and cultural links as well as the work of organisations including the Commonwealth of Learning and the Association of Commonwealth Universities in addition to more formal free trade and preference agreements.

He said that the Commonwealth served as a model for international co-operation in a post-pandemic world.

Lord Howell told the House of Lords: “The Zoom experience, which has mushroomed in the past year of the pandemic tragedy, has greatly increased the value of these key characteristics of the Commonwealth system and opened doors to multiple new initiatives.”

“An effective and common front in containing China in Asia is going to depend on Commonwealth-dominated organisations such as Five Eyes, which need to be kept in tip-top condition, and on close defence co-operation at all levels with Commonwealth members,” Lord Howell said, calling for a new mandate for trade and investment.

Labour’s Baroness Chapman told the debate that the United Kingdom must start with an agreement on the sharing of vaccine patents.

“We need a global plan to build, equip and supply production facilities in key locations all over the world, and a bespoke international trade treaty to manage the supply of raw materials and medical equipment to ensure the safe, efficient and equitable distribution of vaccine and to prevent the practice of hoarding and vaccine nationalism,” she told the House of Lords.

Lord Triesman added his voice on the call for vaccine distribution. He told the House of Lords: “Vaccines so far have got to about 1% of the population of Africa, and that really does mean that the people are suffering in all the ways we know about medically but also in their ability to construct and reconstruct and build their economies. If we have a serious approach to this, we will deal with it.”

Those joining the debate discussed issues including human rights, climate change and the environment, the digital divide, post-Brexit intra-Commonwealth trade, Kashmir, Cameroon, the Caribbean and the role of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Follow the Hansard report on the debate.

The debate is available from Parliament TV.