Parliamentary Committees and Public Enquiries
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Foreign Affairs Committee publishes report on the role and future of the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is working for the UK and could have a bright future ahead of it, says a Foreign Affairs Committee report published yesterday.

However the report, which is the product of a wide-ranging inquiry, suggests that, if the organisation is to reach its potential and influence events, the Commonwealth Secretariat needs to "sharpen, strengthen and promote its diplomatic performance". The Committee notes that recently the Commonwealth has appeared less active and less publicly visible.

The Committee commends the UK’s commitment to making the Commonwealth a “cornerstone of our foreign policy”, but says that the Government does not appear to have a clear and co-ordinated strategy for its relations with the Commonwealth. It urges the Government to develop a strategy for engagement with the Commonwealth, aimed at ensuring that the UK makes the most of the opportunities it presents.

The moral authority of the Commonwealth has, according to the report, “too often been undermined by the repressive actions of member governments”. The Committee is “disturbed to note the ineffectiveness of the mechanisms for upholding the Commonwealth’s values”, and expresses support for the Eminent Persons Group’s proposal for a Commonwealth Charter.

The Committee also says that it is not convinced that member states are making the most of the economic and trading opportunities offered by the Commonwealth. The report welcomes the fact that the Commonwealth continues to attract interest from potential new members, and the report says that there are advantages in greater diversity and an extended global reach for the Commonwealth. However it also insists that the application process should be rigorous and that any new members should be appropriate additions to the Commonwealth “family”, closely adhering at all times to its principles and values.

The report concludes that continuing evidence of serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka shows that the Commonwealth’s decision to hold the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo was “wrong”. The Committee urges the Prime Minister to state publicly his unwillingness to attend the Colombo meeting unless he receives “convincing and independently-verified evidence of substantial and sustainable improvements in human and political rights in Sri Lanka.”

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