Birmingham, Lord Taylor, CHOGM, Christian, churches, Commonwealth, Commonwealth Games, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, CPA UK, diaspora engagement, England, Equality, faith, gender, Henry Ford, Human Rights, leadership, migration, poverty, Second World War, terrorism,

The Commonwealth Summit in London 2018

It was Henry Ford who said:

“Don’t just find fault, find a remedy”.

We have all attended conferences and summits which have been ‘more talk than walk and more activity than action’. That is why it is vital that there be real outcomes from the next Commonwealth summit, encompassing the findings of the people’s forum and the parliamentary forum. It is essential because there are compelling facts about the Commonwealth, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us. It makes up nearly one-third of the world’s population, and trade within the Commonwealth is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2020. It has a shared history, yet is so diverse. Every four years, the Commonwealth Games present an attractive window through which that good news is viewed. Furthermore, the summit itself is an important marker of the issues and future direction of the nations that the Commonwealth oversees.

But more than the facts, the Commonwealth is a family. My father came to Britain in the late 1940s after serving as a sergeant in the British Eighth Army in the Second World War. As a Jamaican, he was a member of the Commonwealth and, in coming to England, he did not see himself as travelling to foreign parts. He was coming home—to the motherland.

Sadly, although he was a qualified accountant, the only job he could get was as a toilet cleaner at a factory in Birmingham. However, his fortunes changed when Warwickshire County Cricket Club discovered that he could play cricket. The headline in the local Sports Argus was, “Warwickshire sign Jamaican immigrant”, but the following year, in 1949, when he scored 121 not out against Leicestershire, the headline read, “Warwickshire saved by local Brummie Taylor”.

His story and that of many immigrants to Britain from the rest of the Commonwealth builds upon that concept of family and belonging, so it was a personal joy and honour for me, 54 years after my father had left Jamaica to live in England, to visit Jamaica myself to open a new orthopaedic hospital in Kingston. The hospital staff were rather surprised when I mentioned that I lived near Kingston, so I had to clarify that I meant Kingston upon Thames.

Although the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is essentially a political and diplomatic event, it should recognise that the various faith groups in the Commonwealth have a role to play in its future. In Britain, as in other Commonwealth countries, there are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and other faith communities that are networks of leadership and expertise. There needs to be more of a partnership between government and such groups in tackling issues such as terrorism, migration, human rights, poverty, and equality.

In Britain alone, there are about 5,000 black-majority churches. Black churches attract thousands of people to each service. The congregations are mainly from Africa and the Caribbean. I have had the honour of being a keynote speaker at many of these churches, including at a major church congress in Lagos, Nigeria. Many of these faith groups are made up of professional people. They are part of the wider Commonwealth diaspora who live and work in Britain and are waiting in the wings to help with the ongoing problems articulated in this debate. Will the Minister indicate whether the Government have a strategy to embrace the potential contribution of these faith groups?

As we know, the the CPA UK will be hosting the first ever Commonwealth parliamentary forum next year. The people’s forum will be CHOGM’s platform for civil society groups across the Commonwealth to engage with leaders and influence society. The parliamentary forum’s main themes are very much about the future, as we have heard. They will encompass gender, youth and diaspora engagement. I understand that the CPA UK will soon be meeting with the head of programmes of the people’s forum to discuss their respective agendas.

There will also be a parallel Commonwealth business forum and youth forum at the time of CHOGM. I know the CPA is keen that the parliamentary forum effectively influence discussions at CHOGM, but more importantly that it has a long-term impact beyond it in holding member states to account on their objectives. I, along with the CPA UK, am keen to hear the Minister’s views on how this can be done effectively.

By listening to the voices of the people as well as the parliamentarians, we can ensure that the summit will be about ‘value and not just volume’.