What is the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary organisation of 54 countries that share the common values of democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and equal opportunity for all.
It is not a political union, but an organisation of equal partnerships between governments, business and civil society.
Though historically rooted in the 1870s, the Commonwealth it is a constantly changing, modern organisation. Its most recent member, Rwanda was admitted in 2009 and is one of three countries to have no historical or administrative ties to the Commonwealth.
Today, the Commonwealth comprises of the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries in six continents and is home to two billion citizens—over half of whom are under 25.
For more information please visit the Commonwealth Secretariat.
What is the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA)?
How is it different from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK Branch (CPA UK)?
The CPA is the parliamentary arm of the Commonwealth, and the professional association of parliamentarians in Commonwealth legislatures. Its mission is based on Commonwealth values, and aims to advance parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance. It seeks to build an informed parliamentary community that is able to deepen the Commonwealth's democratic commitment and furthers co-operation among parliaments and legislatures.
Each national and state/provincial legislature in the Commonwealth is invited to form an autonomous branch of the CPA. Thus, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK Branch (CPA UK) is the association of UK parliamentarians at Westminster. However, each of the devolved assemblies in the UK also has a CPA Branch that is comprised of their respective Members.
The Presiding Officers of legislative chambers are normally the Branch Presidents, while the leaders of the parliamentary parties are Vice-Presidents. The Clerk or Secretary-General of the legislature acts as the Secretary of the Branch. CPA UK has an externally appointed Branch Secretary due to its high number of annual activities.
As every Branch is autonomous, its activities are managed by an Executive Committee of parliamentarians elected annually by their colleagues, and are representative of all main parties. Many branches require their Members to pay an annual subscription and many permit Members to apply for associate status on ceasing to belong to the legislature.
In 2010 CPA UK ceased to charge its members an annual subscription. To become a member of CPA UK one is only required to fill out a membership form.
What does CPA UK do?
The CPA UK undertakes international relations work on behalf of the wider CPA and the Houses of Parliament. Its mission is to promote the advancement of parliamentary democracy by enhancing knowledge and understanding of democratic governance.
This is done through an annual programme of activities which includes: conferences and seminars in Westminster for Commonwealth parliamentarians, lectures and events for those interested in issues affecting Commonwealth countries and inward and outward delegations and short programmes for parliamentarians and parliamentary officials.
All activites promote a better understanding of partner parliaments and the Commonwealth while building the capacity of those who participate.
CPA UK talks a lot about parliamentary strengthening and parliamentary diplomacy. What does that actually mean?
CPA UK aims to encourage parliamentary democracy and good governance across the Commonwealth, and it believes that it can pursue this aim most effectively through parliamentary diplomacy and parliamentary strengthening activities.
Parliamentary diplomacy refers to diplomatic activities that are carried out by parliamentarians as opposed to traditional diplomats. This is different from state diplomats, because parliamentarians are elected to represent their constituents so they may not necessarily carry the same views as government officials.
Rather, one of parliamentarians' main roles is to scrutinise the government. Thus, parliamentary diplomacy aims to give parliamentarians from different countries the opportunity to exchange knowledge, share ideas, increase mutual understanding and learn from each other. Often, this leads directly to parliamentary strengthening.
Parliamentary strengthening in its simplest sense refers to strengthening the institution of Parliament. However, what this means is less obvious because there are a number of ways that the parliaments can be improved.
Whether it is helping a committee to be more robust in gathering evidence, or to give a parliamentarian the tools to engage in a topic that they previously did not know much about, CPA UK works with developed and developing parliaments to address the challenges they face.
CPA UK recognises that no single parliament or country can claim a monopoly on effective policy decisions or best parliamentary practice. This is why CPA UK places a strong emphasis on the fluid exchange of ideas and experiences and respects all voices equally.