In a keynote address to the 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mr Hague said the UK is poised to take strategic steps to embed the 54-nation organisation in the UK’s thinking on foreign policy.
He told the 600 delegates that for too many years, the Commonwealth has not received the attention it deserved from ministers in UK Governments.
“This was typified for me when I was in opposition by the occasion when the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had produced an entire report on the work of the Department in which the only reference to the Commonwealth was in the title,” he said.
“From our very first day in office I pledged to put the ‘C’ back into the FCO. I never forget for a single day that I am not Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, but Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that this Government has rediscovered the Commonwealth and placed it once more back at the heart of how Britain views the world. ”
Mr Hague said that while the Commonwealth has its historical roots in the 19th Century, and is 62 years old this year, it is also one of the few organisations that is most suited to the world of the 21st century.
He said that in a world dominated by networks – rather than the power blocs of old – the Commonwealth is the ultimate network.
“It has extraordinary reach – across 54 countries, six continents and oceans and two billion citizens.
It is united by the same principles of liberty, democracy and human rights, but at the same time it is extraordinarily diverse: demonstrating that democracy allows countries to develop in their own way, and that it provides the essential foundations for sound economic development,” he said.
“The Commonwealth is a powerful global brand that many millions of people around the world are proud to be associated with, as our Government and our Parliament certainly are.
It is a fantastic web and latticework of civil society, including over 100 professional, educational and scientific associations and bodies which enable the sharing of skills and expertise. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which does so much to strengthen parliaments and democratic processes across the Commonwealth, is a leading example of this.”
Mr Hague acknowledged recent research that revealed that many young people have no idea what the Commonwealth does and the increasingly urgent need for the organization to re-connect with newer members and re-define its role in a modern, globalised world.
But he also urged members to take on a more powerful voice in the battle to safeguard human rights and democracy worldwide - as well as working to become a leading player in the global economy.
“We see an even greater role for the organization to speak out against political oppression, religious intolerance and racism, with all the authority its broad membership affords, and building on its proud track record from South Africa to Sierra Leone. At a time when people in the Middle East and North Africa are seeking in their thousands the same rights we enjoy in our countries, the Commonwealth should not shy away from a larger role in promoting human rights and democracy,” he said.
The Commonwealth, Mr Hague stressed, “could and should” become one of the leading voices in the global economy, working to liberalise trade and break down barriers for international business.
“We ought also unashamedly to make the most of the opportunities for trade between members of the Commonwealth. Over the last two decades the importance of Commonwealth members to each other as sources of imports has grown by a quarter and by a third as destinations for exports” he said.
At present, more than half of Commonwealth countries export over a quarter of their total exports to other Commonwealth members.
Mr Hague added that this should represent good news for all member states saying “trade is the only way to bridge differences between poor and rich countries and to secure our prosperity into the future.”
“Our Government’s vision is of a Commonwealth that plays an even greater role on the world stage; that helps to find solutions to the pressing global challenges of our times; that harnesses its increasing economic clout for the prosperity of all its members, large and small; and that is an inspirational and effective advocate of democracy and human rights,” he said.
“In this period of transition in world affairs, greater cooperation among member states and more effective action to promote the values that bind us and that ultimately make us secure, are prizes worth striving for.”