New inquiry into 'The role and future of the Commonwealth'

05 December 2011

The Foreign Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into 'The role and future of the Commonwealth'

The Commonwealth is a grouping of 54 countries, most, but not all, of which are former colonies of the UK and hold the Crown as their symbol of free association. Across the world 2 billion people are citizens of a Commonwealth country and it is estimated that half of these citizens are under the age of 25. The combined GDP of the Commonwealth has doubled over the last twenty years and economic interdependence between Commonwealth members is increasing rapidly; trade worth $3 trillion takes place annually within the Commonwealth.

The Foreign Office views the Commonwealth as “a global advocate for prosperity and democratic values”. Lord Howell, the Minister for the Commonwealth has been even more effusive and deemed the Commonwealth, “the soft power network of the future” and has stated that, “for the UK, the Commonwealth furthers our foreign policy priorities and promotes our trade objectives.”

Following these comments, and the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth, the Foreign Affairs Committee will conduct an inquiry into “The role and future of the Commonwealth”. It invites written submissions which address the following terms of reference:

  • What is the future of the Commonwealth and what reforms are needed if the Commonwealth is to be successful?
    - Does the Commonwealth retain a purpose and value? How has the Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting impacted upon this purpose and value? 
  • How does membership of the Commonwealth help the UK achieve its diplomatic objectives?
  • What benefits does the UK’s membership of the Commonwealth bring in terms of: 
    • Trade
    • The promotion of human rights
    • The promotion of “soft power” and a positive image of the UK?
  • What direct benefits does the Commonwealth bring to citizens of the UK and of Commonwealth countries?
  • What role and status should the British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and self-governing jurisdictions have in relation to the Commonwealth?

Launching this inquiry, Chair of the Committee Richard Ottaway MP said:

"The disappointing outcome to the recent Perth CHOGM has led to new questions being asked of the role and purpose of the Commonwealth. This inquiry, timed to coincide with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and her 60th year as Head of the Commonwealth, will allow a close examination of the role of the Commonwealth, the benefits it brings and any changes that may be if the Commonwealth is to retain its purpose and value as a global body."

The Committee is expected to hold its first oral evidence session for its inquiry into “The role and future of the Commonwealth” in February 2012. Further sessions will be announced.

Call for evidence:

Interested groups or individuals are encouraged to submit written evidence to the inquiry. Written evidence should be received by the Committee no later than Friday 20 January.

View guidance on submitting written evidence.

Form of written evidence:

Each submission should contain the following information:

  • a short summary in bullet point form;
  • a brief introduction about the person submitting evidence, perhaps explaining their area of expertise;
  • any factual information from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other witnesses; and
  • any recommendations for action by the Government or others which the submitter would like the Committee to consider for inclusion in its report to the House.

How to format submissions:

Each submission should use:

  • numbered paragraphs, and
  • MS Word format with as little use of colour/ logos as possible.

Submitting evidence:

Submissions should be sent as an e-mail attachment to and titled ‘The role and future of the Commonwealth’. Paper copies may be sent to Foreign Affairs Committee, Committee Office, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Inquiry-related questions:

Please contact Eliot Barrass, Second Clerk on 020 7219 3309 or

Media enquiries:

Members of the press with enquiries should contact Alex Paterson, Select Committee Media Officer, on 020 7219 1589, or 07917 488488, or by email to

Image: iStockphoto

Share this page