Page last updated at 20:49 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Expand Commonwealth, says Hague

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague
Mr Hague is promising an energetic attitude to the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth should take on more members to increase its influence, shadow foreign secretary William Hague has said in a speech in London.

The organisation can act as a "bridge across divides of religion, ethnicity, culture and wealth, to the benefit of common humanity", he added.

Mr Hague also accused Labour of neglecting the Commonwealth.

A Conservative government would give it "unwavering support" as a foreign policy tool, he promised.

'Ideal conduit'

The Commonwealth has 53 member states.

Mr Hague, addressing the Royal Commonwealth Society in London, said it contains approximately 800 million Hindus, 500 million Muslims and 400 million Christians.

There are huge economic benefits to be gained and Britain must capitalise on these
William Hague

Its make-up could mean it becomes an "ideal conduit" for reform in the Arab world, while it should take a greater role in "addressing state failure", he added.

Mr Hague accused Labour of a "complete failure" on its promise to back the Commonwealth, by closing embassies and high commissions in seven member states since 2003.

He said: "Relinquishing our Commonwealth commitments is incredibly short-sighted and ultimately detrimental to the prosperity and sphere of influence of our country."

'Capitalise'

The shadow foreign secretary added: "Commonwealth trade and investment now accounts for over 20% of the world total and there is the potential to increase this share further.

"There are huge economic benefits to be gained and Britain must capitalise on these opportunities.

"The advantages of commonalities in language, education, professional training and legal and financial institutions still often remain and it has been estimated that these create a 15% cost advantage over business with countries outside the Commonwealth."

He says the Conservatives would "adopt a more assertive, energetic and enthusiastic attitude towards the Commonwealth" to unlock its "vast potential".



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