Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Thursday, 8 September 2011 16:38 UK

Role of the Commonwealth debate

Conservative peer Baroness Hooper paid tribute to the role of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in strengthening Britain's international links in a debate on 8 September 2011.

Baroness Hooper laid particular emphasis on the importance of the CPA in fostering trade ties between the UK and developing countries with rapidly expanding economies.

Labour's Lord Anderson, vice-chairman of the CPA, said he believed the UK's Parliament had become more "parochial" in recent years. He lauded the CPA as an organisation that helps Parliament strive to be more international in its outlook.

Crossbencher Baroness Flather, who grew up in India and was the first Asian woman to be raised to the peerage, stressed that peers should not be uncritical of the CPA.

She argued the CPA had a tendency to focus on parliamentary democracy above all else, whereas it should try harder to promote the basic rule of law in countries where civil discord persists.

In his closing speech, Foreign Office minister Lord Howell of Guildford described the Commonwealth as playing "a key role in our thinking" at a time when nations such as India and China gain economic ascendancy.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), which aims to advance parliamentary democracy and promote the study of and respect for good parliamentary practice.

The CPA pursues its objective through inter-parliamentary visits, seminars and workshops.

The Commonwealth is made up of 54 nations of former British colonies, dependencies and other territories - and Mozambique, which has no historical ties to Britain.

Queen Elizabeth II is the head of the Commonwealth, recognised by its members as the "symbol of their free association".

The Commonwealth has no constitution or charter, but the heads of government of its member states hold biannual meetings to discuss issues of common interest. It aims to promote democracy, human rights, the rule of law and social development.

The UK government wants to strengthen the Commonwealth "as a focus for promoting democratic values and development".

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