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We must change the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s charity status to avoid UK exit

3 min read

Everyone in Westminster knows of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).

But few know it was set up over 100 years ago, with CPA International bringing together thousands of parliamentarians every year, from countries across the Commonwealth, to discuss how we can make democracy better. A good thing at a time when democracy around the world has never been under more threat.  

For the last 30 years CPA International, which brings together over 180 legislatures in 53 Commonwealth counties with an estimated 17,000 parliamentarians and parliamentary staff, has sought to become an international inter-parliamentary organisation akin to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). At present, CPA International is a UK charity, causing deep concerns particularly amongst a number of African Commonwealth nations. Parliament needs to legislate a change in status for the CPA or risk it departing from our shores for the first time in its history. 

This change of status to an international inter-parliamentary organisation is a serious undertaking and requires primary legislation, which I am bringing before the House of Commons as a Private Members’ Bill in January. The bill already has cross-party support in both Houses and now needs to pass to ensure this organisation, dedicated to strengthening democracy, can continue its work uninterrupted.  

Fellow Commonwealth parliamentarians are looking to the UK Parliament and government to sort out this problem. Many tell us that they would like the CPA secretariat to remain in London, which works well as a location for the secretariat, here on the parliamentary estate. 

My bill seeks to put the organisation on the correct footing for the future so it can continue to do its work with the full support of every member. 

This bill will also change the status for another international organisation, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The ICRC is a neutral, independent, and impartial humanitarian organisation helping victims of armed conflicts and other situations of violence. Privileges and immunities are indispensable tools for the ICRC to carry out its work. The ICRC has already been granted privileges and immunities by 109 states but not the UK, creating worrying operational challenges. Properly recognised privileges and immunities in UK law would help ensure that the ICRC can carry out its humanitarian mandate and protect the confidentiality of its work.

Cross-party members of the CPA UK executive in both Houses of Parliament unanimously support the bill I have tabled. I hope all parliamentarians will support the bill and respect the deadline from CPA members across the globe who want to see the bill making progress before the Easter recess. 

The problem of CPA status has been known for 40 years. Now we have the opportunity to resolve that problem once and for all. The challenges so many democracies face make this measure more important than ever. Changing the CPA’s status is a simple legislative change that would mean a great deal to thousands of our fellow parliamentarians across the globe and be a mark of respect for the Commonwealth family of nations.  

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