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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Meeting of the Parliament 15 March 2017

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, European Union Referendum (Reports on Implications for Scotland), Business Motions, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time, Commonwealth Day 2017


Contents


Commonwealth Day 2017

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-04048, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on Commonwealth day 2017. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates the importance of Commonwealth Day 2017; acknowledges that Commonwealth Day is an opportunity for the Parliament to focus beyond Scotland’s borders and draw attention to the connections it has made across the globe; notes that Commonwealth Day is held on the second Monday in March each year and is an opportunity for individuals, communities and organisations to promote the Commonwealth’s shared values of peace, democracy and equality, and to celebrate the association’s rich diversity; acknowledges that, at a time of increasing instability and uncertainty in the world, the Commonwealth family of nations in its rich diversity becomes an ever more needed source of strength and hope for all its members; understands that the theme of an Inclusive Commonwealth highlights the values of tolerance, respect and understanding, as well as equity and fairness, set out in the Commonwealth Charter; further notes that the theme informs events organised by governments, schools, community groups and individuals to celebrate Commonwealth Day, and helps to guide activities by Commonwealth organisations throughout the year, and further recognises that, in celebrating Commonwealth Day, the Parliament also celebrates the role of democracy in the positive relationships forged within the Commonwealth.

17:03  

Stuart McMillan (Greenock and Inverclyde) (SNP)

Last week, we had international women’s day; this Friday, we have St Patrick’s day; and, on Monday of this week, we had Commonwealth day.

Like the celebrations of the global achievements of women and the usually more exuberant affirmations of Irish identity, Commonwealth day is marked across the globe; it is not marked only in the 53 member countries of the modern Commonwealth. Commonwealth Day is an opportunity for individuals, communities and organisations to promote the Commonwealth’s shared values of peace, democracy and equality, and to celebrate the association’s rich diversity.

Having emerged from a group of countries that shared a connection with Britain, the modern Commonwealth has been based, from the beginning in 1949, on the maintenance of fundamental values and principles. Since the 1949 declaration, the Commonwealth has regularly restated and refreshed those principles and values.

The Commonwealth comprises people from all the world’s continents and, despite the incredible diversity of its members, we are intrinsically linked through our common history. At a time of increasing instability and uncertainty in the world—today marks the sixth anniversary of the start of the conflict in Syria, for example—the Commonwealth family of nations in its rich diversity becomes an ever more needed source of strength and hope for all its members.

The theme of this year’s Commonwealth day is peace building. A peace-building Commonwealth is a natural follow on from 2016’s theme of an inclusive Commonwealth, and it reaffirms the Commonwealth charter principle that

“international peace and security, sustainable economic growth and development and the rule of law are essential to the progress and prosperity of all.”

The strength of the Commonwealth’s commitment to its principles and values, including the promotion of human and political rights, has helped to give it a substantial and distinctive role in the international community. The Commonwealth theme for 2016 celebrated the diversity of the Commonwealth, which is made up of more than 2 billion people. Every person is different and has something unique to offer, and the Commonwealth charter asserts that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated fairly, whether they are rich or poor, and without regard to their race, age, gender, belief or other identity. The Commonwealth builds a better world by including and respecting everybody and the richness of their personalities.

This year’s theme informs events to celebrate Commonwealth day that are organised by Governments, schools, community groups and individuals, and it helps to guide activities that are organised by Commonwealth organisations throughout the year.

Membership of the Commonwealth is widely seen as implying a guarantee that a country upholds high standards in democracy and human rights. Scotland remains a progressive, open, outward-looking and inclusive nation, and an internationalist country. As a nation, we value our links with our Commonwealth cousins and, through the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, this Parliament plays its part in that.

In my constituency, Greenock and Inverclyde, the Inverclyde Malawi schools partnership has been running since 2007. It links local schools with schools in the Chiradzulu district in Malawi. In the previous parliamentary session, the Inverclyde partner schools supported a wide range of projects, including ones that installed solar and mains electricity, provided clean water, supported feeding programmes, built classrooms and teachers’ houses, and—I particularly like this one—formed the Malawi branch of the Greenock Morton supporters club. I do not know how people say, “‘Mon the ton!” in the various Malawian languages, but I am looking forward to learning at some point.

Fourteen schools have already built strong partnerships with young people in Malawi, which not only helps people in Malawi during difficult times but encourages our young people to see themselves as global citizens. Of the 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth, 60 per cent are young people, which shows the importance of such partnerships in the future.

The spirit of friendship that brings the nations and territories of the Commonwealth together is evidenced by Scotland’s connection with the late Nelson Mandela. The lessons of his life, his magnanimity and his power of forgiveness will shine as beacons for decades and centuries to come.

The story of Nelson Mandela’s special relationship with Scotland is also a tribute to the role that this nation’s anti-apartheid campaigners played in contributing to the demise of the apartheid regime. Mandela was regarded as a terrorist by many and he was an uncomfortable subject for the majority who sat on the fence on the issue of apartheid. However, in Glasgow, a small group of activists was active from the 1960s onwards in trying to assist the African National Congress and, as Mandela was increasingly singled out as a symbol of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the campaign began to gain traction. Mandela was granted the freedom of Glasgow in 1981 and many cities followed that example. A declaration was launched the following year—signed by 2,500 city mayors—that called for Mandela’s release from prison and, for that reason, the story is one that Scotland can be justly proud of.

The Mandela connection reaffirmed Scotland’s great tradition of political internationalism. Perhaps Scotland’s greatest reward for allying itself with Mandela’s battle against apartheid is the collective sense of national decency that such a positive role engendered. That is an important point to remember and it has great relevance for today and for this year’s theme for Commonwealth day.

Support for far-right politicians is increasing worldwide. That should be of huge concern to those of us who value peace and prosperity for everyone, wherever we live. As Europe grapples with the defining issues of our age—the largest refugee crisis since the end of the second world war, the growth in inequality and the impact of climate change—now, more than ever, nations across the world must work together.

In opposing apartheid, Scotland revealed itself as a nation that is capable of displaying the qualities that are needed if we are to lay claim to being a tolerant, caring, peace-building and multicultural society. As well as upholding its values in its own member states, the Commonwealth has the potential to be a hugely influential voice in the wider international community. The diversity of the Commonwealth, whose membership includes some of the smallest states in the world and some of the largest, with very poor countries and some of the richest, must be seen as a particular strength.

It is important that we continue to affirm our commitment to work together as a diverse community of nations, individually and collectively.

17:10  

Margaret Mitchell (Central Scotland) (Con)

Commonwealth day is officially celebrated annually on the second Monday in March, and the Scottish Parliament holds a debate to recognise the importance of the Commonwealth as soon as possible thereafter. I thank Stuart McMillan for using his debating time to bring his motion to the Parliament.

The theme for Commonwealth day this year is a peace-building Commonwealth. In this time of world uncertainty and instability, the theme is particularly relevant. The Commonwealth is a family of 53 nations, which stretches across all continents. It is a unique organisation of members with a shared history, who are eminently suited to working together to deliver the peace-building objective. The values and aspirations that unite the Commonwealth are democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was founded in 1911 and consists of 180 branches, which operate across nine regions—ours is the British islands and Mediterranean region. In October 2016 the seventh secretary general of the CPA, Akbar Khan, took up his post and hit the ground running. It is an honour for our branch that, within months of his appointment to his demanding job, he has chosen to be here in Scotland to listen to this evening’s debate, and that Dr Chaudhury, the chair of the CPA, has been here today to meet members of the Scottish Parliament.

The CPA’s remit is to connect, develop, promote and support parliamentarians

“to identify benchmarks of good governance and to implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth.”

Good governance and the peaceful transition of power are crucial if international peace and security are to be maintained.

For the remainder of my speech, I will focus on the Commonwealth women parliamentarians group, which was founded in 1989 to increase the number of female elected representatives in Parliaments and legislatures across the Commonwealth and to ensure that women’s issues are brought to the fore in parliamentary debate and legislation.

I am a member of the CWP BIMR steering group, and last month I took part in the CWP’s international working group at Wilton Park, in Sussex. Wilton Park is a very special conference centre, which promotes peace and reconciliation, and it was against that backdrop of consensus building that the working group met and took important decisions that embodied Commonwealth day’s peace-building theme.

Increasing female representation in the Commonwealth Parliaments is CWP’s main goal, but the working group, taking account of the huge diversity and complexity of the issues that parliamentarians in the CWP member states face, also focused on key agreed priorities for the next three years, which include ending violence against women by adopting a zero-tolerance approach to it, in whatever form it takes. It was stressed—crucially—that tackling the issue must be recognised not as an additional spend but as an investment in promoting peace, stability and economic growth.

Parliamentarians throughout the Commonwealth are keenly aware that tackling violence against women, wherever it takes place—in the home, in war zones, or in the worrying levels of abuse that are directed through the internet—is an essential prerequisite to strengthening international peace and security and that, through their effective work for co-operation, the CPA and CWP are ideally placed to take the lead in ensuring that that message is heard loud and clear.

17:15  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank my colleague Stuart McMillan for securing the debate. Since its creation, the Commonwealth has aimed to secure democracy and peace in its member states by promoting the values of tolerance, respect and understanding. The theme of this year’s Commonwealth day—a peace-building Commonwealth—invites us to reflect on the current state of peace and security in each member state and collaborate even more on issues of mutual interest.

The Commonwealth is a unique international organisation with a fundamental belief in freedom. Although it is composed mainly of former components of the British empire, countries that were never under British rule, such as Mozambique and Rwanda, have also seen the value of joining and have done so, as has Francophone Cameroon.

In the world of sport, nations and territories, no matter how small, can compete in the Commonwealth games, with Tristan Da Cunha, St Helena and Niue, which has a population of 312, all having sent competitors to the 2014 Glasgow games. I am sure that we all recall those games very fondly, with Scotland competing in its own right—unlike in the Olympics—and doing tremendously well, winning 19 golds and coming fourth. That was well out of proportion to our population in comparison with Australia, Canada and England. In my constituency, the lasting legacy of the games is a unique new state-of-the-art facility at sportscotland’s Inverclyde national sports training centre in Largs, which will open in a few short weeks and will help to nurture our future sporting talent.

As a free association, the Commonwealth does not impose any legal or economic obligations, and each member can withdraw at any time without facing sanctions. However, what sets it apart from other intergovernmental organisations is the diversity of its member states. From republics and monarchies and from small Pacific islands to India, Australia and Canada, the Commonwealth's mission is to build bridges, allowing smaller nations to sit down with their larger counterparts as equals. The Commonwealth offers the opportunity to the least-developed member states to negotiate bilateral agreements with more developed countries. In that way, many benefit from strong economic support from the richest Commonwealth member states. However, Commonwealth trade not only helps poorer members; it brings benefits to all members including the UK. Our most important Commonwealth economic partners are Australia, India and Canada, which together invest billions of pounds in the UK annually as a direct result of our strong Commonwealth bonds.

Every year, the Commonwealth supports many cultural and economic projects between member states at every level. As a member of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on Malawi, I warmly support the Scotland Malawi Partnership, which is a perfect example of the bridges that exist between Commonwealth nations. The partnership celebrates more than 1,000 civic links between all 73 Holyrood constituencies and Malawi, and the University of Edinburgh estimates that, as of last year, more than 94,000 Scots are actively involved in those projects. That outlines the desire of the people of Scotland to open up even more to the rest of the world, which is something deeply rooted in our culture.

In my constituency, three schools are twinned with schools in Malawi, promoting friendship and learning between our two countries. The Largs St John’s church and the Ardrossan presbytery not only organise solidarity actions such as the collection of clothing, food and medical supplies but provide a strong support to their sister churches in Malawi. For instance, Largs St John’s church contributes directly to the economic life of Katalonje, a little village in Malawi, by supporting the development of women’s crafts and work training. I believe that such examples show why the Commonwealth continues to thrive and resonate with so many people in Scotland today.

Nevertheless, many Commonwealth countries still lack basic freedoms, and we cannot be blind to that. The Scottish branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is well respected for its excellent work and its sincere efforts to make improvements in democratic accountability across the Commonwealth. It is great to have Akbar Khan, the secretary general of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, here with us today. I understand that he visited Stockbridge primary school and Holyrood senior school along with Deputy Presiding Officer Linda Fabiani. Such outreach helps to relay the value of the Commonwealth and start discussions about democracy and diversity along with other serious topics such as apartheid, climate change, equality and diversity.

I commend the work of people at every level, from the international to the very local, that allows the Commonwealth family to exist and develop regardless of race, nationality and religion.

17:19  

Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

It is a privilege to have the opportunity to participate in the debate, which I congratulate Stuart McMillan on securing.

This week of all weeks, we reflect on the Commonwealth and on the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, as we have seen the Commonwealth baton again sent off on its journey around the world. It is wonderful to think of that baton traversing continents when at one point it traversed Pollok, Cardonald and other bits of the Southside of Glasgow.

That reminds us of the sheer joy of the Commonwealth games in Glasgow—the friendly games. They saw young people from around the world coming together to compete at the highest levels, and the games showed the world that Glasgow and Scotland can be a wonderful platform for such events and for people coming together.

This afternoon, I had the privilege of chairing an event of the Scotland branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association with the CPA’s secretary-general Mr Akbar Khan, involving students and young people from across Scotland. It was a fabulous, hugely thought provoking and challenging event about what the Commonwealth means now. The young people were there with many ideas and thoughts on what the relationship should be, and I was grateful to have the opportunity to be there.

When we think of the Commonwealth, we cannot stress too heavily its importance at a time of great insecurity, in a world that feels increasingly fragile and less safe than it did even five or 10 years ago. There could be no more appropriate time to have the theme of a peace-building Commonwealth. At the global level, our communities are looking outwards, reaching out to each other and finding ways of co-operating.

The message of peace building is relevant at a global level and at a community level, but it is also relevant in our own homes. I am particularly pleased with the emphasis on addressing domestic abuse. Can we be free as a country if any one of us is not safe and secure in our own home? That message of security and safety is globally understood but, critically, it is locally realised.

The scale of the Commonwealth family is massive. It has 2.4 billion people, or one third of the world’s population, and 60 per cent of them are under 30. The reality is that the Commonwealth is a young and vibrant organisation. It is not a relic of past glories, but something that speaks to the best in our international capacity to co-operate.

The Commonwealth involves a new relationship. Those of us of a certain vintage can almost reach back and touch the colonial past with which the Commonwealth is associated. In the past, the Commonwealth was, perhaps, about first-world countries helping and supporting those in the developing world. That sense of help and support is still relevant, and we see significant partnerships in places such as Malawi, but we also have to recognise that there is now a modern relationship. The Commonwealth has the power to give voice to tiny countries on climate change—countries that do not cause the damage but which are on the front line of suffering because of it.

Many Commonwealth countries have modern, thriving and innovative economies that we need to work and trade with, have proper respect for and learn from. Those important modern relationships have replaced the colonial relationships of the past.

Uniquely, the Commonwealth has the potential to trade, but it is not a trading bloc—that is not its point. It is not a supranational organisation but, centrally, it is a voluntary commonwealth of its peoples—not its Governments or states, but its peoples. It has the potential to stand strong, in these fragile times, for the very important values of democracy, gender equality, the separation of powers and the rule of law. It celebrates diversity, development and democracy.

There can be no more important time to recognise the Commonwealth’s strength. It is not something to celebrate simply because of its past, but because it is utterly relevant in these times. I thank everyone in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and its Scotland branch for all that they do to ensure that those values endure.

17:24  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I congratulate Stuart McMillan on securing the debate and thank him for raising the subject of Commonwealth day in the Scottish Parliament this evening.

Although the Commonwealth is made up of a very diverse family of nations, we are united by our common ties and shared history. As we have heard, a third of the world’s population—2.4 billion people—are involved in the Commonwealth. They work together locally, nationally and globally. The Commonwealth helps to strengthen those bonds, and its member states work together to be a global force for good that is recognised and respected throughout the world.

The values that are shared by the member states of the Commonwealth, which can be found in the Commonwealth charter, are ones that I am sure we all share. Human rights, the rule of law and democracy are the fundamental building blocks of a free and tolerant society. We must all work together to ensure that those values are upheld.

Those shared values are at the heart of this year’s Commonwealth day theme of a peace-building Commonwealth. What a wonderful theme to have. It brings together youth and people of all ages throughout the Commonwealth to work for peace, which is something that we all strive for. The very nature of the Commonwealth, which unites some very different countries, is a force for good and a source of stability in the very uncertain times in which we live. The world is a much more dangerous place than it was some time ago. We are not quite sure where we are going, but the fact that the Commonwealth pulls together its member nations and their people gives us strength.

As others have done, I pay tribute to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I thank the secretary general, Mr Akbar Khan, for being in the gallery for the debate. The fact that he is here in Holyrood is a source of pride for us and is testament to what we are trying to achieve. We thank him for coming.

As a new member of the Scottish Parliament, I have been extremely impressed by the efforts to act as the voice of democracy across the Commonwealth nations and by the work that is done to play an active role in the development of member states. I am delighted to be a co-convener of the cross-party group on Malawi. I have been astounded by the number of projects that are taking place—there are more than 1,000 of them in Scotland—and the number of individuals and organisations that are involved, all of which are to be congratulated on what they are trying to achieve in building bridges and opportunities for young and old in the countries concerned.

With my background in local government, I know how important it is to look for examples of good and best practice in other authorities, and I see that in what is happening across the various Parliaments, which is to be welcomed. The exchanging of information and the sharing of experiences among the members of different legislatures across the Commonwealth can have a profoundly positive impact on parliamentary democracy, which is what we want to see.

I am delighted that Margaret Mitchell talked about the role of women, which is vital. We must encourage more women to participate in the parliamentary process across the Commonwealth. In that regard, I would like to think that the minority Scottish Government values the work of the CPA and everyone who is involved.

The work that the Commonwealth of nations does on a day-to-day basis enriches our lives and promotes stability in times of uncertainty around the world. Following this year’s Commonwealth day, I am sure that everyone across the chamber will welcome its achievements, and I wish the Commonwealth continued success. It plays a vital role, which is still very much alive. The Commonwealth started in a very different era, but it is very relevant in today’s circumstances. Today’s people want to participate and to be involved in it, and I wish it continued success.

17:29  

Maurice Corry (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank Stuart McMillan for securing this evening’s debate to mark Commonwealth day, which is a very important day.

The Commonwealth is a unique creation. It is a group of diverse nations across the planet that are united, as the motion says, in the

“shared values of peace, democracy and equality”,

so it is only right for Commonwealth day to be marked here in the Scottish Parliament.

The Commonwealth charter’s 16 values and principles, which cover issues from democracy and human rights all the way through to access to health and education, are key to the Commonwealth’s success, and they provide a guideline to the necessary building blocks for a successful, modern and vibrant democratic state in the 21st century. The charter is part of the reason why we should welcome the expansion of the Commonwealth to other countries such as Rwanda, which joined in 2009, and Suriname, which applied to join in 2012. It is a sign that, although the shared values that I mentioned earlier seem to be in full retreat in some parts of the world, in others they are still being embraced and put into action.

I want to mention a part of the Commonwealth’s special bond that means a great deal to me and my role as convener of the cross-party group on the armed forces and veterans community. Watching the unveiling of the Afghanistan and Iraq memorial in London last week, I was reminded of those with whom I served, who included servicemen and servicewomen from Commonwealth countries in operations overseas. It is worth reminding people in this country that Commonwealth citizens freely join our military forces and serve a vital role. Thousands are currently serving in the Army, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, and they do so with distinction and honour. I should mention, for example, Sergeant Johnson Beharry, who was born in Grenada and won the Victoria Cross in Iraq some years ago. Their contribution to our military should be welcomed and celebrated; they joined our military forces because the Commonwealth truly matters to them and they share its values, which are worth defending. War memorials throughout our country, from Banff to Bathgate and from Inverness to Inveraray, are inscribed with the names of the fallen from several Commonwealth nations and countries.

I firmly believe that the Commonwealth is one of the world’s great institutions, and it is certainly worth celebrating and defending. Indeed, that belief is endorsed by the presence in Parliament today of the secretary general of the CPA, which we really appreciate.

17:31  

The Minister for International Development and Europe (Dr Alasdair Allan)

As other members have done, I thank Stuart McMillan for giving Parliament the opportunity to celebrate the importance of the Commonwealth family of nations and to emphasise the mutual benefits that are provided by maintaining and enhancing our existing unique relationship with the independent countries around that world that make up the Commonwealth. At this point, I must give Parliament apologies from the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, who would have been here but for a long-standing engagement. As others have done, I welcome to the gallery Mr Akbar Khan, who is the secretary general of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, and pay tribute to the very important work that the association carries out.

The Commonwealth charter explicitly recognises that

“in an era of changing economic circumstances and uncertainty, new trade and economic patterns, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and a surge in popular demands for democracy, human rights and broadened economic opportunities, the potential of and need for the Commonwealth”

has never been greater

“as a compelling force for good and as an effective network for co-operation and for promoting development”.

That description of a time of rapid and unsettling change sounds familiar to all of us who are living in 2017, and it emphasises that the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as enshrined in the charter, remain values that every generation needs to cherish. The same points were made by, among others, Margaret Mitchell, Alexander Stewart and Maurice Corry in today’s earlier debate. Indeed, the First Minister has outlined and underlined our unequivocal support for those values, as represented in other documents such as the European convention on human rights, and we are doing everything in our power to defend the Human Rights Act 1998, which gives the convention effect domestically.

Our programme for government commits to exploring how we can go further in giving effect to the economic, social and cultural rights that are set out in United Nations treaties and other international treaties. Scotland’s international framework outlines a strong emphasis on working with our fellow Commonwealth countries to achieve that, and we will consistently and constantly strive to build, maintain and strengthen such relationships through formal trading relationships, which yielded £2.7 billion from exports to the Commonwealth in 2015, and through greater awareness of each other’s cultures, which will allow us to unlock a wealth of reciprocal benefits.

As Kenneth Gibson and Johann Lamont rightly identified, those are by no means the only benefits of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth games are perhaps its most visible manifestation, and the Scottish ministers have made it clear that

“The Commonwealth Games values of humanity, equality and destiny are universal and cherished in Scotland.”

The 2014 games in Glasgow allowed ministers to promote actively a positive vision of human rights. We sought to raise issues with visiting nations where appropriate, and we worked with stakeholders to put human rights at the heart of the games through awareness raising. In doing that, we welcomed the organising committee’s human rights policy statement and provided funding of £25,000 for Pride house in Glasgow during the games.

As part of our efforts to promote those Commonwealth values, the Scottish Government supports various projects, including Beyond Borders Scotland’s “women in conflict 1325 fellowship”, which provides training to 50 women annually from international conflict areas in order to reaffirm and enhance the role of women in prevention and resolution of conflict.

Promotion of equality in parallel with our Commonwealth partners is also a core component of our international development work. There is work in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia that is aligned to the 16 United Nations sustainable development goals. One goal states the need to

“Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

All projects that are delivered using the international development fund need to demonstrate how they have embedded those goals in their work.

I welcome Mr Gibson’s reference to the links between the peoples of Scotland and Malawi, which the Scotland Malawi Partnership in particular represents. Since 2005, we have allocated over £58 million to development initiatives, provided humanitarian assistance, and improved energy access for 80,000 people as part of our long-standing special link with Malawi. That relationship, of course, dates back to the work of missionaries and Dr David Livingstone. It also looks to the future, in our planned new co-operation agreement. In preparing that, I will be aware—in a way that I was not previously—of the role that Greenock Morton Football Club plays in Malawian society.

We have recently opened a new funding round for Zambia and Rwanda and invited Scotland-based organisations to develop projects to contribute to the global fight against poverty and inequality.

Our work in India and Pakistan further strengthens our commitment to sustainable development. The Scottish Government is working with Scottish and local partners on clean water, sanitation and sustainable energy, for example. That work and those connections are evidenced by the Pakistan Scottish scholarship scheme for women in higher education, which the Scottish Government introduced in 2013 in collaboration with the British Council. It has enabled hundreds of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to study.

We live in somewhat uncertain times—a number of members have alluded to that. As the United Kingdom progresses towards its exit from the European Union, it is becoming even more important that we maintain and strengthen relationships with the independent countries across the world that comprise the Commonwealth, and that we strengthen the friendships that exist between the peoples of the Commonwealth. That is becoming more important than ever for providing stability in these times of uncertainty.

Scotland remains as passionate as ever about our place in the Commonwealth, and we will remain a committed member of the Commonwealth family of nations.

Meeting closed at 17:39.