Last month, we welcomed 37 Commonwealth Scholars to the Palace of Westminster for the annual Parliamentary Reception event organised by the Council for Education in the Commonwealth’s Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) Support Group and co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK (CPA UK) and the CSC.

The event presented a unique opportunity for Scholars to hear from UK Parliamentarians and gave them a fascinating insight into the workings of the UK Parliament as well as providing a forum for wider discussions on governance, democratic process, and the role of research in policymaking.

This year, we were pleased to welcome a host of fascinating speakers, including Jon Davies, Chief Executive of the CPA UK, The Lord Shipley OBE, Liberal Democrat Member of the House of Lords, and Fran Sellors, Parliamentary Researcher for Seema Malhotra MP, Labour Member of Parliament for Feltham and Heston and Shadow Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in the House of Commons. We were also delighted to share a pre-recorded address by Minister Vicky Ford MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Minister for Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean) in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

The event was led by the Chair of the CSFP Support Group, Dr Alastair Niven LVO OBE, who began by welcoming Scholars and guests, and discussing the history of Commonwealth Scholarships since 1960 and the invaluable impact that Scholars continue to make in member countries right across the modern Commonwealth.

The role Commonwealth parliaments in advancing democracy

In her pre-recorded address, Minister Ford welcomed Scholars to Parliament and praised the CSC for its work in supporting Scholars. Highlighting former Scholars who had gone on to work within parliaments in their own countries, Minister Ford acknowledged that the bonds of friendship and shared values between Commonwealth countries was perhaps more important now than ever given the challenges to democracy seen in some parts of the world. Minister Ford ended by expressing her hopes for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, and that Commonwealth Scholars would continue their work in promoting the Commonwealth and the best of its values in the years to come.

After this, Jon Davies led an insightful discussion on the CPA UK and its work in strengthening parliaments and advancing democracy throughout the Commonwealth. Through tailored programmes and one-off projects, Jon explained how the CPA UK supported individual parliaments in a number of areas including election observance and providing peer-to-peer learning opportunities. During the discussion, Scholars raised several pertinent questions about governance within the modern Commonwealth and its future as a multilateral, global decision-making body.

The perspective from the Commons and the Lords

Following on from this, the discussion turned towards the UK Parliament and specifically the House of Lords as Lord Shipley delivered a lively talk about his work as a Peer in debating and reviewing draft bills from the House of Commons and contributing to reports on matters of policy. With his background in local government and higher education, Lord Shipley discussed his recent review of the Schools Bill, currently on its third reading in the House of Lords, and highlighted the importance of the legislative process in ensuring that proposed bills properly scrutinised before they pass into law.

Lord Shipley also discussed the day-to-day life of a Peer and responded to several questions from Scholars about the House of Lords contributes to the functioning of democracy within Parliament.

After Lord’s Shipley’s talk, the focus shifted to the Commons and how the work of an MP differs from that of a Peer. Beginning with their process of selection, Fran Sellors highlighted how, unlike in the Lords, an MP’s work is aligned with parliamentary terms and electoral cycles, and a significant proportion of their time is spent working within their own constituency. As the Parliamentary Researcher for a Shadow Minister, Fran was able to shed light on the close working relationship that Seema Malhotra maintained with her Ministerial counterpart and Civil Servants in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in order to fully understand the brief and responsibilities of the office. Fran also highlighted the important role which MPs play in debating proposed legislation and challenging the Government on issues related to their area of oversight.

Tea and cake, and a tour of Westminster

Following the talks and discussion, Scholars were joined by Parliamentarian guests for a tea reception where they had the chance to talk about their work and research whilst enjoying a slice of cake.

The final activity of the afternoon was a tour of the Palace of Westminster, starting in the eleventh century Westminster Hall and ending with a glimpse into the famous House of Commons chamber. During the tour, Scholars hear about some key moments in the history of the building and gained an insider’s view of the daily business of the UK Parliament.

Our thanks go to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK (CPA UK), Parliament Visitor Services, and the Council for Education in the Commonwealth’s (CEC) Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP) Support Group for all their help in organising and delivering this event.