Welcome to the 67th Westminster Seminar and the UK Parliament in Westminster, London. A record number of delegates applied to participate in the 2018 Westminster Seminar and it was a pleasure to meet all of this year's participants.
The first session of the day kicked off with introductions from delegates stating the three things that mean the most to them. Highlights included the Hon Speaker Curtis Pitt from Australia speaking about the importance of the phrase ‘you are nothing without your integrity’, while Hon Speaker Arthur Holder MP from Barbados spoke about the importance of being on time. Mrs Nancy Locke, Clerk to the Falkland Islands, spoke about the importance of learning and giving in parliamentary life, and Hon Remember Mutale MP from Zambia spoke about the importance of supporting women in leadership roles. Overwhelmingly delegates stated family and their roles as parliamentarians and clerks as the key things that mean the most to them.
The political landscape in the UK is constantly changing and in the second session of the day it was useful to hear the perspectives of James Duddridge MP and Rt Hon David Hanson MP on the EU referendum of 2016, how the Brexit deal negotiations are progressing and the importance of the Commonwealth to the UK. Although different in their approach to Brexit, both speakers highlighted the importance of representing their constituents and finding a way to bring the country together. While Brexit takes up many column inches in the UK media, UK parliamentarians continue to work tirelessly on the issues which mean the most to their constituents, including security, public health and economic prosperity.
In Session 3, Bim Afolami MP and James Frith MP from the UK Parliament, and Hon Julie Dzerowicz MP from the Parliament of Canada spoke about what parliamentarians need to do to be ‘Modern Parliamentarians’. Bim Afolami MP spoke of his Nigerian heritage, a self-proclaimed ‘Son of the Commonwealth’ elected at the age of 31 to constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden. With experience in finance and business, Bim explained how he keeps in touch with issues concerning people outside the ‘Westminster Village’ and key business issues affecting the livelihoods of citizens. For Bim, being a modern parliamentarian means being flexible and adaptable to change. Hon Julie Dzerowicz spoke about how a ‘modern parliamentarian’ has to get to the grassroots and ask people questions about what matters to them. Constituents need to see their elected representatives working hard for them and getting things done. James Frith MP from the UK Parliament spoke about his parents who were both public servants, his life as a businessman of a social enterprise, and his family which embraces two religions. Social mobility and progress need to be product of hard work – and parliamentarians need to be agents of change.
Leading on from this, delegates gained an insight into the political scene across the Commonwealth. Hon Curtis Pitt, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Queensland, Australia, explained the challenges facing Australia including solving high energy prices and navigating relationships with key trading partners including China and the United States of America. Syeda Uzma Qadri, Member of the Provincial Assembly in Punjab, Pakistan, gave an impassioned speech about the great responsibility parliamentarians carry to do good and facilitate positive change for others. Hon Norbert Loizeau MP, Member of the National Assembly, Seychelles, gave delegates an insight into the Seychelles. Finally, Hon Laadi Ayii Ayamba MP from Ghana spoke about her 40 years spent in politics and the extensive experience she has gained across a wide range of issues. In particular, she spoke about giving women the opportunities to facilitate positive change and supporting parents to make good decisions for their children.
In her keynote address, the Leader of the House of Commons, Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, spoke about the procedural responsibilities of her role. As Leader of the House of Commons, she is the Government’s spokesperson in Parliament and Parliament’s spokesperson in Government. One of her flagship projects is introducing a new grievance procedure for the UK Parliament’s 15,000 members of staff on behalf of the Prime Minister.
The final session of the day offered delegates a chance to share their aims and the outcomes they wish to take away from Westminster Seminar 2018. Akierra Missick, Chair of the PAC of Turks and Caicos, spoke about her learnings from previous CPA UK training events and her wish to motivate others to take such opportunities. Delegates spoke about the usefulness of hearing from UK parliamentarians about Brexit, of connecting with colleagues from across the Commonwealth and of learning how to be more effective in office.