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FEATURE STORY September 28, 2020

Interview with Stephen Twigg, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

Stephen Twigg, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

In an interview, Stephen Twigg, Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and former Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom shared his views of the role of parliamentarians in development, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, how the pandemic will change the way we approach development, and how CPA and the World Bank Group can partner with Members of Parliament to improve development outcomes.

Stephen Twigg began his term as the 8th Secretary-General of the CPA in August 2020. Beforehand, he served as a Member of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom for 17 years from 1997-2005 and from 2010-2019. During his parliamentary career, he held several senior positions including Chairperson of the International Development Select Committee and Deputy Leader of the House of Commons. He also served as Minister for Schools from 2002-2005. Before joining the CPA, Stephen Twigg also worked to set up the International Parliamentary Network for Education and was actively involved in parliamentary strengthening with both Global Partners Governance and the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

The CPA brings together 17,000 Members of Parliament from 54 countries. It offers an opportunity for Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff to collaborate on issues of mutual interest and to share good practices. It also speaks out for the right of Parliaments and Parliamentarians to play a more active role in the development of their countries. 

As a Member of Parliament for nearly 20 years, former Chair of the International Development Select Committee and now Secretary General of the CPA, what role do you see for MPs in development? More specifically in this time of crisis?

Parliamentarians have a crucial role to play in sustainable development, both domestically and internationally. Bringing parliamentarians together to share best practice and learn from one another is central to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Earlier this year, the CPA published our Toolkit on the COVID-19 pandemic and delivering parliamentary democracy. Like others, we have adapted to the crisis situation and used technology to support parliamentarians as they grapple with the challenges of COVID-19. As Chair of the UK International Development Select Committee between 2015 and 2019, I saw the vital role of MPs in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of course, the SDGs are universal, so they are an important tool both at home and globally. The current crisis reminds me how crucial it is that we maintain our focus on Agenda 2030.

Parliamentarians have been vital actors in many countries in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by passing exceptional measures and stimulus packages, and overseeing government management of the crisis. Looking forward to the recovery, how can legislators ensure their countries build back better for a resilient recovery?

If we are to build back better, legislators will want to learn from each other as well as engaging their governments and with civil society. Healthy democratic institutions are in themselves important elements of an effective recovery. The Agenda 2030 theme of “leave no one behind” is a helpful guide here as, in many countries, the crisis has both highlighted and exacerbated social divisions and inequalities. Building back better provides an opportunity for MPs to address these issues both in their own countries and internationally.

The COVID-19 emergency has forced us to fundamentally rethink nearly every aspect of our lives and institutions. How do you believe it will change the way we think about development?

There are both risks and opportunities as we seek to learn lessons from this tragic crisis. There is an opportunity to reinvigorate multilateralism so that we can learn from each other going forward. For the CPA, this includes our work with our Small Branches Network addressing the challenge of climate change or the important work of our Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians and Commonwealth Parliamentarians with Disabilities networks. The emergency has highlighted the crucial importance of Global Health and Global Education and the need for investment and innovation in both areas. There is an opportunity here to learn from each other but also a risk that resource constraints might make our task harder to achieve.

In your experience as a parliamentarian and Secretary General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), what is the role of the World Bank Group in furthering the global development agenda? How can we foster partnerships with MPs for more impactful development outcomes?

The World Bank is an important organisation in the field of global development. In my previous role, I was pleased to be part of the Parliamentary Network on the World Bank and the IMF (PN). In these critical months and years ahead, I hope that the CPA and the PN can work together to ensure that parliamentarians play a full role in sustainable development.