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THE CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT
OF THE COMMONWEALTH
He present Commonwealth as a free association of sovereign nations is the outcome of the development of self-government in the older British
Dominions and, more immediately, of their demand during the First World War for an equally full control of their own foreign policy. Recognition was given to this in the resolution of the Imperial War Conference 1917, that “the constitutional relations of the component parts of the Empire ... should be based upon a full recognition of the Dominions as autonomous nations of an Imperial Commonwealth”. Accordingly, the Dominions* and India signed the Versailles Peace Treaty individually, and had their own representation in the League of Nations. The Inter-Imperial Relations Committee of the 1926 Imperial Conference, under the Chairmanship of Lord Balfour, made the first formal attempt to describe the resultant status and mutual relationship of the Members in what came to be known as the 'Balfour formula'. The Committee's report declared that “They are autonomous communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown and freely associated as Members of the British Commonwealth of Nations'. This principle was legally formulated in the Statute of Westminster of 1931 which gave effect to this fully independent status of the Dominions in relation to Great Britain and, by implication, in relation to each other.
The progress which India had already made towards a similar status was completed in 1947 when India and Pakistan became independent and Members of the Commonwealth. The Second World War had hastened this development with the remaining dependencies and the next two decades saw Ceylon become independent and a Member of the Commonwealth in 1948, then Ghana and Malaya in 1957, Nigeria and Cyprus in 19607, Sierra Leone and Tanganyika in 1961, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda in 1962, Zanzibar and Kenya, together with Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore (as parts of the Federation of Malaysia) in 19631, Malawi, Malta and Zambia in 1964, The Gambia in 1965, Guyana (formerly British Guiana), Botswana (formerly the Bechuanaland Protectorate), Lesotho (formerly Basutoland) and Barbados in 1966, and Mauritius and Swaziland in 1968.
India's decision to become a republic in 1949 marked a further step in the development of the Commonwealth. The definition in the Balfour formula of the Commonwealth as an association of states ‘owing a common allegiance to the Crown' could not be applied to a republican Member and the Commonwealth Prime Ministers at their meeting in 1949 agreed to accept India's continued membership on the basis of her expressed 'acceptance of the King as
• Other than Newfoundland. † Cyprus became a member of the Commonwealth six months after her Independence, i.e. in
March, 1961. Singapore subsequently became independent as a separate state by her secession from the Federation of Malaysia in 1965.
the symbol of the free association of the independent Member Nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth'. Following this precedent Pakistan (1956) and Ghana (1960) both adopted republican constitutions, while Cyprus, Zambia and Botswana became republics upon achieving independence. Tanganyika became a republic in 1962, and in 1964 united with Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania. Nigeria became a republic in 1963, Kenya in 1964 and Malawi in 1966. Singapore became a republic upon its withdrawal from the Malaysian Federation (1965) and Guyana became a republic on 23rd February 1970 in accordance with a provision in the independence constitution of Guyana (1966). The Gambia became a republic on 24th April 1970 after a plebiscite.
Malaysia, Swaziland and Lesotho provide further variations. Malaysia is an elective monarchy and the Head of State is the Yang di Pertuan Agong, whom the Malay Rulers of nine of the States of Malaya elect from among their number to hold office for five years. Swaziland and Lesotho are monarchies where the King is designated by the Chiefs in accordance with the customary law of the country.
No functions attach to the title of Head of the Commonwealth and it has no strict constitutional significance. But, as the sole symbolic link uniting all the Members of the Commonwealth, it is the outward and visible mark of the special relationship which exists between them.
A further departure from the Statute of Westminster is the decline of the use of the term 'Dominion'. Although the Indian Independence Act, 1947 provided for the creation of two new ‘Dominions', the use of the term had already begun to disappear after the Second World War even in describing those independent Commonwealth countries which already had ‘Dominion Status'. In 1947 the Dominions Office was re-named the Commonwealth Relations Office, and Commonwealth countries which have become independent since 1947 do not call themselves, and are not referred to, as ‘Dominions'. As a result of discussions at the Prime Ministers' Meeting of 1952 the term was also dropped from the Royal Titles. The term would indeed be inappropriate for such Commonwealth countries as no longer have the Queen as their Head of State.
For some years after the 1926 Imperial Conference apprehension was felt in some quarters lest the Balfour formula did not imply the right of secession, and the Union of South Africa, in approving the report of the Conference on the Operation of Dominion Legislation in 1929, expressly affirmed 'the right of any member of the British Commonwealth of Nations to withdraw therefrom’. The Union Prime Minister (Gen. Hertzog) in fact brought this resolution to the notice of the Imperial Conference of 1930, which took note of it without discussion.
In 1947 the view of the British Government that there was a full right of secession was clearly indicated in the statement of the Prime Minister (Mr Attlee) on the Burma Independence Bill, where he pointed out that “The British Commonwealth of Nations is a free association of peoples, not a collection of subject nations'; hence, in view of Burma's desire to become an independent state outside the Commonwealth, ‘it was the duty of His Majesty's Government
.. to implement their decision’. The Secretary of State for Burma (the Earl of Listowel) endorsed this with the statement in the House of Lords, that ‘We do not regard membership of the Commonwealth as something to be thrust by force upon a reluctant people'. That members of the Commonwealth were considered as independent and as free as those nations who chose to break all links
with the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, was given further emphasis by the fact that the same title was used for the Burma Independence Act as had been used for the Independence Acts of India and Ceylon.
The Burma Independence Act (1947) was followed by the Ireland Act of 1949, which recognised that Eire, or the Republic of Ireland as it now came to be known, had ceased to be part of His Majesty's dominions.
During 1960 the Union of South Africa decided, after a referendum, to become a republic from 31st May 1961. In accordance with precedents set by India, Pakistan and Ghana, the South African Government enquired whether South Africa as a republic would be accepted as a Member of the Commonwealth. After considerable discussion at the Prime Ministers' Meeting in March 1961, largely concerning the Union's racial policies, the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa withdrew his application. When South Africa became a republic on 31st May 1961, she therefore ceased to be a Member of the Commonwealth.
Certain other territories, formerly British dependencies, left the Commonwealth on becoming independent. Besides Burma in 1948, the Sudan became an independent sovereign state outside the Commonwealth in 1956. In 1960 British Somaliland joined with its neighbour, the former United Nations Trust Territory of Italian Somaliland, to form the independent Somali Republic. Similarly in 1961 the Southern Cameroons, on becoming independent, moved out of the Commonwealth to join the neighbouring French Cameroons to form the Federal Republic of Cameroun. The Maldive Islands ceased to be a protected state in 1963. With the end of the South Arabian Federation in 1967, the independent sovereign state of the People's Republic of South Yemen was established outside the Commonwealth.
Western Samoa, formerly a Trust Territory administered by New Zealand, became independent in 1962. She did not apply for Commonwealth membership until 1970, although she was treated in the intervening period by New Zealand in all except nationality matters as though she were a Member of the Commonwealth, and in certain respects this was true also of her relations with other Commonwealth countries.
The Cook Islands, formerly a dependency of New Zealand, became fully selfgoverning internally in July 1965 and chose to remain in free association with New Zealand, 'free association' being one of the three ways recognised by the United Nations General Assembly by which a territory reaches a full measure of self-government. The New Zealand Government remains responsible for the conduct of the external affairs and defence of the islands. Early in 1967 five former British colonies in the Eastern Caribbean (St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica, St Lucia and Grenada) received constitutions similar to that of the Cook Islands. The Associated States (as they are now known) are fully self-governing while Britain remains responsible for their external affairs and defence. St Vincent became an Associated State on 27th October 1969.
Nauru, formerly a Trust Territory administered by Australia on behalf of the Governments of Australia, New Zealand and Britain, became independent in January 1968. The Republic of Nauru became the first ‘Special Member' of the Commonwealth with the right to participate in all functional meetings and activities of the Commonwealth, the only limitation being that she does not attend Meetings of Prime Ministers.
The Commonwealth has no legal definition and until recently has had no formal institutional expression. Inter-governmental consultation is its principal. mode of operation, and this is carried on both by direct inter-governmental correspondence and by the periodic Commonwealth Prime Ministers' meetings. While some of the Members of the Commonwealth have been inflexibly opposed to the establishment of any centralised machinery for the consideration of political questions, particularly foreign policy and defence, the Prime Ministers' Meeting in 1964 favoured the institution of more formal machinery to promote closer and more informed understanding between their governments. After a report by officials on the matter, the Prime Ministers agreed in June 1965 to set up a Commonwealth Secretariat for this purpose. Its headquarters are at Marlborough House and its chief official is the Secretary-General, who is appointed by the Prime Ministers. The Secretariat is staffed from Member countries and financed by their contributions, and is at the service of all Commonwealth governments. Its functions are principally the circulation of information to Commonwealth governments and the organisation of such meetings as those of the Prime Ministers and Commonwealth Finance Ministers. It has no executive functions. The Secretariat is described in detail in a separate section of this Year Book.
There has recently been a further sharp reduction in the number of the remaining British dependencies. In 1966 four more became independent, and five others reached Associated status in February 1967. Mauritius and Swaziland became independent in March and September 1968. Tonga became independent on 4th June 1970 and Fiji on 10th October 1970. The remainder vary from wealthy and populous Hong Kong to the tiny island of Pitcairn with fewer than one hundred inhabitants; but most are small and have very limited natural resources.
ORGANISATION OF BRITISH GOVERNMENT
RELATIONS WITH OTHER
YONSTITUTIONAL responsibility to Parliament for British relations with other Members of the Commonwealth and for relations with the Govern
'ments of Brunei, Tonga, the Associated States in the Caribbean*, and Rhodesia, rested until October 1968, with the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairst, who was also responsible for the good government of the remaining British dependent territories. The Prime Minister announced on 15th March 1968, that the Commonwealth Office, which was the Department of State responsible to the Secretary of State for the conduct of these relations and the administration of the dependencies, would merge with the Foreign Office during the year. The two Offices were merged as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 17th October 1968.
The new Secretary of State has now assumed all responsibility for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. While there is no minister in the new Office solely in charge of Commonwealth matters, each minister has responsibility for the * At that time these were: Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, St Christopher, Nevis and Anguilla, Commonwealth aspects of the work under his control. Each department in the new Office is also responsible for ensuring that the Commonwealth interest is fully taken into account when appropriate. There is also a Commonwealth Coordination department which is responsible for advising ministers and departments on matters affecting the Commonwealth as a whole and in advising on certain constitutional matters of concern to Dependent Territories, and their relationship with the rest of the Commonwealth.
and St Lucia. t Relations with certain non-Commonwealth_countries (the Republic of Ireland and the
Maldive Islands) were also handled by the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Affairs.
Overseas, responsibility to the Secretary of State for the conduct of British relations with other Commonwealth countries rests with British High Commissioners, whose offices are situated in Commonwealth capitals and in some other major towns. In the countries to which they are accredited the High Commissioners are the representatives of the British Government; and in those countries whose Head of State is other than Her Majesty The Queen they are her representatives. They have a status equivalent to Ambassadors. They advise the Secretary of State either direct or through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the policies of, and British relations with the countries to which they are accredited, interpret and project British policies and way of life to the Governments and people there and at the same time look after British interests and foster Commonwealth links.
Other Commonwealth countries likewise have government departments which include among their responsibilities that for Commonwealth relations and have High Commissioners resident in London and in other Commonwealth capitals. Although British and Commonwealth Ministers sometimes correspond direct the normal channel of communication between the British Government and the Governments of other Commonwealth countries is between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and the government departments responsible for Commonwealth relations in those other countries. Communication is not direct but passes either through the British High Commissioners overseas or through Commonwealth High Commissioners in London. British High Commissioners, unlike Ambassadors, often deal with government departments other than those dealing with Commonwealth relations—as do Commonwealth High Commissioners in London.
Except for the specialist advisers, the staffs in London and of British High Commissioners' offices and British Embassies are members of H.M. Diplomatic Service, which was formed on 1st January 1965 to take over the duties and posts of the former Foreign Service, the Commonwealth Relations Office at home and overseas, and the Trade Commission Service.
The administration of the dependent territories is carried out by the various territorial Governments, the Governor in each territory being the representative of the Sovereign. Subject to the overriding authority of Parliament, the territorial Governments enjoy a large and increasing measure of autonomy. Each territory has its own legislature and its own civil service, which is paid from local revenue and is not part of the Home Civil Service. The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs is responsible for transfers, promotions and discipline of members of Her Majesty's Overseas Civil Service serving in dependent territories; appointments to senior posts such as Governorships and Chief Justiceships; and for compensation schemes and pensions payable by the governments of dependent territories. He is advised and assisted in these matters by the appropriate departments of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.