twitter
facebook
blogger
youtube
print
Email
Imperial Conferences 1926 and 1930

 Extracts from
Imperial Conferences



IMPERIAL CONFERENCE, 1926

Extract from
SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS 2
IMPERIAL CONFERENCE, 1926

Presented to Parliament by
Command of His Majesty,
November, 1926

VI - INTER-IMPERIAL RELATIONS
REPORT OF INTER-IMPERIAL RELATIONS COMMITTEE

II. STATUS OF GREAT BRITAIN AND THE DOMINIONS

The Committee are of the opinion that nothing would be gained by attempting to lay down a Constitution for the British Empire. Its widely scattered parts have very different characteristics, very different histories, and are at very different stages of evolution; while, considered as a whole, it defies classification and bears no real resemblance to any other political organisation which now exists or has ever yet been tried.

There is, however, one most important element in it which, from a strictly constitutional point of view, has now, as regards all vital matters, reached its full development - we refer to the group of self-governing communities composed of Great Britain and the Dominions. Their position and mutual relation may be readily defined. 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.

A foreigner endeavouring to understand the true character of the British Empire by the aid of this formula alone would be tempted to think that it was devised rather to make mutual interference impossible than to make mutual co-operation easy.

Such a criticism, however, completely ignores the historic situation. The rapid evolution of the Overseas Dominions during the last fifty years has involved many complicated adjustments of old political machinery to changing conditions. The tendency towards equality of status was both right and inevitable. Geographical and other conditions made this impossible of attainment by the way of federation. The only alternative was by the way of autonomy; and along this road it has been steadily sought. Every self-governing member of the Empire is now the master of its destiny. In fact, if not always inform, it is subject to no compulsion whatever.

But no account, however accurate, of the negative relations in which Great Britain and the Dominions stand to each other can do more than express a portion of the truth. The British Empire is not founded upon negations. It depends essentially, if not formally, on positive ideals. Free institutions are its lifeblood. Free co-operation is its instrument. Peace, security, and, progress are among its objects. Aspects of all these great themes have been discussed at the present Conference; excellent results have been thereby obtained. And, though every Dominion is now, and must always remain, the sole judge of the nature and extent of its co-operation, no common cause will, in our opinion, be thereby imperilled.

Equality of status, so far as Britain and the Dominions are concerned, is thus the root principle governing Inter-Imperial Relations. But the principles of equality and similarity, appropriate to status, do not universally extend to function. Here we require something more than immutable dogmas. For example, to deal with questions of diplomacy and questions of defence, we require also flexible machinery - machinery which can, from time to time, be adapted to the changing circumstances of the world. This subject also has occupied our attention. The rest of this Report will show how we have endeavoured not only to state political theory, but to apply it to our common needs.
[ Top ]

III. SPECIAL POSITION OF INDIA

It will be noted that in the previous paragraphs we have made no mention of India. Our reason for limiting their scope to Great Britain and the Dominions is that the position of India in the Empire is already defined by the Government of India Act, 1919. We would, nevertheless, recall that by Resolution IX of the Imperial War Conference; 1917, due recognition was given to the important position held by India in the British Commonwealth. Where, in this Report, we have had occasion to consider the position of India, we have made particular reference to it.
[ Top ]

IV. RELATIONS BETWEEN THE VARIOUS PARTS OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE

Existing administrative, legislative, and judicial forms are admittedly not wholly in accord with the position as described in Section II of this Report. This is inevitable, since most of these forms date back to a time well antecedent to the present stage of constitutional development. Our first task then was to examine these forms with special reference to any cases where the want of adaptation of practice to principle caused, or might be thought to cause, inconvenience in the conduct of Inter-Imperial Relations.

(a) The Title of His Majesty the King.

The title of His Majesty the King is of special importance and concern to all parts of His Majesty's Dominions. Twice within the last fifty years has the Royal Title been altered to suit changed conditions and constitutional developments.

The present title, which is that proclaimed under the Royal Titles Act of 1901, is as follows:-

"George V, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India."

Some time before the Conference met, it had been recognised that this form of title hardly accorded with the altered state of affairs arising from the establishment of the Irish Free State as a Dominion. It had further been ascertained that it would be in accordance with His Majesty's wishes that any recommendation for change should be submitted to him as the result of discussion at the Conference.

We are unanimously of the opinion that a slight change is desirable, and we recommend that, subject to His Majesty's approval, the necessary legislative action should be taken to secure that His Majesty's title should henceforward read:-

"George V, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and of the British Dominions beyond the Seas King, Defender of the Faith, Emperor of India."

(b) Position of Governors-General.

We proceeded to consider whether it was desirable formally to place on record a definition of the position held by the Governor-General [1] as His Majesty's representative in the Dominions. That position, though now generally well recognised, undoubtedly represents a development from an earlier stage when the Governor-General was appointed solely on the advice of His Majesty's Ministers in London and acted also as their representative.

In our opinion it is an essential consequence of the equality of status existing among the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations that the Governor-General of a Dominion is the representative of the Crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain or of any Department of that Government.

It seemed to us to follow that the practice whereby the Governor-General of a Dominion is the formal official channel of communication between His Majesty's Government in Great Britain and His Governments in the Dominions might be regarded as no longer wholly in accordance with the constitutional position of the Governor-General. It was thought that the recognised official channel of communication should be, in future, between Government and Government direct. The representatives of Great Britain readily recognised that the existing procedure might be open to criticism and accepted the proposed change in principle in relation to any of the Dominions which desired it. Details were left for settlement as soon as possible after the Conference had completed its work, but it was recognised by the Committee, as an essential feature of any change or development in the channels of communication, that a Governor-General should be supplied with copies of all documents of importance and in general should be kept as fully informed as is His Majesty the King in Great Britain of Cabinet business and public affairs.
[ Top ]

Notes

  1. The Governor of Newfoundland is in the same position as the Governor-General of a Dominion.

  2. Printed by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1926

[ Top ]


IMPERIAL CONFERENCE, 1930

Extract from
SUMMARY OF PROCEEDINGS 1
IMPERIAL CONFERENCE, 1930

Presented to Parliament by
Command of His Majesty,
November, 1930

VI. INTER-IMPERIAL RELATIONS

(g) Appointment of Governors-General.

(g) Appointment of Governors-General

The Report of the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee of the Imperial Conference of 1926 declared that the Governor-General of a Dominion is now the "representative of the Crown, holding in all essential respects the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion as is held by His Majesty the King in Great Britain, and that he is not the representative or agent of His Majesty's Government in Great Britain or of any Department of that Government."

The Report did not, however, contain any recommendation as to the procedure to be adopted henceforward in the appointment of a Governor-General, and the Conference felt it necessary to give consideration to this question.

Having considered the question of the procedure to be observed in the appointment of a Governor-General of a Dominion in the light of the alteration in his position resulting from the Resolutions of the Imperial Conference of 1926, the Conference came to the conclusion that the following statements in regard thereto would seem to flow naturally from the new position of the Governor-General as representative of His Majesty only.

  1. The parties interested in the appointment of a Governor-General of a Dominion are His Majesty the King, whose representative he is, and the Dominion concerned.

  2. The constitutional practice that His Majesty acts on the advice of responsible Ministers applies also in this instance.

  3. The Ministers who tender and are responsible for such advice are His Majesty's Ministers in the Dominion concerned.

  4. The Ministers concerned tender their formal advice after informal consultation with His Majesty.

  5. The channel of communication between His Majesty and the Government of any Dominion is a matter solely concerning His Majesty and such Government. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom have expressed their willingness to continue to act in relation to any of His Majesty's Governments in any manner in which that Government may desire.

  6. The manner in which the instrument containing the Governor-General's appointment should reflect the principles set forth above is a matter in regard to which His Majesty is advised by His Ministers in the Dominion concerned.

Note

Printed by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1926
[ Top ]


Note: The Beginner's Guide to the Australian Constitution iTunes Podcast contains a sequence on this document.