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Friday, August 10, 2018

History Of Commonwealth

To understand what is meant by the term "Commonwealth" - that is, the association of nations which retain a close connexion with the United Kingdom and whose prime ministers meet together frequently to discuss matters of common interest - we must go back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
    At this time the United Kingdom was still an imperial Power, but many of her colonies had during the nineteenth century achieved constitutional advance to the stage known as 'representative government'. That is, they had popularly elected legislatures, and the Governor, who was the King's representative in the colony and responsible to the British Secretary of State for the Colonies for the goof government thereof, was required to appoint Ministers who commanded the confidence of the Legislature, and govern through them. These colonies were not, however, independent, because the Governor could still refuse to assent to a Bill passed by the legislature, and thus prevent it becoming law. What is more, a colony at this stage only managed its own internal affairs. It could not make treaties with other nations, because foreign affairs were still managed for it by British Government.

    From 1907, it became customary for the ministers of these colonies with representative government to have regular meetings (known as Imperial Conferences) in London to discuss matters of interest to all of them, including relations with foreign countries; and the British Government never did anything affecting them without their consent. By the 1920s, the United Kingdom had ceased to manage their foreign affairs, and they were known as Dominions rather than colonies. It had become recognized that the Governor (or Governor-General as he was by then called) was simply the personal representative of the king in the Dominion and had ceased to exercise governmental authority - just as the king himself had ceased to do so in Britain. In other words, they had become independent in all but name.
   In 1926, the relations between the United Kingdom and the various Dominions were defined at Imperial Conference of that year in a formula laid down by a committee under the chairmanship of Lord Balfour in the following terms :
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 common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations 

  The only factors which stood between the Dominions and full independence were the power of the United Kingdom Parliament to make laws for them, and their own inability to amend or repeal United Kingdom laws applying to them. To remove these obstacles Parliament in 1931 enacted the statute of Westminster, which removed virtually all restriction on Dominions' powers to legislate, and laid down that no future laws enacted by Parliament would have effect in a Dominion unless that Dominion so consented. This meant, among other things, that if there were to be any changes in the rules of succession to the Throne of the United Kingdom, they would henceforth have to be brought into effect by simultaneous legislation in all parliament of the Dominions. The Throne belonged to all Dominions, so their laws on succession had to be uniform.

The Statute of Westminster was in effect the charter of Dominion independence, though not every Dominion chose to avail itself of its freedom. To this day, certain parts of the Canadian Constitution cam only be amended by the United Kingdom Parliament; of course, this limitation has only remained in force at the wish of Canada. But although independent, each Dominion retained the king as its own King. Since he could not be present in all these countries he was represented in each by a Governor-General. But the Governor-General acted entirely on the advice of the ministers of the Dominion just as the king himself acted, in all respects, on the advice of his ministers in London. Indeed the Governor-General himself was appointed by the king on the advise of the Prime Minister of the Dominion. The United Kingdom and the Dominions continued to be styled the British Commonwealth of Nations, as originally named in the report of the Balfour Committee, and their Prime Ministers continued meeting regularly as before. The fact that they all owed allegiance to the same King and were British subjects was one of the major factors which maintained a close union between countries.
   The countries forming the original British Commonwealth of Nations were Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and Ireland; of these land cease to be a member in 1949 and South Africa in 1961.
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