Volume #20 - 383.|
ADMISSION OF NEW MEMBERS
High Commissioner in United Kingdom|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
August 13th, 1953|
ADMISSION TO THE COMMONWEALTH|
The procedure for admission to the Commonwealth was reviewed in some detail two years ago during the preparation of the Departmental paper on "Canadian Policy with respect to the Commonwealth".? I do not propose to go over all that ground again, but perhaps you will find it useful to have some indication of how the United Kingdom authorities are approaching the problem. I should say at the outset that much of what follows will necessarily be speculative and unofficial, since United Kingdom policy on many of the matters discussed is still very much in the formative stage.
2. Perhaps the best point of departure for a survey of the United Kingdom Government's approach to this extremely complex problem is the formula stated by Mr. Gordon Walker in June 1951:
"We must make quite clear the distinction between the grant of responsible self-government 1 within the Commonwealth, which is a matter for the United Kingdom Government and the territory concerned, and for them alone, and the question of becoming a full member of the Commonwealth, which is of course a matter for all members of the Commonwealth . . . Were any question of admission to full and independent membership of the Commonwealth to arise, all existing members would, following past practice, be consulted".
This policy, 2 which has been explicitly endorsed by the present Government, has at least three advantages from the United Kingdom point of view:
(a) It underlines the contention that the United Kingdom, as an administering power, has the sole responsibility for determining the pace of political advancement of its dependent territories and for actually granting them self-governing status.
(b) It seeks to forestall any fears there might be among other Commonwealth Governments that they will not be afforded an equal say in approving additions to the present membership.
(c) In view of the expected South African opposition to the admission of African Negro states, it ensures that Colonial Governments and peoples should be aware that admission to the Commonwealth is not an automatic outcome 3 of the attainment of full self-government or a prize which the United Kingdom Government alone is in a position to grant.
3. It is interesting to compare the United Kingdom position with the conclusion reached in paragraph 9 of Annex I of the Departmental policy paper enclosed with Circular Document A 61/51 of August 23, 1951. This conclusion reads: "The United Kingdom is best able to pronounce on whether or not any particular territory over which it exercises control is ready for full self-government. Commonwealth membership should not be automatic, but the general consent of existing members should be obtained prior to any United Kingdom commitment to grant full self-government to the dependency concerned".
4. As far as I know, we have never told the United Kingdom authorities of the conclusion quoted above, although it differs somewhat from the policy enunciated by Mr. Gordon Walker. 4 Our conclusion seems to mean that the general consent of Commonwealth Governments should be a condition precedent to the granting of self-government to a territory under the control of the United Kingdom, 5 whereas under the United Kingdom formula the granting of such status is a matter for the United Kingdom Government alone to decide, the other members being concerned only with the next phase - the transition from self-government to full membership. 6 This distinction may not mean very much in practice; there will probably be some sort of informal consultation with other Commonwealth Governments before the grant of self-government takes place or the final question of admission to full membership arises. Nevertheless, I am inclined to think that the United Kingdom formula is more logical and that we should lose nothing by accepting it. 7 To do so would not deprive us of the right to judge whether the degree of self-government granted amounted to the sovereign independence required for Commonwealth membership, but would preserve what must surely be the right of the United Kingdom to grant full self-government to a territory under its control. 8
5. If we recognize that the United Kingdom has the single right to determine the form and timing of self-government, it follows that our own formal responsibility in the matter of admission to the Commonwealth will not, strictly speaking, begin unless and until the territory in question expresses the wish to become a full member. 9 At that time, the attitude we adopt will presumably depend on our answers to two broad questions: whether we consider that a full degree of self-government has in fact been granted and whether, on other than purely constitutional grounds, we are agreeable to the territory's admission. In other words, we will want to feel confident that the territory has attained real political independence and that it is willing and able to discharge the international obligations of a sovereign state, including membership of the United Nations. Among the factors which will be relevant are: the territory's size, in area and population; its strength in terms of economics and defence; and the quality of the civil rights enjoyed by its population.
6. In an ideal world, the principles sketched above would presumably be an adequate basis on which to judge the suitability of prospective members. There are, however, two additional factors which are likely to confuse the issue:
(a) South Africa may be expected to apply its own standard of judgment, a standard in which differences of race and colour and degrees of civilization are influential.
(b) Nationalist pressures in the dependent territories may be so urgent as to force existing members to agree to premature admissions or run the risks involved in rejecting an applicant.
7. These two factors are at the root of the problem confronting Commonwealth Governments. Their existence brings into relief the dilemma of how the multi-racial composition of the Commonwealth can be further extended without irreparable damage being done to the existing structure and fabric. In what we have been able to learn of their approach to this problem, the United Kingdom authorities appear to have definite misgivings about the wisdom of adding indiscriminately and hastily to the present nucleus of eight full members. Officials to whom we have talked, particularly in the C.R.O., are apprehensive lest the entry of new members should cause the withdrawal of an existing member 10 or diminish the usefulness and feasibility of the present pattern of intra-Commonwealth consultation. On more than one occasion recently, C.R.O. officials have betrayed their concern that the expansion of the Commonwealth may go far to nullify the peculiar value of the periodic meetings of Prime Ministers.
8. In these circumstances, and because it is obviously out of the question to ignore the desires of advanced colonies to exercise their independence within the framework of the Commonwealth, officials here are wondering whether there is any practicable alternative to the traditional practice whereby territories attaining sovereign independence are almost automatically admitted to the status of full members. You may be interested to hear of one idea along these lines which was suggested to us informally last week by Pritchard, Assistant Under-Secretary in charge of the C.R.O. Foreign Affairs Division.
9. Pritchard's idea depends upon acceptance of the theory 11 that dependent territories of the United Kingdom can already be said to be "within the Commonwealth". On the assumption that their status can be so described, he goes on to say that it might therefore be possible for a territory such as the Gold Coast to pass from dependent to independent status within the Commonwealth without any question of "full membership" arising 12 and thus without the necessity for existing members to give their consent. In other words, Pritchard seems to be introducing the concept of a new category of Commonwealth countries which, while constitutionally independent and sovereign, would not enjoy to the full the privileges of full members, i.e. the right of being brought on a basis of full equality into the pattern of intra-Commonwealth Prime Ministers. (It is interesting to note, incidentally, that Pritchard's idea coincides with a prediction expressed in paragraph 19 of the Notes enclosed with your despatch No. K-3259 of September 28, 1951;? that the adoption of Mr. Gordon Walker's formula (paragraph 2 above) might lead to the creation of a new class of countries, just as independent as Canada, but precluded from enjoying the rights of full members). Pritchard does not rule out the possibility that in due course it might prove feasible, by general consent among existing full members, for countries enjoying "independence within the Commonwealth" to progress to the status of full members. This would, however, take time, he thinks, and would depend on the development of South African policy. For the moment, he considers it a matter of priority to improvise some procedure which will prevent the Gold Coast and similar territories from drifting out of the Commonwealth orbit, and at the same time to maintain the cohesion of the existing "full membership" structure.
10. There are obvious difficulties in this scheme, as Pritchard is the first to admit. The real nature of the Commonwealth is already difficult enough to explain without complicating it with yet another constitutional refinement. Another difficulty is that the dependent territories concerned might not be satisfied with anything less than full membership in the sense in which it is enjoyed by Canada or South Africa; in this they might well be supported by India. But I think you will agree that the idea is interesting and though it has no official standing at the moment, at least deserves consideration. Incidentally, it is noteworthy that among the proposals which Dr. Nkrumah's Government is considering (cf. C.R.O. telegram W. No. 58)? is a request that the United Kingdom Government should make a declaration of its readiness to grant the Gold Coast "independent status within the Commonwealth". This wording is interesting in the light of Pritchard's remarks to us, though whether it is intentional (and not merely another way of saying "self-governing status"), I am not yet in a position to say.
11. A quite different view on how the problem of admission to the Commonwealth might be tackled was put forward by Mr. Gordon Walker in a recent conversation with a member of this Office. Mr. Gordon Walker gave no indication that he was thinking in the terms suggested by Pritchard. His thoughts, however, were clearly directed at discovering some device which would serve to circumvent an early crisis brought about by South African intransigence on the membership question. In the first place, he did not appear to agree with the commonly held view that the Gold Coast would assert a claim to full membership within perhaps the next two years. He envisaged a waiting-period of some three to five years. However the time element worked out, he thought that perhaps the best way of avoiding the probable South African objections to the Gold Coast might be to offer the South Africans some acceptable quid pro quo. Rather than have the Gold Coast's application brought forward by itself, he wondered if it might be coupled in some way with consideration of the position of the Central African Federation. South Africa might give way on the Gold Coast in return for an assurance in principle that the Federation would in due course be admitted. India, which might be expected to have misgivings about the qualifications of the Federation, might, Mr. Gordon Walker thought, refrain from pressing them if the Gold Coast had first been admitted. In reply to a question, Mr. Gordon Walker agreed that an arrangement of this kind would not be practicable except on condition that the present protectorate status of Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland were terminated and that the civil rights of the African population throughout the Federation were brought more closely into line with those in the Gold Coast. This, he admitted, would take several years, but nevertheless he thought that some idea along the lines of a "horse-trade" might be worth investigation.
12. After the Gold Coast, Nigeria and the Central African Federation are considered here to be the most likely potential candidates for admission to the Commonwealth. There is much talk in Nigeria of "self-government in 1956" and I suppose it is conceivable that this target date will be attained. In the opinion of Colonial Office officials, however, the facts of the political situation in Nigeria indicate that it can hardly be ready for full self-government in the accepted sense until at least five years from now. The main reason for this view is that the Northern Region, the largest of the three in Nigeria, does not share the enthusiasm of the majority parties in the Eastern and Western Regions for an early cutting of the existing constitutional link with London. A great deal will depend on the outcome of the constitutional conference now being held in London, since this will throw light on the prospects for future cooperation between the three Regions. Unless such cooperation is achieved, there can be no certainty that a united Nigeria in its present form will continue to exist. For the moment, therefore, speculation on Nigeria as a possible full member of the Commonwealth is unprofitable.
13. It is difficult to know what to say of the Central African Federation. Mr. Gordon Walker's remarks suggest the possibility of its becoming an eventual bargaining counter as against the Gold Coast. On the other hand, Colonial Office officials do not expect that the Federation will warrant consideration as a full member before, at the earliest, 1960. They point out that the Federal Scheme provides for a constitutional review in between 7 and 9 years' time. Despite the words of the Preamble to the Scheme, that "when the inhabitants of the territories so desire", the Federation should be enabled "to go forward with confidence to the attainment of full membership of the Commonwealth", it is not believed here that there is any likelihood of this objective being attained until after the constitutional review has taken place. It is, however, recognized that because of the history of the Southern Rhodesian connection with the Commonwealth, some consequential problems will arise when the Federation comes into being. It is felt that Sir Godfrey Huggins has, over the last twenty years, established a special place for himself in Commonwealth affairs and that, as the Prime Minister of the Central African Federation, he will naturally expect to be accorded the same personal status in future as he has had as Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia. The United Kingdom will certainly wish to invite Sir Godfrey to attend future Prime Ministers' meetings in the same capacity 13 in which he has attended all Prime Ministers' meetings since the War, 14 but they do not appear disposed to allow his personal position to provide the Federation with a shortcut to self-government or Commonwealth membership.
14. The above is no more than a preliminary survey of some of the questions which may demand our attention as new territories attain self-governing status. No attempt has been made to examine the qualifications of particular candidates, since the evidence available is too scanty and problematical to warrant detailed consideration at this stage. Perhaps the lesson to be drawn from the foregoing paragraphs is that as the probable date of self-government approaches in particular dependent territories, the degree of intra-Commonwealth consultation must inevitably increase. Such questions as the Gold Coast's desire to have its affairs conducted through the C.R.O. rather than through the Colonial Office 15 and its expected request that the United Kingdom should make a declaration expressing readiness to grant it "independent status within the Commonwealth", are matters of direct interest to all Commonwealth Governments, even though strictly speaking decisions on them may fall within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom Government. It is interesting to learn, therefore, from Mr. J.J.S. Garner, Deputy Permanent Under-Secretary at the C.R.O., that talks have begun between the United Kingdom Ministries concerned, with a view to supplying a greater flow of information on these questions to Commonwealth Governments. C.R.O. Savingsgram W. No. 58 of June 19? on the Gold Coast is an example of the kind of information which we are likely to be receiving with greater frequency in the future. Although, like other C.R.O. messages, it is sent primarily for the information of Commonwealth Governments, the United Kingdom authorities would, I know, particularly welcome Canadian comments on it and similar messages. On several occasions recently, officials of the Colonial Office and the C.R.O. have emphasized the value they attach to Canadian views on problems of colonial policy, both in the United Nations context and outside it. We have the opportunity, therefore, if we are disposed to use it, to exert influence on the thinking of the United Kingdom authorities with regard to the future structure and composition of the Commonwealth.
15. One further point which may be worthy of consideration in any studies you are undertaking concerns the relationship between our policy on admission to the Commonwealth and the attitude we adopt in the General Assembly towards the political advancement of dependent territories. In the past, this relationship has seemed distant and academic. But as the Fourth Committee interests itself increasingly in the political affairs of non-self-governing territories, its recommendations, even though vague (and as the administering powers believe, illegal), may have the effect of accelerating the pace of particular territories towards fully self-governing status. This process is of direct concern to Commonwealth countries in so far as the Assembly's resolutions may apply to non-self-governing territories (e.g. the Gold Coast) under United Kingdom administration. The faster these territories advance towards self-government, the sooner they will aspire to Commonwealth membership. It seems to me important, therefore, that in deciding our attitude towards resolutions dealing with non-self-governing territories, we should guard against any statement or action which might be inconsistent with or prejudicial to our policy on the composition of the Commonwealth. 16