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British Commonwealth in the Postwar World

June 24, 1964

Report Outline
Recording of Commonwealth Relations
Evolution from Empire to Commonwealth
Debate on Future of the Commonwealth

Recording of Commonwealth Relations

Meeting of Commonwealth Ministers at London

Heads of government of the 19 independent countries which comprise the British Commonwealth of Nations are to gather in London on July 8 for a week of consultation on matters of common interest. The ministers last met in September 1962, when Great Britain's proposed entry into the European Common Market was the principal business at hand. Although no agenda has been drawn up for this year's conference, a prime topic of discussion is likely to be the future of Southern Rhodesia. That self-governing territory, formerly a member of the ill-fated Central African Federation, is in the midst of a grave crisis brought on by differences among its own people and with the British government over political representation of the vast native African majority of its population.

Commonwealth Conference and Rhodesian Crisis

Before the Central African Federation broke up last December, Southern Rhodesia had petitioned the British government for independence. Duncan Sandys, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the Colonies, informed the House of Commons on Nov. 15, 1963, that the government was prepared “to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia in the same circumstances as we have granted it to other British territories.” This meant that Southern Rhodesia would have to give more political representation to the Africans, “who constitute nine-tenths of the population but who have less than a quarter of the seats in parliament.” Sandys said also that “the whole Commonwealth will have to be consulted” on the question of independence.

Winston J. Field, then Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, told the colony's legislative assembly on Nov. 20 that consultation with other Commonwealth countries was out of the question. Field held his ground when he went to London for conferences at the end of January. Back in Salisbury, he said: “We don't want to be members of the Commonwealth if this delays our independence—I cannot anyway see the present Commonwealth continuing.”

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