A Guide to the Contemporary Commonwealth

By W. David McIntyre | Go to book overview

4
The Secretariat and the 1971
Declaration

The most significant landmark in the organisation of the modern Commonwealth was the creation of the Secretariat in 1965. Strong support for the proposal from the new African members took the ‘old’ Commonwealth members by surprise. 1 Yet the idea was not a new one; there had been similar proposals from Australia in 1907, 1924, 1932 and 1944 and New Zealanders had suggested a central council in 1909 and 1956. The earlier proposals were largely aimed at gaining direct links with the British government untrammelled by Whitehall departments handling the routines of colonial administration.

As well as resisting all these moves, Whitehall never did erect a unified imperial secretariat. 2 Colonies came under the Colonial Office (CO), and after the Dominions asserted their distinctiveness in 1907 they did not get a separate department for several years. A Dominions division was created inside the CO. Not till 1926 was a separate Dominions Office (DO) created and it shared a minister with the CO until 1930 and the same building until 1946. The Indian Empire came under the India Office, but a separate Burma Office was created in 1937. The DO became the Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) in 1947 and, after Indian and Pakistani independence a month later, it absorbed the former India Office. Of course, anomalies abounded. The Foreign Office (FO) had ruled, for a time, a number of African protectorates and held on to the largest territory, the Sudan (known as its ‘hobby colony’), to the end. In 1966 the CO and CRO merged to form the Commonwealth Office and two years later it joined the FO to create a single department for external relations. Tradition, however, prevailed in the titling. Instead of becoming a Ministry of External Affairs, it was called rather cumbrously the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO).

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