Courtesy Reuters

The Riddle of the British Commonwealth

THE Balfour Report of the Imperial Conference of 1926, with characteristic British pride in being able to renounce logic, declared that the British Empire, "considered as a whole, defies classification and bears no real resemblance to any other political organization which now exists or has ever yet been tried." Now this is a challenge which has troubled not merely the ingenuity of jurists and the classifications of political scientists. More important, from the practical point of view, it has sadly puzzled the foreign offices of the Powers -- and perhaps even England's own! Lord Balfour, himself a philosopher of rank, might view with satisfaction this solution of a metaphysical problem in which unity had simultaneously to be combined with multiplicity, and in which perfect independence of diplomatic action had to be reconciled with complete loyalty to a common crown. But skeptics, at least outside the Empire, began to wonder whether the talk about the Dominions being "equal in status" to Great Britain was intended to quiet the insistent nationalism of Premier Hertzog of the Union of South Africa as well as the demands of the delegates of the Irish Free State; to salve the wounded feelings of Mr. Mackenzie King of Canada, after his constitutional brush with General Byng over the dissolution of parliament; and at the same time to make no substantial changes in the actual relations of the Dominions, either within or without the Empire. To Premier Hertzog it was as good as a declaration of Dominion independence; to Premier Bruce of Australia it was a comfortably conservative statement that nothing of present practice needed to be changed.

There was much to support the view that the Report might be intended to mean all things to all men. For the right of reservation and disallowance of Dominion Acts still remained intact, as did the right to grant appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council by special leave that existed, substantially unimpaired for several Dominions, under the Royal Prerogative;

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