Fiftieth Anniversary Meeting: Some Aspects of the Commonwealth
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 19 Nov 1953, p. 76-91
Nye, Lieutenant-General, Sir Archibald, Speaker
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The changes and certain trends which the speaker thinks he sees in present-day conditions. Going back into history to sustain his argument. The origin and some history of the Commonwealth. Significant events of 1947 which have altered fundamentally the whole conception and basis of the Commonwealth; assessing their importance and the trends and tendencies which they are likely to set in train. First, India, Pakistan and Ceylon becoming members of the Commonwealth, bringing something like 450 million people who had not been there before. Second, the lack of a common King. Also, the lack of a common defence policy today. Changes in trade. The capacity for change that is the political genius of the British people. Some words on how the Commonwealth works: looking at one or two aspects in detail: information exchange and constant routine consultation. Where the Commonwealth stands in the world today. The objective of a world federation.
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19 Nov 1953
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Full Text
"Some Aspects of the Commonwealth"
Thursday, November 19th, 1953
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. A. E. M. Inwood.

MR. INWOOD: There are so many things to be said upon this occasion: the founding of our club in 1903; the outstanding public service rendered by our past presidents; the ceaseless efforts of the directors of the club over the last fifty years; the support of our loyal membership which numbered 497 in 1904 and now numbers some 2,000; and last but not least, I would be remiss in not paying tribute to the some 1500 speakers who have appeared on our platform and contributed much to the thinking of our membership and this community.

Incidentally, on the lighter side, I estimate that if all the speakers we have had address this club in the last 50 years were lined up and in turn without stopping, were to deliver once again their addresses we would be here day and night for 41 days, 16 hours and 10 minutes. Those calculations do not include today, Sir.

The Empire Club was founded on November 18th, 1903 by a group of far-sighted gentlemen of Toronto headed by Lieut.-Col. James Mason, having in mind an organization such as we know it today with the objective of furthering the interests of Canada and the Empire or the Commonwealth as it is now known.

Fifty years later The Empire Club of Canada, due chiefly to our past presidents, is known around the world and has the reputation of being the most effective forum in Canada! One of the reasons for this is that the Empire Club was founded upon the same ideals and with the same high interests as the British Commonwealth of Nations, which is also stronger and more closely knit than ever before and it is still the most important United Nations on Earth!

There is one thing of which I am perfectly certain and that is that the Gentlemen who have toiled for fifty years to build and sustain this club have solidified and strengthened the loyalty of its members and this community to our own country, Canada to our mother country, England and to our brothers and sisters in our Commonwealth.

If a president of the Empire Club was ever severely tempted to turn his chairmanship or introductions into a speech today, it is I indeed who is so tempted, for no past president ever chaired our meetings on a more auspicious occasion or had the honour of having more past presidents sitting before him. No past president ever had the incentive that I have to talk about the accomplishments of his predecessors. But, I must humbly respect the age-old custom and restrain my enthusiasm to chairing this meeting and leave much unsaid which is very much alive in my heart.

I am now going to ask Lieutenant-General Sir Archibald Nye to be kind enough to present certificates of appreciation to our past presidents here today.

These certificates are signed by our Honorary President, Field Marshal The Right Honourable Earl Alexander of Tunis, and also signed by your President and Honourary Secretary, and bear the club seal. All printing has been graciously done by hand and they are indeed valuable treasures for their owners who so rightly deserve them.

Will the past presidents please come forward as I call out their names

J. F. M. Stewart 1907-08
Elias Clouse 1909-10
F. J. Coombs 1918
R. A. Stapells 1919
Ellis H. Wilkinson 1923
Col. A. E. Kirkpatrick 1926
Robert H. Fennell 1928
H. G. Stapells 1931
Col. The Hon. Geo. A. Drew 1932-33
Major Jas. Baxter 1933-34
Hon. Dana H. Porter 1934-35
Major R. M. Harcourt 1937-38
J. P. Pratt 1938-39
C. R. Sanderson 1941 -42
John C. MacBeth 1942-43
W. Eason Humphreys 1943-44
Charles R. Conquergood 1944-45
Eric F. Thompson 1945-46
Major F. L. Clouse 1946-47
Tracy E. Lloyd 1947-48
Thos. H. Howse 1948-49
H. G. Colebrook 1949-50
Sydney Hermant 1950-51
D. H. Gibson 1951 -52
John William Griffin 1952-53

Our distinguished speaker today is a man who has risen in his life-time from the rank of private to that of a Lieutenant-General and a senior United Kingdom High Commissioner and is still a young man.

He was born in Dublin and attended the Duke of York's military school at Dover. At age 18 in 1914, he enlisted in the ranks of the famous Irish Regiment, The Leinsters. He was subsequently commissioned in the field with his own regiment, was wounded and won the Military Cross.

Following the war he continued an intensive interest and activity in military life, but took up law and was called to the bar and became a member of the Inner Temple.

In 1939 he was given command of a brigade in India, but returned to the war office as a major-general in 1940. In 1941 he was appointed vice-chief of the Imperial General Staff and was shortly thereafter appointed Lieutenant-General.

In 1948 he became Britain's first High Commissioner to the new Republic of India.

LIEUTENANT-GENERAL SIR ARCHIBALD NYE: I chose as my subject "Some aspects of the Commonwealth", hoping to deal with the changes and certain trends which I think I see in present-day conditions. If, in order to sustain my argument, I go back into history a trifle and cover ground which must be very well known to you all, and if in an endeavour to compress what I have to say to reasonable limits I omit a great deal that ought to be said, and if I also deal with it with perhaps some certain lack of subtlety, I hope that you will bear with me.

May I just go back sufficiently far to remind you that the origin of the Commonwealth (or as we once used to call it, the British Empire) was trade. People went forth from England in pursuit of personal gain, and I am sufficiently old-fashioned to think that there is nothing shameful in men wishing to improve their personal conditions. It is a little bit unfashionable in certain respects to do so, but I think we can look back on what those men did without any feeling that it was very improper.

Following the trade, there were certain strategic considerations which entered inevitably into the matter. We had to protect our colonies, as we called them. We had to protect their trade locally on land (and it is very enlightening to read how much money the Mother Country was prepared to spend on her colonies even in very recent times) and above all, we had to protect the trade movement across the high seas. The origin of the strength of the British Navy rests very largely in the ships that were required for the protection of merchant trade throughout the world and the territories from which they operated, and the history of the British Army is very largely one of seizing, occupying and maintaining bases from which it would be possible for the Navy to operate, and without whose assistance the Navy would have been completely impotent. One gets the picture, therefore, of trading units the world over, supported by defence forces for their protection and the furtherance of their interests and with the family growing and the individual colonies gradually achieving maturity and demanding, and ultimately receiving, complete independence. I think the interesting point about that really is this--it has been said that if the British have any political genius it is because they have a capacity to change with changing times and changing conditions, and to adapt their policies to what is likely to happen in the future. I think that is broadly true both in our internal matters and in our external matters. Sometimes we have been rather slow and rather dilatory, and we only just moved in time before something serious happened, but we usually have managed to move in time. When demands came up from all over the Empire for independence, that independence was conceded on the whole without great difficulty and on the whole, I think, with some dignity and some grace.

You thus get a picture in 1939 of a Commonwealth where all members were equal and all members were independent. Indeed, as has been aptly stated by, I think, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, the members of the Commonwealth had independence but with something added to it. This of course had statutory sanction by the Statute of Westminster, but as often happens in Commonwealth affairs, this conduct merely gave a formal dignity to something which had in fact been in being for a very considerable time, and it did not alter anything that had happened. I think in 1939 also the volume of trade within the Commonwealth persisted. These roots had been very deeply dug. We all had something which we wished to offer to each other, there were long traditions of people trading with firms and with individual countries, and trade within the Commonwealth was also helped, or perhaps I ought to say more accurately "influenced" by Imperial Preference, and it made a very serious impact on our outlook. There was another consideration in 1939, I think, which influenced conditions, and that was the question of defence. In days gone by it was accepted that the responsibility for the defence of the colonies rested primarily with the Mother Country. That view persisted, and had persisted for a very long time. Ultimately, starting perhaps significantly with the South African War, and later on with World War I, the Dominions started to take a greater and greater share in the private defence of their own countries, but even so it had in the past been rather more that they came forward in times of crisis and tended to be not quite so enthusiastic in times of peace. But by 1939 throughout the Commonwealth everyone had their defence forces, perhaps not very large but broadly speaking consistent with what their economy could bear. I think the really important point was this, the question whether any individual country within the Commonwealth would or would not go to war rested entirely with their own parliaments. Nobody had committed himself beforehand to any promise or any undertaking, and each country could, if a crisis came, do exactly what it pleased. And as you know, in one country in particular there was some element of doubt in the first instance as to whether or not they should or should not take part in World War II. Nevertheless, there was a certain tacit understanding, without any obligation, a certain tacit understanding, that the probability was that if war broke out we would all find ourselves in it together, and it followed from that that we were prepared in times of peace to get together and try to coordinate our actions. Thus you will find efforts were made to get a common military organization, to have common weapons, arms and equipment, to exchange military information and even to discuss and to exchange military plans in the event of war breaking out, all done without any obligation on the part of anyone. If I summarise the position prior to the war, the characteristics of the Commonwealth seemed to be these. First of all, we all came from a common stock. That stock was a European stock. It was largely British (as you know so well, you have in your own country a very strong French element, and in South Africa there is a very strong Dutch element) but broadly speaking the stock was British, or certainly European, and it was common in that respect. Secondly, we had a common King. The King was the head of the British Empire in 1939 in every sense of the word. I think it is true to say that he was the legal head, the factual head, and I think that he was regarded also as the head of the Empire by the ordinary people throughout the Empire from what one might call a traditional, or a sentimental, or an emotional aspect, and he was firmly entrenched there. We had, as I have mentioned, this point of common trade the volume of which was on any showing quite enormous, and the result of all these different factors put together was, I think it is fair to say, that we had common interests. There were a few differences of opinion on certain things, but they were very minor and broadly speaking there was a feeling of great solidity and solidarity based on these characteristics which I have mentioned.

In 1947 certain events took place of very great significance and of very great importance, which have altered fundamentally the whole conception and basis of the Comwealth and it is well, I think, that we should know what these are and that we should attempt to assess their importance and the trends and tendencies which they are likely to set in train. In 1947 India, Pakistan and Ceylon became members of the Commonwealth, bringing into the Commonwealth something like 450 million people who had not been there before. Secondly, the Commonwealth no longer had a common King, and the reason for that was that India wished to have a republic. They did not wish to accept the King as the legal head of the Indian State. They said they were prepared to accept him as the head of the Commonwealth, but without any legal basis. I think myself that one can quite understand the motives that prompted the Indian Government to take this view, which were largely ones of sentiment. From a practical point of view, of course, the differences are very small. The position of the King is entirely a constitutional one, he is bound by the advice of his Ministers, and I think that it would be fair to say that in those countries where the King is the legal head nobody would suggest that the powers which he possesses are operated in any harsh way inimical to the countries involved. As you know, they are largely very formal, but the duties which the King carries out for the Commonwealth as a whole are in India carried out by the President of the Indian Republic.

I would not like you to think that this change took place with any ill-will. The Indian people are, I think, perhaps one of the most courteous nations in the world, and what was done was done with great dignity and great good-will. When the late King died (I was High Commissioner in Delhi at the time) my table was piled every day with letters, telegrams and messages which came from every corner of India and from every class of society in India, representing not merely private individuals from the President himself to a man who had been a butler in an English household, but representing every university, every school, every Chamber of Commerce and indeed every public organization that one could imagine, given with I think a genuine spontaneity, perhaps with a certain amount of emotion, couched in the most friendly terms, and almost invariably referring to the King as the head of the Commonwealth. And you may have noticed that Mr. Nehru, who is the Prime Minister of India, will be present at the Coronation next year, so perhaps one ought not to attach too much importance to the change which has taken place, but it is a change, and one must notice that it is so, and it also follows from that that it is open to any other member of the Commonwealth, if they so wished, to follow the steps taken by India.

There is also today no common defence policy. That tacit understanding to which I referred, that the chances were that in a great war we would all be in it together, no longer exists. India, for example, has declared that she has an independent foreign policy. She wishes to ally herself neither to the free nations of the world on the one hand nor to the Communist countries on the other, but wishes to pursue an independent path hoping that she will be able to influence both sides towards peace. And the probability is-probability is the wrong word--and the possibility is that in the event of war India might, in the first instance, find herself neutral. Pakistan might also be in similar circumstances, Therefore the common concept of a probability of our all fighting together no longer exists.

There has also been a very great change in the trading situation. The upheaval caused by the last war has had very violent repercussions in currency, finance, trade, and industry and in many respects the pattern of trade has changed, perhaps in some respects permanently. I think there is no need for me, in Canada where you are so well aware of the dollar problem and the effects that it has had upon our trade, to elaborate this point, but it is one of general application. Thus many, many changes flow from the events of 1947, and there are just one or two comments I would like to make upon it if I may. First of all India, Pakistan and Ceylon decided of their own free will to remain in the Commonwealth. They were at perfect liberty to do precisely as they pleased. When independence was given to these countries it was not merely implicit, it was explicit that they might do precisely as they pleased, and by a stroke of the pen any of these countries could have left the Commonwealth. Moreover, and I can assure you of this from my personal knowledge, no influence, direct or indirect, was brought to bear on any of these Governments to persuade them to remain in the Commonwealth. The public statement of the Prime Minister of England was that they were to remain if they so wished, and the Government in my country sincerely hoped that they would stay, and the decision was left to them. I think it is significant--very significant--particularly when you look back on the past history of the relations between my country and these countries which have been fighting for freedom for so long, that they made this decision to stay.

The next point of interest, I think, is this, that I said earlier on that if the British people had any political genius, it was in their capacity for change, and I think it is an elementary fact really that the future lies with the man of vision in any walk of life, the man who is able to peer ahead and to see the shape of things to come for the next twenty years, and to adapt his policies or his activities to them--and to be right. The future is with him, and justly so, and the same thing applies to countries. I think myself that on this occasion great vision was shown, not merely, and this is the point, by the United Kingdom, because in 1947 all countries of the Commonwealth were equal. It was not the business of the United Kingdom to say India shall or shall not be admitted to the Commonwealth as a Republic. It was the responsibility of every individual member of the Commonwealth. It was, so to speak, the Committee of the Club to decide whether a new member would be admitted under rules which hitherto had not been in being, and not only was this theoretically so, it was practically so. In your own country, for example, Ministers of your Government exercised a very considerable influence both in the discussions which preceded this decision and on the decision which was taken at the time. It therefore represents a decision made by the Commonwealth as a whole. There is one more point which I might make in that connection, and it is this, how was it possible to do this? Why was it possible to allow somebody into the Commonwealth on terms which hitherto had not been allowed? And the answer is that we, thank God, within the Commonwealth have not got what I think they call a written constitution. We are a loose--very loose--federation of people who are completely free to do whatever we think is right, and if we wish to change--not the rules, because we have not got rules and regulations, we merely have precedents and customs, rather more handrails than handcuffs--and if we choose to change these things we may and we do, and I would have thought that we would be in the happy position of being able to congratulate ourselves on the absence of any rigidity in our constitution which might have limited our discretion in this important matter.

May I just say a few words about the way the Commonwealth works. I make no apology for this, because I myself have learned an awful lot since I have been a High Commissioner, in this respect. Anyone might ask "What happens in the Commonwealth from day to day, I mean what do the chaps do about it?" Well, one could talk for a very long time, but may I just take one or two aspects.

First of all information, or intelligence, whatever you care to call it. With the Commonwealth spread throughout the world we all obtain, or acquire, a very great deal of information about all sorts of diverse subjects. Well, we exchange it. We give it very freely to each other. And the volume of it is astonishing in all sort of spheres. It is, I think, of supreme importance, because when responsible people have to make up their minds as to what they are to do, information is the data on which they will ultimately exercise their judgment, and the better the information--I was going to say, the better the judgment; I think I should say the better the judgment ought to be, and I think ordinarily is.

The next thing is that we have constant routine consultation on every conceivable, and indeed many inconceivable, subjects. I have found in my experience constant streams of telegrams, letters and despatches dealing with divers subjects, on which we all wish to consult each other to obtain views. I found in India, for example, that I myself dealt ordinarily with Ministers and senior officials and all the way down in my organization we had contacts with our opposite numbers and there was a constant stream the whole time. You could hardly go away for a day or so without getting out of touch with what was going on. What happened was this. Somebody, not necessarily my country, it might be India, it might be Australia, it might be your own country, would start off something, perhaps that some subject would likely come up for discussion, that we might be faced with a problem to decide what to do in this, that or the other circumstances. Very often they would give a view that the best thing to do appeared to be so and so for the following reasons, and thus the discussion would start, a free, frank and open discussion, where one was able to put one's cards on the table, face upwards, and have a frank review of the whole thing. You would frequently find in discussion that if we, for example, originated some proposal, that what our friendly government had said in reply might very well alter our view. We might be prepared to withdraw proposition A, B and C. and to modify proposition D, E and F. And in an enormous number of cases where we started some distance apart, we were able to find ourselves in substantial agreement. What is, I think, even more important is this: sometimes we did not agree, but we agreed to disagree, and it seems to me that this is a matter of supreme importance because when you parted, you parted without any sense of bitterness or any sense of recrimination, after a fair, friendly discussion of the whole thing, and you parted with mutual respect, with mutual understanding and with mutual sympathy, and sometimes with one side quite frankly saying "Heaven knows who will prove to be right." I think it a bit difficult to overestimate the importance of that approach, which goes on throughout the Commonwealth, to the problems which confront us. We have also special meetings which take place from time to time, meetings of Ministers, sometimes of Defence Ministers or Ministers of Economics, and sometimes for Prime Ministers. To me it is impossible to overestimate the responsibility of diplomatic people like myself--forgive me, I did not mean to describe myself as a diplomat, I am rather a bogus diplomat--but people holding the positions that I hold. It is true it is our business to represent to our own countries what the country to which we are accredited is really thinking, and reveal what point of view they have, but nothing can really substitute for personal contacts, and there is also an enormous difference between writing a letter or a despatch, however superb your English may be, and sitting round a table face to face discussing common problems. People come from all parts of the world with different back-grounds and such meetings have an obvious value. It is of course very desirable for practical conclusions to be reached and for executive action to flow therefrom, but for myself I would regard these things rather more as a bonus than as a dividend. If you agree about nothing, you got your dividend. You have met there. All the things that you were bottling up inside you as to why this damned fellow did not do ... which you were able to get off your chest, and find that he was not quite such a damned fool, perhaps, as you had thought. All this exchange of ideas and information, what one might call this mutual education which goes on of people with divers backgrounds from all parts of the world, seems to me to have a highly educational effect, and if it only succeeds in educating those people whom we have set above us, then I think it has accomplished something which is well worth while; but I think I might summarise the general procedure as saying this, that we are all very closely linked together in this way, and the whole point is really that there is a basic friendliness. That is the thing. We are all not only prepared to listen to each other, but there is a predisposition to try and meet each other if we possibly can, and that fundamental approach to our problem which is a thread running through practically everything we have to deal with seems to me to be one the important of which it would be very difficult to exaggerate.

Now may I just finally try and assess where we stand in the world today. I would not like to go on record as saying anything which would detract from the importance of the United Nations organisation. Obviously its importance is vital. We must keep in contact with Communist countries who do not see eye to eye with us, and we all must be prepared to go to this great international forum and play our parts, but it is also perfectly obvious to us all that there are certain fundamental differences of opinion in this organisation which make it extremely difficult for practical and desirable results to flow therefrom. Therefore anything which can help to strut up the United Nations organization, anything which can help to supplement its functions or its ideas of people getting together, seems to me to be obviously good. You find that if you look at the Commonwealth and try and assess its importance under the heading of the area of the world that it occupies, the proportion of the population of the world that is within the Commonwealth, the trade which still flows on a vast scale within the Commonwealth, the sum total of its armed forces, the sum total moreover of what is of even more importance, its knowledge, its experience, its wisdom and its tradition; on any showing the sum total of these things is something enormous, and the Commonwealth is represented, Gentlemen, in five continents, a fact of very great significance. Let us remember this-when the Government of my country put forward a view, that view is one that is not uninfluenced by what is happening in Europe. When the Government if India or Pakistan puts forward a view, that is not uninfluenced by what is happening in Asia. When your Government put forward a view, they must be very aware of general North American influences which must operate in various ways. So that the potential of the Commonwealth in total is so very much greater than the sum total of its component parts, and it has, I think, an enormous potential influence in the world.

I would not like to pretend to you for one moment that we all think eye to eye. We are all influenced by certain circumstances, considerations of our background, of our history, of our trade, of our tradition and our interests. It is inevitable that it should be so, and that between certain countries of the Commonwealth there are certain differences of opinion. I think it is natural, and indeed in many ways it is healthy, that it should be so. If we all saw eye to eye on every question, life would cease to be a problem and would cease to be a struggle, and we would all be fat and idle and complacent and smug, and on the road to decadence. It therefore keeps us very much on our toes and sets us on the right lines. But despite whatever differences may appear, I would like to leave my last word with you rather on these lines--that it would be difficult for anyone, either belonging to the Commonwealth or without it, to exaggerate the important place which it has in this world today. I think it is true to say that in every country of the world the ordinary, common people want, more than anything, peace. There are dark clouds in the sky, war clouds, wherever we look today, and the ordinary people not merely want peace, they want it passionately; in some countries because they are moved by an intellectual approach, or it may be an emotional approach, although they may not have experienced war within living memory, in some countries where the horrors of war have touched them, though perhaps not too heavily, and in some countries including my own where the horrors of war have left a permanent scar on our lives, where we have poured out our blood and our treasure for the things which we thought worth while, and where we find ourselves today in a very critical and a very serious situation. I think that the people the world over are looking to their leaders, to their governments, to see that this peace is to be maintained. and on Ministers in all countries in the world rests very heavy and very grave responsibility to fulfil the wishes of the people the world over, and it must be the business of such men to be looking round to see by what means they can possibly influence events in the direction which they and their people desire. I would remind you of the words of Tennyson in this respect:

"For I dipt within the future far as human eye could see, Saw the vision of the world and the wonder that could be,

Till the war drum throbbed no longer and the battle flags were furled,

In the Parliament of Man, the federation of the world."

And this surely should be the objective that we should all set before us; and if this is our objective we have at hand an organization capable of exercising the most enormous influence. Here you have this Commonwealth, with a background which I have endeavoured to describe to you, something which is unique in the whole course of history, something which is living and virile and vital, something where the statesmen of the world may come and may approach it in no mean, narrow, parochial fashion, but where they may come prepared to make some contribution from their knowledge, their experience, their wisdom, where they may show a generosity, a friendliness, and make an active contribution over and above the requirements of national interests and national sentiments. There is nothing comparable in the world to give us this opportunity of influencing events such as we have today. It seems to me that it is the duty of all of us who are members of the Commonwealth to do everything in our power to sink those minor and unimportant differences which we may have in ordinary times and to stand together in times of crisis, bound together by hoops of steel, prepared to face and to deal with the forces of evil which may confront us, and if we can do this, it seems to me that it follows as the night the day that we need have no fear what is ahead of us, indeed more than that, we can look to the future with faith and hope and with confidence.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by the Honourable George Drew.

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Fiftieth Anniversary Meeting: Some Aspects of the Commonwealth

The changes and certain trends which the speaker thinks he sees in present-day conditions. Going back into history to sustain his argument. The origin and some history of the Commonwealth. Significant events of 1947 which have altered fundamentally the whole conception and basis of the Commonwealth; assessing their importance and the trends and tendencies which they are likely to set in train. First, India, Pakistan and Ceylon becoming members of the Commonwealth, bringing something like 450 million people who had not been there before. Second, the lack of a common King. Also, the lack of a common defence policy today. Changes in trade. The capacity for change that is the political genius of the British people. Some words on how the Commonwealth works: looking at one or two aspects in detail: information exchange and constant routine consultation. Where the Commonwealth stands in the world today. The objective of a world federation.