September 21, 2019

Celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth in 2019

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The modern Commonwealth came into being 70 years ago with the London Declaration, signed on 26 April 1949. Across the Commonwealth, many organisations, including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, are celebrating the 70thanniversary with a series of events throughout the year.

Pre-1949

The origins of the Commonwealth stretch back much further than 70 years, but the signing of the London Declaration in 1949 marks the point at which the legacy of the British Empire was replaced with a partnership of equal member countries sharing a set of principles and values. The Balfour Declaration of 1926 had established all members as ‘equal in status to one another, in no way subordinate one to another’, and this was in turn adopted into law with the 1931 Statute of Westminster.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association emerged from the Empire Parliamentary Association, which had been founded in 1911. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was re-established at a conference in London in October 1948, several months ahead of the London Declaration on 26 April 1949 when its new name was adopted.

However, it was India’s desire to adopt a republican form of constitution while simultaneously retaining its link with the Commonwealth that prompted a radical reconsideration of the terms of the association of the Commonwealth.

The 1949 London Declaration

Addressing the issue over six days in London were heads of government from Australia, Great Britain, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, New Zealand, Pakistan and South Africa plus Canada’s Secretary of State for External Affairs. The final communiqué was both innovative and bold. It stated that the Crown was to be recognised as ‘the symbol’ of the Commonwealth. Thus, India could remove King George VI as their head of state but recognise him as the head of the ‘modern’ Commonwealth. The Declaration also emphasised the freedom and equality of its members not just in their relationship to the Head of the Commonwealth but also as a ‘free association of [..] independent nations’ but also in their cooperative ‘pursuit of peace, liberty and progress’. It was also at this time that that the prefix British was dropped from the title of the Commonwealth.

Commonwealth at 70

In the 70 years since this reformulation of the Commonwealth, the relevance and value of the relationship has been reaffirmed and consolidated. The creation of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 and the ever-expanding number of professional and advocacy Commonwealth organisations reflect this relevance. Most significant is the expansion of Commonwealth membership from eight countries in 1949 to 53 countries in 2019 with over 2.4 billion people – meaning 33% of people on the planet belong to the Commonwealth, with representation on every continent.

For the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), its membership expanded across the CPA’s nine Regions and to over 180 Branches including national, state, provincial and territorial Parliaments. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, now in its 108th year, exists to develop, promote and support Parliamentarians and Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) | CPA Headquarters Secretariat, Richmond House, Houses of Parliament, London SW1A 0AA, United Kingdom | T: +44 (0)20 7799 1460 | F: +44 (0)20 7222 6073 | Website: www.cpahq.org | Email hq.sec@cpahq.org | Connect on Twitter @CPA_Secretariat or Facebook.com/CPAHQ

their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and to implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth.

In her 2019 Commonwealth Day message, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth and Patron of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) said: “Commonwealth Day has a special significance this year as we mark the 70th anniversary of the London Declaration, when nations of the Commonwealth agreed to move forward together as free and equal members. The vision and sense of connection that inspired the signatories has stood the test of time, and the Commonwealth continues to grow, adapting to address contemporary needs. Today, many millions of people around the world are drawn together because of the collective values shared by the Commonwealth.”

On the Commonwealth at 70 anniversary, the Secretary-General of the CPA, Mr Akbar Khan said: “The 70th anniversary of the modern Commonwealth provides us with the opportunity to reflect on what the Commonwealth means to us and our communities and shows us that the Commonwealth can play a vital role in ensuring a better future for all, today and for future generations.”

-Ends-

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), now in its 108th year, exists to develop, promote and support Parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and to implement the enduring values of the Commonwealth. The CPA is an international community of around 180 Commonwealth Parliaments and Legislatures working together to deepen the Commonwealth’s commitment to the highest standards of democratic governance.

Visit www.cpahq.org for further information.

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