1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference

Last updated

11th Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference
Host countryFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Dates817 March 1961
Venue(s) Lancaster House
Cities London
Chair Harold Macmillan
(Prime Minister)
Follows 1960
Precedes 1962
Key points
South Africa and apartheid, membership of South Africa, Cyprus and Sierra Leone, British membership in the Common Market, disarmament

The 1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference was the eleventh Meeting of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth of Nations. It was held in the United Kingdom in March 1961, and was hosted by that country's Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.

Commonwealth Prime Ministers Conference

Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences were biennial meetings of Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and the Dominion members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Seventeen Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences were held between 1944 and 1969. As well, the prime ministers met for a Commonwealth Economic Conference in 1952. These series of conferences were a continuation and regularisation of the earlier Imperial Conferences which had been held periodically from 1887 to 1937. Since 1971, Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings have been held.

Commonwealth of Nations Intergovernmental organisation

The Commonwealth of Nations, normally known as the Commonwealth, and historically the British Commonwealth, is a unique political association of 53 member states, nearly all of them former territories of the British Empire. The chief institutions of the organisation are the Commonwealth Secretariat, which focuses on intergovernmental aspects, and the Commonwealth Foundation, which focuses on non-governmental relations between member states.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and sometimes referred to as Britain, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.


While Commonwealth conferences were normally held biennially, this conference was held after an interval of only a year as the May 1960 conference due to disagreement over South Africa and whether the country should be removed from the Commonwealth due to its policy of racial segregation with Malaya's Prime Minister demanding South Africa's expulsion.

Union of South Africa state in southern Africa from 1910 to 1961, predecessor to the Republic of South Africa

The Union of South Africa is the historical predecessor to the present-day Republic of South Africa. It came into being on 31 May 1910 with the unification of the Cape Colony, the Natal Colony, the Transvaal, and the Orange River Colony. It included the territories that were formerly a part of the South African Republic and the Orange Free State.

Federation of Malaya former country

The Federation of Malaya was a federation of what previously had been British Malaya comprising eleven states that existed from 1 February 1948 until 16 September 1963. The Federation became independent on 31 August 1957, and in 1963 Malaysia was formed when the federation united with the Singapore, North Borneo, and Sarawak Crown Colonies.

South African Prime Minister H.F. Verwoerd, attended the conference to give formal notice that his country was to become a republic in May 1961 after having approved the constitutional change in an October 1960 referendum. South Africa's application was opposed by the leaders of African states under black majority rule, as well as Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Malaya's Tunku Abdul Rahman, and the other non-white Commonwealth countries as well as Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker due to South Africa's policy of apartheid. Canada was the only member of the old white Commonwealth to oppose South Africa's application. The "Keep South Africa In" group included Britain's Harold Macmillan, Rhodesia and Nyasaland's Roy Welensky, Australia's Robert Menzies and Keith Holyoake of New Zealand. [1] Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker proposed that South Africa only be re-admitted if it joined other states in condemning apartheid in principle. [2] Once it became clear that South Africa's membership would be rejected, Verwoerd withdrew his country's application and left the conference. [3]

Jawaharlal Nehru first Prime Minister of India

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru was a freedom fighter, the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. He emerged as an eminent leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi and served India as Prime Minister from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in 1964. He has been described by the Amar Chitra Katha as the architect of India. He was also known as Pandit Nehru due to his roots with the Kashmiri Pandit community while Indian children knew him as Chacha Nehru.

Tunku Abdul Rahman Malaysian politician

Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj ibni Almarhum Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah, ; was a Malaysian politician who served as the first Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya from 1955 to 1957, before becoming Malaya's first Prime Minister after independence in 1957. He remained Prime Minister following the formation of Malaysia in 1963, when Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore merged with Malaya, until his resignation in 1970.

John Diefenbaker 13th Prime Minister of Canada

John George Diefenbaker was the 13th prime minister of Canada, serving from June 21, 1957 to April 22, 1963. He was the only Progressive Conservative party leader after 1930 and before 1979 to lead the party to an election victory, doing so three times, although only once with a majority of seats in the House of Commons of Canada.

Concerns were also expressed about Britain's prospective membership in the Common Market and the possible impact on trade relations between the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. [1] The Commonwealth also expressed its support for worldwide disarmament "subject to effective inspection and control". [4]

Cyprus' application to join the Commonwealth, following its independence the previous year, was approved over the opposition of the United Kingdom which objected as Cyprus had not applied for membership prior to independence as had been customary. Cyprus' President, Archbishop Makarios III, joined the conference once the decision on his country's membership was made. The membership application of Sierra Leone was also accepted and became effective upon its independence on 27 April.

Cyprus Island country in Mediterranean

Cyprus, officially the Republic of Cyprus, is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean and the third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean, located south of Turkey, west of Syria and Lebanon, northwest of Israel, north of Egypt, and southeast of Greece.

Makarios III Archbishop and 1st President of Cyprus

Makarios III was a Greek Cypriot clergyman and politician, who served as the Archbishop and Primate of the autocephalous Church of Cyprus (1950–1977) and as the first President of Cyprus (1960–1977). In his three terms as president he survived four assassination attempts and a coup d'état. He is widely regarded by Greek Cypriots as the Father of the Nation or "Ethnarch".

Sierra Leone republic in West Africa

Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, informally Salone, is a country on the southwest coast of West Africa. It is bordered by Liberia to the southeast and Guinea to the northeast. Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savanna to rainforests. The country has a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and a population of 7,075,641 as of the 2015 census. Sierra Leone is a constitutional republic with a directly elected president and a unicameral legislature. The country's capital and largest city is Freetown. Sierra Leone is made up of five administrative regions: the Northern Province, North West Province, Eastern Province, Southern Province and the Western Area. These regions are subdivided into sixteen districts.

This was the first Commonwealth conference in which one of the heads of government was a woman, Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike, who was also the first female prime minister in the world.


Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom Harold Macmillan Prime Minister (Chairman)
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia Robert Menzies Prime Minister
Canadian Red Ensign (1957-1965).svg  Canada John Diefenbaker Prime Minister
Flag of Ceylon.svg  Ceylon Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike Prime Minister
Flag of Cyprus.svg  Cyprus Makarios III President
Flag of Ghana.svg  Ghana Kwame Nkrumah President
Flag of India.svg  India Jawaharlal Nehru Prime Minister
Flag of Malaya.svg  Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman Prime Minister
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand Keith Holyoake Prime Minister
Flag of Nigeria.svg  Nigeria Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Prime Minister
Flag of Pakistan.svg  Pakistan Ayub Khan President
Flag of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953-1963).svg  Rhodesia and Nyasaland Sir Roy Welensky Prime Minister
Flag of South Africa (1928-1994).svg South Africa H. F. Verwoerd Prime Minister

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  1. 1 2 Roth, Edwin (6 March 1961). "The Commonwealth Convenes". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix . p. 15.
  2. John Diefenbaker: Staring down South Africa, CBC Archives, March 17, 1961
  3. "South Africa withdraws from the Commonwealth". South African History Online.
  4. The Commonwealth at the Summit: Communiqués of Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, 1944–1986. London: Commonwealth Secretariat. 1987. p. 69. ISBN   0-85092-317-4.