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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

Limitations of Imperial Conferences

Limitations of Imperial Conferences.

The present plan of holding periodical Imperial Conferences of Premiers can only be regarded as a tentative and temporary expedient. It has two serious and fundamental defects. In the first place, it is merely consultative, and a consultative council without a share of responsibility will only perpetuate anomalies and intensify the feelings of irritation that must from time to time arise. In the second place, the Premiers who attend from oversea have been returned to power through elections which necessarily turned on issues of domestic concern, and, speaking from a Constitutional point of view, they cannot be taken to represent the views of their respective electors with regard to questions with which their Parliaments are not competent to deal. Indeed, it might not be in accordance with the views of these electors to mix questions of Foreign Policy with their questions of domestic party politics.

Lord Milner in speaking of the Imperial Conference then shortly to be held realised its limitations:—

"Our own Ministry, responsible only to that Parliament, is not such a body. But the Conference is. No doubt it is only a consultative body, though from its composition it is a peculiarly weighty one. But people must consult together before they can be expected to act together. It would be an immense step in advance if we could only establish the regular practice of common consultation with regard to all matters of common interest, and I include among matters of common interest any question arising between one State of the Empire and a foreign State. But the Conference only sits for a brief period at long intervals. During all the intervening time the people of the Empire have no common organ. And in the absence of such an organ matters of common interest are neglected or casually and fragmentarily dealt with. And when a question arises between a Colony and a foreign State there is no means of taking the general sense of the Empire upon it. page 12 There is not even any regular system for dealing with it in conjunction with the Colony directly affected. We have had an extraordinary instance of this want of touch in the recent case of Newfoundland."