Imperial Conference

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This article is about meetings in the British Empire. For the Japanese imperial meetings, see Gozen Kaigi.

Imperial Conferences (Colonial Conferences before 1907) were periodic gatherings of government leaders from the self-governing colonies and dominions of the British Empire between 1887 and 1937, before the establishment of regular Meetings of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1944. They were held in 1887, 1894, 1897, 1902, 1907, 1911, 1921, 1923, 1926, 1930, 1932 and 1937.

All the conferences were held in London, the United Kingdom, the seat of the Empire, except for the 1894 and 1932 conferences which were held in Ottawa, the capital of the most senior dominion. The 1907 conference changed the name of the meetings to Imperial Conferences and agreed that the meetings should henceforth be regular rather than taking place while overseas statesmen were visiting London for royal occasions (e.g. jubilees and coronations).

List of conferences[edit]

Year Date Country Town Retreat Chairperson
1887 4 April – 6 May  United Kingdom London Senate Chamber Robert Gascoyne-Cecil
1894 28 June – 9 July Canada Canada Ottawa Centre Block Mackenzie Bowell
1897 24 June – 8 July  United Kingdom London Colonial Office, Whitehall Joseph Chamberlain
1902 30 June – 11 August


Joseph Chamberlain
1907 15 April – 14 May


Henry Campbell-Bannerman
1911 23 May – 20 June


H. H. Asquith
1917 21 March – 27 April


David Lloyd George
1918 12 June – 26 July


David Lloyd George
1921 20 June – 5 August


David Lloyd George
1923 1 October – 8 November


Stanley Baldwin
1926 19 October – 22 November


Stanley Baldwin
1930 1 October – 14 November


Ramsay MacDonald
1932 21 July – 18 August Canada Canada Ottawa House of Commons Chamber, Parliament Hill R. B. Bennett
1937 14 May – 24 June  United Kingdom London Stanley Baldwin
(until 28 May)
Neville Chamberlain
(from 28 May)

Notable meetings[edit]

Originally instituted to emphasise imperial unity, as time went on, the conferences became a key forum for dominion governments to assert the desire for removing the remaining vestiges of their colonial status.[1] The conference of 1926 agreed to the Balfour Declaration, which acknowledged that the dominions would henceforth rank as equals to the United Kingdom, as members of the 'British Commonwealth of Nations'.

The conference of 1930 decided to abolish the legislative supremacy of the British Parliament as it was expressed through the Colonial Laws Validity Act and other Imperial Acts. The statesmen recommended that a declaratory enactment of parliament, which became the Statute of Westminster 1931, be passed with the consent of the dominions, but some dominions did not ratify the statute until some years afterwards. The 1930 conference was notable, too, for the attendance of Southern Rhodesia, despite it being a self-governing colony, not a dominion.[2]

The 1932 British Empire Economic Conference held in Ottawa discussed the Great Depression, and the governments agreed to institute 'Imperial Preference': a system of protectionist tariffs on imports from non-imperial countries.

Towards Commonwealth meetings[edit]

As World War II drew to a close, Imperial Conferences were replaced by Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conferences, with 17 such meetings occurring from 1944 until 1969, all but one of the meetings occurred in London. The gatherings were renamed Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM) in 1971 and were henceforth held every two years with hosting duties rotating around the Commonwealth.

See also[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Mole, Stuart (September 2004). "Seminars for statesmen': the evolution of the Commonwealth summit". The Round Table. 93 (376): 533–546. doi:10.1080/0035853042000289128. 
  2. ^ Brides, Lord Saint (April 1980). "The Lessons of Zimbabwe-Rhodesia". International Security. The MIT Press. 4 (4): 177–84. doi:10.2307/2626673. JSTOR 2626673.