In 1931, the sun never set on the British Empire. At the petition of Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, the British parliament passed a resolution that virtually emancipated the requesting provincial parliaments. For all its glories and failures, the Empire's time had practically come to an end. Confederacy would soon take the place of empire.
As a document, the Statute of Westminster 1931, calling for provincial parliamentary sovereignty, is in keeping with the larger British tradition, and exemplifies the English expansive style to the fullest when proclaiming liberty. Unlike the American experience, the British tradition of liberty has always centered on a king or queen. Liberty, whether inherently due to all citizens or bestowed as a special gift or exemption, comes down from God, through the blessing of the king, and finally disseminated to the receiving citizenry. However obscure the crown becomes in real political proceedings, it has always been the figurative mouthpiece for the rights and liberties for the people. The Statute's preamble almost reads like a royal proclamation,
"Whereas the delegates of His Majesty’s Governments in the United Kingdom, the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Dominion of New Zealand, the Union of South Africa, the Irish Free State and Newfoundland, at Imperial Conferences holden at Westminster in the years of our Lord nineteen hundred and twenty-six and nineteen hundred and thirty did concur in making the declarations and resolutions set forth in the Reports of the said Conferences:" (Westminster).The imagery gets bolder. Solidifying provincial autonomy by following the old tradition of liberty, the Statute continues,
And whereas it is meet and proper to set out by way of preamble to this Act that, inasmuch as the Crown is the symbol of the free association of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as they are united by a common allegiance to the Crown, it would be in accord with the established constitutional position of all the members of the Commonwealth in relation to one another that any alteration in the law touching the Succession to the Throne or the Royal Style and Titles shall hereafter require the assent as well of the Parliaments of all the Dominions as of the Parliament of the United Kingdom: (ibid).Liberty is a right, and English rights have always been granted by the king. The above declaration is literally intended to be a royal "seal" on independence. Although these sentiments seem authoritative to the American ear, the British intent is just the opposite.
Parliament will not interfere with the parliaments of Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand without their respective consents, "no law hereafter made by the Parliament of the United Kingdom shall extend to any of the said Dominions as part of the law of that Dominion otherwise than at the request and with the consent of that Dominion." In other words, the legislative bands of the British Empire only apply to these provinces insofar as the respective parliaments ratify them. The Statute closes with an affirmation that the previous individual requests for this act have been answered positively. Practically, these provinces are now countries, but not according to the American example. Emancipation has come down as a right to the province. This is why Britain immediately following this resolution in 1931 was a confederacy, with power resting with the provinces but being expressed as a whole.
Image of Westminster Abbey from Wikipedia
Gamble, Richard. Liberty in the Western Tradition. Northwood University. Griswold Lecture Hall, Midland, MI. 28 October 2010. Guest Lecture.