2. Feb, 2017

Commonwealth Betrayed

Remember the March 1955 House of Commons statement by Ernest Marples, then a junior minister? Mr Marples was very specific: “People who settle in any part of the Commonwealth get all the benefits; and in ‘any part of the Commonwealth’ I include India, Pakistan and, by special arrangement, the Irish Republic. So, the benefits of National Insurance may be awarded to a citizen who goes to those countries. The benefits are payable because of Regulations made under Section 29 of the National Insurance Act 1946, and not by reciprocal arrangements between this country and any Commonwealth country. The Commonwealth countries are exempted from the normal ban that benefits are not paid when people go abroad.”

The period of New Imperialism or neo-imperialism from the early 1800s to the Second World War saw an unprecedented pursuit of overseas territorial acquisitions by UK and other European countries. The aim was to make their territories bigger through conquest and to exploit the resources of the countries they dominated. This created a perceived excuse for Colonialism which Rudyard Kipling described as "taking up the white man's burden of bringing European civilization to the other peoples of the world”. There was no thought of whether ‘other people’ wanted this type of civilization, which South Africa’s Desmond Tutu has defined, “When the white man came they had the Bible and we had the land; now they have the land and we have the Bible”.

Centuries old democracies in Europe guaranteed freedoms and rights for their people while running oppressive and exploitative colonial systems that caused enormous harm to the citizens of the world beyond Europe. UK supported Cecil Rhodes, gun-runner and wheeler-dealer, whose methods were far from legal or ethical, and who had little interest in democracy. However, he promised to deliver Africa to the British Empire and, for that, the British Government were willing to overlook and condone the methods he used. For a hundred years or more, UK exploited its overseas territories to make UK one of the wealthiest European countries while giving little to dominion development (except of course the Bible!).

Weakened by WW2, UK realised it no longer had the ‘clout’ to dominate nations covering 20% of the world’s land area, and recognised that it would have to concede to the demands for independence coming from the largest of those nations. In 1949, the London Declaration established the Commonwealth of Nations representing 52 ‘free and equal’ member states (including UK) with the reigning monarch as its head. Queen Elizabeth continues to reign over several member states (Commonwealth Realms), while others have independent heads of state. The Commonwealth Secretariat operates from Marlborough House in London, the location donated by HM Queen Elizabeth II. Despite being Head of the Commonwealth and benefactor, the Queen regrettably refuses to speak up for the frozen pensioners or for the Commonwealth countries which lose millions of pounds of income every year through the frozen pensions’ policy. Of course, the Queen is controlled by Government; he who pays the piper calls the tune!

The Commonwealth Secretariat organisation has a Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which deals with serious or persistent violations of the Harare Declaration. CMAG has remained a unique body since it was established; its authority to suspend a member country from the Commonwealth is unique amongst international organisations. It can be convened by the Secretary-General to deal with a perceived violation of the Commonwealth principles and values. However, CMAG has acknowledged that “it is not empowered to call to account the United Kingdom Government for its persistent abuse of the Commonwealth Charter through its discrimination against the Commonwealth”. That Charter declares the intention to oppose discrimination for any reason but, apparently, cannot discipline United Kingdom for its persistent abuse of 500,000 British pensioners in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Secretariat is financed and controlled by the UK Government!

To make matters worse, CMAG meets annually in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.  Yet it has done nothing to address UK’s failure to comply with the United Nations Social Covenant since UK first signed up to that Covenant’s terms. Apparently CMAG is not “empowered” to deal with that abuse of international law either! It could make a complaint to the United Nations but chooses not to. He who pays the piper calls the tune!

Ironically, the word Commonwealth comes from “common weal”, a sixteenth century term for common well-being, a concept embraced by United Nations. Yet, with no restraint whatsoever from the United Nations’ organisation, UK Government drives a coach and horses through the whole raison d’etre of the United Nations philosophy! Does UK Government control United Nations also?

Member states have no legal obligation to one another, but are supposedly united by values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, originated by the Harare Declaration. Those values include democracy, free speech, human rights, and the rule of law. Except that the British Government of 1949 could never imagine UK as equal to its dominions, nor contemplate giving up its Empire. It set out to continue its colonial domination by covert means, robbing Commonwealth countries of income that should come naturally to them.

In the Parliament of April 1955, one brave MP stood out: “We practise political discrimination in Central Africa and it is about time that that was brought to an end. We practise land discrimination at the expense of the Africans in East Africa, and this discrimination and these colour bars tarnish our record as an imperial Power. The sooner we get rid of these evils the better for us all. We are obliged, therefore, to give all the aid and assistance we possibly can to further development in the under-developed countries and particularly for those people for whom, as a Parliament, we are directly responsible.” Notice that, despite the London Declaration that created the Commonwealth, six years later MPs still considered UK as an ‘imperial power’ and indeed a colonial power, still with a Minister of State for Colonial Affairs.

It is educational to observe, at first hand, the total hypocrisy of the Tory government of 1955. In a Parliamentary debate the Minister of State for Colonial Affairs, Mr. Henry Hopkinson, said that the Government’s aim was,"To guide the Colonial Territories to responsible self-government within the Commonwealth in conditions that assure the people concerned a fair standard of living and freedom from oppression from any quarter. Before they left this country, some emigrants supported one political party, and some another, but all have taken with them the old British traditions of justice and fair play, and they do not cast aside these old traditions as soon as they leave these shores. On the contrary, when one lives in a distant land, one finds that these traditions are cherished and that they grow in strength and in meaning.” This was said in the same Parliamentary week in which the frozen pensions’ policy was born to support continued Colonial domination. So much for that British tradition of justice and fair play!

Mr Marples’ earlier promise in the House of Commons in 1955 was ignored by Government imperialists who introduced the concept of ‘regulations’ to drive through Parliament the denial of pension increases (as promised by Churchill) for those who retired overseas, including the Commonwealth. It made no difference that those pension increases had been paid for by people mandatorily contributing to the National Insurance Fund all their working lives; or that many of those contributors had fought in WW2 and then returned to help rebuild a shattered Britain. It made no difference that those Commonwealth countries had provided some of the bravest heroes of WW2 to help UK fight Germany. Westminster abhorred dominion independence and was determined to fight it, covertly! Hell hath no fury like a woman an imperialist scorned!

As outrageous as that policy may appear in retrospect, it pales beside the duplicity being played out in the House of Commons. While the Government reneged on protection for the Commonwealth, a policy which would deprive Commonwealth countries of billions of pounds of economic income, it was also allocating resources to encourage emigration to Commonwealth countries, as recommended in the First Annual Report of the Overseas Migration Board. Continuing their Colonial rhetoric, MPs noted that, “The Empire was built up and made great, and its cohesion was formed, by the habit of migration of the generations which had gone before.” It must have been clear that families divided by emigration under government schemes may one day want to be together again, yet MPs were passing measures which would prevent them from doing so because of the loss of annual pension increases. The British Government nevertheless spent about £185,000 annually (equivalent to about £4.6m today), including £150,000 (£3.75m) on the Australia assisted passages scheme and £35,000 (£875.000) on the child migration scheme. (It was revealed many years later that many of these children were sent to Australia without parents’ consent.)

Today, nothing has changed. The British Government betrayed Commonwealth countries when UK joined the EU (originally Common Market) and UK reneged on trade deals with Commonwealth countries in favour of its new commitment to EU countries. It has subsequently attempted to ignore the Commonwealth by continually referring to the Foreign Office when that department is actually the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). And, of course, it has continued to discriminate against pensioners who retire to Commonwealth countries, despite the Commonwealth Charter and the UK Government’s signature to the United Nations Social Covenant.

TodayBritish pensioners, who have mostly moved to be near families, live in all the countries to which the British Government encouraged emigration: Australia (250,000), Canada (150,000), New Zealand (50,000), and South Africa (45,000). All of these Britons are subject to frozen pensions which can be as low as £17 a week. A good example is that of 96-year-old Delysia Willmott who moved to Australia in 1978 to be near her daughter. At the time her pension was £17 a week; thirty-nine years later, her UK pension is still£17 pounds a week instead of the £119 she would be receiving had she retired to an EU country, or to the United States of America, or to Israel.

Today, the British Government, through frozen pensions, deprives economic income to each one of those Commonwealth countries and more: Australia £250m pa; Canada £150m pa; New Zealand £50m pa; and South Africa £45m per annum. Over the past sixty years UK has deprived the Commonwealth of tens of billions of pounds which would have improved the education, health and development potential in many countries. Today, British MPs claim to be ‘proud’ of the £12 billion a year of overseas aid spent on spurious projects in questionable countries; some is spent in Africa where, had pension parity for all been paid from the beginning, it probably would not have been needed. Today, the Department for International Development spends taxpayers’ money through offshore accounts and tax havens where it disappears off any ethical radar (we deal with this elsewhere in this website). MP’s are proud?

British MPs have nothing to be proud about. British MPs and ministers, past and present, and members of the royal family who supposedly have responsibility for the Commonwealth, should hang their heads in shame that they have allowed such iniquity to continue for sixty years.

Anyone with any moral fibre, with any feeling for ‘the old British traditions of justice and fair play’ could not bear to allow this disgraceful policy to continue for another day.

But then, British standards are not what they used to be. Today, MPs have little interest in justice and fair play, preferring to turn away from issues that can be put aside while following Party whips and accepting without question ‘regulations’ which do not affect them. Will integrity ever return to the Palace of Westminster?

Finally, we must never forget those shadowy groups who operate covertly to influence government policy to their own distorted ends; we have them in our sights! We will not forget.

Next: BRITISH SHAME! What democracy?