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1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference

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11th Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference
Host country United Kingdom
Dates8–17 March 1961
Venue(s)Lancaster House
ChairHarold Macmillan
(Prime Minister)
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 11th 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.

While Commonwealth conferences were normally held biennially, this conference was held after an interval of only a year following 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. Malaya's Prime Minister demanded South Africa's expulsion.

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]

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.

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.


Nation Name Portfolio
 United Kingdom Harold Macmillan Prime Minister (chairman)
 Australia Robert Menzies Prime Minister
 Canada John Diefenbaker Prime Minister
 Ceylon Sirimavo Ratwatte Dias Bandaranaike Prime Minister
 Cyprus Makarios III President
 Ghana Kwame Nkrumah President
 India Jawaharlal Nehru Prime Minister
 Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman Prime Minister
 New Zealand Keith Holyoake Prime Minister
 Nigeria Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Prime Minister
 Pakistan Ayub Khan President
 Rhodesia and Nyasaland Sir Roy Welensky Prime Minister
South Africa South Africa H. F. Verwoerd Prime Minister


  1. ^ a b Roth, Edwin (6 March 1961). "The Commonwealth Convenes". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. p. 15.
  2. ^ John Diefenbaker: Staring down South Africa, CBC Archives, 17 March 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.
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1961 Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Conference
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