Imperial Conference

19 Oct 1926
End date: 
22 Nov 1926
Event location: 



The Imperial Conference of 1926 was the sixth in a series of increasingly formal meetings of the Prime Ministers of the Dominions of the British Empire, which usually took place in London. The 1926 Conference met shortly after the League of Nations’ General Assembly in 1926.

The most influential conclusion made at the 1926 Imperial Conference was the Balfour Formula or Balfour Declaration (this should not be confused with the 1917 Balfour Declaration which declared British support for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine). Arthur Balfour, who had been Prime Minister from 1902-5, and Foreign Secretary from 1916-19, was in 1926 Lord President of the Council, and thus responsible for presiding over meetings of the Privy Council. At the Imperial Conference Balfour chaired the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee, who were appointed on the 25 October 1926 'to investigate all the questions on the Agenda affecting Inter-Imperial Relations.' This Committee was comprised of Prime Ministers and Heads of Delegations. The central conclusion that the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee drew was that the Dominions were, 'autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate to one another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations'. The statement was ratified by the Conference on 19 November 1926.

Notably, this was not a constitution for the British empire, for which some, including Jan Smuts of South Africa, had campaigned. Furthermore, while the report called for an equality of status of the Dominions, it did not suggest that their functions were anything but different. A tension existed between the self-governing Dominions of the British Commonwealth, whose status was addressed at the Imperial Conference, and the non-self-governing elements of the British empire. The unique status of India in terms of self-determination and continuing inclusion in the British empire in some ways set it apart from the Dominions discussed at the Conference. The Maharaja of Burdwan, the representative for India, gave a lengthy opening speech which addressed India’s loyalty to the British empire and her recent economic developments. The discussions were relevant, however, in terms of the continuing evolution of the British empire and Commonwealth. The Formula was enshrined in law only in 1931, under The Statute of Westminster.

Leopold Amery, First Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
People involved: 

Arthur Balfour, Earl of Birkenhead (Secretary of State for India and Head of the Indian Delegation) [Frederick Edwin Smith], Maharaja of Burdwan (representative for India), The Maharaj Kumar of Burdwan (Private Secretary to the Maharaja of Burdwan), Earl Winterton, MP (Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for India) [Edward Turnour]


The Sunday Observer, The Times and The Sunday Times, The Manchester Guardian, and The Daily Telegraph, compiled in The Imperial Conference, 1926: Report of the Inter-Imperial Relations Committee on Dominions’ Status… together with newspaper editorials, etc. (Wigan, 1926)

The Times, 22 May 1926

Secondary works: 

Young, Kenneth, Arthur James Balfour: The happy life of the politician, Prime Minister, statesman and philosopher, 1848-1930 (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1963)

Amery, Leopold, My Political Life (London: Hutchinson, 1953)

Marshall, Peter, 'Shaping the New Commonwealth, 1949', The Round Table 350 (1999), pp. 185-197

Marshall, Peter, 'The Balfour Formula and the Evolution of the Commonwealth', The Round Table 90.361 (2001), pp. 541-553


Imperial Conference, 1926. Inter-Imperial Relations Committee Report, appendices, p.28


The Maharaja of Burdwan's speech


Position of India: …The basis of our presence here today is special because India herself occupies a special, and, indeed, unique position in the British Commonwealth of Nations. Though her status in many respects is different from that of a Dominion, she looks forward to the progressive realisation of responsible Government as an integral part of the Empire and has already reached a stage of individual development, as an important part of that Empire, through which alone it has been possible for her to be admitted to your counsels and also to take a place, side by side with the Dominions, as a Member of the League of Nations.

Archive source: 

B.P.13/38 (13), Report, Balfour Papers, Miscellaneous Reports, 1892-1926, British Library, St Pancras