The main period of decolonisation was from 1947 to 1983, beginning with India
and Pakistan and concluding with Brunei.
In the late I970's, apart from Hong Kong which had its own agenda, all the main
players, now Members of the Commonwealth, were independent, or in the last
stages leading to independence. These included Vanuatu and Zimbabwe, which
gained independence in 1980, with Belize, Antigua and Barbuda following in 1981,
and St Christopher and Nevis, and Brunei in 1983.
Apart from these countries, the British Government was left with the Hong Kong
problem and ten remaining dependencies with indigenous populations: Anguilla,
Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar,
Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena, including Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, and
Turks and Caicos Islands. A note on the current state of these territories is
appended. None of these was at the time exhibiting any interest in independence.
The viability of St Helena looked remote. Pitcairn was too small. For different
reasons, independence in Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands did not appear to be an
Until this time the goal of eventual independence very much governed the
philosophy of the colonial expatriate, whether on pensionable or contract terms. We
did not have mission statements in those days. Our common and personal role was
to deploy all our skills and experience to reach the stage when the colony could
exercise a choice to go independent, and at the same time to train our local
successors to step into our shoes. We were all trainers. Planning was geared to
achieve standards of economic development, localisation of the public and private
sectors, sound legislative and parliamentary practice, official and political probity,
and internal security, which would allow the ship of state to sail on smoothly under
new management when the decision was taken.
However, in 1987, a Ministerial Statement was made which altered the simple
goal of independence to say that this option would remain, and that every assistance
would be given to territories opting to go independent, but if dependencies wished
to retain dependency status the United Kingdom would respect that decision. There
is a significant difference between saying that independence is the goal,
but territories can choose their own timing, and stating that they can retain
dependency status in permanence. The repercussions of this do not seem to
have been fully thought through. The planning process for creating the right climate
for independence has assumed its own momentum. There is a dynamic approach
to the economy, administration and legislation, while the constraints upon
Ministers imposed by a dependency constitution stretch indefinitely into the
There has been no change of attitude in the overseas territories towards
independence over the last 20 years. Gibraltar continues to press its case for self-determination but this has been tempered by Spanish high-handedness.
The others are more concerned to foster better partnership
relations with the United Kingdom.
To obtain more public understanding of dependency problems and to encourage
optimum relationships between the United Kingdom and the dependencies,
Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands sponsored a conference held in London in 1993.
This was opened by The Right Hon. Douglas Hurd, then Foreign Secretary, who
announced that the old colonial relationship should be replaced by one of
partnership. Following the conference, dependency representatives in London, with
the approval of their Governments, sponsored the formation of a Dependent
Territories Association (DTA, now UKOTA), meeting in London about six times a
year. A representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is always invited
to attend. The UKOTA provides a forum for discussion of matters of common
interest, shares information, works for the mutual benefit of overseas territories,
makes recommendations to Dependency Governments, and establishes direct
communications with organs of the British Government, the Commonwealth, the
European Union and other organisations.
Matters discussed since formation include the shadowy relationship dependencies
have with the Commonwealth, as they are not full members: full British citizenship
allocated to two dependencies, Gibraltar and Falkland Islands, but not to the
remainder; the need to dispense with visas to visit European countries; the need for
annual meetings of Chief Ministers; the appropriateness of the name
"dependencies" for the new millennium; dependency relations with the United
Kingdom and the European Union; and the desirability of having one Department of
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for dependency affairs.
A further conference was held in February 1998, again opened by the Foreign
Secretary, The Right Hon. Robin Cook, who announced that the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office was conducting a review of relationships between the United
Kingdom and its overseas territories, the conclusions of which were published in a
White Paper. Many of the issues already discussed in UKOTA
were addressed. United Kingdom citizenship was granted to holders of British
Dependent Territories Passports unless they wished to opt out. Dependencies were
renamed United Kingdom Overseas Territories. There was to be annual meetings of
Chief Ministers or their equivalent, the venue every second year being that for the
Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The partnership arrangement was to
cut both ways, and the Overseas Territories were expected to conform to
international treaty obligations e.g. in human rights as well as meeting international
norms in offshore financial practice with particular emphasis on anti-moneylaundering
and misuse of drugs legislation and standards of regulation. The
standard of regulation already reached by certain Territories was acknowledged, as
well as the level of self-government. The option to remain a dependency or, where
possible, to advance to independence in the future should the inhabitants of
the territory so elect, was retained.
But how does the situation now differ from the days of the HMOCS?
There are now no ex-Colonial Service or ex-HMOCS Governors left. Nearly all
are members of the Diplomatic Service although one or two served for a few years
in HMOCS posts.
Colonial Service and HMOCS officers, other than those on Technical Assistance
terms, were never Civil Servants of a United Kingdom Ministry. Consequently the
perception of impartiality which Governors enjoyed in overseas territories is now
somewhat compromised. St Helena and Montserrat are the only grant-aided
territories left, and the British Aid Programme is minimal compared to former days
in territories such as Gibraltar, Bermuda, Cayman Islands and the Falkland Islands.
British officers are still employed however, in overseas territories, on secondment to
specialist positions, as consultants employed by BESO, the Commonwealth Fund
for Technical Co-operation, DFID and other Ministries and Associations. When
officers are recruited directly by Overseas Territory Governments, expatriates are
often placed on the local civil service salary, with much less supplementation,
housing allowance, gratuity, than used to be the case. Localisation plans have
continued with marked success. In the Cayman Islands for example, the Chief
Secretary and Financial Secretary are both Caymanian, as are the Speaker, all
Permanent Secretaries, and more than two-thirds of the Heads of Department.
HMOCS can take a great deal of credit for passing on their skills to local officers
who are now discharging the duties formerly performed by our members. Gaps are
still filled, in particular in the police, medical, teaching, legal and judicial
professions, but our British successors will be short term. An overseas career for
expatriates working in the remaining dependencies is gone, and we are right as an
Association to acknowledge this and to salute the invaluable contribution of our
membership in the ceremonies due to take place in May.
Tom Russell CMG, CBE, served in the Colonial Administrative Service and
HMOCS in the Western Pacific High Commission from 1948-1974, latterly as
Financial Secretary and as Chief Secretary. He was Governor of the Cayman
Islands from 1974-1982 and has been Cayman Islands Government Representative
in UK since 1982.