46 Speech by Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister, to Second Plenary Session of Imperial Conference
E 2nd meeting (1937) LONDON, 15 June 1937
THE RIGHT HON. J. A. LYONS: Mr Prime Minister and Gentlemen. First of all, let me say that what Mr Mackenzie King has said in appreciation of the great services which Earl Baldwin and yourself have rendered to Great Britain and to the Empire, and the gratitude that he has expressed towards you both for your kindly, friendly helpfulness during our deliberations, express what is in the minds of all of us, and I desire to associate the Australian Delegation with all that Mr Mackenzie King has said.
At the opening of the present Conference the speeches dwelt upon the great changes that have taken place during the past ten years in the status of the Dominions and in the constitutional relations of the different parts of the Empire.
They stressed the fact that in the progressive evolution that has occurred over that period a basis of free co-operation between a group of great self-governing States had been reached.
We went into the Conference realising that the task which lay to our hand was to show that it was on this basis of free co- operation that the unity and solidarity of the British Empire could best be maintained.
We realised that in accomplishing this, not only would we best serve our individual and collective interests, but we would also be setting an inspiring example to the world.
We approached our task with a deep sense of responsibility, realising how great were the issues dependent upon our actions.
Reviewing the Conference in retrospect, I say, without hesitation, that we have emerged triumphantly. In doing so we have shown that the forebodings of those who felt that the constitutional developments of the past few years might lead to the disruption of the British Empire were without foundation, and we have again demonstrated the common sense and genius for self-government of the British peoples.
The deliberations of this Conference have been most impressive to all of us who have been privileged to take part in them. There has been the freest expression of views by the representatives of all parts of the Empire assembled at the Conference. There has been no attempt to shirk difficulties or to avoid facing differences of opinion. The outstanding feature of the deliberations has been the good nature, tolerance and understanding shown by all the delegations towards each other's difficulties.
This Conference has put the coping stone upon the work of the 1926 Imperial Conference. That Conference will go down to history as the one at which the problem of the constitutional relations between the self-governing parts of the British Empire was resolved. This Conference, I believe, will go down to history as the one at which the successful application of the principles for which the British Commonwealth of Nations stands was first clearly demonstrated.
The most important questions dealt with at the Conference were International Affairs and Defence. On these vital issues there was no divergence on fundamental principles. On the contrary, there was remarkable unanimity. As to the methods which should be adopted towards achieving the objectives with which we were all in accord, there were differences of opinion. These differences, however, led to healthy discussions. From the exchange of views which these entailed, we have all, I am certain, derived great benefit and have been enabled to see in clearer perspective the problems that confront us. On no question was this truer than in regard to international relations.
As a result of the personal and frank discussions which took place at the Conference, the Dominions obtained a clearer understanding of the difficulties that have confronted Britain in her foreign policy during the past few years, and a clearer insight into the reasons and causes which have governed her actions. The very full, clear and frank statements which were made to the Conference on behalf of the British Government brought home to all of us how unwearyingly and unremittingly the United Kingdom Government have striven during the recent difficult years for peace and the ideals for which all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations stand.
On the other hand I am convinced that the United Kingdom Government have obtained a clearer picture of the points of view and attitude of mind of the different Dominions towards international affairs and the many complex problems associated with foreign policy.
I believe the representatives of the British Government would be the first to acknowledge the advantages they have themselves derived from discussing with us foreign policy and their international obligations as well as from hearing the frankly expressed views which have been placed before them during this Conference by the representatives of the Dominions.
At the opening meeting at St James's Palace, I indicated that it was the hope of the Australian delegates that after we had all fully exchanged our views, a statement would issue from this Conference which would demonstrate to the rest of the world that the British countries were prepared to act together in support of the principles and ideals for which the British Commonwealth of Nations stands, and for the maintenance of international law and order.
It is now my great pleasure to note that we have been able to follow such a course.
We from Australia feel that the statement on Foreign Affairs which has been issued with the endorsement of the representatives of all parts of the Empire assembled at the Conference should have a beneficial effect upon the international situation and constitute a real contribution towards the cause of world peace.
Before leaving this subject I desire to state how grateful we of the Australian Delegation are for the sympathetic way in which other delegations have received our proposal regarding a pact of non-aggression for the countries of the Pacific. The cordiality of that reception has been echoed by the Press and, we feel confident, by public opinion generally.
As with Foreign Affairs so in regard to Defence, the frank exchange of views which has taken place has been most advantageous to all parts of the Empire. Co-operation and conciliation in place of recourse to force in the settlement of international differences form the basis of the policies of all parts of the Empire. We all recognised, however, that until this could be ensured, and progressive disarmament brought about, it was essential for the well being of the British Commonwealth and for the peace of the world that we should be strong enough to provide for the defence of the Empire and its vital interests and to meet our international obligations.
These objectives can best be achieved by consultations and co- operation; and the fullest examination of the possibilities in these directions was undertaken by the Conference.
The very full and frank statements made on behalf of the United Kingdom Government brought home, I think, to all the Dominions how resolutely it is facing the tragic task of rearmament, and how grievous is the burden imposed upon the people of Great Britain by the necessity to provide adequate defence.
On behalf of Australia I express our deep appreciation of what Great Britain is doing and our recognition of how greatly her action is contributing to the safety and security of the Dominions and the peace of the world. In the past Australia has shown her appreciation of the obligation which rests upon her to provide to the maximum of her capacity for her own defence. That obligation, as a proud sovereign people, we will continue to bear while recognising that our ultimate safety depends upon our membership of the British Empire.
As in the case of the statement on Foreign Affairs, the Australian Delegation feels that the statement on Defence which has issued with the endorsement of all the representatives of the Dominions assembled at this Conference, will contribute to the appeasement of the international situation and the cause of peace.
There is no need for me at this stage to refer in detail to the other matters discussed at the Conference. The results of our deliberations with regard to them are embodied in the Summary of the Proceedings of the Conference which I understand will be issued immediately. Many subjects were dealt with in Committees where a great deal of valuable work was done and a unique opportunity afforded for the exchange of views on questions affecting the well-being of the Empire. Invaluable assistance was rendered to these Committees by sub-committees of experts. I should like to pay a tribute to the valuable work done by these Committees. That these small groups of experts have been able to cover so much ground in so brief a period is, I think, a splendid achievement.
I should like also to thank the Secretary-General of the Conference, his associates of the Secretariat, and other officers of the Conference, for the courteous and able manner in which they have performed their heavy duties. We owe a debt of gratitude to them for all they have done. Finally, I would like to express the sincere thanks of the Australian Delegation to the British Government and the people of Great Britain for the cordiality and kindliness of their welcome and for the hospitality so warmly extended to us everywhere during our visit to the Mother Country.