46 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr A. Eden, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Letter 6 February 1940,

The Commonwealth Government has summoned a meeting of the Agricultural Council for a date, which has not yet been fixed, during the present month. The Council is composed of the Commonwealth Minister for Commerce, the State Ministers of Agriculture, representatives of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, together with the responsible officials.

The object of the meeting is to review the position of Australian agriculture and to endeavour to lay down a programme of production and so far as the facts warrant of expansion covering the war and the post-war period with the object of making the maximum contribution to the Allied war effort and towards meeting the difficult problems that will arise in the years immediately following the cessation of hostilities.

In order that the deliberations of the conference should be effective and its conclusions valuable, it is obviously necessary that it should be advised of the policy of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom in regard to food supplies during the war and the immediate post-war period.

My Government has accordingly requested me to obtain this essential information and to forward it to them at the earliest possible date.

I realise that war time conditions require that maximum use should be made of United Kingdom agriculture, and that import policy will be affected by a number of considerations. These include shipping, exchange factors, the financial position of the Dominions in relation to their respective war efforts, our relationship with Neutrals, and the exigencies of economic warfare.

The points upon which my Government is particularly desirous of receiving information are the following:-

(a) Has a priority list been established of the most vitally necessary foods to meet the requirements of the United Kingdom and has it been determined what quantities of each foodstuff are required? (b) Since the agriculture of the United Kingdom can produce some part of these requirements more effectively and economically than other parts, has it been determined upon which of the necessary foodstuffs United Kingdom agriculture should be encouraged to concentrate and what proportion of the requirements is it anticipated will be supplied by United Kingdom agriculture as the result of an intensive agriculture development? (c) After allowance has been made for the foods which can be wholly (milk, potatoes, vegetables) or partly provided by United Kingdom agriculture, from what sources is it proposed that imports should be drawn? In so far as shipping and other factors mentioned above permit, is it proposed to rely as far as possible upon Dominion supplies? (d) If it should be determined that the food requirements of the United Kingdom during the war period will necessitate some measure of Government assistance to production and distribution, is it contemplated that, in order to avoid the dislocation which must inevitably result if such assistance were suddenly withdrawn, the policies adopted should be for a definite term estimated to cover two or three years of the post-war period? In all these questions Australia has a vital interest. Our present production of butter, cheese, dried milk, eggs, pig products, meat and many other products could be rapidly expanded.

Our desire, however, is to be complementary to rather than competitive with United Kingdom agriculture. It is, therefore, essential that we should know not only what are the United Kingdom essential food requirements but also how far United Kingdom agriculture is in a position to meet them.

Where an expansion of our agriculture would be of advantage to the allied cause, we are most anxious to undertake it. At the same time, in order to avoid subsequent economic dislocation and hardship to our producers, it is necessary that we should be advised as to what is the United Kingdom Government's policy not only for the period of the war but for the difficult period of reconstruction which will follow the war.

A clear indication of that policy will enable the Agricultural Council at its forthcoming meeting to review the whole position and formulate a course of action which will enable Australia to make its maximum contribution towards the provision of the United Kingdom essential food requirements. [1]


1 On 21 February 1940 Bruce informed the Prime Minister, R. G.

Menzies, that he had dispatched this letter because he had 'arrived at conclusion that all my efforts to stimulate action down lines of my cable December 20th [see Document 6, note 1] by personal contacts and urgent representations to individual Ministers were in vain'. (See Bruce's cablegram 136 on file AA:

AA1973/362, box 46, item A39.) On 23 February Bruce forwarded a copy of the letter to Menzies. It was received in the Prime Minister's Dept on 13 March (see covering letter on file AA:

A1608, C59/1/1).

[AA: AA1973/362, Box 46, ITEM A39]