175 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P10 LONDON, 8 December 1941, 6.42 p.m.


I have now had an opportunity of examining the question of the best method of ensuring adequate representation of Australia's point of view in determination of matters of high policy in relation to the war, and ensuring adequate Australian participation in the higher direction of the war.

As a result of this examination, and after full consultation with Bruce [1], I have concluded that the method that would enable us to exert influence sufficiently early in the formative stage of policy as to modify the war policy itself must contain the following essentials:

The Australian Government- (1) should have full knowledge of all essential facts, developments and trends of policy;

(2) should obtain this knowledge in time to express its view before decisions are taken;

(3) should have the opportunity through its accredited representative of presenting to and discussing with the War Cabinet, important committees such as the Defence Committee, and the Prime Minister [2] or other senior Ministers any suggestions as to new policy or views on the policy under consideration that Australia might from time to time desire to submit.

Could (1), (2) and (3) be ensured it would mean a radical improvement on the existing procedure. The present practice is that official information is now made available by the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs [3] in common to all High Commissioners at their daily meeting.

This information is governed- (a) by the fact that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is far from fully informed of everything that is going on. He very often only receives his information too late for any proper consultation to take place with the Dominions before decisions are arrived at;

(b) by the attitude of Dominion Governments accrediting High Commissioners; and (c) by individual peculiarities of the person holding the office of High Commissioner.

With regard to (a), in my view it is imperative that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs should be one of the most senior members of Cabinet in closest personal touch with the Prime Minister, should be a member of the War Cabinet and of all important committees, in particular the Defence Committee, and should have access to all documents. In fact but for his excessive strain and multiplicity of duties in war time the Prime Minister should be the direct link between Britain and the Dominions.

With regard to (b), broadly the attitude of the other Dominion Governments is to leave little, if any, initiative or discretion to their High Commissioners, and in the case of Canada [4] this is most marked.

With regard to (c), where the information is made available to all High Commissioners, how much is disclosed is governed by the confidence felt in the least discreet and reliable individual.

These three governing factors have rendered Bruce's task in getting you full information in regard to matters of high secrecy or delicacy extremely difficult. The difficulty has to a certain extent been overcome by his personal contacts with Ministers and officials and the confidence felt in his judgement due to his long experience, but this is neither satisfactory nor a sure basis to work on.

The most important cables being on short distribution have a very limited circulation and have only been officially available to Bruce when a special envoy such as Prime Minister or myself has been here.

The recent experience of the American-Japanese [negotiations] [5], especially vis-a-vis the position of China, indicates the necessity of a change of this procedure. If when the telegram to Hull [6] M.380 was being drafted Australia's advice and point of view had been available to senior officials of the Foreign Office as well as to the Foreign Secretary [7] before the telegram was brought down to War Cabinet, the point of view we put immediately into War Cabinet and the point of view that the Australian Government pressed might have modified the terms of the telegram.

The mode of expression was, however, determined independently by the Foreign Office, brought into War Cabinet, and was read by the Foreign Secretary without distribution to the members of the War Cabinet. Although I asked for the telegram and read it while the War Cabinet were discussing other matters, and thus was able to argue along the lines of my telegram to you [8], it was too late to secure any alteration. The difficulties in altering the position once the telegram has been despatched are of course insuperable.

To overcome these disadvantages on the next occasion of instructions to Halifax I attempted to arrange that Australia should participate in actually drafting the telegram. [9] The Foreign Secretary said that he could not adopt this except with the special order of the Prime Minister, so I got in touch with the Dominions Secretary who in turn got in touch with the Prime Minister, who then gave permission to the Foreign Secretary.

Though arrangements were then made for preliminary discussion in the afternoon before the draft was completed, delay in the Foreign Office prevented this discussion taking place. Ultimately I was called into the Defence Committee to discuss the draft telegram before it was approved for submission to the War Cabinet. In the Defence Committee, despite the presence of eight Cabinet Ministers, the three Chiefs of Staff and several other Staff Officers, most of whom occasionally participated in the discussion, I was able to secure the insertion of a couple of sentences clarifying our position relative to the Netherlands East Indies. I found that in drafting the telegram reference had been deliberately omitted. The importance that Halifax and Roosevelt both placed on these two sentences was evinced in paragraph 6 of telegram M.[421] [10] and they [unquestionably led to the complete] change [of] the British Government's attitude with regard to the nature of the guarantee to be given to the Dutch.

Obviously this was not the time or place to get material alterations either in substance or in form [in] the draft.

Alterations can best be secured when Senior Officers of the Foreign Office are preparing the preliminary draft. Therefore the ideal procedure is, first access to every document, even most confidential, consultation with Foreign Office officials while the draft policy is being prepared, presence in the Defence Committee when it is being finalised and the opportunity of speaking in War Cabinet, when it is finally approved. This combination alone would enable Australia to influence the policy and its expression in the formative stage. I therefore feel that the practical method of achieving these essentials is for the Commonwealth Government to inform the United Kingdom Government that the High Commissioner is their accredited representative in the fullest sense of the word and that they desire that he should have access to all information he may from time to time require to carry out this task. The normal procedure should be that the High Commissioner should be Australia's fully accredited representative. He has a special fitness because of his official position which enables him to keep a contact with officials that a Minister can scarcely make, while fully accrediting him gives a special position in regard to Ministers. This would overcome the present difficulty in regard to keeping you fully informed and would enable the Australian representative to ensure full regard being paid to the policy of Australia before decisions are made.

A special envoy, such as the Prime Minister or other representative sent from Australia on a specific mission, should be regularly sent to London. He should also be fully accredited and have complete facilities of access to all affecting either generally or in particular his mission. His first function would be [the] fullfilment of his special mission. There would be no objection raised to his attendance in War Cabinet. He could also attack and move on matters whose progress has been arrested. He would bring the most recent view of the Australian Government's policy to refresh the High Commissioner's mind.

He would make a periodical visit to Australia by the High Commissioner possible, when the High Commissioner could discuss policy with the Full Cabinet in Australia and make personal contact with Ministers and general Australian conditions. A special envoy should not stay in London longer than two or three months at the outside. He should come for a special job, get it done and get away while he still has punch in London and report back to Australia the exact position in London.

I do not think that it is practical politics to discuss at the present time the suggestions that have been made of the creation of an Imperial War Cabinet. The British Prime Minister set out a number of objections of the British Government to all the Dominions being represented in the British War Cabinet in telegram No.607 of 29th August.[11] The representative of Australia attending meetings of the War Cabinet would find himself in a gathering composed of the nine members of War Cabinet itself plus certain other Ministers who attend regularly, such as the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, the Leader of the House of Lords, the Minister of Information plus any Minister directly concerned with questions on the agenda, such as the Minister for Home Security, plus the Chiefs of Staff The atmosphere of a meeting of such a character and such a size is not conducive to detailed and exhaustive consideration of questions of high war and post war policy. MacKenzie King's [12] attitude towards this position and towards the position of an Imperial War Cabinet meeting in London is that a Dominions Prime Minister with all the prestige he carries is at a very grave disadvantage in such a War Cabinet because he is handicapped by reason of fullest advice being available to the British Prime Minister and his Ministers who are on their home ground whereas the Dominion representative has simply such advice as can be given from his own country.

In my view the most promising line of progress if one has to proceed step by step is by immediate strengthening of [the Defence Committee]. If fully accredited representative of Australia-the High Commissioner normally-were automatically a member of that Committee, the machinery already existing could be used to supply him with all information and opportunity to exert influence on policy that is desired.

Thus Australia could have an effective voice in regard to determination and expression of foreign policy and in preparation of war strategy consequent on that policy.


1 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

2 Winston Churchill.

3 Lord Cranborne.

4 The Canadian High Commissioner was Vincent Massey.

5 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from Bruce's copy, on file AA: M100, December 1941.

6 U.S. Secretary of State. Cablegram M380 of 24 November is on file AA:A981 Japan 178.

7 Anthony Eden.

8 Cablegram P7 of 25 November on file AA:A1608, A41/1/5, iv.

9 This cablegram to the U.K. Ambassador to the United States is published in Document 157. See also Document 158.

10 The number of this cablegram appeared as M142 on the Canberra copy and M42 on Bruce's file copy. It presumably refers to Cranborne's circular cablegram M421 of 4 December on the file cited in note 6.

11 Document 53.

12 Canadian Prime Minister.

[AA:A1608, H33/1/2]