60 Mr A. W. Fadden, Prime Minister, to Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 385 CANBERRA, 5 September 1941


Following for Prime Minister. [1]

1. Reference your No. 607 [2] I am grateful for the informative survey of the constitutional and other considerations involved in the question of a Minister from one part of the Empire participating in the work and membership of a Cabinet in another part. I would reciprocate the exchange of views by outlining the Australian side of the question as I see it.

2. The machinery for higher direction of war was discussed with many other matters relating to Empire and Local Defence during the Imperial Conference of 1937. It is regretted that, for reasons which need not be traversed, these discussions were possible on a two party basis only. The memorandum received from the Committee of Imperial Defence, which, it was understood, had the endorsement of the Minister representing the United Kingdom Government, refers, for want of a better title, to an 'Imperial War Cabinet' and to the measures to be taken on the outbreak of war to consider what machinery along these lines is necessary. The memorandum states:-

'The arrangement under which the High Commissioners of three of the Dominions attend some of the meetings of the Committee of Imperial Defence (on which the Government of India is permanently represented) appears to lend itself to extension from the outset of a major war in such manner and in such degree as the Government of the Dominions may themselves decide in each case.' 3. I can see no difference in principle between representation of a Dominion by a High Commissioner at the Committee of Imperial Defence in peacetime when matters affecting it are under discussion, and representation at the War Cabinet by a Minister for similar purposes. The fact that the despatch of a Minister to London has the support of the Opposition gives his mission Parliamentary endorsement. I assume from paragraph 8 of your cablegram that you would welcome the presence of Australian Minister in War Cabinet when matters relating to higher policy, operations or other questions which affect the Australian war effort or the Australian Forces were being considered. If so we are in full agreement.

4. I would make the following detailed comments on certain paragraphs of your cablegram and, in view of the personal and secret nature of the message, they will be quite frank so that we may each be aware of the other's mind:-

Paragraph 4. I agree that the representative who can speak with the best authority is the Prime Minister, but the Dominion interests he would represent would be the same as in the case of a Minister. If the presence of the Australian Prime Minister is not any more practicable than it appears to be in the case of the other Dominions, we feel that some form of Ministerial representation is better than none.

Paragraph 5. As stated above the distinction between the Prime Minister and a Minister is agreed with, but a Minister charged with a special mission and carrying the endorsement of the Australian Parliament is somewhat different from a Minister with a Departmental portfolio visiting London to establish contact with the corresponding United Kingdom Department with which he is concerned.

Paragraph 6. The views of the Prime Ministers of Canada and South Africa [3] are noted with interest but not with surprise. As you are well aware, their attitude is determined by local problems peculiar to each Dominion which have been manifest since the Imperial Conference of 1926. We too have a special viewpoint based on the closest possible degree of Empire co-operation which, speaking with that frankness permitted within the family circle, is evident by comparison of our all-round war effort on land, sea and in the air. The Australian people feel, however, that this effort warrants the right to be heard when vital decisions affecting their interests are being taken. For instance Australia has a special interest in Pacific and Indian Ocean problems.

Paragraph 7. No suggestion has been made by the Australian Government involving the retirement of any British Minister from the War Cabinet. Regarding the presence of an Australian Minister as suggested in my paragraph 3, it is understood that at War Cabinet meetings many Ministers attend in addition to the members of War Cabinet. The attendance of a Dominion representative therefore means only one person, whether he be Prime Minister or Minister. If other Dominions are satisfied with the present arrangements, this should alleviate the numerical aspect, but if there are questions for decision affecting their vital interests, representation could not be denied if they desired it.

Paragraph 8. This is covered by my paragraph 3.

Paragraph 9. As you state, the relations between a Minister and the High Commissioner are a matter for our decision. The appointment and functions of the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs is similarly one for the United Kingdom Government. Though we fully appreciate the co-operation and assistance extended by Ministers who have held this office, we consider that direct consultation on higher questions is a better method than dealing through a third party who is not a member of the War Cabinet. The satisfaction of the other Dominions with the High Commissioner arrangement naturally follows from their attitude to Ministerial representation.

Paragraph 10. The question of an Imperial War Cabinet is of course a matter for an Imperial Conference. As stated earlier, we were unable in 1937 to secure a round table discussion on this and many other important aspects of co-operation. We are, however, not concerned with the past but with the vital present and the critical future.4


1 Winston Churchill.

2 Document 53.

3 W.L. Mackenzie King and Field Marshal J.C. Smuts.

4 Fadden informed Cranborne the same day (cablegram 586,AA:A3196, 1941, 0.13435) that the Commonwealth Govt proposed to send Sir Earle Page, Minister for Commerce, to London.

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