70 High Commission in London to Holloway and Dedman

Cablegram 1 63 7 LONDON, 22 April 1949, 10.57 p.m.


At the first session of the Prime Minister's Conference this morning, which followed many exchanges of views on a personal basis during yesterday, Nehru set out the problem and indicated in broad terms his proposals.

2. He made it clear that he was not proposing any change of status or change in relations with the King of those members of the British Commonwealth who wished to retain existing links. He suggested, however, that it was possible to separate the fact that each country has certain relations with the King and the fact that there was an association of Commonwealth Nations. It was not possible for India to continue the direct link with the King but it was possible for India to recognise the status of the King as the symbol of association of members of British Commonwealth.

3. In other words there could be no change in existing relations of the Dominions but the Commonwealth countries as a whole could be joined together by- (A)Commonwealth citizenship which would mean that the people of the Commonwealth were not foreign to each other, though each member would still retain complete authority over the composition of its own population and any restrictions it might wish to impose;

(B) A declaration by India of continued association with members of the Commonwealth, and (C) The acceptance by India of the King as the symbol of this association.

4. Mr Chifley stressed Australia's desire for very cordial relations with India to continue but any discussions to this end had to be on the clear understanding that there would be no weakening of the links now joining Australia to the Crown. There were sentimental, historic, economic, defence and other reasons which ensured effective assistance to the United Kingdom if required of it, perhaps even in some cases irrespective of rights and wrongs of the case. India had indicated she was not prepared to enter into commitments and in fact politically could not do so.

Equally, Australia politically could not afford not to enter into commitments and this was a measure of the differences existing in the relations between on the one hand India and the British Commonwealth, on the other Australia and the British Commonwealth.

But Australian-Indian close association was vital to peace in South East Asia and if it were possible in any way at all to maintain that association Australia would do so provided there was no change or seeming change in the links which bound Australia to the King. Any statement or declaration that might be made must be first and foremost the reiteration of the fact that Australia's relations with the King were unchanged and the changed relation of India with the British Commonwealth should appear as incidental to that reaffirmation.

5. Mr. Fraser expressed personal regret at the Indian decision to form a Republic but if that decision was firm his views were entirely in accord with those of Chifley.

6. Malan [1] read a prepared statement which seemed to be a carefully thought out exposition of Nehru's point of view, the same arguments being used giving emphasis to the assertion that National unity in South Africa could be obtained only by a change or elimination of South Africa's relations with the King though South Africa wished to remain within the British Commonwealth.

7. Liaquat Ali Khan was emphatic in his view that a strong British Commonwealth was essential to peace and that an association meant nothing unless it meant firm assurances that the members of the Association could be relied upon to assist one another in war. He wanted firm undertakings of the degree of assistance Pakistan could expect from India and other members of British Commonwealth and if the concept of association did not mean that it had little content. Suggestions put forward by India and South Africa led to the question as to whether other foreign countries could join this association and on what grounds they could be kept out. In time this could lead to the disintegration of the British Commonwealth.

Members of the Commonwealth had to agree to undertakings and obligations and not merely expect advantages.

8. Senanayake [2] followed a similar line suggesting that when the New Dominions were formed Ceylon was given no hint of India's and South Africa's intentions to break loose. Ceylon was looking to India to assist in her development and looked to the strengthening rather than to the weakening of the bond between Members of British Commonwealth. If the United Nations failed to preserve peace the responsibility would fall on the British Commonwealth.

It was an inopportune moment in world affairs to be discussing changes in British Commonwealth relations. The connection with the Crown is the strongest link and to give it up would be to give up all hope of future strengthening of bonds of the British Commonwealth.

9. Pearson stated that Canada could not contemplate any change in her relations with the Crown but implied that Canada would be willing to agree to the kind of relationship with India which Nehru has suggested.

10. Conference adjourned with suggestion that Attlee and Nehru might endeavour to put down in black and white concrete proposals for consideration. Meanwhile there will be meetings of various members of the group which may have an influence on discussions which will take place on Monday afternoon.

11. Summary. Australia, New Zealand and to a lesser extent Canada made their position quite clear along the lines of insisting that there should be not even a seeming change in existing ties whatever methods were adopted to bring India into association with other members of British Commonwealth. The proposals of Nehru were neither accepted nor rejected. Pakistan and Ceylon however challenged Nehru's proposals and it may be that arising out of this fact India will have to give further thought to the matter.

1 Dr D.F. Malan, South African Prime Minister.

2 D.S. Senanayake, Prime Minister of Ceylon.

[AA: 1838/283, TS899/6/1, i]