11 Beasley to Chifley

Cablegram 32, LONDON, 2 February 1949

IMMEDIATE SECRET AND PERSONAL

My immediately preceding telegram. Following is text of letter referred to - Begins - A copy of Mr. Chifley's telegram has been laid before The King, who has given it careful consideration.

As it has not recently been the policy of the Commonwealth Government to recommend British awards to civilians, is not this recommendation that an award from a foreign power should be accepted by Dr. Evatt somewhat anomalous? Moreover, it has long been a principle, consistently observed since the time of the Paris Peace Conference, that The King should not be asked to approve either the acceptance of foreign decorations by British subjects, or the bestowal of British decorations upon foreigners, for services rendered under the auspices of a number of countries collectively - for example, the work of the League of Nations, international conferences, and so on.

This policy has been steadfastly adhered to in regard to the United Nations Organization and its activities; had it not been thus observed, there would have been an extensive and unending exchange of decorations with other members of U.N.O., which could not fail to have an undesirable effect on British honours, to say nothing of the embarrassments that would result from having to treat all foreign countries alike in such matters, regardless of their individual cordiality or otherwise towards the British Commonwealth.

But an even long[er] established tradition is threatened by this proposal - namely, the tradition by which Ministers of the Crown abstain from the acceptance of foreign decorations while in office, or afterwards in respect of their activities during their tenure of office. The maintenance of this tradition as regards Australian Ministers is, of course, a matter for the Commonwealth Government to decide; but The King hopes that Mr. Chifley has not overlooked its especial advantages in the case of Ministers in charge of External Affairs, who, as experience has so often shown, are liable to be shot at from all quarters! The acceptance by the Australian Foreign Minister of a decoration from the French might make it very difficult for him, and his successors, to avoid accepting in the future similar offers from other countries whose favours might be the reverse of welcome. And, though the present offer is undoubtedly, as Mr. Chifley says, intended as a compliment to Australia as a whole, yet, even in this case, ill-disposed critics might see in it an implication that some special service had been rendered to the individual nation making the offer.

As this is a matter of importance, affecting as it does all the Governments within the British Commonwealth, The King would be grateful if you would put these considerations to Mr. Chifley. Should Mr. Chifley feel that, in the light of them, he would prefer to withdraw his recommendation, it could, no doubt, be explained to the French that their offer was tentatively accepted without the full realization that its acceptance would run counter to certain general principles which could not be ignored without the risk of putting the Commonwealth Government in highly embarrassing position in regard to other foreign countries in matters of a like nature - Ends -

[AA : A2908, H28]