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129 Commonwealth Government to Mr M. MacDonald, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 20 [1] 6 March 1938,

Statement made by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of
Australia, [2] begins:-

Comment which has been made during the last week may have caused
some doubt in the minds of Australians as to the facts in regard
to the resignation of Mr Eden and to the question of consultation
between Great Britain and the Dominions arising out of the
decision to initiate conversations between Great Britain and Italy
with a view to the amicable settlement of outstanding problems.

I make this statement in order that the position of the
Commonwealth Government in the matter may be made quite clear to

At the Imperial Conference held last year, British Ministers
informed Dominions delegates in the most complete manner as to the
international situation. No information was withheld, suggestions
were cordially invited, and the discussions were of the frankest
possible nature. At the conclusion of these reviews the Conference
registered its view that differences of political creed should be
no obstacle to friendly relations between Governments and
countries and that nothing could be more damaging to the hopes of
international appeasement than the division-real or apparent-of
the world into opposing groups.

It follows that the approach by Great Britain to certain Powers,
and particularly Italy, with a view to the initiation of
conversations having as their object a general appeasement, was a
step in accord with the view adopted at that Conference.

On 27th January, 1938, and while Mr Eden was still Secretary of
State for Foreign Affairs, the Commonwealth Government was
consulted on the proposal for the re-opening of negotiations with
Italy. [3] The Commonwealth Government advised that they agreed
that the international situation called for action, in which
connection the reopening of conversations with Italy was of
importance. [4]

At this point there was no indication of any difference in the
points of view held by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of
State for Foreign Affairs, respectively. It has been clearly
explained since, both by Mr Chamberlain and by Mr Eden, that the
difference which led to the latter's resignation was not one of
principle or one emanating from any alteration in the fundamental
objects of British foreign policy, including their adherence to
the objectives of the covenant of the League of Nations, but was
one purely of time and method in regard to the initiation of

That being so, it was accepted both by the British Government and
by the Australian Government that the resignation of Mr Eden was
purely a domestic matter on which no question of consulting
Dominion Governments arose. Had there been any change in British
foreign policy the Dominion Governments would, of course have been
consulted by the British Government in accordance with normal

There has also been some misconception as to whether the statement
of Mr Chamberlain in the House of Commons on 21st February
indicated a departure from the policy of adherence to the
principles of the League of Nations in the conduct of British
foreign policy. He said that the League as at present constituted
was unable to provide collective security for its members. This
statement was a recognition of an unfortunate state of fact but
was not to be regarded in any way as a reversal of policy. The
present weakness of the League in dealing with political questions
has been widely recognised by the various States Members in their
submission of proposals for the reform of the Covenant and in
statements made by representatives of States Members of the
Council of the League, including Mr Eden, at its meeting which
opened on 26th January, 1938.

At the time of the resignation of Mr Eden and subsequently the
Commonwealth Government has been kept fully advised of all the
developments in the present situation and of the steps which are
being taken to bring about a general appeasement. Ends.

1 Although this cablegram and the preceding one (Document 128)
were sent separately they both carried the number 20.

2 This statement was issued to the press on 6 March 1938.

3 Document 121.

4 Document 122.

[AA : A981, ITALY 30, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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