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28 Minutes of Fourth Meeting of Principal Delegates to Imperial Conference

E (PD) (37) 4 (extract) LONDON, 22 May 1937

At the third meeting of principal delegates on 21 May 1937, New
Zealand and South African leaders were critical of aspects of
British foreign policy, as indeed was R. G. Casey in regard to
Central European policy (see Document 27). As a result Anthony
Eden the following day made a speech answering these criticisms
and strongly defending British policy. General Hertzog of South
Africa thanked Eden for the additional information and said that
his words had not been intended as a reflection on the conduct of
Britain's foreign policy; he merely wished a 'more cordial,
friendly and humane attitude towards Germany' could be adopted.J.

A. Lyons then addressed the meeting.

MR LYONS said that at the previous meeting, Mr Casey had spoken on
behalf of the Australian delegation in regard to certain specific
matters. He, himself, would like to make a few remarks of a more
general character.

He was very grateful indeed to Mr Eden for the very frank and
lucid statement which he had made. The Commonwealth Government,
with the help of information supplied directly and indirectly by
the Foreign Office, had been able to follow the main essentials of
British foreign policy in relation to the European situation, but
the admirable and concise summary of Mr Eden had brought home to
the Australian delegation the extreme difficulties of recent
years. It was a staggering story of difficulties and perplexities,
in which the only sane, responsible and disinterested element had
been Great Britain.

One could have nothing but admiration for the calm and balanced
handling of an exceedingly difficult situation, which, had it been
handled otherwise, might well have had tragic results.

It was easy to be wise after the event. It was easy to criticise
in the light of subsequent knowledge.

Great Britain in the years since the war, by her disarmament
policy, had provided the world with a high moral example which he,
for one, did not believe had been lost on the world. By her
efforts and example in pursuit of the humane ideal of limitation
of armaments, and by the tragic failure of those efforts for
reasons which were beyond her control, and by her recent reversal
of that policy, Great Britain had provided a moral lesson for the
world which, he believed, had sunk in. British re-armament was no
menace to the world. It was an attempt to recapture the benevolent
authority that Britain alone could wield for the peace of the

Australia had no complaint to make about the conduct of British
foreign policy. Far from complaining Australia believed that
Britain had exerted the maximum of restraint and good sense in
Europe in the years since the war. If at times Australia had been
inclined to criticise, she had always remembered that Great
Britain had been alone in her efforts. She had had no consistent
collaborator or partner, no support and no help. In the view of
the Australian delegation, she had done wonders in keeping the
peace, because it must be realised that it had been Great Britain
that had kept the peace in Europe for nearly 20 years.

Australia believed that it was wrong to say that Britain had
pursued a pro-French policy. It had been essentially a pro-British
policy. It had, it was true, been, generally speaking, along lines
with which France had been in agreement, except in the disastrous
French adventure in the Ruhr, but Australia's reading of the many
situations of past years had been that Britain had influenced
France towards moderation on many more occasions than France could
be said to have influenced Britain.

He admitted that in the circumstances that now existed, he
inclined to the views expressed by General Hertzog and Mr Casey,
viz., that the lesser of two evils might yet be in the direction
of lessening the degree of restraint that Britain has hitherto
exercised on Germany, particularly with reference to Austria. He
hoped that on Mr Eden's return from Geneva, there might be a
further opportunity of discussing this important aspect.

In his opening address he spoke of his hope that some common and
helpful expression of Empire policy might emerge from this
Imperial Conference. If this Empire meant anything it meant co-
operative effort. If the heart of the Empire was threatened, all
the members were threatened. Those who were tempted to put their
faith in friends outside the Empire might be acting in what they
considered to be their own immediate interests, but they could not
be described as the common interests of the great co-operative
society called the British Commonwealth of Nations. He believed
that the safety and security and prosperity of all the members of
the Commonwealth depended on their sticking together. The voice
and authority of Britain was very great and was daily becoming
greater. The combined voice and authority of the British
Commonwealth was greater still. Could we not add the voice and
strength and authority of each and every one of the members and
each and every one of the Dominions to that of Britain and so help
her in her great task in the world and at the same time help
ourselves. The Australian delegation felt that they could
wholeheartedly rely on Britain to preserve peace. To a very large
extent the rest of the Commonwealth had for years been content to
shelter behind the strong arm of Britain and to reap the benefits
and advantages of that secure position. There could be no possible
doubt that if some great disaster happened to Britain, there could
be no hope or future for any of the other members of the
Commonwealth and it was, therefore, in the supreme interests of
every one of them, as well as in the interests of the whole, and
of Britain herself, that the component parts of the Commonwealth
should stand firmly and solidly together. As he had said,
Australia was in complete agreement with Britain's foreign policy
and he only ventured to express the hope that it might be possible
for something to be done on the lines which General Hertzog had

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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