Skip to main content

Historical documents

46 Speech by Mr J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister, to Second Plenary Session of Imperial Conference

E 2nd meeting (1937) LONDON, 15 June 1937

THE RIGHT HON. J. A. LYONS: Mr Prime Minister and Gentlemen. First
of all, let me say that what Mr Mackenzie King has said in
appreciation of the great services which Earl Baldwin and yourself
have rendered to Great Britain and to the Empire, and the
gratitude that he has expressed towards you both for your kindly,
friendly helpfulness during our deliberations, express what is in
the minds of all of us, and I desire to associate the Australian
Delegation with all that Mr Mackenzie King has said.

At the opening of the present Conference the speeches dwelt upon
the great changes that have taken place during the past ten years
in the status of the Dominions and in the constitutional relations
of the different parts of the Empire.

They stressed the fact that in the progressive evolution that has
occurred over that period a basis of free co-operation between a
group of great self-governing States had been reached.

We went into the Conference realising that the task which lay to
our hand was to show that it was on this basis of free co-
operation that the unity and solidarity of the British Empire
could best be maintained.

We realised that in accomplishing this, not only would we best
serve our individual and collective interests, but we would also
be setting an inspiring example to the world.

We approached our task with a deep sense of responsibility,
realising how great were the issues dependent upon our actions.

Reviewing the Conference in retrospect, I say, without hesitation,
that we have emerged triumphantly. In doing so we have shown that
the forebodings of those who felt that the constitutional
developments of the past few years might lead to the disruption of
the British Empire were without foundation, and we have again
demonstrated the common sense and genius for self-government of
the British peoples.

The deliberations of this Conference have been most impressive to
all of us who have been privileged to take part in them. There has
been the freest expression of views by the representatives of all
parts of the Empire assembled at the Conference. There has been no
attempt to shirk difficulties or to avoid facing differences of
opinion. The outstanding feature of the deliberations has been the
good nature, tolerance and understanding shown by all the
delegations towards each other's difficulties.

This Conference has put the coping stone upon the work of the 1926
Imperial Conference. That Conference will go down to history as
the one at which the problem of the constitutional relations
between the self-governing parts of the British Empire was
resolved. This Conference, I believe, will go down to history as
the one at which the successful application of the principles for
which the British Commonwealth of Nations stands was first clearly

The most important questions dealt with at the Conference were
International Affairs and Defence. On these vital issues there was
no divergence on fundamental principles. On the contrary, there
was remarkable unanimity. As to the methods which should be
adopted towards achieving the objectives with which we were all in
accord, there were differences of opinion. These differences,
however, led to healthy discussions. From the exchange of views
which these entailed, we have all, I am certain, derived great
benefit and have been enabled to see in clearer perspective the
problems that confront us. On no question was this truer than in
regard to international relations.

As a result of the personal and frank discussions which took place
at the Conference, the Dominions obtained a clearer understanding
of the difficulties that have confronted Britain in her foreign
policy during the past few years, and a clearer insight into the
reasons and causes which have governed her actions. The very full,
clear and frank statements which were made to the Conference on
behalf of the British Government brought home to all of us how
unwearyingly and unremittingly the United Kingdom Government have
striven during the recent difficult years for peace and the ideals
for which all the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations

On the other hand I am convinced that the United Kingdom
Government have obtained a clearer picture of the points of view
and attitude of mind of the different Dominions towards
international affairs and the many complex problems associated
with foreign policy.

I believe the representatives of the British Government would be
the first to acknowledge the advantages they have themselves
derived from discussing with us foreign policy and their
international obligations as well as from hearing the frankly
expressed views which have been placed before them during this
Conference by the representatives of the Dominions.

At the opening meeting at St James's Palace, I indicated that it
was the hope of the Australian delegates that after we had all
fully exchanged our views, a statement would issue from this
Conference which would demonstrate to the rest of the world that
the British countries were prepared to act together in support of
the principles and ideals for which the British Commonwealth of
Nations stands, and for the maintenance of international law and

It is now my great pleasure to note that we have been able to
follow such a course.

We from Australia feel that the statement on Foreign Affairs which
has been issued with the endorsement of the representatives of all
parts of the Empire assembled at the Conference should have a
beneficial effect upon the international situation and constitute
a real contribution towards the cause of world peace.

Before leaving this subject I desire to state how grateful we of
the Australian Delegation are for the sympathetic way in which
other delegations have received our proposal regarding a pact of
non-aggression for the countries of the Pacific. The cordiality of
that reception has been echoed by the Press and, we feel
confident, by public opinion generally.

As with Foreign Affairs so in regard to Defence, the frank
exchange of views which has taken place has been most advantageous
to all parts of the Empire. Co-operation and conciliation in place
of recourse to force in the settlement of international
differences form the basis of the policies of all parts of the
Empire. We all recognised, however, that until this could be
ensured, and progressive disarmament brought about, it was
essential for the well being of the British Commonwealth and for
the peace of the world that we should be strong enough to provide
for the defence of the Empire and its vital interests and to meet
our international obligations.

These objectives can best be achieved by consultations and co-
operation; and the fullest examination of the possibilities in
these directions was undertaken by the Conference.

The very full and frank statements made on behalf of the United
Kingdom Government brought home, I think, to all the Dominions how
resolutely it is facing the tragic task of rearmament, and how
grievous is the burden imposed upon the people of Great Britain by
the necessity to provide adequate defence.

On behalf of Australia I express our deep appreciation of what
Great Britain is doing and our recognition of how greatly her
action is contributing to the safety and security of the Dominions
and the peace of the world. In the past Australia has shown her
appreciation of the obligation which rests upon her to provide to
the maximum of her capacity for her own defence. That obligation,
as a proud sovereign people, we will continue to bear while
recognising that our ultimate safety depends upon our membership
of the British Empire.

As in the case of the statement on Foreign Affairs, the Australian
Delegation feels that the statement on Defence which has issued
with the endorsement of all the representatives of the Dominions
assembled at this Conference, will contribute to the appeasement
of the international situation and the cause of peace.

There is no need for me at this stage to refer in detail to the
other matters discussed at the Conference. The results of our
deliberations with regard to them are embodied in the Summary of
the Proceedings of the Conference which I understand will be
issued immediately. Many subjects were dealt with in Committees
where a great deal of valuable work was done and a unique
opportunity afforded for the exchange of views on questions
affecting the well-being of the Empire. Invaluable assistance was
rendered to these Committees by sub-committees of experts. I
should like to pay a tribute to the valuable work done by these
Committees. That these small groups of experts have been able to
cover so much ground in so brief a period is, I think, a splendid

I should like also to thank the Secretary-General of the
Conference, his associates of the Secretariat, and other officers
of the Conference, for the courteous and able manner in which they
have performed their heavy duties. We owe a debt of gratitude to
them for all they have done. Finally, I would like to express the
sincere thanks of the Australian Delegation to the British
Government and the people of Great Britain for the cordiality and
kindliness of their welcome and for the hospitality so warmly
extended to us everywhere during our visit to the Mother Country.

Last Updated: 11 September 2013
Back to top