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175 Sir Earle Page, Special Representative in the United Kingdom, to Mr John Curtin, Prime Minister

Cablegram P10 LONDON, 8 December 1941, 6.42 p.m.


I have now had an opportunity of examining the question of the
best method of ensuring adequate representation of Australia's
point of view in determination of matters of high policy in
relation to the war, and ensuring adequate Australian
participation in the higher direction of the war.

As a result of this examination, and after full consultation with
Bruce [1], I have concluded that the method that would enable us
to exert influence sufficiently early in the formative stage of
policy as to modify the war policy itself must contain the
following essentials:

The Australian Government-
(1) should have full knowledge of all essential facts,
developments and trends of policy;

(2) should obtain this knowledge in time to express its view
before decisions are taken;

(3) should have the opportunity through its accredited
representative of presenting to and discussing with the War
Cabinet, important committees such as the Defence Committee, and
the Prime Minister [2] or other senior Ministers any suggestions
as to new policy or views on the policy under consideration that
Australia might from time to time desire to submit.

Could (1), (2) and (3) be ensured it would mean a radical
improvement on the existing procedure. The present practice is
that official information is now made available by the Secretary
of State for Dominion Affairs [3] in common to all High
Commissioners at their daily meeting.

This information is governed-
(a) by the fact that the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
is far from fully informed of everything that is going on. He very
often only receives his information too late for any proper
consultation to take place with the Dominions before decisions are
arrived at;

(b) by the attitude of Dominion Governments accrediting High
Commissioners; and
(c) by individual peculiarities of the person holding the office
of High Commissioner.

With regard to (a), in my view it is imperative that the Secretary
of State for Dominion Affairs should be one of the most senior
members of Cabinet in closest personal touch with the Prime
Minister, should be a member of the War Cabinet and of all
important committees, in particular the Defence Committee, and
should have access to all documents. In fact but for his excessive
strain and multiplicity of duties in war time the Prime Minister
should be the direct link between Britain and the Dominions.

With regard to (b), broadly the attitude of the other Dominion
Governments is to leave little, if any, initiative or discretion
to their High Commissioners, and in the case of Canada [4] this is
most marked.

With regard to (c), where the information is made available to all
High Commissioners, how much is disclosed is governed by the
confidence felt in the least discreet and reliable individual.

These three governing factors have rendered Bruce's task in
getting you full information in regard to matters of high secrecy
or delicacy extremely difficult. The difficulty has to a certain
extent been overcome by his personal contacts with Ministers and
officials and the confidence felt in his judgement due to his long
experience, but this is neither satisfactory nor a sure basis to
work on.

The most important cables being on short distribution have a very
limited circulation and have only been officially available to
Bruce when a special envoy such as Prime Minister or myself has
been here.

The recent experience of the American-Japanese [negotiations] [5],
especially vis-a-vis the position of China, indicates the
necessity of a change of this procedure. If when the telegram to
Hull [6] M.380 was being drafted Australia's advice and point of
view had been available to senior officials of the Foreign Office
as well as to the Foreign Secretary [7] before the telegram was
brought down to War Cabinet, the point of view we put immediately
into War Cabinet and the point of view that the Australian
Government pressed might have modified the terms of the telegram.

The mode of expression was, however, determined independently by
the Foreign Office, brought into War Cabinet, and was read by the
Foreign Secretary without distribution to the members of the War
Cabinet. Although I asked for the telegram and read it while the
War Cabinet were discussing other matters, and thus was able to
argue along the lines of my telegram to you [8], it was too late
to secure any alteration. The difficulties in altering the
position once the telegram has been despatched are of course

To overcome these disadvantages on the next occasion of
instructions to Halifax I attempted to arrange that Australia
should participate in actually drafting the telegram. [9] The
Foreign Secretary said that he could not adopt this except with
the special order of the Prime Minister, so I got in touch with
the Dominions Secretary who in turn got in touch with the Prime
Minister, who then gave permission to the Foreign Secretary.

Though arrangements were then made for preliminary discussion in
the afternoon before the draft was completed, delay in the Foreign
Office prevented this discussion taking place. Ultimately I was
called into the Defence Committee to discuss the draft telegram
before it was approved for submission to the War Cabinet. In the
Defence Committee, despite the presence of eight Cabinet
Ministers, the three Chiefs of Staff and several other Staff
Officers, most of whom occasionally participated in the
discussion, I was able to secure the insertion of a couple of
sentences clarifying our position relative to the Netherlands East
Indies. I found that in drafting the telegram reference had been
deliberately omitted. The importance that Halifax and Roosevelt
both placed on these two sentences was evinced in paragraph 6 of
telegram M.[421] [10] and they [unquestionably led to the
complete] change [of] the British Government's attitude with
regard to the nature of the guarantee to be given to the Dutch.

Obviously this was not the time or place to get material
alterations either in substance or in form [in] the draft.

Alterations can best be secured when Senior Officers of the
Foreign Office are preparing the preliminary draft. Therefore the
ideal procedure is, first access to every document, even most
confidential, consultation with Foreign Office officials while the
draft policy is being prepared, presence in the Defence Committee
when it is being finalised and the opportunity of speaking in War
Cabinet, when it is finally approved. This combination alone would
enable Australia to influence the policy and its expression in the
formative stage. I therefore feel that the practical method of
achieving these essentials is for the Commonwealth Government to
inform the United Kingdom Government that the High Commissioner is
their accredited representative in the fullest sense of the word
and that they desire that he should have access to all information
he may from time to time require to carry out this task. The
normal procedure should be that the High Commissioner should be
Australia's fully accredited representative. He has a special
fitness because of his official position which enables him to keep
a contact with officials that a Minister can scarcely make, while
fully accrediting him gives a special position in regard to
Ministers. This would overcome the present difficulty in regard to
keeping you fully informed and would enable the Australian
representative to ensure full regard being paid to the policy of
Australia before decisions are made.

A special envoy, such as the Prime Minister or other
representative sent from Australia on a specific mission, should
be regularly sent to London. He should also be fully accredited
and have complete facilities of access to all affecting either
generally or in particular his mission. His first function would
be [the] fullfilment of his special mission. There would be no
objection raised to his attendance in War Cabinet. He could also
attack and move on matters whose progress has been arrested. He
would bring the most recent view of the Australian Government's
policy to refresh the High Commissioner's mind.

He would make a periodical visit to Australia by the High
Commissioner possible, when the High Commissioner could discuss
policy with the Full Cabinet in Australia and make personal
contact with Ministers and general Australian conditions. A
special envoy should not stay in London longer than two or three
months at the outside. He should come for a special job, get it
done and get away while he still has punch in London and report
back to Australia the exact position in London.

I do not think that it is practical politics to discuss at the
present time the suggestions that have been made of the creation
of an Imperial War Cabinet. The British Prime Minister set out a
number of objections of the British Government to all the
Dominions being represented in the British War Cabinet in telegram
No.607 of 29th August.[11] The representative of Australia
attending meetings of the War Cabinet would find himself in a
gathering composed of the nine members of War Cabinet itself plus
certain other Ministers who attend regularly, such as the
Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, the Leader of the House
of Lords, the Minister of Information plus any Minister directly
concerned with questions on the agenda, such as the Minister for
Home Security, plus the Chiefs of Staff The atmosphere of a
meeting of such a character and such a size is not conducive to
detailed and exhaustive consideration of questions of high war and
post war policy. MacKenzie King's [12] attitude towards this
position and towards the position of an Imperial War Cabinet
meeting in London is that a Dominions Prime Minister with all the
prestige he carries is at a very grave disadvantage in such a War
Cabinet because he is handicapped by reason of fullest advice
being available to the British Prime Minister and his Ministers
who are on their home ground whereas the Dominion representative
has simply such advice as can be given from his own country.

In my view the most promising line of progress if one has to
proceed step by step is by immediate strengthening of [the Defence
Committee]. If fully accredited representative of Australia-the
High Commissioner normally-were automatically a member of that
Committee, the machinery already existing could be used to supply
him with all information and opportunity to exert influence on
policy that is desired.

Thus Australia could have an effective voice in regard to
determination and expression of foreign policy and in preparation
of war strategy consequent on that policy.


1 High Commissioner in the United Kingdom.

2 Winston Churchill.

3 Lord Cranborne.

4 The Canadian High Commissioner was Vincent Massey.

5 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from
Bruce's copy, on file AA: M100, December 1941.

6 U.S. Secretary of State. Cablegram M380 of 24 November is on
file AA:A981 Japan 178.

7 Anthony Eden.

8 Cablegram P7 of 25 November on file AA:A1608, A41/1/5, iv.

9 This cablegram to the U.K. Ambassador to the United States is
published in Document 157. See also Document 158.

10 The number of this cablegram appeared as M142 on the Canberra
copy and M42 on Bruce's file copy. It presumably refers to
Cranborne's circular cablegram M421 of 4 December on the file
cited in note 6.

11 Document 53.

12 Canadian Prime Minister.

[AA:A1608, H33/1/2]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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