Skip to main content

Historical documents

53 Lord Cranborne, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Prime Minister

Cablegram 607 LONDON, 29 August 1941, 9.38 p.m.



1. Now that you have taken up your great office [2], I send you my
most cordial good wishes for success and assure you that I and my
colleagues will do everything in our Power to work with you in the
same spirit, comradeship and goodwill as we worked with Mr.

Menzies who we are so glad to see is serving under you as Minister
for Co-ordination of Defence.

2. We have followed attentively the difficulties which have arisen
in Australia about your representation over here and perhaps it
will be a help if I let you see our side of the question and how
we are situated.

3. Since the declaration of the Imperial Conference of 1926
embodied in the Statute of Westminster, all Dominion Governments
are equal in status with that of the Mother Country, and all have
direct access to the Crown. The Cabinet of His Majesty's
Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern
Ireland, of which at present I have the honour to be head, is
responsible to our own Parliament and is appointed by the King
because they possess a majority in the House of Commons. It would
not be possible therefore without organic changes, about which all
Dominions would have to be consulted, to make an Australian
Minister who is responsible to the Commonwealth legislature a
member of our body. The precedent of General Smuts [3] in the last
War does not apply, because he was an integral member of the War
Cabinet of those days appointed by the King because of his
personal aptitudes and not because he represented South Africa or
the Dominions point of view.

4. In practice, however, whenever a Prime Minister visits this
country-and they cannot visit it too often or too long-he is
always invited to sit with us and take a full part in our
deliberations. This is because he is the head of the Government of
one of our sister Dominions, engaged with us in the common
struggle, and has presumably the power to speak with the authority
of the Dominion concerned not only on instructions from home but
upon many issues which may arise in the course of discussion. This
is a great advantage to us, and speeds up business.

5. The position of a Dominion Minister other than the Prime
Minister would be very different as he would not be a principal
but only an envoy. Many Dominion Ministers other than the Prime
Ministers have visited us from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and
South Africa during the present War and I am always ready to
confer with them or put them in the closest touch with Ministers
of the various departments with which they are concerned. In the
normal course the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs and the
High Commissioner of the Dominion concerned look after them and
secure for them every facility for doing any work they may have to
do. This arrangement has given satisfaction, so far as I am aware,
to all concerned.

6. I have considered the suggestion that each Dominion should have
a Minister other than the Prime Minister sitting with us in the
Cabinet of the United Kingdom during this time of War. I have
learnt from the Prime Ministers of the Dominions of Canada [4],
South Africa and New Zealand [5] that they do not desire such
representation and are well content with our present arrangements.

Some of the Dominion Prime Ministers have indeed taken a very
strong adverse view, holding that no one but the Prime Minister
can speak for their Governments except as specifically instructed,
and that they each find their own line of action prejudiced by any
decisions, some of which have to be made very quickly in war time,
to which their Minister became a party.

7. From our domestic point of view as His Majesty's servants in
the United Kingdom there are many difficulties. We number at
present eight and there has been considerable argument that we
should not be more than five. The addition of four Dominion
representatives would involve the retirement from the War Cabinet
of at least an equal number of British Ministers. Dwelling within
a Parliamentary and democratic system we rest like you upon a
political basis. I should not myself feel able, as at present
advised, to recommend to His Majesty either the addition of four
Dominion Ministers to the Cabinet of the United Kingdom which
would make our numbers too large for business, or the exclusion of
a number of my present colleagues who are leading men in the
political parties to which they belong.

8. If, of course, you desire to send anyone from Australia as a
special envoy to discuss any particular aspects of our common war
effort in mind, we should of course welcome him with the utmost
consideration and honour, but he would not and could not be a
responsible partner in the daily work of our Government.

9. His relationship with the existing High Commissioner for
Australia [6] and with the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs
would be for you to decide. It would seem, however, that if such
an envoy remained here as a regular institution, the existing
functions of the High Commissioner would to some extent be
duplicated and the relations of the Secretary of State with the
High Commissioners generally might be affected. Such difficulties
are not insuperable but they may as well be faced. The whole
system of the work of the High Commissioners in daily contact with
the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs has worked well and I
am assured that the three other Dominions would be opposed to any

10. We should of course welcome a meeting of Dominion Prime
Ministers if that could be arranged but difficulties of distance
and occasion are as you know very great. We are also quite ready
to consider, if you desire it, the question of the formation of an
Imperial War Cabinet. So far-reaching a change could not however
be enunciated piecemeal but only by the general aid of all the
Governments now serving His Majesty. [7]


1 Winston Churchill.

2 R. G. Menzies resigned on 29 August and A. W. Fadden, Leader of
the Country Party, took office as Prime Minister the same day. The
U.A.P.-Country Party coalition ministry remained virtually
unchanged; Menzies retained the Defence Co-ordination portfolio
and Sir Frederick Stewart the External Affairs portfolio.

3 South African Prime Minister.

4 W. L. Mackenzie King.

5 Peter Fraser.

6 S. M. Bruce.

7 Fadden had already informed Bruce prior to the receipt of this
cablegram that he intended to dispatch a minister to London and
asked him to ascertain whether the minister would be offered a
seat in the U.K. War Cabinet. Bruce replied that the U.K. Govt was
opposed to the admission of any Dominion minister other than a
Prime Minister to War Cabinet and advised Fadden not to pursue the
matter further. See cablegrams 4845 to, and 21 from, Bruce of 29
August on file AA:M100, August 1941.

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