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90 Attlee to Curtin

Circular cablegram D538 LONDON, 11 December 1942, 10.20 p.m.


We have for some time past had under consideration the question
how to deal with the considerable volume of criticism which is
heard from time to time regarding British Colonial Policy. Recent
events in America-for example, Mr. Luce's article in Life and Mr.

Wendell Willkie's recent speeches [1]-have raised the question in
an acute form. It is clear that there is a widespread and rooted
feeling in the United States which regards the British Colonial
Empire as equivalent to the private estate of a landlord preserved
for his own benefit. Clearly, this view is unreasonable, but it is
no use ignoring its existence. Moreover, we must, if we can,
endeavour to get the United States to express their willingness to
enter some general defence scheme, which would include the defence
of Colonial areas. Their assistance, however, will not be
forthcoming unless we can secure their general goodwill. With this
in view, it is essential that we should act now to convince United
States opinion that our Colonial Policy is not a danger and an
anachronism as certain quarters in that country are inclined to
regard it.

Some time ago His Majesty's Ambassador at Washington had a
discussion with the United States Secretary of State on this
matter. [2] Mr. Hull referred to the question how the statements
of the Atlantic Charter could best be utilised to guide opinion
wisely in relation to backward peoples of differing grades and
capacities and said that his idea was to get some general
statement in which we might all assert broad purposes, making
plain that attainment of freedom involved mutual responsibility of
what he called 'parent states' and of those who aspired to it. He
was prepared to include a very clear expression against officious
intervention from outside with affairs which were responsibility
of 'parent states' and said that wide variety of the problem could
be appropriately stressed.

It appears to us that Mr. Hull's suggestion affords a valuable
basis for further action, and we have been considering, in
consultation with General Smuts during his visit to London, what
would be most convenient course.

It seems to us that, as a first step, it would be desirable that
we should endeavour to remove the misconceptions about British
Colonial Policy which are prevalent in the United States and
elsewhere. We should explain the principles on which our Colonial
Policy has been founded; how, within our resources, we have
consistently applied liberal ideas in social, economic and
political sphere for the benefit of the peoples concerned and how
our administration of backward territories has never meant that
others have been deprived of free access to their resources. Lord
Cranborne's recent speech in the House of Lords was, therefore,
designed with this object in view.

It is clearly important that we should encourage the United States
to look outwards, rather than inwards, and to be a world power
rather than a hemispheric power. For this purpose we should do
well not to resent, but rather to welcome, American interest in
the British Colonial Empire and there would be advantages in so
arranging our affairs that the United States joins in public
acceptance of a line of policy towards Colonial peoples and their

As a next step, therefore, we should propose to follow up the
suggestion thrown out by Mr. Hull and propose a joint declaration
(to which other Colonial Powers might possibly subscribe) on the
general Colonial question. Such a document if participated in by
the United States Government should do much to damp down the
restless, irresponsible and ignorant criticism which has been
prevalent in America and help to dispel the illusion that this is
an Anglo-American question, whereas it is, of course, of equal
concern to all powers with oversea possessions. It would not, of
course, constitute a formal commitment on the part of the United
States to join in a general defence scheme for Colonial areas, but
it would certainly be a step towards the acceptance of obligations
for defence.

We are greatly attracted by Mr. Hull's [conception] [3] of 'parent
states' and something on the lines of his remarks on that point
would be an essential basis of the declaration. With this in mind
as a basis, the line which we should like to see such a
declaration take would be as follows:

(1) First aim of United Nations is to defeat present aggression
and render future aggression impossible.

(2) This aim requires for its successful achievement the
establishment of conditions under which security and prosperity
can be assured to all nations. Since it is evident that there are
certain peoples whose social equipment and resources are not yet
such as to enable them to achieve these ends by themselves, it
will be a clear responsibility of all 'parent states' to enter
into general defence schemes designed to ensure freedom from fear
for all peoples.

(3) The 'parent states' must aim to promote the social, economic
and political well-being of people[s] who are unable, without
danger to themselves and to others, to assume full responsibility
for their affairs. Defence having been assured, the 'parent
states', with their special qualifications for the task, must
accept the duty of guiding and developing the social and political
institutions of the territories with which they are concerned,
that their peoples may in due course be able to discharge the
other responsibilities of government.

(4) By this combination of defence and orderly development the
'parent states' will fulfil their responsibilities to those
peoples and enable them to enjoy rising standards of life and to
continue their advance along the path of progress. In pursuance of
this policy the natural resources of Colonial territories will be
organised and marketed, not for the promotion merely of commercial
ends, but in the best interests of the people concerned and of the
world as a whole.

We should propose that His Majesty's Ambassador [should] in the
first place sound Mr. Hull on the above list of points as the
basis for a declaration. If Mr. Hull agrees that a declaration on
these lines would be in accordance with his view[s] His Majesty's
Ambassador would then explain to him that we think that practical
application of these principles would need to be discussed and
agreed as soon as the declaration had been published and inform
him that our present line of thought is:

(a) That necessary practical measures would take the form of
machinery for consultation and collaboration between 'parent
states' with the aim of ensuring a common policy in those regions
of the world in which they have interests as 'parent states'. For
this purpose Regional Commissions composed of representatives of
such states should be constituted. Provision should also be made
for the representation of nations which have a major defence or
economic interest in the regions concerned. Such regions might be:

First: Far East;

Second: Africa; and
Third: The West Atlantic, and any others which at a later
stage may seem appropriate.

(b) That within this framework and subject to the principles laid
down in paragraphs (2) and (3) of the joint declaration
responsibility for administration of its own territories would
rest with the individual 'parent state' concerned.

Should be glad to learn as soon as possible whether you have any
comments or suggestions to make regarding the above proposals.

You will appreciate that we are very anxious to proceed with the
matter with the least possible delay.

1 See Document 56, note 1.

2 See Document 56, note 2.

3 Words in square brackets have been corrected/inserted from the
London copy in PRO:DO 114/119.

[AA:A989, 43/735/1021]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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