66 Noel-Baker to Evatt

Letter LONDON, 26 November 1948


I think that you will wish to know the progress that has been made in discussions with the Government of India about India's future relation to the Commonwealth since our talk with Sir G. S. Bajpai in Paris on the 17th November.

2 The Prime Minister has authorised communication of the gist of the Law Officers' Opinion to Pandit Nehru. (It was thought better not to communicate the Opinion as it stood, lest the Indians might lose sight of the fact that it was a purely legal document and regard it as unsympathetically worded). But the digest of it that has been communicated to Pandit Nehru appears to have been accepted by him as setting out the position adequately.

3. The Prime Minister has also telegraphed separately to Pandit Nehru, telling him that he knows that he will agree that, from both our points of view, it is necessary to find some solid ground on which to base our arrangement with one another, and which will stand any challenge in international law, asking him to consider the situation disclosed by the Law Officers' Opinion and to say if any further factor or factors can be added so as to strengthen our legal position. Mr Attlee emphasised that our objective remains exactly as it was-that we want India to remain in the Commonwealth and believe in the light of the talks that there have been that India herself shares that view, provided an acceptable basis can be found.

4. In addition to the tentative suggestion made in Paris as to a particular way in which the link might be found (on the principle of which Mr. Attlee has asked Pandit Nehru to let him have his view as early as possible) he has also asked him to consider the two following suggestions as likely to be both helpful and very material from both our points of view:-

(a) declarations to be made by all the particular States of the Commonwealth (including India) that they wish to be and regard themselves as still bound in a special form of association within the Commonwealth;

(b) the Commonwealth citizenship; that the existence of this would be strengthened as an argument if, on the assumption that India legislates to adopt the provisions of the British Nationality Act, 1948, there could be included in the constitution or in such legislation a provision that such legislation would remain in force 'for such time as India remains a member of the Commonwealth'.

5. Mr Attlee expressed the view further that if, together with the link, whatever its nature, which would have real substance in it between India and the Commonwealth by way of The King, we could get something on the lines referred to in the preceding paragraph, it would enable us:-

(a) to put up a strong case for the general acceptance by all civilised nations of the existence of the Commonwealth as a unit composed of nations bound together by a factual association of long standing and still continuing;

(b) to put forward a case strong enough to have a good chance of success if challenged in an international court over most favoured nation treatment, whether in respect of nationality or of trade.

6. Mr. Attlee added that we should of course welcome any proposals that Pandit Nehru might himself put forward as practical and likely to help, and that they can be sure of the most speedy and sympathetic consideration, and he has suggested that it would be well if Pandit Nehru agrees that our difficulties should be kept completely secret at this stage.

7. The High Commissioner reports that at first glance Pandit Nehru did not seem to think that difficulty would be presented by the proposals in paragraph 5 above. As regards the link with The King, he said that this would take him some little time to consider, and that he readily agreed to examine it and to let us know his views on the principle involved.

8. We have suggested to Pandit Nehru that it is of the very greatest importance to keep entirely secret both the line which discussions have taken and the existence of any difficulties, since otherwise serious embarrassment may be caused to him as well as to all of us. We understand that he fully appreciates this, and I know you also will agree as to its importance. We are not, in these circumstances, making any communication to Commonwealth Governments at present. I am sending similar letters to Fraser and Pearson.