10th May, 1928


My dear P.M.,

The mild crisis that arose out of the Outlawry of War business showed how badly the machinery of communication and consultation with the Dominions is liable to creak in anything approaching an emergency. The Foreign Office 'Dominions Information Department' is, in my opinion, ineffective by reason of lack of drive and imagination. It is not the machinery that is at fault but, as so often happens, it is a question of personalities.

The position as I see it is this, put brutally and crudely.

Chamberlain [1] and Amery [2] do not get on very well and Chamberlain will not go out of his way to help Amery. Chamberlain, in addition, thinks it rather a bore to have to take the Dominions into his calculations at all. He is Foreign Secretary and his time and energy is very fully taken up in dealing with foreign countries. And in any event he flings up his hands in desperation at having to inform and consult with Dominions through the instrumentality and by the good graces of Amery's Department. It would be bad enough, he seems to think, to have to consult direct with so many diverse parties, but to do so through another intermediary is too complex and impossible to contemplate. If he is tactfully tackled on the subject, he gets out of it by intimating that he has to be careful not to tread on Mr. Amery's toes.

Then as to the machinery. The Foreign Office have, as you know, formed a 'Dominions Information' Department of two men (Koppel [3] and another). Each Department of the Foreign Office is responsible for sending them essential papers so that they can keep in touch all round and compile draft telegrams on the Foreign situation. If Koppel and his colleague were active-minded imaginative people, the business of informing the Dominions would go swimmingly. But, although they are estimable people in their own way, they are not, to my mind, suitable for the work and they have been more or less pitchforked into this (to the Foreign Office) unimportant Branch in order to find something for them to do.

You have then two factors working against success-Chamberlain's indifference (which imperceptibly permeates all through the office by a process that I think in geological language is known as inspissation), and Koppel's incapacity.

Then comes another smaller factor which slows up the process, in the fact that Koppel's draft telegrams have to go to the Dominions Office to be vetted and if altered in any way (condensed, amended or expanded) have to go back to Koppel and through him probably to the appropriate Foreign Office Department, and then back to the Dominions Office again for cyphering and transmission.

The system is slow and cumbersome, but it would work well enough if the people concerned (from top to bottom) had the right spirit.

In an emergency there will have to be some short circuiting if the Dominions are to be carried along, rapid step by rapid step, with H.M.G.

You will eventually, I think, have to do your foreign affairs business direct with the F.O., but this evolution will take some time.

I would be interested to see a mistake made in the addressing of a telegram on Foreign Affairs now and again from the Australian end- I mean if by a clerical error a telegram from you (on say such a subject as the slowing up of Italian migration to Australia, or Italian Flag Discrimination [4]) were to be addressed direct to the Foreign Secretary. It could be followed a few days later by an apology, but it would make people think a little in the meanwhile! There are those who think that a solution lies in British High Commissioners or British Liaison Officers in all Dominions, so that copies of all important telegrams could be repeated from say China (or wherever the seat of any crisis happened to be) to the British High Commissioner or Liaison Officer at Canberra, Ottawa, etc., who would absorb and condense the information and keep the Dominion Governments informed. But the information obtained by a Dominion in this way would have to be supplemented by coordinated information, opinion and decision from London, and would not, to my mind, help a great deal. The benefit, if any, of British representatives in Dominions would lie in the channel that they would represent for informing H.M.G. of the public opinion in Dominions on subjects of mutual interest. [5]

This letter represents only some random and rather indiscreet comments on the situation as I see it at present. With different personalities at the Foreign Office and Dominions Office, the situation might be entirely different, and for the better. But my point is that, at present, the degree to which Dominions are informed and consulted is dependent on personalities.

I am, Yours sincerely, R.G. CASEY

1 Sir Austen Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary.

2 Leopold Amery, Secretary for the Colonies and for Dominion Affairs.

3 Percy Koppel, Counsellor at the Foreign Office. See note 15 to Letter 128.

4 See note 5 to Letter 83.

5 The first High Commissioner to a Dominion, Sir William Clark, was appointed to Canada in September 1928. Government Representatives were sent to South Africa in 1928 and to Australia in 1931 but High Commissioners did not follow immediately. Sir Herbert Stanley was chosen in 1931 for South Africa and Sir Geoffrey Whiskard was sent to Australia in 1936. It was not until 1939 that Sir Harry Batterbee went as High Commissioner to New Zealand.