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129 Commonwealth Government to Mr M. MacDonald, U.K. Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs

Cablegram 20 [1] 6 March 1938,

Statement made by the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia, [2] begins:-

Comment which has been made during the last week may have caused some doubt in the minds of Australians as to the facts in regard to the resignation of Mr Eden and to the question of consultation between Great Britain and the Dominions arising out of the decision to initiate conversations between Great Britain and Italy with a view to the amicable settlement of outstanding problems.

I make this statement in order that the position of the Commonwealth Government in the matter may be made quite clear to all.

At the Imperial Conference held last year, British Ministers informed Dominions delegates in the most complete manner as to the international situation. No information was withheld, suggestions were cordially invited, and the discussions were of the frankest possible nature. At the conclusion of these reviews the Conference registered its view that differences of political creed should be no obstacle to friendly relations between Governments and countries and that nothing could be more damaging to the hopes of international appeasement than the division-real or apparent-of the world into opposing groups.

It follows that the approach by Great Britain to certain Powers, and particularly Italy, with a view to the initiation of conversations having as their object a general appeasement, was a step in accord with the view adopted at that Conference.

On 27th January, 1938, and while Mr Eden was still Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the Commonwealth Government was consulted on the proposal for the re-opening of negotiations with Italy. [3] The Commonwealth Government advised that they agreed that the international situation called for action, in which connection the reopening of conversations with Italy was of importance. [4]

At this point there was no indication of any difference in the points of view held by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, respectively. It has been clearly explained since, both by Mr Chamberlain and by Mr Eden, that the difference which led to the latter's resignation was not one of principle or one emanating from any alteration in the fundamental objects of British foreign policy, including their adherence to the objectives of the covenant of the League of Nations, but was one purely of time and method in regard to the initiation of conversations.

That being so, it was accepted both by the British Government and by the Australian Government that the resignation of Mr Eden was purely a domestic matter on which no question of consulting Dominion Governments arose. Had there been any change in British foreign policy the Dominion Governments would, of course have been consulted by the British Government in accordance with normal practice.

There has also been some misconception as to whether the statement of Mr Chamberlain in the House of Commons on 21st February indicated a departure from the policy of adherence to the principles of the League of Nations in the conduct of British foreign policy. He said that the League as at present constituted was unable to provide collective security for its members. This statement was a recognition of an unfortunate state of fact but was not to be regarded in any way as a reversal of policy. The present weakness of the League in dealing with political questions has been widely recognised by the various States Members in their submission of proposals for the reform of the Covenant and in statements made by representatives of States Members of the Council of the League, including Mr Eden, at its meeting which opened on 26th January, 1938.

At the time of the resignation of Mr Eden and subsequently the Commonwealth Government has been kept fully advised of all the developments in the present situation and of the steps which are being taken to bring about a general appeasement. Ends.

1 Although this cablegram and the preceding one (Document 128) were sent separately they both carried the number 20.

2 This statement was issued to the press on 6 March 1938.

3 Document 121.

4 Document 122.

[AA : A981, ITALY 30, i]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History