Volume #14 - 854.|
September 28th, 1948|
MACHINERY FOR CONSULTATION BETWEEN COMMONWEALTH GOVERNMENTS|
The question of machinery for consultation between Commonwealth governments has been proposed by the United Kingdom Prime Minister for inclusion in the agenda for the meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers which is to open in London on October 11.
2. The present system for Commonwealth consultation is complex, varied, and flexible, and preserves the principle that decisions on major questions of policy are, in the last resort, the responsibility of the Government and Parliament of each of the Commonwealth nations. Themethods at present available for Commonwealth consultation are:(a) Communications between governments, by telegram or despatch, through the channel of the Commonwealth Relations Office and the External Affairs ministries.
(b) Communications from Prime Minister to Prime Minister, either through the same channel or directly by telegram, telephone, or letter.
(c) Meetings of Prime Ministers.
(d) High Commissioners.
(e) Conferences and committees on special subjects.
3. There have been frequent suggestions that this system would be improved by the formation of a permanent Commonwealth secretariat. The latest of these was made by Viscount Bruce14 of Melbourne. speaking in the House of Lords on February 17. In addition to the secretariat, Bruce proposed a Council of British Nations, composed essentially of the Prime Ministers of the great self-governing parts of the Empire. This body would hold plenary meetings, replacing the Imperial Conferences; meetings on special questions such as finance or transport, attended by the cabinet ministers concerned; and monthly meetings in London under the presidency of the United Kingdom Prime Minister, at which the Dominions would be represented by their High Commissioners, supplemented by any Dominion cabinet ministers who might happen to be in London. The Commonwealth secretariat, besides handling the business of this Council, might assume the task of arranging and giving continuity and coordination to the numerous ad hoc meetings of experts on special subjects.
4. While the Australian Government has not appeared to favour this plan unreservedly, it has been under considerable pressure from an Opposition campaign for Empire unity, led by the former Prime Minister, R.G. Menzies. Attached is a copy of a recent article by Mr. Menzies in the Listener,t which will show the line he takes. Dr. Evatt, in a broadcast on September
6. referred approvingly to Mr. Cur-tin's wartime proposals and declared that Australia would support "any progressive step designed to strengthen the system of cooperation within the Commonwealth." Mr. Fraser, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has shown some tendency to favour permanent machinery for Commonwealth consultation, but appears to be keeping an open mind. The line which may be taken by United Kingdom supporters of a somewhat closer Commonwealth organization is indicated in an editorial in the Economist of September 18, of which a copy is attached †: it urges closer coordination in foreign policy and defence, and looks upon the growth of Commonwealth committees on special questions as the main opportunity "for evolving a joint Commonwealth policy and for ensuring that the Dominions speak with one voice when the need arises."
5. Annexed is a survey of the principal minor Commonwealth bodies in which Canada participates,t which may be of interest in this connection Extracts from the Imperial Conference reports of 1923, 1926, and 1930 dealing with Commonwealth consultation are also annexed†
6. Any Australian pressure for a more formal organization of the Commonwealth would doubtless be based on the rather questionable assumption that such an organization would enable them to ensure that United Kingdom policy would in future subordinate the special interests of the United Kingdom to those of other Commonwealth countries, and particularly of Australia. The experience of the last war does not appear to confirm this assumption. While the United Kingdom will no doubt always defend Australia's interests when she can do so without detriment to her own, the fact remains that in the crisis of the war she was forced to choose between defending her own coasts and those of Australia, and made the same choice that any other country would have made in the same position. No Commonwealth machinery would have made any difference to this choice.
7. If, however, some members of the Commonwealth insist upon integrating their own government machinery with that of the United Kingdom to some extent, with the hope of achieving greater influence on United Kingdom policy, it might become desirable to recognize that, in view of the growing regional interests of Commonwealth members and of their different attitudes towards Commonwealth association, it may not be possible to lay down any general rules as to consultation. It might be better to have the principle accepted that consultation between governments is a matter for those governments themselves to determine in each case, and that it may happen to be desirable, in any given case, to have much closer consultation between certain members of the Commonwealth than with others.
8. If, following the recognition of this principle, some inner-circle organization was set up in which Australia and New Zealand participated with the United Kingdom, while Canada, South Africa, India, Pakistan, and Ceylon remained outside, there would of course be a certain amount of domestic pressure within Canada which might make it difficult for the Canadian Government to maintain a policy of non-participation. Much would depend on the impression which would be given as to the nature and purpose of the inner circle, and it would obviously be to the interest of the Australian Government to magnify its importance and value. The present set-up seems, on the whole, to meet more adequately the dual requirements of cooperation and flexibility.
14Le haut-commissaire de l'Australie au Royaume-Uni.