Wednesday, 21st November 1928

21st November, 1928


My dear Prime Minister,

Up to the present time the Election news that we have received from Australia appears to indicate that the Nationalist Party will lose from 7 to 8 seats in the House of Representatives, that the Country Party will come back with a net gain of 1 or 2 seats and that Labor will gain from 6 to 7 seats. There was general satisfaction here as soon as it was seen that your Government was safe but little interest has been taken in the actual composition of the House. [1] I find it difficult to assess the problems with which you will be faced in the course of the next week or fortnight. The proportionate increase in the strength of the Country Party in comparison to the Nationalists may increase your personal difficulties. On the other hand, I cannot but suppose that the changed balance of strength of Parties may facilitate in some degree the plans which I presume you have in mind in regard to imparting a greater measure of economic sanity to the Australian Customs Tariff.

The position in 1929 looks as though it would be somewhat similar to the position in 1923 when you developed the policy of Export Control legislation as a method of assisting the agricultural producer. I venture to suggest that, at the present juncture, a definite policy to encourage a vigorous development of the study of agricultural economics might prove not only useful to Australia but might also be politically sound.

The Empire Marketing Board would, I am certain, be very glad to cooperate with Australia in a series of agricultural economic investigations and I have sent a good deal of information to Rivett [2] which would enable him to form a fairly clear idea as to what the E.M.B. has in mind. I would further suggest that you might consider the desirability of making Empire Agriculture one of the main features of the forthcoming Imperial Conference.

I have not yet had time to attempt to set out any ideas about the Imperial Conference but shall certainly try to do so as soon as possible. There would, I feel, be a good deal to be said in favor of holding an Imperial Economic Conference side by side with the Imperial Conference, going back that is to the 1923 precedent and making the agricultural issue a very important part of the proceedings. There can be no doubt that, in the whole world, the position of the farmer and of the farm worker is less advantageous than that of those engaged as employers or employees in industry and very much less advantageous than those employed in distribution.

It is fairly clear that Hoover will be bound by his election pledges to try to do something to relieve this disparity in the United States of America. [3] It might, therefore, be very wise for the Imperial Conference on the initiative of Australia to envisage this problem. [4]


Yesterday was the first meeting of this new Body and for about ten days my time will be very heavily occupied therewith. Prior to the meeting, the Dominions Office and the Ministry of Agriculture both separately consulted me as to the best method of procedure and I took the opportunity of stressing to both Departments, as vigorously as I was able, the extreme importance of placing the new Bureaux and the machinery of the Executive Body on a sound Imperial model. I found that the Ministry of Agriculture was anxious to appoint one of its own officers as a Secretary on the Executive Body. This I most strenuously opposed and suggested that Sir David Chadwick, as the Secretary of the Imperial Economic Committee, would be far more suitable as he was the servant of all the Governments of the Empire and not of any one. I said that I could see no objection to a junior Civil Servant from the Ministry of Agriculture acting as Assistant Secretary to Chadwick but that it would be a very serious mistake to tie up this Imperial Body with an individual British Ministry. I got the hearty support of the Dominions Office in this point of view and we finally persuaded the Ministry of Agriculture to agree.

Yesterday’s discussion was very prolonged but quite satisfactory.

The Body will be meeting again tomorrow and on one or two days in the following week. There can be little doubt that, provided the work, for which we are trying to lay the foundations, is carried out successfully, it is one of the biggest Inter-Imperial things that has yet been attempted. The pressure of this additional work must necessarily curtail the possibility of my writing at all fully.

I trust and hope that you are not over tired as a result of the Election campaign and that, at the present time, you will be getting some relaxation, although you must have thorny problems in connection with the actual composition of the Cabinet. I shall be watching, with the very greatest interest, to see what appointment you are able to make to the Portfolio of Trade and Customs [6] and what other form of re-distribution you will find necessary.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 The Nationalists lost eight seats to Labor, the Parties’ new strengths being twenty-nine and thirty-one respectively. The Country Party remained steady at fourteen and there was one Independent.

2 David Rivett, Deputy Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

3 See note 7 to Letter 192.

4 Bruce agreed that any such action by Hoover would enhance the significance of economic questions at the next Imperial Conference and might force ‘the Empire as a whole to take a bolder line with regard to its economic policy than has ever been found possible or practicable in the past’. See his letter dated 10 February 1929, on file AA:M111, 1929.

5 Following a suggestion at the 1927 Imperial Agricultural Research Conference, eight bureaus were to be established from 1929 to act as clearing-houses for information on research throughout the Empire in soil science, animal nutrition, health and genetics, parasitology, plant genetics and fruit production.

The scheme was financed by contributions from all Empire governments and administered by an Executive Council, of which McDougall was Vice-Chairman. See note 2 to Letter 198.

6 Bruce had been Minister for Trade and Customs since the death of H. E. Pratten, in May 1928. Following the election H. S. Gullett was appointed to the post.