Wednesday, 13th March 1929

13th March, 1929


My dear Prime Minister,


By the last mail I wrote to you about a discussion with Mr. Harry Snell M.P., the Secretary of the Labour Commonwealth Group. [1] This week Tom Johnston [2] M.P. lunched with me and I had a short talk with J. H. Thomas [3] M.P. The latter is very confident of Labour success and was emphatic that Labour would prove an excellent friend to Empire Development. He is, however, a very facile person and, though most adroit, is not the person to go to for long views. With Johnston I had a most interesting talk. He thinks Labour has a fifty-fifty chance of forming a Government but a much slighter one of obtaining a,clear majority. He said that if a Labour Government was formed, it would last, at a maximum, eighteen months.

We discussed possible members of a Labour Cabinet. He thought that such new recruits to the party as Sir Oswald Mosley [4] and Capt.

Wedgwood Benn [5] might be offered office as both had become close friends of MacDonald’s. [6]Johnston seemed to think he would probably be offered a post, but perhaps not of Cabinet rank. [7] He expressed doubts about acceptance if such an offer was made but one does not attach too much importance to such doubts.

I emphasized to Johnston the difference between the Tory and the Labour Party in regard to the Empire. I said that the Tories were publicly regarded as keenly pro-Empire so that, even when they did little to justify such a belief, they still received the credit of an Imperial attitude but that Labour was, in public estimation, still suspect on Empire questions. It would, therefore, be of the very greatest importance to a Labour Government to obtain, by deeds, a good record on Empire matters. Johnston agreed with this summing up of the position.

I then drew attention to the possibility of Labour being in office for the next Imperial Conference and suggested that a typically Snowdenian [8] budget might be the most unfortunate prelude to an imperial Conference.

Johnston said that he recognised this danger but felt that all depended upon who MacDonald put with his Cabinet. ‘It would be necessary for a couple of Ministers to be prepared to resign’, Johnston declared rather than allow a Labour Government to face an Imperial Conference with preferences substantially reduced and without any effective alternatives.

I shall arrange to see Thomas again shortly and talk about Empire Marketing Board matters with him and also raise the Budget- Imperial Conference issue.

I think there is no doubt that Labour will, if it achieves office, maintain the Empire Marketing Board and indeed may take more interest in its work than the present Government.


I am forwarding to you a copy of the final report of the Balfour Committee. I have marked some of the salient passages about Empire trade but have not yet had time to read much of it. I have referred to these passages in another letter forwarded to you by this mail. I certainly think that this report marks a definite stage in the Empire Development campaign. The remarks about reciprocity from Great Britain are colourless enough but the essential fact is the vital importance of the sheltered markets of the Empire and the necessity to maintain the sheltering condition is fully recognised.


In a public speech the other day Lord Hailsham, the Lord Chancellor, after praising the work of the Empire Marketing Board and claiming the fullest credit for the Government in having established the Board, made the extraordinary statement that the Labour Party had definitely declared that, if they were returned to power, they would abolish the Board. Steps have, of course, been taken to put Lord Hailsham right but I feel I must draw your attention to this extraordinarily stupid remark. At least four or five of the leading members of the Labour Party have definitely declared, not once but several times, that the policy of the Labour Party would be to support the Empire Marketing Board and to endeavour to increase its functions in the interest of the orderly and systematic marketing of Empire products.


I am enclosing a copy of the preliminary report of the Melchett- Turner Conference, which has just reached me. The paragraphs about Migration are perhaps important, although they are not very novel.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 See Letter 216.

2 Scottish Labour M.P.; Editor of Forward, a Glasgow labour paper.

3 Colonial Secretary 1924.

4 Elected as a Conservative in 1918, Mosley became an Independent in 1922 and joined the Labour Party in 1924. He was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in the Labour Government of 1929. In 1930 the Cabinet, and then the Party Executive, rejected his memorandum on unemployment. Mosley resigned from the Labour Party early in 1931 to form the New Party, later renamed the British Union of Fascists.

5 William Wedgwood Benn, a Liberal M.P. from 1906, joined the Labour Party in 1927. He was appointed Secretary of State for India in 1929.

6 Ramsay MacDonald, Leader of the Labour Opposition.

7Johnston was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Scotland in 1929 and achieved Cabinet rank, as Lord Privy Seat, in March 1931.

8 Philip Snowden, a committed free trader, was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929.

9 Final Report of the Committee on Industry and Trade, Cmd 3282, 1929. The Committee was chaired by industrialist Sir Arthur Balfour. See Letter 217.

10 An informal conference of industrialists and unionists, first convened in January 1928, with the aim of fostering co-operation in industrial relations. Lord Melchett, Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd, was generally credited with suggesting the talks. Ben Turner was Chairman of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress which accepted the invitation.