Thursday, 23rd May 1929

23rd May, 1929


My dear Prime Minister,

By the incoming mail I received your letter of April 15th [1] in reply to mine raising the question of certificates for straw packing. I have discreetly conveyed to the Federation of British Industries that the manufacturers concerned should take steps to bring their case forward in a convincing manner.


Just before I went to Geneva, Sir Halford Mackinder [2], Sir David Chadwick [3] and I had a talk about the Imperial Economic Committee and the Imperial Conference. After some discussion as to the widening of the Committee’s terms of reference we got into a discussion of the general economic side of the Conference.

We agreed that, owing to the Election, little Ministerial attention was likely to be given to Conference subjects until the Autumn but that then everyone would be anxious for plans. I mentioned how little success I had achieved in trying to stir the Board of Trade towards constructive thinking, and we all agreed that an unofficial group, which would be prepared to devote some time to exploring various lines of country, would be most useful at the present stage.

We finally decided to try to get together a group consisting of our three selves, Sir Basil Blackett [4], Philip Kerr [5], Sir William Larke [6]and another industrialist, with perhaps later one or two others, such as Hilton Young. [7] Chadwick undertook to try and arrange for the formation of this group. If the idea matures and proves fruitful, some useful suggestions may arise.


I am enclosing a curious advertisement inserted in Monday’s ‘Evening Standard’ by Sir Edmund Vestey. [8] It is worth while just glancing at it for Australia is placed in the forefront and the whole letterpress reeks of fervid Imperialism. I rang up Sir Gordon Campbell [9], of Weddel’s to see if he knew anything about the idea behind the advertisement. The reply was negative but I learnt that Vestey was paying for the insertion of this advertisement in ten leading papers. The total cost to Vestey will be from 2,000 to 4,000, according to space and position.


There is no marked tendency in the floods of political oratory going on here at present to devote any considerable proportion of political speeches to Empire questions. This may be due to lack of interest on the part of candidates, but more probably is caused by a feeling that no very constructive Empire policy can be put forward in simple words now that Imperial Preference is so limited and other Empire development ideas have received so little thought.

Maxton [10], with his International affiliations to the League against Imperialism, is causing some embarrassment to MacDonald [11] but I do not think he is taken very seriously.

I really believe that any party that had the courage to make Empire Development their main plank and to preach what that could mean to Great Britain would sweep the country. It is essential that the Imperial Conference should succeed in placing the issues so clearly before the country as to make such a political programme become a definite probability.

I am enclosing a copy of the ‘Times’ report of Mr. Baldwin’s speech at Bradford. [12] This speech contains a lot of good sense about rationalisation and safeguarding and some reference to Empire Development. Baldwin’s reference to Great Britain’s position as the chief exporting country is, however, hopelessly wrong. The figures are as follows:-

Annual average 1925-27 Total exports % of manufacturers % Great Britain 711,844,000 80.6 U.S.A. 982,212,000 54.6

I am writing to Tom Jones [13], of the Cabinet Secretariat, pointing out that S. B. should not make such mistakes.


This morning’s ‘Times’ reported a rather extraordinary piece of tactics apparently emanating from the Labour Headquarters. The Party has circulated in some constituencies a pamphlet entitled ‘A Call to Christians’ and has pointed out that, in the polling booths, voters have to make the sign of the cross and that that should make them solemnly consider whether they are supporting the Party which has the most Christian principle. I enclose the ‘Times’ cutting.


For the last three months I have [been] trying to complete a general statement on the necessity for Great Britain to develop, in her own economic interests, a policy of Imperial Development.

This is at last nearing completion and I very much hope that I shall be able to forward a copy to you by the next mail. My present intention is to suggest to the Empire Marketing Board that this memorandum, which will be of some length and has been very carefully prepared, should be published by the Board as one of their grey papers. [14] I think it would serve as a useful stimulus to thought at this stage of the preparatory work for the Conference.

The moment this is completed and out of the way, I shall start on the examination of British industries with the idea of attempting to assess in each of the more important cases the value of Australian, and indeed other Imperial Preferences to the industries concerned.

Yesterday I suggested to Karl Walter, the Secretary of the Horace Plunkett Foundation [15], that he should consider the preparation of some short but clear statements on agricultural economic policy in various parts of the world which might prove useful documentation to assist the deliberations of the Imperial Conference. He thought the idea was a happy one and promised to consider what he thought the Horace Plunkett Foundation could do.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 Not found.

2 Chairman of the Imperial Economic Committee.

3 Secretary to the Imperial Economic Committee.

4 Controller of Finance at the Treasury 1919-22; Finance Member of the Executive Council of the Governor-General of India 1922-28.

5 Editor of the Round Table 1910-16; Private Secretary to Lloyd George 1916-21; Secretary of the Rhodes Trust from 1925.

6 Director of the National Federation of Iron and Steel Manufacturers.

7 Sir Edward Hilton Young, Conservative M.P.; Editor-in-Chief of the Financial News.

8 Businessman with world-wide interests in meat importing and shipping. See ‘The Real Cause and only remedy-for Britain’s Unemployment’, Evening Standard, 21 May. Vestey asserted, ‘Every declaration against Safeguarding and Empire Preference is a declaration in favour of Lower Wages for the whole British Nation’.

9 Chairman of W. Weddel & Co. Ltd, meat importers.

10 James Maxton, Labour M.P.; Chairman of the Independent Labour Party.

11 Ramsay MacDonald, Leader of the Labour Opposition.

12 ‘Prime Minister in Yorkshire. Aids to Industry’, Times, 23 May.

13 Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet.

14 The paper was published in December 1929 as The Growing Dependence of British Industry upon Empire Markets, E.M.B. 23.

15 The Plunkett Foundation for Co-operative Studies was endowed in 1919 by Sir Horace Plunkett, Irish politician, agricultural reformer and leader of the agricultural Co-operative movement, as an information Centre for agricultural research in the British Commonwealth.