Wednesday, 16th April 1924

16th April, 1924


Dear Mr. Bruce,



The Imperial Affairs Committee of the Conservative Party has apportioned the various resolutions of the Imperial Economic Conference among its members for the purpose of arranging the speeches in the House of Commons when the full dress debate on the Economic Conference Resolutions takes place and I have been in touch with each of the groups that are dealing with the preference questions in which Australia is interested, going carefully into details with them, providing them with fresh memoranda and particulars and meeting them individually and collectively to discuss these memoranda after they had had an opportunity of digesting them.

Mr. Amery [1] and Mr. Ormsby-Gore [2] are dealing with the Imperial Economic Committee; Sir Evelyn Cecil, Sir Henry Cowan and two other members, whom I do not think you know, have had Dried and Canned Fruits allocated to them. The Wine Sub-Committee has not yet been formed.

I have strongly represented to all the Unionist Members with whom I have been in contact that the very least the Unionists owe the Dominions is to put every one of their members either in to the Division Lobby or to see that they are paired when the preference proposals come before the House. If every Unionist Member of Parliament voted in favour of preference proposals, it would require on a full house 43 votes to carry any of the proposals and as there might be a certain number of absentees from the Liberal and Labour Benches, an entirely solid Unionist vote would give us a sporting chance because there is almost sure to be some cross voting from Labour and Liberals.

Mr. Amery asked me to communicate with you by cable with the idea of getting the Australian Chambers of Commerce to carry resolutions which could be cabled here so as to indicate a very definite feeling in Australia in favour of the preference. I, therefore, cabled you on the 9th April in the following terms:-

Amery suggests Australian Chambers of Commerce should cable over hoping that the resolutions Economic Conference will be ratified by Parliament and their conviction that this would lead to greater development of mutual trade. Am hoping to get Empire Study Committee formed in Parliamentary Labour Party.

Sir Fredric Wise [3] has been asked by the Unionists to speak on the monetary exchange problems between Britain, Australia and New Zealand when the question arises in the House and he tells me that he proposes to take the line that the present exchange difficulties could be rectified if Australia were to acquire treasury bills or other short dated securities in London as against currency in Australia.


As the result of a very interesting lunch that I had with a Manchester and Liverpool Labour Member of Parliament, Mr. E. D.

Simon, who is a Manchester Liberal Member, invited me to meet Lancashire Liberals at dinner in the House of Commons and discuss with them the preference question. There were about 10 Members of Parliament present, including the Rt. Hon. C. F. G. Masterman and several representatives from the Liberal Headquarters. We had a most interesting evening and I was very pleased with the way in which they received the information that I was able to place before them. I think that they were at least convinced that the preferences that Australia now gives are of great benefit to British trade. They expressed considerable interest in the Imperial Economic Committee and several of them stated that they were prepared to vote in favour of the preferences that mean no increase in taxation.

The Liberal Colonial Group are hopelessly at variance on the question of the right attitude for the Party to adopt on the preference question and I anticipate that the official attitude of the Party will be one of entire disapproval of any of the preferences that involve new duties but that, on the other hand, I rather anticipate that Members of the Party will be allowed to vote with the Whips Off on the question of preferences that mean a decrease in duty only. I anticipate that there will be a few Liberals who will be prepared to vote for the whole of the preference proposals.

You will be interested to know that, at the present moment, there are about 20 Liberals whom well founded rumour credits with the intention of crossing the floor and joining with the Conservative Party at some opportune moment.


Since I last wrote to you, I have seen very little of Cabinet Ministers, with the exception of one long conversation with Mr.

Sidney Webb [4] at which I was unable to extract from him any information as regards the Government’s intentions, but I lunched today with Miss Margaret Bondfield [5], who told me that so far the Government had not definitely made up their mind as to what attitude to take on the whole question of the Imperial Economic Conference Resolutions.

You will be interested to hear that Miss Bondfield, who is a force to be reckoned with in the Labour Party, has become immensely keen on sound migration schemes and that a number of men on the left wing of the Party, including Mr. George Lansbury for instance, have become convinced that big migration schemes are essential.

It is extremely difficult to form any definite opinion as to what measure of support the preferences will receive from the Labour Party at the present stage but I am quite convinced that the Labour Party is more open to really examine the facts of the situation than is the Liberal Party. There is a less dogmatic prejudice among the Labour people and I am quite sure that the right type of propaganda carried on with them would bear, within a reasonable space of time, interesting fruit.

Dr. Haden Guest has given me a definite assurance that, directly after the Easter Recess, he will form an Empire Study Group inside the Parliamentary Labour Party. He tells me that he has sounded a number of his fellow members on the subject and that they are quite in sympathy with the idea.


The Nineteenth Century have accepted from Lord Sheffield (who is a most ardent old fashioned free trader) an article in which your article in the February Issue is replied to but the Editor was anxious that Lord Sheffield’s article should not be published without a rejoinder and therefore asked Sir Joseph Cook [6] whether he could undertake to reply to Lord Sheffield in the same issue. Sir Joseph asked me to do this work and I came to the conclusion that the best way to do it was to avoid all appearance of having seen Lord Sheffield’s article but to cover his points by writing about the aftermath of the Economic Conference. I am enclosing a copy of the article which Sir Joseph Cook has approved of and signed [7]

On April 10th the Times published from Mr. W. H. Dawson a letter taking you to task for misquoting Cobden [8] in your opening speech at the Economic Conference. I enclose a copy of Mr.

Dawson’s letter and also copy of an answer to Mr. Dawson which appeared to-day under the signature of Sir Joseph Cook. [9]

I particularly desire to draw your attention to an extraordinarily interesting letter which appeared in today’s Times signed by Lord Weir. [10] I think that you will be very interested to read it because it places the industrial position in Britain in a very clear light.

I am also enclosing a copy of a letter to the Manchester Guardian from Senator Wilson [11], the latter part of which I think will amuse you. I have marked the portion that you might care to read in blue pencil.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

_1 Leopold Amery, Conservative M.P.; writer and advocate of tariff reform; First Lord of the Admiralty 1922-24.

2 William Ormsby-Gore, Conservative M.P.; Parliamentary Under- Secretary for the Colonies 1922-24.

3 Conservative M.P.; stockbroker and company director.

4 President of the Board of Trade.

5 Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour, Thomas Shaw.

6 Australian High Commissioner.

7 Sheffield argued that closer Imperial trade relations as proposed by Bruce would unduly restrict British trade. Cook’s rejoinder stressed the benefits of Dominion preferences to British manufacturers. See The Nineteenth Century and After, vol. XCV, no.

564, PP. 157-68, and no 567, pp. 635-59. In a letter to his brother, dated 20 December 1923 (McDougall Papers, NLA: MS. 6890), McDougall mentioned that Bruce had asked him to draft the February article.

8 Richard Cobden, 1804-65, politician best known for his successful fight to repeal the Corn Laws protecting English grain producers and for his defence of free trade.

9 Bruce had quoted Cobden’s words-‘I doubt the wisdom, I sincerely doubt the prudence, of a great body of industrial people to allow themselves to live in dependence on foreign Powers for the supply of food and raw material’-in support of his argument that ‘it is necessary to keep the British market as far as possible for the Dominion production of food and raw material so that we can develop the Empire’. Dawson, author of Richard Cobden and Foreign Policy, published in 1926, argued that Bruce had taken Cobden’s words out of context; that his intention had been to appeal for the abolition of the practice of blockade in war. He conceded, however, that Cobden might well have changed his attitude towards Colonial trade, ‘in accordance with changing situations’ had he lived into the last quarter of the century. Cook’s reply dwelt largely on this last point.

10 Scottish industrialist; Director-General of Aircraft Production and President of the Air Council 1918.

11 R. V. Wilson, Honorary Minister and Australian delegate to the 1923 Imperial Economic Conference; Australian Commissioner, British Empire Exhibition, 1924. He refuted a claim that the Commonwealth Government was inconsistent in placing a contract for locomotives with a local bidder, despite a lower British tender, while advocating reciprocal preference. The letter concluded: ‘It is the people of the Dominions who have to practise the three great virtues of faith, hope, and charity when they contemplate the economic relations of Australia and Great Britain: faith in the commercial and industrial intelligence of the British people, hope that Britain will soon appreciate the enormous advantages of Empire development, and charity in continuing to maintain the great advantages they now afford to Britain without any effective reciprocity’. See Manchester Guardian, 8 April.