Tuesday, 11th May 1926

11th May, 1926


Dear Mr. Bruce,


Since my last letter there has been no marked change in the situation. The Emergency measures adopted by the Government are, as a whole, working smoothly, more trains are running, the situation in regard to foodstuffs has been relieved and there is no immediate danger of any serious scarcity. On the other hand, it is as well to realise that the response of the workers to the summons of the Trade Union Congress has been very complete.

Apart from minor incidents, the strike has so far been orderly and there is as yet little sign of bitterness.

Several of my friends among the Labour Parliamentary Party have told me that they privately regard the General Strike as the worst blunder made for many years by Labour in this country. I have seen a number of Conservatives and find that there is a rather strong reactionary spirit rising which may prove an awkward matter at a later stage of the emergency.

I feel that, in many ways, the Government are adopting an excellent negative attitude. Apart from Sir W. Joynson-Hicks [1], the Government Spokesmen have not been provocative but have maintained clearly the need to fight a General Strike as such to a finish. I feel, however, that a mere negative attitude, even if correctly maintained, is not enough. It is absurd to imagine, as some reactionaries do, that the idea of the T.U.C. as a whole is revolutionary. The basis of the present strike is a dread on the part of Labour of a sapping of the standards of living of the workers. There is no doubt that certain employers, notably in the Engineering trade, have given some justification for such a dread.

I believe the average wage of a skilled fitter is only about 50/- per week whereas the tram conductor, railway man, municipal worker etc., all less skilled, receive from 65/- to 75/- per week, a very sound reason for discontent. The most serious feature of the situation is the deep discontent among the most skilled workers of the community.

After very carefully considering the position, I wrote a memorandum on ‘Commercial Efficiency and Industrial Peace’, of which I enclose a copy. The object of the memorandum was to make a tentative suggestion towards a declaration by the Government of a constructive nature. On Friday last I got a copy of this memorandum into the hands of Mr. Tom Jones, the Assistant Secretary of the Cabinet, who is the Prime Minister’s right hand man on industrial questions, and I was very interested to see that on Saturday when Mr. Baldwin [2] gave a broadcast message to the nation, he brought, for the first time, the idea of the standard of living into what he had to say. To that extent the memorandum may have already done some good. Mr. Tom Jones is lunching with me tomorrow when I shall discuss the constructive policy with him again.

Last night I had a couple of hours with Mr. Ormsby-Gore [3] in the House of Commons and he was particularly keen on my memorandum and asked me to have it duplicated for distribution among suitable Conservative Members of Parliament. I am having the memorandum roneoed but shall not distribute it until I have had the opportunity of discussing the whole matter with Jones tomorrow.

I understand from Casey [4] that he proposes, when the strike is over, to obtain for you a full account of the Government’s methods of meeting the emergency. At the present time we have very little news and even information obtained from what appears to be excellent authority may possibly prove false. I will therefore not attempt to give you any news, which would only be stale by the time it reached you.


As already stated, I had a very long conversation with Mr. Ormsby- Gore last night. He has only just returned from his West African trip and naturally very full of the impressions which he has received. He is delighted with the progress being made in West Africa and thinks that the scope for further development is enormous, especially in Nigeria.

He told me that, owing to the scarcity of ginneries and the lack of railway, unbaled seed cotton is carried on donkeys a distance of up to 100 miles before it can be ginned. He also told me that he had been able to authorise a railway development programme of a thousand miles of railway to be laid at the rate of 150 miles a year and also the erection of further ginneries. He told me that he had given a great deal of thought to my suggestion that steps should be taken at the Imperial Conference to inaugurate a system whereby the information about the development of the Crown Colonies should regularly be made available to the Governments of the Dominions.

Mr. Ormsby-Gore told me that Mr. Amery [5] has asked him to become the Chairman of the Publicity Sub-Committee of the Empire Marketing Board (Executive Commission) and he said that he had reluctantly consented but was extremely anxious that I should serve on this Sub-Committee if he was to become responsible for the work. He has asked me to let him have my ideas on publicity and has suggested a further long discussion on that subject this week.

I very strongly put to Mr. Ormsby-Gore the point that the present emergency should be used as an opportunity for getting the nation to think about Empire development. He said that he entirely agreed with me and felt that the present Government had neglected its opportunities very badly on the subject of Empire development.

He thought that the most useful thing that could be done would be to try and get Mr. Winston Churchill [6] to adopt a more helpful line and he then asked me to prepare a brief memorandum for him to use with Mr. Churchill.

I came to the conclusion that Mr. Ormsby-Gore shared my apprehension that the reactionary elements in the Cabinet and the Conservative Party may gain the upper hand as a result of the present general strike.

I enclose a copy of the memorandum which I am sending to Mr.

Ormsby-Gore for use with Mr. Winston Churchill.


Mr. Appleton [7], the General Secretary of this General Federation, a body quite distinct and in many ways opposed to the Trade Union Congress, asked me to prepare a short statement upon Empire trade for publication in his journal, which has a wide circulation in Trade Union quarters. I enclose a copy of the matter which I have sent to him.


Sir Sydney Chapman, the Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade, asked me to lunch with him last week. He wanted to discuss the economic side of the Imperial Conference. Naturally we first discussed the strike situation, including the position of Australian dried fruit and apples.

He then raised the question of the inevitable increases of taxation to meet the cost of the general strike and asked whether there would be any prospect of the special taxes being put upon some goods which would give increased preferential advantages to Empire goods. Sir Sydney Chapman was very dubious whether any increase of taxation would be placed upon foodstuffs. It is, however, expected that after the strike, a supplementary budget will be introduced and if it is decided to distribute the cost of the strike between direct and indirect taxation, I do not see how foodstuffs can escape. I shall keep in touch with this situation and have arranged to see Mr. Amery this afternoon.

Sir Sydney said that he could not see very clearly what direct developments of a major character could occur at the Imperial Conference. He thought that there ought to be the widest discussion on Empire Development and trade. He felt that it would be extremely useful if the Imperial Economic Committee could be made a more important body. I warmly agreed but said that a change of British personnel would be necessary. I found that Chapman agreed and mentioned the names of Hilton Young [8] M. P. and J. W.

Hills [9] M. P. as very useful persons whose views would carry great weight with H.M. Government. Chapman is a charming individual but is very lacking in driving power and is therefore rather feeble in his present important position.


I am forwarding herewith a copy of the page proofs of the Fruit Report. There are several small but in one or two cases substantial amendments to be made in the text. The report cannot be printed owing to the strike. I had some difficulty in obtaining this copy for you but I was anxious to let you have the complete report as soon as possible.


A first meeting of the Imperial Economic Committee was held yesterday. It had to be informal because the Chairman [10] has not yet returned from Paris. We discussed the scope of the Dairy Report and decided to include the following subjects:

Butter and cheese.

Milk and cream, fresh, canned and dried.

Casein and any other milk products.

Margarine and edible oils and fats.


We decided to set up Sub-Committees for Margarine and for Eggs and to take the enquiry on Milk products in the Main Committee.

I am enclosing a copy of my letter to the ‘Manchester Guardian’, of which I previously sent you a draft. [11] I am also enclosing article No. VIII on the Economic Problems of the Empire from the ‘Times Trade Supplement’. [12]

I also enclose a statement made by the Attorney General [13] on the cause of the Strike as it is the clearest exposition that has appeared from Government quarters. I have attached to this Mr.

Pugh [14], the Trade Union Leader’s reply.

I am enclosing a personal letter also.

Yours sincerely, F. L. MCDOUGALL

[Handwritten postscript]

Tom Jones has Just told me that the T.U.C. have unconditionally called off the general strike. He said that Mr. Baldwin’s Saturday Broadcast made the T.U.C. realise that they had better rely upon the P.M.’s personal honour and give in.

_1 Home Secretary.

2 Stanley Baldwin.

3 William Ormsby-Gore, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Colonies.

4 R. G. Casey, Commonwealth Government’s Liaison Officer in London.

5 Leopold Amery, Secretary for the Colonies and for Dominion Affairs.

6 Chancellor of the Exchequer.

7 W. A. Appleton.

8 E. Hilton Young, Independent M.P.; Editor of the Financial News;

Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1921-22; British representative at The Hague Conference on International Finance 1922.

9 Conservative M.P.; Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1922-23.

10 Sir Halford Mackinder.

11 See note 4 to Letter 68.

12 ‘Economic Problems of the Empire. VIII.-Organization of Marketing’, Times Imperial and Foreign Trade and Engineering Supplement, 1 May.

13 Sir Douglas Hogg later Lord Hailsham. His statement, ‘The Truth of the Coal Negotiations’, was published in the British Gazette, 11 May.

14 Arthur Pugh, General Secretary of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation; Chairman of the General Council of the Trade Union Congress 1925. ‘The Real Truth of the Coal Negotiations’ was published in the British Worker, on the evening of Tuesday, 11 May.