Lt Col W.R. Hodgson, Secretary of Department of External Affairs, to Sir Henry Gullett, Minister for External Affairs

Memorandum 13 September 1939,


1. The object of the appointment of a High Commissioner in Canada is to secure representation of the Commonwealth Government. The High Commissioner will act as the channel of communication to the Canadian Government and will in turn keep the Commonwealth Government informed of official views in Ottawa.

2. The office will, in fact, be an entirely political one and will be exactly analogous in its functions to that of an accredited Minister in Washington or Tokyo. Further, in the light of the independent status of the Dominions, there is no substantial constitutional reason for differentiating the functions of the High Commissioner in a Dominion from those of an accredited Minister in a foreign country. Both offices would have as their object the external representation of the Commonwealth Government.

3. It would be misleading to take the office of High Commissioner in London as at present constituted as a normal basis of comparison. This post was instituted in the first place in 1910, primarily for commercial and financial objects, and the work of the High Commissioner’s staff in London is still almost entirely concerned with these matters. The Department of External Affairs was one of the original Commonwealth Departments, and dealt with all external matters affecting the Commonwealth, political or otherwise. This Department automatically took over the High Commissioner’s Office at the time of its creation, until its functions were merged into other Departments, and the Prime Minister’s Department was established. In so far as the functions of the High Commissioner in London have in recent years, with the development of Dominion status, come to include political matters, it is important to observe that communication in this respect to and from the High Commissioner is now almost entirely through the separate channel of External Affairs, as it was for all matters when the office was instituted. Not only this, but in London itself the High Commissioner is advised on political matters by the External Affairs Officer and utilises the External Affairs office for political communications.

4. There is no Prime Minister’s Department in Canada, nor is there a separate Prime Minister’s Department in South Africa, and their High Commissioners come under the Ministry for External Affairs, the Minister being always, so far as is known, the Prime Minister.

5. In the United Kingdom service the political nature of the functions of United Kingdom High Commissioners in the Dominions is also clearly demarcated. The United Kingdom Trade Commissioners in the Dominions come under the jurisdiction of the Department of Overseas Trade; the United Kingdom High Commissioners come under the Dominions Office and their staff is recruited not only from the Dominions Office but also from the Foreign Office.

6. The recently appointed High Commissioner for Eire in Ottawa [1] is a former official of the Department of External Affairs in Dublin and the office is under the control of the Eire Minister for External Affairs. The accredited representative of the Government of South Africa in Ottawa is also under the jurisdiction of the South African Minister for External Affairs.

So far as is known the same will apply to the prospective Canadian High Commissioner in Canberra.

7. For the above reasons, it would be anomalous if the Australian High Commissioner in Ottawa, and subsequently High Commissioners in other Dominions, were to be put under a different jurisdiction from that which will apply to the Australian Ministers in Washington and Tokyo, namely, that of the Minister for External Affairs. The Commonwealth Government still maintains the office of Trade Commissioner in Canada and there would be little object in instituting the new office of High Commissioner unless its political function was in this way made clear.

8. It seems desirable to have this point decided as soon as possible in order that staff and accommodation arrangements can be provided for in good time by the Department responsible. [2]


1 J.J. Hearne.

2 There is no record of Cabinet discussion of this matter. When the post was established, however, the High Commissioner was made responsible to the Minister for External Affairs.

Commonwealth Government to Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London


[AA:A981, AUSTRALIA 151, i]