No. 101 NAI DFA LN 4/7

Memorandum by the Department of External Affairs in the form of a statement for Kevin O'Higgins

Dublin, June 1927

Having stated the general principles which, in the view of my Government, should regulate our course of action here, I wish to refer for a moment to a few matters of detail which I have noted on reading through the reports of the proceedings of the Conference and of the private meetings of the British Commonwealth delegations.1

  Mr. Bridgeman made it clear at the first plenary session of the Conference that the representatives of the various parts of the Commonwealth were appointed respectively for the particular part of the Commonwealth named in the full power and that we were all appointed representatives of His Majesty the King (p. 19 of the Verbatim report).

Perhaps it would have been better for the sake of greater clarity to add using the words of the Imperial Conference Report (p. 23) that the full powers were issued in each case by the King on the advice of the Government concerned. That would have made it fully apparent to the American and Japanese delegates that His Majesty was represented here not in a single but in a several capacity and these delegates would not have given Mr. Bridgeman to understand through the Secretary of his delegation that the delegations of the Commonwealth States should not be allowed to outnumber them (p. 5 Draft Minutes, Third Conference, British Empire Delegation June 24th). Questions relating to the number of British Commonwealth delegates would very easily be adjusted by agreement if it were once understood that the acceptance of any responsibilities on the part of the Commonwealth remains fundamentally and constitutionally incomplete unless the act of acceptance is formally and directly participated in by the delegation of each part, because it is the sole and exclusive constitutional right of each delegation of the Commonwealth to act in a representative capacity for its own Government.

And if Mr. Bridgeman himself had not been under some misapprehension, he would not have suggested to the Dominion delegations to arrange for a total of two of their number to accompany him to the Executive Committee. His Majesty has appointed Plenipotentiaries on the advice of his various Governments to represent him and to act for him in respect of these various governments ' in as ample manner and form, and with equal force and efficacy as We ourselves could do, if personally present' (words of the full powers).

Can any of the Dominion plenipotentiaries divest themselves of their representative capacity or can any of them take upon themselves a right of representation which is formally excluded from their full powers? It seems perfectly clear to me that decisions come to at meetings of the Conference are not - and cannot be - binding on those parts of the Commonwealth whose delegates have not actually participated.

I see that the expression 'British Empire' is used on the covering page of the 'Provisional minutes of an Informal Meeting of the Delegates' held on June 24th to describe a delegation composed of the three British delegates, the Secretary of the British delegation and two Dominion delegates. The description is misleading. For either it means Great Britain, Northern Ireland and those British territories which are not separate members of the League and Dominion delegates should consequently be excluded from it, or it means all those territories plus the Dominions and in that case the representation is incomplete because neither the Dominion delegates nor the British delegates, nor both combined, hold the necessary powers.

Those are just a few instances to illustrate my point, namely that there is a danger and a very serious danger that the constitutional position of the States of the British Commonwealth will be misunderstood to the general detriment of the whole Commonwealth, unless very definite steps are taken immediately to make our position at this Conference known to the American and Japanese delegations and to the world at large.

1 Handwritten marginal note: 'Please return to D/Ex Affairs, P McGilligan, 15/11'.

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