No. 20 NAI DFA 7/148

Extracts from a memorandum from Joseph P. Walshe
to Eamon de Valera (Dublin)

Dublin, 22 March 1932

Ottawa Conference

[matter omitted]
From the British Government no tangible information has so far been received as to their plans for the Conference. They have several committees at work on the preparatory stages. We have seen in the Press that these committees have actually got to the point of drawing up tariff schedules which might be adopted by the other States of the Commonwealth. The High Commissioner has not been able to get those schedules. When he made inquiries from Mr. Thomas he was told that the preparations mainly concerned the overseas members of the Commonwealth, but orders would be given to the Secretariat to give Mr. Dulanty every information. The information is not yet forthcoming.

Mr. Peters is equally reticent and evasive. He says that he has not yet received the material from London. That may be so, but I believe that the silence is a deliberate policy which will be maintained until they know whether we really intend to go to Ottawa at all.

[matter omitted]

As a preliminary Departmental measure I inquired from the Departments concerned, namely, Industry and Commerce, Agriculture and Finance, whom they desired to appoint on the preparatory Saorstát Committee. The Secretaries of these Departments and the Secretary of this Department had one meeting, at which it was decided that nothing useful could be done until at least the broad lines of the British policy were known. However, if we do not get information from the British in the immediate future a small number of expert committees must be formed for the purpose of studying at least the general issues. It is quite clear, for instance, that some attempt will be made to distribute industries through the States of the Commonwealth on a sort of quota system, the British retaining the heavy industries and as many more as they can manage to get. A quota system within the different industrial categories is more likely of acceptance, though the spirit of the last Conference was so bitter that I cannot see any real agreement being reached on this very thorny question. Canada is the only one of the Commonwealth States with a relatively developed industrial system. The others are in the early stages, and not one of them will agree to restrictions which might conceivably at any time in the future be a hindrance to their development. The practical results of the Conference will no doubt be small enough, but there is a real possibility of bringing the whole force of the States of the Commonwealth to bear on Great Britain for the purpose of securing her acceptance of the principle of preferences on all foodstuffs and, that having been accomplished individually, Trade Agreements will become feasible. The last Conference accomplished absolutely nothing on the economic side. The British cannot afford to let the Ottawa Conference fail either from the political or economic point of view. The chief advantage of going there lies in the certainty of joint Dominion effort to extract concessions from the British. That effort will be much more likely to succeed in Ottawa than in London. The exemption from the 10% tariff lapses on the 15th November. The presumption is that new arrangements will have been made with the Dominions by that time.

[matter omitted]


The British are extremely unlikely to enter into negotiations with any State of the Commonwealth before the Ottawa Conference. Our attendance seems, therefore, to be unavoidable. A reply to the Canadian telegram has to be sent very soon. We are offered the hospitality of the Canadian Government and we are asked to say approximately the numbers of our delegation and staff. Up to the 1930 Conference we paid our own expenses at the London Conferences. This Department was always opposed to such an attitude. There was no question of principle involved. The Germans and French and other ex-enemies have constantly accepted hospitality from each other in similar circumstances. The British regarded our attitude as childish, if not a little boorish, but no doubt they and the Dominions realised that home party feeling and the fear of being accused of accepting bribes from the Saxon was the dominating motive. We finally succeed'd in getting our way last time and saved the State several thousand pounds. There were no accusations. But whatever might be said for turning down English hospitality, we could not refuse the Canadians' offer without insulting them.


The Minister for External Affairs would have to be present. Apart from our external trade interests, no conference of this character can take place without a multitude of constitutional points arising. Indeed, it can be said that the Conference will be fundamentally political and constitutional, as the broad principles of preferential relationship are political and we are hardly likely to get any further at Ottawa. The details will probably be left for working out in individual agreements. Nevertheless, the Ministers for Industry and Commerce and Agriculture, the Secretaries of the Departments of External Affairs, Finance, Industry and Commerce, Agriculture, a Revenue Commissioner and a small group of experts in the different matters to be discussed will have to form part of the delegation and it would be difficult to reduce the number to less than twelve. (The British Ministers going are Thomas (Dominions), Cunliffe-Lister1 (Colonies), Runciman2 (Board of Trade) and probably Baldwin, Chamberlain and Hailsham. There is no indication yet that the Prime Minister will go, but it is very unlikely that he will remain away altogether, as all the other Prime Ministers will be present).

At the moment your decision can be confined to the three points: (a) the fact of Representation; (b) acceptance of hospitality; (c) the question of giving the approximate number of delegates and staff.

[handwritten] (Sgd) J.P.Walshe

1 Philip Cunliffe-Lister (1884-1972) MP, Secretary of State for the Colonies (1931-35).

2 Walter Runciman (1870-1949) MP, President of the Board of Trade (1931-37).


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