|The Right Honourable
|Secretary of State for the Colonies|
7 June 1935 – 22 November 1935
|Prime Minister||Stanley Baldwin|
|Preceded by||Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister|
|Succeeded by||James Henry Thomas|
16 May 1938 – 12 May 1940
|Prime Minister||Neville Chamberlain|
|Preceded by||The Lord Harlech|
|Succeeded by||The Lord Lloyd|
|Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs|
22 November 1935 – 16 May 1938
|Prime Minister||Stanley Baldwin
|Preceded by||James Henry Thomas|
|Succeeded by||Lord Stanley|
31 October 1938 – 29 January 1939
|Prime Minister||Neville Chamberlain|
|Preceded by||Lord Stanley|
|Succeeded by||Sir Thomas Inskip|
|Born||17 August 1901
|Died||11 January 1981 (aged 79)
MacDonald was the son of former Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald and Margaret MacDonald. Like his father he was born in Lossiemouth, Moray. Similarly, he was initially a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) who then joined the National Government and was consequently expelled from the Labour Party.
MacDonald was first elected to Parliament for Bassetlaw in the 1929 general election and proved notable as a "loyal" son, in contrast to Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin's son Oliver who was also elected a Labour MP. In 1931 the Labour government broke up and MacDonald's father formed the National Government with representatives drawn from all political parties. Very few Labour members would support it however and so Malcolm was appointed to a junior ministerial post as Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs. When the Labour MPs met to discuss the formation of the government, Malcolm was the only one present who spoke in favour of his father's actions and voted against a condemnatory resolution. MacDonald held his seat in the 1931 general election as a National Labour candidate, and continued to build up a reputation as a highly competent minister. When his father retired in 1935, the new Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, appointed Malcolm to the Cabinet for the first time as Secretary of State for the Colonies. His father had become Lord President of the Council and they became only the third father and son to sit together in the same Cabinet.
In the 1935 general election held that autumn MacDonald narrowly lost his seat but after some discussion Baldwin decided to retain him in government, albeit moving him to the post of Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs in a direct swap with James Henry Thomas who had created problems with some Dominion governments. The following February MacDonald stood for Parliament in a by-election at Ross and Cromarty. This election proved chaotic as the local Conservative & Unionist Association declined to support him (though the local National Liberals did) and instead adopted as their candidate Randolph Churchill, son of Winston Churchill who had emerged as a prominent Conservative critic of the government. Despite this MacDonald won the by-election and returned to Parliament. MacDonald retained his position after Baldwin and MacDonald's final retirements in 1937, when together with the new Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain he set about negotiating a new set of agreements with the Irish Free State to resolve disputes over trade, compensation and the Treaty Ports that the United Kingdom still retained. Although the issue of Northern Ireland could not be agreed, all other matters were settled and MacDonald won many plaudits.
In May 1938 Chamberlain moved him back to the Colonial Office – a move now seen as a promotion due to the increased prominence of the position given the situation in the British Mandate of Palestine. In October the new Dominions Secretary, Lord Stanley, died and MacDonald was appointed to succeed him in addition to the Colonies, as the post was in a sensitive period and needed an experienced pair of hands. The following January he relinquished the Dominions Office.
In 1939 MacDonald oversaw and introduced the so-called MacDonald White Paper which aimed at the creation of a unified state, with controls on Jewish immigration. The White Paper argued that with over 450,000 Jews having now settled in the mandate, the Balfour Declaration had now been met and the paper opposed an independent Jewish state. The League of Nations commission held that the White Paper was in conflict with the terms of the Mandate as put forth in the past. The outbreak of the Second World War suspended any further deliberations. It has been suggested that MacDonald and Chamberlain took this course of action in order to ensure that the situation in Palestine did not develop into a situation similar to that of Ireland where two evenly matched communities engaged in bitter ethnic conflict. With anti-semitism rampant in Europe, MacDonald sought to find new settlements, in vain. The White Paper was bitterly opposed by the Jews in Palestine, as well as by many supporting the National Government in Britain. When it was voted on in Parliament many Government supporters abstained or voted against the proposals, including some Cabinet Ministers as well as Winston Churchill. The objections to the 'white paper' were especially raised following the plight of European Jews under Nazi regimes in Germany and Austria, who suffered greatly under the Nazi oppression, but did not have other available goals of immigration, as most states at this point (including the US and Canada), did not accept Jewish refugees. In a U.K Parliamentary debate, Lloyd George called the White Paper an act of perfidy while Winston Churchill voted against the government in which he was a minister. In a leader the Manchester Guardian called it "a death sentence on tens of thousands of Central European Jews" The Liberal MP James Rothschild stated during the parliamentary debate that "for the majority of the Jews who go to Palestine it is a question of migration or of physical extinction".
In May 1940 Chamberlain fell and Winston Churchill formed an all party coalition, bringing the Labour Party into the National Government for the first time. There was some speculation that their hostility might result in MacDonald being amongst the ministers dropped to make way for them (as happened to Earl de la Warr, the other National Labour minister) but instead MacDonald was retained and became Minister of Health. In June 1940 he was sent to Dublin for a series of meetings with Eamon De Valera: he was authorised to offer the end of the Partition of Ireland if the Free State would enter the war on the Allied side. De Valera declined the offer. The following year his career took a different turn when he was appointed High Commissioner to Canada. Initially special legislation was passed to allow him to retain his seat in Parliament, but in 1945 the National Labour Party dissolved itself and MacDonald decided to retire from British politics.
After his term in Canada ended in 1946, MacDonald moved on to serve in other Imperial posts: as Governor-General of Malaya to 1948 and then Commissioner-General for Southeast Asia during the communist insurrection; as High Commissioner in India from 1955 to 1960; as co-chairman of the Laos Conference; and finally as Governor-General of Kenya between 1963 and 1964. In later years he served as Chancellor of the University of Durham.
MacDonald died in Maidstone aged 79.
- The two earlier pairs were the 14th Earl of Derby and his son, Lord Stanley, and Joseph and Austen Chamberlain: see Jenkins, p. 118
- Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry - Appendix IV Palestine: Historical Background
- Benny Morris (25 May 2011). "chp. 4". Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1998. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-307-78805-4. "Capping it all, the Permanent Mandates Commission of the Council of the League of Nations rejected the White Paper as inconsistent with the terms of the Mandate."
- Manchester Guardian. 24 May 1939. pp. 12, 14.
- Manchester Guardian. 24 May 1939. p. 8.
- House of Commons Debates, Volume 347 column 1984 
- Christie, Clive J. (1998) Southeast Asia in the Twentieth Century: A Reader Tauris, London, p. 192 ISBN 1-86064-063-X
- And Then By Chance, Reginald Secondé (2002)
- Jenkins, Roy (1998). The Chancellors. London: Macmillan. ISBN 0-333-73057-7.
- Sanger, Clyde (1995). Malcolm MacDonald: Bringing an End to Empire. New York: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 0-7735-1303-5.
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Malcolm MacDonald