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W Wedgwood Benn

Full nameAir Commodore William Wedgwood Benn, Right Hon. 1st Viscount Stansgate cr 1941, PC 1929, DSO 1916, DFC (aka Lord Stansgate; Wedgie Benn)
Born10 May 1877, London, United Kingdom
Died17 Nov 1960, London, United Kingdom

The younger son of an MP, Wedgwood Benn was brought up with progressive ideals, and educated at the Lycée Condorcet, Paris and University College, London, where he graduated in 1898. He soon entered politics himself, in 1906 becoming the Liberal Member for St George’s Division, Tower Hamlets. During WWI Benn was highly decorated for his service in both Army and Air Force. From 1918 he sat as a Liberal for Leith, but resigned in 1927 to join the Labour party, in 1928 re-joining the Commons representing North Aberdeen. Ramsay MacDonald appointed him Secretary of State for India in 1929.

Benn was Secretary of State for India in the run up to and duration of the first conference session. He did not join the National Government and did not participate in the final two sessions.

For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Who for the Second Session. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.


  • July 1929: agreed with Viceroy Irwin and MacDonald the Viceroy's statement making Dominion Status the goal for India (Moore, 1974:59)
  • 10th April 1930: Extract from private letter Benn to Irwin 
    • “I do not think it would not be a success if we were to have the Indians here when there was no appropriate means of keeping them busy and happy. How we intend to deal with them I will suggest in a separate paragraph; but if they get the impression that they are stranded in London with no important people, e.g. the P.M., to take any notice of them, I fear it may have a bad effect. This is what happened to the Japanese in the Naval Conference and it was with difficulty that an impression of discourtesy was removed from the minds of the correspondents of the Japanese newspapers.” (BL.29.L.PO.6.51)
  • May 1930: Benn prepared the "terms of reference" for the conference with Irwin 
    • May 1stto Irwin: “For the time being, it probably would be better not to be too definite, in order that we may evoke from possible participants in the Conference an expression of their views and see if we can hit upon the happy mean which will achieve a successful attendance without committing us more fully than we desire or intend.” (BL.L.PO.6.49)
  • June 26 1930: two days after publication of the Simon Report, Benn and the Prime Minister met with Stanley Baldwin, Austen Chamberlain, Lloyd George, and Reading to discuss the forthcoming RTC. Irwin had insisted that the agenda should not be restricted to discussion the Simon Report, to allow him to suggest to Congress that dominion status could be discussed. (Bridge, 1986:44)
  • October 1930: Benn resisted pressure from Reading for the British delegation to work as a single parliamentary team. Benn argued that the conference was to have no set agenda, and that members should make independence decisions, which also left Benn with more control over proceedings (Moore, 1974:119)

First Session

  • November 10th 1930: Benn called an Agenda Committee including representatives of all delegations. Reading suggested and Sapru agreed that first discussion should concern federation. (Moore, 1974:142)
  • November 12th: Benn oversaw the opening ceremonies and settling the delegates in: 
    • "Everybody expressed themselves as delighted with the Opening Ceremony in the morning and I think there is no doubt that the atmosphere is very good. The men met to the number of 260 at a Hotel for dinner and about 70 of the women were dined in small parties. My wife had Mrs. Brijlal Nehru as representative of the extreme Left, Mrs Jinnah, Lady Hydari and others whose influence I thought might be helpful. Her party was very successfuland everybody was in excellent spirits. After the dinners there was a vast Reception at Lancaster House in which the same buoyant spirit prevailed." (BL/IOR/Eur.Mss/C152/6, Wedgood Benn’s, India Office Diary, 13/11/1930.) 
  • November 19th 1930: Benn wrote a long memorandum suggesting that All-India Federation appealed to the government, proposing devolution of power to a federal centre, incorporating the stabilising presence of the Indian princes. (Moore, 1974:150)
  • November 25th 1930: RJ Stopford commented on Benn's handling of initial conference panels: "Benn was the worst chairman I have ever known. His process is to let everyone talk on + off the point till they be exhausted + then to start it all over again in the hope that someone else will make up the Conference’s mind for him. With Indians this requires eternity for each detail.” 
  • December 1st1930:  Benn telegram to the Viceroy: “I am almost nervous at times of the silence and complaisance of the Indians. Whether it means that we are going too fast for them, or whether it means that they are so bemused with their London surroundings, I do not know. I only hope that settlements which I really think now might be achieved will not  be denounced too heartily in India.” (BL. C152.6.  )
  • December 4th 1930:  Benn telegram to the Viceroy: “I myself am not joining any Committee except the Business Committee, of which I am Chairman. This leaves me free to watch the progress of the Conference, and to have time to think of the order in which things should be tackled, so that we may have some sort of plan which is likely to succeed when special difficulties arise.” The main difficulties were summarised as 
    • For the British: responsibility at the centre, with special arrangements for the Army, Finance, Law and Order etc
    • For the Princes: the relation to the Paramount Power and the surrender of sovereignty which Federation must entail
    • For (British) Indians the minorities question, especially Hindu-Muslim relations. (BL. C152.6)
  • December 15th 1930: From Benn’s telegram to the Viceroy: the Prime Minister invited the Hindu-Muslim Committee to Chequers. At one point Jinnah’s 13 points were accepted on the condition that something be done about the common electorate, but this issue was reopened by Moonje “… and the discussion took the usual line of historical recrimination… The conversations were very depressing and altogether the weekend was one of gloom, the Prime Minister feeling dejected… Sapru told me that he would really like to go home.” (BL. C152.6)
  • December 19th 1930: From Benn’s telegram to the Viceroy: “The Minorities question is unsettled, and there is very little sign of it being settled.” The Muslims feel the government is pressuring them, stoked by the Daily Telegraph, while the Hindus are in no mood to compromise, and Sapru and Jinnah are in a state of despair. “It is of course the pressure brought by telegrams which had done all the mischief. I don’t want you to think that I am entirely without hope; but at the moment I write quite frankly what my feeling is [sic]” (. (BL. C152.6)
  • January 5th 1931: From Benn’s telegram to the Viceroy: Benn joined the Federal Committee, as it approached vital issues. Reading supports federation with safeguards (BL. C152.6).
  • January 18th 1931: From Benn’s telegram to the Viceroy: Benn went to St James’s Palace to check arrangements for the final session on 19 King has given special permission for a Movietone to be made of the final proceedings. “There is a good deal of terrifying machinery, what with four great searchlights as well as the camera and the big cables coming through the windows of the Palace… in view of the very active propaganda that has been carried out in America, and I learn now on the Continent, Germany and elsewhere, I am anxious not to lose this opportunity of producing a film which can go around the world and demonstrate what would never be learnt from a newspaper, namely the kindly spirit of unity which has animated all the proceedings of the Conference.” (BL. C152.6)
  • February 13th 1931: From Benn’s telegram to the Viceroy: At our end we propose to keep in being as Cabinet Committee Round Table Conference Government Delegation, they will start at once examination, with expert assistance, or recommendations of Conf Sub Committees with object of framing policy on all points arising from Conf. (National Archives.31.19)
  • 26 August 1931: Benn was replaced by Hoare as Secretary of State for India in MacDonald’s new National Government
  • October 1931: Lost his seat in the 1931 general election


  • 1937 by-election, Labour member for Gorton, Manchester
  • Ewwnlisted as a pilot officer in the Royal Air Force, where he rose to the rank of air commodore (despatches)
  • 1941: Raised to the peerage, called to the House of Lords in January 1942 as first Viscount Stansgate
  • 1943–44: Vice-President of the Allied Control Commission for Italy
  • 1945–46: Secretary of State for Air
  • 1947–57: President of the Inter-Parliamentary Union

Sources used:

  • British Library: IOR/L/PO/6/51; IOR/L/PO/6/54; IOR/Eur.Mss/C152/6; Mss Eur E346/2;
  • National Archives, New Delhi: Reforms Office 1931 19/31-Reforms
  • R.J. Moore, The Crisis of Indian Unity, 1917-1940 (Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1974)

Selected publications

  • Captain Wedgwood Benn, In the Side Shows (London, New York & Toronto: Hodder and Stoughton; 1919):
  • Hon. Wedgwood Benn & Margaret Benn, Beckoning Horizon: The Story of a Journey Round the World (London etc.: Cassell and company; 1935)
  • Wedgwood Benn “The Indian Round Table Conference”, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1931-1939), Vol. 10, No.2 (Mar., 1931), pp. 145-159:

Secondary literature

  • Who Was Who:
  • Leslie Hale (revised by Mark Pottle), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
  • The Times, “Viscount Stansgate”, Issue 54932 (18 Nov 1960), p. 19
  • The Guardian, “Lord Stansgate: Long Political Career” (18 Nov 1960), p. 3
  • Daily Telegraph, “Ld. Stansgate. Ex-Air Secretary: ‘Pocket Hercules’”, Issue 32842 (18 Nov 1960), p.16
  • Alun Wyburn-Powell Political Wings: William Wedgwood Benn, first Viscount Stansgate (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Aviation; 2015)
ImagesPhotograph of W Wedgwood Benn, from the published biographical guide to delegates at the second session of the Round Table Conference, 1931

"The Right Hon. Wedgwood Benn, D.S.O., D.F.C., M.P., P.C., 1929." From Indian Round Table Conference Second Session 1931: Biographical Notes and Photographs of the British and Indian Delegates (London: St. James's Palace). By permission of the British Library (shelfmark T 11187). Reproduced under Open Government Licence v3.0 (

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