199 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Bridges

[LONDON], 26 May 1943

I had about half an hour's conversation with Bridges following on my talk with Attlee. [1] I told Bridges of the latter conversation and said that all I wanted to do was to put into his mind what I had said to Attlee, so that if and when Attlee approached him he would have the necessary background.

I then took Bridges over the position down the lines that my time was running out; that I had certain hesitancies in either accepting a continuance of my time, or recommending my Prime Minister to go on unless we could clear up a few points. I told him that I had already given my Prime Minister an indication of the position as it stands and I outlined to him what I had said in my letter to the Prime Minister. [2]

I then stressed to Bridges that I was not very worried about the subject of attending Cabinet meetings, but that I was concerned that I should receive full information as to the matters that were being considered by the Cabinet, and the results of the deliberations.

I told him I recognised that this raised the issue of the United Kingdom Cabinet having an opportunity of reaching agreement in its own ranks before the Dominions were approached with regard to questions. I pointed out to him, however, that we had all been doing a little crooked thinking on this matter for the following reasons- I pointed out that everyone is now convinced of the necessity of the Empire speaking with a united voice after the war, as the United Kingdom is not strong enough by itself to maintain the position of leadership that it is essential she should hold; that the ideal way theoretically to achieve this would be to have something like an Empire Council sitting in London, composed of the Accredited Representatives of all the Dominions. I said, however, my experience had shown me that this was quite impractical because not all the Dominions would be prepared to take the responsibility involved and even if they were, it would be the exception to the rule that you would find a Dominion represented by a man of the calibre who would be able to make any really valuable contribution and carry his Government with him. I said, however, that from time to time, as at the present moment was the case with Australia, certain Dominion Governments would be insistent upon having a greater voice in the Empire's counsels, and in the framing of the Empire's policy. This situation, it seemed to me, could only be met by according to the representative of the Government taking that view a special position, and making available to him information not available to the representatives of the other Dominions.

I pointed out that that was in fact what was happening at the present moment, in that I had access to and received information which was not available to the representatives of the other Dominions. I pointed out that this, in fact, was not working badly with regard to most matters and I told Bridges frankly that with regard to all strategical and operational questions I was probably better informed than most of the members of the Cabinet.

Owing to the way we have been thinking in the past with regard to the United Kingdom Government making up its mind before the Dominions were approached, we were not getting on as well as I thought we might with regard to matters of this character. I said that in practice I generally knew all about what was happening a few days after the matter had been mooted, but that that was not very satisfactory. The solution, I suggested, was that I should be informed of any matters that were being dealt with by the War Cabinet and that all the papers should, on issue, be sent to me.

This at first sight seemed to cut across the right of the United Kingdom Cabinet to deal with matters for itself, before consulting the Dominions, but did not in fact if we considered what would happen if there were an Empire Council sitting in London. If there were such a Council matters would not be considered for periods of weeks and months, as in regard to post-war air transport, by the United Kingdom Cabinet, but would be brought up on their initiation for a general discussion in the Empire Council. There might then be a certain pause while the matters were considered by the Cabinets of the individual Empire Governments, but the point I wanted to make was that one Government in the Empire would not exhaust its consideration of a subject before the other Governments heard anything about it.

I made clear to Bridges that I was not suggesting that any more should be done than that I, owing to the attitude adopted by my Government, being in a special position, should be treated in a special way. I added that in order to make the thing work I would be quite prepared to undertake not to pass anything on to my Government unless I specifically raised the question of my doing so. I also added that they had had enough experience here of my discretion and willingness to try and play in and make the thing work for them to be free from any apprehension that any serious consequences would flow from my having the fullest possible information.

In the course of the conversation we discussed the different points that I had raised, but there is no necessity to record these discussions as I have given the broad picture above. It is now in Bridges' mind and he should, I think, be helpful when Attlee raises the matter with him.

S.M.B.

1 See Bruce's note of 24 May on file AA:M100, May 1943.

2 Document 132.

[AA:M100, MAY 1943]