77 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Smuts

[LONDON], 19 November 1942

I went and saw Smuts this morning and raised with him the question of forward thinking with regard to the political settlement we would desire to see achieved after the war.

I told him that with regard to economic and social questions there was a considerable amount of work being done and I instanced the recent Conference with the Dominions on the International Clearing House and the stabilisation of primary commodities. [1] I said, however, that while I knew he had been consulted in connection with Colonial and Dependent people question, I had had no evidence that any real thinking was being done on the question of the political conditions we want to see established.

Smuts told me that he had heard nothing at all on that subject but that Attlee, Cranborne and Law had been to see him with regard to the Colonial question. He told me that he had indicated to them that in his view we wanted a new set-up altogether. His idea being the group of colonies, e.g. the West Indian and African colonies;

the Administration continuing with the parent State, but the general control being vested in regional Committees and gave as examples that the Americans should be invited to sit on the Regional Committee handling the West Indian Colonies, and South Africa should be invited to sit on the Regional Committee dealing with African possessions.

Clearly Smuts had not thought out all its implications but I told him that I agreed with his broad view and that was the direction I had been trying to influence their minds for some time past. I stressed to him the urgency of dealing with this question, instancing the opening that Hull had given to us in his conversation with Halifax some two or three months back [2], the substance of which I gave to Smuts.

I then told him that I had fairly close contacts with America, and of McDougall's recent Visit [3] when he had been utilised as an outsider to assist in bringing the State Department, Wallace's organisation [4] etc. together.

I next told Smuts that my information was that in the State Department a lot of thought was being given to the question of the Political set-up after the war and that I felt it would be disastrous if the Americans formulated their views and we were suddenly faced with them without having given previous thought to our own views on this vital question.

Smuts agreed with this and said that he was seeing Eden at 10.30 this morning and he would put the point to him then. Smuts told me that the object of his seeing Eden was to discuss with him the general line of policy we should adopt. From what Smuts said I gathered that Eden is becoming very restive at the absence of any definite policy for the future instancing that he has all the emigre Governments standing on his doorstep but can say nothing to them for fear that the views he expresses might be subsequently repudiated by the War Cabinet.

Smuts and I agreed that it was necessary to try and lay down the broad lines we were going to follow and Smuts is going to put it to Eden that he should keep in the closest touch with me on this subject.

We then had a few words on the question of the U-Boat menace and the security of our communications. Smuts told me that the Prime Minister is now fully alive to the danger and is proposing to hand it over to Cripps making him supreme over the Air and Naval people with an assurance from the Prime Minister that when Cripps cannot get what he feels is necessary for a campaign for which he will be primarily responsible, the Prime Minister will ensure his getting it if he, Cripps, brings the matter to the Prime Minister.

Smuts said he did not know whether this was the right way to deal with the matter but it was for the Government here to decide how they would.

I said that I felt it was the right way to handle it and that while Cripps had his limitations he was probably the best man to do the job. I told Smuts that I might be prejudiced in that by reason of the fact that Cripps was [the man] I was in close touch with and I would be able to give him a considerable measure of assistance.

Smuts told me that Cripps had told him that he had the very closest contacts with me.

At the end of the Conversation Smuts stressed to me that the Prime Minister had no personal antagonism to myself; that anything I might have to complain of was entirely due to the Prime Minister's temperament. Smuts urged me not to be discouraged and under no circumstances to throw up my job. He said that he was not flattering me when he said I was the most responsible elder statesman here and there was a great part for me to play and he was sure I could play it if I would only be patient.

On parting with him I told him that I would do my best and said that I felt there was more hope of my being able to do something useful now that Cripps had been appointed to deal with one [of the], if not the most urgent, problems we had, and Eden was probably going to be able to take a stronger line in which I would possibly be able to help him.

Smuts is leaving tonight but tells me that he will probably come back here next spring or early summer. He is not going to America.

1 See Documents 54 and 104.

2 See Document 56, note 2.

3 See Document 74.

4 i.e. the U.S. Board of Economic Warfare.

[AA:M100, NOVEMBER 1942]