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296 Note of Meeting of U.K. and Dominions Representatives

LONDON, 30 September 1938, 11.30 a.m.



Malcolm MacDonald, acting for Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner for Australia C. T. te Water, High Commissioner for South Africa Vincent Massey, High Commissioner for Canada W. J. Jordan, High Commissioner for New Zealand J. W. Dulanty, High Commissioner for Eire The Duke of Devonshire, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Sir Edward Harding, Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs Sir Harry Batterbee, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions Office E. G. Machtig, Assistant Under-Secretary of State, Dominions Office N. E. Archer, Dominions Office

MR MACDONALD gave an account of the circumstances in which the news of the signing of the Agreement had been received in the Dominions Office after midnight on the previous day, and expressed the view that the most important result of the Agreement might be an improvement in the general atmosphere now that both the Dictators and the Leaders of the democracies had got to know each other. Although the Agreement appeared to be satisfactory, there would probably be a considerable measure of attack when it was debated in Parliament on Monday [1] and the Prime Minister [2] might then have a roughish passage.

MR MACDONALD said that he had been wondering whether it might not be possible for something to be done from the Dominions' side which would help the Prime Minister in this eventuality.

There was general agreement that it would be of advantage if the respective Governments could send messages expressing their support of the Agreement before a critical attitude developed in this country, and despite the possibility of political difficulties in certain Dominions, the High Commissioners (after some private discussion with Mr MacDonald) made it clear that they intended to take steps to apprise their Governments of their own views in this respect.

(Whilst the meeting was in progress, messages from Mr Mackenzie King [3] and Mr Lyons [4] to the Prime Minister were brought in).

At the end of the meeting each of the Dominion representatives expressed his great satisfaction with the information which had been supplied to his Government from the Dominions Office throughout the crisis and with the help which had been given to him personally. They also paid a tribute to the Dominions Office officials for their unremitting work during the last few weeks.

MR MACDONALD said that he felt (and could say so as he was not now Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs) that the Dominions had in many cases received fuller and earlier information than even most of the members of the Cabinet here, and concurred in the view that the functions of the Dominions Office had been carried out in a very satisfactory way.

MR DULANTY remarked, amid general laughter (with reference to Mr Hughes' recent attack on the Dominions Office) 5 that it was a good achievement for an office that was not wanted!

1 3 October 1938.

2 Neville Chamberlain.

3 Canadian Prime Minister. Message not printed.

4 J. A. Lyons, Prime Minister. See Documents 294, 295.

5 W. M. Hughes, Minister for External Affairs, in an address to the National Council of Women on 8 August 1938, criticised the Dominions Office as an anachronism and M obstruction to effective consultation with the Dominions, causing unnecessary delays in receipt of information. While allowing that geographical distances posed a problem, he said that if the Dominions were to have an effective voice in moulding British foreign policy, messages must all be sent direct from the Foreign Office or the Prime Minister to the Dominions Prime Ministers, a practice which was not impossible as it was often followed at present. See the Times, 9 August 1938.

[PRO : DO 114/94]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History