No. 107 UCDA P150/2179

Confidential report from John W. Dulanty to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
(No. 51) (Secret)

London, 1 December 1937

This evening I saw Mr. Malcolm MacDonald in response to his request. It is known that the death of his father1 has deeply affected him and he looked ill and depressed.

The British Cabinet, he told me, had that morning decided, with practically no discussion, to accept in principle the suggestion made in our Despatch No. 126 of 24th November last2. Details of time and other arrangements would be considered later.

His first reaction was that we might arrange a meeting before Christmas to be followed by meetings in the Parliamentary recess, but on reflection he thought that it would be a better plan to hold a meeting during the Parliamentary recess, say in the first week of January when two or three days might be held in reserve for continued discussion. During the recess3 there would be less pressure on him and his colleagues but I was to understand that this view did not bar a meeting before Christmas if the President so wished. He would keep himself free, but at this moment he could not speak for the movements or engagements of his colleagues. To prevent misleading reports in the newspapers, it might be well to agree upon a short notice to the press announcing in advance the suggested meeting between Ministers of the two Governments.

He asked whether the President would come himself. I said that he would. Had I any idea as to whether the President, since he was suggesting the Conference, would come forward with proposals of his own. I said that I doubted whether the President would put forward proposals. Our despatch indicated clearly our reason for the suggested Conference4.

Mr. MacDonald said that the proposal to hold a Conference came to him as a bolt from the blue. The attitude of the President on the question of Conferences had always been that it was a mistake to confer publicly before you had a reasonable ground for thinking that agreement would be reached. Mr. de Valera had said, and he agreed entirely, that to hold a Conference which produced nothing left both parties in a worse position than if no Conference at all was held. That was why he had adopted the plan of conversations with Sir Warren Fisher, Sir Horace Wilson, and myself in the hope that some scheme could be agreed upon before Ministers met. He wondered therefore whether I could tell him why the President, with his views about a Conference, made the suggestion.

I repeated that I thought the Despatch told its own story. He would remember that he had a number of exploratory talks with the President and that when I met him on the 6th November (see my Secret report No. 41 of 7th November)5 I had then suggested that the time had arrived 'to leave generalities and formulate, however tentatively, proposals for dealing with questions outstanding between the two countries.' Conversations in Geneva and London had followed, but so far no results, positive or negative, had been achieved.

Mr. MacDonald pointed out that whilst it was true that thus far nothing had emerged from their side it would be untrue to say nothing had been done. At the close of the last London meeting he had asked the President whether, as a result of these several informal conversations, he had any proposals to put forward. The President's reply was that he had not. He had explained fully what he thought should be done and if the British had any proposals he would give them careful consideration. Mr. MacDonald then began work on the questions outstanding between the two countries, to which subject priority had been given over any other, and he recalled that he had informed me that this work had been interrupted by his having to join the Nine Power Conference at Brussels, but as soon as he was free he would take it up again. He had been in London for two days in an interval between meetings of the Brussels Conference and had done practically nothing else but work on this question, having discussions with Mr. Neville Chamberlain and Sir John Simon. It would therefore be seen that he had not been idle. I said I appreciated this but he would remember that he had told me on the 29th October (see my Secret Report No. 43 of 30th October)6 that there might be proposals, but equally that there might not be. Mr. MacDonald not only accepted this but said that that was still the position. My own impression is that they meant to put forward proposals and that Mr. MacDonald was safeguarding himself by this qualification.

I said that the world situation, and more particularly the European situation, being what it was my government could not be expected to wait indefinitely. There were various contingencies that might arise. One was that we might find ourselves in the situation in which it was incumbent upon us to provide for the protection of our own people from the consequences following upon a European war. That provision clearly could not be made in a few weeks or a few months and no Government worth the name could face its people if they had omitted to make adequate provision for such a contingency. Proof of that could be seen in the feverish activity of the British themselves - not to mention other European states - in the war preparations which were being pushed forward with maximum energy whilst we merely talked and waited. I was not an expert in defence but it seemed to me that we had more to give to the British than the British had to give to us, but if they had in contemplation an arrangement for defence on the basis of mutual interest the sooner we reached conclusions on that matter the better for both of us.

I told Mr. MacDonald that, speaking for myself, I had no doubt about his own sincere desire to reach a settlement. Having regard to what he had told me about his work on this question since the last London conversation I asked whether it would not be possible for his Government to bring forward the proposals on which I gathered he had been working.

Mr. MacDonald said that it seemed likely that his side would say that they could not at the Conference put forward any proposals, at any rate in the first instance. He thought it might be well to have what he called 'a canter over the course', where not merely defence but other questions might be surveyed. If the opening conversations on both sides were not pitched in too high a key, if the language were not too uncompromising and the conversations contained the promise of an approach to a settlement then he thought - though here again he was making no promise - they might in a later stage of the Conference be prepared to put forward proposals. He was, speaking for himself, most anxious that the atmosphere of the conference from the moment it began should be one in which, whilst admitting of a full statement of the case from both sides, a settlement should be possible.

Did he know, I enquired, what Ministers would be selected from their side? He said that this matter had not been discussed but he thought it was almost certain that Sir John Simon would be one. Who the other would be he could not at present say.

I left Mr. MacDonald (who, as I have observed, looked ill and depressed) with the feeling that whilst he welcomed the suggestion of a Conference of Ministers seemed to have some doubts about its outcome unless there was, on both sides, a firm purpose and intention to achieve a result.

[signed] J.W. Dulanty
High Commissioner

1 James Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937), British Labour politician; Prime Minister (1924, 1929-31 and 1931-35 (National Government).

2 See document No. 104.

3 The text from this point until the words 'keep himself free' has been highlighted by a line drawn along the left hand margin of the page.

4 See document No. 104.

5 See document No. 82 Report No. 41 was sent on 7 September 1937.

6 See document No. 98.

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