38 Note by Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, of Conversation with Mr R. A. Butler, U.K. Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs

[LONDON], 2 February 1940

[On 27 May 1939 the Council of the League of Nations decided to set up a committee to report on measures to develop and expand the League's machinery for dealing with economic and social problems and to promote active participation by all nations in efforts to solve these problems. The committee met in Paris between 7 and 12 August 1939 under Bruce's chairmanship and drew up a report which recommended the establishment of a new League Central Committee for Economic and Social Questions which would direct the work of existing League committees on these matters. This proposal was accepted by the Twentieth Assembly of the League on 14 December 1939 and an organising committee set up to implement it. The following document refers to the first and only meeting of this committee which took place at The Hague on 7 and 8 February 1940, the Australian representative being F. L. McDougall. The meeting achieved little and although the committee planned to continue its work the extension of the war in Europe prevented it from doing so. For further information see file AA: A2937, League of Nations.

Twentieth Assembly. (Bruce Report).]

I saw Butler, who had with him Assheton [1] and Roger Makins [2], and discussed the forthcoming meeting at the Hague to consider the Bruce report. The meeting had been contemplated with a view to the British Delegates being instructed, but when I spoke to Butler a few days ago about the question of the meeting he suggested it might be a good thing if I would attend their own British discussions on the subject.

At the meeting Butler asked me what my views of the position were and I told him that I attached the greatest importance to the forthcoming meeting and I was clear that we should go ahead with the appointment of the other countries to the Central Committee and the appointment of some of the specialist members. I also said that I felt it was desirable that a date should be decided upon for the meeting of the Central Committee, but that I was strongly opposed to the consideration at this meeting of the Executive of the programme of work that should be considered when the Central Committee met. I went at some length into the reasons for this view which embraced the necessity for an organisation of this character being available to consider the questions that would arise after the war in reconstituting the whole economic, financial and soda] system, and also the problems that would have to be faced following upon demobilisation both of men and of industry. I outlined to them my hopes that in the near future it would be necessary for the Allies to declare their peace aims, stressing that I realised the impracticability of declaring our war aims at the present time save the broad statement as to winning the war and preventing aggression in the future.

I pointed out that if this were done there would be implemented in such a statement the necessity for a great deal of preliminary work. If that position arose it might be that the Allies would feel that the economic side of the League was the authority to undertake the necessary investigations owing to the fact that it would be essential that neutrals should co-operate in the considerations of these questions and yet it would be difficult for one of the belligerents to invoke the aid of the neutrals on an ad hoc Committee.

I pointed out that if in fact the United Kingdom and France did decide to use the instrument of the League it would then mean that when the programme of work had to be considered by the Central Committee it would have before it the views of the United Kingdom and France as to the work which had to be carried out and it would also mean that the Committee would start upon its career with the full blessing of Britain and France.

We had some considerable discussion with regard to the points I had raised and arrived at complete agreement.

The question of the relations between the International Labour Office and the new Central Committee was raised but I suggested that with a little good will and tact it should be possible to overcome any difficulties which existed.

We also discussed the question of early steps to invoke the cooperation of countries outside the League and I put forward as my view that it would be desirable to defer doing this in a serious way until we had seen whether during the next few weeks real co-operation could be obtained from Britain and France.

This view also was accepted.

We then considered how far neutrals would be deterred from coming into the new organisation by the fact that it has a certain link with the political side of the League through the necessity of the Budget being examined by the Supervisory Committee and passed by the Assembly.

We came to the conclusion this was not very formidable an objection as the difficulty had been got over in the case of the International Labour Office in which the United States of America was playing its part notwithstanding the link on the financial side between the Labour Office and the Political League.

1 Parliamentary Secretary at U.K. Ministry of Labour and U.K.

representative at the meeting at The Hague.

2 Adviser on League of Nations matters at U.K. Foreign Office.

[AA: M100, FEBRUARY 1940]