HC Deb 11 September 1942 vol 383 cc630-40
Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)

In these days it is not such a far cry from India to America. I would like to deal with another subject entirely, that is, the relationship which exists between the Members of Congress in the United States and Members of both Houses in this country. I do not think it is inappropriate that the last subject to be raised in the House before the short break, when Members will depart to discharge their other duties, should be the question of the relationship and personal contact between the Members of this hon. House and colleagues who sit in the House of Representatives and the Senate at Washington. Parliament has long taken the view that personal contact between themselves and Members of foreign Parliaments all over the world is most desirable because it gives an opportunity for those who believe in the democratic form of Parliamentary government to exchange ideas and discuss together such problems as are common to all who are engaged in similar responsible tasks.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Boulton.]

Colonel Evans

You will probably recall, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, as one who supported me in the Parliamentary Union for many years, that 50 years ago, as a result of the efforts of a Member of this House, William Randal Cremer, who was elected in 1885 and who started life as a working carpenter and made his way to public recognition entirely by his own exertions within the trades union movement and the Reform League, the idea of an Inter-Parliamentary Union was born. When Andrew Carnegie was on a visit to England, Cremer invited him to take part in a sitting of the committee of his League, and on 16th June, 1887, conversations took place which were attended by various Members of Parliament, representing all parties in the House. The outcome of these conversations, in which Cremer took an important part, was the decision to form a delegation to present their memorandum in Washington. Cremer was successful in obtaining the signatures of 234 Members of the House of Commons to the Address, and a large number of Members of another place expressed their sympathy with the idea. The Address referred to the proposals which had been made to Congress that an arbitration treaty should be concluded with Great Britain, and contained the assurance that if such a proposal were adopted by Congress, the signatories to the Address would do everything in their power to ensure acceptance by the British Government. A Parliamentary delegation, headed by Cremer, went to America and presented the Address to the President. It can be counted as one of the successes obtained by the delegation that proposals and petitions in favour of arbitration rained in upon Congress immediately afterwards, and on 14th June, 1888, the Senate adopted the resolution urging the President to enter into negotiations with other Governments on every suitable occasion regarding the introduction of arbitration.

It was at about this period that Cremer, as a result of his past activities, took a step which led to the creation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. This actually came about in 1889, when the first conference under the auspices of that organisation took place in Paris, and nine countries were represented by 96 delegates. By 1906, when their annual congress took place in London, the number of countries represented had grown to 24, and so down the years it continued to increase, until in 1925 the representatives of 41 nations met in Washington. No doubt, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you will recall that you had the privilege of being deputy-chairman of the British delegation. In 1939, in those memorable days just before the war broke out in Europe, 315 representatives of Parliaments throughout the world attended at Oslo. This conference met at a most momentous time in the history of the world. It took place under the distinguished presidency of Count Carton de Wiart, an ex-Prime Minister of Belgium, a Minister of State, and President of the Belgian group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. On this occasion the United States of America felt the conference to be of such importance that they sent no fewer than 34 members of both Housee of Congress to Oslo, and our own delegation consisted of 22 members of both Houses, including Members of all parties. Towards the end of its proceedings, in the fateful days of August, 1939, the following resolution was unanimously passed, and on the proposal of the British delegation—which I am happy to say was completely united on this occasion—was despatched to all the governments concerned: The XXXVth Inter-Parliamentary Conference, now in session at Oslo, views with concern the persistent tension which characterises the international situation—It is convinced that its action is in conformity with public opinion the whole world over when it ventures respectifully to remind all the powers of the obligations which they have assumed with a view to the settlement by means of conciliation and arbitration of the disputes which may arise between them. The Inter-Parliamentary Union, which possesses the authority conferred by 50 years of efforts directed towards promoting better relations between the nations and preventing armed conflicts, urges all the Powers concerned, while respecting the independence of all nations, to spare no effort to bring about the settlement of international disputes in a spirit of justice and good will calculated to inspire full confidence, and to resort to the peaceful methods for the success of which the Union was created. Our efforts failed. Looking back, one cannot help but feel that if the advice of those members of so many representative nations who took part in that memorable Debate had not fallen on deaf ears, the world would not have found itself in the position in which it finds itself to-day. I have ventured to give this brief background of the history of the Union and its activities so that Members will appreciate what an all important part it does and can play in furthering the cause of international justice and good will among those who share in its beliefs. It was in this sense that a cable was sent to Senator Alben Barkley, of Kentucky, Chairman of the American group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and Chairman of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on the occasion of United Nations day, and this was the cable: As Chairmen respectively of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the recently formed British-American Parliamentary Committee we particularly wish on United Nations Day to send to our colleagues of the American group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union—and in Congress generally—our cordial greetings and good wishes in the difficult tasks which lie before them. We share with you complete faith in the justice of our cause and a deep conviction that in maintaining the principles of government by the people and for the people the United Nations will find strength to endure the battle—to enjoy the true reward of victory and to establish the foundations of an era of peace for all peoples. In due course the following cable was received, which I consider it my duty to communicate to the House. It was from the Chairman of the American group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union: I wish to acknowledge and thank you for your cablegram on behalf of the British Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the recently formed British American Parliamentary Committee. On behalf of the American Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union—and on behalf of Congress as a whole—I wish to thank you for your cordial greeting and good wishes on the occasion of your cable. We are deeply convinced of the necessity for co-ordinated action on the part of our two great nations and all the United Nations. We look forward to that co-ordination, not only with pleasure, but with the satisfaction that ultimate victory will crown our efforts to sustain the principles of free government for which we are fighting. With cordial good wishes to your colleagues. The Executive Committee of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which has the largest all-party subscribing membership of any Parliamentary committee in existence to-day, are also deeply convinced of the necessity for co-ordinated action on the part of our two great nations and all the United Nations, and hope that it will soon again be possible for direct personal contact to be made between the representatives of Congress and of Parliament. We are convinced that only good can come from such personal contacts, particularly at a time when our two great nations are engaged in a struggle for life or death—the outcome of which will affect our two peoples for generations to come. The timing, however, of such official visits, either one way or the other, must be carefully gauged. It is essential, if our goal is to be achieved, that the greatest care must be taken to see that no mischievous person or persons are given the opportunity to misrepresent the purpose of such visits and contacts.

It is obvious, for instance, that it would be unwise for any responsible and representative body to visit America when they are on the verge of a general election, and reviewing issues which are essentially their own problems. Not only would such a moment be inauspicious, but their presence might easily be misunderstood, and indeed misrepresented by those whose object it is to cause disruption rather than to further the cause of unity and the pooling of all resources which is vital, if complete victory is to be achieved.

For that reason I find it difficult to understand the attack which Sir Walter Citrine made on the advisers on labour problems who are attached to the British Embassy at Washington and advise the Ambassador on matters pertaining to American conditions of labour in the States. He delivered this attack at Blackpool yesterday. According to a newspaper report, Sir Walter explained that American traditional hostility to Communism was at the root of his failure to get American labour to join the Anglo-Soviet Trade Union Committee in a triple alliance. Sir Walter reminded the delegates that the attitude of the American public was one of traditional hostility to Communism. Be that as it may, I cannot feel that any useful purpose would be served if a delegation of British trade union officials went to the United States when a general election is about to be held and endeavoured to persuade American labour and American public opinion generally that their point of view On this particular problem was wrong. Such action, in my judgment, could only lead to bitterness, misrepresentation and misunderstanding. Let the people- of America settle their own political problems in their own particular way next November. After the dust of controversy has died down would be the time for mutual contacts whether of a trade union or Parliamentary nature.

For this reason the British group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union earnestly hope that when Congress is being elected or re-elected as the case may be a most cordial invitation will be extended to them to send over a representative all-party delegation to visit us here to see for themselves the spontaneous effort that the people of this country are making to bring about a successful conclusion to the conflict. It would be idle to deny that considerable misunderstanding still exists in the minds of certain sections of our peoples towards each other, and it is vital, if that co-ordination which American and British groups regard as of paramount importance is to become a fact, that the most energetic steps to eradicate such suspicions must be pursued with a relentless faith, energy and determination.

Perhaps the attention of Members has been drawn to a despatch of the New York representative of a popular Sunday British newspaper which was published some months ago. In his article he discusses the special report of the representation of the British case in the United States of America. It was made, he says, after an exhaustive study by an Anglo-American official, and he alleges it has been put before the British Embassy and our own Ministry of Information, but has, apparently, been shelved. According to this report, at a time when it is vital that both peoples should have a thorough and clear understanding of each other's problems and methods, the British case is not being put and the Americans are saying that the reason the British are so "darned reserved" is because they are doing nothing. In other words, "Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just sit." In spite of what the Minister of Information told the House a few weeks ago, I am sure that he or the Government cannot be well pleased with the present situation, particularly if he has read the report to which I have referred, and if I may I would like to read one or two extracts from this report for the benefit of the House: We need someone of the highest authority to make factual statements and to clear the air. Now we have to shout. We may not like it, but we must. We shall not be heard if we are content to whisper in the thunder and storm of publicity around us. Americans expect you to shout your wares. They see no sense in understatement. I do not think we should be complacent and just hope that this bitter feeling will burn itself out when the war is successfully won. It is time to make our point of view clear, to show the degree of our own sacrifice, our own losses, and what our own productive effort is now. Firstly, we should cease to butter up American efforts unduly. I do not wonder that the American people get the impression that nobody else is doing anything. It is up to us to see that we are represented and give them the same colourful stuff about ourselves. There are other quotations with which I will not now weary the House, but this I do say, that there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has followed this situation closely, who has the advantage of reading extracts from the American Press regularly, that the situation is far from satisfactory. Personally, I think that in the past we have sent the Wrong type of person to the United States to present our case. One hears it said on all sides that the la-de-da high hat Englishman, who speaks with a B.B.C. voice and in a high falutin superior manner, has no place in the United States of America. Naturalness, a direct manner, and a close relation to Mother Earth, are more the qualities which are required to impress our American friends. It is no use my right hon. Friend the Minister of Information rising superior and saying that "high-pressure publicity merchants" are not wanted in the States, and leaving it at that. The Americans want to be told about our effort. They are dying to understand the British case. We have evidence enough of that from their fighting men and women whom we have been so honoured and pleased to welcome to our shores. As the Prime Minister said in the House the other day, the more contacts we have, the better for us all. Therefore, I appeal to my hon. Friend, representing as he does His Majesty's Government in this particular respect, to take a broad and realistic view of the situation. Do not think you can win this war by keeping responsible Americans and British apart, do not let your prejudices interfere with your judgment, but facilitate as far as possible that union between the two peoples which will ensure peace on earth and good will for all men.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Information (Mr. Thurtle)

At the outset I should like to say that I find very little with which to disagree in what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Colonel A. Evans). I assure him that there is complete agreement with him as to the necessity for our doing everything possible to improve and consolidate our relations with the great American people. I do not dissent in the least from what he has said about the value of the work done by the Inter-parliamentary Union; in fact, I would like to thank him for the tribute he has paid to the founder of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Sir Randal Cremer, who spent almost the whole of his Parliamentary life, in working for the cause of international understanding. It so happens that I represent in the House the same constituency as he represented.

There are certain points made by my hon. and gallant Friend which I think he will not expect me to take up. For instance, he made something in the nature of an attack upon Sir Walter Citrine for the observations he made recently regarding the American Embassy. I think it would be out of place for me here to deal with that particular point. I would only say that anyone who knows Sir Walter Citrine knows full well that he is as anxious as any man in this country to see good and firm relations established between the British and American peoples.

The hon. and gallant Member has said that we have not sent the right kind of people to America to put our case, and I should be foolish to stand here at this Box and suggest that we have never made mistakes in that respect. I think it is true that in the past people have been sent to America to put our case, or have been allowed to go there and put our case, who have not altogether been the best for the job. I think, however, if he takes the last six months or so, he will find that there has been a distinct change in that respect. Recently my right hon. Friend has taken the greatest possible pains to see that the only people who go there are people who are fitted in every kind of way to put the British case before the American people. With regard to the manner in which we should conduct our propaganda in the United States, I think it is-probably true that we have suffered as a result of our natural characteristics of modesty, understatement and diffidence. [Laughter.] Hon. Members laugh, but I think that it is perfectly true, although perhaps I am speaking more of the English than of the Scots. However, the fact remains that there is a tendency on the part of English people to be too modest or too diffident in putting their case. I think there has been something of that element in our propaganda in America in the past, and that it would probably be a good thing now for us to be at pains to explain to the people of America the enormous extent of our war effort, and the very great sacrifices we have already made and are making.

My hon. and gallant Friend will agree with me that if we have erred in respect of understatement in the past, it would be equally wrong for us to go to the other extreme and indulge in vainglorious boasting, which would have a very unfortunate effect upon the American people, and quite the reverse effect which we wish to create. It is true that my right hon. Friend referred recently to the undesirability of sending high-pressure publicity merchants to America, and that is, I think, a statement with which we can all agree. It would be undesirable to send people of that category, but that does not mean that we are not to send any kind of person. Whenever we get someone who appears to be very suitable to give the British message to the American people, the House may count upon it that we shall see that that person is sent to do the good work. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that we should like to see more done by way of bringing together public representatives of America and of this country. I am sure that that can be a very useful factor in promoting good relationship between the two countries. Certainly there is no lack of any desire, either on the part of the Foreign Office, who are perhaps particularly interested, or on the part of the Ministry of Information to promote that kind of intercourse between the elected representatives of the two countries.

It is true that proposals have been under consideration for some time for a visit to this country of a representative delegation from the American Congress. We, for our part, should welcome such a visit, because certainly this country has nothing to hide. We clearly want our American friends to realise the extent of the effort that we are making, and visits of this kind will naturally help in that direction. I should not wish to be pressed at this moment as to the best way in which such a visit can be arranged. Whether it should be arranged through the medium of the Inter-Parliamentary Union or in some other way is a matter for consideration. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary would like to give further consideration to that point. The Under-Secretary is at present on a visit to America, and he will, no doubt, collect information on this and on many other points, and, when he comes back, he will be able to give my right hon. Friend useful guidance as to the best sort of arrangement to be made. In those circumstances I think the matter had better be left where it is. There is no lack of good will on the part of the Government towards the desire to promote better relations with America. In fact we are eager to do everything possible and, whenever suitable opportunities arise, we will take advantage of them.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

I am sure the House will have heard with appreciation the remarks the hon. Gentleman has just made. I am certain that, under whatever auspices the visit is made, the delegation from the great representative Assembly of the United States will be greeted with the warmest welcome here and with the sole desire to do everything in our power to show them what we have to show and to learn from them what they have to teach us.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn" put, and agreed to.