HL Deb 08 July 1953 vol 183 cc356-78

2.54 p.m.

LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps are being taken to use the opportunity offered by the presence of units of the United States Air Force in this country to promote closer Anglo-American understanding; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sure you will agree that enough has been said about the problem of Anglo-American relations by wiser and older people than I to fill perhaps Hansard and the Congressional Record from now until Doomsday. Therefore, I do not wish to waste your time this afternoon with vague expressions of good intent or well-meaning cliches about "marching shoulder to shoulder. "But it is well to remind ourselves that this problem of Anglo-American relations, which is in itself an inadequate and hackneyed phrase, is a question of vital importance to every single person in this country, and I am raising it this afternoon for a very special purpose. I have recently returned from an extensive tour of the United States, during which I became increasingly worried by, and aware of, the many times which I was asked, both officially and unofficially, whether or not it was true that there was real friction existing between the United States Service personnel in this country and the civilian population. Therefore, when I got home I made it my special task to see and talk to as many people as I could find who were concerned with this problem, and I made it my job to find out the true situation.

Perhaps I should explain at once that one of the main reasons why so many Americans in the States feel that all is not right here is that such regrettable incidents as occurred in Manchester last autumn (when, as your Lordships probably remember, some American Servicemen were beaten up in the street) are headlined in every single paper on the front page throughout the United States. While this kind of story makes news, the story of the quiet and steady development of good relations does not make news. Bad news travels fast, and unfortunately, at the moment that is what Americans mostly read. Happily, however, I can report to your Lordships this afternoon, that it is true that, for the most part, relations between the American Air Force personnel and our local civilian populations can be described in no other way than as being excellent. This does not mean, however, that there is not still much that can be done to prevent friction and other troubles which may arise. I can think of no other fact that would better illustrate how well the average American Air Force men get on with the local people than to tell you this most interesting piece of information: that there are an average of 200 marriages a month between American Service personnel and British girls. When one realises that there are about 35,000 American Air Force personnel in this country, and also nearly 20,000dependants, it will be agreed that the chances of a G.I. returning home single from England are extremely small—indeed, they should be extremely pleased that, in spite of England having had a period of Socialist Government, some sections of the population are still fairly good at private enterprise.

It is indeed heartening to feel that the British stock in the United States being continually strengthened. It seems right that the descendants of those British who gave birth, through the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, to a great country, should be coming back and then returning home again with a British wife to strengthen further the British strain of which both the United States and Great Britain are justly proud. What I want to find out to-day is exactly what is being done to seize this great opportunity. What advantage is being taken of the presence of the Americans in this country on a long term of duty to bring about a greater understanding between the two nations? Here, indeed, is a wonderful chance of sending back each year many good will ambassadors on our behalf.

Recently, because of the rantings of many ill-informed and mischievous demagogues, Anglo-American relations have received, in the eyes of the outside world, a considerable setback. But those who really know and have had an opportunity of living in both great countries must surely know that nothing can ever break the strong bond of sympathy which exists between our two nations. Indeed, if one takes the issue out of clay-to-day politics and reduces it to Christian principles and the Western code of morals and ethics, I challenge anyone to find a single basic point on which our two nations disagree. We do know, however, that it is an avowed Communist aim, if it is possible, to split our countries. There is no doubt that many people in America have been misled into thinking that we do not welcome American forces into this country. This is because, in some ways, the propaganda efforts of the opposition forces have been clever. Secondly, I do not think people in America have been properly informed of what exactly is being done over here to make their sons and husbands feel at home: sons and husbands who are now here as allies, all ready to help defend our island against a common aggression, but who would, like all soldiers, at all times, in all places—let there be no bones about this—dearly like to be back home.

I have been pleasantly surprised in the last few weeks to find how many organisations are taking this problem seriously and are doing their best, under the guidance of the Air Ministry, to make sure that Americans returning from a three-year tour of duty in this country go home as good friends of this country. One of the organisations which has been most active and successful in my view has been the W.V.S. whose Anglo-American clubs in Norwich and Cambridge, in addition to their many information centres, are doing a first-class job. They are run by voluntary helpers, with very little financial backing, but the success of these clubs, in particular, is most striking; and the great tact with which the W.V.S. handle the mixture of American troops, British troops and the British civilians is particularly praiseworthy.

I am sure we are all looking forward to hearing from the Air Minister about the great number of organisations which I hear have joined the committee set up to deal with this subject, so let me just say that I know what excellent work is being done by the English Speaking Union, the British Legion and the T.U.C. They have all done what they can to help with this problem. I have, in all humility, one or two suggestions to offer as to how this organisation might be improved. I feel very strongly at the moment that, excellent as it is, this committee is too unwieldy to produce any very definite action. It is impossible to get so many organisations as are represented on it together for a meeting more than two or three times a year. I feel, further, that the appointment of Air Marshal Sir George Pirie as the official liaison officer, excellent as his qualifications may be, is marred by the fact that he is a retired officer, who spends only two or three days a week dealing with this subject. I feel strongly that not to have some high-ranking officer still on the Active List in charge of this question tends in some way to belittle its importance. This is, of course, in no way, a criticism of Sir George Pirie, but I think it would be more practical, in terms of efficiency, to re-establish, under the chairmanship of this full-time officer, a committee on the same lines as that which functioned so successfully in the last war.

Let me remind your Lordships that the Minister of Information, General Eisenhower, the American Ambassador, and the British Service Chiefs all appointed deputies to represent them at regular meetings to co-ordinate and stimulate official and unofficial action to deal specifically with this problem. I would suggest that, if the Minister thought fit, this full-time officer should gather round him a small and compact sub-committee—perhaps one representative from the U.S. Air Force, someone like Mr. Herbert Agar, the historian living in this country, who would be an ideal person to visit the many volunteer and other organisations to co-ordinate action. I do not mean to suggest for a moment that the Minister should give up the idea of his larger committee which he has formed, but I think that a sub-committee should be created to get to practical grips with this vital problem. This sub-committee could report from time to time to the larger group, and they would have the drive and the power to get decisions from the Ministers concerned.

I should like to make one or two other suggestions which I think would be welcomed by all those concerned. The first is the appointment at each American Air Force base of full-time British information and liaison officers, whose specific job would be to serve as a link between the American Air Force and the local groups who are so willing to help, but who often find it hard to make contact with the Americans on the bases. In addition, these men could act as local representatives on behalf of the committee sitting in London. The existing R.A.F. liaison officers now attached to each base obviously have too many Service matters to deal with each day to enable them, in addition, to carry out with full efficiency the day-to-day contact work between the local populations and the base. The American forces, I understand, have generously offered to provide the necessary office space, desks and administrative equipment for these information officers. It would not, therefore, seem money ill-spent if the Minister could persuade the Treasury to let him have a further £10,000 a year, say, to pay full-time officers at sixteen suggested positions in this country. Every minute and every farthing spent in this country on improving Anglo-American relations is worth a day and a dollar spent in the United States on public relations. I would therefore most strongly urge the Minister to reconsider the whole question of these information centres, particularly in view of the offer of the American authorities to take off his shoulders the whole weight of the capital expenditure on buildings and equipment.

One further point; I know that many organisations are devoting a part of their separate funds to the entertainment of American troops in this country. Would it not be a better idea to set up a modest fund on which local Anglo-American committees could draw, so that the resources of all these organisations could be concentrated on proper equipment for canteens that already exist? Many of the clubs and canteens are excellent, but many of them are not equipped with items like radiograms or ping pong tables, comfortable chairs, and so on, which are a great help in drawing people in and getting them together. These centres, which are so excellent a rendezvous, where American forces, British forces and civilians can meet and get to know each other, must at least be attractive enough to get the people in. This fund might also be used for helping to start new centres, when some initial finance is vital and no one organisation has enough resources to take on the whole burden of setting up such a centre.

From time to time, one has heard of incidents in public-houses, which are the very places where the average American can learn most about this country by meeting the average Britisher. May I suggest that the Minister should write to the Brewers' Society, under its far-sighted Chairman, and point out how much good could be done if the Society were, for instance, to send out a letter to all the tenants of "pubs." round American bases to suggest that, when Americans wander in, they might be introduced to the local people, instead of just being left by themselves in a corner. Indeed, might not printed material about the "pub." tradition be made available to all houses in areas where there is a concentration of American troops? And could iced beer be made available sometimes—the lack of it is always a sore point with Americans over here. Many more possibilities will occur to us all. Some of these may seem small things, but in the end, in the long run, they add up to something important, a real attempt to make Americans welcome at the right level, at the level of their everyday living. I am sure that the Chairman of the Brewers' Society, who is a very go-ahead person, would receive a suggestion like this with every sympathy.

No committee, wherever formed, can replace the personal relationships that spring from a casual and natural meeting. When we come down to it, we all know that it is the local volunteers and the local good will that counts, more than any directions from London. One particular aspect to exploit is that of encouraging meetings between those who have a common interest. For instance, the T.U.C. have made arrangements in many places for Americans to go round factories and see men doing the same jobs in this country as they would be doing in civilian life in the States. In addition, one must take the case of the man who might have a rare hobby like book bindings or archery Somewhere in the neighbourhood, or anyway in England, there will always be someone who has this common interest, and nothing creates firm friendships more quickly than this. So obscure, however, are some of these hobbies that here is a real job for the proposed information centres to undertake. At the moment, the W.V.S. in London are doing the best they can. I even heard of a man the other day who wished to do some stalking. Knowing how many members of your Lordships' House have deer forests in Scotland, I do not know whether some of you might show your willingness to help by inviting one or two G.I.'s up to do some stalking. I advise anybody who does so, however, to ask them not to wear the gaudy red and yellow checked shirts they are wont to use in hunting the moose. I am sure that the junior Senator from Wisconsin will be delighted to know that they will be chasing red deer.

In the past, some local people have taken considerable trouble, and have often been extremely hurt, after arranging hospitality for American troops, to find very poor attendances at the functions organised. If, at Christmas, many offers of hospitality have been left unfilled, we must remember that everybody likes to spend Christmas with his family—and, if not at home, prefers to be with his old friends, rather than go into completely strange homes. Sympathy with this point of view by local people is most important if everything is to go smoothly. In return, the American forces can contribute much to the life of the local area. Last Christmas every American base in this country gave a wonderful party for the children, the like of which had never been seen before. In many cases, Americans have been down to the local villages to address the Women's Institutes and British Legion branches. Exchange of information about each other's countries at this level and in this way can do more than any speeches in this House, or any other House, to bring about understanding between the two nations.

Inevitably, for our own good, we shall have units of the United States forces in this country for many years to come. Let us do everything in our power to make sure that the Americans see our country and understand as much as they can about it. Let us never forget that we have a common history which can do much to weld our nations closer together. The very presence here of the United States Air Force shows our common purpose in defending the way of life in which we believe. No one who has been to America can fail to be impressed by the enormous hospitality shown to visitors from England. Never before had I experienced so much kindness and hospitality as was showered on me in America last winter. We must remember that many of the mothers and fathers there have their boys in England, and I feel that it is towards them that we are looking for sympathy with us. Therefore, let us show Americans stationed here all that we believe to be good in England, so that they may return to their shores firmly convinced of our greatness, our sincerity and the great part we can play, alongside America, in securing the future and prosperity of the English-speaking world. When all is said and done, it is as simple as this. Here are men away from home, serving our interests, as well as their own. Let us make them feel at home in our houses, let us make them feel at home in our "pubs," and in our shops, in our big towns and in our small villages; and, above all, let us welcome them in our hearts. I beg to move for Papers.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, we can all compliment the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, on the excellent appeal he has made to the House to give careful consideration to the contacts that are inevitable in this country between ourselves and our American guests. The more we can assist the Government in this matter, the more we assist ourselves and the more we assist ourselves, the more we assist the United Nations to bring about the time when the American airmen go back home to their normal avocations as our friends.

I would advise the noble Lord not to pay too much attention to the comments that he may hear in the United States about friction existing in this country between our airmen and theirs or between our people and their airmen. We have to remember that wherever groups of men may find themselves, friction of one sort or another will undoubtedly arise. If there were no American airmen in Great Britain, there would be plenty of friction every week between groups of men who have met one another either for some purpose or without any purpose whatever. The Press of our country and the Press of the United States would pay no attention whatever to that friction. It is only when the friction embraces men from the United States or from another country that the newspapers give it the amount of attention the sensationalism involved in a particular case creates. We must remember that in a great country like the United States, where we have so many friends, there are some people who are anti-British, who do not like the British and who are ready to fan sensational news in doing harm to this country. If we have these facts well in mind, we can give all the assurances that our American friends require and, at the same time, we ourselves can take the necessary steps to help forward closer unity and friendliness in our own land.

I do not wish to be too long over this matter, but there are one or two points which I think will bear some reference, from this side of the House. The field to be covered at the instance of the noble Lord is not a big one. The number of men involved is not large, the amount of money to be spent will not ruin our country and the effort required is not beyond our capacity to provide. Yet, although the field numerically to be covered is a small one, we have to remember two things. The first is that the American airmen in Britain come from many parts of the United States. The American forces in Great Britain represent America as a whole. The airmen are recruited not only in New York and Washington and the East; we find men from the West here, too. The second thing to remember is that the Americans who are with us do not represent one trade or industry or one interest. Almost every trade and calling and almost every interest can find its representative among our American friends in this country. Remembering that and recalling that the ground to be covered is small, I think your Lordships will agree that this question is not unimportant and ought to receive attention.

Another point we have to remember is the location of the American airmen in Great Britain. They are not to be found all over the country—not, at any rate, in masses. Largely they are stationed in the Eastern Counties and, because of the necessities of their duties, have to live mainly in rural areas, sometimes far removed from large centres of population. Therefore, we cannot depend only upon that part of our population which is rural to carry out the necessary tasks involved. If all the men in those forces, representing all sections of the American people, are to be catered for, then the activities required will have to be carried through by some men and women from most parts of Great Britain. That is why I feel it is a good thing that the committee which is now established to give counsel to the Government in connection with this matter is a large committee, representative of a fairly substantial number of institutions and organisations. While I think that the committee must be large, because it has to be representative, I am with the noble Lord in this: that, if active work is to be done under some kind of guidance and supervision, then something of the nature of a subcommittee, or a small group of men associated with the organisers, would be an extremely good thing.

It is inevitable, in considering the requirements of the case, that we should think in terms of social gatherings, whether they are open to all sections of the population or whether they are dances merely for young people. Obviously, we must do something to provide social gatherings for these men who, as I have said, are far away from the main centres of population. But please do not let us overdo that side of the work. If we are to gain anything at all by the presence of these men with us, then they must be encouraged to seek their amusements and their entertainments where the people of our country themselves find them. If we do that, then it seems to me that the American forces will be able to do what they like best. Certainly there must be some kind of social gathering; certainly there must be some form of dance, or other amusement. But these should be used merely as a means of introduction, either to one another, or to the people of this country.

Then we must consider sport. I do not know whether it is proper for us to endeavour to persuade the American airman to become a "fan" at our cricket or our football matches. I sometimes wonder whether we should not be more successful if we invited the Americans to teach us the sports they like best. I sometimes find that people who are being taught are by no means enthusiastic, but that an enormous amount of enthusiasm arises if the people you want to teach find themselves teaching you. Therefore, if we are going to provide sport and amusement of this kind, it seems to me that we should encourage them to teach us, and, in teaching us, they may find out what it is that we like and why. Another form of entertainment is that of the circulation of our best literature, and, indeed, the visit of drama organisations to the various areas where they can be accommodated. A substantial number of men must be interested in reading and a substantial number would be interested in the theatre. If, therefore, it is difficult for them to come to the towns to attend the theatres, is it not possible for us to take the theatre to the airfields, in order that the men, sitting in their normal attire for the aerodrome, can enjoy what this country has produced?

One final point on this general appeal is this. Do not let the American airmen look in vain in the newspapers of our country for news about America. I know it will be said that our papers are sometimes full of news from America but much of the news which we find in our newspapers about America is news for British people. What I am thinking of is the provision of news about America for Americans in our country. If we do that, we shall probably find that the American soldier, while resident in this country, will begin to read British newspapers, and in doing so will travel from the columns containing American news to those providing British news.

Among the men who will be on the airfields there will be a number—possibly a comparatively small number—ust as there are in this country, who are prepared to give serious attention either to politics or to other human activities in which the average person spends too little time. I wonder whether we could not use the universities largely in this matter by bringing their lecturers into touch with these groups of men. Sometimes the groups will be small, but they will grow. They might be brought into touch with things relating to this country which, when contrasted with things in their own country, would be most valuable to them. Some of the points that we might consider are the social history of Great Britain and the United States—not so much in the form of lectures, but in the form of discussions, so that the Americans can tell us about their social structure as well as learning something about our own. Then there is the industrial history of Great Britain and, in particular, the Industrial Revolution that occurred in Great Britain and did not occur in America. The Americans learned industrial affairs from Great Britain after we had had our revolution. It might be an advantage to the younger Americans, who are going to be prominent citizens of to-morrow, if in these Islands they could get to know something of our political history.

Another proposal might have reference to Government matters and, in particular, local government methods, in this country, as compared with those in the United States. I believe the Americans would learn a lot from our methods of governing our cities and towns. They will understand something of the greatness of British government, which has been derived largely by experience gained by men in the localities. Another item might have relation to the Commonwealth and international affairs; to relationships between ourselves and America; and to our relations with the Continent. I do not suggest that any of these things should be discussed in an awkward, formal manner, but that they should be the subject of discussion for the purpose of eliciting and providing information.

Finally, I come back to a point made by the noble Lord, that we ought to arrange with some of the travel agencies to take groups of men in their coaches to visit certain institutions or places in this country that must be of great interest. We must make it easy and comfortable for them to travel; and we must get them to travel in groups, if we can. They might, for instance, be taken on visits to the historic houses of Britain; and, while on those visits they might be told something of the families who used to live in them, of their accomplishments, and of the days in which those families were famous. They can, as the noble Lord suggested, be taken to our factories, workshops and mines. They might be able to tell us many things; but also (which is necessary in these days) they might get the idea that the Englishman, or the Britisher, who seldom advertises himself, has, after all, got some good points. It would be a good thing if we could persuade the people in America that we are not quite dead; that we are able to live in fairly comfortable circumstances; and that, although there are troubles between ourselves and other countries in the world arising out of our economic difficulties, yet we are going to come back and be a nation that counts. Let them visit the London and other markets of our country; and let them see other forms of human activity. If we do that, we shall be helping forward the cause, not merely of peace in the world, but, what is of greater importance, friendly relations between ourselves and the people of the United States.

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Lord who has moved this Motion for the way in which he expressed his views. It gives the Secretary of State for Air a chance of saying, what Her Majesty's Government are doing in this field of rich opportunity, and also it gives me a chance of doing something which the Minister himself cannot do, which is to pay a tribute to Air Chief Marshal Pirie who has been detailed to this particular liaison task. The Air Chief Marshal was a most distinguished air attaché in Washington during the war—only one appointment in a long and successful career—and when we heard that he had been appointed to this task we all knew that it would be undertaken with the same success with which the Air Chief Marshal had discharged his other duties in the past.

Closer understanding means taking part in our family life and our national life in several directions. The reason why I am so bold as to speak for a few minutes to your Lordships this afternoon is that during the war I was the Minister responsible for the Commonwealth Air Training Plan and saw much of this particular problem, as it were, the other way round. I saw much of our young men in the United States and Canada, and saw the hospitality which was extended to them. I watched the methods of the Americans, both private citizens and national organisations, and the way in which they approached the task of looking after our boys. This is certainly a chance—and I am sure that we are taking it—of repaying to some small extent the tremendous debt that we owe as a nation, and individually as parents and relations, for all that was done for those tens of thousands of young men of ours who were trained in Canada and the United States.

The experience which I had showed me that there are two directions in which this problem should be tackled, and tackled in both directions at the same time. One I would term the geographical and the other the functional direction. By the geographical direction, I mean what can be done in the locality by local authorities and by generous individuals, and by the functional I mean the approach through central organisations to give these men an opportunity of seeing a particular aspect of national life in which they are interested, or, alternatively, taking part in some particular sport or amusement which they particularly like. For instance, during the war Mr. Beddington, known to some of your Lordships, did great work in organising fishing for young men in the forces who were visiting this country.

Various other central organisations functioned then, and I believe that what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said is very sound: that there should be a greater use of them than we have seen hitherto. They may be functioning now—I do not know—but it seems to me that there is opportunity for the greater use of central organisations which would take these men through Britain's countryside in coaches. I wonder whether the authorities who look after our Royal Academy have thought of giving several hundred tickets to each of these stations to let the men come and see the Royal Academy Exhibition? I wonder whether the theatre and concert promoters have themselves thought of offering a certain allocation of accommodation to these men? We cannot rely entirely upon private hospitality and what I call local geographical effort. There mast be a contribution from the national organisations at the centre such as I have mentioned—transport organisations, theatre organisations, and others.

I hope we are going to hear from the Minister that much is being done, not only locally, but also by the central authorities and central organisations in this country. It is a vastly important subject which the noble Lord has raised. The promotion of closer understanding is probably the basis upon which the foundation of the free world depends. I am sure that the noble Lord has rendered a service to your Lordships' House in raising the matter to-day.

3.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend's Motion. Like him, I had the privilege earlier this year of spending some weeks in the United States and. visiting many cities there, both in the Middle West and in the East. As I expected, the hospitality that I received was something one does not easily forget. Such hospitality at once inspires one to see what one can do to repay it in this country to American visitors when they come over here. Important as that is—and it is vastly important—I believe that it is not the most important motive which underlies my noble friend's Motion. As my noble friend Lord Balfour said in his closing remarks, it seems to me axiomatic that on the future of Anglo-American collaboration and contact depends the safety of the whole of the West in the future.

One of the things which struck me so forcibly when I was out there was the obvious lack of knowledge by the ordinary men and women in both our countries of what goes on among the ordinary families in the other. There is an immense lack of knowledge as to our way of life and our points of view, and I would merely say in passing that in America, at any rate, that lack of knowledge is coupled with an amazing thirst for information. I should like to think that that thirst for information was as pronounced in this country about America as I found it on the other side. Our diplomats, our consuls and their staffs can do a great deal to put that matter right, but what they can do is not nearly so much, as other speakers have said this afternoon, as can be gained by citizens of one country visiting the ordinary families in another. We all know that it is not easy for Britishers to go over to the United States in any number. There must be some special reason which takes them across, because we are short of dollars. But in this country we have American Air Force men, and we have an opportunity to do something on this side to counter the shortcomings of our being unable to go to the United States.

When I was in America it was at the time of the great floods which took place in the Eastern Counties of this country. Whilst I was there, I heard of a number of letters which American Servicemen had written to their families. Those letters were inspired by what those men had thought at the time they had been thrown together with ordinary civilians in common rescue work. Anyone who reads those letters would realise how important they were, and what an immense amount of good they were doing. They are letters that I shall not easily forget. It should not merely be great disasters which bring forth that sort of expression; rather should it be the natural hospitality that folk in this country can offer to our American guests in ordinary homes, the sort of hospitality which we hope will help them to while away their free time, when otherwise they might be bored.

As other noble Lords have said, a great deal is being done in this country, both by individuals and by organisations, and I join with Lord Balfour of Inchrye in congratulating those who have done so much from the Service angle. But there is much more that needs to be done. I am not going to follow my noble friend in making any specific recommendations. I shall listen with interest to see what the Minister has to say on his recommendations, but certainly much more has to be done. Whether it is the sort of work that can best be done by Her Majesty's Government as such, I am not sure; it may well be better that it should be done by private organisations and individuals. I do not want to close without expressing as strongly as I can my gratitude for the hospitality which I myself have received on the other side.

3.41 p.m.


My Lords, may I add a word or two to this debate on the basis of a limited but up-to-date acquaintance with some of the American forces in this country? The first characteristic of the American Air Force here, I think, is that they are a very self-sufficient set of communities. They come with their own schools; they largely bring their own food, and they bring their own entertainment. That, of course, militates to some extent against their free mixing with individuals in this country. Moreover, their stations are mostly in very remote parts of East Anglia, so that it is more difficult for the inhabitants of East Anglia to entertain them in large numbers. I am convinced, however, that the will to mix with the people of this country is there, and the will to learn about us is there. The Americans are extremely open-handed and generous in their hospitality. I was at an entertainment given at one air base where thousands of people came by coach from all over East Anglia. They were shown round the place, shown baseball games and given entertainment, and the whole thing was extremely well done. We have to thank these officers and enlisted men for their hospitality. I am convinced that they are very ready to make the acquaintance of their English neighbours.

How can this better acquaintance best be fostered? I cast my mind back to occasions when I have been stationed in peace time in a foreign country, and the first thing I remember is that one had very little opportunity of mixing with the inhabitants of those countries. One would have been glad of more opportunities, but I think that anything like official organisation of the scheme would have been resented. So Her Majesty's Government should beware of over-organising anything of that sort. Facilities and information offices should be there for those who like to use them. There is one thing that must be said. The great majority of people in this country, I am sure, are ready to meet the Americans halfway, to give them a good time and entertain them, and to treat them as welcome guests. There have been cases in which the Americans have been exploited by people in this country. The Americans come as strangers to this country, knowing nothing about current prices, and they are easy victims to anybody who is "on the make." I feel that that warning should be given, and that those who are attached to the American forces should be on the look-out for overcharging. I think we all welcome the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, and we hope that Her Majesty's Government will tell us their plans for improving the situation.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, during the past two days we have been debating in this House a Bill for the creation of a Central African Federation as a new political entity of the British Commonwealth. To-day we are debating one aspect of our relations with another community which was once joined to ours, and which was separated in what we may consider somewhat unhappy circumstances. But out of the rebellion of those thirteen colonies has come this great nation. It would have been a very far-seeing prophet 180 years ago who could have foretold that we should have been welcoming as Allies in our midst the military forces of the descendants of those thirteen colonies.

Although we may deplore the causes which brought these United States airmen to our shores, let us not fail to take encouragement from the results. The noble Lord, Lord Montagu, in, if I may say so, an eloquent and well-balanced speech, drew attention to some of the happy aspects of the sojourn in our midst of these American air forces. I agree with him. It is easy to make resounding phrases and utter diplomatic courtesies, but I can speak from some experience—an experience born of twenty months of the office which I now hold. Let me say at once that I claim no credit for the fact that relations between the United States Air Forces and the Royal Air Force are so good; I found these relations excellent, and I am doing my best to maintain that standard. I must add that this has been made very easy for me by the co-operative attitude of the United States authorities. There is, in fact, close, continual and cordial contact and co-operation. That requires, and has received and elicited, patience and understanding on both sides.

We are not dealing with a problem here. I have talked this matter over very often with the Commander of the Third Air Force, General Griswold, and he always tells me, "This is not a problem; do not let us turn it into a problem." There are many people who create problems where they do not exist. Rather are we dealing with an opportunity. There are somewhat more members of the United States Air Force in this country than Lord Montagu indicated: the number is nearer 50,000 than 40,000. And when one adds to that the families, the total is, of course, even greater. And if one remembers the annual turnover which always takes place in the case of troops overseas, it will be clear that these numbers are even greater than has been suggested. We are, therefore, dealing with quite considerable numbers of American citizens who have come here and have an opportunity of judging English customs, institutions, manners, and climate. I lock round hastily, but not guiltily, for having used the word "English"; but I used the word literally, because of the facts of geography.

As the noble Earl, Lord Lucan said, a military community in an overseas station can often be very isolated. The noble Lord spoke of "occupation forces"—a phrase which perhaps could be misinterpreted, but I know that he did not mean what some might think he means. They can become physically, mentally and socially isolated, and indeed the danger in this case arises, perhaps, from the very virtues of the American organisation. The entertainment and leisure organisation at their bases is excellent, and the men, therefore, are not forced to seek these things elsewhere, because the authorities know very well that boredom and unfilled leisure lead to crime and to the sullied conduct sheet. Therefore, I entirely agree with the noble Lords who have spoken from both sides of the House that we, the British—the English—must create these opportunities.

I should like to emphasise the point—it has been made but I reiterate it—that it is not a question of large-scale entertainment. I have discussed this matter with care and in detail with those concerned, and all confirm that it is not a question of large-scale entertainment. The United States authorities look after that side extremely well, and no Serviceman, as the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, has said, wants his leisure organised. As the noble Lord, Lord Rochdale, so rightly said, our object is to give the Americans in this country a chance to meet the British in their homes and make the basis of that meeting their common interests and common hobbies.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, referred, quite rightly, in eulogistic terms to the work done by Air Chief Marshal Sir George Pirie. He has given a great deal of his time and attention to this matter in the last twelve months. As the noble Lord said, he is well-qualified. He was our Air Attaché in Washington at the beginning of the war. He was in Air Command South-East Asia at the end of the war, with American officers serving under him, and he was the R.A.F. representative on the British Joint Services Mission in Washington from 1950 to 1951, so he is extremely well-informed and equipped for this task. He has been round the principal American bases, talked to their commanders and to the R.A.F. liaison officers, and sounded out local opinion in the vicinity of these bases. They all expressed the same view: "We must create opportunities for the American airmen to meet the British, but do not let us over-organise their leisure. "It would, however, I entirely agree, show a deplorable lack of imagination, and of political understanding, if we left the problem just there and said, "Let these things work themselves out for the best."

Just because there is no easy ready-made large-scale solution, we must not hesitate to take the initiative. But I do believe that we must rely principally on personal, local leadership, and on local knowledge and initiative. There is plenty of good will and a large desire to help. What we want to do is to give it sufficient impetus to get it going. I think there may be some misapprehension about a central organisation. Nearly a year ago, I was privileged to preside over a meeting of nation-wide organisations—a very large and representative meeting. I will not weary the House by listing the organisations represented: they are all extremely well known. We discussed the problem of this matter, and we all agreed that local committees and local personalities were the solution. The representatives of all those organisations expressed their willingness, which they made good later by action, to invite local representatives of their organisation to help to serve on committees and to give advice and assistance.

In the meanwhile, as I have said, Air Chief Marshal Pirie has been going round, and he has enlisted the support of a number of public-spirited ladies and gentlemen to serve quite voluntarily as officers on those committees with a provision from public funds only for the out-of-pocket expenses of their organisation. I am happy to say that we have now got something like a dozen committees functioning up and down the country, with active chairmen and secretaries; and, what is more, we have full United States Air Force support. Only a fortnight ago, I had the pleasure of flying up to Burtonwood, in Lancashire, which is a very large American base, and attending a meeting attended by representatives of a large number of local authorities and organisations. We had tea round little tables, and everybody had the opportunity of discussing the subject and talking about it, and I was much encouraged to see there the first citizens of so many local authorities who had troubled to turn up and who showed such obvious interest in helping to get this idea going.

Deliberately, we have offered no central direction; we have offered only guidance and the opportunity for the exchange of views, not only because the Service men do not want to be organised, but because I am sure that the local leaders and personalities do not want to be organised either. They know their own localities, their personalities and their opportunities. All they want to know from us is that they are moving in the same common direction. We shall do far better by relying upon local opinions than by offering them advice from here. The situation now is different from what it was ten years ago. Now, happily, at any rate in Europe, we have peace, and the problems of peace are very different from the problems of war. Only two days ago, I had the opportunity of discussing in London, with the chairmen of these committees and with many American base commanders, what has so far been achieved and of exchanging ideas with them. As a result, I have not in the least changed the view, which I formed some time ago, that we are working on the right lines. I found that discussion most encouraging. I found that contacts were being made, mutual interests and mutual hobbies being discovered; that there was precious little misunderstanding, and no evidence of any bickering or friction. It is, of course, perfectly true that a rough-and-tumble is news, while a happy evening by the television is not. There is a tremendous amount of that going on. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu, told us, we have an airman, armed only with a bow and arrow who is a strong ally in this matter—I refer to the matter of 200 marriages and the work of Cupid in that direction.

Apart from that, I can offer no statistical evidence in support of what I say, but I can assure the House that my opinion is based on a very close personal attention to this matter, and on direct contact with those who are taking an active part. I welcome this opportunity of publicly declaring my thanks to those individuals and organisations who have made such a prompt and notable response, and once again I should like to thank Air Chief Marshal Pirie who has been so active and so forward in this work. I welcome this chance of replying to the noble Lord's Motion. I trust that I have done so to his general satisfaction. I am certainly very grateful to him for the interest that he and other speakers are taking in this matter. I. am particularly happy to dwell for some minutes on the consideration of the remarkably harmonious relations which exist between the United States Air Force in Britain and their British hosts, and which are such a fine example of the Anglo-American alliance in operation. I believe that we are working in a field of great significance and one which, if we cultivate it aright, will be fruitful indeed.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure the whole House would like me to thank the Minister for his excellent statement as to what exactly is being done in regard to this very important matter. I can only hope that he will bring his influence to bear on the British Information Services in America and all the other departments of information overseas, to see that his statement is well publicised in America—to use the words of a well known tune From Memphis to Mobile, Natchey to St. Joe, And to wherever the four winds blow. I should also like to thank other noble Lords who have taken an interest in this subject. I hope everybody realises that it is in the local areas that this matter really arises, and if anybody can help in his local committee I am sure he will be very welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.