Great Britain and United States (Inter-Parliamenary Union)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 11th September 1942.

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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 armedconflicts, 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 tosustain 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.