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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Photo of Mr Ernest Thurtle Mr Ernest Thurtle , Shoreditch

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.