United States of America Congress (Delegation)

– in the House of Commons on 14th March 1944.

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Photo of Sir Albert Braithwaite Sir Albert Braithwaite , Buckrose

I beg to move, This House, desiring to promote a closer association between the British Parliament and the Congress of the United States, requests Mr. Speaker on its behalf to invite the Congress of the United States to send a delegation of its Members to visit Parliament at as early a date as may be convenient. In November last, the British-American Parliamentary Association, a body representative of both Houses of Parliament and of all parties, requested me, whilst in Washington, to ascertain from the Congress of the United States whether they would be disposed to accept an invitation for a delegation of their members to visit this country as the guests of Parliament. The chairman of the British-American Parliamentary Association, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Walter Elliot), whose absence I am sure everybody regrets to-day—wbo is we know carrying out very important public duties abroad—wrote a letter to Mr. Speaker Rayburn of the United States Congress, House of Representatives, which, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to read to the House: My Dear Speaker Rayburn,The proposal which Major A. N. Braithwaite, Member of Parliament, wishes to lay before you on behalf of the Anglo-American, or rather British-American Parliamentary Group, is that an official invitation to your legislature, Congress, to visit our legislature, Parliament, should be sent from Parliament here:The point of this invitation would be that it should go from Parliament itself on the initiative of Members through the spokesmen of our two Houses—the Speaker and the Lord Chancellor—to the heads of your two Houses—yourself and the Vice-President. The invitation would not arise from, or be in any way connected with, the Government here. The invitation, if these preliminary talks showed it desirable, would be moved in each House by a senior back-bench, i.e. non-Government, Member of Parliament, and be assented to, as I can assure you it would be, by Parliament as a whole. The visitors from Congress would be, during their visit, the guests of Parliament, and all arrangements for their reception and st would be under the authority of Members of Parliament and not any Department of State.I trust very much that it will be possible for such a visit to come about. We in Parliament have long felt the desirability of closer contact with the elected representatives of the people on your side, representatives speaking to representatives as such, without intermediary. This proposal seems to us, after full consideration, the most practical and hopeful way of undertaking what Parliament and, I hope, Congress, would warmly welcome.Yours sincerely,WALTER ELLIOT. On my arrival in Washington, our Ambassador, Lord Halifax, was informed of my mission, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the leaders of both political parties in the Senate and in Congress, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of both Houses, and the Party Whips were all most cordial, and very anxious to co-operate in every way with Parliament here. They fully realised the importance of this historic step, and I was able to return to this country at the end of January with the following reply from Mr. Speaker Rayburn: My Dear Colonel Elliot,Your kind proposal delivered through the courtesy of Major A. N. Braithwaite, is before me. I think it would be a splendid thing if a Committee representing your Parliament could visit the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States and, in turn, a Committee from the American Congress could visit the British Houses of Parliament. Therefore, I say we are in accord with your suggestion and, at a time when it is convenient, we trust that these visits may be made In our country, the Members of the House of Representatives stand for election every two years. 1944 is one of those years. Members must go through a primary election in their own party, and then the election in November. This, as you will see, creates a practical difficulty until after the elections, but, this I hasten to state, does not present an insurmountable difficulty. If the Houses of Parliament should issue an invitation to us, we would handle it sympathetically and, in return, under our rules and regulations, of course would be pleased to invite a committee from your Parliament. With assurance of high respect.Sincerely yours,SAM RAYBURN. The President of the United States, Mr. Roosevelt, was informed of the result of our talks, and he wrote a letter to me, in which he said: I am very pleased at the success of your mission here. I have watched the development of fraternal relations between our Congress and the British Parliament for a long period of years with deep satisfaction. All Americans take pleasure in this healthy and cordial evolution.Very sincerely yours,FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT. In the early days of the war we formed in this House the British-American Parliamentary Committee, whose terms of reference were to seek a closer and more intimate association with the Congress of the United States of America. The House will recall that Their Majesties the King and Queen paid a visit to the peoples of the United States in June, 1939. They established then in the minds and hearts of the American people a new and closer understanding, and left behind them a deep sense of real affection. Their charm and understanding have paved the way for a real and lasting friendship.

When the war came our friends on the other side rallied to our aid. None of us in this House can forget their generous gestures—the children whom they were prepared to succour in such large numbers, the help of the American relief organisations, the passing of Lend-Lease legislation, their subsequent entry into the war. The gallantry of their soldiers, sailors and airmen fighting alongside us to-day arouses in our people feelings which are very hard to put into words. In all this time there, has been a complete accord between the Executives and the staffs, military, naval, air and supply, all along the line, but at no point has there been any contact between the elected representatives on both sides of the Atlantic, who ultimately are the voice of the peoples on both sides and have to pass any legislation that is necessary. This is a weak link which I am sure everybody in Parliament and in Congress will wish to strengthen at the earliest possible opportunity. The heavy responsibilities that lie ahead of every one of us make it essential that we should have an intimate knowledge of our opposite numbers, and that we should establish such accord that complete confidence and unanimity of purpose can be maintained.

This is a historic occasion without precedent in the history of Parliament. We hope it is opportune, and that our invitation may be accepted. Hitherto there has been an indefinite something which seems to have kept our Legislatures at arm's length. Surely if there are any skeletons in the cupboard now is the time for them to be brought out and publicly destroyed. Nothing can be more important to the future of the world than a sound understanding between our two corporate bodies. You, Mr. Speaker, I discover have anticipated the wishes, I am sure, of Congress and Parliament, because you have already established contact with your opposite number. Indeed, you have had a meeting across the wireless of Congress and Parliament. Congress was represented by the Speaker of Congress, the majority leader, Mr. McCormack, and the minority leader, Mr. Martin; and you, Mr. Speaker were supported by the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton), the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson)—a formidable team who debated many problems across the ether of the Atlantic. It was a broadcast which was very interesting to everybody in America and particularly to those members of the House of Representatives who took part.

You anticipated and know that the same humane and generous impulses stir in the hearts of both our people. Destiny has placed in the hands of those two great democratic assemblies, an influencing power on world affairs which must last for a very long time. However difficult and insoluble things may appear we must try, in consort with our Russian and Chinese Allies, to bring out of the horrors of this war a world of united nations in which people can live in security, happiness and peace. No man has played a more important part on this side in that good relationship than our Prime Minister. His dogged courage and high resolve have won for him a place in the admiration, affection and esteem of every American, and during his last illness the prayers and the thoughts of the people throughout the whole of the United States were with him. He has made a very notable contribution to the good relationship that exists to-day.

I should not like to conclude these brief remarks without expressing my thanks to our Ambassador, Lord Halifax, an old House of Commons man, and to the right hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Ben Smith), our Resident Minister of Supply in Washington. Both of them were most helpful to me during my weeks in Washington, and gave me a great deal of very valuable advice and help. This problem is an urgent one, and it is in this spirit of fellowship, cemented by the common sacrifices of both our peoples, that we earnestly hope it will be found possible for Congress to visit us to establish those closer contacts and to achieve that spirit of co-operation which are a preliminary to the new world. The promptings that give rise to these proposals, to be successful, must come spontaneously from within our two bodies. They cannot be imposed on us mechanically from without. Therefore, when our American guests come to this ancient and honourable House the occasion will mark a milestone along the road of international co-operation, and this war will not have been fought in vain if it has established in both our countries a spirit of tolerance and respect and of understanding of our urgent responsibilities to mankind.

Photo of Mr Aneurin Bevan Mr Aneurin Bevan , Ebbw Vale

I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so, I wish to associate with it the names of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) and the other hon. Members whose names appear upon the Order Paper in support of the Motion. I am sure the House will agree with me that I cannot add anything to the reasons which have already been given and to those which will, I am sure, arise spontaneously in the minds of all hon. Members as they have considered the Motion. The war has, indeed, interrupted the normal intercourse between ourselves and the representatives of the American people, and I hope this method will be a continuing one of bridging the distances that are separating us. Therefore, I commend the Motion to the approval of the House.

Photo of Sir Percy Harris Sir Percy Harris , Bethnal Green South West

It is right and proper that all parties should he associated with this Motion. On this occasion I am speaking as acting chairman of the British American Association in the absence of my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot) who, I know, would like very much to have been associated with the moving of this Resolution. An evidence of the intense interest in the United States is the fact that this Association, which has been in existence only since the war, has over 400 members. Last summer it was my good fortune to be in America. I was there primarily to attend a meeting at Ottawa under the auspices of the Empire Parliamentary Association of British Parliaments. Half way through the conference we were joined by seven representatives from Congress, who came under a Resolution from both Houses. In a committee-room of the Canadian Parliament we had an opportunity to discuss various problems arising out of the war. At the end of that conference some of us had the privilege of travelling back with our guests to Washington, where we had an unequalled opportunity to see Congress at work and, to make personal contacts with its members.

Congress, as hon. Members know, is in many ways different from Parliament, both as regards the shape of its Chamber and as regards its procedure. While I was there I dared to hope that one day a Motion of the kind now before us would appear on the Order Paper of the House of Commons and therefore it is a satisfaction to me to see now this Motion brought before us. The House will agree that no time is more opportune for a visit of this character than the present. We have vast armies of American soldiers, sailors and airmen in our country, with many of them fighting alongside our men in Italy. I am told there is no precedent for a Motion of this kind, and I think that nothing could be more fitting, Mr. Speaker, than that during your first year of office you should be asked to convey invitation of the character indicated in this Motion from the Mother of Parliaments to the great American Congress.

Photo of Colonel Sir Henry Evans Colonel Sir Henry Evans , Cardiff South

As one who at this time last year was charged by you, Mr. Speaker, to convey a message to the Speaker of the House of Representatives at Washington, and by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, to present a similar message to the Presiding Officer of the Senate, I welcome this opportunity to associate myself, and particularly my colleagues of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, with this Motion: On, the occasion of my visit to the Capitol, I was accompanied by His Majesty's Ambassador, Lord Halifax, when the Leaders in both Houses of Congress, in speeches which have been recorded in the Congressional Record and were subsequently confirmed in correspondence, expressed their determined intention that a representative delegation of Senators and Congressmen should visit us here as soon as circumstances permitted. I might add that at an audience which President Roosevelt was kind enough to grant me on the same day, as the representative of my colleagues, he also expressed his cordial approval of the coming visit. We are delighted to know that the time for it has now arrived, and I would like to congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) on the success he has achieved in making the preliminary arrangements. Not only the whole House, but indeed the whole nation, Mr. Speaker, will eagerly look forward to their visit, in the confident belief that yet another link will have been forged in the chain which will bind our two peoples ever closer as the years pass.

Photo of Mr Anthony Eden Mr Anthony Eden , Warwick and Leamington

This is, essentially, a House of Commons and not a Government occasion, and therefore the words I shall speak will be few and will be spoken not as Foreign Secretary but as Leader of the House with, I hope, the assent of the House. I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member fiat Buckrose (Major Braithwaite) is to be congratulated on his initiative, and those who work with him share in those congratulations. He certainly accomplished a clever piece of diplomacy when he was in Washington. The friendship of the British people with the people of the United States is deep and abiding. Our contacts in these war years have been at every level, Ministerial, official, Chiefs of Staff and, above all, the Forces fighting in the field. It seems appropriate that by this Motion we here in this House should strive to complete the circle of comradeship. I believe this Motion will serve to do this and I trust the House will send it forth with its most ardent good wishes.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Maldon

Since Members of various parties have expressed their support of this Motion, and since, after all, the United States began with a Declaration of Independence, it is not, perhaps, inappropriate that a single Independent Member of this House should add his very warmest support to this admirable Motion.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved: This House, desiring to promote a closer association between the British Parliament and the Congress of the United States, requests Mr. Speaker on its behalf to invite the Congress of the United States to send a delegation of its Members to visit Parliament at as early a date as may be convenient.