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Mr Eden's Visit To United States And Canada

Volume 388: debated on Thursday 8 April 1943

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I take this opportunity to make to the House a brief report of the visit which I have recently made to the United States at the invitation of the United States Government, and to Canada on the invitation of the Canadian Government. I need hardly tell the House that I was very glad to accept both these invitations. More than a year ago it fell to my lot to pay a visit to Moscow, where I had a conversation about political questions, both present and future, with M. Stalin and M. Molotoy. I therefore welcomed all the more cordially this opportunty to have similar discussions with the United States Government. The House may perhaps notice that the terms of the communiqué issued on my arrival were very wide. I can assure the House that the discussions were equally wide in scope. I can assure the House too that nothing could have exceeded the cordiality shown by everyone in the United States and in Canada to their British visitor. The President himself was very liberal in the time that he gave to me. I had repeated conferences with him, both alone and in company with his advisers. I was, during the latter part of my stay in Washington, his guest at the White House. Mr. Cordell Hull equally extended to me a most generous welcome, and he instructed his Department to place itself, during the period of our visit, entirely at the disposal of myself and my colleagues from the Foreign Office, a gesture which, I can assure the House, was deeply appreciated, and of which we made the fullest use in our power.

I think perhaps it would be appropriate if I were to tell the House at this point that with the full approval of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister I extended, while I was in Washington, an invitation to the American Secretary of State to come and pay us a visit in this country at any time convenient to him during the course of this summer. I am sure the House will endorse me when I say that if he does find it possible to come, he will have the most cordial welcome, both on his own account and on account of the great country he represents.

I also had the advantage of meeting Vice-President Wallace and, I think, every member of the Cabinet of the United States. But there was one particular opportunity which I had of which I must give a special account to this House, for it was of a Parliamentary character. Thanks to the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate, Senator Connally, and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Representative Sol Bloom, I was able to have informal discussion with members of the two Committees drawn from both parties in the two Houses of Congress. The House, of course, is aware of the important part these Committees play in the national life and in the policy of the United States. That for me was a most valuable experience. We exchanged views very freely off the record to my very great advantage and, I hope, perhaps just a little bit to theirs too. At any rate the exchanges were frank and ranged over every topic and every view. During a brief interval, a week-end, I spent a little time in New York, where I was able to meet other prominent American political figures, such as Mr. Hoover, Mayor La Guardia and Mr. Wilkie, and also many writers for the Press and commentators on the air, for whose courtesy to me I must express my thanks. Thus I think the House will see that I had a pretty wide opportunity of gauging and trying to understand the various trends of opinion in the United States at this time.

The conversations in which I was engaged fall broadly under three chapter headings. The first was what I may call operational matters, that is to say, immediate questions concerned with the conduct of the war of a type and character that do not normally fall under the aegis of the Foreign Office. These are the type of questions which arise always, in times of war, between two Allies engaged in a common struggle, and the opportunity of a visit by a member of the War Cabinet is taken to try to regulate or make progress with them. These questions quite evidently are not such as I can describe and present to this House at the present time, but on this subject I think that both the Prime Minister and I were well satisfied with the progress made.

The second chapter heading covers the question of political co-operation between us in connection with actual military operations that have taken place or that will take place. It is obvious to the House that as the war progresses it becomes more and more important that there should be close co-ordination in the political sphere as in the military sphere, and in some respects, may I say, it is more difficult to obtain, because you may be faced with political developments as a result of military action which no man can foresee. It remains true that if we can get this close political co-ordination, if we have a close understanding, at least we are better able to stand the strains and stresses which will inevitably arise as the military campaigns progress. That is what we sought to do.

I would like to give one example, which I think may interest the House, of the difficulties. I take North Africa. There is no doubt that it is felt in the United States that there has been some misunderstanding in this country of the purposes the United States Administration had in mind in maintaining relations with Vichy. I can assure the House that their motive for doing that was not special tenderness for Vichy but because they thought, and we agreed with them, that by maintaining relations with Vichy it was possible to keep open a useful window on Europe which must otherwise be shut. I have no doubt that we were right and that they were right. Let me take another example. It was only through the maintenance of those relations that the American Government were able to place a considerable number of agents in North Africa who were quite invaluable in paving the way for the arrival of the Allied troops. No such thing would have been possible had not those relations been maintained. It was quite clear to me that many in the United States feel that we have not understood the motives which prompted their action and have attributed to them a tenderness for Vichy or Pétain or Laval and the rest of them which in fact they do not feel. I mention that to show that that is the kind of topic which it is invaluable should be talked out between those responsible in the two countries. At any rate, we did talk it out, and I am satisfied that as regards future policy towards France there is complete agreement between us. We and the United States have only one desire, to see all sections of the French people who are prepared to fight the common enemy united together. We will do what we can to help them to unite, though it is not always a very easy task.

We examined as well as that our common policy in respect of Spain, Portugal, Turkey and the other remaining neutrals in Europe and agreed on our policy in all respects in regard to those countries. We examined together conditions in other parts of Europe, both enemy Europe and enemy-occupied countries. We agreed that our common policy would be strengthened by the freest exchange of our knowledge of what was going on in those countries and of our interpretation of the information that came to us, and we have certain plans which are being elaborated for trying to improve the exchange of information under this head. As regards the occupied countries there is only one policy which we and the United States Government are pursuing, which is to do all in our power to restore to them their full liberty at the earliest possible moment.

That was the second chapter heading. The third was described in the communiqué as "Other questions arising out of the war," so that these subjects covered the widest range. They included such questions as the practical problems which will arise on the surrender of the enemy, and the task which will face the United States Government, our Government, the Soviet Government, the Chinese Government, and the other Governments of the United Nations, in safeguarding the world against further aggression. As the President has made plain in his published statement, on all those topics we found a very close similarity of outlook. Admittedly, these exchanges were entirely exploratory in character. They neither committed the American Government nor ourselves, nor could they do so, because other Governments have to be consulted and exchanges have to take place with those Governments. The last thing we wanted to do was to present our Allies with a hard and fast agreement reached between the two of us. That was never in our minds. I have come back greatly encouraged by the large measure of general agreement we found. I am certain that that will be of great value to us in the further exchanges we shall have, both with the United States and with other Governments who are our Allies.

Perhaps I may be allowed here one observation on the nature of our relations generally with the Government and people of the United States. I think it is a mistake to attempt to base those relations mainly upon sentiment. We might not always like each other very much. I think it is also a mistake to try to base them on common origin, or common parentage, or even common language, because there will be occasions when we differ one from the other. But I think it is desirable to base them on their true foundation, which is a common interest in the maintenance of world peace and in preventing a repetition of these catastrophic world conflicts every 20 years. If we keep to that foundation, we shall be in less danger of the ups and downs which we have sometimes seen in Anglo-American relations. I believe that definition to be profoundly true, and I believe it to be well understood on both sides of the Atlantic at the present time.

We, here, recognise the need for some authority to ensure by force that neither Germany, Italy nor Japan should be able to repeat their aggression. I believe the American people share that view and that if this authority is to be effective all peace-loving nations will have to contribute their part too. Of the last 30 years, we in this country have spent eight at war with Germany and nobody can yet say when will be the end of the present struggle. I reported to the United States Government that if I could judge the temper of the people here aright, there was no disposition, when this struggle was over, to trust to luck and hope for the best, and I found exactly the same view in the United States. Therefore, I say that while it would be the height of unwisdom to cease to concentrate our thought and effort on the main task of winning the war, while it would be a mistake to distract ourselves with many prolonged public debates on post-war problems, at the same time it is necessary that the Governments of the countries principally concerned shall begin now to make certain preparations so that they may not be completely unready when the moment comes. It seems to me that the matter was very well expressed by Mr. Sumner Welles a little while ago when he said:
"We cannot afford to permit the basic issues by which the destiny of humanity will be determined to be resolved, without prior agreement, by a group of harassed statesmen working against time."
Our conversations in Washington were intended to safeguard against just that danger. They constitute a beginning. A start has been made in the best conditions and I claim no more for them than that. They will be followed up.

Before I leave the United States perhaps the House will bear with me on just two matters, not in the same sense essentially political, to which I would refer and which I think may be of interest. The chief public occasion which it fell to my lot to attend in the United States was a Joint Session of the two Houses of the Legislature of Maryland, and after my speech in that historic Senate House, the Legislature were good enough to pass a Resolution in the most generous terms towards the people of this country. Not only did they pass one, but a number of other State Legislatures pursued the same course and I think the House would wish me to read the Resolution passed by the Maryland Legislature, so that they may, if they will, endorse my action in expressing thanks for its terms. This is what it says:
"Be it resolved by the House of Delegates of Maryland, in solemn assembly gathered, that it hereby formally registers for itself and for the citizens of Maryland whom it represents, its deep respect for the impressive battle given by our valiant Britannic Ally in her mortal conflict with the Axis Powers, a respect firmly based upon the known qualities of the British people, their unconquerable resolution in the cause which they and we deem to be right, their refusal to admit thoughts of defeat even in their darkest hours, their phenomenal energy, their astonishing self-discipline, their noble effort to cling to the paths of honour despite the indecencies of the enemy; in a word, upon all those traits by which a people comes to be known as great and to be admired accordingly.
Be it further resolved that rather than commend the example to the people of Maryland as has been done so often and so warmly in the past, the House of delegates takes this occasion to express to the people of Britain through her Foreign Minister the highest compliment of which it feels capable, the sincere desire to emulate their greatness;
And be it further resolved that these Resolutions be spread upon the journal and that the Speaker through his Excellency Governor O'Conor deliver a copy of these Resolutions to Mr. Eden in person."
I think the House will feel that that is a very generous message. I wish that time allowed me to read the others, but it does not.

One other experience I would refer to. For two or three days I was fortunate enough to go down into the deep South, in the company of General Marshall, the much-esteemed Chief-of-Staff of the American Forces. There, I saw a very large number of camps, containing, most of them, tens of thousands of airmen and soldiers. I was deeply impressed with what I saw and with the spirit of these young men. Their equipment and their accommodation were first-class, as one would expect in the United States. It was also a pleasing experience to see Sherman tanks firing, even if it was only at bits of wood. But all that one would expect to be good. What was remarkable was the spirit of those men. I am convinced that nowhere in the world is there a finer reservoir of really first-class material than among these troops and airmen in the United States of America.

One final experience. For a day I was able to go to see something of the American naval forces and also of these bases, in the company of an old and valued friend of Anglo-American relations, Colonel Knox, and there I had an experience which was especially stimulating. It was to see one of our greatest battleships, which has been repaired in an American yard, now almost complete and to see her crew, and to learn from them, at first hand, how splendid during many months had been their relations and their friendship with their comrades in the United States. There is immense value for the future in the work done here and in America for understanding between our two Services. My closing impression of the United States was one of a young and vigorous people, wholehearted in the struggle and determined to work together with the other United Nations, in the war and in the peace.

Now for a few minutes, if the House will allow me, I want to travel to Canada, where I spent three days in Ottawa at the invitation of the Prime Minister. They were very crowded days. I had the opportunity of meeting those responsible for Canada's truly amazing war effort. I had two meetings with the War Committee, which corresponds roughly with our own War Cabinet here at home. I told them of my talks in Washington and we exchanged views on many matters of common interest to us. Then I addressed a Joint Session of the Canadian Parlia- ment—members of the Senate and members of the House of Commons—and there, I regret to have to report, that, all unwittingly, I committed a gross breach of the Censorship rules. I informed the Canadian Parliament that we were now meeting "in another place"; but I did go on to assure them that we were doing so in excellent spirits despite the action of the enemy and the august nature of our new surroundings. I would like once again here to pay our tribute to Canada's record of achievement. I came away with the impression of a great people, steadfast and loyal in the struggle, proud to be a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and proud, too, of its splendid loyalty in our darkest hour. I am the bearer of a message of good will from the Canadian Parliament, which I would like to read to the House. It was voiced in the concluding words of the Prime Minister's speech. Mr. Mackenzie King said:
"In conclusion, Mr. Eden, may I ask you on your return to Britain if you will take with you the most loyal of greetings and expressions of devotion from His Majesty's Canadian subjects to the King and Queen? Will you also take with you the warmest and best wishes to the Prime Minister of Britain? Tell Mr. Churchill how relieved we all were at his speedy recovery after the unfortunate indisposition he suffered on his return from North Africa, and tell him we do hope and pray that he will continue to the end to enjoy the vision, wisdom and the endurance which he has manifested from the beginning in his conduct of the affairs of this war. And tell him, and tell all the people of Britain, that Canada is heart and soul with them in this struggle, and we shall continue so to remain until the fight itself is ended and victory and peace have been achieved."
In my time it has fallen to my lot to visit many foreign capitals, on a variety of missions. It is always difficult to assess the value of such visits. There are always imponderables, incalculable factors, which it is difficult to estimate at that time. I can only say sincerely to the House, that I feel convinced myself that no other mission with which I have been charged has been so fundamentally worth while as this. I have come back, I say frankly, with a different view of the sentiments of the United States towards both this struggle and the post-war period. I believe that the opportunities that have been opened to us, great as the difficulties are, are wider in scope than I thought possible. If, as a result of these conversations, to however small an extent, I have been able to make a contribution to Anglo-American relations, I shall feel that nothing could have been more worth while.

May I repeat what I said a little earlier—but what was not then heard—how warmly we welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to the House of Commons; and may I also say how much we welcome the statement he has made to us to-day? It would, in my view, be inappropriate to pursue the matter further at this stage; but I would say that, in my view, and, I feel, in the view of the House, this visit has been very well worth while, and much good may come of it. One can only hope that the visit of the Secretary of State of the United States over here will be equally fruitful in co-operation. I would just suggest this point to my right hon. Friend. He has touched very lightly on many points. Perhaps before long there may be opportunities for the House to discuss some of them.

Does the Prime Minister still feel that that statement which has been made by the Foreign Secretary does not contain many matters which would be worthy of some discussion in the House? [Interruption.] I am suggesting that perhaps the Prime Minister might revise his view that this statement would be a non-controversial one; and that it might be discussed.

It would be better if that could be done on some particular occasion.