811.801/470: Telegram

The Chargé in Great Britain (Atherton) to the Secretary of State

60. The Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs sent for me last evening for “very serious” presentation of certain views of the British Government in connection with proposed legislation by Congress under Congressional Bills H. R. 8874 and H. R. 8875.1 Vansittart reminded me that in the Spring of 1931 when not un-similar legislation was pending he had discussed the matter with General Dawes. Since then, in his opinion, Congressional deliberations on this subject had been followed by interested concerns in this country and he gave as his personal opinion that recent questions as to British trade with the United States had been asked in Parliament as a possible preface to a motion before Parliament for some sort of retaliation if the Congressional Bills first above referred to did in fact become law. Vansittart continued in substance as follows.

The effect of the two Bills, and particularly of the cruises Bill H. R. 8875, is virtually to extend to the British and other territories adjoining the United States seaboard the principal effects of the United States coastwise shipping legislation.

Vansittart wished to represent the unwisdom, even in the interests of the United States themselves, of introducing measures still further restricting the freedom of navigation. Such measures might appear attractive if regarded as isolated provisions, but it should not be overlooked that, if other countries should adopt the same principle, international shipping would be threatened with a complete standstill. The definition of a fighting ship in Bill H. R. 8874 is such that almost any United States vessel could be so described. He mentioned that, while the greater part of American [Page 915]shipping services are run between United States ports and foreign ports, there are a steadily increasing number of services conveying traffic between two or more foreign ports, e. g. the Dollar Line, which carries an appreciable trade between Hong Kong and other British ports, and certain subsidiaries of the Matson Line, which have recently engaged in trade between Fiji, New Zealand and Australia; the general consequences must be considered in setting such a precedent of general application merely in order to deal with local conditions. In his opinion it was only natural so long as the policy of subsidizing (uneconomic) shipping services is maintained by the American Government foreign shipping lines affected should seek to compensate themselves for the detriment in which they are involved by looking for new openings.

These Bills, no less than the recently reintroduced King Bill,2 he felt were bound to cause very considerable feeling in shipping and commercial circles in England, who will ask that steps be taken to protect their interests, and accordingly there is envisaged the risk of adding to the existing obstacles in the commercial relations between the United States and British Empire, a result which Vansittart felt could not be desired by either Government. Vansittart pointed out that in discussing the LaFollette Bill in 1931 he had indicated to General Dawes that a demand for retaliation would almost inevitably arise, and he felt his observations then were more to the point today in view of present Parliamentary sentiment; it must be remembered that while Washington has to consider Congress and the special interests represented there, so the present government has to consider the greatly increased powers of Parliament and the interests in question here.

In closing Vansittart expressed the hope, in view of the economic policy of the British Government and in the views generally held here today on questions of this general nature, that I would convey this matter to my Government for its careful consideration “at this time”.

I may add that, evidently to avoid confusing issues, Vansittart did not wish to discuss the King Bill but nevertheless he could not conceal his general view that this measure involved an “interference in the domestic legislation in this country”.

  1. Congressional Record, vol. 75, pts. 3, 4, and 5, pp. 3389, 3629, and 5395. Identic bills S.3501 and S.3502 were introduced in the Senate the same session; see ibid., pt. 3, p. 3354.
  2. S.7 “To provide for the Deportation of Certain Alien Seamen, and for other Purposes”; see Foreign Relations, 1931, vol. i, pp. 815 ff., and post, pp. 944 ff. See also Congressional Record, vol. 75, pt. 1, p. 768.