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I

IN April, 1933, I was one of two delegates from Australia to attend the Conférence Parliamentaire Internationale du Commerce which sat in Rome. It was the eighteenth conference. My Australian colleague was Senator Grant, a representative of Tasmania in the Federal Parliament.

The delegates to the Rome Conference numbered two hundred. A month before the meeting a difficulty arose. The eastern European States were annoyed at certain happenings in Rome, especially the suggested Four-Power Conference. Blame was placed on Italy, and they decided not to come to Rome. Poland, Czecho-Slovakia, Rumania and Yugo-Slavia were particularly offended. It required all the tact of M. Baie, the Secretary-General, assisted by the Belgian Ambassador and others at Rome, to bring about a conciliatory view. Ultimately, Yugo-Slavia and Rumania were mollified. They sent large delegations. Czecho-Slovakia also sent a delegation, but Poland reduced her delegation from fourteen to three. Once all the delegates met together this hostile spirit disappeared, for


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the time being at all events. The great tact and hospitality of the Italian hosts and the general spirit of friendliness, if not of confidence, had its effect. Yugo-Slavs and Rumanians showed special sympathy towards the Empire delegates.

The Imperial Parliament delegation consisted of twenty-two members of the British House of Commons. Two of them were lady members—namely, Mrs. Ida Copeland and Miss Irene Ward. Amongst the others were: Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, Mr. P. J. Hannon, Sir Percy Hurd, Sir Philip Dawson, Sir Kenyon Vaughan-Morgan, Mr. I. J. Albery, Mr. C. E. R. Brocklebank, Sir William Davison, Mr. H. W. Kerr, Mr. O. Lewis, Mr. A. T. Lennox-Boyd, Major Llewellin, Mr. Geoffrey Nicholson, Sir Douglas Newton, Sir Assheton Pownall, Sir Samuel Roberts, Mr. J. Roland Robinson, and Major Sir Isidore Salmon. All the delegates from the British Empire paid their own travelling and hotel expenses. Colonel Crookshank was honorary secretary and Sir Stanley Johnson honorary treasurer. The chairman of the British delegation was the late Sir John Sandeman Allen. He could speak French and German fluently, and was well acquainted with international European politics. It was a high tribute to his urbanity and ability that before the close of the Rome Conference he was unanimously elected president of the conseil général for the following two years in place of the late Baron Deschamps, who had held the office since the inception of the Conference in 1914.

The delegates came from the legislative bodies of twenty-seven countries. Japan sent two delegates, the Argentine three, Germany seven, Australia two,


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Austria four, Belgium eight, Spain four, Hungary eighteen, Turkey seven, and Venezuela three. France sent what was perhaps the strongest delegation. There were twenty-seven French delegates, most of them men of high repute as parliamentarians. The delegates from Italy were also numerous, and included many of Italy's best-known statesmen.

There was a brilliant scene on the occasion of the opening of the Conference on Wednesday, April 19. It was held at the Capitol, with Signor Mussolini presiding as honorary president of the Conference. The King of Italy was present, and all the Diplomatic Corps in gorgeous costumes. The British Ambassador sat on the right hand of His Majesty. There was a remarkable gathering of distinguished Italians, mostly in military and naval uniforms ablaze with decorations. Flags hung from the walls. The hall was furnished in red and gold, and the attendants were clothed to match—red coats, old gold knee-breeches, pink silk stockings, buckled shoes, powdered wigs, and lace for neck and wrists.

Special instructions as to dress were issued to the delegates before they left their homes. They were expected to wear tall hats and morning clothes. Mussolini, stern of face, was in morning dress. As president, he sat on a chair raised above the audience, whom he faced. The King sat in a lower position, facing Mussolini and with his back to the audience. His Majesty, with his entourage, arrived with Mussolini. The speeches were addressed to the King and the Duce—“Your Majesty and Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen.”

The proceedings were opened by a short speech by


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the Governor of Rome formally welcoming the delegates. Then Count Martino, president of the Italian Conference Committee and one of Italy's elder statesmen, spoke of the Conference as being preparatory to the World Economic Conference in London, and emphasised the necessity to settle political issues at the same time as economic issues.

Mussolini was the most arresting figure at the Conference. Behind him stood a colossal statue of Cæsar. Mussolini's head, shoulders and body, both large and massive, are indicative of great strength. His high forehead, large nose and powerful jaws gave him the distinctive look of the old Roman of the times of the Cæsars. His hair was growing grey, and though but fifty years of age, yet war sufferings and heavy responsibilities told their tale in his face, and he looked much older. The most remarkable thing about him was his eyes; they were round, and glared with most piercing penetration. They never lost that strange look.

When he arose he received a tremendous ovation from the Italians present. Not a glimmer of pleasure or satisfaction appeared in his face. On the contrary, he tried to suppress it, and seemed displeased at being delayed by the prolonged cheering from getting on with his speech. Clearly he wanted to go on with the work, but he had to resign himself to the inevitable and suppress his impatience.

The cheering had not stopped when he began reading his speech. He spoke rapidly and with no declamation.

I remembered a remark he had made years previously,


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“We have tamed parliamentarism.” He did more; he destroyed it.

I wondered what he would have to say to representatives of parliaments from all parts of the world.

He was diplomatic and carefully avoided jarring references.

He recalled the fact that it was the third International Parliamentary Conference held in Rome, and asserted that, in the course of the twenty years of the organisation's existence, it had shown its vitality and the efficiency of its functions by rendering real services in the field of international commerce.

Mussolini then plunged into the subjects on the agenda, briefly dealing with each in turn, pointing out difficulties and hinting rather than suggesting solutions. “The solution of the economic problems under discussion,” he said, “is conditioned by the achievement of a better political atmosphere, towards which all statesmen in every part of the world are now turning, and by the reaching of a profound comprehension of the problems and difficulties of others on the part of those men who guide the economic destinies of the various countries.” He concluded by declaring the Conference open “in the name of His Majesty the King.”

The chairman of each of five delegations—namely, Germany, France, Great Britain, Japan and Rumania —then spoke, in alphabetical order. French was the language of the Conference.

Photograph Facing Page 336: The King of Italy Leaving the Capitol. After opening the Conférence Parlementaire Internationale du Commerce in April, 1933 (eighteenth year). Signor Mussolini is on the King's left.



Hitler had just come into power in Germany. The sensational doings of his party filled the newspapers.


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Captain Goering, President of the Reichstag and Premier of Prussia, was the leader of the German delegation. His reputation was that he was the extremist of the Hitler party, a party that in the eyes of the world was itself far too extreme. Captain Goering was supposed to be more Hitler than Hitler himself. It was generally understood that a friendly understanding had been brought about between the Hitlerites and the Fascists and that Germany and Italy had come closer together in consequence.

There was a hush when Captain Goering rose.

He looked the youngest of the speakers—a soldierly man, erect with square shoulders, a set determined face, fair, with hair brushed upwards, and a decidedly German appearance. He spoke in German. The previous speeches were in Italian and had been read. Captain Goering spoke extempore and forcefully and as though he had something definite and important to say.

He made it clear that in his opinion the depression could not be dealt with properly until party politics as generally understood had been got rid of. He said that in the presence of great changes, and in view of threats by subversive forces in Europe, he was glad the Conference was meeting in the capital of such a well-disciplined nation. The forces of evil should first be suppressed, and therefore political action should precede economic action.

There was no doubt about the definiteness of Captain Goering's speech. There were no platitudes in it. Whatever else it was, it was bold, and it was unquestionably the most remarkable utterance of the whole Conference proceedings.




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Sir John Sandeman Allen spoke in English. He was the only one who introduced a touch of humour into his remarks. He mentioned the problems of the Conference and the way their solution should be approached, adding, with a bright twinkle in his eyes, and turning to Mussolini and Goering, “on these lines even members of parliament may prove useful.”

A Japanese viscount delivered an address in Japanese. It occupied about half an hour. Everyone sat and wondered what it was all about. The King was a picture of patient resignation. Mussolini wore a look of amazement. Goering had an indignant frown. Finally the speaker finished. A sigh of relief went up, but another Japanese got up, and for twenty minutes gave us a translation in French of what the viscount had said.

It then appeared that the worthy Japanese had been all the time endeavouring to impress on us how strenuously Japan was striving to maintain peace in the Orient, especially in China and Manchuria.

Of the many banquets and other entertainments provided for the delegates in Rome, the most attractive was the dinner given to them and their ladies by Signor Mussolini at the Palazzio Venetzia, erected in 1455 for Pope Paul II., who was a Venetian. It was an immense gathering of men and women, most of them people of distinction.

The Duce was a perfect host—gracious and affable to all. His wife does not live in Rome, but prefers a quiet life in the country with her children, and is never seen at public functions. Mussolini sat between two charming


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ladies, one the wife of the British Ambassador and the other the wife of the Belgian Ambassador. They evidently interested him, and he looked pleased. Happily there were no speeches. When the host and his guests went to another room he went freely among them, and seemed desirous of meeting personally visitors from distant countries. His knowledge of English was extraordinarily good, considering that he had begun to learn it only two years previously. The delegates from Australia were presented to him. He talked freely with us. He asked me if it were my first visit to Italy. I told him that some forty years previously I had been there and that I had visited it many times later. He inquired if I had seen many changes in it. I replied that there were many signs of improvement. Everything was altered for the better, and the Italy of to-day was a new Italy as compared with Italy as it was before the war. When I added that even in far-away Australia the people knew who was responsible for the improvement, his eyes sparkled, and he looked pleased.

Mussolini, as host, was a brighter Mussolini than the Mussolini of the Conference.

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