The Parliamentarians: The History of The
Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, 19111985, Ian Grey, Gower Publishing
Company Limited, Hants, England, 319 p.
In September 1986 the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association marked its 75th anniversary with publication of an
official history by Ian Grey.
A first draft of this book was completed in
1974 by the British parliamentarian and historian Patrick Gordon Walker. The
Executive Committee of CPA felt it gave inadequate coverage to more recent
events. The Committee prevailed upon the Association's Editor of Publications to
finish the job. Mr. Grey, author of several highly readable histories, mostly
on Tsarist Russia, agreed but waited until retirement in 1983 to take on the
The twenty-three chapters each cover a
distinct period in the life of the CPA. The organization of the material leaves
no doubt as to Mr. Grey's mastery of the subject but the analysis is less
successful. The post 1970 period is still unsatisfactory. It now reads much
like a series of extracts from annual conferences or minutes of Executive
Committee meetings. Indeed many paragraphs are recognizable from various
reports and documents prepared over the past fifteen years.
The early period is somewhat more
interesting. It is essentially a biography of Howard d'Egville. This rather
remarkable character – a mixture of Machiavelli and Rasputin – wrote the
original constitution of the Association in 1911, served as Secretary of the
United Kingdom Branch until 1947 and was Secretary General of the Association
until he retired, somewhat against his will, in 1959 at age 84. D'Egville's
entire life and energy was devoted to the Association. We can only hope that
some history student or professor will latch upon Howard d'Egville and complete
the biography which Ian Grey has begun.
Howard d'Egville even spent the war years in
Canada and was seriously thinking of emigrating. He realized the importance of
Canadian-American relations and organized a number of exchanges with American
Congressmen. When he finally decided to return to London no further
Canada-United States parliamentary meetings were held for many years.
A book like this should have interested
Canadian parliamentarians for a number of other reasons. Canada was one of the
six original members of the Association and has played a leading role in
transforming the organization from an Empire to a Commonwealth body after the
War. Indeed Canada is now the only single country to form one of the
Association's seven Regions. This has given Canadians a significant role in
shaping the organization and has helped to give the Canadian Region (which
consists of the federal, provincial and territorial legislatures) a fairly high
profile among parliamentarians and non parliamentarians.
While Grey devotes considerable space to
d'Egville and other members of the British secretariat he tends to ignore the
influence of officials in other countries in the development of the
Association. Arthur Beauchesne, for example, had a prominent role in Canada and
no doubt there were other individuals in other countries. More significantly
the whole book is written from a British perspective. One cannot help but think
that the author would have benefitted by doing more of his research outside the
CPA Secretariat in London.
The most important thing about an official
history is to get it done. Having accomplished this perhaps it is now up to
others to analyze and reflect upon the relative importance of CPA in the
overall national and international political context.