Papers of Anne Patricia Kerr MP (1925 - 1973)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Contents:

U DMK/1 Member of Parliament for Rochester and Chatham

U DMK/2 Chair of Women Against the Common Market

U DMK/3 Miscellaneous

Member of Parliament for Rochester and Chatham

The files generated by Anne Kerr during her term as MP are made up of two main series, namely constituency correspondence and subject files. A complete series of the correspondence has survived, from the date of her election in 1964 to her defeat in 1970, with accompanying indexes [U DMK/1/1-57]. The subject files cover broadly the same period, although in some instances, where her political interests and activities predate her entry into Parliament, material of a much earlier date can be found. Her involvement in the campaign to abolish the death penalty is one such case, documented by files on Derek Bentley and capital punishment beginning in the early 1950s [U DMK/1/70 & 89]. Of particular interest is her correspondence with the parents of Derek Bentley in 1965 regarding their son's burial, as well as letters from the Home Office and the Royal Courts of Justice to the Bentleys dating from 1953-54, in response firstly to the appeals for clemency and secondly to their requests to visit their son's grave at Wandsworth Prison [U DMK/1/70].

A relatively even balance between foreign affairs and local issues is evident, although by far the greatest proportion of material on a single subject relates to Kerr's involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement. There are some 12 files of correspondence with constituents, members of the public and numerous protest groups in Britain and abroad, as well as documentation of two major peace conferences [U DMK/1/213-224, 225 & 228]. The origins and development of the peace movement are evident from minutes and newsletters produced by the British Council for Peace in Vietnam and Vietnam Medical Aid in particular [U DMK/1/213-221 & 223-224].

The perspective of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) is reflected by a series of eight reports issued by the government, documenting alleged war crimes by the US against medical establishments, religions and the education system, as well as a four-point plan for a settlement dating from April 1965 [U DMK/1/225]. In addition there are typescripts of the speeches made to the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam in 1967 by representatives of the DRV and the Peace Committee of South Vietnam [U DMK/1/228].

Kerr's files on Vietnam end in 1973, following the signing of a peace agreement on 27 January, and include typescript copies of the 'Text of the Vietnam agreement on ending the war, January 23' and of 'Dr Henry Kissinger's Press Conference, January 24', issued by the United Nations Information Service [U DMK/1/214].

Her interest in foreign affairs was not however confined to Vietnam and she focussed on several areas of the world in which conflict had erupted and basic human rights were under threat, such as Biafra, Greece, the Middle East, Rhodesia and South Africa [U DMK/1/71, 118-119, 158, 184 & 67]. These subject files comprise mainly correspondence, including letters received from the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, addressing her concerns, and press cuttings.

In addition her role in the wider peace movement is documented by various files devoted to individual campaign groups, international conferences on issues of peace and disarmament and the development of new methods of warfare, such as chemical and biological weapons [U DMK/1/87, 144 & 232; 88, 131, 133-4 & 209; 72 & 87]. The file on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament includes a number of letters between Kerr and individuals in the USA discussing the adoption of the now familiar peace symbol by CND [U DMK/1/87]. In addition there is information on the case of 'The Presidio 27', a group of US servicemen imprisoned as conscientious objectors to the Vietnam War and an appeal by Amnesty International (AI) on behalf of Pat Arrowsmith, an opponent of the Vietnam War imprisoned in Holloway gaol for refusing to 'keep the peace', AI's first British prisoner of conscience.

As a delegate to the Japan Congress Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs, which marked the 21st anniversary of the attack on Hiroshima in August 1966, Kerr acquired two Japanese posters publicising the event, as well as a copy of the Congress report [U DMK/1/134]. Later that same year, she attended the International Conference Against War Danger in New Delhi and received copies of numerous resolutions, papers and speeches, amongst the most notable being a statement on the role of non-alignment and a statement by the delegate of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Dr Khairi Hammad [U DMK/1/131]. The file labelled 'Peace' also contains a series of documents produced by the World Assembly for Peace which met in Berlin in June 1969 covering such issues as Vietnam, European security, fascism, the Middle East, colonialism and disarmament [U DMK/1/172].

The national debates and Parliamentary bills of the period involved a number of issues, such as abortion, the reform of divorce law and regulations on Sunday entertainments, about which Kerr felt particularly strongly on moral grounds [U DMK/1/62, 107, 202]. She consequently gathered information on these subjects and corresponded with interested parties, in the process of influencing the progress of discussion. Of the other ethical questions covered by her files, that of animal rights (and specific campaigns against vivisection and cruel sports) is a particular concern [U DMK/1/65-66, 102, 74 & 145].

At the local level, Kerr's activities were influenced by the needs and problems of her constituents, the most basic issues with which she had to deal being health services in the Medway towns and local transport facilities [U DMK/1/150-155; 75-77 & 80-85]. There are two files relating to the possible impact of local government re-organisation, set in train by the appointment of a Royal Commission in May 1966 and an important file relating to the future of Chatham dockyard in the light of the Dockyard Review and consequent Defence White Paper issued in early 1969 [U DMK/1/149 & 156; 91]. She received some 14 detailed letters from Dr David Owen, then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy, between July 1968 and April 1970, addressing the implications for the size and productivity of the labour force at Chatham [U DMK/1/91].

She campaigned for much-needed improvements to the leisure facilities in her constituency, as is clear from the file on Rochester swimming baths which includes 27 black and white photographs of the state of delapidation at the baths in the late 1960s [U DMK/1/185]. Her longstanding interest in housing matters (she had served on the housing committee of the LCC) is reflected in her involvement with the campaign to improve conditions at King Hill Hostel in West Malling, which served as temporary accommodation for homeless families, and her opposition to proposed rent increases for council tenants in Rochester, as expressed by the notes of a speech on housing policy given in October 1967 [U DMK/1/137; 194-195].

Another extensive series of files relates to her activities within the Labour Party, both at national and constituency level. Agenda, resolutions and reports are available for Party conferences between 1966 and 1971, as well as for the 47th National Conference of Labour Women held in May 1970 [U DMK/1/138-142; 143]. There is a mass of correspondence with the Secretary and Agent of Rochester and Chatham Labour Party, Len Burch, during her term as MP, as well as a file of Executive Committee minutes for 1968-1970 [U DMK/186-187; 188]. Of particular note is the file labelled 'Plot' dating from 1968, which reveals Kerr's suspicions that individuals within the constituency party were attempting to undermine her position as MP [U DMK/1/189]. As a member of the Tribune Group of Labour MPs, she was involved in the launch of the Socialist Charter in 1968 and the drafts prepared by a group in Sheffield and by Michael Foot MP are included amongst her papers [U DMK/1/208].

Accompanying her constituency correspondence and subject files are a number of scrapbooks containing press cuttings, relating mainly to the election campaigns which she fought in 1959, 1964, 1966 and 1970 and therefore complimenting the four files of correspondence, speech notes and publicity material available for the campaigns mounted in Rochester and Chatham [U DMK/1/236-249; 114-117].

Chair of Women Against the Common Market

Kerr's work for this pressure group is clearly documented by a series of minutes dating from WACM's foundation until June 1972 and correspondence with members of the committee until her death in 1973 [U DMK/2/2, 3]. There is also a series of correspondence with members of the public and WACM supporters over the same period, accompanied by an index [U DMK/2/4-8].

The main series of files is subject-based, relating to the co-ordination of the anti-Common Market campaign with other organisations and covering such events as the rally held in Trafalgar Square on 14 March 1971, lobbying of Parliament in May and October 1971 and 'Stay out Sunday' on 16 April 1972, which involved a trip to Calais to coincide with the French referendum on expansion of the European Community to include Britain [U DMK/2/41, 22, 27, 12]. The majority of material is in the form of correspondence and press cuttings, with several examples of leaflets and posters issued by anti-Common Market organisations. An incomplete series of minutes is also available for the Executive Committee of the Common Market Safeguards Campaign during 1970-72 [U DMK/2/11-12]. A list of the trade unions approached for support in 1971 is accompanied by the letters received from the union secretaries in response, whilst typescript summaries of the meetings held with various MPs, including Harold Wilson and Michael Foot, have also survived [U DMK/2/40, 29]. Two black and white photographs show Kerr participating in WACM demonstrations [U DMK/2/31].

Miscellaneous

The most noteworthy file within the miscellaneous section is that covering her relations with the Labour Party after her election defeat in 1970 [U DMK/3/3]. A letter from October 1970 expresses her desire to be included on the list of available parliamentary candidates, although this is then accompanied by correspondence with constituency parties all over the country rejecting their proposals to nominate her. Agenda, newsletters and correspondence issued by Twickenham Constituency Labour Party are also included.

Administrative / Biographical History

Anne Patricia Bersey was born on 24 March 1925 in Wandsworth, London and educated at state schools in Hammersmith and Exmouth. During the Second World War she served in the WRNS and was based at Plymouth, Dartmouth and Portsmouth. She met and married her first husband James Doran Clark, a Lieutenant in the Royal Marines, in 1944, a month before D-Day, and her son Patrick was born a year later. The marriage lasted eight years and ended in divorce. Her experiences as a WREN critically influenced her outlook on life and her consequent approach to politics, which was always coloured by a fundamental opposition to war.

After the war she worked in theatre, films, television and radio as an actress, interviewer and broadcaster. She joined the actors' union Equity in 1951 and became a member of the Labour Party at the age of 28. One of the first issues in which she became deeply involved was the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in Britain, which gained momentum in the 1950s in the wake of the execution of Derek Bentley. She was involved in the attempts to gain a reprieve for Bentley and in 1965 successfully campaigned for his remains to be removed from Wandsworth prison for a Christian burial [U DMK/1/70]. Following her election to London County Council (LCC) in 1958 as Labour Councillor for Putney, she used her political influence to make appeals to the Home Office on behalf of prisoners sentenced to the death penalty [U DMK/1/89]. She held her seat on the LCC until 1965, the year in which the bill to abolish capital punishment became law.

The religious perspective which she brought to bear on her political activities is revealed by her early involvement in Christian Action - she was a member of the Council of the organisation from the 1950s onwards and in this capacity undertook a seven-week tour of Eastern Europe in early September 1956 [U DMK/1/96]. She travelled as an assistant to Bob Jayatilaka, a Ceylonese MP, through East Germany, Poland (thereby witnessing the Poznan trials), Czechoslovakia (where they visited the 'murdered village' of Lidice) and Russia. Outside the Soviet Union itself they encountered a new atmosphere of liberty and a hatred of the Soviet system, a combination which was to prove so explosive in Hungary only weeks after their tour ended. An unpublished article by Roderick Ogley discusses this tour of Eastern Europe in some depth [U DMK/1/182]. She was also a member of the Christian Socialist Movement founded by Donald (later Lord) Soper in 1960, the Methodist Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship for Reconciliation [U DMK/1/97, 181].

In an attempt to enter national politics, she stood as Labour candidate for Twickenham in the 1959 general election, but was defeated. A year later she married for the second time to the Labour MP, Russell Whiston Kerr. At the next general election in 1964 she succeeded in becoming the Labour Member of Parliament for the constituency of Rochester and Chatham in Kent, taking the seat from the Conservatives. She was duly re-elected in 1966.

As an MP she was characterised as belonging to the radical wing of the Labour Party on a number of contemporary issues, such as the Vietnam War, nuclear disarmament and human rights. She was a founder member of both the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (in 1958) and the Committee of 100 (in 1960). She made several visits abroad to attend international conferences on issues of world peace and disarmament, including the congress in Tokyo in August 1966 marking the 21st anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, the International Conference Against War Danger held in New Delhi in November 1966, the conference organised by Voice of Women in Montreal in June 1967 and the 50th anniversary conference of the Peace Decree which withdrew Russia from the First World War [U DMK/1/133-134, 131, 88, 209].

Her participation at such events and her opposition to the Vietnam War earned her hostility in many quarters, including the local press. She was nonetheless a committed and active MP on behalf of her constituents and undertook many campaigns over such local issues as transport, leisure facilities, the position of pensioners and the future of Chatham dockyard.

As a signatory of the Socialist Charter launched by the Tribune Group of Labour MPs in June 1968, she advocated more systematic control of the British economy by government, subscribing to the idea of a planned economy based upon a substantial degree of public ownership [DMK/1/143 & 208]. This position brought her into conflict with the Labour government, particularly over its prices and incomes policy, which became law in July 1966 and which imposed a wage freeze and a corresponding restraint on prices [U DMK/1/178].

It was the Vietnam War however which made the greatest impact on her political life, bringing into focus her longterm concerns about threats to world peace and stability. She became involved with the anti-Vietnam war movement as early as 1965, attending a meeting of non-aligned peace groups in Britain in June of that year [U DMK/1/218]. She maintained contacts with a variety of organisations, such as the British Campaign for Peace in Vietnam, Vietnam Medical Aid, Joint Action for Peace, local peace councils and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), as well as American groups such as Women Strike for Peace [U DMK/1/211, 213-228]. She also received regular information from the Union of Women of Vietnam. As well as joining numerous demonstrations, she attended two major conferences organised by the peace movement, namely the Stockholm Conference on Vietnam in July 1967 and the Paris Conference of Women to End the War in Vietnam in April 1968 [U DMK/1/228, 225].

She used her influence as an MP to generate support for the aims of the peace movement, namely the unconditional cessation of bombing by the USA and immediate peace negotiations. In 1967 she organised a meeting of women opposed to the war, the outcome of which was a letter sent to the international press, Prime Ministers and Opposition leaders [U DMK/1/220]. She was particularly appalled by the evidence of war crimes by US troops and their Vietnamese allies against women and children and regularly raised such matters in Parliament. In November 1969 for example she highlighted the situation in Thu Duc prison in Saigon during a debate on the foreign policy aspects of the Queen's speech [U DMK/1/213].

In August 1968 at the height of opposition to American participation in the Vietnam war, she and her husband attended the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago as observers. An anti-Vietnam war demonstration held outside the Convention degenerated into a riot and she was caught up in the violence, summarily arrested, manhandled and detained overnight. She sustained several injuries, including severe burns and temporary blindness as a result of being sprayed in the face at close range with mace by the police. She was briefly detained and then released without charge. Her case received extensive publicity both in Britain and North America, which renewed in December 1969 when she returned to the United States to testify for the defence at the so-called Chicago conspiracy trial [U DMK/1/92]. Following the broadcast by the BBC of the American Civil Liberties Union film of the riots, she sued the City of Chicago for damages in July 1970 [U DMK/1/93].

After returning from America, she travelled to Londonderry at the invitation of the Civil Rights Association of Northern Ireland with her husband and the Labour MP for Uxbridge, John Ryan, to act as observers of the first civil rights march planned for the weekend of 5-6 October 1968 [U DMK/1/163]. As rioting erupted, she witnessed the violence at first hand. After the event she was concerned to highlight what she saw as evidence of police brutality, including the treatment received by Gerry Fitt, Republican Labour MP for West Belfast. Coming so soon after the riots in Chicago, her activities in Northern Ireland further fuelled those opponents of her radical stance on human rights.

In the 1970 general election she was defeated by the Conservative candidate Peggy Fenner, but remained on the Party's list of members willing to stand for Parliament [U DMK/3/3]. She began to devote an increasing amount of time to the campaign against Britain's entry into the Common Market and acted as Chair of the all-party pressure group Women Against the Common Market (WACM), which she helped to found in November 1970, until her death [U DMK/2]. Her commitment to the issue became such that she later refused several nominations as Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, which she was offered during 1971 and 1972 [U DMK/3/3].

Her particular concerns were the implications that membership of the Common Market would have for the price of goods in Britain and for trade relations between Britain and the Commonwealth. The main focus of the campaign was to lobby Parliament and maintain a high public profile, liaising with various anti-Common Market organisations, such as the Common Market Safeguards Campaign and the Keep Britain Out Campaign, as well as trade unions and sympathetic MPs.

Despite her activities through WACM, she had been profoundly affected by her arrest in Chicago and the slow progress of her suit against the City authorities exacerbated this. Shortly before her death on 29 July 1973, she received a letter from her lawyers in the United States enquiring if she wished to continue with her claim for damages [U DMK/1/93]. Six days later she died of alcoholic poisoning at her home in Twickenham. A verdict of death by misadventure was recorded at the inquest.

Conditions Governing Access

Data Protection Act applies (sensitive personal data)

Other Finding Aids

Entries in Modern political papers and Women's studies subject guides; entry on anti-Vietnam War movement in Pressure group archives subject guide

Custodial History

Donated by the Estate of Anne Kerr, 1974

Bibliography

Entry in Who Was Who, vol. VII, 1971-1980 Obituaries in The Times and The Guardian, 30 July 1973 Entry in Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. X Amanda L. Capern, ‘Kerr , Anne Patricia (1925–1973)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/42089, accessed 11 May 2006]

Subjects

Family Names

Personal Names