asked the Minister of Information whether he is aware that much concern has been caused abroad in recent weeks by irresponsible and exaggerated messages which have been sent from London by certain Press correspondents; and whether the Government will control, by censorship, the dissemination of such stories which are calculated to create ill-feeling overseas?
Yes, Sir. The prevalence of such complaints from abroad has made it necessary for the Government recently to review the position and to inquire into the adequacy of the instructions at present given to censors in regard to outgoing messages of a harmful character.
Hitherto, the censorship of Press messages going abroad has been confined to the interception of any information that would be likely to be useful to the enemy in a military sense This is what we mean when we speak of a security censorship. Secondly, it has always been understood that except in the case of some serious infringement of security by a publication in this country, correspondents are free to despatch abroad extracts from anything that had once been published at home. These rules have, I regret to say, proved not altogether adequate for the protection of certain essential interests of this country abroad, where on several occasions the true position here has been gravely misrepresented and stories emanating from London have been published which could only foment ill-feeling between ourselves and our Allies or neutral countries.
In future censors will be empowered to exercise a stricter control with a view to stopping any Press message calculated to create ill-feeling between the United Nations, or between them and a neutral country—a measure which is surely essential in time of war. Moreover, diplomatic exchanges between these countries cannot be allowed to be prejudiced by unauthorised and premature disclosures. Similarly, extracts from home publications which are submitted for cabling abroad will in future be subject to the same rules of censorship as are now to be applied in the case of original material.
There is no intention or desire to apply these new instructions in any arbitrary or unreasonable manner; they are, in fact, designed solely to prevent the outside world from receiving a distorted picture of conditions and events in this country and to protect this country's essential interests. It will be seen that the alterations contemplated do not in any way affect the home Press.
While I do not cavil at what has been done, will my right hon. Friend be good enough to assure the House that these more stringent new measures will apply to the publication of technical facts of military importance which throughout the war have conveyed information of the greatest importance to the enemy, facts which have been repeatedly raised and quoted on the Floor of the House?
I am very much obliged to the hon. Member for his suggestion, and I quite agree with him. We have very good reason to know that a lot of important information goes to the enemy by the public Press and certain types of trade papers.
May we be assured that there is nothing in my right. hon. Friend's statement which would preclude foreign correspondents in this country from sending out information as to the conditions here, providing it does not infringe upon any principle of military secrecy? Otherwise, invented accounts would take the place of accounts purporting to be accurate.
Will this extension of powers affect the Press representatives from the Dominions and Colonies, and if it does, have the right hon. Gentleman and the Government consulted with the Governments of the Dominions and Colonies before taking this step?
I am sorry if I did not make my point clear. Does this restriction affect the Press representatives of the Dominions and Colonies operating here, and if it does, have consultations taken place between this Government and the Governments of the representatives affected by the extension of the powers?
Certainly, it affects the representatives of Dominion and Colonial newspapers here. I do not know that any special steps have been taken to consult with the Dominions, but they have been informed. I have been given extracts from various speeches made by leaders in the Dominions condemning some of the stuff that has been sent out from London, stuff that has done appalling harm to the war effort. If the House would like me some time to-day to read a few of the extracts which called for this decision on the part of the Government, I should be happy to do so.
Does my right hon. Friend's assurance cover the fact that the new regulations will apply to all correspondents without any exception, and will he also accept an assurance that, as far as the Press is concerned, there is in the new regulations nothing which would be prejudicial to their interests?
Will the Minister bear in mind that it is important that people abroad and our Allies should appreciate that this is a democratic country, that there is an opposition in this country, and that people in this country are free to express criticisms of the Government or Allied activity elsewhere, and that it would be most unfortunate if an impression were given that freedom of expression is squashed in this country?
I put to the Minister a serious and important question. Is he not aware that it is vitally important in this war in which we are fighting that the world should realise that freedom of expression continues in this country, and that he should give no excuse for our friends or enemies abroad suggesting that we have such a tight censorship that no criticism may be made in this country and telegraphed abroad?
I quite understand that the point which the hon. Member raised is an important one. There is no intention whatsoever of preventing criticism. What I have to do is to stop a distortion of our war effort here, which has caused consternation in some of our Dominions, upset our friends everywhere, and has been pre-eminently useful to Dr. Goebbels.