asked the Secretary of State for War (1) the reasons for the withdrawal of a recent issue of "Current Affairs" containing a summary by Sir William Beveridge of his recent Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services;
(2) whether his attention has been called to a broadcast on 22nd December, 1942, by Mr. R. G. Casey, Minister of State, in the course of which he said that the Beveridge Report had aroused the greatest interest among the troops in the Middle East; and whether he proposes to make available to them the full Report or the report in brief and, if so, when?
There has been a great deal of misunderstanding on this subject. In the first place, there has been no ban on discussion of the Beveridge Report in the Army. Any soldier can read the Report or the abridged form of it as much as he likes, and the Command Education Authorities are being encouraged to provide lectures on the subject by qualified lecturers, both military and civilian, under the ordinary Army Education Scheme. A. B.C.A. discussions are on a quite different footing. The basis of these is a weekly compulsory parade at which regimental officers are required to initiate a debate on a prescribed subject aided by a brief provided for them but not for the soldiers. The briefs are contained in alternative weeks in the two A.B.C.A. publications "War" and "Current Affairs." To me it seems obvious that it is absolutely vital that these briefs should not only be completely objective but should in addition be generally accepted as being so.
When then I was shown an issue of "Current Affairs," containing, besides an official brief, a summary of the Beveridge Report written by the author himself, I took the view that compulsory discussion of this subject in the Army ought to be postponed until there had been at any rate a preliminary Debate in this House on the subject. For one thing it might easily have conveyed the impression that the scheme set out in the Report was settled Government policy whereas in fact no decision of any kind has been taken. Unfortunately, the matter was, for various reasons into which I need not enter, brought to me at a very late stage and the copies had already left the printer for distribution. It was, therefore, necessary to give orders for their withdrawal. The choice presented to me was a difficult one, but I have no doubt that I took the better of the two courses open to me. The factor which principally weighed with me was the absolute necessity of keeping A.B.C.A. out of possible political controversy, particularly in view of the fact that attendance at these debates is compulsory.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his decision has caused grave dissatisfaction, and that controversial matters have frequently been discussed at these discussions, even including the U.S.S.R.? Does he intend in future to put a ban on controversial discussion?
The hon. Member must read into my answer no more than is contained in it. Discussion is reasonably free, provided that it can take place in the light of all the facts and on a brief which is objective, and with no suspicion of partiality.
Why does the right hon. Gentleman assume that members of the civilian Army are less intelligent than a great number of other people and are likely to assume that the Beveridge Report is settled Government policy, when that is not considered by anyone else to be a likely conclusion to come to?
I do not set myself up as an arbiter in the least. As one of the original parents of the A.B.C.A. scheme, I am extremely sensitive of any possibility of its being involved in controversy so that it becomes a failure. In the present instance, controversy has left it and has centred itself upon me, and I am content that it should be so.
Is it not highly undesirable and improper that lectures of a political nature should be delivered to the Forces, and is it not virtually impossible to lecture on such matters as tariffs, post-war reconstruction and the Beveridge scheme without betraying political views unless the lecturer is vapid or uninteresting?
But why? May we understand why my right hon. Friend declines to put hon. Members in possession of the facts? Are we not entitled to know all the facts objectively and will he not reconsider his decision?
I will certainly give the matter further consideration, but I think it would be much better to wait and see what final edition might be sent out in the light of the situation after the Debate in this House.
In doing that will my right hon. Friend consider using his influence with other Ministers, particularly the Minister of Information, so as to enable the House to know what other Ministries have done to expound and commend this Report to the British and foreign publics?